The Anti-Chaos Caped Crusader

What happens when KC is cut loose from Bobbi?……Well, it seems the “travel fates” got wind of our temporary separation and threw a little chaos my way. Is it just me? Perhaps Bobbi is, in fact, an anti-chaos caped crusader who keeps craziness at bay to ensure smooth travel. Her superpowers had worked up to this point. However, on the first day when this dynamic duo went our separate ways, the smoothness slightly skewed like a light beam passing by a blackhole. The following is a recount of my travel day from Borneo to Bali….sans the anti-chaos caped crusader:h-FEMALE-SUPERHERO-348x516

It is rainy season in Borneo. Except, we haven’t been having much rain and when it does it is only at night….until today, the day I fly to Bali. Our very gracious Argentinian roommate offered to take me to the airport. What’s an Argentinian doing in Borneo?….fair question. Her boyfriend is a British English teacher in Tawau, Malaysia. They met when he was traveling through Argentina. And now, eight months later, she finds herself driving an American to an airport in a torrential rainstorm in Borneo…bet she didn’t see that coming….few things redirect a person’s life more than love.

Anyway, Bobbi went with us, I think, just to make sure that I got on the plane, thereby ensuring she would actually get two weeks by herself. We have, after all been traveling together for more than two years….one can only imagine life as a Siamese twin. Our plan was that I would go back to Bali and practice the art of flailing on a surfboard, while she went onto Da Lat, Vietnam-our next digs.

It was sunny when we awoke this morning. We planned to leave for the airport at 11:00am. The deluge started at 10:45am………How’s that for an inauspicious start. Romena drove under a waterfall. Her car is a late model compact built by an unknown manufacturer (Chinese?) The car is great, it’s just missing a couple of items: 1) backseat buckles for the seat belts; and 2) defroster mode on the fan. It was only the latter of these two deficiencies that really caused issue. The former I note in passing simply because Romena asked me to wear  my seatbelt, and by the time I figured out that the car did not have the buckles, Romena was too busy driving to be interrupted.  Honestly, I would have told her but she was really having to concentrate on staying on the road, and her English is very limited…..so, I sat in the back looking like a jerk for deliberately ignoring her request.

The lack of a defroster, however, did cause issue. Let me clarify. The car does have an air-vent for the windshield, but not exclusively for the windshield. As a result, only a paltry amount of air whisps across the windshield while the remainder is equally disbursed throughout the multitude of other vents. This was not good as the rain hammered down preventing us from opening our windows, and thereby causing the warm humid jungle air to condense on the cool wet windshield. It was at this point that the car struck a dip in the road that had turned into a pond. The car jerked and skated. Romena concentrated even harder her knuckles turning white on the wheel. Shortly thereafter, just when she was in the “zone” a bolt of lightning struck so close that there was no pause between bolt and thunder. The sharp whiplike crack made us all jump and poor Romena almost hit the roof….the fun we were having.

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My flight from Tawau, Borneo to Kota Kinabalu, Borneo was scheduled to leave at 12:45pm. It did and I was on it….I previously said ‘slightly skewed’…sorry to disappoint. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Romena let me out at the airport curb. She and Bobbi, then went to park the car. This left me to my own devices.  I looked up and read a sign with an arrow that pointed upstairs for departures. Up I went. Not much was happening upstairs, except for the security checkpoint for carry-on luggage….Hmmm, something is not right, I thought.

Bobbi and Romena entered the small airport. I slogged my bags back down the stairs. (Silly me- before ascending the stairs I should have asked myself what kind of airport designer would require people to slog their heavy luggage up stairs, and when the answer came back ‘zero’ I should have looked around for a more logical alternative….as the anti-chaos caped crusader did.) Bobbi saw another sign with an arrow pointing left that declared Check-in. We walked back to the first set of doors one comes upon when driving into the airport….a sensible design, go figure.

I checked in. I was told that my bags were too heavy ($50 too heavy.) This hadn’t happened when we flew into Tawua, but I don’t think that logic would have convinced the counter person to let us slide. Instead, I proceeded to consolidate my personal item daypack into my rolling carry-on bag. Bobbi and Romena gazed casually at the slew of items I had strewn about whilst repacking. It was a tight fit.

I said my good-byes, walked back up the stairs, boarded the plane and landed in Kota Kinabalu an hour later…..that’s when the anti-chaos caped crusader’s absence was most felt.

Everything was splendid as I collected my backpack from baggage claim and wheeled the rolling carry-on toward the exit with everybody else….But wait, I thought, why should I go outside into the stifling hot humidity only to have to walk down to the international departure doors. In my wisdom I turned and walked back from whence I came. This involved slogging my bags up a flight of stairs as the escalator to baggage claim only went down. Upon reflection, I should have clued into this one-way escalator, especially since my earlier upstairs luggage toting debacle in Tawua.

I was back on the main floor in the domestic terminal thinking that I could find my way to the international terminal while enjoying A/C comfort. I had about four hours to kill so I sat down and read….Lovely.

