Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Planes and Trains

Hello! It's currently 7:30 PM here in Hikone, Japan, and the sky is quite dark. The past few days have been incredible... both in good ways and in bad ways. Our adventure started at 9 AM in Marquette on Sunday, May 9. Our friends Rachel and A.J., who are watching our pets for the next two weeks, dropped us off at Sawyer Airport outside of Marquette. Most of our classmates -- at least those who were taking this flight -- were already there, waiting. The plane was set to leave at 11:30 AM, that is, until we were notified of a one-hour delay. That one-hour delay soon turned into a two-hour delay, which ultimately became a three-hour delay. The reason? Something was wrong with the plane, and a different plane had to be sent up from Detroit.

Meanwhile, we were told that our 3:30 PM flight from Detroit to Narita would be held until we arrived.

We finally left Marquette around 2:30 PM, riding a rather-small plane, the Saab 340B. It was Steph's first time on a plane, and for a first plane ride, it was quite rough, especially on the take-off and, an hour later, the landing. Still, we weren't at a very high altitude, and it was pretty neat to see Michigan from above. We flew over Escanaba, Traverse City, and Saginaw, and before we landed at the Detroit Airport, we could see the skyscrapers of the city.

Michigan From Above

Upon arriving in Detroit, the eight of us -- Steph, myself, four of our classmates, Professor Oba, and Susan -- ran. After some confusion and more running, we watched, disheartened, as our plane to Narita taxied away without us. Delta had sold our tickets, even though we were explicitly told that the flight would be held for the group.

Susan was on the phone for the next hour, at least, while the rest of us sat in tired disbelief. At around 5:30 PM, we had a plan, and it was one that, initially, scared the heck out of me: there were no flights available that could seat eight people, and as a result, we would be split up into three separate groups. Susan and three of our classmates (Sonnet, Rachel, and Andrew) would stay the night in Detroit, fly to Atlanta the next morning, and take a plane from there to Narita. Professor Oba and Clark, another classmate, would also stay in Detroit for the night and fly to Seattle in the morning, then take a plane to Narita.

That left Steph and myself. We were to take a plane to San Francisco that same night, at 7:30 PM, stay the night there, and take a plane to Narita the next day at 1 PM Pacific Time.

The idea of being split off so severely from the rest of the group terrified me, but the fact that Steph and I were still together was enough. We took that flight, and it was a long one. The plane was substantially larger -- a Boeing 737 -- but still rather cramped. It got dark quickly, and I managed to get in some sleep, but not much. We arrived in San Francisco at around 10:30 PM. The airport was dingy and a bit decrepit, but after a little bit of panicking and a whole lot of help from the people working there, we managed to obtain a handful of vouchers: a night at the Clarion Hotel as well as several free meals. We were also both given a pack containing toiletries, though that didn't help with the fact that neither Steph nor myself had a change of clothes.

Suddenly, San Francisco

A shuttle bus took us straight to the hotel. On the way there, we saw palm trees, illuminated in the dark, and that was something neither of us expected. Upon getting our room, we fell asleep almost immediately.

The flight to Narita wouldn't leave until 1:05 PM, but Steph and I took the shuttle to the San Francisco International Airport quite early. Unlike the airport we'd arrived in, this building was new, very post-modern in design, and quite easy to navigate. We ate fruit for breakfast... then, realizing we were right near Oakland, phoned Molly and Caroline. At 10:30 they showed up and I met them for the first time ever (off the internet that is)! We could only talk for five or ten minutes, as Steph and I had to go through security still, but it was awesome to finally get to meet those cool gals (and thanks so much for driving out to see us! It meant a lot).

Going through security was not nearly as much as a hassle as I though it would be. We got to our gate, ate a salad, and boarded our plane -- on time -- at around 12:30. This plane, a Boeing 330, was even larger than the last, and was far more comfortable. Steph and I sat together, and I had a window seat this time. As we left San Francisco, we got a glimpse of the beach and the Pacific Ocean through the rainclouds. Almost everyone on the plane was Japanese. The flight was much quieter than the last, and I got a bit of sleep, but the nine-hour ride was excruciatingly long.

Pacific Ocean

At last, we landed at Narita. As we descended from over 34,000 feet to just a couple hundred, we could see the rice fields of Japan; however, it was too cloudy and rainy to see Mount Fuji. Going through customs was amazingly easy, and -- this is what impressed me the most -- our luggage had traveled with us, even though we'd been rerouted on an incredibly short notice!

We met up with our other four classmates -- the four that had taken different flights, and not the one out of Marquette that had been delayed 3 hours. In the seating area, a television was on, and it was showing a sumo match. At this point I was extremely tired and definitely smelly -- again, we'd been wearing the same clothes for the past few days -- but I was also hungry. We found a Japanese restaurant and ordered zaru soba. It was delicious.

Finally, our classmates -- and leaders -- from the Atlanta and Seattle flights arrived. We were hastily given train tickets and from there we ran, quite literally, luggage and all, to the train station. We got there just in time, around 6:30 or so, and boarded a train. We were all very tired, but soon we had to switch onto another train.

It wasn't just any train, though -- it was the shinkansen, the bullet train! It was amazingly fast, but the ride was very smooth. We dozed off as the train reached speeds of around 400 km/hr. After an hour, we switched onto another bullet train, which brought us into Hikone.


Our incredibly tiring and stressful three-day journey came to an end at last as we took a rather terrifying taxi ride to JCMU.

Steph and I reached our apartment at the center and the first thing we did was figure out how to work the shower. After a shower and a change of clothes, I began to feel like a human being again at last.