Friday, January 20, 2012

Are We In The Right Place?

After a delayed flight, we arrived at the Cochin airport an hour behind schedule. We called into the very small tourist office, where after dragging the sole worker away from the television, we were provided a map. Without dragging his eyes from the soap opera on the TV screen the worker asked where we were staying. When we showed him the name of our hotel, he said we would be centrally located and able to walk to all of the sights that he quickly pointed out on the map.
Armed with a prepaid taxi voucher we stopped off at the ATM machine. For the 3rd time in a day I was unable to access any money. We weren't sure if it was because all of the machines were out of money, or if there was a problem with my card--I could only hope that it was the former.
The 30 kilometer ride to the city was another hair rising experience. The driver kept his hand on the horn as he maneuvered around trucks, rickshaws, cows and pedestrians. Before long we found ourselves creeping up and down a deserted street in search of our hotel. In Spanish Mark told me that this had to be the wrong place since there was no way that this industrial area could be the historic Fort Cochin that we had been shown on the map. I scanned the surrounding buildings in search of the India Air logo--the landmark the hotel had provided. Finally, with the help of the lone person on the street--we found our hotel. Perhaps, the hotel needs to update the directions provided to say behind the Shell Gas Station. 
We entered the foyer and were greeted by a decoratively lit Christmas tree and two smiling young men. After giving our name, it didn't take long for us to realized that there was something amiss with our reservation, even though we had our prepaid voucher in hand. I asked, hopefully, if we were at the wrong place.  After all, the foyer of the hotel in which were standing in looked nothing like the pictures featured on their web page, nor did it seem to live up to live up to the stellar recommendations that we had read on internet and we all know that the internet never lies. We were assured that we were at the right location, and were asked to take a seat. Eventually, and, after several phone calls, we were promised a room--but it would take a few minutes to clean up. 
Between the airport delay and this minor inconvenience our time in Fort Cochin kept getting shorter. Normally, we would have just left our bags and hit the road. However, because the 5 day private tour that we would be starting the next morning required payment in cash we were loaded with a two inch stack of rupees that we want to leave in the safe in our room.  So rather than sitting idly we decided to plan out our walk on the map. The Air India building (which I had yet to see) was not labeled on the map, so we approached the men at the desk to help us identify our starting point. To our dismay, we learned that we were not  in Ft. Cochin but 30 km away. Once again, I  asked if we were in the right hotel--a question that was repeated when we saw our safe-less room and also by the couple that arrived shortly after us. 
With money stuffed in every nook and cranny on our bodies we headed back to the desk to try and figure out how to get to the historic center of Fort Cochin. Eventually the driver who had brought the English couple from the airport agreed to take us, along with the English couple, to our destination and wait for a couple of hours. Mark and I were a bit disappointed since we had planned to dine in town; and honestly, the restaurant at the roadhouse--mean business class hotel where we were shad been dropped off at--didn't look too appealing. We asked about returning by public transportation and were told the ferry would be our best bet. I silently questioned why this wasn't an option for the trip there--was the driver in cahoots with the hotel staff?
After 13--not 30--kilometers we arrived in Ft. Cochin. After a quick stroll along the lively water front studded with hundreds of people we knew that we would not be returning to the hotel with our shared car. With a decision made, we agreed to tend to first things first and we went in search of the Ferry Terminal. We wanted to confirm the hours of operation and make sure it ran on Christmas Day.
A kilometer walk brought us to an alleyway that lead to the dock. We followed the dark and dirty passage way and at the end we found dozens of men queuing up to buy tickets. On the plus side, this was a sign that the ferry was running but it also looked like I would be having an interesting first experience with Indian public transportation. We found the schedule and confirmed that the ferry would be transporting people back and forth across the river long after my bed time.
Several hours later, we returned to the dimly lit passageway. The line was not as long as earlier and, to my relief, there were several other women around. We joined the queue and I began to mentally prepare for the journey that lay ahead--I wasn't too fond of the idea of an over crowded boat. I soon realized that the women were standing in another line and began to fear that the boat had separate areas for men and women, and that I would have to face crossing the river without my trusted travel companion. Once the initial panic passed, we realized that it was just a separate line to buy tickets--so I proudly flaunted my femininity (enhanced by the thousands of rupees stashed in my bra) and joined the shorter queue. Actually it was Mark's energetic pushing that got me into the much shorter line.
With tickets in hand we were soon on a crowded platform waiting for the boat. Anticipating the frantic shoving that would come with the arrival of the boat, I tried to situate myself at the edge of the mass of people. My strategic planning was of little use. as we were caught up in the swarm of humanity fighting its way through the small passage way onto the boat. Once onboard, we weaseled our way to the front of the boat away from the exit. We decided that in case of an emergency, we would head for the paneless window just at the bow of the boat.  
The packed ferry slowly made its way across the river. On the other side we did our best to keep back from the exiting surge of people. Unfortunately, since we were two of the last passengers to disembark there were no more taxis and we were faced with a kilometer walk to our hotel. We pulled out the map, hoping that we would be able to find our way to our hotel.


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