Sunday, December 29, 2013

Giving Thanks in God's Own Country

ATK enjoying some hammock time in the backwaters of Kerala
So, the ATKs spent their last vacation in India in Kerala, a state in South India which bills itself as "God's own country."  There seems to be universal agreement about this among Indians (at least the ones I've talked to) as during our two years here I have been peppered with questions like, "Have you gone to Kerala?", "When are you going to Kerala?", and "You must go to Kerala!" (admittedly, that last one is not a question.) We were very excited to spend our last Thanksgiving in India relaxing in this Xanadu. 

Of course, before we could get to paradise, we had to go through the airport. As you may have noticed from previous posts, we have had issues and altercations at the airport before and this was no different. In fact, since this colossal shitshow happened on Thanksgiving Day, it was extra special. Just like home. *Sniffle.*  Here's what happened:

We arrive at the airport at 6:30 am for a 8:30 am flight to Trivananthapuram (aka Trivandrum) via Mumbai. The line is relatively long (as the lines for most flights to Mumbai are) but we have plenty of time so no worries, right? Wrong. Despite being there with plenty of time to spare for a domestic flight the line was incredibly backed up as it appeared that although most counters had an agent sitting at them, only half of the agents were actually talking to passengers and checking in luggage. Of those that were talking to people, it seemed like every passenger had some sort of issue as no one was passing though the lines quickly and many were sent to the help counter.  This made everyone in the line jumpy and soon enough folks were cutting in front of people (usually with the always helpful, "I just want to check my bag real quick" comment. Like, no shit. That's what were are all waiting in line to do. You are not some special snowflake whose need to check a bag is more pressing than everyone else's.) Queuing up is not exactly a strong suit for the Indian masses in general. It's every man for himself and if you leave even a sliver of daylight between yourself and the person in front of you, someone is inevitably going to cut in. You gotta be ready to throw some 'bows if you want to get to the counter.

So we finally got to the counter (without any 'bow throwing, thankyouverymuch.) The guy kind of looks at our ticket funny, and then shows it to the lady next to him, who also looks at it funny. Then he looks at the screen. Then he looks at the ticket again. Then he talks to the lady again. Uh oh. You just know something is wrong, but they won't say anything. Finally, the guy is like,

"The flight from Mumbai to Trivananthapuram (aka Trivadrum) was canceled."

Us: "What? When?"

Him: "A month ago. We discontinued that route."

Then the lady jumps in: "Didn't you get the text message?"

Mr. ATK: "No, we did not get a text message."  

Lady: "Is your mobile number 8-8-0-"

Mr. ATK (totally cutting her off): "My mobile number doesn't matter! What we need now is a new flight. How are you going to get us to Trivandrum?"

Lady: "Well, you should have gotten a text..."

Mr. ATK (a little testily): "Well, we didn't get one. Now we just want to go on our vacation. How can we get there?"

By this time we had joined the rank of all the other problem travelers. Now, we weren't about to leave our spot at the desk, because then we would never get a flight. The guy was doing some typing and then got up and left. While the agents at airline counters back home would totally be able to just re-ticket us on a different route, the agents in India are not as empowered, unfortunately. So the guy had to get up and leave and go talk to the ticket counter. After about 20 minutes, he comes back and tells us he has booked us on another flight from Mumbai to Trivandrum, but it leaves later than our original flight. We were thrilled. "But," he said, "You need to go over to to the support desk and they will issue the boarding passes."

The support desk was a hot mess. Seems everyone had been directed there. There was no discernible line. Just lots of pushing. Many people were panicky about making the Mumbai flight at 8:30 am, so they just reach over the person at the front of the line with their tickets, trying to give them to the agent, again, because, "they just want to get their boarding passes real quick." Again, like that's not what everyone else is trying to do. Mr. ATK and I have this stuff down to a science now. One of us
weasels into the line and the other sort of blocks the perimeter by standing at a slight diagonal to prevent people from sneaking in from the side. It's brilliant. We don't particularly like doing this, but, you know, when in Rome....

