I arrived in Delhi (India) on a Tuesday morning after flying all night from Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania)… I was headed to a friend’s wedding in Delhi and was in Dar to get my visa from the Indian High Commission Office there. It took six days, but at around noon on Monday the lady working at the High Commission informed me that my visa would be ready to pick up at 4 PM that afternoon. I packed my stuff, checked out of my guesthouse, and got in a cab downtown to hit the Qatar Airways office (I knew there were daily Qatar Airways flights leaving at 6:30 PM… but I had to wait to buy my ticket because I was unsure how long the visa would take to get… and you can’t buy a Qatar Airways ticket online 36 hours before the flight… so to the office I went). After a 30 minute cab ride (traffic in Dar Es Salaam is terrible at all hours of the day), I bought my ticket, then via the same cab, headed back up to near my guesthouse to have one last lunch with my lovely Tanzanian friend. My plan was to enjoy this lunch, take a cab to the High Commission Office to get my visa (arrive at three in the hopes that I could sweet talk them into letting me in early so I could make sure I got to the airport on time), then take a bajaj taxi to the airport…. the reason being that, again, the traffic is horrible here, and the bajaj drivers will do things like drive on the sidewalk and over yards to go places that cars just can’t go… the downside being that they’re open air with no a/c and it is really, really hot this time of year (pretty much unbearable to be in the sun between noon and 4 PM, with high humidity thrown in on top… very steamy and tropical). All goes according to plan… I arrive around 3, manage to sweet talk the secretary into letting me in to get my visa, and I’m in bajaj on the way to the airport at 3:30. The drive takes about an hour and fifteen minutes (keep in mind the airport can’t be more than 15 kilometers from where I was… and this wasn’t even full on rush hour yet) but all goes well, and I’m chillin’ in the airport with plenty of time to spare before my flight (an unusual occurrence for me… one fun note is that the Dar Es Salaam airport does not have a/c, so it’s a pretty sweltering wait). I get on my flight, we leave on-time, arriving in Doha, Qatar around midnight for an hour and half layover. The flight from Doha to Delhi leaves at 1:30 AM, takes about 3 and a half hours, which, with the time change, puts me down in Delhi around 7 AM in the morning. Now, I can sleep on planes just fine, but given the stops and flight lengths going on here, I only manage to get a bit of shut-eye in. Two asides. First, the Doha airport has to be one of the nicest in the world, which was quite funny juxtaposition coming from a part of the world where nothing is really as nice as that airport… and I was also coming from a summer place and was in a thin shirt, shorts and flip flops, whereas most people were bundled up coming from much colder destinations. Second, on the flight I sat next to an older couple going onto Singapore. They were Indian by descent/background, but British citizens because they grew up in Tanganyika, which was a British Colony/Protectorate… when the guy went away to college in England, he left from Tanganyika, and by the time he was done with school his home country was now the independent Tanzania… complicated right… very cool people. They still live in Tanzania (but were flying to Singapore to see one of their sons).
Anyhow, I arrive in Delhi around 7 AM… and this is where the fun begins. Clearly a bit woozy from my flight, somewhere in the long walkway between the gate and immigration/customs I decide to stop in a bathroom. I’m carrying a book (one I had just bought for a ridiculous price at the Dar Es Salaam airport) with me at the time, and inside the book is my landing card. I put the book on a shelf while I do my business and, of course, forget it when I leave the bathroom. I only realize I left it there as I approach the immigration line and can’t find my landing card. I backtrack back towards the bathroom, but at the top of a certain escalator I’m stopped by two security guards. I try to explain what happened, but they either don’t understand, or don’t care, and they keep saying I must go around (they keep pointing to the other side of a glass wall dividing the hallway) to come back through there. I temporarily give up and go check out what they’re saying… of course, upon investigation, going around via the other side of this glass partition involves clearing customs and walking back around through another security checkpoint. Well… that’s just not going to happen. I go back up to my security guard friends, tell them that the other way is impossible, that I’m going to get my book and that I’ll be back in five minutes all why slowly just walking by them towards the restroom. They don’t seem to happy but relent and let me by, and I retrieve my book and landing card, which are right where I left them (I’m really concerned mostly about the book, as I just bought it… I could fill in another landing card no big deal). I head back, show my security guard buddies my book and proceed to clear customs and pick up my bag without a hitch. Now, I need to find a