Monday, May 24, 2010

Heading home

The 21st was our final day in India. We had a 7:00 flight from Cochin to Mumbai, which meant we had to leave Fort Cochin at around 4:00.

We started the day with breakfast at a cool little café that I’d found the previous day. I think it was called Art Café Cochin. Delicious French toast, fruit, and properly done coffee. A real treat.

We spent some time online, dealing with emails, then we did some more shopping in the local stores. We still hadn’t bought anything and we had limited success again. Those who we wanted to buy for would have to accept that they were in our hearts, even if we never found them good gifts. We did buy some postcard type things in one shop, but more because proceeds went to local charity than any other reason.

It seemed we’d run out of time though. Lunch was a quick bite at the Art Café, then back to our hotel to settle our bill and repack. Every item had to be shaken out properly prior to the trip home. We didn’t want any special Indian visitors joining us on the trip home. At 4:00 our cab arrived and we started the long journey home.

I had a master plan for the day. We’d leave Cochin on Go Air and get into Mumbai by 9:10. We’d then check in for the rest of our journey home, losing our big packs in the process. Then we’d go to a restaurant near the airport that I’d been looking forward to visiting for weeks.

We’d get there around 10:15, and the restaurant was open until midnight. After dinner we’d head back to the airport, go through security, and still have an hour or so to spare.

No such luck. Our flight leaving Cochin was a little late, but not overly so. Maybe 20 minutes. When we got into Mumbai we had to take a shuttle into the domestic arrivals terminal to collect our bags. When we got there I asked the guy at the info desk how to get to the International departures terminal, to check in. He asked to see my boarding pass or itinerary. I told him I didn’t have one, since we were on an e-ticket. Well, apparently there’s no such thing as an e-ticket in India, even once you’re in the terminal. You

’ve got to have a printed out itinerary, to show with your passport, to get through any security gate. The logic behind this is totally lost on me, since any idiot can print up a fake itinerary to show a security guard, since they don’t check it against anything. But there you are.

I walked away perturbed and annoyed, realizing I didn’t have many options. I did have my laptop on my, with an email with my itinerary, so I returned to the info desk to see if I could use that. The info guy said he was willing to give it a try and took me down to the army sergeant manning the door, to ask. They sergeant said no, paper was the only form of itinerary I could show.

The info guy said that if I could e-mail him my itinerary, he’d find a way to print it out. Fortunately, the Mumbai airport has WiFi. Unfortunately, I still didn’t have an SMS number to get access. But this time the info guy was willing to let me use his number. I sent my confirmation e-mail from Expedia to the guy’s Gmail account, and he went to their admin office to print it out. It was a huge pain, but I appreciated how helpful info dude was. His name was Parvez Perekar. I know this ‘cause that’s the gmail account I sent it to.

I had to wait about 20 minutes for him to come back and, while we waited, a bus came and took everyone waiting to go to International Departures away. When info guy came back with my print out we were issued two bus tickets to get to the departures terminal, but even with my itinerary there was some confusion. For some reason, when Expedia had sent me my “trip details” itinerary it said it was only for one person, not for the two of us. At the time I received that e-mail I’d checked on this and ensured that there were no problems, but now it was a problem. (I should have sent Parvez my original itinerary, but had forgotten about the issue and he was long gone now.) The folks that issued the bus ticket decided to overlook the issue, so we were off to the next terminal.

Or, eventually we’d be off. The folks that gave us the tickets told us to have a seat and they’d let us know when it was time to go. We sat down and, having WiFi access, I opened my laptop to muck around. Then we noticed that everyone else was lining up for the door to catch the shuttle between terminals. We realized that no on was going to call us, we needed to jump in line. It was about half an hour between each shuttle. By the time we got out of domestic arrivals and on our way to International departures we’d been there for over two hours. There would be no nice final dinner in India or a leisurely check-in.

The bus ride between terminals was amazing. It felt completely post-apocalyptic. There were large shanty towns built right against the security perimeter of the airport. We were going through twelve layers of security to just get into the airport, and I’m pretty sure five hundred rupees would be enough to buy your way into someone’s corrugated roof shack and over the barbed wire. This was actually a little shocking, considering India’s problems with terrorism lately. Just the day before Maoists (Maoists?) had derailed a train in the north and set fire to dozens of fuel tankers. Stupid airport security, like the printed itinerary requirement, drives me nuts. But the lack of airport security was perhaps even more amazing.

