From most mundane things to topics of monumental importance, I would write what I feel like writing. This blog would not be bound by any narrow definitions. More often than not, I would be playing Devil's Advocate or moaning about crappiness of weekdays. Occasionally, it would be about unexpected joys and sometimes about heavyweight world matters. But come not here for pearls of wisdom. This place is simply my canvas.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
the plane touched down on Kolkata’s NSC Bose Airport, I felt a huge smile split
my face. Homecoming does that to me. And this time, I had returned from half
the world away. Literally.
I was on a two
week trip to Latin America. Chile and Colombia to be precise.
I was excited in
the weeks leading up to the trip. But also very tired. It was an official trip
and there was loads to be done in the days leading up to it. Late nights
working. Whole nights working. Weekends. Early mornings. You name it and the
chances were that I was working at that time. Add to that, the pressure of
unseen clients, who were – surprise, surprise – very demanding. Even a few hours
before we were to board our flight, my colleague and I were busy instructing the
team who would be working at the office when we were gone. Phew.
boarded the flight(s). And boy, was it a long trip. Forty eight hours, if you
want a number. Including a twelve hour stopover in Sao Paolo. And no, we could
not go out because that required a transit visa.
View of Andes from a plane
But the first
sight of snow-covered Andes, as we approached Santiago, made me feel so glad. It
was breath-taking. I have professed my love for the mountains in my previous
posts. This sight took it to a new level. I had never seen the white peaks from
the height of the sky. And there I was, having my jaw drop, eyes wide open and
heart stopping with the sight of snowy mountains spread out like some feast for
all hedonists below us. Awesome.
The first three
days in Santiago were spent in a whirlwind of workshops, meeting, telecons and
dinners / lunches with clients. But I still could savour the view of those
mountains from my balcony. The darkness that still enveloped the city at 7.30
in the morning. The biting cold that penetrated the two layers of clothes. The wide,
clean streets. The very European and chic feel of the city. The Spanish architecture
in the older parts of the city. And of course, the chivalry of Latino men. Yes,
they open the doors for you and would never precede you when leaving a room. (I
don’t particularly need this but it does make a girl feel good, I swear). I also
spotted a couple of Marutis (the cars, in case you are wondering) and made me
realize that it is truly a global world.
But it was not
all good. Finding vegetarian food feels like a quest for Holy Grail. It got a
little easier, once we located the nearest Subway. And then there’s the
language issue. Getting people to understand English is nearly always an
exercise in frustration. And no, it’s not an accent issue. The Latinos
generally do not know English. Spanish is the lingua franca. It is not that
difficult a language to follow if you are reading it. The staccato speech,
however, is a trial. And the place is expensive. A five minute ride in the cab
would cost you a couple of thousand pesos or about hundred rupees. Compared to
India, though people told us that it is cheaper compared to Brazil, Argentina
etc. Especially the branded stuff. We, however, found that buying souvenirs was
also exorbitant. I think, we were also limited by our ability to bargain, with
language and our so obvious foreign appearances being the leading causes.
another six hours flight away. Now, this was a country, I went to with a lot of
pre-conceived notions. Drugs, lawlessness et al, fed by books and movies, led
by Mr. Forsythe and company. Also, Wikitravel advised not walking alone at
night, not hailing cabs on your own and locking the doors of the cabs, when
So, I was
pleasantly surprised in Bogota. I am sure that those parts of Colombia exist. But
the area that we were staying in and the places we went to were decidedly upmarket,
with a distinct cosmopolitan feel to them.
Bogota was also
cold but closer to Kolkata winters – chilly but pleasant. My hotel room was airy,
spacious and cheery, with full-length windows dominating one wall. The food
situation was also better, though French Fries would turn out to be our
principal source of sustenance in these two weeks that we spent in Latin
Metal Sculpture of a Salt Miner, Zipaquira
We had a weekend
at our disposal. We chose to visit Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá on the first
day. It came highly recommended by a Colombian we had met in Santiago. It is an
underground Cathedral, built in a salt mine. It is some 200 metres below the
surface of the earth and you walk the entire way in and out. It is quite
awesome and you can taste salt on your tongue even as you speak. There is a
salt waterfall – an entire wall covered with raw salt. We also took a tour of
the miner’s route, which involved a five minute walk in a completely dark and
narrow cave, with our headlamps turned off. And trust me, it feels like hours
if you have to let you hands be your eyes.
But my favourite
part was the wishing well. It was a small pool, with coins of various
denominations glittering at its bottom. You could make a wish by turning your
back to the well and throwing a coin (denomination and currency irrelevant)
over your left shoulder with your right hand. I made a wish and threw the coin.
And it hit the water. Not everyone’s did. So, I like to live in hope J
surprised me that this man-made wonder is barely thirty years old and not
centuries, like I had originally believed. While I was still awed, I realized
that it was a very clever piece of marketing that we could learn from back
home. Same was the case with El Museo del Oro (the Gold Museuem). Beautiful prehistoric
and tribal gold ornaments, weapons and other artefacts displayed artistically with
cleverly designed videos, photographs, light and sound shows that reel you in. And
entry is free. It is well-maintained, with no empty cases or missing descriptions.
The thought of Indian Museum trying something similar crossed my mind several
weekend was over, we again spent most of our time working, though on the last
day, we visited this delightful cafe called Crepes and Waffles. It turned out
to be a chain of cafes, quite famous in Colombia. It had, much to our delight,
quite a spread of vegetarian dishes, including one called Gandhi!
At the end of
two weeks, though, we were ready to return home. And my heart soared higher and
higher as we changed flights at Sao Paolo, Doha and then finally at Delhi. It was
fitting that on the flight to Kolkata, I saw one of the most amazing visions. A
huge white lion, sitting regally on the cottony clouds, with the morning sun,
shining bright. A pity, I do not have a picture to share with you.
Quite a long
post this has been. So, I will end it here. Although I will definitely do
another one on the most common questions / comments that we heard. It was
strange being a foreigner and being the object of some other people’s
An experience to
remember, to say the least. This travelling to places actually half a world,
three continents and seven seas away.