Friday, November 14, 1997

Last night, the conversation had turned to the trip back and U.S. customs. We weren't certain of all of the details, but we were sure that the allowable limit was $400. Linda was still in a panic this morning because she has bought several thousand dollars worth of carpets and couldn't find any information about the duty involved.. She wasn't so much worried about having to pay a duty on them, but was worried about how much it would be. Her mother had tried to call the airlines, airports, travel agencies for information but could find no one that could tell them what they wanted to know.

We check out of the hotel, check our bags with the bell captain, and make the usual trip to the facility. For lunch today, we had arranged for a get-together for the entire team. We went to the Tunga hotel where we had dinner one night last week. They arranged a catered affair at the roof-top terrace room. It was outside and covered by blue plastic tarps to for shade. Even with the fans going it was quite warm. Some of the people danced and we had a chance to mix and mingle with the team members. It was a buffet-style lunch with vegetable, chicken, and mutton prepared as a curried stew-like concoction. There was also rice and the hot lentil sauce. Dessert was chocolate Indian ice cream. It was much thicker than what we're used to in the states.

On the way back to the facility from lunch, the ones who hadn't previously ridden in an autorickshaw took this opportunity to do so. We wrapped up class about 5:45 and said our good-byes. We also handed out certificates that we had made up for them. We then returned to the Leela for the remainder of the evening. We took up a collection for a tip for our driver "Pops" and gave it to him. It was 500 rupees, quite likely more than he makes in a month. He was most appreciative.

We met Linda's mother in the hotel lobby and she had some good news about customs. She finally was able to contact someone at the U.S. consulate here in Bombay who told here that there are no restrictions or limits on goods imported from India that are made in India. There is apparently some sort of trade agreement that makes this possible. This made Linda's day.

Mohan was to bring his wife to meet us around 7:30 so we wandered around the shops some more and Brian and Dave are still contemplating purchases. Mohan and his wife arrived about 7:45 and we had a drink and some snacks and visited with them for a while. When they left, guess where we went… yep, back to the shops. Brian and Dave finally bought something, with only hours to spare. It was then that Lisa noticed that one of the stones was missing in the amethyst bracelet that she had bought two days before. She went back to the store where she bought it and the dealer was able to find a replacement stone but told her that he would have to send it out to be fixed and that it would take about half an hour. We still had some time so she would be able to wait for it. We sat back in the lounge and one of the people from the shop asked Lisa to come back to the store. We all thought that the bracelet had been repaired, as it had been about 25 minutes. She came back without the bracelet and told us that the dealer offered to take it back, fix it there while she waited, or give her two replacement stones and $10. She told him to go ahead and fix it, but we could tell that she was really having some second thoughts about it. We helped here decide that if she kept it, having lost one stone after one day, she would be forever worrying about losing another stone from it, and that she should take him up on his offer to take it back. She did.

About 10:45 we picked up our luggage and waited for the airport shuttle bus which was to leave at 11:00. We got to the airport and were dumped off at the terminal. Immediately our bags were grabbed by people wanting to carry them for a few rupees. One fellow toted my bag a while and close to the door said "You pay me now… 100 rupees." Well, the usual tip is 10 rupees and there was no way that this guy was getting 100. I said "NO, I'll give you 10." He said "100." I said "It's 10 or nothing" and he dropped the bag and disappeared with nothing.

The group at lunch at the Tunga Hotel
Frankfurt Airport
Our plane home at Frankfurt

At the door, we could see a line stretching a mile long from the counters back through the doors. We could only imagine standing in this line for hours. Then someone asked us which airline and when we said Delta, he pointed us to a nearly deserted counter area down the way. We all had to pay a 750 departure tax before we could get checked in. I handed the guy my 750 which included on 50 rupee note that was slightly torn. He shoved it back at me and said that he couldn't take it because it was torn. I told him it was all that I had and that I would have to exchange it before he could take it. I reluctantly pulled out a 100 rupee note and he made change for me. Our checked baggage was X-rayed before being checked. After getting boarding passes, we proceeded to the immigration clearance area and again waited in long lines to get our passport stamped for exit. After this, we had to visit the customs area for another stamp. It was reminiscent of coming into the airport, but not quite as bad. It was at least airconditioned to some degree. Once through this, we headed to one of the lounges. At checkin, we had each been given a pass to the lounge and thought that it would be a good place to spend the wait, because we had some extra time because the flight had been delayed until 2:15 (originally 1:50). There was not a seat to be found, and people were packed in standing. We were getting very tired, hot, and cranky. We walked down to the gate and were told that we couldn't check in until after 1:00. We found a coffee shop close by and parked there. We really didn't want to order anything and was able to convince them to simply let us sit there. It was still terribly hot, but at least we weren't standing.

