Dec. 1st, 2015

unallersimple: (hectopus)
I arrived at the airport in Sri Lanka at 2:40 in the morning and to save me any worry, just booked a driver in advance to take me to my youth hostel.

The hostel is further out into the suburbs than I'd thought. I am unfortunately not near the centre at all. You also know you're onto a winner when you appear to be the only guest. Still I have a bed, a fan, a flushing toilet and a shower with cold water so it's all ok for now. The middle aged gentleman on reception is very friendly and told me how to get the bus into Colombo. (Sister Laura, he is just like the father of the Japanese co-worker I caught sleeping in the cupboard once! This is oddly comforting somehow.)

So after drifting in and out of sleep in my empty dorm I got up at lunch time and made my way out into my new surroundings.

The time it took from walking outside to feeling overwhelmed was roughly five seconds. It was so hot I started sweating immediately. I tried to make my way down the road to the bus stop but it wasn't easy. There was no pavement so I had to walk on the road along with other pedestrians, cars, tuk tuks and scooters. If that wasn't enough I also had to contend with 3 stray dogs, one stray cat and an ox that ambled over towards me in a (thankfully) friendly manner. This was all before reaching the main road!

Trying to cross a main road involves waiting and hoping for a long time that there will be a break in the traffic. When you realise there won't be you just have to take a deep breath, close your eyes and step out into the path of oncoming vehicles and hope they stop or drive round you. I have now taken to waiting for a local to cross at the same time for safety.

I then found a bus stop, and noticed with great gladness that there appeared to be a 138 bus every 30-60 seconds. This was helpful as there was no information at the bus stop, not even the name of the location. I observed how other people got on before trying it myself. Boarding involves flagging the bus which slows for you but doesn't stop. Then you have jump onto the stairs and dash inside before it speeds up again. I felt like Indianna Jones!

There was a seat free so I handed over my fare and sat down gratefully whilst wiping all the sweat off. I looked out the window trying to memorise landmarks for the journey home.

Bus drivers seem to think they are in a video game called "Drive fast, Smash Tuk Tuks." Everybody seems to think that the horn somehow powers the engine.

The journey into the city took 30-40 minutes and I was very proud I managed to figure out where I was and get off where I wanted to. Disembarking was even more perilous than boarding. You had to stand in the aisle and wait, then jump off in the middle of the road when the conductor told you to when it had stopped in traffic. Not so bad for me as I'm by myself, but one group of friends ended up being dropped off at intervals along the street as the traffic started moving again every time one of them made it off the bus!

After wondering around for at least another half hour I was unable to locate a restaurant or some kind of supermarket so jumped on another bus back to the hostel. Happily I did spy a supermarket on the way back and loaded up with goodies before walking the rest of the way home in the rain. Very refreshing.

When I got back to the hostel an elderly man made me a cup of tea and I found a gecko on the wall next to my bed.

I feel rather ridiculous that all I've done in my first twelve hours here is make two bus journeys, but I'm British so I'm sure you can understand I've had more than enough excitement for one day. In my defense I am also very tired from two days of traveling with very little sleep!

Definitely time for bed now.

Will start sightseeing tomorrow.
unallersimple: (hectopus)
My experience of Hamad International Airport was an interesting one because for a long time I was trapped inside it.

When you first step off the plane there you take great strides and beam with satisfaction because it's so clean, light and airy. Tired travellers are reenergised upon arrival.

So with one long journey over and a new country to explore on my 12 hour stopover I dashed excitedly to immigration in order to spend a few hours in Doha. I was told to wait. Lots of security and airline staff were standing around like office staff with nothing to do. No one would tell me what was going on or why. They made it sound like it would just be a few minutes, so I waited.

Then someone came up to me and told me to go downstairs to the airline tour desk. Which I did. Except after waiting 15 minutes the desk remained empty and when I asked elsewhere they said it was fully booked.

So I went back upstairs. Still not allowed out. Neither was anyone else. They said it was the case for all arrivals to the airport though it was hard to believe it. What do you do when so many armed men are standing nearby?

So I gave in to the temptation of watching the latest episode of my favourite TV show (which had aired in The States only hours before). I managed to find somewhere to plug in my phone and streamed a 40 minute episode in just under an hour and a half. Well done airport WiFi!

Afterwards I wondered back to the tour desk and signed up for the 11am free city tour without any problems. Guess it wasn't sold out after all?

When it was time all the passengers followed the tour desk clerk back up to immigration, were refused permission to leave and were walked back down the tour desk again. I was still sat there over an hour later! It didn't really make any difference to me...I could wait for my next flight there as well as anywhere but I hoped we would be allowed out soon as the twelve hours were slowly ticking away.

The disturbing thing is, the experience made the airport seem a lot more sinister...

Whenever I walked around looking for another potential way out uniformed airport staff or police would stop me and ask me what I doing.

Looking round the main hall in the terminal I saw almost as many staff as passengers. Were they refusing to let people in the airport too? If so what the hell was going on?! Would I be able to get my flight as normal? No one knew anything, or if they did they weren't telling when we asked. Even the tour operator was as lost and confused as we were, making lots of anxious and desperate sounding phone calls.

Cleaners wiped down pristine floors over and over again. Every empty shop had a sales assistant ready to greet you at the entrance. They all stood there and watched you walk by as they had nothing else to do but smile at you. It was all quite creepy!

Had I entered limbo? Purgatory? A Truman Show reality? I wasn't really sure what to make of it all. I just know that I wanted out.

Then half an hour later a member of airport staff came to get us and we were allowed out...just like that! Still no one could tell us anything apart from this had never happened before. Thanks for keeping me hostage for four hours, Hamad International Airport!

Once outside I took a photo, elated to have reached country number 30.

We were then ushered into a coach and driven into Doha. As we were so late out we didn't get to do the whole city tour,just two sections of it. I didn't mind, I was still happy to get the whole thing for free as if I had left the airport alone I would have had to pay for transport and a visa. Somehow the airline tour exempts passengers from those fees - so thanks Qatar Airways. I will fly with you again. :)

We went for a brief visit to the waterfront where we could see the skyscrapers of New Doha on an artificial island across the water. Then we had 30 mins in the main city markets which the tour guide informed us had been there for 250 years.

I was astonished because like everything in site it all looked new and completely artificial. Even in the places where grass grew it looked like every single blade had been put there by hand.

It also looked liked half of the city was currently being built. There was so many half finished buildings and cranes.

I learned from the guide that Qatar is a very small country (about the size of Yorkshire according to vaguelyinteresting.com). It's pretty much all desert on the coast as it has no natural groundwater of its own, it has to transport it all in.

If you are not born in Qatar then you can never become a citizen, you can only live there in a work visa which must be renewed every year. Citizens are guaranteed employment, education, healthcare etc. People start work early but finish at two in the afternoon. The king has his own airport terminal!

I wouldn't want to live there to be honest. We were barely out of the airport for two hours and it seemed like a place of two halves. One of luxury for the stinking rich citizens and one of painful working conditions and mistreatment for the foreigners doing all the undesirable jobs for the natives.

Back at the airport I settled in for the remaining six hour wait. I had hoped the city stopover would take longer! However once I'd eaten, taken several hour long naps, walked around the massive airport several times and took photos of silly statues (Google lamp bear, HIA!!) then it wasn't long before I was queuing to board my flight to Colombo.

What an odd way to spend a day!

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