It’s 10.37pm and I have just laid down on my bed after a long day. With the anticipation of leaving my home in Yangon and entering India occupying my mind, I didn’t sleep very well and I woke up early. I had a cruisy morning completing a final pack, helping Jeff with his Google Earth jigsaw puzzle (he had printed a series of aerial shots and had to match them all up to create a large map), and riding to the local pharmacy to stock up on antibiotics and an ATM to get cash for my final bill. I was sorry to say bye to Jeff and Soe Soe. What wonderful people they are! I will miss them and I hope to see them again. In a lovely gesture, my taxi ride to the airport had been paid by Monique as a surprise. With experience in shifting 80kg worth of gear, I proceeded through airport security smoothly and picked a comfortable seat on which to spend 1.5 hours of waiting.
At 2pm the check-in counter opened and my plan to score a discount on my excess baggage worked. Two weeks ago when booking my original ticket, I had spoken to a man on the phone and he told me that I would see a girl called Cheri and I could ask her for a discount. He suggested I might get to take an extra 15kg on board at no extra cost. I never learned the man’s name so all I could do was be very polite and explain myself with a friendly smile. At my turn, I approached the counter and said immediately that I had excess baggage I would need to pay extra for. All of my luggage was weighed. Excluding my carry-on, I had 72kg. My ticket covered 30kg, so I had 42kg to pay for at the exorbitant rate of US$15 per kg – a fee of US$630. Just as the weighing was completed, I said, “Is there a girl here called Cheri because the Air India office told me I could speak to Cheri about getting a discount?” Two girls were tending to me by this stage. I was told to stand to the side while they made enquiries. One girl continued serving passengers while the other made a phone call on her mobile. She then came over and using her phone as a calculator, explained they could reduce my excess baggage from 42kg to 25kg – that’s 17kg free, meaning a saving of 40% (US$255). Awesome! I expressed my thanks and paid the money.
My next issue was the fact I had overstayed my visa. At immigration I was directed to an office to sort it out. After having a laugh with the immigration boss about kangaroos, I had some hope I might be able to get off the fine. I explained that I’d had a ‘medical emergency’ that preventing me from leaving Myanmar. Not a chance. I had to pay US$18 (US$3 per day fine). Finally, I was free to proceed to my boarding gate. I had the whole emergency row to myself. A steward ran through the safety procedure with me. I only understood half of what he said (I don’t have the best ear for accents, especially thick Indian ones), but I nodded long anyway. The flight was very pleasant and I was surprised to receive a snack and a whole meal on the flight.
Kolkata airport was efficient. The immigration line moved along smoothly, although I was somewhat bemused by the obvious lack of concern about personal space – something I’ll probably have to get used to here in India. A humongous guy behind me would stand so close his large belly was touching my back and his breath was hitting the top of my head. I had to carry my rack pack behind me to provide a buffer. Even then he would stand against the bag. Customs were curious about all my gear but didn’t bother looking at any of it. My next challenge was to find a taxi.
I expected to be swarmed by taxi drivers as I left the airport, but this wasn’t the case at all. I discovered that only prepaid taxi services are available, which means there are no taxi touts. I quickly learned the standard taxis would not fit my bike box. As I became lost as to what to do, I was only approached by an Indian guy who was willing to take me for 1,500r. I said I would pay him 500r, a price I based off my hotel’s recommendation to not pay any more than 400r (I figured the extra would help cover my extra baggage). The man refused to budge on his price. I only had 1,000r on me, so I said I would keep looking around. Annoyingly, he followed me. I went to a counter where I could book a larger than normal taxi through a formal service, but they wanted 1,550r. I then spent about 30 minutes forlornly pushing my laden trolley up and down hoping someone would approach me with a better offer. No one did. It became clear that the prepaid services run the show. I again spoke to the guy who had offered me a ride for 1,500r and I slowly became resigned to the fact I would have to pay up. This meant finding another 500r. I tried two ATMs but both didn’t work. Before going to the second ATM, a random guy asked if I needed a taxi. We started chatting, but then the other first guy came over with a deadly glare and had some harsh words with the new guy. It was clear he was saying. “This tourist is mine. Don’t you dare think you can give him a ride.” I realised I was stuck: the guy was going to follow me everywhere and prevent me from finding a cheaper ride.
