I smirk when I complain (or hear others complain) about the difficulties of international travel. It’s the equivalent of complaining about your cold face on a powder day, or how hard it is to choose skis from your massive quiver. So, take the following post with a heavy dose of “You’re lucky to be doing this at all, buddy.”
It started a few days before my flight from Vancouver to Japan. Compared to Seattle, Vancouver often has cheaper fares to international destinations, particularly Asia. Accordingly, I booked my flight out of Vancouver, careful to schedule it late enough so the Seattle to Vancouver bus would get me there before the flight. However, when I called to make the bus reservation, they informed me that their posted schedule was months out of date, and the earliest bus got there hours after my flight left. Ugh, whatever, I scrambled at the last minute to find a ride, and was inundated with offers from several friends (thanks guys!). Minor mishap, but next came the passport snafu:
As I was packing the morning before the flight, I looked in my glove compartment where I keep my passport. I was a surprised and a tiny bit worried to find that it wasn’t in its usual spot. I figured it would turn up and didn’t fret too much about it. A few hours went by and I began to get more anxious. I started looking in all the likely spots, still no passport. It took me another few hours to completely tear apart my house, shed and car, with no success. At that point it was getting to be evening. I thought the only possible spot might be my storage unit in Bellingham, a few hours drive away but luckily on the way to my flight out of Vancouver airport.
I packed my luggage in the car, crossed my fingers, and started the drive from Seattle to Bellingham. I arrived at my storage unit in the early evening, and proceeded to tear apart every box, bag, and bin in the place. An hour later I had searched everywhere, still with no luck, and I started really freaking out. As I was getting ready to postpone my flight, and get an 8am appointment at the US Consulate in Seattle, I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen an old backpack that I used on my last trip, which had a good chance (relatively good at this point, maybe 10%) of holding my passport. Although I hadn’t seen it, I was sure that it had to be somewhere. It was getting close to midnight.
I jumped in my car, and made the 2 hour drive back to my house in Seattle, and within minutes found the pack (tangled up inside a duffel bag). My precious passport was inside, just like I had hoped. I nearly wept at the sight, then got a few hours of sleep before heading off to the airport at 5am.
Whew! First crisis averted. I made it to my flight just in time, and got on the plane for Japan. What an incredible feeling! The whole flight I couldn’t quite believe that I was really heading for the winter dreamland of Japan.
Once at the Tokyo airport, I was approached by a nice employee of Japan Air Lines. She bowed and apologized profusely, many times, until finally telling me that one of my bags had been delayed by a day, and wouldn’t be waiting for me in Sapporo. Although somewhat of a bummer, I was blown away by the politeness and customer service of the Japanese. Pretty cool.
After a quick flight I arrived late in Sapporo, the biggest city on Hokkaido. There I ran into my next set of problems. Because of the passport snafu, I hadn’t had time to look into lodging or transportation options for my first night. I landed in Sapporo in the evening, and needed to meet up with the rest of the crew the next morning. I thought I’d just figure it out when I got there, but that proved more difficult than I expected. Most of the bus transportation needed advance booking, and I couldn’t find cheap lodging near the airport. Also, I learned that the airport closes at 3am, so sleeping there wasn’t an option. Eventually I found info about a capsule hotel, and made my way to the train station. Unbeknownst to me, the last train was just about to leave, and I barely made it through the doors with my heavy ski bag. Whew again!
Somehow I figured out what subway line to take, and after a quick wander through the early morning streets of Sapporo, made it to the capsule hotel. I crawled into my little cubby, and immediately passed out. I woke well rested and relaxed, had a morning onsen session (incredible), and met everyone else at the airport. The rest of our travel to Niseko was snafu-free, and we arrived ready to shred the area the next day. We found some great skiing, but I’ll save that for the next post. Until then, here are some photos from the travel adventures: