Day 3: The North Pole, Falcons and Other Fun Stuff

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Flag of United States  , Texas
Friday, April 19, 2013

Eventually, we started boarding.  We had our "usual" seats booked towards the back of the Boeing 777, where the 3 seats next to the window become 2 seats.  It means one doesn't need to clamber over anyone else to get out, and there's more aisle room, too, which means less bodily harm sustained by (or to!) those barging past.  No sooner had we settled ourselves in for this 16 hour leg than Richard was wondering what meals we would be served.  We didn't have to wait too long this time to find out that breakfast was first on the menu:

Fresh seasonal fruit
Herb omelette, served with golden fried potato wedges, creamy spinach and mushrooms
Croissant, served with butter and preserve

Again, it was a really good, filling meal, albeit at about 03:45!  Of course, there was coffee on offer as well, but, surprisingly, I turned it down in favour of sleep (there are tough decisions to be made when two of one's favourite habits collide!).  Despite the awkward, upright position, I was able to get a few decent hours' napping in.  I don't think the same can be said of Richard.  I woke eventually to him opening the blind of our window.  One of the reasons he loves Emirates is that they actually allow him to do this.  On his last flight with SAA in broad daylight, they wouldn't allow him to open the blinds, citing international law, which just made him mad.  Fortunately, though, Emirates seems fairly relaxed about it, despite the fact that ours was one of the only blinds open at the time and was flooding the cabin with no small amount of light!  The view, however, was simply stunning.  We were, at that point, heading pretty close to the North Pole.  Huge sheets of ice floated in ink black waters, occasionally fitting so tightly together that they looked like a puzzle of porcelain.  Then we were graced with gorgeous views of Greenland (OK, perhaps only gorgeous if you're flying over it from the relative comfort of an aircraft!): a lunar-like landscape, powdery-white beneath a cobalt blue horizon, with sweeping, smooth swathes of ice between jagged peaks.

It was somewhere there that "lunch" was served:

Appetiser: Saffron moghrabieh salad, with red pepper and coriander
Main Course: Lamb mouloukhia (traditional Middle Eastern lamb and mouloukhia stew), with steamed rice and sautéed vegetables
Dessert: Apricot almond cake (an egg-free moist sponge cake), with vanilla cream sauce
Cheese and biscuits
Coffee and chocolates

I can highly recommend the apricot almond cake!

By the time the air hostess came to clear away our trays, we were already peering out the window again.  Apparently curious, she, too, leaned over to look out.  "Oh, it's beautiful!" she exclaimed.  I couldn't believe that she must surely have flown this route often, yet it seemed she'd never before noticed the desolate grandeur roughly 34,000 feet below.

Our flight path then took us over Canada and the Northern United States, many still under a thick blanket of snow.  Farms patchworked the countryside below, but it's a mystery as to what they're able to produce when frozen for most of the year...

A little before landing, we were fed a slice of three-cheese pizza, and casually informed that we had a passenger on board requiring medical attention, so we were requested to stay seated on arrival at the terminal building while medics attended to them.  That process ended up being pretty efficient, in contrast to clearing immigration, which definitely was not. Although the citizens queue was way longer than the visitors', it moved much faster and Richard made it through relatively quickly and unscathed this time. I, on the other hand, spent well over an hour barely moving, repeatedly counting the 4 to 6 open counters out of the 30+ available and getting more and more frustrated as the minutes wore on, conscious that Cheryl had taken time off work to fetch us from the airport and I had no way of contacting her.  Eventually I made it through and cleared customs, meeting up with Richard and Cheryl in the arrivals hall.  It was so awesome to see Cheryl again, and be welcomed so enthusiastically with open arms.
We stopped to pick Janae up from school on the way home, given that she had early release and it was now already early afternoon.  On arrival at the Fernandez' residence, Cheryl showed us to our rooms, spoiling us already, with boxes of Starbucks VIA Ready Brew waiting for me on the dresser!  Shortly thereafter, a friend of hers arrived with a German chocolate cake for her birthday, which was a couple of days prior to our arrival, and since Cheryl was already brewing a pot of coffee for me, we sat down around the kitchen table to enjoy some cake, and me, gallons of Starbucks coffee with it!

Dominique was to play her last softball game of the season that evening for her school, Timber Creek.  Supporters' gear, even for school teams, is sold in the local supermarkets here, so Cheryl returned from grocery shopping that evening with a Falcons shirt for both Richard and I.  After a quick dinner, we proudly donned our purple shirts and headed out to the game as honourary Falcons fans!

There was a seniors' game in progress when we arrived, followed by a seniors' farewell for those in their final year (matric, to us South Africans who may need some context) who had therefore just played their final school game.  There was only one Timber Creek senior, but it was a moving ceremony, as she walked onto the field escorted by her family, and moved around all of the bases, saying a last goodbye to each of her teammates, may of them quite emotional.  Her father was then to pitch her one last ball, but broke down in tears before managing to do so, and she dropped her bat, ran to him and threw her arms around him.  It was truly touching, but not good for the mascara!

Dominique's game was very exciting, and the Falcons were in the lead early on, but, despite our fervent efforts from the stands, they weren't able to hold onto it.  My nerves were quite shot and my voice hoarse by the end of it all!  Amazingly, both teams then gathered in a circle on the field, and, hand-in-hand said the Lord's Prayer, before dispersing to rake the pitch.

Exhausted but elated after a full day (or few!), I sank into the soft sheets of the spare room bed, with prayers of deep gratitude.  For the privilege of travel.  For safety.  For family.  For friends.  For fun.
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