About 1:20, we were advised that we could now check through the gate and got in line. Your passport and exit paperwork are checked again and again. Our carry-on bags were X-rayed and instead of the walk-through metal detectors, people were checked with a hand-held instrument. Men and women were separated for this process. We then proceed to wait, and wait, and wait. There is an Air France flight leaving at about the same time and the waiting area is very crowded. What little air-conditioning there is is insufficient, and even with the fans it is quite hot. The boarding call is finally given at 2:40 and we are all glad to board. The captain has advised us that because of some sort of labor dispute with ATC (air traffic controllers) there is a slowdown and pushback will be delayed. We finally push back at 3:24 and are airborne at 3:39. We all could have stood up and cheered when we left the ground.

It's only 4,086 miles and a little over 9 hours to Frankfurt. It doesn't matter because we're on our way home. At lunch on Thursday I mentioned that I would really like to have a tuna fish sandwich. We're served a light snack and guess what it is! Yep, tuna fish, and it was wonderful. I manage to sleep for about 6 hours. We landed at Frankfurt at 12:42 and it was again very foggy. I learn that this is typical weather for about 4 months of the winter.

Brian, Lisa, Linda, and Linda's mom split up with us here to continue on to New York. Dave and I find a restaurant and have cup of coffee and sit for a while. It is quite expensive in Germany and the total for two coffees is DM 15.40 or about $11 US. We sit and watch the people for a while and pretty soon it is time to board.

We leave pretty much on time and have another 9 ½ hour flight ahead of us. We are offered champagne prior to departure. Shortly after departure, a snack is offered and then it's time to sleep for a while. I didn't sleep quite as well as I did on the previous flight. Dinner (I had the crawfish/lobster combination) is served and movies are available. Our route takes us over the southern tip of Greenland, and looking down, icebergs are visible in the water. They look like small stones. We then proceed farther west into the US and drop down nearly due south towards Atlanta over Columbus Ohio. On the plane we are given a form to complete for immigration and customs and asked to declare any goods that we are bringing in. The guy in the seat next to me advises me to be honest about it, so I put down 100 for souvenirs.

As we get off the plane, we proceed to the immigration area where lines form for passport inspection and stamping. This is somewhat similar to the process in the Bombay airport, but is much more organized, much quicker, and in much more comfortable surroundings. We then proceed to the baggage claim area where we are met by a drug-sniffing dog. Dave and I both have visions of luggage opened and strewn everywhere in an attempt to discover undeclared goods. Miraculously, our bags are there and we pick them up. We ask one of the officials which line to go through even if we have a small amount to declare. We are told to go through the green line, which we do with no problems. I was told that the customs officials are more interested in agricultural products, fruit, and any items which could be resold. They don't generally pay much attention to typical tourists and souvenirs.

With our bags in hand, we proceed to the baggage re-check area where our bags will be loaded on the flight home (we hope). It feels so wonderful to be home, it's almost beyond description.

We land in Atlanta and proceed through customs without any problem. We later found out that the people who went through customs at JFK had a different experience with customs. Brian had no problem, but Lisa, Linda, and her mother all were detained and their luggage dumped out and inspected. They also found out that there is a $400 duty-free limit regardless of where the goods come from.. quite different from what they were told previously. Lisa was wearing the jewelry that she bought and claimed that she did not purchase it there, but Linda had to pay some because of the rugs. I believe it was less than $100.

We head for the main terminal, have a bite to eat, and wait for the flight to Lynchburg which is scheduled to leave at 9:20. At 9:15 it is announced that a 15 minute delay is necessary for maintenance on the aircraft. About 10 minutes later the announce yet another delay. Dave and I look at each other and start sinking into the valley of despair… we traveled around the world with no problems, and now we're thinking about having to spend the night in Atlanta (last flight that night to Lynchburg) because this flight doesn't go. We sink farther when we discover that the others waiting for this flight have been waiting since early afternoon and have endured one cancellation after another.

Our luck holds out and we finally leave about 10:35 and arrive home around 11:45p.m.

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