Friday, November 25, 2011

We Made It!

We made it to India.  Oman Air's flight service was nice, the planes were relatively new and clean, the attendants were attentive, and the food was good.  In all the years we've flown (mainly standby from all my days as an airline employee) I never got to order a special meal.  I would go through all the options for passengers and thought it would be nice to actually look forward to an airplane meal, so I ordered...a Hindu vegetarian meal.  Let's just say it threw off the flight attendant when she brought the meal to a not Indian, probably not Hindu, blonde woman.  She appeared totally confused as she looked from the meal tray to me, to the meal tray, and back to me.  I live to confuddle!  We stopped in Muscat to change planes and wandered around the terminal for an hour and a half, looking at all the wacky duty-free options- 2kg bags of powdered milk, giant tubs of Tang, and laundry detergent, along with the usual Swiss chocolates, perfume, and booze.  On our walk, we found the Dairy Queen (who knew?) and satisfied our need for soft serve and in the form of a Chocolate Xtreme blizzard before boarding our connecting flight. 

We tried rather unsuccessfully to sleep on the connecting plane and landed at 05:30 Monday morning.  We made it through Customs and Immigration without issue and then went to find a place to wait until 9:00, when we could call our hotel to be picked up (they charge an extra day if you arrive before 9:30 and we are cheap).  The only place to wait was outside the arrivals area, so we found a bench, a couple of coffees, and tried to ignore the hotel touts who wanted to whisk us away to their superior accommodations.  Once we called, the car arrived within fifteen minutes, and after a short ride and the documentation of our passports and visas, we were in our room with the lights out for a nap.   

After the pesky alarm woke us, we then headed for air cargo via autorickshaw (aka tuk-tuk in other parts of the world).  We quickly found out that many of the autorickshaw drivers have no idea where they are going and rely on the passenger for directions, which didn't really work for us, since we didn't know where we were going either.  He got us to the airport and from there, we asked directions.  Once we arrived at the cargo facility, we were astounded by the chaos.  Lines of cars, hundreds of people just sort of milling about. 

From my research, I knew we needed a gate pass, but didn't know where or how to get one.  I started heading toward the entry gate and was stopped by a man whom I will refer to as “Helper.”  He didn't speak much English, but he knew what we needed to do.  He took us to the photocopy shop and helped us get copies of our passport photo page, India visa and entry stamp page, and a copy of our air waybill.  With these in hand, we made our way to the gate pass office and, surprisingly quickly, got our gate passes. 

While we were picking up our gate passes, Helper called over another guy, who we will call, “Big Man.”  Big Man escorted us through the security checkpoint and took us directly to the Emirates office.  We followed him up to the second floor and into the Emirates office, where we were given the shipping paperwork.  The fee for the paperwork was 20 USD which we paid and went back downstairs.  From the main room on the main floor, we walked through the door marked “public area” and headed for the Customs window.  At this point in time, Big Man introduced us to someone we will refer to as, “Agent.”  

 We followed Agent and Big Man into a blissfully air-conditioned waiting room, and Agent asked to see our paperwork.  We didn't really know who Agent was at this time, just a well-dressed man who spoke English well and knew what to do.  We also knew from our research that we would need to visit the Western India Automobile Association, which is in central Mumbai and procure a clearance letter before we could continue with the customs process.  Agent confirmed that that was what we needed to do and said if we headed for the WIAA now, we should make it there in time to get our letter today.  Agent then told us to bring back the clearance letter and meet him at the Customs area at 10:30 tomorrow morning.  If we did so, we should have our bikes by 5:30 pm! 

So back out of the cargo facility, where we turned in our gate passes and took an autorickshaw to the train station.  We rode the commuter train down to the Churchgate station and back for the princely sum of 32 cents each.  Since we were on the slow train that stops at every station, it took nearly an hour to get there, and we arrived at the WIAA at around 4:30 pm.

I love taking the train.  Every time you ride, even on the same route, you catch little glimpses of the world as you pass by.  Traffic jams, canals, people working on the rails, people living along the rails, people weaving baskets, doing laundry, you never know what you'll see.  My favorite scene was a school field filled with what looked like middle school band members practicing and a potato sack race in progress. 

 At the WIAA we met Victor, who was in charge of issuing the clearance letters, but he informed us it was too late in the day to issue them, and we would need to return the next day.  It was also too late to get liability insurance, so we'd have to come back the next day, regardless.  Victor told us to return at 10:30 am, which was unfortunately the same time we were supposed to meet Agent.  I guess we won't get our bikes tomorrow after all.  It was after 5:00 pm when we got back on the train to return to the hotel, and the cars were much fuller at this time.   

A veritable feast, delivered to our room!
We took another autorickety-shaw to the hotel from the railway station.  Back at the hotel, we perused the room service menu and ordered a veritable feast to be delivered to our room.  Not knowing how big the portions were, we came up with a list of things we like, and Re asked the manager if that was enough food for two people.  He assured her it was enough food for four people, so Re deleted one of the nine items since we hadn't eaten anything since we got off the plane.  We stuffed ourselves silly and were unable to finish it all.  Even delivered to our room, the entire meal cost less than 8 USD.  Absolutely exhausted, we then went to bed. 

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