Sri Lanka 2007: the land of the impossible.

Everyone smiles on Sri Lanka, but unless you kick them in the nuts, exerting any sort of effort, with rare exceptions, is not on their agenda… As I mentioned before, I had managed to multiply my adventures tenfold – here is how:

I was meant to stay at Beruwala only for 2 more days and leave on the 17th. My flight was at 19:05 in the evening, so I spent the first half of the day in the sunshine regretting the fact that I’d have to clean up the house when I get back :D. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really wanted to go back to Prague, but I just thought that one extra day of grilling wouldn’t’ve hurt :).

You know, let me insert a piece of advise here: be extremely careful what you wish for because every now and then it all tends to come true. I guess I so dreaded the cleanup that somehow I got it fixed in my mind that my flight was at 19:50 (my mild dyslexic tendencies at their best…) so we called a taxi for 4pm… BIG mistake…

Beruwala is only 60km away from Colombo, and the airport is 20km away from the city, making the total journey’s worth a mere 80km. However, due to the traffic unfitting any commonly acceptable Western schema of vehicle interaction, including the almost supernatural ability of the local drivers to squeeze through the tiniest holes, driving with nearly no distance between each other, taking all lanes at the same time, passing other cars on any convenient side AND not having car accidents every 30 meters of the road, it would normally take 3-4 hours to get to the airport. We made it in 2,5 hours but the check-in counters close 1 hour before the flight here, not 45 minutes as is the case in many other international airports.

If you happen to be one or two minutes late to the check-in, then too very bad for you. Sri Lanka was still under military regime back then, so the security measures included, among others, something ridiculous like “sorry, we can’t check you in” for anyone who was not at the counter on time…

Fully stressed out, I went back to the hotel, told my sad story to the rest of the group and went to the bar to drown my sorrows. I had told my sad story to the fun British ladies who kept trying to set me up for a date with a local animation team member, received a double martini bianco as a moral compensation (they had it all-inclusive anyway), danced a bit and ended up walking on the beach till 2:30am.

On Sunday the 18th I went to Colombo again – this time with the rest of the group. Their flight to Moscow was at 2-something am on Monday but they had a plan to stop by some other places on the way. So I got dropped off at the Ceylon Continental hotel for the night… The trick is, Qatar airways operational center at the airport had told me on Saturday (the day I missed the flight) that there were seats available on the same flight on Sunday. However, I could not get on board without a booking. And I could not get a booking because Qatar airways office, and most of the important things in this country, are closed on Sundays, while the operational center could not process bookings (which makes me wonder wtf for do they even exist at the airport)…

On Monday the 19th we went to Qatar airways office in Colombo city center and were told that the nearest available flight is on the 26th of November… Even though factually speaking several rows of seats are always available on every flight leaving Sri Lanka – reserved for governmental officials in case an emergency evacuation shall be needed… I said it ain’t good enough. They said there’s nothing they can do. So we went to Sri Lankan Airways and they said they can get me to Prague on 25th. I said it wasn’t quite good enough just yet and asked for the nearest connection anywhere to Europe. They said London on the 20th. I said perfect I can get to Prague from there. We booked the flight and got the ticket. Then I asked a friend of mine in London to book a flight from Heathrow to Prague, it turned out to be on 21st at 19:30pm.

I then got back to the hotel to stay yet another night… Good news is, just as during the full moon party hustle in Thailand, I think my guardian angels (even though they allowed me to miss an opportunity to fly out on Sunday grrrrrr) are still cool dudes after all. Every now and then they do something nice for me for a difference. As I was sitting in the hotel lobby on Sunday wondering whether I should first shower then eat dinner or first eat dinner and then shower, the decision taking me way too long, there was some man sitting nearby and we ended up talking. I told him about getting stuck on this forsaken island (a lovely place, actually, if you watch your anti-mosquito equipment and presume everything, including the simplest things, would take 3 times as long as they should and half of them would be done wrong anyway, and be ready for it all mentally). It turned out to be some Director of International Admissions from a college in Cyprus. Quite a funny individual :). He cordially invited me to use his laptop (mine was upstairs) and check mail. Then we had a dinner, discovered a cake made of floor (well, at least that’s what it listed among the ingredients on the label next to it 😀 ) and walked along the ocean listening to the music on the cell phones talking about random stuff.

