Wandering the World Part 18

San Diego, CA.

For quite some time I knew I’d be going to Antarctica, and for almost as long I knew it would be my next trip after visiting Africa. What I hadn’t thought about though was if or when I’d finally get to visit the United States of America.

I always thought that one day I’d get to visit the USA, though an opportunity to never arose. It seemed like North America would at some point become my last continent. That was until one of my colleagues started off on a one year road trip around the US with one of his friends. Before they’d left we’d decided to try for tickets to San Diego Comic Con (commonly abbreviated to SDCC) — the most popular comic and film convention in the US.

I’ve been to conventions in the UK, as both an attendee and as someone helping out. The ones I’d been to focused on traders, though in the later years were getting an increasing number of actors, writers, and other famous faces attending for signings. SDCC is one which is very Hollywood centric and has the focus on panels, and on the companies that bring our favourite TV shows and movies to the screen.

The problem though was that it wasn’t guaranteed we’d be able to get tickets. For SDCC the tickets go on sale months before the actual event, and before this you have to pre-register so that you’ll be sent a link to where you can try to get tickets closer to the time. On the day of registration we each opened up a browser window and waited for the ticket sales to be opened. Of the three of us only one was able to get through to the ticket sales page even though we’d all tried visiting the page within seconds of it going live.

Fortunately one of the group being able to access the page is all it takes — this was enough for tickets to be booked and our attendance to SDCC being guaranteed. It was a bit touch and go to start with though as the page failed to load once for the one that got through to the queue — fortunately due to his web development knowledge he was able to rejoin his place in the queue and continue the wait.

The plans were set, and I’d be spending two days at the convention, and would have almost two days to look around the city as well. This meant that when I eventually made it to Antarctica it would now be my final continent.

Once we’d got confirmation of the tickets we didn’t book accommodation straight away. My friends left for the US and it was some time before they were willing to look at what was available despite me frequently pestering them. Around the time of SDCC the prices of hotels go up as the availability goes down. After some extensive searching we did find a suitable hostel not far from the convention centre so once again we were quite lucky.

As I was flying by myself I thought I’d fly from the nearest airport, though I later found that sometimes it’s good to see what trains are available first before booking. Unfortunately the trains near me don’t start running until 06:00, and then finish a while before midnight. Needing to be at the airport for 03:25 meant I had to take the last train and try to nap in departures until I could check-in. This is an airport without chairs in departures however, so the floor was the only option. That was definitely another lesson learnt.

As I was flying out of a small airport I first had to fly to Frankfurt in order to catch a bigger aircraft. The plane landed in Germany ten minutes before the boarding time for the next flight yet I had to take a bus to the other end of the airport, then walk back to the opposite end of the terminal, take the monorail to another terminal and then get to the other end of that one. I then had to pass through security again. By the time I reached the Boeing 747–8 I was already fifteen minutes late, but I was lucky — they were still boarding.

When I arrived in Los Angeles I found that LAX felt like organised chaos. It’s understandable really considering how many flights they have to deal with. Even though I was still in transit it was treated as an international arrival so had to first go through customs, collect my baggage and drop it onto another carousel. From there I had to take a bus to another terminal, and went through security yet again. By the time I was on the flight to San Diego I’d been awake for forty-two hours.

An hour after arriving in San Diego my friends met up with me. They’d managed to get a ride with an airport shuttle from a hotel, and together we took a cab to the hostel we’d be staying at in the historic Gaslamp Quarter.

The Gaslamp Quarter is on the nation’s historic places register. It’s creation was an attempt to move the city centre closer to the bay, and today is still filled with many Victorian-era buildings. During San Diego it is one of the busiest parts of the city due to it’s proximity to the convention centre.

My friends had already been in San Diego for a few days so had seen quite a bit of the city. As I arrived there were people setting up for the convention so a lot of the quarter had already changed. Once I’d dropped my bags off at the hostel and had secured them in a locker, we headed out towards the convention centre.

I found it amazing how much the city embraced this convention. One of the bars that we passed had a new fascia erected to advertise a TV series from SyFy, and the interior had even been decorated to make it look more like the “Need/Want” set from the show. Outside of the convention centre there were large inflatable versions of characters from Teen Titans, and a LEGO reproduction of Bag End, and some of the dwarves from The Hobbit.

