I’ve clocked many air-miles in the last ten years or so. I’ve even circumnavigated the globe on one particular trip, but this summer was the first time I crossed the equator. As I’ve written before (see here), a lot of the journeys I make are done on freighter flights where the lack of the usual creature-comforts of standard air travel are sometimes compensated for in other ways. Watching the world passing by below, charting rivers, mountains, seas and lakes with your own eyes, surveying an endless cloudscape, or watching the night time stars merge with the growing glow upon the horizon really allows you to gauge the vast expanse of the globe beneath you.
This was another long haul trip. Travelling from London via Mumbai to Hong Kong; then Hong Kong to Sydney and Melbourne, finishing up with a truck ride several hours overland. Quite an exhausting itinerary with the shock of transitioning the whole spectrum of climate zones. From a sunny but mild London summer’s day to the torrential downpour of Mumbai’s mid-monsoon, to Hong Kong’s tropical 40ºC with matching humidity, to Australia’s frosty winter mornings with lows of -3ºC.
The journey took four days in total which meant I slept for long portions of two of the flight’s four stages. Consequently I missed what route we flew from London to Mumbai, but I suspect we may well have flown over or close to the Ukraine, where only a few days later the tragedy of Flight MH17 occurred. From Mumbai we flew across India and Bangladesh, where I had a good view of (what the pilots told me was) the confluence of the Rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra, before crossing Burma into China, where we then headed down to Guangzhou. I sat in the cockpit for what was quite a spectacular night landing at Hong Kong. Below we had good views of the bright lights of Guangzhou, the Pearl River, Macao, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon as we weaved our way between dark fluffy lumps of cloud in which tropical lightning was flickering on and off. What the pilots (when speaking over the radio to air-traffic control on the ground) calmly referred to as “patches of weather.” This was quite an otherworldly spectacle to behold and far better than any firework display I’ve ever been to!
On the flight south from Hong Kong to Sydney I asked the pilot to let me know when we crossed the equator as it was my first time travelling to the Southern Hemisphere. He joked that he’d come and pour a glass of water over my head in honour of the traditional ‘crossing the line’ ceremony! Thankfully he didn’t, especially as it turns out I was asleep at the time. He did give me a map with our exact route printed-out as a souvenir though, consequently I could easily pin-point the place where we crossed the line of zero degrees latitude over the Molucca Sea between the northern point of Indonesia’s Sulawesi (Celebes) and North Maluku, islands which resonate in my imagination as the setting for Joseph Conrad’s novels, Almayer’s Folly (1895) and An Outcast of the Islands (1896). After which we crossed the Banda Sea which, ever since watching Lorne and Lawrence Blair’s Ring of Fire films, I’ve always wanted to cross – except I’d rather hoped to do so in an old Bugis sailing prau as they did, but hey-ho, you can’t always have your cake and eat it, I suppose!
When not reading I spent much of the daylight hours of this journey cloud watching or trying to interpret the physical features of the landscape below. Along with the two great rivers of Bangladesh I had some wonderful views of the interior of Australia. Coming into land at Sydney I had an excellent view of Sydney harbour, the famous harbour bridge and opera house. As the aircraft banked round and came back along the coast, descending into land I watched the cliffs and beaches growing closer and I couldn’t help thinking of Captain Cook sailing along that same stretch of coast in HMB Endeavour. Thinking how much has changed in all that time, and yet still how each new landfall we make is a similar personal voyage of discovery of our own – and, of course, without a doubt it’s always fun to make such new landings in novel and unconventional ways, like arriving in your own private 747!