When I came back on Monday afternoon, he was meeting with people from universities in Sri Lanka at the lobby. I told him I got a ticket to London and a flight to Prague. After he finished the meetings and I finished using the ‘stolen’ wifi internet of the hotel (I happened to have overseen the login and password of the business center, so I enjoyed limitless free internet for a few hours, which should actually be free anyway for hotel guests) we had a dinner again. This time we both were tired so we acted loco, putting napkins on the head cuz they were folded like crowns, complaining to the waiters about the meat, requested the maitre d’ to play some Western music (that evening was dedicated to the far East Asian themes so they had some sleepy nice Chinese music on to go with the food. We asked to change it because there was no one else at the restaurant. Surprisingly, they actually did!) and generally entertained the staff.

Then we went to his room and watched some horror movie that neither of us got the point of and, disappointed with that fact, called it a night and wished each other a nice flight. Since I had not paid for lunch or dinner at the hotel on the second night of my stay, it was extremely convenient to have gotten someone to feed me :).

Tuesday morning. I had breakfast and went to the airport. I arrived on time. I even had so much time that I spent an hour reading a magazine in a café. Then the boarding was announced and I went to the gate. At the gate, however, I was told that since my connecting flight was over 24 hours after my arrival, they wouldn’t let me on board without a transit visa. The British immigration agent at the gate said the airlines should not have let me through the check in without asking about my connection flight time and e-ticket print out, so it was their fault. Thanx for the tip! I tried to ask at the transit counter if they had internet so I could print out my connecting ticket, but they gave me the dumb “can’t do anything” look… Boarding was completed – without me. I was escorted back through the customs, my exit stamp annulled…

I tried to get a connecting flight booked from London, and there was one at 8-something am on the 21st, but by the time these people did anything at all I had missed the London flight anyway. So, keeping in mind I shall continue to blame the airlines, I requested them to put me on the same flight the next day, free of charge, which they, surprise-surprise, actually did. So much for telling me there were no seats on any European destination flights till the 24th…

To have this all done, I had to go outside the airport terminal to the Sri Lankan Airways ticket counters (yep, they are actually outside the airport…) and make a booking. I then got back inside the airport (third time now!), walked towards the check-in counters to ask what I shall do next and guess whom I saw checking in? Exactly ‒ my food provider of the past two evenings! 😀 He asked me what a hell I was still doing in Sri Lanka anyway, I de-briefed him shortly about the procedure, then we caught some woman and asked her if I can get past the emigration and she said it is possible to get checked in and go to the terminal area only 11 hours before the flight. That meant 2am and I decided not to go back to the hotel, since I’d get a chance to sleep later on, but wait in the airport instead and save the money. So we wished each other a good trip yet again and I went to the public area which, by the way, has quite little to offer. I haven’t told my parents about the fact that I’d be staying an extra night at Sri Lanka vs. London because it made, technically, little difference in relation to the time of my arrival to Prague. Or so I thought…

Thus, I roamed around, looking for a socket I could plug in to. It turned out that, unlike the hotels, airport has different sockets. So I asked some woman in a little travelers’ store if she knew of a place I could get electricity access and she got me a chair and told me I can stay as long as I want to right there at the store and use the computer if I need to cuz she actually has the universal sockets around. She even arranged a likeness of a table for me out of a chair and one of the small suitcases on display for sale 🙂 🙂 :). This way I was able to write this little story up until the paragraph before.

After waiting for 10 hours, the clock finally struck 2am, so I went to the check-in counters yet again. I was, however, told that I cannot be checked in until 8 hours before the flight… If i didn’t have a witness to testify that I was told something completely different, I could have thought that I had simply gone crazy after all this… I demanded then a place to sleep at and was told to go to some resting room upstairs, but the security lady had not let me into the elevator to go up. So I came to the Sri Lankan Airways service counter and asked why I was told something different by every person I so far talked to. The girl I asked said she did not understand how someone could tell me about an advance check in because check in counters only open 3 hours before the flight… (insert jaw drop…). I told her I have a witness to the case that a Sri Lankan Airways staff member had told me to come at 2 am, which is why I waited at the airport in the first place, so she must tell me if there is a place I can sleep at, which I had been consecutively promised. I was told I should either go to a hotel or stay at the airport public area, but I insisted that it was absurd and asked the lady to do something. She proceeded then to make some phone calls as I was standing there waiting, then she told me she was checking with security and that was the last of our communication for the upcoming 40 minutes. At 2:49am I asked if I will be granted any sort of an answer at all. The lady said there was nothing that could be done. I asked her then if it means I should sleep right there on the floor next to the counter and she said ok, with a wide smile.