taxi to get me to where I’m going, but first I need to hit the ATM. I generally don’t carry any cash on me (and I’ve long since run out of US Dollars to exchange) because most foreign currencies can’t be exchanged in other countries (only at land border crossings generally) and nearly every airport anywhere has an ATM machine (not all as I’ve found out through experience… but that Delhi would have one is a pretty safe bet). I get out my main debit card and a slight problem arises… the problem being that I can’t get any money out of this ATM machine (the reason being is that I recently ran out of money in this account… I had initiated a transfer from another account, but it obviously had not posted yet). Okay, that’s why I carry two of these things… for just such an emergency (I have two ATM cards because one bank charges me nothing for withdrawals… the other charges me a ridiculous $5 per non-bank ATM withdrawals, and of course, this bank does not have ATMs outside the US… but still helps to have two accounts to just have options). So I break out my other card wondering how much $5 is in Indian Rupees and run it through the ATM… and shit… this card doesn’t work either. Somewhat luckily, at least I know why, as this has happened before to me with this particular card… In my rush to get out of Tanzania, I had failed to call my bank and inform then that I would be in India, so they blocked my card per their security protocol. Now, to remove the block, I have to call this bank’s so-called customer service line, the number for which is conveinelty printed on the back of the card. I break out my cell phone and, of course, it’s out of juice (I think yu see a trend developing here right). Okay… I look around for an outlet and manage to track one down at the base of a roof support column in the middle of the hallway leading to the airport exit. One little thing does break my way… in that I have a plug that will fit the outlet configuration so i can actually plug in and charge my phone. While it’s plugged in and electricity is flowing, I change my SIM card out from my Tanzanian one to my global one to call the US. Now, I haven’t used this particular SIM card in a while, so when I dial up the bank and make the connection, the voice inside the phone calmly informs me that I only have enough credit for five minutes… shit. Five minutes is not nealry enough time to navigate this banks so-called customer service line… which invloves giving all of your vital infomration to a computer voice then spending three minutes telling it you’d like to speak with a representative because the menu choice I need does not exist, only to have the voice endlessly repaet that it doesn’t understand and could you please select a menu choice so it can further help you before finally putting you on hold to speak to an actual person. So, of course, the credit runs out while I’m yelling at the computer. Shit. Now, the only way I can recharge my phone’s credit is to go online and do it… and, of course, no surprise here, the free aiport wifi is both not free, and not working even if I could find some money to pay for it. Yes… this is really happening, thank you Mr. Murphy… I’ve got no way to go online to recharge my SIM, which I need to call my bank so they can unblock my ATM card so I can get some Rupees to take a taxi to where I need to be… I’m literally stuck. I mean, I can’t even buy a coffee becasue… well… they’re not exactly going to take my remaining Tanzanian Shilllings (or Ethiopian Birr) here. I do pretty much the only thing I can do at this point… I laugh at how ridiculous this little situation is… and then I wonder what else could possibly happen. So I get up, pack my phone cord bag up and take off in search of an internet cafe, or any office with a computer that might have internet that I could possibly talk my way into using. I see nothing suitable on one end of the arrival hall, but on the other I see what might be my salvation… a bank of pay phones. After some perusing I see my potential salvation… a bank of pay phones. These aren’t the old fashioned ones we may be used to in the US… these pay phones have a guy who dials the number for you, and a meter on the phone, so you can pay after the call is completed (sweet, sweet deliverance). I dial up the bank’s so called csutomer service line, go through the same 10 minute rigamarole of yelling at the stupid automated voice to get me to a real person, then finally get to a real person who makes me verbally repeat all the information I just entered into the automated system (why, oh why, do I have to do this twice) and then nicely helps me get my ATM card unblocked after a short lecture on why it’s important to notify the bank of my travels for security purposes (I’m literally fuming at this point… and doing my very best both not to reach through the phone and strangle this lovely lady or toss the pay phone across the airport… just note that I will leave this bank asap when I settle down a bit more). Finally… my ATM card is now unblocked ($5 fee and all)… so I get some cash, pay the phone guy, find a cab and, extremely relieved, manage to leave the airport some two hours after I landed (and nearly 18 hours after I left my lunch to go pick up my visa in Dar Es Salaam).