So we got to the front of the line (after throwing a few 'bows), hand the new lady (who was quite caustic) our ticket which the other guy had scribbled something not really legible on.  We tried to explain the situation, but she was like, "Well if your flight is leaving later, I don't need to deal with you now. There are others with more pressing flights." Mr. ATK was like, "Nope." He was quite tenacious. Then she was like, "I can't do anything for you. You need to go back in the other line." Mr. ATK was like, "Nope."  He just kept trying to explain the situation, but by now the guy who we had been dealing with had either gone on a break or had left for the day. After a bit of a back and forth with, and a brief interlude where she started helping other patrons, she finally decided we were too much of a nuisance, so she told us to follow her. She led us back to the other ticket counters where a new guy was working and was like, "He'll help you." Mr. ATK tried to protest, but she just walked away. The guy was helping someone else, but we were standing right behind the guy (not behind the yellow line--desperate times and all).

When he's done help the guy in front of us, we go up to the new guy to explain the situation. First thing he says is, "Oh you need to go over there and talk to that lady." He then points to the help desk and the lady who just brought us over to him! Mr. ATK is like, "Nope." We try to explain about the other guy who changed our reservation onto this other later flight. New guy says, "If it's a later flight then I don't need to help you now. You can wait." Mr. ATK was like, "Nope." So the guy looks up the new flight (after we were able to discern the scribbles the first guy made.) New Guy is all, "You aren't on the list." So turns out first guy did not make reservations for us. We argue some more and after about ten minutes the new guy is like, "Oh here you are! You are now flying through Bangalore, not Mumbai." The first guy did not tell us that part, so we had been insisting we were supposed to be on the Mumbai flight. I honestly thought our trip was done-zo. But Mr. ATK was very insistent and through sheer perseverance of will got the flights fixed. If it had been me, I'd have probably just let the ticket guy blow me off (as they all tried to do) which would have resulted in us missing the flight from Delhi to Bangalore (which actually ended up leaving only 30 minutes later than our original flight to Mumbai was supposed to).

Anyways, after this exhausting crapfest, we got our tickets and were able to go through security and get on our way to paradise. But seriously, it was as if India knew I was starting to feel a little wistful and nostalgic about leaving this wondrous land and decided to throw out a "Hey! Don't forget about how much you hate stuff like this! This stuff happens all the time here! Don't forget!"

Luckily, though, we finally got to our Thanksgiving paradise. I realize I just spent way too much time describing the minutia of our hellish airport experience and now I don't have much time left to talk about our actual vacation.  I'll just go over the highlights, I guess.

1.) Elephant Sanctuary
I love me some elephants! And I certainly couldn't pass up the opportunity to drag Mr. ATK to a real live "elephant sanctuary" where we could wash and feed the abandoned and retired elephants as well as ride them. Well, the "sanctuary" wasn't quite the wildlife park I expected, though it did have elephants. They seemed well fed, but the parcel of land was small and the elephants were tethered so they couldn't roam freely. On the bright side, we did feed an elephant some bananas (their tongues are weird!)

Mr. ATK and his Mo-vember mustache pet our elephant's massive tusk

2.) Boat ride through the backwaters to the ocean
The backwaters are a beautiful maze of rivers and canals that snake through Kerala before emptying into the ocean. We had a lovely boat ride where we saw birds. Lots and lots of birds. Made me wish I was a birder.
Fishermen making their way through the backwater

3.) Beautiful sunsets
Our days in Kerala were mainly spent relaxing either poolside or riverside, reading books and napping. (We are nothing if not exciting.) One of my favorite parts was having a cup of tea and watching the sunset over the backwater every night.

Sunset over the backwaters

All in all, we had a lovely Thanksgiving, even though there was no turkey. We had delicious fish and seafood meals, which I find was a suitable alternative to turkey. It was also a wonderful way to spend our last vacation before ending our two-year Indian adventure. Highly recommend a trip to Kerala for anyone who may be planning to visit India. So with that, I leave you all with a photo of the coolest tuk tuk in India.

Yo Yo!

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