I wake in time to see the sun just risen over the horizon. The masted boat has moved, across from one side of the mud flat to the other. I both wish to return home and to stay right where we are. I'm enjoying the relaxing escape from normal life, but I do miss the comfy furniture and decent television of home. I'm much rather have my streaming than a zillion Foxtel channels with nothing to watch.
We pack our bags, load them into the car and check out. Then, as if we are running the trip backwards we drive to the Parap markets. B orders some more of Yati's laksa and a baby coconut to drink, Alex some spring rolls and me, I just have some sliced papaya and lime. I am suffering anxiety over the flight and cannot stomach anything savoury.
It's a pity, because there is so much food to try at the markets.
There is still time to waste before our flight. We drive out to the Nightcliff Jetty and, while the others sit in the airconditioned car, I take a walk out on to the jetty, listen to the gentle sound of the waves washing up against the low cliffs. The clouds are starting to arrive. Though I notice a Jetstar flight racing away from them, it doesn't reassure me.
After filling up the car with petrol we head back to the airport and drop the rental car back. There are still manned desks for Qantas check-in, the automated kiosks with signs saying they were shut due to COVID. They seem to have full body scanners at security, then we are through to the airside.
Many shops are closed, but we buy a couple of t-shirts from the big souvenir shop and newsagent before heading to the Qantas Club lounge.
The lounge is very quiet. They have hot dishes, including fish, samosas, chips and soup. I spend much of it in the bathroom. From one window I can see a giant grey rain cloud approaching the airport. But what can I do?
There is already a long queue at the gate when we join the line to board. I feel a little something walking down that airbridge and into our waiting Qantas Boeing 737-800 (VH-VXI). I take the window seat, one row up from the previous flight. The windows are uncomfortably low, but there are two within my seat range, one looking across the wing, the other towards the engine.
I watch another jet taking off towards the clear skies to the west (In my mind it's south. My direction sense is absolutely confused in Darwin). There's hope!
Making my self comfortable in the seat, putting some electronics in the seat pocket, my bags under the seat in front, I put on my noise cancelling headphones and begin listening to music. The other two are already setting up their devices with the free onboard wifi.
There are no seatback screens, though there are fold down screens from the ceiling. They are only used to show the safety video as we back out from the gate. I remember when they would show the news or short entertainment on the screens, but now they disappear for the remainder of the flight.
Partway through the safety demonstration the attendant notices a lady standing up by the rear bathroom. Another attendant moves forward, presumably to warn the pilot if necessary. It seems to be resolved without fuss.
We taxi out to the eastern end of the runway and immediately go to full power and roar up into the skies.
I think we'll make it!
We shoot out over the coast and then make a sharp turn back. I can see Darwin city below, a skyline that looks very familiar now. But we seem to be turning towards the clouds. No, we appear to be going between them. No, they are getting closer. We skim through the side of one big cloud, then into another. I feel us suddenly going up and let out a noise of pain as we then inevitably drop.
I hate it, but it does seem to be the only one. Then we are rising and heading inland. Once we clear the clouds the seatbelt lights switch off and I let out a small sigh.
Alex is asleep.
Meals are served, wagyu beef with polenta or stir fried noodles. I choose the latter, the other two the noodles. They say theirs are okay. My stomach is not really ready for anything savoury, but I try a little and its very tender and tasty. I think I would normally like it.
I mainly spend the rest of the flight staring out the window, listening to random tracks. Sometimes I drift into microsleeps. I should watch one of the flightworthy movies I have, the distraction will surely make the flight go faster, but I just can't motivate myself to.
There are patches of flat, unthreatening cloud beneath, interspersed with clear patches, rivers of water running through inland Queensland, wide dry lakes, then the red ochres of the interior.
We hit some higher cloud and there are some minor bumps, but at least we have periods of almost smooth flight.
The crew hand out a Lindt chocolate to each of us as we sail over a flat carpet of cloud in the waning day. This is the kind of flying I do enjoy.
I keep track of our flight using Flightradar24 and the Qantas Flight View. As the end of the day comes the light turns golden, the passengers on the western side silhouettes against the window.
With half an hour to go we begin our descent. The sky is a gorgeous pastel peach and salmon, wispy layers of cloud drifting past. The captain announces that we will be approaching from the south.
The walls of the Blue Mountains are red with the evening sun, Warragamba Dam as full as I have ever seen it, puddles of flooding still visible below.
We turn and I get a glimpse of the sun, watching it set below the horizon.
It is not until we cross the coast that the threatened winds hit. We rise and drop as we turn across the ocean and up towards the north. This isn't fun, but its more bearable at slow speeds.
The landing in crosswinds might be the trickiest I have experiences, the aircraft leaning to one side, dropping heavily, shaking on its long braking stop.
It's over. I've made it. Out of my window I watch the International Terminal scroll past, operations severely curtailed. I feel memories surface of other flights back, wonder how I would cope.
I'm happy to be back. Sydney feels so cool and fresh compared with tropical Darwin. Even the air seems clearer. It's nice to be back in a quiet car and to have a proper bed instead of the trundle I was banished to.
The only sad thing is that we arrived home to find Alex's favourite guppy, Little Blue Fish, had passed away.
After such a long time without flying I'm not certain how I feel about it. I think I need more flights to decide.