Think of the days of ship and wagon transport. Can you imagine Columbus floating in the Depressions, whining about a ten-hour layover?
I repeated this question to myself as if it were a relevant point.
Anne and I were en route from Istanbul to Bangkok. A direct flight takes nine hours. However, in the interest of adventure (read: budget), we cooked up a more creative route.
Our original tickets had us blithely hopping from Moscow to Dehli. In India, we would befriend baby elephants and saintly Buddhas. In the end, however, we confined our stay to the Delhi airport. (We could not get Indian visas.)
So we booked a connecting flight to the next elephant/Buddha stronghold: Thailand, via Dhaka, Bangladesh.
If you are Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, you have calculated four planes, three layovers, two days and a travel hangover. We’ll get to that.
Anne and I arrived at Airport #1 stockpiled for hibernation. We carried sandwiches, chocolate, novels, laptops, eye masks, earplugs, spare clothing, and toiletries for Mexican showers (ie. baby wipes). I also included essentials such as perfume and a toy camel from Morocco.
(Flashback to my trek through Morocco’s Atlas Mountains. The group stopped to explore a kasbah, and soon enough, I found myself in a booth of ornamental camels. There, in a sand-blown street out of a David Lean movie, a glittery ten-pound figurine shone in the sun. Its fur had been artlessly sheered off an animal. Its eyes were likely missing from someone’s Mr. Potato Head set. Tin-foil gold, cake candles, Monopoly pieces, and a pill box teetered on the toy camel’s back. It was one of the tackiest creations I have ever encountered. My mom would want two of them.
The vendor wanted fifty dollars. I offered five. The vendor explained how rare the camel’s jewels were; I offered five dollars again. The craftsman stuck at thirty, so I bought a more modest model and turned to leave. “Fifteen dollars!” The vendor shouted suddenly, proffering the Vegas-ready camel with new enthusiasm. He was sweating now and walking me toward the corner. “Ten dollars, and I give you small camel free!” I could see despair in his eyes: he was begging me to take this thing. I suspect that no one had ever shown even remote interest it. In fact, the toy even smelled. I made a dash for the bus. The crestfallen tout stayed behind, clasping Vegas Camel, and surely deciding where to bury it.)
As I was saying, Anne and I had arrived at Airport 1. When we hit the check-in desk, we concentrated on the ceiling, our toes, and our travel scars, to no avail. It was like trying to look away from a gory but glorious Brave Heart battle scene.
The Russian Airways clientele is an exhibit. Perhaps Anne and I had just stumbled upon the queue for MILF island. The women were muffin-topping over skinny black jeans; strutting in sequined platform boots; and sporting enough lip and eyebrow liner to last Angelina Jolie through 2012. Massive winter coats hung over massive suitcases in a showing of fur that rivaled that of the Vegas camel. Poofed hair—most of it bleached or pink-streaked—relived the ‘80’s.
Plane 1 was just Exhibit 1 in a series that Anne and I had unwittingly curated. At 5 AM, we arrived in Moscow for a ten-hour layover, in an airport that hosts more duty-free shops than people.
Plane 2, heading from Moscow to Delhi, carried almost as many screaming babies as it did adults. We spent the night on a customs-department rug in Delhi. A merciful employee procured McDonald’s for us, then sat and told Hindu stories. The midnight snack and bedtime story had me dreaming of curling up with a teddy bear and waking in my twin bed in Virginia with a dollar under my pillow from the Tooth Fairy. (The point of rationality had passed me by.)
My experience on Plane 3, from Delhi to Dhaka, was dominated by the turbaned man leaning over my left arm. After confirming that I support Barrack Obama, he called me a “good man” several times. Then he set off babbling in a 70/30 Indian-English blend, resolved to teach me the Thai language. I made a friend, though certainly not one who I could understand.
Plane 4 exceeded expectations as the grand finale.
Check-in for Plane 4 looked like a Wall Street trading floor. A throng of about fifty men and four women, all waving ticket confirmations, pressed around a desk. A single employee stood scratching his chin and considering whether or not to hand out boarding passes. One man signaled Anne and I to join the fray, so we did.
The plane’s seats were spaced perfectly for preschoolers. The men behind us hacked up phlegm and kicked our chairs. The flight attendant broadcasted a prayer as our battered 737 struggled to leave the ground. Anne and I looked at each other warily.
On cue, the seats in front of us reclined seventy degrees into our laps.
I do not want to talk about the rest. Such as the fact that although Thailand requires a cash visa payment, but BKK’s sole ATM is beyond security on the forth floor (I am not making this up!). And the fact that I had to survive Glamour-style a photo shoot to obtain additional visa pictures. Finally, the fact that once Anne and I arrived in front of the visa commissioner, she pushed our passports away. Following a terrifying moment, she explained, “Americans don’t need visas anymore.”
Anne and I—Team Fail—found our checked bags in the Lost Luggage room and taxied straight to a luxury hotel. There, we face-planted into the down duvets and remained immobile for fourteen hours.
The beauty of the situation? Luxury hotels in Thailand cost $17 per person. Now that’s budget travel made easy.