It's still a little too soon for us all to have official redeployment dates, but we're getting closer to having those assigned. Rumor has it I will likely be leaving the Pole in early November (the 3rd to the 6th) with the first LC-130 to arrive on November 1st. How exciting! No idea when Jason redeploys, hopefully close to my date, but I have a feeling it may be a bit later than me as he has a much more important position on station than me and therefore turnover may take longer.
Because we're getting closer to the end (3.5 months left!), we're getting more serious about vacation planning. We have to lock in our dates for diving in Cairns by the end of the month as apparently early December is a popular time for people to go dive in Australia. Jason's brother, Brian, will be joining us in Australia. It'll be nice to have somebody in my open water class with me. Plus, it'll put our American Airlines frequent flyer points to good use! The USAP has changed the carrier we fly with (now United Airlines) so I likely won't have much use for the AAdvantage points. We're going to "gift" the points to Brian so hopefully the long and expensive international flight to Australia won't be so bad. And, of course from his perspective (that I'm going to assume as I haven't spoken to him in a few weeks), I'm sure he's ready to take a break from Colorado living for a little while and do something new.
The toughest thing with trying to book our plans right now though is adding in buffer days. I have been told that in November the South Pole tends to experience some stormy weather that can cause cancellations and delays in flight plans. While we will be assigned "official" redeployment dates, nothing is truly official. As is such, we need to pre-plan some days to spend in Christchurch in the event that we don't make it there on time. I don't like the idea of paying for a hotel booking that I may not be able to use, but that's life. I had to do it in Punta Arenas in the event that the Laurence M. Gould, my chariot out, was delayed or stuck in some sea ice. Worst case scenario is that we arrive too early in Christchurch to begin our road trip and just have to hang out there for a while. If that happens, we'd likely try to take day trips to the surrounding area (a visit to Hanmer Springs for their hot springs/spa sounds lovely right now) to try to get some use out of our money.
We've also been reading more on car camping in New Zealand. As it turns out, their laws are much different from the United States'. In most places it will be illegal for us to just pull off to the side of the road and camp there; we are required to pay an entry fee for a campsite for the night. That will add a bit more expense depending on the campsite. You are also required to have some kind of portable water system/bathroom with you...which means a more expensive rental. We were planning to just camp like normal beings and use a hotel some nights to shower and freshen up as the rental was going to be so cheap. Maybe we'll still do that, but it seems like paying double to me at this point so I'll likely protest.
Their National Parks work differently too. In the US, I am used to just showing up and paying an entry fee to enter the park. I did this in Zion National Park August 2015 and Great Sand Dunes National Park August 2016. In NZ, apparently for some of the more popular National Parks (of course these are the ones I want to see!), you have to make a reservation for the date(s) you plan to be present. Normally when I go on a road trip with Jason, we just...go. Get in the car and drive. It makes it a lot more fun to just spontaneously go and see things. Of course some things are planned, but it's not like we abide by a strict itinerary. Unfortunately, this road trip is going to need to take a bit more planning to ensure that we hit our reservations on time. It takes the spontaneity and fun out of it, but at least I'll get to check out Milford Sound.
After all is said and done in NZ, we'll fly to Sydney and pick up Brian from the airport. The plan is to spend just a few days in Sydney as it is so expensive and, really, just another city. I want to see some of the more famous landmarks of course so those few days may be jam-packed with some touristy activities. Then, we'll fly to Cairns, where Brian and I will begin our open water class. I think we'll do the 4 day class as it's about $300 cheaper. I miss out on a couple of dives, but after two days of living on a boat and diving all day I think I'll be okay. After our liveaboard diving trip (Jason's still not quite sure if he wants to do another class or just join us for some diving), we need to spend a day in Cairns for a decompression stop. It's not safe to fly so quickly after diving.
From what I gather, Jason, and likely Brian, will want to do something else after this. See Australia or something. We talked about going to Bali as the flight is cheap and the living there is even cheaper ($20 for 5 star hotels!), but, man, I really don't want to be there at peak tourist season with all of the college backpackers from the UK and the States. There isn't anything at Bali either that makes me really want to go. Buddhist and Hindu temples are cool, but not that cool for me. Plus, to knock off Asia as a continent (leaving me only with Africa), I want to make sure nobody makes some nonsense claim of how Indonesia is an island and not really on the continent. If we were to stick around in Australia for longer, we'd probably go see Ayer's Rock or explore the Gold Coast of Australia. Not sure, once again, if I want to spend money to see some giant red rock, even if it is an impressive rock, but we'll see. The Gold Coast would be new for all of us so perhaps that's an option. Brian has 3 weeks of vacation he can waste, and we don't have any pressing need to return to winter in the US.
After all of that, we may have to fly to Auckland, NZ to catch our redeployment flight home with the USAP. Luckily Brian can just leave straight from Sydney and endure that 18+ hour flight again. Travel works a little differently from this side of the continent. At Palmer, I just called American Airlines to unlock my ticket and did delays in various spots on my trip home from the station. Here, the USAP supplies an actual travel agent that may be able to just give us the fare credit to do with as we please. Regardless, the USAP is required by contract to see that we make it home safely so we have to follow their rules. This doesn't bother me at all of course since the most expensive leg of the trip is covered by the company.
Once home, my plan is to eat some goddamn good Mexican food. Something with spice. Something with green chiles. Something with a margarita. Hopefully my tongue can handle the spice again. I should also probably be a good daughter and call my parents in Boston since phone calls have been difficult from the Pole for me. After that, well, I guess it's back to reality; I have to visit the Office of Student Services at school to register for my classes for the spring 2018 semester. This mini adventure has set my graduation date off by 1 year, but I knew that going into this. I'll complete my P1 year and be a "regular" person again, dealing with traffic, grocery shopping, and electrical bills. God it sounds so awful (mainly the traffic) when I put it in writing.