DEN to SFO
Fletch and I arrived at the airport at 4am, an early hour that I would normally never see except in a dream. Traveling changes everything though. I’ll wake up at any hour for the promise of a new adventure. In about 50 hours we would be in our new home, Palau.

From the research that both of us had done regarding this tiny island nation, neither one of us expected to stop in Palau for more than a couple of months; too many small factors were piling up, but those were just from reading. Reading is a far cry from experiencing. We might show up and love it, and if that happened, we wouldn’t have to worry about immigration issues this time around because Americans automatically get year-long visas upon arrival. Finally an instance in which it was paying off to be an American whilst traveling.

I set my baggage on the check-in scales; 28 lbs for my backpack and 46 lbs for my rolling suitcase. My entire life scaled down into 74 lbs of luggage. I’d love to travel with less but dive gear accounts for the majority of that and I already own the most travel-friendly configuration I could manage to rig up at the dive shop.

Our first leg was a two hour flight from Denver to San Francisco. Once in our seats I pulled my knees up to my chest and read Dan Brown’s Inferno while Fletch’s legs slowly crept into the right half of my leg space and the guy on my left’s legs slowly crept into the left half of my leg space. It’s cool, I’m short, I didn’t need that space. I laughed, hoping Fletch wouldn’t try to play footsie with the feet next to his and then fell asleep on his shoulder.

Landing in San Francisco was an exciting spectacle. The entire bay was covered in fog, which looked like mounds of about 100 feet of snow from the air, everything above crystal clear. We descended lower and lower onto the blankets of dense white clouds until we were engulfed in white.

Three hours in San Francisco passed relatively quickly until we heard Fletch’s name being called over to the desk for our next flight. A nice attendant named Alex informed us that Fletch had been upgraded to business class, and then upon seeing the kiss Fletch planted on the top of my head, gave me an upgrade as well, asking if center seats would be alright. As if anyone would ever actually complain about being upgraded to business class. No, I’ll keep my cramped window seat in economy, thanks.
SFO to ICN

We boarded our flight from San Francisco to South Korea, positively giddy with the thought of traveling business class for the next twelve and a half hours. Everything seemed about ten times more grand that it actually was. We wasted no time in testing the moving seats to their full, flattened capacity, going through the entire selection of movie offerings, tearing apart the plastic bags containing fluffy down blankets inside, and exploring the contents of little tins left on everyone’s seats (they were little travel kits with socks and eye masks and lotions and toothbrushes inside).

Before takeoff our stewardess came around with menus and a tray full of mimosas and bloody marys. We gave her our first and second options for entrees out of four total choices, then settled in and started the movie Big Hero 6. I had skipped that one in the theater because it looked like another one of Disney’s mediocre and predictable cartoons, completely lacking in any original content. I was pleasantly surprised though. The setting of a city that was some hybrid between Tokyo and San Francisco made it pretty unique. That may have just been the bloody marys talking though.

We had barely taken off when the food started arriving. To begin we had nori-wrapped smoked salmon with wasabi mayonnaise. Now I know what you’re thinking, how crazy do you have to be to eat anything resembling sushi on an airplane. I guess they skimp out on economy food though because this was not the plastic food I had become all too familiar with. We also got a nice, crisp, green salad, not the iceberg lettuce leaf with a lone cherry tomato and single shred of carrot that I had come to relish as the closest thing to something fresh that would ever be served on an airplane.

The stewardess gave us a choice of Spanish or French wine, and then never failed to come by and refill our glasses every couple minutes.

By the time our main courses arrived we were happily tipsy and and laughing our butts off at the big pillowy health care robot in Big Hero 6. Our seats were reclined, our feet elevated, fluffy down blankets across our laps; I couldn’t help but feel like the blobs in Wall-E, zooming around in their recliners all day long. For an entree I got tri-colored ravioli with cherry tomato sauce, herbed butternut squash, and parmesan cheese. Fletch had fillet of amazon cod with mixed vegetable ratatouille. I was still baffled over the realization that airplanes were capable of serving anything besides plastic meals.

By the time it was time to start a new movie, plates of different cheeses and crackers and grapes were passed around, and finally, just when I was starting to think I couldn’t get up out of my Wall-E chair if I wanted to, a cart rolled down the isles with bowls of ice-cream and choices of chocolate sauce or caramel or nuts or whipped cream or cherry sauce or whatever combination of whatever toppings we desired.

After that delightful dining experience we helped ourselves to some special Colorado chocolates. It wasn’t long before the mix of wine and chocolate made my eyelids heavy and I stretched my seat flat and dozed off.

I woke up with five hours left of the flight, plenty of time to watch a movie called Whiplash about a drum protege and then read some more of my Dan Brown book. Right before we landed we were served a processed egg breakfast. Ah ha! There’s that plastic food. I never understood the trend of serving breakfast right before landing. It’s not breakfast time back home. It’s not breakfast time where we’re landing. Why do we always have to endure processed egg breakfast before exiting the aircraft?

We walked off the plane and into the South Korea airport. I had been anticipating this layover for a while. South Korea, how exciting. I had researched how to navigate baggage lockers and public transportation so as to exit the airport as quickly as possible, but not including customs and immigration and the time to get through security again on the way back, it would have taken an hour each way to get to Seoul. That would have been enough time to arrive in the city, snap of couple of photos for instagram and race back to the airport.

