You Gotta Pay to Play: Sometimes Travelling Flat Out Sucks
11/02/2008 - 11/03/2008 32 °C
I realize that when a lot of my friends hear the stories of my travels, they assume that I'm living some sort of dream life where I don't have to work, sit on beaches for days on end and where drinking beer before noon is no longer out of the question. Well, I hate to rub it in, but for the most part, that's all true!
But what many people generally don't understand is that travelling is not always fun and games. Yes, sometimes, in between the Bangkok parties or the Himalayan treks, you have to lay down a travel sacrifice to the Gods and bide your time.
And thus it was so that I found myself sitting in an airport at 2 a.m. in Calcutta, India, wondering what the ultimate price for this journey may end up being.
I'll backtrack just a little.
Going into this trip, I was aware from the beginning that I would have a nasty layover in Calcutta. What I wasn't sure of was whether they would actually let me in or not, or if I might actually get deported back to Bangkok being that I didn't have a visa for India (required) and that I had to change airlines while I was there. So the day of my flight, I spent some time trying to track down the telephone numbers for both Thai Airways and Indian Airlines. I accomplished this small feat, though trying several times to get someone to answer either line proved futile. It was at this point that some of my "hostel friends" started drinking a few beers on the front steps of the incredible hostel I was staying in there in Bangkok. Thinking a beer might help clarify my situation, I hunkered down and relaxed with a can of Chang. It's amazing what a beer and the laid-back encouragement of a group of slack-jawed travelers will do for your demeanor, so soon I had decided to throw caution to the wind and let may be, may be.
So, fast forward about six hostel beers, a taxi ride to the airport and an airline check-in lady who's answer to my question of "will I be able to transfer in India without a visa" was, "yeah, well, probably. I think so". Okay, I like my chances, let's do this. So, feeling like luck was on my side, off I went. Plane departed Bangkok at 11:45 pm and arrived in Calcutta at 12:00 am, with a time change.
At this point, I kind of have a headache from my earlier hostel beers and am dog-assed tired. Exiting the plane I was praying to see a sign for a transit lounge or anything other than a one-way hallway to customs where I was sure I was going to need to produce a visa. No such luck. The entire plane filters down a single hallway into an immigration hall. A one room, filthy, fly-invested space with just a handful of plastic chairs on the periphery. As all of the Calcutta-bound passengers filtered through immigration, I stood there contemplating what nightmare scenerio might lie ahead of me. With the crowds dissepating, I asked one of the rather brutish immigration officers what I should do, as I was a transit passenger. Without a trace of kindness, he told me to sit over there and wait. Okay, this guy didn't seem to want to engage in small talk about my situation, so I just went over and sat down by myself. . . for 45 minutes.
With no other travellers left there, I went up to one of the desks and asked the same question. Same response, sit over there. So at this point I'm looking around and thinking, "well, on the upside, it doesn't seem like I'm going to get deported tonight. On the downside, I think I may have to pass the next 13 hours sitting in this room under flourescent lights and with only a nice group of flies to keep me company."
After an hour and a half, and several more questions followed by the same gruff answer, another plane arrived from Germany. Luckily, this plane carried a nice German couple who were in my same position. Transit passengers with no clue as to what we were supposed to do now. So we sat some more. Finally, after nearly 3 hours of sitting there, an honest-to-God gem of a man came and started working on some paperwork for me. He promised I would not have to sleep in the room I had currently occupied for the past several hours. He secured my baggage from immigration and told me I could hold onto it for the night. He then led me through some red tape where I finally was led to more of a "lounge area". Honestly, it could have been a 5-star hotel, as happy as I was to not have to spend my night in that immigration area.
So then, things actually got better. I was able to pull the sleeping back out of the checked luggage I recieved back. I also remembered a blow-up travel pillow, I had stashed somewhere and one of those airline sleep masks. So at about 4 am, I got to sleep on two chairs that were pushed together in the darkest corner I could find. Not great, but I wasn't deported and I was out of that God-awful immigration room.
So all-told things worked out for the best. However, waking up the next morning, I would encounter my next set of problems. Not being a "planner" of sorts, I had not packed any food with me, even knowing I would be stopped over in Calcutta for 14 hours. Not a genious, I know. So rising at about 7 am, starving and thirsty as a mule, I was confronted with the notion that where I was placed had no currency exchange. I probably could have paid for a cup of coffee with $US, but all I had was $100 bills. No dice. So until my plane left at 2 pm, I had nothing to eat or drink except some water that came out of a dirty looking faucet labelled "water for drink". But life is tough and I got by just fine.
So after a very interesting and time consuming (but to the airport's credit, a very nice man walked us through everything) process of re-checking our luggage and getting our new boarding passes, I was finally off on my flight to Kathmandu. And I will tell you this, no matter what they tell you about airline food, if you have not eaten or drank anything for 20 hours, that food will taste like Wolfgang Puck himself was cheffing in the back of plane.
Touching down in Kathmandu, I was thrilled just to finally be here in Nepal. The visa/immigrtion process was another nightmare, but at this point I was just a walking zombie and turned the anger part of my brain off. I had booked accomodation in Kathmandu already and had a nice man waiting for me to help me pick up a taxi. This is getting way too long to explain what traffic is like in Kathmandu, but it is everything you would ever dream arriving in a 3rd world country would be like. Is Nepal a third world country? I don't even know, but I can tell you this, it tops even Myanmar if there were ever to be a head-to-head traffic disaster competition.
Long, long, long story short - I made it my hotel safe and sound. It's a bit of a shithole, but a friendly enough shithole. Shortly after my arrival, the power was cut, which you can't blame the hotel for. But I was hungry again and not quite ready for bed, so I decided to head out and find someplace to eat on my own. With the power cut in the entire area, I was left wandering by myself in the dark with traffic of 10 different varieties trying to work past me and the throng of other people in the street. For lack of a better example, it truly reminded me of the "evil 1984" in Back to the Future 2. I'm sure it really wasn't that bad, but after the previous 24 hours I'd had, I was ready to pack it in and head to bed.
So that's my sob story. In the end, I gues if you break it all down, nothing really that bad happened. I'm here, I'm alive and I'm going trekking on the Annapurna Circuit in a matter of days.
As I've said before; my life does not suck. But sometimes it does give me a headache!