Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Traveling in 2015

We have become wary travelers. News of the crimes committed in Paris was still fresh when we landed in Kochi, India. A cruise ship with 3000 people on board seemed like an easy target for hate crimes. And we were just about to get on one.

Check-in, customs and security at the cruise terminal all went so fast. Our bags were on the truck to be transported to the ship before I noticed that no one else had noticed there were no cabin tags on the bags. The guys on the truck had loaded three bags with no cabin tags, and the security guys at the scanner hadn't noticed the missing cabin tags. Everyone seemed a little tired, a bit unconcentrated. It was hot and humid and hectic.

"Take those bags down! Those there! Yes, that ugly one. Yes, that one that looks like it's been through a shredder!" I shouted and arguments in myriad dialects ensued. They couldn't take bags off the truck once they'd been loaded. But of course they had to take them down and let me put the cabin tags on them. How would they take them to the right cabin?

When I finally convinced the guys on the truck--by yelling louder--to give me back the bags, the Indian authorities started shouting at me that the bags had to go through the scanner.

"They are having to be going through the security facility conveyor machine!"

"They are having to do what? Through what?"

"They must be going through--"

"They've already been through--"

"They have to be going through--"

"Stop putting -ing on all your verbs!" I shouted back, and instead of doing the right thing--to put them through the scanner again--the authorities backed down. So lax was security in Kochi.

But let me take a step back and tell you a bit about the e-visa joke's-on-you India has going. If you are entering India only once as a tourist, you might be tempted to apply for an e-visa online. Don't do this. Go ahead and apply for the multi-entry visa. It will save you time in the long run. I thought once I applied for our e-visas online--you still have to have a picture made in the Indian format, fill out a rather long form and scan your passport into their system--that we'd sail through immigration in Kochi like a butter chicken. Sadly, if you have an e-visa, you don't go through immigration with all the other smarter people who took the time to get a multi-entry visa; instead you are shuffled off to a little room with the other e-visa dopes, and you have to sit there patiently while the immigration officer wipes down his fingerprint machine for the umpteenth time because nothing works quite right here. And he's trying to get the fingerprints from the guy who's six or seven people in front of you. The people with their multi-entry visas are already slurping their welcome drinks at their hotels.

Getting a taxi at the Kochi airport is also a bit inconvenient, but if you know what to do it should be easy-peasy. As in many countries where corruption is rampant, you can't just walk out of an airport and get into a taxi. You have to pay someone at a desk and get a voucher. It's referred to as "Pre-paid" in Kochi. And that's what the taxi drivers are saying when you are trying to talk to them. "Pre-paid?" "Pre-paid?" It sounds more like "Pripid," which is the reason you keep saying "Excuse me?" and they keep saying "Pripid?"

The drive to our hotel took about seven centuries of Indian music. I couldn't tell you where one stopped and the other started, so I can't tell you how far it was according to the I Must Be Off Pop Song distance meter. Go to the bathroom at the airport--that's all I have to say on this one.

Oh, what a tangent all that was--but of course if you're reading this post because you were considering getting an e-visa for India, I hope you found that tangent helpful. What I really wanted to talk about was traveling in 2015 when a lot of people are more wary than they've ever been. We should be wary, but we should keep traveling.

After the crimes committed in Paris recently, the Indian government was quick to announce it was doing everything in its power to keep India safe. There was a security check before we entered our hotel but not the type where they check under the car. Did I feel safe? I did--until we took a walk around the grounds of the hotel and along the Backwater. On the other side of the water there were four or five men dressed in white. I assume they were Moslem, but I wasn't really thinking about them. I live in a place where I see people dressed in many different ways. But at some point their attention was drawn to me and they started shouting. When I didn't react, they  raised their fists in unison and held that position for quite a while--which was unnerving. It took a couple of seconds for me to understand the scene. I was a white guy on the grounds of the Le Meridien hotel, a French hotel, the day after the Paris crimes. Ah, I thought. I see. There are people out there who hate what they think you stand for; and while it would be wrong to hate them in return, it's certainly smart to be aware of them. And when you're traveling in a foreign country, you should have both eyes open, know a bit about the demographics.

Kochi is 47% Hindu, 35% Christian, 17% Muslim and the rest Buddhist and a host of other religions. The city has the fourth highest crime rate in India but Kochi is obviously a community trying to get a handle on its problems. And one of them is security. 

If the lax security we encountered at the cruise terminal in Kochi is any indication of how "safe" India is, then I'm skeptical. Of course our cruise--which I'll talk about in another more lighthearted post--went well with no other security issues I was aware of. When you board a cruise, there is a scanner very much like at the airport, but it always seems to be more relaxed, like a formality. Too relaxed?

What are your feelings about traveling in 2015? Have you been more careful than usual? Have you changed plans or habits?

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the 2015 recipient of the Ginosko Literary Journal's award for flash fiction. His work appears in Indiana Review, Eclectica Magazine, Night Train, Camroc Press Review, Contrary and over 100 other journals. Read his book reviews in [PANK), The Lit Pub, Necessary Fiction and more. A former finalist at Glimmer Train, Allen is also a multiple nominee for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Originally from Tennessee, Allen now splits his time between Munich and Dublin.