Friday, March 11, 2016

New Delhi

I made it to India!
It's 4:30 in the morning Delhi time. I'm sitting cross legged on the cool marble floor of the guest house bathroom listening to a honking horn and street dog symphony just outside my window while attempting to make good use of the limited wifi signal and get caught up on writing.  It has been four days and I still haven't fully adapted to the 12 hour time difference here. Though frankly, I seem to need less sleep -  as though the energy of this vibrant city has somehow made its way into my veins.

Delhi is like nothing I could have ever imagined.

I touched down at DEL around 8 pm Saturday night, rummy from the long flight and bleary eyed due to my protesting, overworked contact lenses.  Despite the haze and a stiff language barrier, I somehow managed to make my way through a gauntlet of finger printing, photos and signatures finally culminating in my very first passport stamp and a green light to enter the country.  After months of trepidation and nearly 24 hours of travel time, I had finally made it to India.

Just outside the airport I was met by Ashwani from Cross Cultural Solutions who instantly put me at
My first introduction to India traffic was...terrifying.
ease with his gentle demeanor. He was well versed in wide eyed travelers and expertly guided me through the sea of brown eyes greeting passengers just outside the terminal, though he did chuckle softly when I tried to get in the wrong side of the car.  Finally with all the grace of a rabid animal we made our way through the unnerving Delhi traffic, which is every bit as chaotic as its reputation has afforded.  Drivers stare straight ahead and make decisions based purely on the sound of honking horns, which are incessant but necessary as a means of communication in an environment moving so fast it is impossible to see every danger. Like the rest of India, personal space is a luxury not often afforded and drivers travel in a fluid river of movement, with every space filled regardless of speed.  Seeing my white knuckles, Ashwani assured me there were "lanes", though we both knew this was a sweet lie meant to ease my Western mind.

These guys take being a courier to a whole new level.
Trucks are often elaborately decorated and all include
the same closely followed  instruction: Blow Horn! 
Typical street view.
Delhi driving is a total free for all populated by packed cars, ancient bicycles, precarious rickshaws and endless taxis.  Motorcycles loaded up with entire families zip through traffic at death defying speeds  - especially considering passengers sit side saddle and seem to hold on by will alone.  One particularly shocking motorcycle held a family of four, including a baby, which gripped the gas tank like a tiny monkey clinging to its mothers fur.  To add to my health care provider neurosis, helmets are uncommon and only required for the driver - though even this regulation is not often followed or enforced. But as shocking as the transit system appears to outside eyes, I've learned the accident rate here is relatively low.  The noisy chaos works here because everyone moves to the same rhythm - and it was surprising to me just how easy it was to be lulled by this city's stride.

Rickshaw - Coming in Hot.
Holy cow (just to keep things interesting).
As a nurse, it made me cringe every time I saw families loaded onto a motorcycle without helmets - including babies.
There is a law that requires the motorcycle driver wear a helmet but even this is not closely followed.
Ashwani dropped me off safe and sound at the Guest House gate and I bid him good night as I traipsed in to meet the 12 strangers sharing this adventure into the unknown.  Soon I would discover Delhi is a city which toes the line between unfathomable grace and utter devastation.  It is a place mired in 7,000 years of ancient baggage and filled to the brim with tradition, dogma, color and sound.  But all this would wait - first on the agenda was sleep.

Market Mayhem 
Crossing the street - frogger style.
India traffic reminds me of a Richard Scary children's book.  Now to find Goldbug.

Saturday, March 5, 2016


Early morning flights are much more pleasant when
there are citrus infused hot towels waiting for you.
Like many Americans these days, I am constantly on the look out for viable places to refuge should Donald Trump gain entry into the White House.  I am happy to report I have added a new locale to this list - namely Seat 22E on Emirates flight EK228 with service to Dubai.

