It’s surprising how quickly I shifted back into the travelling mindset having not done it for over five years now. There’s something to be said about milling around in an airport for several hours waiting for the first leg of your multiple thousand mile journey. And then there’s running through Charles De Gaulle airport with only fifty minutes to make your transfer - the transfer, the only one that really matters - only to be told be a machine that your booking doesn’t exist and for an Air France representative to tell you that you need to transfer to a different terminal. Meanwhile a girl two desks down from me seemed to be having a worse time, stabbing at her phone with her fingers trying to make someone, anyone, understand.
Forty minutes left. Yes I need to go through security again because, well I don’t know why. No I don’t have a boarding card. All I have is this scrap of paper printedfrom Expedia telling me that this was an Air France flight and all I have is your word that it’s a Jet Connect one. Belt off, coins out, passport shown, the mad dash continues. Thirty minutes left. Then someone points me to a bus. A very slow bus.
Terminal 2E? I need Terminal 2C, and I still don’t have a boarding card. Another couple on the bus look placid, they’re obviously heading for their correct terminal with plenty of time to spare. 2C, now run. Twenty minutes. I seem to have somehow avoided another set of security and there are no check in desks to be found. I start to jog through the late evening terminal, glitzy golden signs of smiling actresses hawking perfume either side of me. glamorous young Europeans lazing in massaging, reclining chairs. I reach my gate, still without a boarding card. Fifteen minutes left. I gird myself for the explanation, the exhortations and the pleading of someone who just wants to get onto an aeroplane they have paid for, and checked repeatedly exists, and travel to see their friend.
They have my boarding card at the gate desk. I mean, why wouldn’t they? Smiles and checks and passport and on you go sir! Ten minutes spare. I seem slightly deflated until the couple I saw on the achingly slow pootling little shuttle bus, dash up with the man muttering “Fuck Charles De Gaulle” under his breath. Fuck it indeed sir.
After that rush of fear and adrenaline, I’m slightly perplexed to see someone already sitting in my seat. Odd I think, only to walk down the length of the plane, twice, checking I hadn’t stumbled into premium economy. I think that’s the first time I’ve had to ask someone to move from their seat - my seat - on a plane. It’s not that the system is particularly difficult and this isn’t a cinema with a cavalier attitude to seating. Besides, if I didn’t sit in my allocated seat, I wouldn’t have had the unrelenting joy of the woman sitting across the aisle from me, who insisted she needed a blanket. No not that blanket, a blanket that has been sealed in plastic. Or the woman directly next to me who as well as being jittery on take off and landing, also tried various contortions to wedge herself comfortable into the seat.
Zen calm, seat back, awkward fitting headphones on, I’ll just play with the inflight entertainment system until I can’t stand it anymore. Flight delayed several minutes because they are waiting on a passenger who is still in the airport, I nod understandingly. Take off, provided headphones dig into my skull making watching “Locke” all but impossible. Kindle, save me. Hey isn’t that the same girl who was arguing at the Air France desk. I guess everyone made it then. Sleep comes, and is then burned away by the woman in the row ahead opening her blind at whatever timezone this dawn is in. Cheers love, sure as hell hope that sunrise was worth the frowning of a lifetime I gave the back of your seat.
Landed, disembarked, now to make it from one terminal of Mumbai airport to another in a practically leisurely three hours. Money change, prepaid taxi, I have no idea what time it is. It looks like daytime. The taxi driver leads me to the fifth floor of a multistory carpark and tells me to wait where I am. Tiredness makes me strong, I can run if I need to, all the way back to that granite floored hellscape of an airport. A taxi shows up thankfully and a thin wiry chap jumps in the front and heads off into Mumbai traffic.
Indian traffic is… a story all of its own. At this points lets say it’s all horn and lack of personal space. And when all I want to do is stare out the window at this land strange to a foreign traveller, the taxi driver decides to make small talk with me in fractured English. I’m from the UK. Britain. England? Okay I’m from England. No, no stop for souvenirs thank you, just to the terminal. I’m here for two weeks. No not two years, weeks. Days. Okay I’m here for two days. It took less than ten minutes to get to Mumbai airport terminal one, and as the taxi driver stood there expectantly, I handed over what, looking back on it, was a stupidly sized tip but I didn’t care. I paid him to leave me alone, with my bags, ready for me connecting flight. And with plenty of time to spare thankfully - one and a half hours to go.
Checked in and through security again with a guard who frisked me a little more keenly when he found out I was off to Goa. Food court, more granite and Hugh Jackmann trying to sell me Mont Blanc pens. That’s odd, my boarding card says my flight is almost an hour and half later than I had expected. Sure enough that flight is indeed at the time stated on my boarding card. Three hours to go. Now to get some wi-fi and let my friend know I’ll be later than planned. Apparently you can only get a wi-fi “voucher” from an airport help desk. Of which there are none beyond security. Between check-in and security though, oh there are plenty of help desks there, where you need them. One expensive text message later and I look again to my Kindle for salvation.
Landing in Goa felt like a small victory, like I’d conquered the usually viscous thrall of my own mind for how ever many hours it had taken to get here. I waved to my friends, waiting just outside, while I was waiting for my bag to come onto the carousel until I was finally outside in the baking heat and stinking traffic but I was on the drive to somewhere that wasn’t neutrally carpeted or emblazoned with gate numbers every fifty yards, or had the faint stench of perfume and cleaning chemicals lingering throughout.
What I remember of that first evening I spent drinking beers on the balcony, bathing in that view listening to the waves roll in and watching the sun set. There was a meal out somewhere, but it’s somewhat lost to me in a haze of heat and tuk-tuk taxis and a nagging fear over travellers sickness. I had arrived, and so had all of my luggage, so can’t complain. Except fuck you Charles de Gaulle airport.