Well, its been about 7 weeks since departure from Ottawa, and what a journey it has been. Our "relaxing" vacation in India started off like a nightmare.
Problem #1: As of 1am, early morning on the day of our departure (and against my better judgement I might add - - - I feel its important to lay down that qualifier at this point), Alex let Mickey out of Mr and Mrs White's garage (where she slept at night) for an hour or so until we finished our late night packing. She felt Mickey was boiling due to the heat and lack of air circulation. Of course, as many of you know, Mickey left and got lost. Consequently, Alex and I spent the next 3 hours driving/walking/crawling up and down the backyards of all of the neighbours on Viewmount Dr as well as many of the surrounding neighbourhoods searching for her. Thankfully, Alex left details with the Humane Society and someone on Juniper Court (believe it or not) found her a few hours later around 7am.
Problem #2: Thunder and lightning storm. Original flight from Ottawa to Toronto cancelled. Air Canada puts us on the next flight, leaving us only an hour and half to catch our connecting Air Canada flight in Pearson to New Delhi. Its a legal connection assures the Air Canada agent, so we should make it. Seems ok, right? Yeah.
Problem #3: After depressing goodbyes to our family at the airport, we check in. Of course, for obvious reasons, security gives my bags an extra review. Big surprise. Then, Alex's carry-on bag's handle breaks off. Nice.
Problem #4: This one's big. We're finally on the plane and it starts to back up and head towards the runway when suddenly, it stops. Apparently the pilot has received a message from Pearson asking all incoming flights to hold off due to the storm. Sweet. So now we're stuck on the plane like hostages waiting for approval to take off while the clock ticks away on our window to catch the flight out of Toronto. Of course, all of the flight attendants try to reassure us insisting that if all incoming flights are delayed arriving in Toronto, then all outgoing flights will also be delayed. Seems okay, right? Yeah.
Problem #5: We arrive at Pearson in Toronto 4 hours later. Nice. Both Alex and I run out of the plane to be greeted by an in-transit Air Canada Agent who responds to our frantic query about the Air Canada-Delhi flight as follows: "Of course that flight's gone. It left 30 minutes ago. Did you think it was going to wait for you two?" After Alex convinces me that killing her will not solve the problem, we move on to Air Canada ticketing to ensure that we can get on another flight without messing up our hotel reservations in Delhi.
Problem #6: No other Air Canada flights out until the weekend. Our hotel reservations in Delhi are messed up.
Problem #7: Attitude from Air Canada staff continues. When it finally becomes our turn in-line after waiting 1 hour, the Agent puts out a "Please see other Agent" sign. Frustrated, I give her my best "what do you think you're doing look?". She responds with, "Sir, I've been working for over 10 hours and am tired and hungry. I'm leaving. I'm sure one of the other Agents will gladly be able to help you". She then directs us to the long line-up next to the only other Agent working. Great.
Problem #8: After booking us a series of alternate connections to get us to Delhi using Lufthansa (Air Canada Star Alliance partner) via Montreal and Frankfurt, we naturally inquire about our baggage which was originally booked directly to Delhi from Ottawa. Air Canada assures us that their Pearson Baggage Crew will re-tag all four of our bags for our new route so that when we land in Delhi, we'll get them. Being somewhat skeptical at this point, I raise the option of us identifying our bags so that we can guarantee we receive them when we land. The Agent informs us that no passengers are allowed back in the baggage-hold-over cargo area. He then laughs at me, educating me on the expertise of Air Canada's baggage people and pompously reminding me "This isn't New Dehli Airport." No racial linkage to my heritage intended, I'm sure. He concludes that I'm being ridiculous to worry about the bags. Seems ok, right? Yep.
Problem #9: To conlude our business with Air Canada Ticketing/Baggage Agents, they proudly announced that since the flight was missed due to weather, they were not responsible for providing us with a hotel or any other compensation for the night. Of course, its now midnight and tracking down hotels at this hour is somewhat of a nightmare especially due to all the cancelled flights that evening because of the storm. The only available room we find? - $250 at the Airport Sheraton. Nice.
Problem #10: Having resigned ourselves to the fact that our 2 day jet-lag recovery and site seeing adventure in Delhi has been ruined, we figure that we'll at least get one good nite's rest at the Sheraton before starting the series of flight connections the next morning. Airport Sheraton - under construction. Hammering and drilling all night. All night.
