Day 2: Things Go Awry

30 Sep 2013 ::

If I thought Seattle’s airport was Vancouver’s gaudy sister, then Dubai is the exquisite concubine with expensive tastes. I am amused at the number of shops selling perfumes and alcohol in a country where drinking and flagrant displays of flesh by the female sex are frowned upon. The prices are astonishing, too. Fortunately, bottled water is only $2.00 US. Richard finds a group of comfy lounge chairs, and stretches out on one farthest from the noise of talking pedestrians. I go for several circuits around the shops and restaurants to get the kinks out of my joints, and to coax my sluggish organs into working again. A call to prayer echoes from high above and I am enchanted. When the final note fades away, I check that Richard is still resting and continue my walk.

Two hours later, Richard and I drag our tired bodies to yet another Emirates Boeing 777-200. Although it is only a 3-hour flight, our exhaustion warps time into an extended misery. We are further challenged by the uncooperative entertainment screen that flickers pixellated images like a freakish Dali/Piccasso animation. Even the music stations channel infernal hiccups of sound. Our seat mate has no luck either. Everyone else has access. Just our row of screens misbehave. We resign ourselves to black screens. Our eyes glaze over with utter boredom, and we droop at the prospect of 3 long hours in our tiny seats. We eat our meals with little relish. The cup of Nescafe is fortunately small enough to down in a few gulps.

When the babies on board begin crying in earnest, I know that the aircraft has begun its descent before the pilot announces this fact over the intercom. Although the majority of the passengers are Indian, all the announcements have been in Arabic and English. The only acknowledgement of our Indian destination is in the menu: lamb is replaced by a paneer dish, and baked chicken becomes butter chicken. The lower the aircraft descends, the harder the babies screech. Otherwise, the landing in Delhi is uneventful.

The first thing I notice is the smell: a damp mixture of sweaty socks and decay. The next thing I notice is how many people are waiting to claim their baggage from the carousel. We wait a long time before Richard finally spots our large backpack. The weight of our luggage has increased exponentially with the depth of our tiredness. We drag them across to the long lineup at customs. The line moves quickly and soon we are at the counter where a young man shows no interest in us until he sees my passport. I had renewed it as soon as the new 10-year passport was available in July, and the customs official admires the pictures within. He flips through every page, asking what this and that is. I’m sure he was just curious, but my sleep-deprived brain snips that he was testing me to ensure that I was in fact a Canadian. He finally stamps my passport and we are officially allowed into India.

By now, I have to visit the toilet. The first one I find has the hated yellow and red sign indicating “Closed for Cleaning”. Grumbling, I walk down the hall to the next women’s toilets. They too are closed for cleaning. And so is the third washroom. My insides are churning, and I am fuming. How ludicrous! What genius decided to clean all the women’s facilities at the same time, just when a plane arrives? Richard follows me wearily up and down the hall. Finally, we see a cleaning woman mopping the entry to the first washroom, and ask her where we can find an open facility. She points down the hall. We explain that they are all closed for cleaning, and I need a toilet now. She then asks her coworker who stands beside the adjacent and open men’s washroom. He points down the hall, but assures us there is another toilet next to some sign that we can see. When we get to the sign, there is no washroom to be found.

In desperation, I walk to the nearest washroom, past several unsure foreign women, past the stupid yellow sign, and brazenly step into the loo. The cleaning woman is not surprised. She greets my litany with resignation and points to the stalls at the end of the room. Thankful, I wade through the deluge of soapy water on the floor that she is mopping up with a large squeegee. My tracks mar her clean floors, and so do the the tracks of a group of women who have followed me in.

Suitably relieved, Richard and I walk the full length of the hall yet again to inquire about Sim cards for our cell phones. However, there is nobody at the counter to ask. The clerk at the next booth informs us that the missing sales clerk will return in just a few minutes, and he does! The news, however, is that it will cost us 14,000 rupees for each Sim card, or more. We are too tired to decipher the clerk’s information. As Richard haggles with the clerk, I flick away a cockroach scuttling across the counter. A movement catches my eye. It is a black butterfly flitting around us, and I think that if I’m not hallucinating then I am darn close to it. The Sim card decision is made for us when we discover that the clerk will not take our American Express travellers cheques. Nor will the clerk at the money exchange! Our frustration is too much. We abandon all attempts to do anything except get to our lodgings. Richard purchases a fare to our hotel at the Prepaid Taxi counter.

We step out of the airport only to discover that inside has been an air conditioned paradise. Outside the air is a thick, hot fog. We find our taxi easily enough despite several attempts by other drivers to get us into their cabs. Fortunately, Richard is familiar with their devious ways, and soon we are in the bosom of an old, black taxi. It is dented, scratched, and the doors barely close. But we are on our way. There are no seat belts in back. The ones for the front seats dangle uselessly. All seat belts are ignored by every Indian, even the police. The driver consults the dispatcher at the gates before roaring off presumably to our hotel.

The cabbie weaves in and out of traffic with expertise between deep coughing bouts. Perhaps he has tuberculosis or a smoker’s cough. It may be the Delhi pollution. Likely, it is for all these reasons that he hacks, and spits out the window. But he doesn’t miss a beat crossing lanes indiscriminately, braking within inches of slower vehicles, and sounding the horn frequently. A short beep means, “I’m coming!” A long blast means, “Get out of my way!”

Once we are in the general vicinity of the hotel, our driver stops to ask for direction. Richard hands him the scrap of paper with the address. The driver then stops to ask a police officer, then two security guards where our hotel might be. Finally, we find the right street but the gate to the enclosure is locked, so we must drive several blocks around the enclave to the hotel entrance. A huge bus blocks the driveway, but our driver will not hear of us walking around it. He orders the bus driver to move, and the bus pulls forward. We are grateful. A soft bed is beckoning in my mind.

Despite Richard having booked and paid for our room long before our trip, the staff inform us that the room is not quite ready. Across India, hotels follow the “on demand” routine and there’s no use complaining. So, at 5:00 am we collapse on the lobby sofa and wait. The staff give us chai to sooth and distract. After 20 minutes, we are taken to room 205 on the second floor. It is clean, and quiet. We are here. Welcome to India. Goodnight.</p>
Keywords: accommodations delhi flying traffic