Our bus pulled over at international departures and it was proper chaos. Of course, people picking up friends and family aren’t allowed in the airport, due to their lack of itinerary, so they all congregate outside the doors. And there’s security to get inside, requiring a passport and itinerary, so there’s a line up outside. But Indian lineups are a special beast, particularly when everyone has a baggage cart with which to bash one another’s ankles. It’s like the last helicopter out of a falling city. It was an ugly sight and, I hate to say, we were part of the ugliness.

When we finally forced our way to the front door the predicable happened. The army dude took a look at our itinerary and only saw one name on it. “Where is Colleen Elizabeth” he demanded. We argued that his colleague at the departures terminal had been fine with it. (He hadn’t.) But he insisted on an itinerary with both names. (Damn you Expedia!) I thought I’d try the e-mail approach with him, letting him know I could show him the itinerary on my laptop. He nodded. So I whipped out my Macbook Air, waited for it to boot, opened my mail program and pulled up the e-mail. Now I was back in the chaos, but this time waving a laptop instead of a piece of paper. We had to run over a few ankles again to retake our place in line, but eventually he realized the stupidity of me waving a computer in his face and just waved us through. We were into the inner sanctum of Mumbai International Departures.

Our adventure had just begun, but it wouldn’t be so dramatic from here on. I just had lots of lines to stand in now. I was standing in the line to check in when I saw a guy who had just checked in walking past us. I did a double take. It was Matt Peskelewis, who I used to work with and got along with quite well. It’s a very small world when you run into people you know in the Mumbai airport. Matt was there to meet with his production people for his children’s clothing company. It was his third trip through the chaos of that airport in the past year. He stuck with us and guided us the rest of the way.

We checked in, only having minor difficulties this time due to our lack of proper printed out paperwork. Then was an endless security line. Colleen was pulled out, because the women’s security line had capacity. Not understanding, I tried to follow, but it didn’t go over so well. I got back in line.

By the time we finally made it through all the lines we had about 20 minutes to spare before boarding. We grabbed a quick bite at the international food court and I looked around the shops, hoping to find an India souvenir of some sort. Apparently Mumbai’s airport has decided to remove anything that would remind a traveler that they’re in India, only carrying generic global goods. So we were out of luck again. We went through at least two more security checks, then boarded our flight to Brussels.

We had a bit of a stopover in Brussels. Just long enough to grab a coffee and feel tired. But when it was time to go our airline, Jet Airways, announced that we’d be leaving late. Their computer system was down, so they’d have to be loading everyone manually, and they thought that that would get us out of there 45 minutes late. Except they didn’t start boarding until almost departure time, so by the time we actually got out of there we were already two hours behind schedule. Since we’d had an hour and a half layover planned for Toronto, we knew we’d now be missing our connection. (Jet Airways sucks. We’ve had four flights with them now. Two have been late by an hour or more. Boo Jet Airways.)

Brussels to Toronto was another non-event. Lots of movies and stiff legs. In Toronto Air Canada was brutally efficient at getting us on another flight. We had another meal and watched a bit of hockey in the terminal, then boarded our final leg, which is where I’m writing this final installment of our trip blog. The trek home has been a long one. From Fort Cochin to Vancouver it’ll be about a 39 hour trek. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight and maybe making some waffles for breakfast tomorrow. It’s been a long and very interesting trip, but I’m looking forward to being home.

If you’re twisted enough to have read all of our travel blog, thanks for sticking with it. I tend to write a lot and I don’t edit as I go. I leave out a bit, including the most personal bits, and things that might be insulting to others, but I include a lot of boring stuff, like what we did for lunch and how we got from point A to point B. That’s because this is as much a record for me as it is for anyone else. So thanks for coming along for the ride. If you’ve got any comments or suggestions, I’m happy to hear them.

Where to next?

1 comment:

Robyn said...

Wow,Stefan... I've really enjoyed reading your posts so don't apologize. You've confirmed for me that I never want to go to India, my god. I've found that Lonely Planet was a great TV show but their travel guides are terrible. But travel is an emotional rollercoaster no matter what guide you have. You guys are troopers.