We made it to Dubai…Harrowing experience…

I look like a scary insect while seated on the flight to Dubai.

Where do we begin to describe this harrowing day that started at 7:00 am this morning when we began the drive to the Mumbai International Airport through crazy Monday morning traffic at this early hour? It was quite a daunting experience.

But, before we get to that, I’d like to mention that the Courtyard by Marriott, Mumbai International Airport made our departure extra special when they “comped our dinner” and sent an exquisite chocolate cake up and a beautiful handmade card filled with signatures from the staff, to our room last night. Since I don’t eat cake, I could only admire it and take a photo as shown below. We’d just finished dinner and Tom ate a small piece, leaving the rest behind.

We settled the final bill last night, making checkout this morning quick and easy. We arranged for a wake-up call at 6:00 am but neither of us slept a wink. My Fitbit said I slept 4 hours 44 minutes, but the majority of that was me lying still and trying to fall asleep most of the night, causing my heart rate to become slow enough, that Fitbit “thought” I was sleeping.

Check out the look in Tom’s eyes! I howled!

In our past travels, especially during the first few years, we had trouble sleeping the night before a travel day. As time marched on, we combated this issue and were able to sleep. However, after these past 10 months, we lost some of the familiarity of being on the move once again.

We arrived at the airport with over three hours until departure, plenty of time to do what had to be done, all of which we dreaded. Our baggage sailed through without any excess baggage fees only after I reminded the Emirates rep at the counter that the website allowed a total of 40 kg, 88 pounds, per person and I’d be happy to show her that fact on the Emirates app on my phone when she tried to tell us the maximum was 23 kg. The excess fees would have been more than the airfare. She relented and our bags went through at no additional cost.

That bullet dodged, we made our way through the airport toward the security check-in and immigration each of which took no less than 30 minutes to get through the queues. In each case, we had to produce copies of our endless documents. In each case, they seemed to have no idea how to process the paperwork. Somehow, we made it through.

The airport in Mumbai, quiet in some areas, but a madhouse in others.

Throughout this process, we were stunned by the number of passengers not wearing their face masks properly or only covering their mouths and not their noses. I’m not exaggerating when saying no less than 40% of passengers that we encountered weren’t following masking and social distancing protocol.

Finally, we reached our gate to sit in chairs and begin a horrendous wait including while in the “tube” where the poorly masked passengers were huddled in close proximity to one another. We desperately tried to avoid facing anyone directly, but it wasn’t easy.

They’d provided us with face shields and we were wearing the extra heavy-duty N-99 masks we’d purchased in the US over a year ago to protect from the smog in India, long before the mention of Covid-19. Apparently, N-99 masks are one step safer than the coveted N-95. Regardless, we were nervous over the close proximity of all of those people.

Boarding the plane was like it was in the “old” days, people packed tightly together, talking loudly, spewing spittle, with little regard for the virus. We cringed in our seats as they passed by. A young girl around 10 years old, sat next to me while I was on the aisle seat in the grouping of four center seats.

The beautiful card the staff at the Marriott made and signed for us.

During the entire flight, I had to ask her to put her mask back on, while her arms were continually flailing my way. It was awful. We never ate the offered food, a spicy Indian dish which didn’t work for me and Tom wouldn’t like. As of this moment, we’ve yet to eat a morsel today. Soon, we’ll order very pricey room service, but we need to eat before the long night ahead. Tom’s having a burger and fries and I ordered the Caesar salad, no croutons, with a salmon add-on. Had I ordered a burger it wouldn’t have been a sufficient portion of 200 grams, with no bun, no fries.

Everything was smoother when we arrived at the relatively quiet Dubai airport. We had plenty of help from staff and the reps at the Emirates desk. We asked for an upgrade to Business Class but they could only accommodate one seat for the additional US $650 plus tax. Tom insisted I take it. If they get a no-show or cancellation, Tom will join me “up-front.” I hope that works out. I feel a little guilty.

In order for us to leave the airport and return only hours later for the next flight, we had to have a complimentary Covid PCR test since we were leaving the terminal due to UAE regulations. This was no big deal. Shortly after, the hotel shuttle was waiting in a nearby parking lot outside of Terminal 3 and we made our way to this bargain hotel which is quite fine for resting for these few hours.