At this point, I had had it. In the morning, I asked to speak with the General Manager of the hotel and told him exactly what I thought of the Sheraton's "A-Comfortable-Night's-Sleep-Guarantee". After a few minutes of me yelling death threats, he decided not to charge us for the room and throw in breakfast as well. Yeah!!!!!! That's right baby!!! Go Jacob. Go Jacob. Go Jacob.
Problem #11: After 3 brutal connections through Montreal, Frankfurt we make it to Delhi at 1am, two days late. Sure, we realized that we lost our 2 day break planned in Delhi, but we were glad to know that our next day's train trip to Agra and our hotel reservation at the Oberoi Amarvilas (right next to Taj Mahal) would be preserved. So we get off the plane and proceed to Baggage Claim. Big surprise. No bags. After a 2 hour administrative delay at the airport filling out forms and baggage identification papers, we meet a representative of the travel agency I used in Delhi who takes us to our hotel, where we have 2 hours to rest prior to catching the morning train to Agra.
Problem # 12: Jet lag. The travel agent takes us to the Connaught Hotel appropriately located near Connaught Place in Delhi. Its a decent 4 star hotel. Eventhough there's only a short window of time to sleep, neither of us can. So we stay awake for a couple of hours wondering what would be next and whether or not we would ever see our baggage again. As they contained all of our medication, not just for the vacation in India, but also for the first year of our posting, we started to freak out. Ok. I started to freak out.
But everything worked out. Agra was amazing. The Taj Mahal - gorgeous. The Oberoi Amarvilas - insane. Never stayed in a hotel like that. Ever. Once we figure out how to use this blog (of which we have a lot), we'll post our pics. After Agra, we returned to Dehli and thankfully retrieved our bags. Of course, this wasn't so easy. It required a 1am run to the Airport, the night before our flight to Udaipur. But it was worth it to know that we had all our stuff.
Udaipur was phenomenal as well. We stayed at the Oberoi Udaivilas. Also out of this world. In fact, the grounds of this palace were even more spectacular than the Oberoi in Agra. Its the latest Oberoi property and overlooks Lake Pichola (sp?) and all of the Lake Palaces. Our room was incredible with its own semi-private pool and view of the Oberoi's game reserve (peacocks, deer, etc.).
However, after an amazing candlelit dinner over looking the lake, I got food poisoning. Great. I spent that night and all of the next morning with my head and ass on the toilet (rotated). Alex was, of course, amazing and nursed me back to health, but not before the hotel doctor had to come to our room and give me an injection to stop throwing up. I also had to be wheelchaired out of the hotel. Nice. Needless to say, our experience at the second Oberoi was somewhat soured. After a day's consideration and after we had already moved on to our next hotel, they contacted us and informed us that they would knock off the charges of the doctor's visit and medication, but nothing else. Generous.
The Devi Garh. Wow. Over 200 years old, the Devi is truly an authentic palace. As our package included 2 Ayurvedic massage treatments per day, we finally got the kind of rest, relaxation and pampering we were hoping for. The Head Chef prepared us whatever we wanted and set up private dining areas for us in different parts of the palace every evening. Apparently, Elizabeth Hurley had just held a birthday party at the Devi for her partner, Arun Nair (Indian). Our 4 days and 3 nights there were fabulous, eventhough I lost the first day recovering from the food poisoning from the Oberoi.
After Udaipur, we had to fly to Bombay/Mumbai for a night in transit to Kerala. Getting down from the airport, a taxi cab scam stiffed us $30 en route to the hotel we had booked for the night. Of course, not speaking the language and not knowing where you're going, I realized that travelling with all our luggage (4 huuuuge bags and multiple carry-ons), I should have asked the Travel Agency to arrange a car for us in Bombay too. But that would have been smart. Since all the baggage didn't couldn't fit in one car (those Fiat taxis in Mumbai can't really support very much), we unhappily agreed to split up so that we would each be able to watch the bags. After loading all our baggage into two rather dodgy taxis, we split up and then prayed that we would see each other again.
Thankfully, both our taxis reached the hotel after 1 hour of the worst driving and traffic exhibition in Mumbai that I had ever seen. Suspecting a scam on the taxi charge, I immediately grabbed the hotel concierge and informed him of the price we paid and he stopped our taxis from leaving. Although we didn't ever end up getting our money back (since the scam was managed by some dude back at the airport), the hotel held the drivers and contacted the police. They also gave us a free ride back to the airport the next day. What was that? Problem # 37?
