16 March. Finishing/starting some last-minute packing, including sweating on a few deliveries on Amazon, such as DEET and an ultra-absorbent microfibre towels – you know, that sort of stuff. I even had time to see a couple of friends for a few drinks and the final Rugby Six Nations match, which England would proceed to cock up spectacularly against Wales. One of the friends made it all the way from Taunton to London – it was hard enough to coax him into walking five minutes to the local pub whilst at university so that was nice of him.

I was delighted that approximately 50% of my friends had come to see me off. But I couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was wrong. It wasn’t nerves – even though I had a one-way ticket to the other side of the world – a big step considering I’d never been outside Europe before. Two beers into the catch-up/send off, I was struck down with the shivers, much to my friends’ sympathy mirth. I spent the night lying on the floor in my bathroom, self-administering a damp flannel to the back of my neck, because my mum did that to me years ago when I had fever as a child. We didn’t have any Calpol. Some send off.

Dawn broke and I was sleepless, half-packed and feeling dire. In my delirious state, I failed to pack my Gameboy and harmonica, amongst other time-killing devices. I didn’t even consider taking an iPhone, iPad or any other iThing. Just as well, because I didn’t actually own any. I struggled across London to my travel buddy’s house, where his parents were kindly willing to give us a lift to the airport. Looking like death on their doorstep, they made me a cup of tea and I nibbled at the corner of some toast, while Dave finished off his packing. In that time, the size of my bathbag doubled as Dave’s mum plied me with Benadryl, Day Nurse, Paracetamol, Aspirin, Dioralyte and various other stuff I knew I’d never use but thanked her for anyway. At least she complimented the bite cream, mosquito spray, travel toothpaste and universal sink plug given by my own mother – I didn’t realise just how swappable mums were.

To Terminal 4! It was quite a treat to be flying from Heathrow – as a quintessential Ryanair cheapskate, I’d never been to Heathrow before. We treated ourselves to two different terminals – turns out we weren’t flying from Terminal 4 after all. To Terminal 2! Checking in for the flight was also touch and go – Dave didn’t bring the card we paid for the flights with, and as such we weren’t eligible to check in. We charmed our way through this potential disaster and made no mention of it to our smiling, waving parents just fifty yards away.

Air India - Not exactly the class of travel I paid for
Air India – Certainly not the class of travel I paid for

Off and away. 8 hours later, we had landed in Mumbai, India. Ignoring all the airport staff trying to direct us to a connecting flight to Goa, we ploughed on to the arrivals ‘hall’. It was 4am local time but already 30 degrees. Now, as a rule of thumb, I hate hot weather, so I was wondering what I’d let myself in for. We had a hotel booked – the only one we booked throughout the whole trip – the Windsor Hotel.

Knowing in advance about rip-off taxis from the airport, we went to the pre-pay desk to book a taxi in two hours’ time, so we could arrive at the hotel after reception had opened. We weren’t allowed to do this apparently, so we sat ourselves down outside the airport to wait. Twenty minutes later, we had been ripped off and were in the back of an absolute shambles of a vehicle, paying about ten times more than we should have done. To this day, I don’t know why we did that, but it was the first and last time we got scammed whilst abroad – best to get it out of the way early, hey? Looking for consolation, we reasoned that twenty minutes in a new country is probably some sort of record. We were taken to Hotel Windsor, overtaking cows and passing some truly dire housing conditions… wait a minute, didn’t we make a booking at the Windsor Hotel, not Hotel Windsor? Oh bollocks.

Mumbai at night - not the gentlest welcome to a new city, continent or culture
Mumbai at night – a testing welcome to a new country, continent and culture

We checked in anyway, being on the point of collapse (I was still outrageously ill), using the last of the money we withdrew from the airport, thanks to the rip-off taxi, and promptly told the taxi driver sorry, but no thank you ‘fuck off’ when he asked for a tip for his calamitous service. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? No chance, madarchod.¹ The receptionist was the first genuine person we met in India, which was a novel change after our first two hours. As we were shown to our room, with a porter trailing behind me holding the left strap of my backpack (the right was on my shoulder) and consequently asking for a tip, the sun was coming up and we badly needed sleep. Tomorrow, we told ourselves, we would tackle India. We just hoped we’d emerge victorious.

¹ Madarchod became one of our favourite Hindi words – literally ‘motherfucker’. Mother, or madar, can be substituted for any other family member (or anything, in fact: pig, cow, plant pot), such as bhehen (sister), bhai (brother), kaka (uncle) and so on. Madarchod, bhehenchod, bhaichod, kakachod… you’re almost fluent!

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