Our dinner, without drinks, (we have plenty of bottled water), will cost more than the hotel room with the taxes and fees. So it goes. Here again, we aren’t allowed to leave the hotel, but we had no intention of doing so anyway. We’re content we don’t have to spend the next several hours with lots of people until 1:30 am when we have to return to the airport and go through immigration and security one more time.

The chocolate cake the chef made for us.

I know I’m rambling a bit from the poor night’s sleep so I’m signing off soon and will return again, providing all goes well, once we’re in the hotel in Johannesburg. That layover would have been 21 hours so once again, it made sense to stay in a hotel and await our next flight on Wednesday.

Most likely we won’t sleep tonight since we have to leave this hotel by 1:00 or 1:30 am. By the time we get to the hotel in Joburg, we’ll be ready and hopefully able to get a full night’s sleep. Our flight the next day to Nelspruit/Mpumalanga/Kruger will only require that we get to the airport around 10:00 am for our 12;30 pm, 45-minute flight. We hope to be in Marloth Park by around 3:00 pm.

As I mentioned to many well-wishing family, friends, and readers, we won’t totally relax until the 14-day quarantine period ends in Marloth Park and we feel confident we didn’t get the virus.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and breathe the fresh air. We certainly did that today!

Photo from one year ago today, January 11, 2020:

Saturnalia, a Sculptural group by Italian artist Ernesto Biondi at the botanical garden Buenos Aires in 2018. For the year-ago story, please click here.

More visas needed???…Check, check and recheck!…

Our cruise company sent us this email message a few weeks ago:

“Dear Mrs. Lyman,

Thank you again for booking with Vacations To Go!

I wanted to send a quick email to remind you that one or more of the ports of
call, you will be visiting, will require a Visa.

If you are a U.S. citizen, U.S. permanent resident or a Canadian citizen
residing in Canada and have not contacted CIBT, to verify your visa
requirements for this sailing, please contact them as soon as possible.

All other, non-US or Canadian citizens must verify proof of citizenship, and
visa requirements with the embassy, consulate or immigration office of the
countries in their cruise itinerary.

Vacations To Go has partnered with CIBT, one of the nation’s largest passport
and visa services companies in the country, to assist U.S. citizens, permanent
residents and Canadian citizens in obtaining any required visas or a passport.
Visas may be purchased within six months of the start of the vacation but,
please be aware that for some countries it may take up to 30 days to secure a
visa.

If you are a US citizen or permanent resident and need to obtain a visa,
click here.

If you are a US citizen and need to obtain a passport, click here.

If you are a Canadian Citizen residing in Canada and need to obtain a visa,
click here.

For visa or passport questions, call CIBT customer service at 1-877-841-8602.
Be sure to identify yourself as a Vacations To Go customer and reference
account 45585. CIBT is available from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. CST, Monday
through Friday.

Please let me know if you have any questions!

Sincerely,

Joaquin Contreras
Travel Counselor
Vacations To Go
jcontreras@vacationstogo.com

We have total faith in our cruise counselor, Joaquin, and his company Vacations to Go for providing us with the most updated important information, superb customer service, and the best possible pricing.  I imagine, that the above letter is a standard letter sent to upcoming cruise passengers via the cruise lines on their behalf resulting in the “travel agents” presenting the information to their clients. 

Upon reading this letter, we followed the links to CIBT, a highly reputable visa and passport company per online reviews, the Better Business Bureau reports, and recommendations by VTG. 

Previously, we had used  VisaHQ, a company located on Embassy Row in Washington, DC in order to obtain our second passports (to find detailed information about the necessity of having a second US passport, please type “second passports” in the search box on our home page to go directly to our posts regarding the necessity of a second passport.)

With these links and information on hand, we proceeded to go to CIBT to set up an online account.  When asked, “what country will you be visiting?” I was stymied.  With four countries requiring a visa in our upcoming cruises through June 2013, my hope and expectation would be that we could apply for all four at once. 

Those countries requiring visas include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates. The other dozen or more countries in our upcoming eight cruises in 2013 (two more scheduled so far for 2014) do not require a visa for stays under 30 days. 