Crossing over a footbridge from there we found that a car park was now in use to advertise various TV shows, computer games, and movies. The first thing I spotted was an inflatable Smurf that was the size of a house, though next to this I spotted a Tatooine Sail Barge from Star Wars — this was there for LucasFilm’s Force for Change charity campaign.

Wandering around for a bit longer in the Gaslamp Quarter we eventually stopped at a place for food. We had to show our ID on the way in as it was a bar, but after the others had ordered drinks they decided to tell us they’d stopped serving food.

Eventually we moved on to another place where we got a slice of pizza though they were running short on what was available as it was close to midnight. I decided to go for something simple and ordered a slice of margherita pizza.

By the time we’d settled back into the hostel it was gone midnight and the other three occupants of the room had arrived as well — all of whom had been to the SDCC preview night. I’d not stayed in a hostel before, but I could see how it could add to the social experience of the convention. For this night though, I decided to use some earplugs so that after fifty-seven hours I could finally sleep.

Although I thought I’d need more sleep I awoke at 05:00 the next morning, and was ready to make the most of my one completely free day in the city. At the hostel you had to make breakfast yourself, but they provided free pancake mix, maple syrup, and some basic kitchen facilities. It was the first time I’d made pancakes myself so I was very lucky they came out edible and in one piece.

During the lead-up to the trip I’d pre-ordered some of the event t-shirts, so the first thing I did in the morning was to join the long queue outside of the Marriott fulfilment room so I could pick them up. It took an hour to get through that queue, but it was the first of many. With all the queues it seemed like the convention embraced British culture.

For what remained of the morning we headed over to another part of the hotel that had been re-purposed as “The Nintendo Gaming Lounge”. This is where my friends had been whilst they waited for me to get through the queue.

Around this area a few people were cosplaying as characters from Nintendo games — such as Mario and even someone dressed as the Pokémon character, Pikachu. When playing some of the games in the lounge, Nintendo employees would give you a token which could be redeemed for a t-shirt once you had enough tokens. Some of the other games also gave away free pin badges.

Han Solo and Princess Leia dance off

It was my first time trying out one of their new gaming consoles, though I found the games a little “laggy”. What I mean by that is that what was on the screen would be slow to react to the controls. As these were development consoles they wouldn’t necessarily represent the final product — though not great advertisement regardless. I did however get a free Mario hat for my efforts as well as a few tees.

Outside of the hotel we found that in a parking lot they’d created an area for boat races. This was advertisement for a History Channel show called “Vikings”. The fastest time for the day would win a viking shield signed by the cast — it sounded fun, and we thought we’d give it a good go.

Before we could get into one of the viking boats we had to first sign a waiver, and then put on a life vest and helmet. We worked hard, though we weren’t working in rhythm which almost toppled our boat. When we finished we found we’d achieved the fourth fastest time of the day.

When we saw our time we thought we should have another go, so once again signed the waiver and joined the queue. This time we put everything we had into paddling, but again we didn’t row together. What we did do however was to create big enough waves that the boat we were racing was capsized by them. Hopefully they weren’t too angry we’d caused them to get a bit wet.

When we left the race we were each given a free Vikings comic book, and posed for photographs with the female Viking warriors. One of my friends tried to make them break character and laugh, but wasn’t successful. There was still much to see, but after our hard efforts we decided it was time for lunch.

A viking warrior

The first place we tried was too crowded to get a table — one of the downsides to being in San Diego during convention week with over 130,000 other attendees. As we left that first place we were still wearing the Mario hats we’d won from Nintendo earlier in the morning. To our surprise we were stopped, and asked if our picture could be taken — not something that happens often. In fact, not since I was confused for Peter Parker whilst in India.

We eventually found a sports bar where we were able to get a bacon cheeseburger and fries. This was my first proper American meal so before this I hadn’t realised that most places like this would do free refills on drinks. As I was eating I spotted a group of people on the next table, and amongst them was one of the people from the “Ryan versus Dorkman” videos. These videos are a type of Star Wars fan video which is centred around a lightsaber duel with impressive special effects. They’re videos that most Star Wars fans, and some filmmakers would be aware of.

Being able to get free refills meant I could refill my drink before we left so I could wander around San Diego with a cold drink in hand. This didn’t work out quite as planned though as we joined a queue which did not allow drinks. This queue was to walk around the sets, and to see the props of a new movie adaptation of the Orson Scott Card book, “Ender’s Game”.

