Day 1

Some where over the pacific:



Ok, itís a pretty lousy photo. In fact it kinda looks like we have suffered some kind of nuclear accident on the plane. In my defense it is 11pm and we are 3 hours into the flight. I took this picture with my trusty digital camera while people were trying to sleep, so I am not popular with some of the team I imagine. Too bad, the life of a professional journalist demands sacrifices from time to time, even if they are not mine. But, as you can sort of see, we are at 35,000 feet (10,800 metres for you younger readers) traveling at 1040 kmh, not far from Rarotonga according to my airplane map, although Rarotonga looks to have suffered the same fate as our plane. How did the day start for the NZ team I hear you ask? Well, lets back track 10 hours. (cue the funny music and wavy lines here)

Shane, Ryan, Hayden and their respective parents picked me up at 1pm. After a teary send off by the family (Wife was teary eyed, sons were watching TV and waved from the lounge, daughter was chasing grandson out the open door who had spotted a truck, other daughter was at work).

Together we traveled the 3 hours from Tauranga to Auckland, discussing along the way many things ranging from the teams prospects, to why do you call the survivors of a ship sinking shipwreck survivors, but the survivors of a plane crash are not called plane wreck survivors? (I donít know either but boy was I sorry I brought it up, it seems Mrs Black has a small aversion to flying).
Anyway, arriving at the airport we soon recognized a large gathering of black and white jackets and joined the plethora of excited team members, family, friends, and well wishers, including Master McPhail and Mrs Breen. After following Gary Sawyer into the wrong queue, the team members and myself were soon redirected down another line, from the one which had only us in it, to a much longer line containing almost everyone in the airport.(read on, this was the theme of the day for the team). Checking in our bags was pretty easy though, and then everyone headed upstairs to gather and have a picture or 20 taken. Then it was through the doors and past the baggage x-ray department with the very serious looking men and women of the customs department.
Here I must add the bit about teenagers and sweet shops. I must have done the same thing at their age, but lord knows how. Carlos personally spent $12 on lollies for the plane trip (Sorry Bruce, he got past me. I thought you gave me all his money!) but he wasnít the only one (Sam, Shane, The Twins, Rebecca, MelissaÖaw heck, I think I saw all of them in there at some stage).

Boarding the plane I found myself sitting between Shane and Sam. Fortunately for me Shane wanted to swap so I managed to get the aisle seat. Not long after we started moving away from the terminal, we had the captain's welcome announcement, the safety video, and most of us had managed to play with all the buttons on the in-flight remote thingy. Dinner was served, a choice between chicken or beef ravioli. I had the chicken, and very nice it was too. Sam had the beef, and having just asked him what it was like, he assures me it was Ďbrilliantí.
And so, here we are, somewhere out over the pacific passing by Rarotonga ( Which hasnít been destroyed by a nuclear explosion contrary to any photographic evidence). Outside temperature is a mind numbing minus 37 degrees and we have traveled 3,050 kms so far, and I have, according to Shane, assisted him in winning $300 on who wants to be a millionaire.
11 hours later we began our descent into LA. Foolishly, and against most adult advice, many of the team hadnít slept at all during the trip but despite this it was all smiles exiting the plane. Quite a surreal feeling to be standing on American soil for the first time. Many of the team commented on how weird it felt. Wait until Honduras is all I can say.
Before collecting our bags we had to pass through the first immigration check, and let me tell you this was an eye opener. We all had to have our fingerprints entered into their database, and then pose for a digital picture, glasses off. Bit scary really, nothing like big brother watching you to remind you that home is far far away.

Collecting bags and meeting outside, we had our first real look at the Americans. If this sounds a little funny to you, itís because I havenít met many, and havenít had a good impression so far, however all that has changed. They are very polite, well most are, and all curious to know who we are, where we are going etc. Waiting outside some of the boys were going wow over all the large cars, limoís, trucks, and especially the female police officer on the large bike, armed, and with a large shotgun sticking out of the back of her bike. Imagine the T5 terminator from Terminator 2, she was a spitting female image. This shut the boys up pretty quick!

The team draws a lot of stares, and one wonderful customs lady at the Continental check-in called us all over and put us in our own line, no tickets needed, just passports. If she ever reads this, thanks very much on behalf of the team. I can tell you that she certainly loved her job.
Then through another security check-in, where we had to remove our shoes and proceed through the scanners. These guys were not so happy to see us and it was a little intimidating, especially when I had to go back through the scanner to have my bag opened and the laptop sent through separately. Then once again onto the plane, this time for the 3 hour flight to Houston.

Watching the American plains roll on by below, you really get a sense of how big this country is. At least the plains didnít have the smog that was hanging over LA like some huge forest fire. The stewardesses on this flight loved having us, and even announced to the rest of the plane who we were, where we were going etc. It was just a nice touch after such a long day of planes, airports, and endless security checks.

Arriving in Houston, we waited ĺ of an hour for our bags to arrive, all except for Alisa whose luggage has gone missing. Hope they find it soon for her sake. After a short bus ride, we arrived at the hotel, where most of us are on the 13th floor (Unlucky for some!) and had dinner. So, that was our first day.




LA Airport


Hayden or Ryan, I still can't tell!



Double trouble, Suzy and Kelly