The flight to Chennai was nearly enough to inspire a fresh dose of the runs – the plane was old on the inside, small and the sound of propellers revving up and the knowledge that it was these two small propellers that were to hopefully take us into the air and keep us there for nearly two hours was enough almost to send me running for the nearest toilet by itself. In the end, the flight wasn’t too bad. It almost marked the last flight that didn’t fly over, start or end in Europe. It was my last chance to take in the sights from 30,000 feet of the Indian countryside below; for all the poverty in the cities below, all the scam-artists, the mopeds racing around the country, the noise and sights, the smells and tastes, India from 30,000 feet looked peaceful and at rest. Soon enough though we were on our way back into the chaos again as we flew out over the sea before making a left turn and descending towards the lunacy of an Indian city once again. Chennai Airport is surprisingly well designed and laid out and I was standing outside within nanoseconds looking for my supposedly booked driver. Needless to say, he wasn’t there and was showing no signs of turning up, which caused me great alarm – all the talk of tourists going walkabout from supposedly legitimate pre-paid taxi services or being abducted from airports was something that to date I hadn’t had to worry about. This would be different. I resigned myself to probably not making it out of India after all without losing at least some of my belongings and wandered up to the prepaid taxi counter. Now, in spite of being prepaid, taxi drivers seemed to nearly fall over themselves with enthusiasm for taking me for the spin.
The taxi driver I eventually got (who was joined by his two friends, one in the front, one in the back, both of whom caused my anxiety to multiply) was a particularly angry looking man and had decided for reasons unknown to grow his thumbnails and paint them a shade of blue. Gross. As we sped along at great speed, continuing the Indian tactic of weaving in and out of lanes with reckless abandon, I wondered how long it would be before I’d eventually wind up in one of the many road traffic accidents. Against all odds however, we did eventually arrive at the hotel, even if the furious driver was insistent on a larger tip than I was willing to give. The hotel needless to say did not keep up with what I’d experienced in Kerala and it turned out that Kerala was to prove to be one of a kind. The hotel in Chennai initially lost my reservation, didn’t send the driver to pick me up, and when they did find my reservation, they had only one option of putting me in the ‘deluxe room’ for which the receptionist reckoned I might have to pay for. I was quite confident that I would not be paying the rate for the deluxe room and became solely focused on arguing otherwise at reception at every available opportunity. On the plus side, there was a lovely European pastry shop right next door and I was only there for 2 nights at any rate.
Chennai, when I finally got past arguing with the receptionists over my unwanted upgrade to ‘deluxe’ status was actually surprisingly pleasant – needless to say there was a myriad of poor people out on the streets begging and doing their damndest to make me part with my dwindling supplies of money but aside from that it was quite a nice city. It made slightly more sense than chaotic Delhi and people seemed genuinely more pleased of business than they had up north. By the second day, I felt good and ready and headed the long distance to the beach, which to my great excitement and joy, took me past a modern shopping centre with an English-language bookshop, a KFC and a Pizza Hut, all restaurants I had begun to presume did not exist in India. The beach too, heralded as the longest beach in the world, was certainly very long. However, what was not mentioned in the advertising literature is that it also happens to terminate at the busy Chennai Port and therefore while you sit and relax and get hassled by the occasional person trying to sell you something (or in my case, some girl no older than me trying to make me pay slightly over â‚¬2 for the privilege of seeing a monkey she had on a lead), you also have to put up with the view of oil tankers and heavy container ships weaving past each other, coming in, going out and dwindling right in front of what would otherwise be a fairly scenic view. It provided a good spot however to sit down and think about what I could possibly have learnt from all this travelling in advance of the long 10-hour flight back to Germany later that evening.
For the journey back to the airport, the hotel (after we’d settled the difference between the bill I was insisting on paying and the bill they were insisting I owed) very kindly arranged a man quite similar to my friend Wahid, in Goa, who drove like the clappers all the way. The only difference being this man was slightly more reserved and quiet and tended only to smile in a somewhat worrying way every time we rocketed past a bus or a truck at extremely close quarters. What he didn’t realise however was that time was really not an issue for me and when we got to the airport some 5 hours early, I wasn’t all that pleased in the knowledge that I’d have to stand outside the terminal building for at least 2 of those hours. And stand I did. I stood, I leaned against trolleys, I sat on railings, I walked the length of the terminal – nothing seemed to make the place anymore exciting. Meanwhile, more and more Indians arrived in absolute droves – entire families – to wave off their nearest and dearest who were all dressed to the nines. Clearly long-distance travel in India still necessitates the entire family’s send-off. Finally the time came to take my leave of absence and I waved one last goodbye to the fiery heat and all the Indians who stood on the sidelines still waving at relatives who were now firmly inside the building and out of sight and went inside. The next 2 hours were spent taking one or two last ‘visits’ in the toilets to say goodbye, buying some overpriced goods to rid myself of my last rupees and talking with a very pleasant German couple who were heading back after 3 weeks and countless bouts of the Delhi Belly.
So with that it was onto the plane for the long journey ahead. I wrote a long while ago about Lufthansa and how I’d heard complaints about their seats but for me at least to be honest, the more upsetting part of the whole experience was how icy cold they’d set the air conditioning. I managed to successfully freeze for the majority of the journey back to Frankfurt. But finally after 10 hours in the air I was back on European soil as we settled down on the runway at Frankfurt Airport and began coming to a stop. Anna was diligently waiting and we immediately set about getting back to Frankfurt utilising their bizarre s-bahn system that seems to cause confusion at every available opportunity. We stayed the night in Frankfurt, which was still experiencing something of a heat wave, albeit with rainy showers thrown in during the day for good measure. The following afternoon we set sail thanks to some random man and his Audi, for the city of Munster up closer to Anna’s home.
And from there? Well what does anyone do after they’ve seen the world? The next few days were spent relaxing, catching up on sleep to make up for all those 4-hour sleeps I got on the trip before having to race out to make flights, eating properly, drinking properly and generally having a great time of it. Always the gracious hosts, Anna’s family too saw to it that there was always something to do and we seemed to always have something lined up for the afternoon between either going across to the Netherlands to the market in the nearby town, Enschede, or going to the local outlet centre to see what garments I couldn’t afford! All in all, Ochtrup was, as it always is, a very pleasant experience. However, it also meant that I was back in Europe and definitely edging closer to home, with slightly over 3 months and at least a couple of grand behind me. Finally, on the 1st September, after just over 3 months of travelling the world, I flew home, back to Dublin on-board a tightly packed Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt. Hard to believe…