I can see the check in attendants are confused by and don’t like my box. One of them insists my luggage allowance is only 20kg. Fortunately I can show her the email that confirms I can have 30kg. A perfectly charming bloke is summonsed to inform me I need to pay $150 for the extra weight. He says it would have been cheaper in advance – but I know it wouldn’t have because I did check online. I actually tried to get this from the ATM but am stymied when the machine refuses to cough up any money at all. I try several ATMS and get the same result. I sit and think about this for a while until I come to the inevitable conclusion that I will have to discard 3kg (I can get away with 1 or 2kg over I think). I open the box and throw away the bag of nuts and bolts I have debated throwing away all across Europe. Also the heavy D lock and chain – since I can’t take the chain in hand luggage as it’s potentially a lethal weapon (like knitting needles!). I leave the key in the lock in the hope someone else can use it. I throw away clothes and my toiletry bag. I throw away an entire ortlieb front bag because it’s got a hole in the bottom I haven’t got around to repairing. This bag alone weighs 1kg. Finally, along with a few more discards, my box weighs about 31.5kg. The attendants are so fed up with me by then they allow it to pass. They put a sticker on it saying ‘transfer’ so that it can be placed on the second aeroplane directly – even though it’s a different company (First flight with ‘Flydubai’ – second with ‘Jet – India’). I find this hard to believe and wave goodbye to Rowenna in her box with some trepidation.
By the time all this has been sorted, my flight is boarding, so I zoom off – and spend the next three hours trying to sleep with my head wedged against an aeroplane window uing my fleece and down jacket as a pillow. I always love the taxi out to the runway and the frisson in my tummy as we accelerate and lift into the air. It’s a minor miracle I have never tired of that this huge metal bird can soar into the sky.
Dubai is hot and I have a 5 layover. I wait at the baggage carousel to confirm Rowenna isn’t on it – she isn’t. I then sit in ‘departures’ for a couple hours wondering why my flight hasn’t come up on the screen. Finally I go find an information desk to be told I’m waiting in the wrong terminal – and no, it’s too far to walk – it takes 20minutes in a taxi. I’m supposed to check in 2 hours before and it’s getting close to that NOW! ARGH! I find an ATM and use my card to get £25 worth of Dhiraams and luckily this time it works and spits the money out. I’d have missed my flight if it hadn’t as I wouldn’t have been able to pay the taxi driver. It was the last time my card would work for an entire week but that’s a tale to be told later. Something or someone really IS looking out for me. Lesson no. one – always have some alternative funds – like a stash of dollars for emergency. Useful to have a second card too – but Halifax let me down on that one. Their credit card is probably sitting at home in a pile of my post right now.
I run to the Jet desk to check in and also get confirmation that Rowenna has been transferred successfully. In Terminal 2 I watch men in crisp and cool white floor length gowns and white scarves over their heads – with that thick black headband holding it in place - like archetypal arabs they are. The women, on the other hand, are dressed head to foot in heat attracting black. Here is another example of inequality between the sexes. I knit. I read. I don’t have long before we’re boarding the ‘plane to Mumbai (after wasting so much time waiting in the wrong place).
On the flight we get fed – my first taste of a spicy curry sauce and dhal in months! I also knit – with small wooden circulars – and the stewards don’t seem to mind at all. Stepping off the ‘plane in Mumbai, the heat was like a slightly damp but warm muffler being wrapped around my head. It takes a while to track down Rowenna as the first person I ask in the oversized baggage place denies she’s there. So I locate another person at a different desk who takes me back to the first place and finds the box with no trouble. I chuck her on a luggage trolley – extra wide though she is – and am relieved to find a driver sent by Miranda and Kevin outside holding a sign with my name on it. Oh JOY! Thus begins a cotton wool covered introduction to hot, hectic and colourful Mumbai courtesy of Miranda and Kevin.
It was incredibly fortunate that Miranda had agreed to put me up for my first days in India or I’d have been on the streets with my begging bowl (with much competition) because the Building Society decided to shut my card down having suspected fraud. I can’t thank her and Kevin enough. The day after I tried to access my account and was denied, the Indian government compounded an already dire situation by taking the large denomination 1000 and 500 rupee notes out of circulation with no warning. This was a tactic to combat the Black economy and fraud (India runs on cash, apparently) –but having this information was of no help to me whatsoever! It meant that there were long queues at banks to try and change old 500 rupee notes for new ones and that ATMs were running out of money – they couldn’t hold the new, longer 2000 INR notes without adjustment and this meant they couldn’t hold so much cash altogether. There were queues around the block for ATMs – and, as often as not, they would run out of cash before you got there. Kevin and Miranda bailed me out and held me together – loaning me cash and feeding and housing me. Their generosity knew no bounds. It could all have been so different: very, very difficult and absolutely horrid. But not only was I looked after royally, I was also entertained. And Mon arrived from Lustleigh a couple of days later – just in time for my birthday. It was an excellent birthday. THANKYOU MIRANDA, KEVIN and MON!