Tripping at the last hurdle

Trip Start Jul 02, 2007
Trip End Aug 03, 2007

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Flag of United Arab Emirates  ,
Friday, August 3, 2007

Gah! One of the most common responses you get when you say that you're going to India is a prediction that you'll get sick. Either from some nasty "foreign disease" or from the food. I've been absolutely fine, even when eating meat or succumbing to my fresh tomato addiction. Fine, I tell you!

And today? Bleugh. Seems the off feeling I had for a while in Agra yesterday wasn't just nothing. It didn't help that it was pissing it down with rain when I woke up. I think those big clouds that lit up pink over the Taj yesterday were a sign - the monsoon has started.

I packed as quietly as I could and left French guy to sleep. Then I trundled around in the rain trying to find Hotel Navrang. Either the LP map is crap or this is just an impossible warren, but it took much longer than it ought, and I got thoroughly wet. I hate this kind of weather - you are never dry. Either you are wet from the rain or sticky from the heat inside. I longed for the dry mountain air.

The reason I wanted Navrang was because it did the cheapest rooms. I wanted somewhere to dump my bags for the day, and also to shower before going to the airport. What possesses travellers to actually stay in these rooms, I have no idea. The bed was just lumps of dark matter connected by threads and it smelt terrible. For the sake of 50 pence, too.

I had planned to do some last minute shopping to pass the time before my evening flight, but between feeling crap and the rain, I ended up sitting in a cafe all day. Fortunately there was company. I couldn't face anything flavoured - the best I could find was a plain plain pizza. I think it was all too late at that point. Megan (damn, how I wish I'd gotten her email address!) dropped in, surprised to see me and telling quite a tale. Now I feel really bad for taking the last train ticket home. She got a bus and it took her halfway to Bangladesh by the sounds of it. Really miserable by all accounts. She got in so late. She was on her way to the airport, with her flight being earlier than mine. I ended up talking to a French woman about life and Nepal. She works setting up schools there. I admire people like her immensely, but I'm always struck by their homelessness. She's not Nepali nor could she live there permanently, but she's not really French any more. Or, at least, she finds it very hard when she goes back. Very disillusioned with life there. And I get it. It happens to me, worse each time. It's a reason not to become too nomadic, I guess.

My one excursion out was to book a taxi to the airport. After sorting it, I then went back later to try and get an earlier one, since I may as well wait at the airport in the dry. Annoyingly, I find they weren't running one at all due to rain. It was pretty heavy, but any flooding had receded and I found it very hard to believe there were no taxis on the main roads. Then it became clear - the price had gone up. Wow, that's some magic money. The rains mean the roads are flooded, but if I pay more the road miraculously clear? I laughingly told them they were criminals. After some faffing, I got my money back and got a rickshaw instead. The rain had stopped so as long as I kept away from the open sides, I was good. Then the driver pulled into a massive queue of rickshaws lined up for fuel. To his credit, he flagged down a taxi and arranged that driver to take me the rest of the way.

On the road side there were lots of pilgrims. The driver told me they were walking to Haridwar to worship Vishnu. Some of them have come from far off places; even Delhi to Haridwar is over 100 miles. Wow. Along their route, at least here in Delhi, people were handing out water and food for them. I saw them filling bottles up from the puddles. Mmm tasty.

The staff at the airport seemed to be suffering from more of a shortage of brain cells than usual. Firstly, when I checked in, the guy looked at my British passport and asked if I had a visa for Manchester. I just blinked at him mutely. I mean, seriously? These are immigration staff, they need to be a bit smarter or more aware, surely?

Then, when I had to get my bag ziplocked (which is a method I am really a fan of; not only does it keep my raincover attached to my bag, but it also means when I get the bag off the carousel at the end I know it's not been messed with) I took a moment to transfer something from my hand luggage to the main bag. The guy there was insistent that I should put my bag on the conveyor leading to the scanner and ziplock machine thing. I was all, "Give me a second, please." Then he brought a trolley over and generally got under my feet. I think he thought I was having problems lifting it or something. I'd managed just fine thus far, but maybe women are only expected to make it 20 paces into the room before needing assistance? He was only being nice, but I was all, "Dude! Bzzzz!". After some smiling and shooing hand gestures on my part, he seemed to get it, grinning back and standing moderately further away as I put my bag on the conveyor.

The actual wait at the airport was livened up by a cat streaking across the floor between islands of chairs. I've seen small birds in the rafters of airports, even found a tree frog in an airport in Madagascar, but never a cat. I don't think I've seen any cats in India. This one looked terrified, probably for good reason - guards inside, mongrel dogs outside.

Once I was sat by the gate, I tried to read, but it wasn't really happening. First off, I was trying to read a guidebook, not the most enthralling material, particularly when you're on you way home. Secondly a small boy was charging around yelling in Arabic. Generally, I find Western kids (or, more accurately, Western parents) come out badly compared to other nationalities. Most kids on my travels are well behaved and quiet. Admittedly, in some places it's because they've either learnt that noise gets them a smack or that crying doesn't change anything, so they just put up with it. The old British attitude of "children should be seen and not heard" is live and kicking in many places. But overall, it just makes Western kids look whiny and spoilt. There is something worse though: upper class Middle Eastern/Arabic kids. Oy.

