December 7th, 2015 – Calcutta airport
The anniversary of the day that will live in infamy. On year ago I was trying to do a head stand in Bangladesh without using my hands. I failed miserably.
The flight to Bagdora leaves at 1030. Everyone says to get ere 1 hour before flight time for domestic flights. US recommendations are two hours for domestic. My recommendation is sleep at the airport 24 hours before flight time and you might make it to your flight.
The taxi made record time to the airport this morning, and I left 3 hours before scheduled departure, but he must have heard 3 minutes before departure. The taxis, well all vehicles here are a little crazy. This guy was absolutely insane. Running red lights at speed when there was cross traffic. Going down the wrong side of the street and forcing other cars to dodge out of the way. I am not talking the slow merge that they are so adept at here, I am saying a last minute jerk to avoid an actual collision. He was running fast on the street car tracks and then back end fishtailed a Little. I like to watch cars drift on the track, but not when I am in them and on the tracks. Then there was the yelling at other taxis and people. That was something I hadn't experienced before. Sure the horn is in constant use, but they never, ever yell. Just honk.
As unlikely as it was we made it here in one piece and there were no bodies laying in the street behind us.
At the airport there was the boarding pass and I.D. check line to get into the airport. Then the line to get to the check in counter, which moved at glacial speed. Once to the counter there was something wrong with my checked bag. She kept saying something in supersonic speed about the bag and pointing over there. Eventually I got her to slow down and repeated each syllable back to here. “Checked luggage must go the x-ray over there”. Grrrr.
The X-ray machine ate my bag and the handlers waived my two small bags on their way. I went back to a different line, because I think she was over me, for today, and I was with her as well. I found a somewhat shorter line and got to that counter to find that my hand carry was over weight limit. The heavy stuff is computer, camera and batteries, and o way is that going to be checked. So I asked her what the overweight fee was, I'd pay it. She said, just check the clothing and toiletries bag. Okay. – After it goes through x-ray. – I muttered some words that translate well in all languages. She did say that she'd print everything out for me and I could slip the line and drop the little blue bag when I came back. At least that was a small concession.
Next was the hand carry x ray, with laptop and liquids out, as expected. Then the ladies personal search behind the curtain – whoops! Sorry for the break, the plane was loading. Now in Darjeeling – with a metal detector wand and finally into the airport gates area. I am glad I planned two hours before the flight. If I had left it to the one hour recommended, I'd still be in Calcutta.
Enough about today. Lets go back to the Sunderbans.
The next morning the day was set for a 0615 to weigh anchor, or in the Sunderbans, back away from the jetty. It looked pretty foggy to me. London used to call this type of fog a 'Pea Soup fog'. So the embarkation time was moved to 0715. This was all well and good, but I was expecting some morning grub and it was served on the boat. I dug way, way deep into my luggage and found a squished Cliff Bar. For once I planned ahead a little.
The boat was waiting at the jetty for us and it wasn't one of those 1 foot above the water ferry types. It was a full fledged boat. With seats and a real bathroom. We motored through the fog to another place that had a whole herd of other tour boats, all waiting for something. Our passports were taken on shore for further bureaucratic mumbo jumbo and then our guide boarded and were were on the high seas, well the high river anyway. It really was the high river, because the Sunderbans are a brackish mangrove swamps. Think 50 percent river water, 50 percent sea water.
As soon as our guide boarded he had us all sit down like in a classroom. No standing, no walking about, probably no passing notes. He was there to give his spiel right out of someone's guidebook. These swamps blah, blah square kilometers They are home to blah, blah number of different species of birds. Blah, blah. He has lost the room by this time, red hat is starting to nob off, Mr and Mrs are starting to talk about what to get the grand kids for Holi and the fur guys are starting to roll a joint. There are approximate 103 tigers – BANG !! He had the entire area alert and listening. This is why the people came on this trip to see possibly see a tiger. Birds, square kilometers were just so much noise to them. Mention tiger and everyone was in awe. My speach would have gone “The Sunderbans are TIGER thirty thousand square kilometers. There are over TIGER 350 different species of birds that call …...”. You get the idea.
The tigers don’t live together as male and female unless they are having sex. Kind of like Los Angeles. The reason for this is if the female has two cubs and one is a male, the daddy tiger will try to kill kill is namesake. He doesn't need the competition within the family. Kind of like some NASCAR fans. So mom swims away to safe climes for her brood. The tiger population breakdown is something like this 30% male, 50% female and 20% cubs. China could take a lesson from that. This was about as close to the tigers that we would come the remainder of the day, and the day was 10 hours long.
