Sunday, June 17, 2012

The journey home.

Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.  Home!
I was awake well before 5:30a. I don't know why I bothered setting the alarm. Even if I hadn't awoken on my own, the church music blaring from loudspeakers starting at 5:30a, on the dot, would have jolted me awake.

I got out of bed, got ready for the day, shut the windows, made up the bed and headed downstairs with my luggage in hand. Regi was already awake and so was Smitha. It was too early for me to have breakfast, even a cup of tea so we chatted, not realizing that Vinod was already outside waiting for me.


As Smitha and I continued to talk, Regi went out to square away the outstanding bill with Vinod. Of course, his calculation of what I owed was exact so nothing more was needed from me.

Smitha and her family were slated to attend the christening of Smitha's niece and so I decided to head out a bit early so they could concentrate on getting themselves ready for the special occasion.

Vinod put my suitcase on the front passenger seat and I got into the back, settling comfortably into the seat that I had occupied the past two days.

The sun had yet to rise above the horizon. The streets were relatively empty of traffic and Vinod was able to pretty much drive without having to pass another vehicle. Although we only had 48 km to go, in this neck of the woods, that would ordinarily take an hour so that's what we had planned for. My flight wasn't scheduled to leave until 8:40a so as long as there were no road delays, we would arrive in plenty of time.

My Kochi flight left on time and landed in Mumbai on time. I had 3 hours to catch my connecting flight to London. I knew I had to make it to the International Airport but I had to figure out how to get there. The attendant at the Jet Airways counter said that there was a free shuttle between the airports. I made a mental note to look for signs when I reach Mumbai.

When I landed in Mumbai, there were signs pointing to the International Terminal but I was certain that was not where I needed to go. I needed to go to the International Airport. I exited the terminal and pretty much instantly got accosted by a man who said he would take me to the international terminal for 50 rupee. I started to walk away as I knew that the international terminal was easily accessible by foot from the domestic terminal. I asked the man if we was taking me to the international airport for 50 rupee and he replied that he was. Turned out the guy was a tuk-tuk driver so as he threw my bag into the storage compartment behind the passenger seat, he joked that I would be riding in the *Indian Mercedes*. Off we went and I had a bad feeling the moment we pulled away from the curb.

A short distance later, the tuk-tuk driver was pulling into the international terminal of the domestic airport. If your connecting airline is Air India, this is where you fly out from but I was flying British Airways and they depart from the International Airport. I had been right all along and when the tuk-tuk driver realized he had made a mistake, he insisted that he could take me to the airport. He assured me that it would only be about a 20-25 minute ride so I agreed for him to take me. Of course, it would cost me more.

As we tuk-tuk'd along, the driver tried to tell me that if I had taken a cab instead of his tuk-tuk, the same ride would cost $20 so that is what I should pay him. I told him that I had been to Mumbai before and that when I took a cab from the Fort neighborhood, it only cost me 350 rupee for a non-AC taxi for a much longer ride. After that he kept quiet for a while.

As soon as we passed the street sign pointing in the direction of the airport, he asked for payment. I said I would pay him when we got to the airport. He then tried to say that he wanted the money now because he can only stop for less than 2 minutes at the airport before the policemen would tell him to drive off. I told him I did not even need a minute to grab my bag, get out of his tuk-tuk and pay him. He fell quiet again....for a few minutes.

Then, he asked that I pay him in US dollars. He was still insisting that I give him $20. I told him that I did not have $20. He said I could give him the rest in rupee. By now, I was beyond annoyed and I wanted to just get to the airport, get out of this damn tuk-tuk and away from this money grubbing guy.

Mercifully, I soon saw the sign to the departure terminal and the gate signs listing the airport. British Airways was listed under Gate D but in all honesty, I would have been fine if the guy had deposited me at Gate A; I would have gladly walked the rest of the way.

I reached back into the storage compartment and carefully pulled my bag into the back seat. I then got ready to bolt.

I deliberately rolled up two $5 bills. That was more than what the guy deserved but had I taken a taxi, it would have indeed come close to that amount, factoring in a small tip.

I handed him the money and by the time he unrolled it to figure out exactly how much I had given him, I was well past him on my way inside the terminal.

As my anger subsided and blood pressure returned to normal, I shifted my focus to getting checked in and on my way to London.

The flight was uneventful. I watched three movies and did some blogging to past the time.

When I landed in Heathrow, I had a bit of a delay going through immigration. Though I was entering with my US passport, I handed the immigration officer my Laissez Passer as well. For some reason, she swiped it and a puzzled look appeared on her face. She repeated the swipe and the puzzled look deepened. She then told me that another LP, with the same number as mine, had been stolen and she needed to place a phone call to follow up.

She escorted me to a waiting area while she went off to check on my passports. It seemed like forever before she returned to tell me that everything was okay. She then processed my entry into the country. Finally made it to London.

Walking through the airport, hearing English spoken all around me, I was back on familiar territory. I asked for directions to an ATM and managed to easily find it. I retrieved some British pounds in case I needed to pay for a taxi to take me to the hotel and to buy gifts for friends and family.

I had booked a room at the Sheraton Heathrow and I looked for signs for the shuttle bus to the airport but I didn't spot it. By now, my internal clock was telling me that it was close to 11:30p Kerala time. It had been a long travel day and I was tired; I just wanted to get to the hotel and rest.

I finally just decided to take a taxi and headed for the stand. No one else was in line so I got in the first one in line. The hotel was only located a handful of miles from the airport but it cost me £16.40 to get there!! That's the equivalent of $25 at today's exchange rate! Unbelievable!

The hotel was comfortable enough and I was stuffed from all the food I had eaten in the BA Lounge in Mumbai and on the plane so I skipped out on dinner. I just chilled out in my room.

This morning, I took the shuttle bus to the airport - cost £4.50.  In less than 12 hours I will be home.