With each passing day we spent in Japan awaiting our departure, our boredom and anxieties intensified. We spent our days snoozing a few hours here and there, playing cards, reading the latest news updates but mostly just waiting and our nights wandering the quiet airport, unable to sleep partly because we had laid around all day and partly because our bodies' clocks were telling us we were still on South America time, a 12 hour difference.
Downstairs where we were camped, life appeared to be normal. Regular flights were departing and arriving, people were calm and cheerful and had we not had access to the news, we never would have guessed we were in the country that was experiencing a major disaster that was only getting worse by the hour. It wasn't until late on our third day in Tokyo that we really started to feel endangered and worried. A nuclear disaster was sounding more and more imminent and according to the weather reports the winds were forecast to flip 180 degrees and blow from the NE instead of SW which would send the radioactive particles over the country rather than ocean and directly towards Tokyo. In addition to the unfavorable wind prediction, the overall emotions of travelers at the airport were beginning to get frantic. Upstairs in the ticketing area there were lines a mile long, wrapping around the enormous room, full of pacing people with terrified expressions on their faces and stories of people who had paid thousands upon thousands of dollars for a ticket out or even bought 2 tickets on different airlines as an insurance policy in case one flight got cancelled. At night there were people camped with their feet touching the check-in counter just so they could be first in line for standby the following morning. People were starting to get desperate which in turn made us nervous about waiting another 2 days for our scheduled flight as well as question the lack of worry we had witnessed in all of the Japanese folks we had seen downstairs where we were camped. In a conversation with one man from Japan, he confessed to us that he could talk to us and other foreigners about the situation and about how worried he was, but never could he say anything to his family and friends, as it was unacceptable in their culture. I don't know how they manage to so stoically keep their emotions to themselves in a time like this, but we wanted to get out NOW!
The next morning we packed up camp and made our way up to the standby line, hopeful yet doubtful that we'd get on the plane. As we waited the earth began to rumble and shake again, another big one, 6.2 that lasted almost 30 seconds. All we could think was, please not again, please no more cancelled flights and please get us out of here. Twenty minutes before the flight, they began calling names; a family of 3, two older women, a completely panicked Italian girl, 3 Germans working in Japan and just when we began to think we were out of luck, we heard our names. We rushed through security, purchased a last minute "getting out of here" beer from a cafe to spend our last yen and boarded the plane. Though sad to leave Japan, which we were so excited to ride, we were also feeling lucky and extremely relieved to be getting out safely. Our 4 days in Tokyo felt like an eternal, wild, unimaginable dream (or nightmare) and to this day after we read the latest news, we still turn to each other and comment on how unbelievable it is that we were actually there.
Seventeen hours later we landed in Lisbon, Portugal at 11pm local time. Of course we had no place to go being that we weren't expecting to be there yet so rather than trying to find a hotel room in the middle of the night, we got confirmation that the airport stayed open all night, staked out a secluded corner, pulled out our sleeping bags and put our newly acquired airport camping skills to use. The next morning we awoke, as expected, to many strange looks, packed all of our panniers, Mike built our bikes and we rode away from the airport in search of some food, a map and a place to get some sleep.
We pulled into a campground in the center of the city, set up camp and by 7:30pm we were both sound asleep. We didn't so much as stir until noon the following day and I'm positive that goes down in the books as the longest uninterrupted sleep I have ever had. Finally our bodies and minds could breath a sigh of relief and rest peacefully. I guess that might say a little something about our last 9 days in which we flew 18,000 miles, touched 4 continents and felt the shake that caused an unfathomable and tragic string of events that has rocked the entire world.
So here we are in Portugal at the start of a completely new and unexpected bike tour. We're slowly wrapping our heads around the fact that we're going to be spending the coming months cruising around Europe instead of Japan, but as the days pass our excitement is growing. These first few days have been physically touch since we've been off of our bikes and primarily sitting around for the past month, but thankfully these days have been uneventful - we need a little break from the chaos!