Day 1 - Thursday 28th June 2001
see also Steve's Diary for today
|photo © 2001 dan|
Waiting for the tube at South Ealing Station
I woke to the sound of my wristwatch alarm at 5:15am. I didn't feel tired despite the fact I'd only got a couple of hours rest. This may have been because it was already light outside, or more likely because of the anticipation and excitement of going abroad. There was no hanging around, the last bits and pieces were packed and the unwanted plastic cards and college work was posted through Cati's door. Jon, already packed, cleared the flat of cardboard boxes. Then we took both our rucksacks and the kit bags downstairs before checking Steve's flat for anything we may have forgotten. Outside the flat, Andy phoned for a taxi to take the luggage to the tube station, as we had too much to carry. They told us one would be over in twenty five minutes so we said thank you very much and set about walking to South Ealing Tube Station. It turned out to be an arduous struggle, what with stiff boots on, a 28kg rucksack on my back, a 7kg rucksack on my front and one end of a 40kg duffel bag in my hand. With one spare person, Andy, Steve and I rotated the carrying of the smallest, but heaviest duffel bag, but even this did not prevent us from taking frequent rests. Alan and Jon took the other kit bag along with their own rucksacks. The morning sky was clear, and the sun could be seen in between the rooftops, casting long shadows across the street. We arrived at the South Ealing underground station at 6:30am, relieved that we wouldn't have to carry the bags much more. Steve bought us tube tickets. Jon and Alan tried to go through the ticket barriers with the duffel bag but they inevitably got stuck half way when the barriers shut. After some forceful persuasion and a bit of help from the man in the ticket office, the barriers opened and the kit bag was lifted over the narrow gate. Steve, Andy and I, not wanting to suffer the same ordeal, went through the oversized luggage gate. We struggled down the steps, half dragging the bags, dumping everything in a mass pile as soon as we reached the platform. We waited on the shaded platform for some five minutes. Two trains had come and gone in the other direction. I was just beginning to think it was going to be one of those days when all the trains are going in the other direction to the way you want to travel when one came along and we all piled on. The train was surprisingly full, so I sat on the kit bags until some seats became vacant. I ate my lunch from the previous day, but ended up giving most of it away since I didn't like the chutney in the sandwiches. Our train terminated before Heathrow Terminal 4 so we had to get off at Heathrow Terminals 1,2 & 3 and wait for the following one, which was delayed by a signal failure.
|photo © 2001 dan|
On the tube
We eventually got to Terminal 4 and made our way to check-in after finding some trolleys on which to dump our luggage. We joined the end of the long queue for the British Airways desks. I wrote and posted some letters and drank custard from a tin, not because I was hungry but because I wanted to get rid of it. Every so often we would move forward and I would put the open tin of custard in my bag where it leaked and made a mess. People for the Hong Kong flight were getting ushered to the front of the queue, presumably because they were late. It was tempting to pretend to be on this flight just so we too could avoid queuing.
The chap behind the check-in desk took our passports and tickets and logged the codes into his computers. He then proceeded to weigh and stack our hold luggage. He then picked up the phone and spent an age trying to speak to someone. Eventually he informed us that he would give us an extra 20kg allowance on top of the extra 20kg already on the computer, giving us a total of 140kg. However the total weight of our hold luggage came to 175kg and we would have to pay excess charges on the difference. I produced my bit of paper that said we had been given 10kg extra each, totalling 50kg not the 20kg the computer said. After more phone calls the chap got his manager to come down and after a brief glance and typing something into the computer he left and the chap informed us that we were right. Although our 165kg allowance wasn't quite enough, British Airways were happy to waive the charges on the extra 10kg. With everything sorted and boarding cards collected, I phoned home to say my last goodbyes and then headed to where the others were waiting with cookies in hand.
|photo © 2001 dan|
Planes wait at Heathrow, probably for us.
