Well the past few weeks since Jagoda and the troops left have been hectic to say the least! I'll try and summarise it up in as short a space as possible, but there's a lot to remember on this one! Over a month since my last post, I know.
So I got back to Jakarta and had the embarrassment of trying to get out of Indonesia when my company forgot to pay my baggage allowance and also sent me one day after my visa had expired.. A quick note slipped here and there into various palms sorted the whole situation out but I was then left with no cash and heading to Kuala Lumpur. Hey ho, good thing corruption still exists somewhere! (The best bit was trying to claim back the cash outlay and being asked for a receipt - for a bribe!)
The onward journey was less stressful, as Malaysia is a much more organised place, but there was still the waiting around and being bored in airports that has now become quite routine to me. I was still on a high after the previous 2 weeks and looking at the pictures kept me entertained!
Arriving in Medan after Papua felt like I was like going back a step, but I now had a lot of hours and so knew this was the time to start knuckling down. Who knows, Captaincy might just be around the corner and I don't want to be cramming numbers at the last minute.
My first flight back on the line was with the base manager and was quite unique. We flew around the whole west of Sumatra for the Forestry Commission who were taking photos of the replanted areas, with the cargo door open! I flew for 3 hours at 1000 feet with someone hanging out the back of my aeroplane! It was so bloody noisy!
The rest of that week was basically just gearing up for my weeks holiday in Thailand to visit my Mum and Dad. At that point I had been in Indonesia for 10 months and as you all know, have not been home in all that time, so this was going to be a nice shot in the arm and a slice of home that I've been missing. My only request was for some tea bags!
So I left my last flight of the day, changed clothes in our waiting area and then boarded my flight to KL - again! I stayed one night there in a cheap and cheerful hotel and despite the room being about half the size of a prison cell was actually not too bad. I had satellite TV, my own bathroom and free internet. It was at this point I realised I had managed to leave my camera in Medan somewhere.. Me and cameras have this constant urge to separate from each other and this love-hate relationship had come about again. Anyway, I managed to watch a live game back in the Uk, unfortunately it was Arsenal, but still. An early start in the morning followed and so the alarm was set to 'stupid-o-clock'. I checked my email one more time only to find that I had been scheduled in for a Captains upgrade course the week after I was due back from Thailand! Short notice indeed, but I wasn't complaining! This was big news as I wasn't expecting it to come quite this soon. Sleeping was tough that night.
I got to KL airport with no problems at all which just goes to show how well I know this city now! The flight was 2 hours to Bangkok and I slept for nearly all of it given my thought-filled night.
So then, back in Thailand for the first time since Christmas and about 2 hours away from seeing my parents. I jumped on a coach and headed south for Pattaya. I was getting a lot of SMS's from my mum at this point but couldn't reply as Indonesian phones run out of cash very quickly when abroad! An hour and a half later and then I was about a 5 minute Baht-Bus ride away. I later found out that this should have cost 10 baht - it cost me 100. Tourist thiefs!
So then, I arrived at the Amari Orchard Hotel and Tower to find my Mum and Dad sat having a drink and waiting to see me. I haven't been on holiday with them since I was about 16 so this was going to be different in itself. I was really happy to see them and I think they were too. The hotel looked amazing from the outside and the first time I have stayed in something this grand for a long time.
I had so much to tell them and there were a lot of changes back home which I listened to over the next hour. Checking in was funny though, I was informed that if I were to bring 'someone' back to my room then I have to inform the desk and pay 1000 Baht! They are so open in Thailand!
I grabbed a quick shower and then we headed out for some food. We sat around talking for ages before deciding to go and get changed and head out for dinner. Staying pretty local, we ended up in the sports bar of the hotel and after a few pints thought darts and pool would be a good idea. Somehow, coming back from the past, was my Dads aim! He won all the darts matches and beat me at pool every time! I couldn't believe it! Mum wasn't so hot and was constantly taking out chunks from the wall. Still, after breaking 4 of the 6 darts we decided enough was enough.
The next day was fairly standard of my week there. Rising at a respectable hour, heading to the hotel pool and relaxing! I hadn't done this in a long, long time and although it seemed like a typical englishman on tour kind of thing to do, I loved it! No work, no hassle, just sun and swim :)
Scoffing down some Thai Green Curry and exploiting the happy hour was nice and then sitting at the pool bar sipping cocktails put the icing on the cake so to speak.
The beach wasn't up to much in Pattaya and so there was no incentive to go down to the sea but walking around the town opened your eyes to the bars and the rather social girls who work there.. Some are not girls as I'm sure you are aware.
I got to eat English food in a British Legion restaurant which again made me look like a tourist, but sod it, I have been away for a year and so deserved to sample a roast dinner! I haven't quite come to terms that I'm an expat now but it's slowly sinking in! It wasn't all about English food though, we went to the hotels 5* restaurant and ate more glamerous food too! This is my gold leaf topped truffle and broccoli soup...