Then I learned that this airport offered free transit tours from the airport for varying lengths of time leaving throughout the day. While I’m not usually too gung ho about bus tours, especially ones crowded with Asians pointing cameras in every direction, this sounded like a good option to make the most out of our six hour layover. That was until we discovered that it was not even 40 degrees outside. That news drained both of us of any desire to venture outside, not being dressed for anything colder than a tropical climate. Besides it was pretty grey and dismal looking outside.

So we settled for exploring the airport which was a massive array of the same seven duty free shops over and over and over again. About a third of the way down the never ending terminal there was a central area with an information booth and a display of bobbles and constellations hanging directly above. A third of the way later, another central area with an identical information booth and the exact same display of bobbles and constellations hanging directly above. We got lost a lot.

The shops were incredibly crowded, with thousands of Koreans running us over, and each shop had as many workers as there were customers. I had learned in Japan that the Japanese don’t have any sense of waiting your turn, or back-of-the-line type courtesies we’re familiar with in the west. It’s not that they’re being rude, it’s just a different cultural norm. Korea was this same way to the extreme. It didn’t mater what we stopped to look at, someone else would come and stand directly in front of us, only to stop and look down at their phone. People walking towards us would march on without any sign of going around us, appearing as though they were about to run us over, leading us to have to dance from side to side and weave our way through the crowds.

Exhausted by the crowds, we followed a sign pointing upstairs for massages. (They had had these same massage signs pointing upstairs every few hundred feet). The massages were a little more expensive then the $4 ones we had grown to love in Thailand, but still every bit as heavenly.

After that relaxing hour was over, we went back downstairs and continued walking. The crowds had thinned out ever so slightly. We amused ourselves by looking at the cary-ons everyone was rolling behind them. They were all the size of cosmetic bags on wheels. What in the world did they put in those little tiny suitcases? I’ve seen Asians with cameras bigger than those little suitcases. The luggages trollies weren’t any better. The platform to load luggage onto was about a square foot, just big enough to hold one of those little bags that already had wheels on it. What was the point? Then I saw a grandma and son in the middle of the terminal using their trollies as chairs, just sitting there as the rest of the crowds zoomed around them.

ICN to GUM

Quite soon enough it was time to board our flight to Guam. I could barely stay awake those four hours. We landed at 4am, and collected our luggage and made a beeline for the tourist desk to find a hotel to sleep in for a few hours. Everything was booked. We walked down the line of car rental kiosks thinking we could rent a car for the day and have a place to leave our baggage and nap in the back of the vehicle. Again, everything was booked. Having no place to go at 4am and being chained down by our luggage, we found a quiet corner and built a little nest out of blankets to snooze for a few hours.

We awoke at a more reasonable hour feeling about as well rested as could be expected, which was still better than trying to sleep upright on a plane. We’d be able to check in our bags at 2pm which would leave us free to go explore the island for a couple of hours, so we hung out until then.

Since Guam is a US territory, buzzing in and out of the airport with our US passports was a joke. As soon as we had dropped off our bags we walked outside into the hot humid air and flagged down a taxi. When he asked us where we wanted to go we couldn’t say anything more specific than someplace to eat. He asked if we wanted a Jamaican grill, and we said that sounded great.

The restaurant he dropped us off at had good food, though it was a far cry from true Jamaican jerk. I suppose that’s what you get for trying to eat food that belongs on the other side of the world. After lunch we began walking in the direction where there was supposed to be an aquarium. We walked along the beach, which was a beautiful stretch of pure white sand and turquoise water. High rise hotels lined the entire stretch. It was completely abandoned though. For everything being booked, it sure was empty. As we reached the end of the beach there were a few more people, though probably not more than a hundred total. No where near as many as there should have been for all the hotels to be booked.

We found the aquarium and spent the next hour walking through one of the world’s largest tunnels. It wrapped back and forth several times while white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, nurse sharks, and leopard sharks swam above head. One massive ray, a beautiful green turtle, a guitarfish, a goliath grouper, and lots of wrasse and tarpon swam about as well. Several scuba divers were over by a little boat wreck teaching tourists wearing snuba helmets how to blow bubble rings. It was quite a beautiful exhibit.

We had entered the aquarium from a hotel on the beach so when we walked out onto the street we were surprised to find ourselves surrounded by Gucci and Prada shops. This felt like the Korean airport all over again. We walked over to a hotel to ask for a cab and climbed into a car that reeked of cherry air fresheners and had hello kitty splashed across every surface. Supposedly there was even wifi available in the cab, though we reached the airport before we could figure out how to use it.

GUM to ROR

The Guam airport had the same eerie dystopian announcements that citizens were given in the book The Giver. Perhaps you remember them. Citizens are reminded that it is considered rude to make physical contact with members outside their family units. Citizens are reminded not to steal food from the lunch halls. Citizens are reminded… No joke, these were the announcements we were hearing in the airport: Passengers are reminded not to leave baggage unattended. Passengers are reminded that smoking is not allowed in the terminal. Passengers are reminded… Creepy.

The flight to Palau was only two hours. We walked off the plane at about 10pm, breezed through customs and immigration, collected our bags, and made our way to the rental car kiosks. Seeing as we hadn’t been able to find a place to stay for more than the first two nights (and we had been checking every hotel every day for the past month) we asked the rental car lady if we could keep the car longer than we had booked it for, just incase we ended up having to sleep in it. She was really nice and told us a little bit about Palau, and told us that people were really friendly here and we shouldn’t have any problem finding a place to stay and the other things we needed.

Then we drove to our little room, the only one that had been available on the entire island, and slept in a a real bed for the first time in days.