I have just woken up in a drafty high-ceilinged room in Rome, surrounded by five fifteen year old Italian boys and one sweet college lad from Hong Kong named Himmy. Did you know that “Mixed Gender Hostel Dorm” actually means, “Lots-a Boys”?
The Italian fellows are gesturing wildly as they explain to us how they are traveling for ten days and will need loads of presents to make it up to their girlfriends.
“We buy many gifts on this trip, because they will miss us so much!” cried one boy.
But how did I end up here, six hours’ time difference from Southeast Asia, my home of five months? The shift came thanks to elegant Emirates Airlines, the mercy of the Thai immigration police, and a total flight-plus-layover time of twenty hours.
“Is mean you in Thailand illegally,” barked the Bangkok Airport policewoman, jabbing her finger on the spot where my entrance stamp should be.
I repeated my story to this fourth official. “Look please: I have the valid 60-day visa right there, but when I entered in mid-November, I came in through the river crossing in Laos and there was no one in the immigration booth to stamp us! I was with about ten other people, and we bumbled around looking for officers, but there was just no one. So we waited a little, and then we just said, “I guess it’s okay then,” and walked right through.”
The policewoman narrowed her eyes and let me fester while she dealt with the paperwork of twelve perfumed Russians.
This took about fifteen minutes, due to the faded nature of a lot of the ink. “Is that it? No, that’s Brazil. Is that it? No, that’s Peru.” But at last we found it: stamped proof that I left Laos on November 12, 2009, to enter Thailand at Chiang Khong. Phew!
The policewoman snatched the passport and disappeared for a while. When she came back, she had acquired a Thailand entrance stamp, which she switched to November 14, 2009, and slapped into the passport. She then stamped the December 26, 2009 exit stamp, and handed me my goodies. “Next time, you get both stamps, or you be illegal!” she commanded.
“Yes, yes,” I promised with relief, “Thank you so much!”
“This is a very empty flight,” said the gorgeous stewardess with her jaunty red cap, “so if you want, stretch out over those ten seats there!”
With that she handed me my entertainment booklet: (200 movies, audiobooks, and albums to choose from, plus fifty videogames, with a simple click of my personal handset).
She also gave me my menu: “Pan Fried Red Snapper” or “Roast Chicken with Mexican Sauce,” with “Apricot Crumble” for dessert. It was a heavenly seven hours.
As we swooped downward into Dubai Airport, my heart thumped with excitement. I have been obsessed with Dubai for years, and in fact was supposed to stay there for a week this November, before I changed my itinerary due to Southeast Asia adoration. What would it all look like from above??
Here’s the answer: DESERT. Nothingness and DESERT. Tiny scrubby scattered bushes in DESERT. Suddenly: “Wait, are those some buildings in the middle of the desert?” Then: “Whoa! City!!”
Check out these photos! My favorite part (pictured, lower left) is the line of a thousand trees in perfect military formation, forcibly jabbed into the arid sand with the command, “GROW, dammit! So what if this is the desert? I said GROW!”
The airport was stunning, with a neat mix of Arabs, Westerners, and Africans. I used the free Wi-Fi to write to my family and respond to an exciting email about a former student from five years ago who has landed a good job.
To the air again! One hour of Tetris in, I flopped into a deep slumber, and woke up seven hours later as we plunged through the freezing rain into Rome’s Airport.
Happy Italian yelling filled the air! The airport floor was coated with dirt, as opposed to the “eat-off-me-clean” of Bangkok and Dubai, and I kind of liked it! I saw Euros for the first time in my life as I exchanged money at an awful rate. I began to tingle from my head to my toes with an electric pulse: ROME! ROME! Delicious!!
After I dodged a scam in which an Italian train official said to take the train because the bus cost 50 Euro, I found and hopped aboard the 8 Euro bus the center of Rome.
When I climbed off the bus at the Termini Station, it was so cold there was nothing to do but hysterically laugh and pull my thin shirt tighter. Rain and wind gusted. But– we were in ROME! The ruins smiled benevolently down through the chill and boomed: “We’ve stood here this long– YOU, too, will survive the weather.”
The directions to the hostel I’d booked were in my purse: straight two blocks, then right one. An unmarked building with children and their mother outside appeared: door tall, wooden and old-fashioned. The child creaked open the portal and I tiptoed in.
“Hello?” Echo. A small sign down the hall whispered: “Freedom Traveler Hostel”. Hurray!
Shower, chat with the boys in the dorm, and then time to pass out.
“You go to bed early!”Himmy scolded.
“Himmy,” I croaked, “My Bangkok body thinks it’s 4:30am. Gimmie a break.”
“Ohh!” he gasped. “Let me turn out the light.”
(Note: All photos except for the dorm pic are from Bangkok (2nd-4th pics) or Dubai (the rest). Since it was dark in Italy when we landed, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow for Rome photos!)