We generally relaxed while I was there and just caught up on all the stories. We played golf at a driving range and again my Dad somehow managed to launch a ball into orbit on most occasions! How?! The last and only time I have seen my Dad hit a golf ball it was on the Nintendo Wii. Oh, I also had my feet eaten by fish in a fish-spa which was a very strange experience!
The week went pretty quick and before long it was time for me to head back to Indonesia. It was really nice to see them both and generally get out of Indonesia for a while. Hopefully it won't be as long until the next time!
So I had to depart Thailand, wondering if there were jobs going that I could apply for there! I got up early, said my goodbyes and set off back to my second home, an airport!
I didn't wait long until I was boarding the flight to KL and starting to really figure out what was to be expected of me on the Captains course.. Now was the time to make a plan and get busy!
Sitting in KL was as much fun as it always is. The staff in Starbucks now recognise me and I get biscuits free of charge. I sat down and watched Grand Tourino on my laptop and then had a quick look at the news. Oh, a Volcano in Sumatra had decided that after 400 years it would blow its top. Great.
I went over to the airport information desk, who hadn't a clue about the situation, then went direct to Air Asia's information desk, who surprise-surprise were equally as clueless to whether the flight was still going ahead or not. I decided it was worth looking into hotels just in case.
Eventually the time came for boarding and it seemed as if I wouldn't be stranded. The flight for me was a bit tense as I still don't have 100% faith in Indonesian pilots. Given the fact that there was a volcanic eruption not more than 30 miles away from where we would be approaching and having knowledge of what ash does to engines all came to my mind!
I got back safely to Medan however at 10pm. Arriving back to the house I spoke to one of the other guys here. He assumed I was flying in the morning and so I got myself ready for a 5am pick-up and set myself up for a good nights sleep. On waiting for the usual bus to turn up in the morning I found no movement from anyone anywhere so went back to bed (Remember how organised my company is?!). I got up again at 10am ready for the 10:20am pick-up when a Captain came to my door and said, "the bus is here.. Where is all your stuff?" I was a little surprised by this comment and then when asking what he meant he informed me that we were evacuating Medan due to the volcano! Great. 30 seconds later I was in a bus heading to the airport. Funny how Air Asia and Garuda airlines thought it not important enough to cancel their schedules. My faith in Indonesian airlines withers a bit more everyday.
The usual confusion was evident at our airport office and so luckily I had time to go back and pack. I was then told I would be flying a full load of staff to Jakarta and then would be staying there for a week until my upgrade course.
That week I basically spent either revising and going through the pre-course material or out with my friend Stephanie catching up on the company gossip. There were some funny stories, but you would have to know the people and the company to get them.
So the week past by, I got my orders to be ready to go and then off I went! I got to Halim airport and was told that I would be flying as a Captain, taking the crew and staff down to South Java! Right then, straight in at the deep end! I had never started the engine before and there I was being asked to do it! ha ha. This company. Of course I knew what to do, I'm just making it sound dramatic :)
The flight was really good and I immediately got a taste for the decision making.. From now on I would be calling the shots, great :)
We arrived in Pangandaran with no issues and my landing was perfect. The problem now came in the fact that we were in the middle of Ramadan and the place was swarming with people, millions of people. The noise was crazy and the fireworks seemed to never end. Not good when you are being dragged up for class at 7am every morning and then asked to fly intense, problem filled, emergency riddled flights! (Part of the training, not actually real emergencies!)
Ground school was fairly straight forward (easy!) but then we were asked to go and fly tourists around the peninsular! I mean we had less than 1 hour in the plane as Captains and now we were expected to go and do 10 minute joy flights with people on board and landing on the beach strip! Bring it on!
The training continued on for a week in total, although it was spread over 3 weeks due to the end of Ramadan celebrations.. We joined in, but drank too. Well, I'm no Muslim am I!
Essentially the upgrade was more of a testing exercise than formal training and after becoming more and more familiar with each and every flight I felt really ready for the line.
The five of us on the course all passed and were asked which bases we wanted. I didn't really care and so offered myself up for Medan. Not a favourite among the others but I knew the place, knew the routes, enjoyed the area itself and felt it would give me a lot of hours quickly. I was not wrong!
I have been here 3 weeks now and have logged almost 70 hours in my logbook! Insane! My first week was line training with the Training Captain and this was hilarious. He basically played the dumb co-pilot and essentially I had to watch his every move. At times he couldn't fly straight, couldn't understand the computer system we have, didn't know the effects of flying through a thundercloud and then forgot how to land properly.. I told him I would be speaking to the boss to reassess his position in the company!
Anyway, he was very pleased with me and passed me fit to fly on the line!
I've been flying with experienced co-pilots (Some who have more hours than me!) and so none of this dumb co-pilot stuff has happened - yet!
Will try and give you an insight to the Captain flying in my next blog!
See you all soon I hope.