We did see a fair amount of other critters though. Crocodiles, and a bazillion birds. Enough birds that
by the end of the trip I could look at a bird and identify it sometimes. A couple huge Monitor lizards. A bevy of spotted deer. All of these animals were impossible for the untrained eye to find. Even with the both guides pointing the darned animal 50 feet away, they were still impossible for me to find. Then once I saw them it was the “Of course! Anybody can see that.” moment for me.
We stopped twice during the day to go for a short walk and climb a tower in hopes of catching a tiger at the artificial water hole. One of the wags on the oat said it was like Jurassic Park where there were high fences on each side of the walkway to keep you from being tiger poop. One had a board listing all of the recent tiger sightings. October 21st was the last one. So I think your chances of being the tiger’s Thanksgiving meal is pretty slim. Though it would be bad for business if you were. Christ with all the people talking and cameras clicking, not to mention the children of no discipline screaming for no reason. If I was a tiger I'd stay the Hell away too.
Too be honest we did get closer to a tiger than just our guide's initial presentation We saw actual, live within the past 12 hours tiger tracks. Otherwise the tide would have washed them away.
Lunch was the same as every meal I've had here. Rice with two or three types of spicy stuff. This one did have some Okra which I thought about feeding to the fishes, but actually was good. Some grilled eggplant too. So I guess it wasn't all spicy.
At the last perp walk at both gates to and from the jetty. On a wire between the fence and gate post were a green viper at each end. One old hippie looking Indian man, the type with a short braided ponytail said it was not poisonous. One of the guides said it was “just a little poison” and the other guide said it was the most poisonous snake in the jungle. It was a viper, and it did have that triangle shaped head where the wide part of the triangle is where the venom sacs are located. I wasn't about to stick my pinky out to find out which of those three guys was right. I was betting on the last one.
So tiger less we went back to camp for free time and dinner. I came back to find my room completely untouched. The bed in the same jumbled rats nest as I left it. No towel either. Though it was so, so nice to be able to pee and not to have to clean the toilet seat every time. I with the men and the women who 'hover' would learn to lift the damned toilet seat so those of us who do don't have to spend half the time cleaning up after you. I hope you don''t pee on the seat in your own home, why is it okay away from home?
The evening came and Ramma asked if I wanted to go listen to the music again this evening with her. I had gone the previous eve and once was enough for me, so I declined. She said she'd ask Melissa (Ms. Boston) to go with her. I noticed that Melissa was in deep conversation with Helene (Fraulein Munchen). I told Ramma I had changed my mind and would love to go with her to the music, and she went ahead and interrupted Melissa and pulled her away from her chat with Helene. Fine whatever.
So we three walk towards where the music is playing. Ramma is legally blind. She can see, but not well. We take it slowly so Ramma doesn't have any problems. We get to the music, Melissa and I sit down. Ramma has her bright cell phone flashlight on, disturbing the ambiance and she's pacing. Then she turns around and walks away. I'm mentally scratching my head. A could minutes later I tell Melissa that I'm heading back, the only reason I came was for Ramma. She said “Me too!”. We got up and went back to camp, and I don't think Melissa ever got back to a decent conversation with Helene.
Ramma played the “I am legally blind” card too many times with me. Add in the “I just don't know what to do, I don't speak Hindi” so I am so lost. Poor me. Neither did he rest of us, and we got by. She should have stayed with Mr. New Jersey, he could have talked and she could have whined. That and Eskimos is why I don't do group trips.
Went to bed. Got up. Looked at the shower, still no towel. Figured I'd be in Calcutta, land of hot water and towels in a few hours and got dressed. Had a nice chat with Melissa about some heavy topics as well as what she had done in her life. She's 22 and more mature than most 30 year olds I know. Strong work ethic and really ready to try anything. The world will be a better place with her in it. Then Helene came over, I'd like to get to know here more. Mostly she talked about her experiences in Nepal, trekking for a month. Sounded like a very interesting and adventuresome trip. No heat, having the flu at 20,000 feet. To me it sounded like an ordeal but she spoke of it fondly.
We said our good byes to those that were staying and reversed our walking, ferry, walking trip back to the bus. It was a little easier this time, because it wasn't 4 in the afternoon and I wasn't totally sweating my essence away. On the bus everyone was pretty subdued. Most of us chilled and dozed the couple hours back to Calcutta.
Once back in Calcutta I made a bee line for the hotel, leaving Ramma in the dust and in someone else's hands. Checked in dropped my bags and scooted across the street to the market to pick up the two shirts I was talked into buying. The shop was closed. I don't expect to go back to Calcutta, so I guess I'm out about twenty-five bucks and two shirts I didn't want. Glad I didn't buy the pants I didn't want or I'd really be grumpy.
Which leads us to Crazy Taxi and this morning. I'm going to stop here. My fingernails are bleeding from the typing.