And then more excitement. A certain Shef Kumar had been misplaced. Or something. The airline staff perambulated, calling his name, but no one responded. I didn't see the end result, but I wouldn't be remotely surprised to find he'd been sat there the whole time.

Finally, the boarding call. Never mind that the first class went first and then by seating code. No, the call is always the cue for a frantic rush. Because the plane is leaving in .5 of a second and if you don't scrabble your way to the desk right now it'll go without you. I remained seated until it died down.

Our pilot turned out to be Scottish, not the easiest accent to understand, mild though it was. Then the safety instructions and announcements were made in English and Arabic. I get that English is one of India's official languages, but is it any surprise that all the Indian men stand up as we're coming into land? You are not speaking their language.

The Arabic safety talk amused me, with the part about inflating the lifejacket seemingly having the word "BDOINGG!" inserted into the sentence.

I still wasn't feeling great, but it wasn't too bad. I tried to get some sleep, making the most of the empty seat next to me, but couldn't. I got pretty grumpy at this stage. The sight of The Plough (Big Dipper) shining bright out of the window cheered me up immensely. It's my constant companion, though it moves around in the sky.

At Abu Dhabi I had a frustrating experience with the airport staff. It wouldn't have been nearly as frustrating had I not started to really feel crap. All I wanted to do was sleep and they were disturbing me. Abu Dhabi airport is a central building with 5 spoke corridors radiating out with two or more gates situated at the end of each. There is a shocking lack of seating in the main area, but plenty in the gate areas. As such, I headed to my gate and promptly attempted to sleep. There were lots of other travellers around, but they were all on an earlier flight. So soon it was just me and two other women. A member of airport staff came round clearing us back into the main area. I pretended to be asleep and, because of the cultural rules, he couldn't touch me to get me to wake up. I had to bite my cheek not to laugh. Oh, sue me, it was funny!

He then tried to get the other women to tell "their friend" to move, but they refused, being obtuse, obviously as frustrated as me at being herded out of a perfectly good seating area. Eventually I had to give it up, and the reason he gave was that we needed to go through the security check at the entrance to the gate area and that currently there were no female security staff to check us women.

So the three of us staged a minor demonstration by refusing to go right back to the main area, a place full of shops, irritating staring Arab men and totally devoid of seats. Instead we sat down in the corridor, against the wall, beyond the security checkpoint. The guy didn't like that but since we weren't exactly not allowed to be there, he only made a few half hearted attempts to move us on. Poor guy never stood a chance; me and the two women had bonded and the mischief was strong with us. They were both South Africans from Kimberley so we spoke about my time in Benoni and then moved on to other topics. The whole thing gave me my second wind and for a while I felt good. Of course, it was inevitable that once I settled on the plane I'd totally crash.

Soon other passengers started arriving and seeing us and hearing the explanation, also sat. Before long we had instigated a full scale peaceful seated protest. The staff were not best pleased, and the women security guards when they finally turned up, looked down their noses at us sat on the floor. It was clean and carpeted and I'm all for cultural respect but for fuck sake. Seats! The only seats in the place. And no-one can use them!! You can look down your nose til you go blue in the face, doesn't bother me.

On the plane I was in the aisle seat, something of a blessing. Next to me was a friendly German guy. For a while we spoke but I was feeling worse and worse and eventually I had to ask him to stop. Turning my head and eyes in his direction was making me feel sick. Nothing personal! The biggest problem was that we weren't moving and it was getting hotter and hotter. I was already slightly feverish, so I thought it was just me, but then I noticed others were fanning themselves. Then the announcement came: we were having problems getting the aircon working. We were gradually acquiring the outside temperature - whatever it usually is in Abu Dhabi at 10 on an August evening. Gah!

I tried to explain to the hostess that I was ill - no, not airsick, but actually ill - and could I please have a damp cloth for my neck. I was burning up.

The aircon finally started working and we were off. I managed until the middle of the night, but then I had to go to the bathroom, where I had a choice and picked the wrong one. Sink or toilet? Toilet! The sink has a fine plug and wow, doesn't drain well. It took a while (the other passengers must've thought I had fallen asleep in there) but I finally got the room back to presentable and fragrant. Then I asked for a toothbrush and something really plain, like bread or those little pretzel nibble things. Again, it was difficult to get across that I wasn't just being a pathetic airsick person, but actually ill sick, possibly contagious, don't stand too close.

The final straw came later when everyone was asleep and I judged that I didn't have time to make it to the bathroom (imagine not quite making it - in the aisle, moving, ick). I thought I did pretty well, discretely using the sick bag. German guy never knew. Then I buzzed the air hostess. I mean, forget that I was ill, the bags actually say on them, "hand to a member of cabin staff". Would she take it? Nope. She wanted me to put it in the bathroom. I expained again (it was the same person) that I was UNWELL so she was damn well going to take it, lest she wanted me to get up and hurl in the aisle.

How I got through immigration and baggage claim, I don't know. But Mum Dad and Jon were there and I practically burst into tears. Not how I wanted to arrive.
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