Around the world in 20 days

Why does that remind of the lost Raj Kapoor song “Around the world in 8 dollars”? It all started with my young boy persuading to take a vacation during Diwali. “See, Karnataka day and Diwali, so I get 10 days off if I take 5 days leave”, Not sure of the math, but his persuasion skills worked. We debated from South Korea (who in their right mind takes a vacation in Korea), Japan (hmmm, maybe another time), Australia (spending Diwali in Summer, no) and New Zealand. New Zealand won (not the world cup). A month of planning and discussions and bookings. You guys should drive in NZ, traffic is non-existent and gives you flexibility. Again, the persuasion skill worked and we (I mean I) decided to drive through the country.

Since we are a family spread across the West, East and Southern regions, decided to meet at the capital to embark on the actual journey. Our first stop was the windy city, Auckland. November is supposed to be technically summer in the southern hemisphere but looks like nobody informed Auckland. A blast of cold air greeted us as we landed. Watering eyes, jackets and hoodies in place, we found an Indian Uber driver to drive us to our apartment. After a sumptuous lunch of puri and sabji (vegetarian Indians never travel without their puris and theplas?), wandered to the harbor side to take some pics. All well, except that the hair was in a constant mess, and standing to pose for photos was tough as the wind seemed determined to blow us off (I am thinking Marilyn Monroe for no apparent reason). Auckland proved a very lively city with a young vibrant crowd, beautiful parks and harbors and a nightlife lasting till wee hours.

The famous Auckland Harbor

Couple of days later, we had to pick up our car. Now, I was a trifle apprehensive, not having driven in another country for long many years. Here we are. Ok, now how does it start, where do I insert the key? Not finding a keyhole after a thorough search, realization dawned, it is a button start. Now that engine is purring, why isn’t it moving? You need to release the brake, you silly cow! A few minutes later, Oh hell, slow down, this aint your country, dear. Where the hell is the clutch? It is called automatic gears, idiot. My legs were already stressed out. Fit the GPS, how the hell do you look at the GPS, rear view mirror, and windshield, I can’t rotate my head so many degrees. Where is the nasty fellow who persuaded me? I panic when I encounter drivers following rules and not honking, you can’t believe how stressful peaceful driving can be!

The gaseous volcanic region

 

Following traffic rules was not a big deal, I am one of the few morons who does that in India as well. Except that I was thoroughly confused at the roundabout.  Who has the right of way? (what is right of way, by the way, and by which way?) By Indian standards, there was plenty of room and I entered the roundabout, cutting off an angry lady, who decided to teach me a lesson. She stopped and gave me a stern lecture on “how-to drive in NZ” “do you even know the rules”. Sorry sorry ma’m. Ears burning, I decided to let everyone else in the country takes precedence and was subject to quite a few honks when I went full-stop at every roundabout from irate people behind me.

The gloomy deserted beaches

Drove through live volcanic regions and waterfalls, empty windy beaches and desert, curvy and straight roads, the length of north island all the way down to Wellington. The beauty of the country can’t be described in words or captured in photos. You have to see with your own eyes. The cleanest country I have ever seen, (so clean, dustbins are rare too) sparsely populated and ever-changing landscape. Felt like Britain of the South, strong European influence, with Westminster and Windsor, even a Stonehenge.

Mapping the location

Enjoyed staying on the beachfront at Wellington. Most people seemed very health conscious running the length of harbor in the middle of the day. Typical Airbnb apartments in the country are tiny, one bedroom and living area converted to three- four people living space and quite expensive in city centers. Some of them so crowded, you could hardly move without falling on the beanbags which seems to be a trend. Apartments, hotels, cafes, airports, you can find beanbags thrown around everywhere.

A view to kill

Flew to the heart of South Island- Queenstown. It was literally touch and go. The plane touched (almost) the runway thrice and went back twice. Landed in the third attempt. The gale was too strong and the runway too small. But man, what a view. Drastic change from North island, flying through southern Alps with snow peaked tops and glaciers was breathtaking. Queenstown is a tiny tourist town filled only with pubs and adventure sports.  With a breathless husband struggling to trot uphill and rains all the time (and snowing a few kilometers away), we ziplined with soaking shoes through the massive trees and waited for the weather to clear to fly to Milford Sound. A cool cruise through the fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains and waterfalls, watching dolphins and seals, (and listening to gujus chirping on the deck); flying to the location in our very own private plane was the highlight of the whole tour, with a pilot who looked every inch the twin of Owen Wilson.

The Eighth Wonder

 

Vacations don’t last forever. A day in Christchurch and its parks and it was time to fly back. Hold on. The story isn’t done yet.

I had to travel to San Diego in the US of A. Off-line to Off-site. Crossing the Pacific, and the date line. I was massively thrilled with the idea of living two complete Sundays, one while flying, and another in US, because I was going to land before I flew off. Crazy, isn’t it? I kept waiting for the time machine whrrr sound and the bump and motion that would indicate I had gone back in time. What I still have not figured out is whether getting two back to back Sundays made me a day older or stopped my ageing for a day.

