The sun was shining and the birds were chirping my last morning in Tahiti. I packed up for the homebound leg of my second round-the-world tour. My first had been in 2001. How long ago that was, how different from the world of iPads and mobile phones and the value of the US dollar. And me, was I different from the woman who showed up in my book, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik? Not so much, but the experiences of travelling alone and the intervening years of living in Australia, Uganda, Kuwait, and Cairo had made me a great deal wiser and in some ways, fearless.
The unknown isn’t so scary anymore. My concern when I set out across West Africa in the beginning of this journey wasn’t fear. It was how tired I knew I’d be from the crowded shared-taxis. The buses breaking down all the time. The broken toilets. The borders. I’d steeled myself and headed south from Morocco to Cape Town first, so the rest would seem all the more comfortable.
My former boss, the editor-in-chief when I worked at Marvel Comics, had a line he used to tell my colleagues when he’d read my blogs.
“She doesn’t look she’s having any fun.”
We’d all laugh, of course. I enjoy a challenge, an impossible, implausible hurdle to overcome. Finding out there’s no way here from there – and then reasoning that someone is doing it, so there’s clearly a way – is fun. And those uncomfortable shared taxis and broken-down buses?
That’s where you meet people.
I had a ridiculous itinerary for the end of my journey across Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific. Instead of flying to Los Angeles or Hawaii, I had to backtrack to get from Tahiti to the USA. Only one partner was on the airline alliance I’d used. I was travelling on frequent flyer miles. My round-the-world ticket was free aside from airport taxes. I had to take what I could get.
And here’s what I’d gotten: From Tahiti, I’d fly to Auckland, stay a night, fly to Tokyo, stay a night, then fly home, landing in Newark Airport.
Talk about the long way home. And no stopovers, because I wasn’t allowed to stop more than 24 hours when backtracking. Free is good, but it comes with conditions.
I did get to see a gorgeous sunrise over the Auckland airport, which almost made it worth the detour from Tahiti.
My next stop was Tokyo, where I stayed in a tiny hotel room and visited the fabric district before racing back to the airport.
Some indeterminate hours of jetlagged flight later, I stumbled off the plane into Newark Airport after two-and-a-half movies and a few hours of sleep after Tokyo, which was a night and 11 hours on the plane after Auckland, which was five hours on a plane and one hotel night from Tahiti.
This was definitely a silly route to take home.
I felt vaguely triumphant as I stood dazed on Terminal C's moving sidewalks, locked inside the enclosed space on the wrong side of passport control, the evening's dramatic sky outside the glass showing off across the departure gates lobby. I’d get on the train, head home to my spot right across the river from Manhattan.
That's it, then, I thought. I went around the world.
I thought back to the end of MariesWorldTour.com 2001. I'd come in alone to Port Authority on New Year's Eve, then taken the subway to a friend’s apartment. I'd sat alone at midnight, listening to the cheers outside. In the morning, I'd taken the Staten Island Ferry to get a sad and realistic look at the ailing Manhattan skyline, which had lost two icons just a month-and-a-half earlier.
Today, the evening light over lower Manhattan was beautiful – all gentle pinks and blues – and over a decade later, a new building had sprung up where there'd been nothing at the end of my last trip.
I aimed my point-and-shoot, to try to capture the light on the city. To freeze the moment, the brief wisp of optimism and wonder at the end of a long journey around the world – quick, grab it before the sweetest moment in the world evaporates into the mundane reality of daily life.
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