We went through customs, where I was body searched after something on me set off the alarm. However, after nothing conclusive was found on me that might trigger the alarm, I am of the suspicion that whenever the customs officials like the look of someone they want to rub their hands over they hit the button under the desk that sounds the buzzer. However, this was a small price to pay for not getting my hand luggage checked, which contained the somewhat illegal eyewash (primer paste) that no one else would take. Alan went off in search of a new watch-strap while I headed for the toilets to wash the custard off everything inside my bag. It was then to a café for an expensive breakfast.
Several warnings were given out over the tannoy system that we should leave 10 minutes to walk to gate 20 because it was at the other end of the terminal. We made our across the terminal building, following the signs for gate 20. It took nothing like 10 minutes. We met Alan in the waiting area, where we waited for the queue to board the plane to die down. Soon after 9:30am, we were able to go straight through, after having our boarding passes checked. We walked down the retractable corridor and joined the queue to board the plane. "They let me on the fools" I exclaimed to Steve in a loud voice so others around would here, to which he gave an evil laugh. Those people behind us turned around, having decided not to board the plane. They didn't really. But you could see the worried looks on their faces as they contemplate whether we were being serious or not.
|photo © 2001 dan|
"Our" Jumbo. Wave to the pilot, everyone!
I made my way to seat 21D, battling my way past 450 other passengers all doing likewise. The pilot welcomed us at 9:45am, informing us that a person was missing and we would have to wait while they off-loaded his (or her) luggage. This caused us to miss our take-off slot. The pilot later informed us that he had contacted Brussels for another take off slot. Yes that's right Brussels. Why Brussels? We were taking off from London - Heathrow not Brussels. What is this world (or rather Europe) coming to?
Our take off time was put back to 11am, which didn't surprise me, as Heathrow tends to have a full schedule. With an hour to kill, and forced to stay belted to our seats, there was nothing much to do but separate the pages of the in-flight magazine, over which someone had spilt their drink causing them to stick together. We were sprayed with some aerosol, which we were informed was an insecticide, although I have my doubts since it occurred shortly after I removed my plastic boots from my feet. The cabin crew recommended that those people wearing contacts should cover their eyes, and those with breathing problems should cover there mouth, hold their breath and put their head in the waste bag. They were presumably to do this until the spray had neutralised the odours coming from my feet. This was apparently a World Health Organisation precaution. The Boeing 747-400 moved away from the gate at 10:15am to allow another plane to use it. We taxied to a secure holding area where we awaited take off. Steve contemplated asking the stewardess for an alligator sandwich, adding "and make it snappy", while I realised that with a person missing on the flight, there would be at least one extra meal, which I made it my mission to have. Bored with the magazine I amused myself by flicking through the various radio channels. We started to taxi to the runway at 10:45am, but this only put us in the queue for take off. We waited at the end of the runway for the planes in front of us to take off one by one. By now the waiting was painful. It had started to rain outside. I cast my mind back to when we were walking to the tube station. The morning had looked so promising but how things had changed.
The plane turned the corner and the pilot wasted no time in unleashing full throttle, sending us hurtling down the runway. The wheels parted from the runway at 11:10am, and we climbed steeply, hidden in a world of cloud.
I played about with my altimeter watch, which showed that we had lost cabin pressure and were cruising at about 6000ft. I was considering informing the pilot of this fact when a steward handed me a customer questionnaire with 50 odd questions on, asking me to fill it in. It was sunny again outside the plane now that we had risen above the cloud. I filled in the questionnaire and then watched the news and tennis updates. Drinks were served and I was given not one but two bottles of wine. Andy practiced a card trick and before long a young Indian girl came up to him to have a closer look.
We lost four and a half hours as we put forward our watches to Delhi time. 12.05 suddenly became 16:35. A film was put on. One of those films that no-one's seen because it's terrible. Why don't they show classics, stuff that everyone has seen before but no doubt wouldn't mind watching again? It would certainly pass the time better than something that is painful to watch. I had spiced cauliflower florets, spinach and paneer (cheese), poached salmon with dill sauce, new potatoes and wilted spinach, and rice keer for pudding. It sounds like a lot of nice food - and would have been had we had a similar menu in a restaurant. However we were on a plane, and it was typical plane food - tiny re-heated-for-too-long bland portions, although meals have considerably improved since the first time I went on a plane. After my meal, I end up watching the poor film, falling asleep before the end.