The falls in the Fiord

Walking is the best way to absorb new places and take in its culture. Every day we walked almost 10-12 kilometers easily. But the airports felt I did not get enough exercise and made me run. Flight delays, fear of missing an international connection, run run, huffing and puffing, luggage and all. Happened towards US and from US. Lesson learnt, 2 hours transit time is never enough, not when I am on the flight.

San Diego, Del Coronado hotel, one of the oldest in the city, home to many celebrities across decades, supposedly haunted, with miles of beach and enough of Sun to recover from the cold damp weather of previous week. A week of Sun and beach (a little work) and visits to downtown was a perfect finale to the journey. Some minor hiccups when one night my air conditioning gave way (the nights were still cold) and I needed to wear my jacket and socks to sleep, and another day a belt mysteriously appeared in my room (maybe it was the ghost’s gift, or the housekeeping’s tryst).

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The Del Coronado beach

Finally flew back to India, amidst flight delays and traffic jams to land back at home 20 days hence. Since I got two Sundays, should that be 21 days? With tired knees, swollen shins, confused stomach, gigabytes of media and unforgettable memories.

The ghostly family

The realization hit me at 3 am in the morning. No, I am absolutely not a night bird. But I am a part of a ghostly family. Let me start from the very beginning.

My husband’s cellphone rang at 3 am. Now, I have to tell you something about this ring tone. It is an ascending crescendo, enough to wake up the dead, literally, in the dead of the night. No matter how many times, I have told my husband to change to a more decent tone, he keeps the same which creates this sense of urgency and alarm every time it honks and leaves your heart racing. I got up to open the door, we had a guest who had arrived then.

You may think that is hardly a decent time for anyone to arrive, but that wasn’t his fault really. Pune, happens to be a railway nightmare. If you arrive by train you can expect to hit the town anytime between 2 to 5 am and you not only can’t sleep yourself, you can’t let anyone else sleep either.

As I was going to open the door, I saw my father in law, sitting up on the bed and having his midnight glass of milk. ( नोट किया जाए, मी लॉर्ड, at 3 am) Now he normally stays awake during the night and rests in the day, turning life upside down for everyone around him as well. That also really isn’t his fault either, it is just that he normally would have had his quota of sleep in the day, which expectedly eludes him in the night. And the circle goes on. Now when you stay awake, you feel hungry, so he needed something to eat, of course he has to wake up my mom in law, who then heated the glass of milk for him and hence was up, trotting along in her white nightgown and rummaging in the kitchen, looking irritated and resigned to her nightly routine.

In recent times, my dear husband has also developed the tendency to be nocturnal. He will find his reasons, he can be thirsty, so he will get up to drink water, and then of course he needs to go to the washroom, in an hourly ritual. Sometimes he likes to read a book or newspaper or watch the match ( in mute, will I not kill him otherwise) at 4 am when sheep and forward and reverse counts don’t help. He may also have his natures call very early, pre-dawn or very late, post-midnight. All in all, he was awake and hungry too at the unearthly hour, hunting for something to eat.

With everyone around awake and eating and talking, it felt like 3 pm and not 3 am. You know, how it is always daytime at the station, all that was missing is the hawker crying चाई, चाई….in his broken monotonous tone. Addam’s family, anyone?

Let me give you some more insight. My bro in law has different reasons for staying awake, he may be reading a book that he needs to finish tonight, ( maybe the ending will change if I leave it till the next day) or he may be working, ( or shall I call it tweeting) more often than not, or he may be watching a old faded martial arts Jackie Chan movie and the next sci-fi after that and then what. Going to sleep at 5 am is normal for him.

His wife, wanting to spend as much quality awake time with him, stays up when he is up and sleeps when the world wakes up. Other than wanting to be with him, she has her personal reasons as well like playing candy crush saga for 5 hours, or skying her daughter who is in the GMT time zone. Going to sleep early morning is again a daily routine for her and she can continue her beauty sleep through the morning while the kid is away at school.

This routine has a major advantage – nobody can loot us when we are all asleep, because we are never.

Tensions are a major worry for this insomniac household. My husband has discovered 101 reasons for staying awake and maybe he will write a book on it one day. Some of the gems from his list are- every time I slept, I could could hear Ornob and others shouting on the TV having a political debate on intolerance. Really !!! Ornob, you have no right to enter my husband’s dreams in the middle of the night. The ruby being – since somebody in the family needs to travel the next day, I can’t sleep today, I was worrying. ( about what?)  The most glittering diamond – I should have bought the pounds while it was 2 Rs down, now I lost 200 Rs. इव क्या होगा?

Normally I sleep pretty soundly without any worry. Other than when I wake up and see everyone moving around and look for the signs like turned feet and rotating head. The one night I did not sleep is the day I read about Mr Gray. No, do not get the wrong ideas into your head. I could not sleep because my inner voice kept asking me how could such drivel be written. How can you repeat yourself every 5 pages and still be categorized as a literary bestseller? Forget the strong urge I felt about giving a hard slap to Mr Gray and the waif. I can’t even find 50 adjectives to describe the book except that it was repetitive, boring, unreal, teenage, soppy and more. The ending of the volume 1, ( where she walks out, leaving him) was expected to create a desire and longing to get your hands on the volume 2 ( much like कटप्पा ने बाहुबली को क्यों मारा?) left me yawning and wondering why I was wasting my beauty sleep on this.