I Guess she thought I was kidding but I was getting close enough to a 24 hour sleep deprivation after a rather short sleeping session the night before that at that point at 3am I couldn’t have cared less, on top of being immensely pissed off. Thus, I took out my winter jacket for the ‘bed’, a short sweater for a ‘pillow’ and a long one for the ‘duvet’ and, well, constructed a sleeping place right there next to the bloody counter on the floor tiles… The staff began laughing at me so I told them to shut up and that I’d look at how they would behave had they been through all I had been through because of the Sri Lankan Airways and their retarded (I, of course, omitted that adjective from my speech) staff. On that note, I got covered up head to toe and actually managed to sleep till 9am having only awaken twice for natural reasons :).

In the morning, just when I had thought everything was finally right, I got up and proceeded to the check-in the minute it opened. I talked to the office manager and told him how I was treated, but he said there was nothing the airlines could do for me. No compensation. Not even some breakfast… I was invited to write a complaint though… Okay then, I thought, screw that…

This time there was a reasonable human being at the counter. He asked me for an e-ticket print out, which I had made the evening before. And then (drum-roll…)… he had told me I would be missing my connection flight because the Colombo-London one actually arrives at Heathrow at 19:45 and my flight is booked at 19:05!!! So not only I was supposed to be let on board the day before, I was facing missing yet another flight to Europe because of the incompetence of the airport and airline staff!!!

I told my whole story to the guy at the counter and asked him to do something. He called the superior. The same “it is impossible to do anything but you can file a complaint” dude came up to me and told me I shall contact BA to sort it all out. Since this would have involved me either going all the way back to the city to the BA office (his first piece of advice), or calling them for a lengthy conversation on my Czech phone and running my bill skywards (his second suggestion), that practically meant that I’d be missing yet another London-bound flight…

Mad beyond any limits of politeness by then, I said that I need them to sort out my connection flight and I honestly don’t give a crap how they are going to do it because I need to get to Prague and they have to make sure that I do. The guy began telling me some more b.s. but I told them (at this point some woman came by who seemed to be in some higher authority position) to cut the crap. I guess I was furious enough to be convincing. The woman took my passport and tickets, listened to my case and disappeared somewhere.  The sane guy at the check-in counter actually was extremely supportive and kept me informed about what was going on all along, telling me that some phone calls are being made and generally saying not to worry. Unfortunately, he had to leave the post 2.5 hours in, but he told the guy replacing him about me and assured me once again everything should be fine… Fortunately, ass-kicking (a tactic I only resort to out of desperation) worked wonders! The mystery woman reappeared roughly 3 minutes before the London flight check-in was to close: they managed to get in touch with BA and get me a confirmed reservation for yet another flight to Prague at 8am on the 22nd, although first they kept telling me it was fully booked.

I wonder just how impossible that task was after all, granted it had been done. Given that by the time it had all been sorted out the check in was just about to close, imagine what I was feeling during the wait!

Thus, I was given a print out of the connecting flight, checked in and proceeded to the departure gate. Luckily, this time I was allowed on board. Hallelujah! All better than the 26th, after all… The same British immigration lady was there, I had told her that they miscalculated my stay at Heathrow and I should have been accepted onto the flight the day before. But oh well, whatever…

At the gate I got to sit on the seats reserved for clergy and met some weird Irish man who offered to marry me at the airport upon arrival, so I can get a better passport 😀 😀 :D. 11 hours later I have landed at Heathrow, back at the civilized world, and in 5 minutes time was checked in by the polite BA staff for the morning flight to Prague, after having paid 61$ more for the ticket change ‒ the sum I otherwise would have paid for a night at the hotel had I gone back to the city in Colombo…

