Sunday, December 15, 2019

I Need To Get My Travel Game Face On

How do you know you have been in your comfort zone too long? You find yourself ripped off at an airport currency exchange but only after arriving at your hotel. It is time to get my travel game face on.

Anise, my "go to guy" for anything in Dhaka, gave me a ride to the airport. He stands about 5 foot 1 but is as strong as a bear. He hugged me hard, said "please come back sir" turned and jumped in the van and with that he was gone. There I stood, alone and ready to go.

I had a bit of trepidation leaving Dhaka. The morons that they are, spelled my name wrong on my exit visa. I was concerned because it does not match my passport and that could be reason enough not to let me leave. Then I realized it would be Bangladesh Customs & Immigration and giggled knowingly. It was a nervous giggle nonetheless. I wanted out and I did not want anything stopping me. In the end, the guard scanned my passport and the only question he asked was "Are you coming back"? I smiled, said yes, got my stamp and skipped to my gate. After two-hours at the gate and a three-hour flight, I landed safely in Sri Lanka. Bangladesh is now a memory.

Entry into Sri Lanka was a snap. The Government removed all fees a short while ago for most tourist visas. They want tourists to return since the country has been suffering following the terrorist attack in the spring. I applied for my ETA online and was approved immediately. I waited 24 hours for an email that I need to print and carry with me. In the end, I needed nothing but my passport and a smile. I found the “Visa on Arrival” counter and they verified everything using my passport and sent me to immigration. Immigration asked no questions except for my arrival slip which I had forgotten about. I pulled it from my pocket; he stamped my passport and told me to enjoy my 30-day stay in Sri Lanka.

Colombo does not have a huge airport and it was not busy when I arrived. I found my bag easy enough and now needed two things. To exchange money and get a SIM card. Every travel site mentioned that the currency exchanges at the airport are fair. My seatmate on the flight confirmed this. I checked the rate of US dollars against the Sri Lankan Rupee using EX, my trusty real time currency exchange app. Checking into one of the many booths I told the guy how much and he came back, almost exact to the expected rate. Sold! He ran the money through a money counter and told me to look at the amount. I smiled and said OK. He bundled up the money and off I went. Not once did I think I should actually count it. More on that stupidity later.

Next, I picked up a SIM with Mobitel. They were the highest rated service and reasonable cost wise with 16 GB of data and 100 talk time minutes for 1600 Rupees, C$11.88. My costs for mobile in Bangladesh were 5GB data 50 talk time minutes for 399 Taka C$6.15. I get enraged when I think of the cost of mobile service in Canada. It really is criminal.

Dhaka Airport. Sri Lankan Air. A wonderful sight indeedSri Lankan Rupees. Colorful
The front of my home stay. Don't let the front gate fool ya.Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Mongolian, Thai and Chinese food available
It is all about the trains in Sri Lanka. 200 metres from the beachThe Beach at Mount Lavinia. Five minute walk from my Home Stay

Airport pickups are my guilty pleasure. This time I went with Kangaroo Kabs, only because the name was awesome and they were reasonable. I never expect a "cheap" airport pickup. If you want cheap, find the local airport city bus. Every place has one.

Now I am ready to go. I have my money, my visa, my SIM card and I wait, and wait, and wait and then it starts raining. With my fancy new SIM card, I called the company who assured me my driver was on the way. They followed up with the email of his information and mobile number. I called multiple times and he did not answer. I waited another 30 minutes, called back and requested they send another car. He arrived in 10 minutes.

In total, my wait was about 90 minutes. Twenty minutes into my ride my phone rings. It is the original driver who said he just arrived and was sorry he was late...90 F**king minutes late for a pre-arranged pick-up. I hung up. The idiot kept calling back. I turned off my phone.

Traffic was nasty and in the end, I arrived at my hotel at 8:00 pm – four-hours after landing. Not the worst all things considered. I was in Sri Lanka and my hotel was a five-minute walk to the beaches of the Indian Ocean. I was good.

My hotel is actually a home-stay, which is what they call a B & B here, but without breakfast. I have access to the house and the owners just go about their business. They are nice people and very helpful. I am staying in Mount Lavinia, around 10 km from Colombo. The train stop is a 10-minute walk and there is regular daily service for 20 Rupee, or about .15 cents. The Lavinia House was highly recommended and for C$20/night, I have my private room and private bathroom. I even have a little balcony. Most important is that it is quiet. It is going to take me time to decompress and get away from the habit of my 5:30 am wake-up.

Finally, after settling in I needed food. I found a small shop that had BBQ chicken and pasta salad for about $3. They mixed chilies and other spices on the side that I could add if I chose. It was delicious, as was the chicken. There is nothing finer than finding your "go to" food shop on your first night. There is a grocery store across the street with BEER, glorious, glorious BEER. I talk a big game, but I am a lightweight now. So a couple a tall cans of Tiger should do me, and it did.

A good nights’ sleep is all I wanted. The time difference is 30-minutes so no big deal. I know I will wake up at my normal time but I will do my best to roll over and keep the peepers shut.

Oh yeah, about the currency exchange bandit. The sneaky sucker got me for 12000 Rupee, about US$65. Never let your guard down, EVER! I mean, there are times you will be ripped off. It will happen. The trick is to minimize your risk by keeping your head. Airports are the worst for obvious reasons. You are stressed, excited, nervous and whatever other adjective you can use. Every time you go to do something - STOP. Think about where you are and take the time to focus on that task. Everything else will take care of itself. I am not saying to not trust anyone at an airport, just remember that these people know exactly how you feel and will take advantage of it. US$66 is not a huge amount but it would easily be my food budget for a week, even longer if I a stick to street food and markets.

It happens to all of travelers, rookies and veterans. Do not beat yourself up over it. Accept it, feel the pain and then share your stories for others to learn. Man, oh man I always feel like an idiot when it happens.

My final picture of Dhaka. The perfect tribute.

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