I'm sat in the departure lounge at Gatwick quietly letting the tension of baggage and bike check-in ebb away. Singlehandedly trying to manoevre a bike and bag-laden trolley is tricky, but the big unknown is that every airline has different rules about how a bike should be prepared for transport.......and individual check-in staff will either ignore them (good), interpret them as they see fit, or even add a few of their own. Like the know-it-all 'queue manager' in Porto ....."You'll have to deflate the tyres sir". Not if I can help it, they're the only thing protecting my ceramic coated rims. "OK, I'll do it later". The oversized baggage handler on the oversized baggage belt wasn't bothered at all.
|Difficult to manoevre- and not easy to see where your going!|
Even so I think I'm pushing my luck with my flimsy polythene and sellotape 'bike bag' already shredded when I dragged it off the belt at Gatwick. After applying a bit more sellotape I nervously approached the Emirates desk. I knew I was over the 30kg combined checked in weight, 4 kg over to be precise, and lucky me, the nice lady let me off with it! And they have a huge oversize belt next to the check-in, where you can gently lay your bike down and wave it goodbye (tyres fully inflated). In Porto it's a 3 man job to feed it through the scanner at 45 degrees or else it jams up inside.
So lets hear it for Emirates!
The next hurdle is Jet Airways out of Mumbai, apparently bike wheels have to be removed....what!! No way is that happening.... there's always the 2 day train south.
The overnight flight was sleepless unfortunately, a dreamless Dreamliner trip. Never been able to sleep upright and probably never will. So I was really looking forward to getting into my Mumbai hotel bed when the adventure started. I'd decided to leave my bike in Left Baggage overnight as it didn't look like it would fit on the roof of one of the Fiat Panda-like taxis. The Left Baggage storage facility consisted of a small kiosk outside the airport next to the taxi rank. The man wanted to see my passport; everyone in India wants to see your passport........where is it?.....frantic scrabbling in bar bag and emptying of pockets....shit! I haven't even left the airport and I've lost my bloody passport! Now, thinking back I had stopped in a quiet part of the airport to apply sellotape sticking plasters to the rips in my bag and, bent over the bike, some papers had fallen out of my shirt pocket......had I not picked them up, hadn't I seen the passport then, had I?
|The Left Baggage guys......having just had their office fumigated for mosquitoes - they don't spare the chemicals!|
I left Mr Left Baggage in charge of my stuff and heart in mouth doubled back to Arrivals. Mr (very military-looking) Policeman with sub-machine gun stopped me at the glass entrance doors and....wanted to see my passport. What followed would have been comical if I hadn't felt so stunned. Superiors were summoned until I was surrounded by at least a dozen policemen. Eventually I was escorted to my bag repair spot but no sign of it. My flight tomorrow! My trip! I really thought it was all over. I sat for two hours in the police ops room listening to radio checks and phone calls.....watching the maintenance men service the smoke detectors. Nothing seemed to be happening.....I assumed they weren't exactly sure what to do with me, or were just waiting for someone to hand it in. I later found out that they had been looking at CCTV tapes and had followed my progress from the baggage hall, through a scanner into customs, the works. They had seen the papers fall from my pocket, but no passport. The last verifiable use of the passport was changing some currency in the baggage hall. A few minutes later I overheard someone on the phones say "Michael David" and I let out a whoop of joy (lots of surprised faces) because I knew that only someone reading from my passport would know my middle name. The passport had been found under the photocopier at the currency exchange. I know I should have made sure I got it back but I was busy counting funny money and working out what a lousy exchange rate I'd got. I was taken into an office and given a ticking off about wasting police time and yes, I felt sheepish and ecstatic at the same time. In return I was asked to write a letter of appreciation to the head honcho of CISF.........the least I could do, of course, thanks Sub-Inspector Avinesh Singh and all your excellent men!
|finally...... on the way to the hotel -the driving is a little ALARMING!|
|Say 100 rupees to the pound sterling. A cutting is a a small tea|
|Tasty samosas and....umm....other stuff, an all vegetarian breakfast|
Another flight change and 4 hour wait at Bangalore and I'm on my 5th and final flight
|There are zillions of these auto rickshaws around - 30 rupees for the 3km run to the airport to pick up the bike|
|off to the domestic airport - well ripped off by this driver but I was in a hurry.These are the luxury taxis and they charge extra per suitcase.|
|Finally, 5 flights later and I'm rigged up ready to go. Feeling a bit sweaty but it only took 10 minutes to get ready. The taxi drivers are impressed. Where's the hotel?|
My hotel is only 3 km away but it's dark and not a lot of street lighting once away from the airport. The tooting is incessant and totally pointless, theres so much you just don't hear it after a while. My new Pocket Earth navigation app is brilliant and takes me unerringly to the hotel. It looks nice and airy and I'm looking forward to a shower. Better still, there is a busy open-air restaurant just next door with some gorgeous smells wafting across the hotel entrance. Just when things are looking up seems to be a cue for everything to go pear-shaped, no? The hotel is full, Yes, they have my booking.com reservation but it has been cancelled. Yeah, sure. I,d even told them that I would be a late arrival. Crooks! This is one hotel I'll definitely review........Premier Park.....bastards.
I cycled around the town for an hour and checked around 5 hotels, all full. Frustratingly, they call restaurants and other establishments hotels and they looked at me strangely when I asked for a bed........no but I could eat. Eventually, I gave up and headed out of town in the general direction of the coast, looking for somewhere to pitch my tent, somewhat earlier than I had anticipated : (
It was after 21:30, I spotted some possibilities and marked them on my map (iphone) but I was so close to the coast and I wanted to wait until around 23:00 and everyone was tucked up in bed. To cut a long story short, I met a couple of middle aged guys and one of them said I could stay at hishouse.....so I did.He was down on his luck, his wife and 3 kids had left about 3 years ago and he was unemployed.........but he had a roomy house ( looked like it hadn't been cleaned since his wife left) and a shower. He had no food in the house so I suppered on bananas and fruit cake that I'd picked up as camping rations. He didn't normally get up until mid-day so we agreed I would just let myself out in the morning. Thanks Critis Robert! I'm hopeless at names so I word-associated with clitoris....and it worked! Still I couldn't sleep more than a couple of hours. At 05:00 I gave up and started packing my bags. I left Clitis a thank you post-it and 1,000 rupee note and slipped out the front door into the pre-dawn light.........an pointed the bike north.