We then reached Kerala the next day. It had been 10 years since my last trip. Seeing all of my cousins, uncles and aunts after all that time was a real mind blow. Many of my cousins had since got married and had children. So much had changed. I missed out on so much. It was exhilirating and depressing all at the same time. Being there with Alex was also hard to describe. All my life, Kerala had always been this far, far away place in which I spent every other summer and where I had so much family. However, only my family (and the Indian community in Ottawa) understood. To all my "white" friends, this place may as well have been fictitious. Alex really represented the bridging of my two worlds. Hard to absorb at first, but it was awesome. Naturally, my family loved Alex. She fit in like a glove. I'll never forget my Aunt Molly, in Joylands (Mom's family home in Trivandrum) turning to my Uncle Tom and saying in Malayalam with a smile - "It seems as though she has been here for years."
Of course, I got sick in Kerala (minor ear infection). Alex also had a couple of migraines. But overall, nothing like in Udaipur. During our time in Kerala, we visited/stayed with my cousin Nimi's family, Naina's parents, my cousin Susan's family in Allepey (where we also had an amazing Kerala Backwater Tour), my Aunt Molly, Unlce Tom and cousin Sarah ("Akku") in Joylands in Trivandrum, and my Mom's oldest cousin-brother Thankachan for his 80th birthday party celebration. That was quite the party. Great to see his whole family, especially my cousins Lefroy, Shoba, Geetha and Manju. Massive feast. Most of my uncles got hammered, everyone caught up, cursed the mosquitoes, and then we went home. After Trivandrum, ALex and I also got to visit the Canada-India Village, Dad's project. Thankfully, Dr. Sister-Angel Mary also was able to be there at the same time. The project is doing well. Prospering, really. Seeing Dad's picture, which the sisters have framed and hung right in the main building's front entrance, always brings tears to my eyes. A new addition to the hospital is almost finished, and new quarters are being built for the nuns. Dr. Sister Angel Mary asked me to return in late October for the inaugural opening of the hospital. Hopefully, I'll be able to.
After tearful goodbyes, it was finally on to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Yeah, right. Air India cancelled their flight from Calcutta to Dhaka, so we got stuck there an extra night. Not so bad though. This opportunity really gave Alex a chance to connect with her old stomping grounds near the slums in which she worked 5 years back when she lived in Calcutta. Visiting the very streets and cafes where she walked was very emotional for her. I think she'll be going back.
Due to the flight cancellation, Air India put us up in a 5 star hotel - Hyatt Regency. Sweeeeeet. Not the Oberoi, but hey, at least no one got food posioned. Alex and I got a great nite's rest, filled our tummies with amazing food and said our final goodbyes to India. The next day afternoon, we arrived in Dhaka.
At the airport in Dhaka, we were greeted by Maury Miloff, one of my colleagues from the High Commission, and the Deputy Head of Aid. Maury's awesome. Together with Jude Jacob, a locally engaged staffer from the High Commission, they facilitated our quick "diplomatic" exit from the airport and brought us to our new home. A 4 bedroom massive house in a diplomatic enclave of Dhaka known as Gulshan, but more specifically, Baridhara. The house is really nice, clean and did I write massive? Apart from the heinous Canadian government-owned furnishings, its great.
Thus far, the challenges have been figuring out where everything is. Where to go to secure a car, groceries, banking, internet access, phones, etc. etc. While everyone in the High Commission has been individually amazing and kind to the both of us, the orientation program is somewhat disjointed. Nevertheless, Alex and I are slowly figuring it all out. We miss everyone back home and are thankful to finally have an internet connection in our house. The High Commission has loaned us a pentium for the house which I believe we'll be able to hang onto for a while.
Its been almost 2 and a half weeks since our arrival and we still have much to do to finish getting settled - - our sea shipment from Canada still hasn't arrived. I'm also recovering from a brutal case of diarreah. bruuuutal. Ever night for 4 nights was again spent in the washroom. One night, the pain in my stomach was so bad and I became so dehydrated, that I passed out. Nice. Once again, Alex has been there to nurse me back to health.
Thankfully, we are slowly getting past the shock of the realization that we now live here. Yes, LIVE here. Godwillingly, the majority of our 'travelling problems' are now behind us and we can begin the journey of this posting.
This blog entry has been uber long. Sorry. But make sure to check back for our photos that accompany the saga to date (over 400 of them). I'm sure we'll figure out how to post them soon.
Hope and pray all is well back home.