The dilemma we faced after receiving this letter:
1.  To apply for a visa, one must send their passport to the processing company along with a stack of ancillary documents, based on each country’s particular requirements.
2.  To avoid paying extra processing fees, as much as $150 per visa, one may apply early to ensure the documents are received in time for the cruises and…to get one’s passport back with the documents. When we ordered our second passports they were sent to us by registered mail to our mailing service in Nevada which we picked up when we went to Las Vegas for Christmas.
3.  Thus, without having established an address here in Belize and the potential for slow transit from the US to Central America, it’s likely should we try to apply now for June, there’s a high risk of not receiving our passports and visas in time before we depart on April 9th.

After Tom and I discussed this at length, after confirming that we did in fact need visas for these four countries we’ll visit on our cruises from May to June, we came up with this plan:
1.  Complete all the paperwork while here using our portable printer and scanner.
2.  Begin the process of applying online while here, leaving out the mailing of our passports until we get to Miami on April 13th when our ship, the Carnival Liberty, docks at the Port of Miami for approximately 10 hours.  
3.  Grab a cab, heading directly to a UPS store near the pier, mail our documents registered mail to CIBT, pick up our forwarded awaiting mail and packages we’d pre-arranged to arrive on April 13th, mail our excess luggage to my sister in Los Angeles, get back on the ship and continue on to the next cruise.
4.  In the packet to CIBT, we’ll have requested the visa and 2nd passports to be sent to our hotel in Barcelona Spain, where we’ll stay one night, May 5th, boarding our 15-night cruise in the morning through the Suez Canal to see the Great Pyramids, Giza, Cairo, The Sphinx, and more (will post details later), where three of the four visas are required. 

Whew! This is cutting it very close…one night in Barcelona with documents being delivered in a very narrow window. Of course, the hotel would gladly hold the package for us for a few days.  But what if it didn’t arrive, or was lost? 

Suddenly, we both felt a twinge of stress.  Our only piece of mind would be to have them sent from the US to Barcelona, the quickest, most expensive way.  We were willing to bear this expense. And yet, there still was no guarantee.

Our goal thus far has been to keep stress at a minimum, avoiding that angst-ridden feeling one takes on in bed in the middle of the night, interrupting sleep, a familiar feeling from our “old lives”, a feeling that seems unavoidable in the hustle and bustle of daily life.  

Lounging on the veranda yesterday, creating a definitive plan we both could live with, a thought occurred to us simultaneously; let’s call CIBT explaining our dilemma and see what suggestions they may offer. 

Since we no longer have a cell phone plan, using Skype and SIM cards as needed, we knew we could call their toll-free number using Skype, incurring no cost at all.  We discovered much to our delight, that we can call any business in the US without incurring any costs, as long as they have a toll free number.  They answer on their regular phone systems while we call on Skype for free.  Nice.  Thanks, SKYPE!  

Dialing their toll-free number, we were connected to a representative within 30 seconds. The call was clear with a bit of an echo.  Explaining our dilemma to the representative, she asked us to kindly wait and she’d be right back.  Watching the clock on Skype, she returned in less than a minute asking us the names of the cruise lines for these two upcoming cruises.  We responded that the May 6th cruise was with Royal Caribbean and the second was with Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Again, we were on hold for a short time. She returned to the phone with glee in her voice, “I have good news for you!” We held our breath. “You will not need pre-arranged visas on either of your cruises. You’ll receive them on board your ship at the time you disembark to go on your excursions.  Both of these cruise lines have an arrangement with these countries to provide visas at their ports of call.”

We squealed with delight.  Tom, or shall I say, “doubting Thomas” wanted more verification of this, worrywart that he is.  Immediately, we contacted Joaquin, our cruise guy by email.  An hour later, we received an email confirming that CIBT is correct, we don’t need to obtain visas in advance for the four countries, not always the case, but in these particular two situations, we could relax.

Had we not “called” receiving this valuable information, we would have followed the procedures online, paying the expenses of upwards of $600, while dealing with the stress of the timing.

Who knows how to travel the world for 5-10 years or more, managing all the details, documents, financial and medical concerns?  We don’t.  But we’re learning, day by day in bite-sized pieces with so much more ahead of us.  We’ll flounder, we’ll make mistakes, we’ll trust when we shouldn’t and wrongfully mistrust when we should.

Lesson learned.