I woke to find Andy, Jon and Steve playing cards. I asked the stewardess if there were any spare meals. There were only vegetarian ones left but when you were as hungry as I was anything would do. Drinks soon followed. I took my malaria tablets and then read more of the magazine and watch more telly. Steve was proud to announce that on a short visit to the toilets he had put the toilet rolls the right way round. What would we do without him?
Our evening snack, which consisted of three sandwiches; egg and cress, spicy chicken and cheesy coleslaw, lemon seed poppy cake and a cup of tea, was served at 21:40. Soon devoured I asked for a second meal and again we got vegetarian. I filled out my disembarkation card and before long we were starting our descent into Delhi airport. We landed bang on schedule at 23:05 having made up for lost time. I struggled to put my plastic boots back on, before collecting my rucksack from the overhead holdall and exiting the plane.
|photo © 2001 dan|
Steve (at the IMF) with Vast Wads of Cash
I was immediately struck by the heat and humidity. It was the middle of the night and still an unbelievable 28C. Having regrouped with the others, we made our way to join the queues for immigration and customs. Their x-ray machines didn't see the British Airways cutlery I permanently borrowed for the expedition, or if they did then they weren't bothered about having it back. The wheelchair passengers who were last off the plane got ushered to the front of the queue, holding us up further. As we waited, I was surprised at the disproportionate number of people in wheelchairs on our flight. I got thinking, and recalled that it was the same for other flights I'd been on. Is it because disabled people having nothing to do but go on holiday all the time, or is it that half the people pretend, so they can avoid the queues in the airport? Finally I got my passport stamped and we headed to the baggage reclaim at 23:54. My ridge rest came through which was quite a surprise; I expected it to get lost in the system due to its small size, although as compensation it had got nicely chewed by the conveyor belt. Steve went off to change some travellers' cheques and soon returned with wads of money.
|photo © 2001 dan|
The Wad (close-up)
We had to wait a while for Jon and Alan's bags to come through, but when they had, we moved on to the arrivals lounge, where we met a rep from Eco Adventures, our agents. They took us outside where it was even warmer and very humid. Horns rang out almost continuously as vehicles jostled to get from one side of the terminal building to the other. Our reps took us to a waiting camper van with a dozen seats or so inside. The van was loaded up and then we were off. We hadn't gone far before our driver joined the chorus of horns that could be heard beeping away. We drove through the outskirts of Delhi to the IMF headquarters where we would stay the night. Cows and wild dogs roamed randomly along the road causing us to swerve or brake to avoid them. There were no markings on the road, except for some telegraph poles that were situated a couple of metres out into the road on our side. And then every so often there would be a speed bump just in case you found third gear.
|photo © 2001 dan|
Alan and Steve go to bed
We arrived at the IMF building at 01:00. The mini-van was unloaded and we took our luggage inside. The caretaker showed us to our room, and discussed our agenda, which mainly concerned breakfast. The room was not air-conditioned, though there were numerous fans to keep the air moving. We filled our water bottles and added iodine to kill anything we couldn't see in the water. Andy filled in the guest logbook, and our Liaison Officer came and welcomed us. The caretaker came and made up our beds. Didn't he know we were coming? I unpacked. I was soon bitten by some insect, probably one of the many mozzies that were flying around.
Steve shared out the wads of money he'd got, the fans sending some of it blowing across the room. I eventually got to bed at 02:00 and soon after someone turned the lights out. The fans started to slow and the air stopped moving across my forehead. Cries of turn the fans back on were heard as the stifling heat was felt. The lights went back on as Andy hurriedly pressed any buttons to get the fans going again. Then after several attempts we achieved our aim of lights off and fans on. I soon fell asleep to the sound of the whirring blades slicing through the air.
© Copyright Steve Jolly 2001.