I thought this was a great way to do promotions for a new movie as getting to see things first-hand invests you in the final product more. Having seen that we decided to continue along that road towards in the direction we’d gone the night before.

In the car park we’d been in previously they now had cosplaying zombies roaming around to advertise AMC’s The Walking Dead — a show based on the work of Robert Kirkman. There was also a barricaded trailer to advertise another series called “Falling Skies” about an alien invasion. For this one we decided we’d join the queue.

Zombies!

We queued for quite some time, but whilst we waited the people running it were asking some trivia about the show. When they asked the question “Who does Noah Wyles play?” I answered with “Tom Mason”, and won myself another t-shirt. It was starting to seem that I needn’t have brought t-shirts with me in my suitcase for this trip.

The queue wasn’t actually worthwhile in the end as at the end of it they were just airing a sizzle real for the episodes that had already aired. From there we went to another trailer where they were showing a 3D trailer and IMAX exclusive scene from a movie called Gravity.

Our next stop was at a place where they’d created a car that resembled the one from a video game of Mad Max that they were promoting. For this they’d dress you up in post-apocalyptic themed gear and film you “driving” it whilst shooting the prop gun from the window. I guess it was a bit of fun really, and as I’d quickly changed into the free Mad Max t-shirt they gave me they also got me to pose in front of the car for some more promotional material. Time during SDCC really is quite surreal.

When we decided that we’d seen everything we decided to head in the direction of the Hilton hotel. Our intention was to locate the Indigo Ballroom as we’d seen that there would be a panel for “How I Met Your Mother” on the Saturday, and we wanted to make sure we knew where we’d be queuing.

Whilst we were there the actor who played “Beast” in a TV re-imagining of the Beauty and the Beast story walked passed me. It took a moment for me to realise who it was, and then I saw Kristin Kreuk who played the “Beauty” in the same show. I’d seen her in another TV series called Smallville previously so recognised her instantly, but wasn’t quick enough to take a photograph.

I walked over to her and waited patiently to ask if I could take a picture, but she was surrounded by her fans wanting her autograph. Unfortunately someone arrived to lead her out of the hotel and I missed my chance. Five minutes later she walked passed again but this time I didn’t bother — I figured she wasn’t keen on people taking her photograph.

Before leaving the hotel I stopped by their shop to pick-up a USB charger as the one I’d packed for the trip didn’t fit in the wall sockets here. Whenever I pushed it into the wall it popped straight back out again. It wasn’t cheap but I managed to find one for US$20 so I could charge my phone. What I hadn’t realised though was that in American shops they advertise prices without sales tax. That was a bit confusing and I couldn’t understand why they work like that, though I believe it has something to do with sales tax being different not just in different states, but sometimes even in different cities.

Outside the hotel we had another look at the LEGO in daylight before wandering down the dockside. In the dock we saw one piece of advertisement that was on a scale very different to everything else we’d seen — the video game publisher Ubisoft had decorated a ship to look like “The Jackdaw” from their “Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag” video game.

As the day started to draw to an end we decided we’d head back to the hostel to relax for a while before heading out for food. One of my friends wasn’t feeling too well though so he stayed at the hostel whilst the two of us went to Subway for an easy meal. It was unlucky that after an amazingly fun day that he’d caught a cold.

I’d intended to have an early start so I could join the queue for the SDCC badges early. My alarm had other ideas though, and failed to go off which meant I was having breakfast a little later than expected. Sometimes that little extra sleep is needed though — especially after a couple of days of sleep deprivation and travelling.

By the time we got to the convention centre the line for badge collection extended around the back of it, passed the Marriott hotel, and along the seafront. It was a fast moving queue though, and before long we’d made it into the badge collection room. Fortunately this was something we’d only need to do once as they hand out your badges for each day at the same time. They also handed us a Warner Bros. sponsored bag, a lanyard, and a souvenir guide before entering.

San Diego Convention Centre

When we got our bearings we realised the entrance was near to the queue for Ballroom 20 — one of the larger rooms they had TV show panels in. We noticed that there would be one for a “The Big Bang Theory” writers panel soon so we decided we may as well get some more experience of SDCC queuing.

