Boats, buses, bicycles. Planes, trains, a pied. Motorbike, scooter, tuk tuk, song teaw. Taxi-Brousseau, minibus, coach, tro tro.
Transit: the much-blighted, much-glorified, always late, blissfully on time, cause of consternation, cause of fascination… It’s the necessary evil of travel–or the invitation for zen depending upon a myriad of mercurial factors including, temperature (which directly correlates to body odor), weariness, lack of sleep, legroom, the view, the ventilation, the company, the price, duration, inebriation, padding (usually lack there of), noise, vibrations, drivers skill, restroom availability, luggage security, hunger, thirst and sunlight.
Every seasoned traveler has their ample share of death-defying, terror inducing, confusing, utterly disarming tales of transit woe. Ripped off here, dozy and drunk driver there. Puking babies, baying goats and breakdowns in the middle if nowhere.
Here is a sampling of some of my “favorite” tales of woe:
-2 hour bus ride without AC or opening windows through Southern Morocco turned into 5 hours, interspersed with very thirsty periods of standing in the hot desert sun praying for mercy. Ahh, the infamous breakdown.
After a few hours we resigned ourselves to misery and that’s when a second bus appeared out of the ether: salvation. Two bus-worths of people crammed into one and those of us who had been saved couldn’t have been more grateful for the cramped, sweaty confines of the new coach. (Ou new travel companion were understandably less pleased and I’m sure thought their fortunes had taken a sour turn.)
This apparent disaster yielded comradery in the form of 5 anglophone backpackers all from different origins. We formed a merry bunch, rented an apartment and enjoyed a few days on the Essoueria boardwalk imaging Jimmy Hendrix. I still have lasting friends from that breakdown
Funny thing about the horror stories of transit, they never seem as bad in hindsight nor do they stay with you as much as the upside of the stories…
-1am red eye flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, a mere 96 hours into this Asian voyage. Arrival around 5:20 am, pass through immigration, collect luggage, re-enter through security, catch onward flight to Kuching at 8:20am. Obnoxious, yes but easy enough. NOT.
I had heard great things about KLIA being a top-flight (punny!) international airport with ubiquitous wifi and creature comforts of the flavor specific to the palates of long-haul passengers. With three hours on my hands and near empty terminals due to the early hour, I figured I’d kill some time in the “lobby” area outside the ticketing counters. I availed myself to emailing, relaxing and watching the flights tick by on the big board (never mind the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack on repeat–it’s disturbing and ill leave it at that…) So I sat there enjoying having the ability to stretch my legs and watch the world become awake.
Watch and watch and observe it all passing by, yet never did my flight to Kuching appear on the big board. Had the departure time changed maybe? Or had there been a cancellation? It had been months since booking the flights and perhaps I’d overlooked some important email… After walking around ticketing aisles A through JJ, I decided to sit down and have another look at my itinerary: yep, Air Asia flight to Kuching departing 8:20 am out of KLIA. What gives? It’s nearly 7am by this time, my flight should be listed… What is the problem?
I noticed in my explorations looking for the check-in counter an information desk. I head there, uncertain of how helpful it will be–but by this time I am starting to, err, become increasingly ill at ease. At the information desk I patiently waited my turn, politely told the woman my destination and she replied with a brisk pointing to the big board and waving me on. I held my ground (to the consternation of those behind me) and explained that “no, my flight is not listed.” I put my itinerary in front of her. “Ooh, you fly Air Asia. Different airport.” And she waved me on. I again held my ground, perplexed, concerned and irked: “what?! Where? How do I get there? Is it far?”
From that point on rapid movements ensued: right, I have to take a taxi, taxi requires money. Find the ATM, pull out some cash. (How much? I have no clue and no concept of the exchange rate. I guess at the bottom of the right column of the withdrawal screen, that should be enough for a taxi ride to unknown destination… If it’s more than this arbitrary amount I’m screwed anyway.) Rush downstairs to the taxi stalls, avoid eye contact with the touts along the way. Tell the taxi director my destination (hurriedly now) and he too waves me on: “must by ticket first.” “Where?”
This is madness. Upon approaching the taxi ticket counter the woman asks me which airport I want to go to. Oh fucking shit, there’s more than two?!! You’ve got to be kidding me. I think to myself, this is becoming a joke and one of those awful “learning-moments” travel stories… She rattles off a string of words I cannot differentiate. In vain I try to grasp the name of the airport–it has a lot of letters in it–she compassionately points to the ticket to show me that the destination is written there and reassures me that the driver will know where to go.
I run back to the taxi stand, pretend to wait in the cue (there isn’t one), throw my bags into a waiting car and hand off my ticket to The driver. He turns to me, smiles and cheerily asks “what is the name of your hotel?” Now I panic. I make him stop immediately and I yell for the taxi director to make clear that I must get to the correct airport and ASAP, like NOW!. This translation occurs, we floor it out of the terminal and I remain jittery as we fly along the Kuala Lumpur beltway as the sun rises over the Asian continent. I make my flight–it was a doozie but in the end a very memorable first sunrise in Asia.
Keep at transit long enough and you may even experience a few moments of transit bliss:
-Enter the random old man on the night train along the Italian coast who invites you to spend the evening with him and his family in a pleasant, picturesque Mediterranean town off the tourist beat… It’s already late, everything is closed because it’s Sunday and I have no pre-arranged accommodation anyway so what the hell. After one night natural curiosity turns to fondness and friendship and all of a sudden it three days later and you’ve dined with the locals, drank more grappa than you should, and caught an antique handmade Italian car club on their monthly gathering–never mind all those glorious trips rubbing against the coastal cliffs and utility trucks on hairpin roads as seen from the back of a BMW 6 cylinder motorbike. VROOOM!
-UPGRADES! The ultimate nirvana of transit bliss. Upgrades are taking a bump from an international flight only to receive free 5-star lodging in DC, cash for meals, reimbursement for town car to and from the airport, $1200 future travel voucher, and free upgrade to business class (VIP lounge, wine, beer, express pass through security, full reclining bed, champagne, full menu, and fresh fruit smoothies). Thank you British air!
So keep at it dear friends. There is light at the end of the bumpy, hot, too long and smelly road…
Endeavor onward through the journeys, looking for the humor, levity, and opportunities for friendship that come with a life lived right on the road. You’ll smile more, relax better and travel farther. Enjoy and follow your bliss!!!
…now I’m off to the philippines–wish me luck & easy transit! This will be an adventure!