Monday, January 21, 2013

Murphy's Law is alive and well in Sri Lanka

You all recall Murphy's Law, yes?

That lovely adage that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong?  Well, my good friends, it was alive and well and rearing it's ugly head all over the place during the ATK family trip to Sri Lanka over New Year's.

Let me count the ways:

1) Sri Lankan Air requires you to present the credit card used to purchase the tickets when you show up to check in.

Now Mr. ATK and I purchased these tickets back in October so it had been a few months. Normally we use one specific credit card for all of our transactions (we get miles!) but as that card was handed back to me by the Sri Lankan Air lady, we remembered that we had used a different card to buy the tickets. If I recall, we were having problems buying the tickets with old faithful and so tried the card just to see if that would work. Which it did. Unfortunately, we did not have it with us because we never use it and therefore never carry it. Mr. ATK was getting pretty heated with the Sri Lankan Air folks because we each had about five different forms of ID on us and also that rule is stupid. We've never experienced that before. However, it did say right on the e-ticket, "You will be asked to present the credit card used to purchase these tickets and will not be allowed to  receive your boarding passes without it." So now we are at the airport with TWO hours before our flight leaves and we need to run across town to our apartment, get the card and get back, check-in, go through security and immigration all before the gate closes which is usually about 20 minutes before the scheduled departure. Mr. ATK and I are now, rightfully, freaking out. The airline people look at us like we're nuts and are all, "Relax! You have plenty of time. Just go home and get the card."

Then the following happened:

(The ATKs grab all their bags and start running for the exit. Upon approaching exit 6 they meet two Indian soldiers who guard the door.)

Army dude: "Where are you going?"

ATKs: "We need to go home and get the credit card we used to purchase the ticket or else they won't let us on the flight."

Army dude: "You need to leave through exit 5."

ATKs: "Oh. Okay."

(ATKs run to exit 5 where they meet 2 more Indian army guys.)

New army guy: "Where are you going?"

ATKs: "We need to go home and get the credit card we used to buy our airlines tickets. They won't let us check-in without it."

New army guy: "No."

Mr. ATK (mix of annoyed, exasperated, and angry): "What do you mean 'no'?"

New army guy: "No. You can't leave the airport."

I'm going to stop the story for a quick second to emphasize that. They would not let us out of the airport. Now, I think it's weird enough that they only let ticketed passengers in the airport, but I can see the value in it, especially in keeping touts and beggars out of the airport. But not letting people leave? What happens if someone misses their flight? Are they doomed to live in the check-in area of Indira Gandhi International Airport like Tom Hanks in The Terminal?

Back to the story....


(Army guys confer with each other while the ATKs roll their eyes.)

New army guy: "I want to talk to someone from the airline."

Mr. ATK: "What?! Are you serious? FINE!"

(ATKs run back to Sri Lankan Air while Mr. ATK diplomatically shouts "I HATE THIS COUNTRY!")

(At Sri Lankan Airlines counter)

Mr. ATK: "We need someone to come to exit 5 and tell the guards you are making us go home and get our credit card."

Sri Lankan Air people: "What credit card?"

(Mr. ATK's head figuratively explodes)

Mr. ATK: "We were just here. We don't have the credit card we used to purchase the ticket. You won't let us check-in without it."

Sri Lankan Air guy: "No, we won't. That's right."

Mr. ATK: "Well, we are trying to go home to get the credit card but they army won't let us leave. They want to talk to you."

Sri Lankan Air guy: "Oh, just tell them you need to leave to get your credit card."

Me : Oh my god! Why didn't we think of that? (I didn't really say that.)


Sri Lankan Air guy: "Why are you so upset?"

Mr. ATK (exasperated): "Because we have two hours--well, now 90 minutes--before our flight leaves and you are making us go home to get a credit card and they won't let us out of the airport!"

Sri Lankan Air guy: "You have plenty of time before your flight leaves. Just go home and get the card."


Me: "We have to drive all the way across town and back in rush hour. That takes at least one hour. Ninety minutes isn't that much time." (I mean, seriously? Dude, have you been in an airport before?)

Finally, Sri Lankan Air guy comes with us to talk to the Army guy. After some discussion, Army guy decides we can leave, but not before taking his sweet time writing down all of our details in a giant notebook. I suspect he was getting back at Mr. ATK for yelling "I hate this country!"

By the time we finally were allowed to leave the airport, our trusty driver, Vicki-ji, was right there, ready to pick us up. Then, in an amazing and terrifying feat of driving, he managed to get us to our apartment and back to  the airport in about 40 minutes. We got through check-in, security, and immigration with no problems and even made it to the gate before boarding even started. So maybe the Sri Lankan Air dude was right and we shouldn't have been panicking so much. But really, what are the chances of there being no line in immigration and no line in security?

