Hyderabad, India 12/20/12
My right hand held tight to the handle at the very back edge of the motorcycle's seat. My left hand clung onto my carry-on luggage, which contained my laptop, money, passport, and valuables. My legs squeezed tight to the bike's metal frame as I was being driven through Hyderabad's pothole-ridden streets at two in the morning.
Tears streamed down my cheeks from the cold blast of air hitting my eyes. I couldn't wipe them away as both my hands were preoccupied with ensuring my valuables and I didn't fall off the speeding bike. My backpack, which contains everything I own and use right now--minus the scissors and toothpaste that airport security took from me, which I'm bitter about--rested precariously on the gas tank, right in between my driver's arms as he simultaneously held it in place and steered around stray dogs and dump trucks.
I couldn't tell you his name. I can tell you, however, that he is some kind of lower caste manager at a Best Western that I booked a room at for my first night in India. I made a very "Western tourist" decision before flying out here when deciding that I'd ease into the culture by treating myself to a "nicer" hotel for once. I wanted to go with a brand name that I was familiar with. It could've been a Motel 8 and I would've jumped on it. I mean, even ducking into 7/11 stores while traveling these days feels like miniature trips back to familiarity and security. If only for a brief, air-conditioned moment.
So, why am I riding on the back of this hotel manager's motorcycle at two in the morning with all my luggage? Good question.
Turns out that sometimes when you book a hotel through CheapTickets.com they may not successfully communicate your reservation with the hotel you've selected and paid for. They'll take your money and send you a nice little confirmation email telling you that you're golden, but when you show up at your hotel at two in the morning after traveling for an entire day through three different countries, two sets of immigration offices, too many airport scanners to count, and are bloated on airplane food you may come to find out that the reservation wasn't processed, and who are you, and what are you doing in this hotel lobby?
This predicament led to a phone call back to the States to CheapTickets customer service team based in Chicago, which involved a series of brief chats with robotic operators before getting a real human on the phone.
"Are you calling in regards to your hotel reservation for Best Western in Hyderabad, India?" The lady operator with an accent asked.
"I'm standing in the lobby of the Best Western in Hyderabad, India and they don't have record of my reservation through your site." I said with frankness and a manly whine.
"One moment, sir." (And this really means five minutes)
"Yes sir, we have your booking confirmed for that hotel for this evening."
"That's fantastic, but the hotel doesn't have that confirmed and they're the ones that have the bed."
"Right sir, well let me give them a call."
I looked at the manager sitting on the other side of the counter and told him that she put me on hold because she was going to call him.
"Are you there, sir?"
"Their line is busy."
"Your line is busy." I told the manager. He shrugged.
"May I speak with them through your phone, sir?" She asked.
"Why, of course."
A discussion ensued, going over everything that had already been discussed between manager man and myself: "He's confirmed reservation on the site. His reservation not in system. All booked tonight. Already paid for the night. Confirmation number. Don't have. Blah blah blah!"
I just wanted to sleep.
The records of my reservation were never found at the Best Western, so CheapTickets.com operator lady went to work to try to find me another hotel nearby. The best she could come up was something five times as expensive as what I was going to pay. I was planning on being a little plush, but not outrageous. I said no to the Park Hyatt.
"Why don't you just reimburse me and then I'll ask these Indian gentlemen in front of me where I might stay for tonight?" I suggested this, thinking it'd be much easier to find a room with help from locals rather than a thickly-accented operator sitting behind a desk in Chicago.
Bless her heart, though, as she was extremely apologetic and even threw a $75 voucher into the mix to make me really forgive her company.
CheapTickets.com, apology accepted.
The Best Western managers went to work on my behalf trying to find a similarly-priced hotel room for me to stay at. Thank God they were kind. I was such a haggard, hungry and hopelessly lost puppy.
We settled on something that sounded better than sleeping on the street and the manager said, "I take you. Bike, OK?"
I would've said that a camel ride was OK just as long as it got me somewhere where I could be for the night.
He pulled around the front on his neon green Kawasaki Ninja. His Best Western uniform jacket was taken off and he looked excited to be able to get out from behind the counter for a while. I heaved my backpack into his chest and he situated it on the front of the bike and I jumped on the back like a woman, holding my satchel at my side.
He may have forgotten that I was on the bike a few times as he seemed preoccupied with speed racing. We hit a few bumps that lifted me off the seat for an uncomfortable few seconds where I wondered if when gravity brought me back there'd still be a bike on which to sit. I thought about how I didn't want to die like this and got kind of mad.
|View from my hotel room in Hyderabad, India.|
Then he started making small talk, and I noticed that he would slow down to answer and ask questions. Ah ha! The key to my survival was to chit chat.
After failing to understand one another for a solid ten minutes, our destination came into view.
It was a sign from God that I'd live another day. I would live to see India in the daylight!
The hotel I ended up at is nice enough. Heck, what am I saying? It's very nice. I have an unnecessarily large room with an extra bed that I wish I could rent out to some other traveler and split the cost with. Ah well, it is what it is.
In a couple of days, I'll be meeting up with some good friends from back home to go and hang out with orphans at a school north of here. I'm beyond excited to spend Christmas and New Years with these kids.
This will only get more interesting, so stay tuned.