With two and a half hours until departure I went in search of the international check-in counter. I looked up at the electronic departures board and saw my flight. Its departure gate was listed as “T2.” Being man, I preferred the adventure of discovering the route to “T2” myself…..I walked from one end of the airport to the other. No luck. What made it confusing was that the terminal had an arrival exit for international travelers, but this required an immigration and visa check, and since I was already in the country this was not an option. Finally, I admitted defeat and went back toward the baggage claim where I started. As I was just about to start down the escalator, a security man asked me where I was going. I told him I needed to get to the international departures. He told me to turn-around and pointed where I should go….Splendid…..though in retrospect his English was a tad limited.

This led me on another wild goose chase. Finally, I found myself in a rather empty “in transit” corridor. Another security man asked me where I was going.

“Bali” I said.

“Bali!?” he answered; shook his head and pointed me back to baggage claim.

He followed up with, “taxi.”

Assuming he meant ‘shuttle’ I started to walk away, then almost as an afterthought I turned and asked him if I needed to pay for a taxi.

“Yes.” he replied.

Hmmm, I thought.

Having left my Malaysian Ringgit with Bobbi I needed an ATM, tout de suite. I remembered seeing one at the other end of the terminal…I did the walk of tourist shame as all the shop attendants saw me once again walk the terminal. (It’s not a very busy terminal and I am a tall man in Malaysia, I was noticed…again…for the third time….or was it the fourth?) I tried to look like I knew where I was going and what I was doing.

After securing cash, I walked past the guard at the top of the escalator. This time he was too busy with his phone to look up. I walked outside; purchased a taxi ticket for $10 to take me to Terminal 2. It turns out Terminal 2 is on the other side of the runways. The taxi ride took about ten minutes….$1/minute. I arrived with one hour 45 minutes until my flight…..easy.

[Side note: At this point let me clarify why the domestic Terminal 1 had an international arrivals and “in-transit” area.  It seems that East Malaysia on the island of Borneo is divided into two states: Sabah, Sarawak, as well as the federal territory of Labuan.  These states have a certain amount of autonomy and while they are part of Malaysia they require immigration checks when traveling between states.]

I stood in the check-in counter line for quite some time (at least I hoped it was the check-in because the sign above the counter actually said “Baggage check” Did I need to check-in first at a different counter? I questioned.) I had plenty of time to ponder this question because the line I had chosen was being monopolized by a Chinese tour guide who was checking in twenty of his flock….all at once. Just as I was next in line at my counter, another counter opened and those at the back of the line raced over to it and getting, as we say in the ski industry on a powder day: “first tracks.” Finally, I checked my bags and headed through security…..1 hour 15 minutes until take-off….no worries.

I reached immigration. There was a large vertical banner on the side that provided the steps a person must go through before approaching the immigration window. “Step 1: Complete Departure Form DF 844 before approaching counter.” Not wanting to be the ill prepared tourist that causes immigration officials to roll their eyes, I stepped out of line and went looking for the damned form……None in sight…no table, no form, nothing. I got back in line looking furtively at other passengers to see if anyone had this most important form. Nobody did. My turn came to step up to the window. I handed the official my passport and boarding pass. He smiled, no questions, no problems, no inquiring where my form was…..I guess it wasn’t that important and who reads signs anyways?…….50 minutes until departure.

I hadn’t eaten all day and all I had was 20 Ringgit remaining after my taxi ride. This bought me deep fried nuggets of questionable substance and an iced tea….40 minutes until departure.

The departure gate was a catch-all for every Air Asia flight. There were different exit doors, but only one seating area. I looked up at the electronic flight departure board. The board was flashing that my flight was boarding. But it did not indicate from which exit door. I walked toward a crowd lining up. A flight representative announced on the PA system that a flight to Kola Lumpor was boarding. Why didn’t I hear the Denpasar, Bali boarding announcement?

I walked up to a counter agent and asked where Bali was boarding.

“Not, yet.” She replied.

Not wanting to argue that her answer contradicted the electronic board, I took her word for it as she was looking a little stressed. I sat and waited another 20 minutes for the announcement. Finally, I looked again at the electronic board. This time my flight was flashing in urgent red lettering: “Final Boarding…Final Boarding.”  cartoon-late-traveler-guy-running-and-pulling-his-luggage-at-the-airport-by-ron-leishman-1560

Mother of God! (I always liked that exclamation as it raises all sorts of theological questions) I hurried toward an exit door counter. I looked up and down all the exit doors….Nobody was boarding, nor was anybody lining up to board.

Just then a woman approached a counter agent and I heard her ask about Bali.

“Delayed.” The agent replied. Apparently, the electronic board goes about its merry business without concern for life on the ground.

Such a delay was fitting for this day. It was also, I might add, the first flight in the past two years of travel that was delayed. It was due. But I wonder if the anti-chaos caped crusader had been at my side, things would have been different.

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2 comments

  1. . . we had a saying in the Paras, ‘If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined!’ Have a nice flight/day/whatever 😀

  2. That beats all stories I’ve heard about poorly organized airports in LDCs or anywhere else for that matter.

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