It took two hours to get through the queue, but we made it into our first ever SDCC panel. I found this to be enjoyable as they explained the writing process for the show. They also gave a few hints of what we could expect in the next season.

This panel was moderated by Melissa Rauch, the actress who plays Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz on the show. She was there to get questions from the audience for the writers. During the question and answer session there was one person who stood up and was dressed as the bounty hunter Boushh from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

In Star Wars this character was Princess Leia in disguise, and was in the palace of a crime-lord in order to rescue one of the other main characters — Han Solo. The knowledge of how this scene plays out would be an important part of what came next.

The Boushh cosplayer asked a question though at first they couldn’t understand what was being said due to a voice-changer. Upon repeating it they understood and answered the question. What came next was not expected — the cosplayer told them that their answer was not acceptable.

One of the writers exclaimed “who do you think you are?”. The cosplayer then removed his helmet to reveal Johnny Galecki — the actor who plays Doctor Leonard Hofstadter on the show. He then replied with “someone who loves you”.

This exchange caused the entire ballroom to erupt in laughter as not only was this paraphrasing the scene from Star Wars, but it was completely inline with the characters interests. I may have only gotten to see a couple of the cast members, but this made it more memorable than any of the other panels.

When the panel was over we decided that we’d look around the exhibitor hall for a while to see the other side of SDCC. I’d been to conventions in the UK before but none were quite like this — the hall was massive and packed to the walls with large companies, private sellers, and the general public.

Our first stop was in the gaming area where both Microsoft and Sony had set-up a number of demo systems for their upcoming consoles. On the Sony side of the area they were demoing a racing game where the winner would get a free handheld console. I’d never played on a Playstation before, and even though I crashed a couple of times I was only nine seconds off the winning time.

On the Microsoft side they were demonstrating their new Xbox One console with a game called Ryse. This one wasn’t as good however as most of the game demo used what is known as quick time events — also known as content-sensitive game play. This means that the player isn’t really doing anything other than hitting the button on the controller that the screen tells them too.

These two booths are a strong indication of what the exhibitor side of SDCC is like. It is mostly about brands promoting whatever it is they want people to watch or buy in the near future. Though for those that sell in the hall there can be high demand.

We’d heard that the LEGO stand was giving away free mini figures whilst they still had stock, though in order to get one we’d have to queue in the Sails Pavilion. It could be a long queue, and there was no guarantee of getting one at the end so we decided it wasn’t worth it.

There were a few famous faces we saw during the morning’s walk as well such as the voice actor behind one of the characters on Family Guy — Patrick Warburton. We saw him just wandering the show floor, not actually at a booth for signing. I also got to see Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, and Michael Dorn — all of which were actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation during the 1990s.

One of the more surprising stands was that Google were there and letting people try out their new Google Glass headset. They took our photos during this, possibly as a record of who had used them. I didn’t really get on with Google Glass that well as I couldn’t wear my glasses at the same time.

Whilst we were queuing though I did spot Kevin Sorbo, the actor who played Hercules in “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and Captain Dylan Hunt on the Gene Roddenberry series, Andromeda. I walked over and asked if it was okay if I took his photograph and he was happy to oblige.

Kevin Sorbo AKA Hercules

We worked our way out of the exhibition hall slowly, and looked through artists alley. By now it was long passed midday so we decided we’d sit and snack on some of the food we’d bought. It wasn’t healthy, but it was enough to keep us going.

Back inside the exhibition hall after we’d eaten, or wandering was just as aimless as before. One of the first booths we came across was one that was in use by a group of people working on an “Enterprise D Bridge Restoration” project. Here they had three of the chairs from the bridge of the starship from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Considering I was wearing a Star Trek t-shirt I couldn’t pass this chance up so queued to have my photograph taken.

One of our group left to watch a panel about video games whilst we continued to look around the stalls. We then started to take a more methodical route through the hall and eventually saw Gillian Anderson (Special Agent Dana Scully), Chris Carter (creator and screenwriter), and Dean Haglund (Richard “Ringo” Langly) from The X-Files. We also saw John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood) but this was the one actor we weren’t allowed to photograph.

When we came across the BBC America booth we found they weren’t just selling show-exclusive items, but they also had some props on display. They had a dress worn by Doctor Who companion Jenna Louise-Coleman (Clara), the suit worn by Matt Smith (eleventh Doctor), a copy of the suit worn by William Hartnell (first Doctor), and the scarf worn by the forth Doctor, Tom Baker.

