Being thrust into the extreme modernity of air travel must be a familiar theme: the culture shock that book ends fourteen hours squeezed into a flying missile. Navigating airports that are borders at the same time, talking to cops, security people, frontier officials – you can imagine the scenarios: The working class family of eight on their trip of a lifetime, wide-eyed, pressed together and clutching hands. The Zulu surrendering his spear at the security check. An Amazonian with his five passports, each from one of the countries that own his lands. Then there’s us.
It began strangely enough – the airport at San Jose was calm and the flight out in the morning promised good views. Sure enough, we saw the lakes and volcanoes of Nicaragua beneath us, the hills of Honduras playing out north through Central America. The way we had just driven, of course. And that was the weird bit; the memories coming to mind, the story rewinding, as we flew over. Bizarre feeling. Especially on not much sleep because we had to get up at bloody hell o clock in the morning.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? The being thrust into the extreme modernity of air travel. Primarily the whole thing’s like an experiment in sleep deprivation of some kind. There’s that expression for nautical types who spend some time on the shore after a prolonged sea voyage: land-legs. Kind of a similar thing can be said for people who spend their whole time living happily, moving around in a truck then suddenly ditch it and fly off on American Airlines instead on no sleep.
Via Dallas Fort Worth: Where the planes land and then drive around for half an hour around this massive airport place. Ten terminals mean a hundred permutations for the transit-travelers! We definitely wobbled around that one, just as if these were our first moments on solid land after months on a lively ocean.
It’s not just the sudden change in culture and environment that is air-travel – it’s a whole language or logic that we just didn’t understand. Like we’d swapped the road signs and maps for some strange system of corridors, light-rail transit trains with no driver, travelators and other strange new concepts. “Arrivals”, “Departures“ – we read the signs pointing in different directions, wondering which way to go. We had just arrived and we wanted to get out.
“You didn’t realize that all international arrival travelers with a departing domestic flight have to take their luggage through security clearance?” The American Airlines guy said in Texan, “You didn’t know that?”
Well we know now. We also found out that the diplomatic channel is the fastest way through passport control. And if you go right to the back of the security clearance hall, there’s a light-sedation booth if you really can’t hack it anymore. The guy there goes, “I’m not sure if federal regulations advise sedating your animal,” we all look down at Vaga who, admittedly looks the less frazzled out of the three of us but I suspect could do with some valium too.
Once into USA proper and being shuttled into the depths of the American Domestic Flight system, past the passport control where they seemed more interested in advising us not to go to Mexico “because of all those beheadings”. We were coerced down an ever-restricting corridor that twisted and turned, to be scanned and forced onto a plane and those few, first steps through the plane that was stuffed with Americans and their massive bags all, like, settling down into their seats. I’d feel more at home getting onto a chicken bus on a dusty road outta town in Nicaragua than this plane, this monstrous vision confronting me. The sunglasses, the cowboy hats, the white teeth, a cast of many races all stroking their phones and working on apple macs instead of clutching a sack of potatoes or a restless chicken for the market like their more peasant cousins.
Welcome to the USA.
And then all the acid wore off and, you know, we’re just flying into San Fran, getting some wireless at the Starbucks and figuring out the mass-transit. What the hell – you all get it, I’m sure.
Overlanders get confused at airport. We made it in the end.