So I had spent a night at the Heathrow airport. It was a bit more comfortable than the floor, but bloody freezing because AC ran like crazy for whatever reason it could happen in the face of the up-coming winter. Even the staff were freezing and said something was wrong with system regulation… In the meantime, I had saved some Ukrainian lady, also awaiting a flight but to Ukraine, from freezing during the night by letting her wear one of my two sweaters to sleep. We had a coffee in the morning and then parted ways to our respective gates. The flight was delayed about 20 minutes ‒ a drop in the ocean, really, after all the previous turmoil :D. And, two hours later, I had finally made it to Prague. I arrived to the house, took a niiiiiiiice long hot shower, began to feel like a human being again, got ready and went to my dance class of the day. I’m back. Life’s good again. Cold, but pretty good still!

The conclusions to this trip are the following. First, it’s yet to show why I stayed at this forsaken Colombo place for so long and what this entire episode of my life was about, besides, of course, making one hell of a story. Maybe some time later something useful will grow out of this situation, as it oftentimes happens :). One thing for sure, there are always a few awesome people around if you open your heart and eyes and allow them to help you. The second thing is, I definitely need to swap my Russian passport for something better. Or at least get a dual citizenship. I’m afraid none of the non-Russian friends of mine will ever come to understand what it really means to have a Russian passport and try to travel around the world… With all due respect to my motherland, I feel like a piece of dirt whenever I need to beg for admittance to any visa requiring state, which there are almost 200 of for the Russians… So much for divisions among the states, borders and political tensions caused by strive for power and world domination or at least a strong enough position… And law-abiding citizens like myself, willing to spend their money on other countries’ economies by going there, must suffer through demeaning experiences of the kind just by the vice of beholding a passport of one country vs. some other… The more I learn about politics, and the more times I need to prove I am not a criminal to obtain a visa to go somewhere, the more I hate power politics and the roots of thereof…

But even all THAT was not the end 🙂

Remember the congress and the tortures we underwent while there? Well, the whole congress part was so bad that some woman even passed out from having had no food for so long. I understand that this was Sri Lanka, after all, but it was an international congress and it was not the first time around they organized it (in fact, it was 45th 🙂 ). People paid good cash to fly there from all over the world – to experience that? I was so irritated by everything that a few weeks after I came back I sat down and wrote a very long and detailed e-mail to the Colombo University – just to vent (I didn’t have a blog back then 🙂 ).

I wrote them about the organization, timing/scheduling. I offered them specific suggestions on how to speed up some things (for instance, on day 1 some of the students were awarded diplomas on the stage. It’d go like this: a name is read. The person gets up from wherever they are in the audience (or even up on the balcony), walks all the way to the stage, gets the diploma, walks all the way back. Next name is called… You can imagine how long THAT alone took!), why it was important to stay on time and how to do it. I wrote them about the food problem: they must have had food (free or even for sale) on premises during the conference, as well as water. Dinner was to be served immediately – people can enjoy entertainment while eating. I had a specific section dedicated to the presentations themselves – the content and the delivery… Man, I was even ready to go give them a crash course on Power Point and public speaking, if they would pay my expenses! I sent out the e-mail and happily forgot about it.

A few months later I received a message from the Colombo University… They thanked me for the letter. Which was already more than I expected… However, they also said that they had forwarded that letter to every single one of past congress participants/speakers!!! OOOOPSIE… (I guess due to presentation-making section…) That was not what I expected at all! However, I am happy about it because if it helped them to make at least some changes, participants would suffer less as a result. The moral of the story is: if there is something that bothers you – try writing a letter, giving a call, or sending an e-mail… You may be surprised :). If you’re backing up a cause – try rallying for more people to do the same. Funnily, people often think that their voices won’t be heard just because they never try…

I wish you all safe travels, smooth schedules and pleasant experiences! However, I dare you, in the comments, to share an “I missed the flight” story that can beat mine in absurdity – have you ever had such? 🙂

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About in shade

A cocktail of personality traits hard to digest for some but ultimately soothing for those who can. I observe, enjoy, travel, interact, photograph, dance, contemplate, write and love my way through this life's countless occurrences. This blog is a way to share with the world and its people some of the treasures they give me every day.
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