When we left the exhibitor hall we were rejoined by our other friend in the queue for Hall H where it was expected that the heavy metal band Metallica was going to be there. It was a long wait and for a good portion of it there was someone with a sign and megaphone preaching about Christianity. Apparently we were all damned for attending comic con. That’s nice.

When the local news turned up to interview him they were completely ignored but they went ahead with their broadcast anyway. This was still going on when we were eventually let into the hall. This one was incredibly big — far bigger than Ballroom 20.

Apparently quite a few people had been in there all day which explained why it’s usual to only see panels in there if you’ve queued up outside overnight. It made me wonder if they should empty the room after the panel to give everyone a fair chance, though it’d also mean the turnaround time between panels would be longer and you wouldn’t be able to see two consecutive panels you’re interested in.

During the panel they brought out the members of Metallica and played the trailer to their new movie. The bass from the trailer was incredible, and the film actually looked quite good. There was then a short question and answer session that should have been followed with seeing who had won tickets to a secret gig. They made a bit of a mess of it though as not everyone had been given the lottery tickets for it. Somehow our row ended up with two tickets each as well.

It was slow work getting back to the hostel from there as the crowds of people made a mass exodus from the convention centre. When we got back it was a chance to relax and rest our feet for a while before heading back out to get some food — once again to Subway as one friend didn’t want to eat and the other wanted a sub.

For my last full day in San Diego we had a very late start to the day — my friends didn’t want to be at the convention centre early. I felt like it was wasted time, though the panels they wanted to visit were later. I wanted to comment that the earlier we got in the queue the better our chance of seeing them, but I regrettably kept quiet.

I was getting fed up of unhealthy pancakes by this point as well so decided to have a croissant, a banana, and a yogurt for breakfast. When we finally left we were a lot later than they’d even planned to be as one of my friends had spilt cold medicine everywhere and had to clean it up first. It was frustrating that more and more of the day was being wasted around the hostel.

We queued up outside the Hilton for quite sometime whilst the volunteers kept rearranging the queuing system. I assume this was mostly due to them trying to keep the walkway clear. Part of me wondered if they did that to try and keep people hopeful, though I realised this was not the case when they announced it was unlikely that the queue passed a certain point would get in.

By the time of the “How I Met Your Mother” panel we were told that the panel was full due to there having been a large number of people queue overnight for it, and so we’d wasted the entire morning.

It felt like the day was going to be filled with failed attempts to see panels, but despite this we headed over to the queue for Ballroom 20 to see if we could get in for the Family Guy and American Dad panel. It was amazing, but this queue only lasted for an hour and we got in on the panel.

For the Family Guy panel they brought out the cast and played a short clip of what we could expect over the upcoming season. Between Family Guy and American Dad some of the audience left so we moved forward a little. I knew that a later panel would be for The Vampire Diaries so I’d planned on staying longer and thought this would give me a better chance of photographing the cast.

After the American Dad panel there was one for a vampire series called True Blood. At this point I’d only ever seen one episode so didn’t really know what to expect. During this panel they played a sizzle reel for the upcoming season — by the end of this panel I realised I needed to get back to watching this series. Sometimes these panels really are a good way to advertise their show.

Finally it was time for The Vampire Diaries, and for this panel a number of the cast and writers took to the stage to talk about the next season and for a question and answer session. At the start of the panel they played a clip that looked back over the past four years for Elena, Damon and Steffan before moving on to clips from the upcoming season. This was quite interesting when they started to talk about character development, and what their bigger plans were for them.

Following this panel I stayed for one more panel— The Arrow. This is a show I was already watching on TV and had enjoyed it so far. The trailer for the new season was brilliant, and got a good reaction from the crowd — particularly when they introduced Summer Glau.

The Arrow — Colton Haynes, Katie Cassidy, and Stephen Amell

During the discussion segment John Barrowman, the actor who played “The Dark Archer” in the series (and Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who and Torchwood), turned up to crash the panel.

At this point he drew all the attention towards himself away from the rest of the cast, and when he got left out on a question about the season two opening episode, the first episode after his character’s apparent death, he got annoyed and decided he’d answer the question as well. I couldn’t decide whether this arrogant attitude was real, or whether it was an act for the benefit of the panel.

