“The flight to Goa has already left,” said the agent. She then looked past me to the next person in line.
“Can you book me on the next flight?” I asked.
“No,” she said, refusing to make eye contact.
Ah, India. Only persistent badgering convinced the agent to explain how I should proceed. First I needed to find the Jet Airways counter located just outside the airport. An agent at that counter could issue me a new ticket, and then I could come back and check in. I started to walk out the front door of the airport when I was stopped by a security guard who brandished an automatic rifle. “Not possible,” he said.
“What’s not possible?” I asked.
“You cannot leave the airport,” he said.
This was beginning to feel surreal. I explained to the guard that the Jet Airways agent told me I had to leave the airport to get a new ticket. “OK, go,” he said, without looking at any of my documents. Why bother stopping people, I wondered, if anyone telling that story is free to leave? You could tell it was my first day in India. After two more days I learned to stop wondering about those kinds of things.
I found the Jet Airways counter and waited in line for 30 minutes before I could explain my situation to an agent. “No more Goa flights tonight,” he informed me. “The next one is tomorrow morning.” Ugh. The agent issued me a new ticket but said I’d have to pick it up at a different counter. Of course – otherwise it would be too easy. I waited in another line, picked up my ticket, and went back into the airport to decide on my next move. Should I spend the night sitting in an uncomfortable airport chair, or should I deal with the hassle of finding a hotel? The idea of sleeping in a bed proved irresistible and I headed back outside to catch a taxi.
“Stop!” said the security guard as I tried to leave the airport. I had to laugh as we went through the same conversation again.
Chaos reigned outside the airport. There seemed to be several different kinds of taxis and I wasn’t sure which I should take. Eventually I just walked up to an official-looking taxi driver and told him I wanted to go to the Columbus Hotel, which was very close to the airport. “Do you know the Columbus Hotel?” I asked. The driver bobbed his head and said yes. “How much?” I asked.
“Meter,” he said.
“OK, but about how much will it cost?”
“Don’t worry,” he said, picking up my bag and heading for his cab. I repeated my question and refused to move until he answered.
“About 250 rupees,” he said reluctantly.
That sounded reasonable, so I got in the cab. A second man got in the front seat alongside the driver and tried to talk me into going to a different hotel. I was used to this routine and refused. Then the second man asked if I would give him two 500 rupee bills in exchange for a 1000 bill. I was suspicious but agreed anyway, carefully identifying two 500 bills in the dim light of the cab before I handed them over. A minute later the second man held up two 100 bills and said, “You give me this?”
“I gave you two 500 bills,” I said, temper rising. He backed off.
We arrived at the hotel. “500 rupees,” the driver said.
“500?” I asked angrily. “You said it would cost about 250. Where is the meter?” The second man showed me a pre-printed rate card that said a ride from the airport to this part of town cost 500 rupees. “If you knew it was 500 rupees, why didn’t you tell me that at the airport?” We bickered for five minutes before the price came down to 300 rupees. Annoyed and exhausted, I paid and got out of the taxi. Not until the next morning did I realize I’d accidentally left my fleece jacket in the back seat, never to be seen again.
My hotel was overpriced and not particularly nice, but I was happy to have a bed. I stopped by the hotel restaurant on the way to my room and asked a waiter if I could buy a beer to take with me. “You call room service,” the waiter said.
“Do you serve beer in this restaurant?” I asked. He nodded yes. “And I could I buy a beer to drink here?” He nodded again. “And do the room service beers come from this restaurant?” He nodded a third time. “But I can’t buy a beer here and take it up to my room?”
“You call room service,” he repeated.
I woke up the next morning at 4am and headed back to the airport. Sitting on the plane before takeoff I felt something on my foot and looked down to see a cockroach skitter into a ventilation duct. I pondered this for a while and decided that, yes – it was in fact the first time I’d ever seen a cockroach on an airplane. Other than that I had a smooth flight to Goa. Marie, who arrived about an hour before me, was waiting when I got off the plane. “I’m glad you made it!” she said. Me too!
Goa has a reputation for being different than the rest of India – more relaxed, more friendly, less crowded. Marie and I looked forward to taking it easy for a few days. A taxi drove us to our Calangute hotel and after settling in we checked out the ocean, just a short walk away. Neither of us was particularly impressed with the beach, but it felt great to smell the salt air and walk on the sand. We parked ourselves at an oceanside restaurant and watched the sun set.
“On my computer I see a wi-fi network that has the same name as this hotel,” I told him.
“No, no wi-fi,” he repeated.
At that point a British woman walked up and gave me the password. “We went through the same thing yesterday,” she said. I was able to connect, but the hotel’s wi-fi only worked sporadically and the entire area regularly lost all power for hours at a time.
On our second day we explored Old Goa. The guidebook says it was once “the ecclesiastical wonder of the Eastern world,” but neither Marie nor I are particularly impressed by old churches. We were more curious to check out Wax Works, an unintentionally kitschy wax museum that boasts a life-size representation of Michelangelo’s Last Supper. We weren’t disappointed – the museum was so awful it was entertaining. One of the exhibits showed a skull-headed drug user so desperate for a high that he was simultaneously smoking a hooka, popping pills, and injecting heroin. A sign informed us that the face of the drug user was “reconstructed on a real human skull.” Uh, OK…
“You agreed to take us for 300 rupees and didn’t say anything about stops,” we countered. For at least 15 minutes the driver kept up a constant stream of harassment, even after Marie and I shouted “No!” several times.
Eventually the driver shifted tactics. “You buy these?” he asked, passing us some postcards. We refused. “OK then you get out here,” he said as he slowed down. We were about halfway to Calangute. We told him we’d be happy to get out, but he wouldn’t get any money until he took us all the way to our hotel. He finally relented.
“India sure is fun,” I said to Marie.
We booked a sea fishing trip for that afternoon and had a nice time out on the water. I somehow managed to snag my line on the bottom in my first minute of fishing, but I rebounded soon after by reeling in a Red Snapper. Marie caught a fish, too, and we asked the guide what kind it was. “It’s a good eating fish,” the guide said. Ah, thanks for the clarification. We shared the boat with six other tourists, and the British guy who sat in front of me caught the most fish. He even landed a moray eel, something I didn’t even know was possible with a regular fishing line.
“I demand that you call me ‘Sir’ from now on,” I told Marie. She did not comply.