This being my first international flight (and a daunting 17 hour flight time) I didn't
know what to expect but I wasn't particularly looking forward to the forced downtime in cramped quarters.  I shouldn't have worried.  Frankly, I didn't know airline experiences like this existed outside of an episode of Mad Men - minus the misogyny and cigar smoke of course.

First off, let me assure you I did not splurge on this flight.  I chose a seat firmly in the Economy class, and the round trip ticket only set me back about $1,000 - not too shabby considering I am literally traveling half way around the world.

I think it's important to talk about this, because it's easy to believe travel - especially international travel - is unattainable due to cost, inconvenience or even risk.  I know, because I was squarely in this camp until about a year ago. But I've found if you want to do something big - travel the world, write a book, change careers or whatever your quiet dream happens to be - it will not happen until you decide to make it happen.  It will never be the "right" time, you will never have "enough" money and it will never feel less scary.  But I promise you, it can be done and it will be worth it.  I'll save the Zen talks for India, but in my experience, if you start walking, the way will open up.

Now, back to what's happening in seat 22E.
Text message convo with my sister in law -
because I'm classy like that.

So, what exactly does the "Economy" experience with Emirates look like?  Glad you asked.  Really glad.  Because right now I'm watching the sun rise somewhere far, far above Russia and trying hard not to make loud exclamations about how amazing this freaking airline is.  But, as none of the other passengers seem to even be raising an eyebrow, I'll play it cool on my tiny laptop instead.

Emirates clearly strives for a "wow" factor right away and the boarding process was punctuated with pilots, copilots and staff waiting to greet passengers.  (As a side note, in typical Heather form, when a pilot held out his hand to take my ticket and tell me where to sit, I thought he was trying to shake my hand - and so I awkwardly did.  Thank goodness he didn't "air kiss" my cheek or there could have been an international incident right off the bat).  Finally, I was directed to my seat which was stuffed with a blanket, pillow and headphones.  Each seat has its own television with retractable remote as well as USB and plug in - a must for such a long flight.  Free WiFi is available but it's spotty at best though the television and movie options are phenomenal (I'm watching the new Star Wars movie right now - Teague was right,
The Menu. *sigh*
BB8 is pretty cute). They also have a huge international selection, music and podcasts.

We were still waiting to exit the Tarmac when we were provided with the first of three hot towels that smelled like lemons, a gift bag with fuzzy socks, eye mask and a travel tooth brush as well as the menu which included multi-course options with specialty selections for dietary or religious restrictions.  Once up in the air, the service was continued with frequent food and drink offerings by the stewardesses. Meals are very good, plentiful and actually nutritious but should you want an extra snack all you have to do is ask. There is a small kitchenette at the back of the plane where you can request fresh fruit, sandwiches and candy bars.  Beer and wine are also gratis and champagne is available for a small fee.  Just watching a staff member walk down the isle induces a Pavlovian effect and I've probably gained five pounds over the duration of the flight.
My favorite part of the trip was being able to watch our
progress in real time. I had a glass of wine above the North Pole.
You also have the option of changing the screen to view from
cameras beneath the plane.
Should you have slightly deeper pockets, an upgrade to Business Class (visible through a crack in the drawn curtains separating the front of the plane) would earn twice the space, bigger television screens and a "bed" that completely reclines.  The meal choices are more elaborate, champagne is included and if you ask for a glass of wine they bring out an entire bottle (According to my seat mate who had the great "misfortune" of being upgraded on his first flight with Emirates and is now spoiled for life).

First Class passengers board separately through a mysterious hallway where they are seated in individual rooms and enjoy services I can only imagine must include a personal chef, mani/pedi and a hand job.  For $5,000 a ticket I would certainly hope so.

Dubai from the sky.
To round it out, thus far my adventure is off to a luxurious start which may turn me into an unbearable wench on my next flight with Southwest. But for now I'm enjoying being spoiled before the culture shock waiting at my destination and placing my breakfast order of fresh fruit, potato frittata, croissant and hot tea.

Heck, it's a long flight - might as well be comfortable.