I didn’t even know if I could find a cheaper price, but I wasn’t quite ready to pay 1,500r. While asking about the normal prepaid service, I had asked how much it would be if I didn’t have my luggage and they said 270r, so a 500% increase, just for a slightly larger car, seemed completely unreasonable. The man kept hounding me everywhere I went, saying he could stop at an ATM on the way. I told the guy I was still going to search for a cheaper price. He said, “Fine, but you’re not going to find anything cheaper than 1,500r”. I thought he might be right. I wandered a little and sat for a little, all the while managing my 80kg tower of gear. I realised I had no choice but to pay 1,550 for the official service – the man had pissed me off so much I was happy to pay 50r for the large version of the prepaid taxis. I continued my search for a functional ATM and was eventually directed to go inside the airport to the next level up. On the way there a man approached me who ran a hotel shuttle service. He said he could take me into the city for 500r, but when I showed him the address of my booked hotel, he said it wasn’t on the way. He had seen me and just wanted to help out. He told me to wait while he went and spoke to the prepaid taxi stand on my behalf. He came back and said the larger taxi (where I was quoted 1,550r) should only cost 600r. I suspected that the guy who had hounded me had a struck a deal with the guys at the taxi service counter, to ensure I paid at least 1,500r for a ride.
I decided I would get enough money to pay 1,550r if I needed, but then bargain hard at the counter for a cheaper price. I rode a lift upstairs and exited onto the next level. I was surprised (and still confused) to find that it wasn’t just another level of the building, but an entire new level of land with a road and another taxi drop off area. It seemed that this was where people are dropped at the airport and the one below is where people leave from. I thought I might have luck jumping straight in a taxi in which someone had just come to the airport. I approached one taxi but it was too small. Then a guy came up to me and said he had a car. I asked how much. He said 900r. I didn’t bother bargaining. I just said ok, and sought to clarify that the total price was 900r. He said, “Yes, 900”. He led me to a taxi, which was a nice van, and we loaded my stuff. Another man was the driver. The first guy jumped in the front back and as soon as we got moving he said I’d also have to pay a 150r parking fee. I refused, explaining with a friendly tone that we had just agreed that the total price was 900r, so 900 was all I would pay. He kept pushing but I stayed firm. As we passed a gate, he guy spoke to the gatekeeper, explaining something about me, then got out, said a friendly goodbye, and left. I think the guy’s job is to get customers for taxis. He speaks good English but the driver doesn’t. I think he must get paid via this ‘parking fee’ and maybe gives a little of this to the guy at the gate too. So, when I didn’t give the extra cash, he told the gatekeeper, “This one didn’t cough up, so you don’t get anything this time”. Then he left.
I began to relax as we drove into the night. The driver chatted to me a little in a language I didn’t understand and I enjoyed my first glimpses of India. We took a roundabout way to Broadway Hotel, but got there in the end. I paid my 900r and proceeded to check into the hotel. My room is very large and clean, but quite old. I spent about two minutes inside before heading out for a walk. By this time it was about 8pm. I went on the hunt for WIFI so I could let my mum know I had arrived safely. It turns out WIFI is very hard to find in India. I was directed to Park Street, so slowly made my way in that direction. Along the way I asked in restaurant for WIFI but they said there was none in the area, that I should go to Park Street. I kept walking towards this infamous street and managed to pick up a couple of snatches of open WIFI on the way, which I assume came from passers-by. I think I managed to get off an email and as I was super tired and fed up with my search, I turned back to my hotel. I decided to just have an easy night and have dinner in bar/restaurant that is attached to my hotel. It became obvious their service came with the expectation of a tip. As an Australian, the idea of paying a tip is not something I’m used to. There was already a 15% service tax on the bill. I tipped just under 10% of the bill and have added, “Find out what a normal tip is” to the list of things I need to find out tomorrow. It’s now 11.44pm, so it’s somehow taken me an hour to retell the day’s events.
|Distance ridden today||0km|
|Total distance ridden||14,339km|