Hello from San Francisco! where I have been sleeping off jet lag and travel fatigue…a sixteen-hour flight is no joke, although considerably cushier than, say, a twelve-hour bus ride to Delhi, in the back of the bus. Sixteen hours of jet lag is nothing to sneeze at, either…
SARS (the pneumonia virus thing) was very much in evidence on the flight out, as about 1/4 of my fellow passengers were wearing surgical masks, presumably in an effort to protect themselves. This struck me as rather odd–SARS has only killed about 60 people worldwide, which makes it considerably less dangerous than, say, driving. But unknown dangers always seem scarier, I suppose. Me personally, after a month of taking cramped jeeps and buses over Indian roads, a mysterious deadly virus seems rather blase.
Indian bus drivers, you see, have the happy habit of trundling at high speed around narrow windy mountain roads. This in itself is not so bad, but when you’re coming up on a blind curve next to a sheer dropoff, and your driver selects this moment to (what the hell) pass a giant dump truck (six inches to spare), it does provide whole new insights into reincarnation. Unfortunately, this is pretty much normal behavior for Indian drivers. (It’s not a case of they’re better drivers: they just have more accidents. A Jeep plunged down the mountain the week before I was traveling, killing all five people on board.)
And then I got to Delhi Airport and discovered armed soldiers crawling all over the airport…three at each gate, and six or seven in the airport lounge, plus a pair of sandbag bunkers out in front of the airport, with two rifle-bearing soldiers in each. Compared to all that, wearing a little surgical mask for a disease that’s killed sixty people worldwide, seems, well, silly.
Similarly, once I got to San Francisco Airport, there were lots of signs everywhere proclaiming an orange level terrorist alert, but no actual evidence of additional screening. compared to delhi airport, the whole thing seemed sort of amusing.
On to San Francisco:
San Francisco is an interesting place. It appears to have been completely overrun by Westerners. The U.S. dollar appears to be in widespread use–in fact, to the point where I haven’t seen any other currency. The streets are extremely wide, with no cows, water buffalo, or people. I am somewhat puzzled by this, especially since there seems to be a total lack of tuktuks, pickup-taxis, and in fact regular taxis, but undoubtedly it will make more sense eventually. People have to get around somehow, after all.
There are also no hotel touts, which caused me some puzzlement at the airport. Usually there are crowds of people standing around when the bus comes in, ready to cart you off to their guesthouse in exchange for a suitably inflated rate to pay for their commission. (One solves this by switching to a different guesthouse the following day.) But in fact there was no one standing outside the curb.
Fortunately, I’d made previous arrangements for a homestay, so I was met at the airport by a cute blond guy, who helped me drag my luggage into the car, and down a curiously empty, curiously broad, and curiously well-paved highway. (No dirt roads in evidence.) After I dumped my bags and fell over dead for awhile, my host appeared, a tall blonde (Western) woman who…
…oh. Hi, Carolyn.
It’s good to be home. 🙂