I drag my two suitcases and backpack to Carlaw’s lobby and drop off my keys. This is it. I am on my way back to the United States tonight. I go to the Auckland Airport for my late Hawaiian Airlines departure to Honolulu, and then on to San Francisco. It feels weird leaving but also good that I have completed everything that I wanted to do in every single aspect while in New Zealand; it is more of an “until next time” than a sadness. The flight is comfortable and a bit interesting with a medical hiccup, as a passenger passes out from oxygen deprivation a couple hours out of Auckland. He is given oxygen and IV’s which do the job, and he returns to his seat about a half hour after the ordeal begins. We continue to Honolulu without incident, where medics meet the passenger at the gate for an evaluation; he disembarks on his own which is a good sign.
Hawaiian brings Hawaii with them on their flights, an enjoyable experience as Hawaii is one of my favorite states to visit; a highlight is their signature Passion Orange Guava juice, or POG. I clear immigration and transfer processing upon arrival; HNL airport is unique because the dated, open-air facilities have a retro, 1970s feel. I get the signature “welcome home” from the immigration officer. This is always nice to hear, but also makes me consider how the concept of home is whatever you make it, wherever you make it. Who knows, maybe home will be New Zealand someday...or both the US and NZ! Anything can happen. Before I know it I am boarding my second flight to San Francisco, on the way to see my aunt! I am exhausted upon landing, having been in the air for 13 hours between the two flights and traveling for close to 24. I could have flown back to Auckland in the time it took for my bag to arrive at baggage claim...okay, maybe not all the way to Auckland but definitely within swimming distance. And I definitely thought about hopping on the Air New Zealand flight that was boarding at the next gate over.
My aunt is a generous individual, driving an hour each way to pick me up at the airport and taking me to In-N-Out Burger on the way to her house north of the city. I order a 4x4 burger (yes, four beef patties) along with chips and a milkshake; pure heaven. I say hello to her cat Furby, take a much-needed shower, reorganize my bags, and pass out on the bed.
While the time difference aspect of jet lag has not affected me, the fatigue aspect has. I sleep eight hours but wake up exhausted. No time to dwell on this, as I have a busy few days planned before I go home. My aunt and I drive 3.5 hours to Lake Tahoe, and then onto Reno for an authentic Indian meal with her mates. This is the first time I have visited Nevada, which makes 43 different U.S. states checked off out of the 50. I hope to get all 50 someday (in case you are wondering, I still need to go to Alaska, Connecticut, Idaho, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Louisiana which I am visiting in July!). After dinner, we drive around Reno, the “biggest little city in the world”, which happens to be filled with casinos. Welcome to Nevada.
The next day we drive back to the Bay Area with a stop for lunch at a famous NorCal bakery, Boudin SF! I consume two turkey and Havarti sandwiches before we complete the drive. My cousin takes me to a local lake for a walk in California’s dry summer heat and some bonding time before a lamb chop dinner and sleep.
Today is the last full day of my adventure...and what better way to spend it than exploring San Francisco? I drive my aunt’s electric car across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the city, with the sound of local SF band “Train” on the car’s speakers. Over the course of the afternoon, I stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf, ride a cable car, go to Ghirardelli, In-N-Out, the Coit Tower, and Boudin SF! While it is a lovely city, it is as expensive as anywhere; $40 USD for four hours of parking. Because of my travel desires, I will probably not be able to afford to ever live in this area. On my way back to Novato, I detour along the coast north of the bridge. I have done everything I did today in the past on previous visits, but it has been eight years...I was long overdue to return. Tomorrow I am flying home to Colorado, while this final segment of the trip was busy, it is enough time to see everything I wanted. Plus, my fatigue has worn off!
It Ends Tonight:
I bid my aunt goodbye by writing her a thank you card before she drops me off at the bus stop; although she picked me up, she asks me to take the Marin Airporter bus back to the airport which is no problem at all. I settle in for the 90-minute ride featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, California traffic, and picturesque views. Once at the airport I drop off my check-in suitcase and eat my leftover Boudin’s for lunch. I stroll around the terminal before boarding my flight. The two-hour flight back to Denver runs smoothly and I step into my home state as the sun sinks low over the Rockies, 144 days after leaving Colorado for this incredible adventure! In spite of not having to deal with my antics while I was gone, my parents are overjoyed to see me. My dad drives me home, where my mom has a couple of gifts waiting: a beautiful painting of New Zealand along with an inspirational travel quote plaque to hang on my wall. After dropping off my things, I drive to my best friend’s house to catch up (and play with his cats of course)! He is leaving on his own holiday tomorrow, spending several weeks in Zürich, Switzerland. While I am jealous that he is returning to Zürich, it feels good to be home and relax for a bit; the strong, intense feelings that come along with travel have subsided for now.