25 December, 2007

Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fridge. (With Bullets Flying Everywhere!)

The whole flying thing went without a hitch. I was a bit nervous about it all, only because I'd read on Horizons Unlimited that Kittima was inconsistent in her performance. Well, she was perfect with me and all worked out very well. I was also a little bit wary because the Customs people had come all the wqay to Bangkok airport (they must have been flying up anyway) with the form they hadn't given me at the Thai border and waited for me on the specified day - they sent me an e-mail, which I got too late but to which I responded apologetically. I got no response. If they had huffed, then I suppose they could have made things difficult for me at the airport, but it seems they decided not to.

In all I had been in Bangkok for two weeks. I had tried hard to do the tourist thing but found the heat just draining and the few forays I had into it sapped all energy and left me bathed in sweat and craving the cool. There was a second hand bookshop not far from the hostel and they gave partial refunds on books taken back, so I read a lot as I lay in the cool under the fan in my room.

The room itself was only about 3GBP per night and the hostel staff were very friendly and welcoming. The food there was the best I could find too so I didn't have to go far for anything. There were runs around to organise the flights and getting things organised with the BMW shop for a crate, but other than that, sitting on the bike in that traffic and heat was just uncomfortable. Actually the traffic wasn't all that bad, and there were some interesting vehicles around. But the heat . . .

Bangkok was also full of some fairly odd-looking tourists doing predictably uninteresting (for me) tourist things which mainly involved making lots more noise than seemed necessary in bars after drinking more than they could comfortably handle. During the elections, however, alcohol was not on sale for three days, and things noticeably quietened down. There were people of all European nationalities and some looked distinctly strange - many like they'd just stepped off the set of either the latest Pirates of the Caribbean or Star Trek film. Anything goes in Bangkok! I got chatting one evening to just one other lone-traveller but otherwise confined myself to conversing with the hostel staff who were able to fill me in on how things were locally.

At last I had to put the bike into the crate. With no spare bodies at BMW I was left to do this alone, which suited me fine despite the heat. Then it had to go to the airport, and I got on the same flight the next day.

Not knowing how things might go, and arranging my flight separately from the bike's, I thought it prudent to have a flexible flying arrangement in case the bike didn't make the plane. This was recommended - by the hyper-helpful Alana at Charlie Reid's Kirkcaldy - to be Business Class. Wow. I may have made a serious financial error for my future here. Bearing in mind that this was public transport, I really enjoyed the flight! At 60GBP more than the Economy price, I reckoned it was a reasonable Christmas present to myself. I got an enormous seat that did everything but swivel and shake. I was comfortably far away from my neighbour, but not unsociably so, and only one wee boy decided this would be a great time to scream and bawl. But even he quietened half way through the flight, leaving me in peace to watch the film I'd chosen. This may be the way of flying anywhere for me from now on, if I ever need to - and if I can afford it.

Arriving in Kathmandu on a Saturday, I was disappointed to find that I wouldn't be retrieving my bike from Customs. Saturday is a public holiday in Nepal, so I would just have to come back tomorrow. They teasingly let me see it, but they wouldn't allow me even to open the crate.

I took a taxi to the nearest hotel which was very luxurious and expensive. Continuing the "oh well, it's Christmas" theme, I checked in and soaked up the coolness.

After an excellent sleep under warm covers and a filling buffet breakfast, it was time to take on the challenge of Nepali Customs. This was time consuming but friendly although my lack of the Nepali language and their lack of English added some fun to the process. One or two "Agents" cheekily tried to make out they had done me enough favours to deserve some sort of payment, but these were half-hearted efforts since it was quite plain they'd done nothing at all. One even tried to stop me leaving claiming that I had to pay him first, but he was chased off by the Customs officer with whom I'd been dealing all morning. Two hours and I was back on the road, riding around the Kathmandu Ring-Road.

One of the safety precautions when bikes fly is that you have to drain the petrol tank. I had drained it down to reserve which meant I'd have to find some fuel within about 20miles or I'd be pushing. Riding around the ring road was when the Bullets first started to fly. Well, 'fly' might be a bit generous here as these were Indian Enfield 350cc 'Bullet' motorbikes. With their designs firmly in the 1950's, they aren't the quickest. There are lots of other motorbikes made under Japanese licence in India, and these seemed more popular, here in Kathmandu at least.

I hadn't seen any petrol stations. At last I saw some pumps, not with the usual amount of advertising I'd associate with these establishments. Two young lads were hovering and I asked them if I could have some fuel, please. "Maybe later," was the unexpected response. It turned out that there were some fuel restrictions in the region, and I'd have to wait until either later that day, but more probably tomorrow for the pumps to, well, pump.

This was new. After some 'discussion' (mainly sign language) one of the lads ran off promising half a litre of fuel - "no money!", he insisted. I didn't want to take his fuel, just for him to give me some idea where I might find some for myself. But he began draining his little bike's tank into a water bottle and came running back as I was about ready to go. He directed me as best he could to where there might be fuel after insisting that I took the offered half-litre. And he would not accept payment!

I rode off, feeling happily secure in the comfort of being back in the 'developing world' where complete strangers, who appear to have nothing at all will somehow insist on giving visitors what little it is they do have, just to make you feel welcome.

I found the place he'd directed me to but there was no fuel there, maybe tomorrow, at 7am. Come early. Then the owner turned up on a smart Bullet. "I have none today to offer, but follow me and I will show you where they will distribute in a few hours." Ashok showed me down the road to a long line of motorbikes, which I joined. It was 2pm. "They will probably begin distribution at 4pm, if they do not fill your tank, come back to me in the morning and I will fill it," he said, and rode off.

I settled down with my book, but not for too long. I soon had a wee crowd, the English speakers asking and translating for those with none. "How many cc's?" "How much did you pay?" "What is the mileage?" "How many km's per litre?" "So few!?" "So old!?" I showed the map of the world where I've been recording the route in blue highlighter pen. "We are so proud of your discipline and your determination." I hadn't thought of there being too much 'discipline' involved in going out to play on your bike, but . . .

They wanted to get me to the front of the queue, but I couldn't do that. In the end, as a privileged tourist, I wasn't rationed as the others were. My tank was filled right up, although the line was drawn at putting any in my five litre can.

Too late to move on, I found another hotel where the security guard looked cold. I offered my warm over-trousers for the night and he gratefully accepted.

To my overwhelmingly happy surprise, a supermarket nearby was selling Walker's Oatcakes, as well as some decent-looking cheese! Christmas was going to be much merrier than I'd ever dared hope!

Of course, in the morning the Security Guard had gone home, taking my trousers with him! My fault, as he had assumed they were a gift forever. He wouldn't be back until nightfall, the reception lady told me, but they would try to find him. Resolved to a third night in Kathmandu, I'd just selected a walking tour around the neighbourhood when there was a knock on the door and the guard appeared smiling and with trousers presented! I had a mild disappointment that now I supposed I'd better make some progress. Kathmandu is fascinating, so I'll have to come back here some other time.


At 13/01/2008, 16:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All makes great reading mate. Although possibly counter-productive as it just makes me want to get back on a bike and go off to far of lands even more than usual! Discipline and dedication - that's what us 3 had in S america (NOT) Keep well, James


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