I’m sure he does respect and enjoy the company of the cast though as he bought “Oliver Queen” a gift on his way to the panel, and was wearing an Arrow t-shirt. By the end of the panel he was starting to seem less self-centred and was starting to be polite to the show’s fans. If his earlier behaviour wasn’t an act it may have been the stress of doing signings all morning.

Once this panel was over I went back to the exhibitor hall one last time to buy from some of the private sellers. This was a bit of a rush as it would soon be closed for the day, though we were also hoping to meet-up with the friend who had left at the end of the American Dad panel earlier in the day.

We never found our friend by 19:00 so left the convention centre for the final time, heading back through the Gaslamp Quarter. Progress through the quarter was slow as not only was everyone else leaving, but we’d encountered a horde of zombie cosplayers. There were hundreds of them roaming through the quarter, and some were zombie versions of comic characters.

It wasn’t just that slowing us down though as there was also a large crowd around a group of people who were cosplaying as a dragon and rider from Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your Dragon”. It really is impressive how much work some people put into their costumes.

Just before we got back to the hostel we passed a famous US model named Adrianne Curry who was cosplaying as Mileena, a character introduced in Mortal Kombat 2. She’s a well known fan of science fiction and fantasy, and her cosplay is always impressive. People were interrupting her outside a restaurant to take photographs, and as others already had I decided to take a quick photograph before moving on.

Adrianne Curry as Mileena from Mortal Kombat 2

Back at the hostel the time had come to begin packing for the long journey home. Our other friend hadn’t yet turned up, but he wanted me to take his bottle of Jack Daniels he’d bought in Tennessee back to England for him.

For my last American meal we went over to a restaurant on Broadway and ordered a burger and fries. It was a good meal, though the service was understandably slow — this like every other restaurant was bursting at the seams with Comic Con attendees. They did get a friend’s order wrong but he wasn’t bothered by it and ate it anyway.

That was it — the SDCC experience was over, and the following morning I got up early to finish packing ready for flying. Once I’d checked out I started walking in the direction of the USS Midway with my suitcase dragging behind me.

I don’t think I took the most direct route to the dock as at one point I had to double back on myself to cross the road to the entrance. At a reasonable walking pace it was only thirty minutes from the hostel. After queuing up and paying I realised I’d got the wrong kiosk and instead had paid for a boat tour and not the boarding fee for the Midway. I was lucky though as they were able to refund it and send me in the direction of the right kiosk.

USS Midway

This tour cost US$19 which I felt was a good price, and they even let me leave my luggage and backpack at the visitor information point. It was a huge relief as if they hadn’t allowed it this would have meant either taking the tour with both in tow, or abandoning my visit to go to the airport instead.

To start with I headed straight up to the flight deck so I could get ahead in the queue for a tour of the bridge. Amazingly there were only two people in front of me so I was able to go more or less straight up. It was an interesting tour and very informative — the guide talked about what everything was for and even talked about some of the experiences of the Midway during it’s operation.

Once done I wandered around the flight deck taking photographs of the aircraft on the deck. There are a few which you’re allowed inside which I thought seemed quite nice. Inside one of the helicopters though there was a dove nesting so they’d put up a sign asking people to avoid disturbing the mother and the chicks. I was pleased to see people paying attention to the sign too.

Back below the flight deck there are various areas where you can go below deck to engineering, sick bay, the mess hall, crew quarters, and other parts of the carrier. On the main deck that is referred to as the city they have a place to get food and a souvenir shop. I had a brief break there to get a hot dog before continuing swiftly around my self-guided tour.

I could have spent a lot more time there, but with needing to get to the airport the available time was limited so just after midday I continued on towards the airport. This was a little further away than I’d thought, but even walking there I got there with plenty of time to spare.

The flight home was split into the same three segments as my flight out had been. On leaving San Diego I had to unlock my suitcase as they said they had to do manual checks after check-in and didn’t have an x-ray scanner like at other airports. It seemed odd, and is the only time I’ve encountered this — but I accepted it.

When I got back to the UK the lock for my luggage had gone, though there was no sign of it having been inspected. It would be cheap to do so, but I’d have no choice but to buy a new lock at some point during the few months that remained before the biggest trip I would ever go on.

At last my trip to Antarctica was in sight.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.