Now to continue with the list of things that went wrong in Sri Lanka.

2) Sri Lankan banks do not accept Indian rupees for currency exchange. 

We live in India (obviously).  To be honest, the ATKs did not put as much pre-planning into this trip as we usually do. I mean, we planned it in October and had all the lodging, visas, and flight reservations made, but the immediate pre-trip stuff like "taking money out of the bank" we left to the end. Part of this was because Mr. ATK spent the month of December in Dubai and I had spent the previous week out there visiting him. So early December was spent preparing for Dubai. I got back from Dubai on December 25th in the evening and Mr. ATK got back on December 27th. We left for Sri Lanka on December 28th.

So anyways, We had some cash in dollars and rupees but were trying to figure out if it was enough cash for the whole trip. We decided we could use a few more dollars, so Mr. ATK went to the bank and pulled out like $500. We already had a few hundred dollars and approximately $200 in Indian rupees. Seemed like plenty. Well, we had several problems with lodging in Sri Lanka (which will be described below) and we needed those rupees. Imagine my surprise when I could not change them, like, anywhere.

Upon expressing this surprise to a Sri Lankan fellow, I received a very curt reply that went something like this:

"We are not Indians. This is not India. We do not accept Indian money. This is Sri Lanka. We have our own money."

Like, I know that, sir. I wasn't suggesting you take these rupees as payment for a service. What I am saying that India is the largest economy in the region and only 45 minutes away from your country. I believe you are also in some sort of regional arrangement with each other (SAARC). This is why I am surprised that your banks will exchange ten other currencies including US dollars, Australian dollars, Euros, Japanese yen, Emirati Dirham, and whatever it is they use in Qatar, but not rupees. That's like going to Canada and not being able to exchange US dollars for Canadian dollars and being told by a haughty Canadian, "This is not the USA. This is Canada." Next time, I will look this information up prior to traveling.

3) The hotel we reserved in Galle canceled four days worth of reservations the day we arrived in Galle, because we did not call at 10 am the day we were arriving.

This is unfortunate because we were on a bus on our way to Galle (4 hour bus ride) at 10 am. Also, how are we supposed to make phone calls in Sri Lanka?

Because our room was canceled , we were stuck wandering the streets of Galle, trying to find a new hotel. And since it was December 29th (New Year's Eve weekend) and Galle is a pretty popular tourist destination, it was not easy to find a new hotel. We ended up finding a new place, with an ocean view to boot, but it was $60 more expensive and did not take credit card helping create the problem mentioned in #2.

View from our hotel room in Galle.
4) Nobody take credit cards!

Okay, this is not technically true. I'm sure lots of places take credit cards. Just none of the hotels we stayed at. (Oh, the perils of boutique hotels).  So due to the fact that our hotel in Galle cost more than we anticipated, and since we had a sizable amount of our money in Indian rupees (which are of no use to anyone in Sri Lanka), our cash got a little tight. Still, since I reserved our hotel in Colombo with my credit card and was told at the time of reservation that a "no show" would result in my credit card being charged, I assumed we could pay for that hotel with a credit card. Nope. Wrong again. In a bizarre turn of events, the hotel did not take credit card. I was really annoyed and thinking that the guy just didn't want to pay the credit card processing fee, because how can you not accept credit cards and yet still charge my credit card? We would have had enough cash to cover the room, but that would have left us with like five dollars left in our pockets. (And $200 worth of Indian rupees that no one wants.) Plus, we were going to the Maldives after Sri Lanka, and though that was all inclusive (and accepted credit cards), we needed to have some cash reserves. You know, in case of emergencies.

So we spent our first day in Colombo walking around trying to either cash a check (Nope. You have to open a bank account to do that) or change rupees (again see #2.) Finally, we found a money changer that would take our rupees. After about 3 hours of walking around.

5) The Indian Ocean stole my wedding ring!

The culprit: Unawatuna beach.
Beware! I will steal your meaningful jewelry.
See those waves in the background? They look fun and inviting, but they will steal your wedding ring. That's all I have to say about that.

Funny thing though, from this post, it might seem like I did not like Sri Lanka. But despite all the trials and tribulations, I really loved Sri Lanka. It was absolutely beautiful and the food was delicious. I would like to go back and see Yala National Park (highest concentration of leopards in the world!) and the inland area of the country. So if you have the opportunity to go to Sri Lanka, go! But don't wear jewelry in the ocean.

1 comment:

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