On Sydney airport, they said I don’t have Transit Visa of New Zealand so I can’t board the flight. I saw my plane taking off, from window! I was broken because it was loss of odd Rs.64,000 (1,000 USD), Aussi visa was expired and above all it was loss of credibility.
As usual, there were dozens of problems while buying Sydney – Santiago flight ticket. Three weeks, I was stuck in Sydney because of visas and flight ticket. I had enough money in Indian bank to buy flight ticket buy I could not withdraw due to demonetisation. Whole country was helpless. Three weeks passed like that. I was cursing and blaming Indian government for that.
But the good part is that after three weeks, flight tickets drastically went down from 2,200 AUD (Rs.1,10,000) to 1,200 AUD (Rs.60,000). At last one friend told me that he can book a flight for me and I can pay him later.
I shortlisted flights. Qantas was cheapest airline on Sydney – Santiago route. There were two options – one was direct flight from Sydney to Santiago and another was via New Zealand. Direct flight was expensive as compare to that of via New Zealand.
I asked one friend who often travelled on that route about New Zealand transit visa issue. He confirmed that few months ago, one Indian friend had travelled via New Zealand without transit visa. After confirmation I asked friends in India to book flight via New Zealand. Three times, my friends confirmed names and number of flight so that I should not miss it.
A day before the flight, I told my host Gowtami and Ashutosh Bhanange that every time I cross international border, I get some problem. So, I must to go to airport at least five hours before the time. They said that it is not India so you can go 3 in advance. I said “I wish not to take chance.”
Both Gowtami and Ashutosh were serious about my travel, even more than me. Gowtami was telling me, “Latin America would be difficult and you may get dozens of problem. But you don’t give up. We all are with you. Never think to give up. There would be solution to every problem. Just have patience in difficulties.”
Gowtami got up at 4 am morning. It was weekend for them and my travel watered on their sweet-sleep. She made some sandwich for me and some stuff for lunch box. Ashutosh got quickly ready and got his vehicle.
Boarding was 11am and we left house by 6.30 am. Airport was just 15-20 minutes drive away. He dropped me exact entry point of Qantas. I made some inquiry and stood in queue for check in. A group of senior citizen was before me. I was standing in queue for hours.
Check-in counter of XYZ airline started for New Zealand flight. I went to a counter and presented my ticket and passport. I was in James Bond confidence because I have everything today. And more important I was in Australia where customer is king, always and every time.
The lady executive on counter swapped my passport on her system. With her face, it was clear that something went wrong. She swiped again but it did not work out. She said, “My system is not accepting your passport.” Confidently, I said, “Try it manually, once”. She was looking at my face because I did not add the word ‘Please’. In Australia ‘please, thank you and sorry’ these words matters.
She did it manually. I realised with her reaction that it was not successful. She asked me “Which country?”
I said, “India”
She asked, “Do you have Transit Visa of New Zealand?”
I said “No.” She said, “You cannot board this flight without transit visa of New Zealand. Go and buy via.”
I said, “By the time, I go to embassy, my flight will take off in three hours.”
Now it was her turn to be in James Bond confidence. She said, “It is your problem….sir”
I was shattered now. I requested her for any other option. She asked me to meet New Zealand authorities.
I went to New Zealand authorities and explained my problem. That was of no use. She said, “Its rule of my country. I cannot breach that. I request to get visa before you board this flight. I requested her for other solution. She said “Go to your main airline (I had two flights of different airlines) and ask them to give another flight.”
I asked, “Do they charge for that?”
She laughed and said, “Of course, they will!”
I was broken down. There was no other way out. It was shame on my account that I did not check the visa requirements and just believed on friend. It was not his fault too because the new rule has come into effect recently.
The flight took off and I was watching it. I was shattered and broken. My Australian visa was about to expire after 48 hours. I had only few hundred dollars in my pocket. It was as good and end of the game.
Somehow I reached to Qantas counter. There was a gentleman David Stuait on desk. I explained my problem to him. He asked me to take seat for few minutes. I was really angry with his remark asking me seat down. Later I realised his intention was to make me comfort as I was hyper, upset, nervous, angry, broken and frustrated.
After few minutes, he asked for my flight tickets and passport. I presented him and again he asked me to take seat. I took seat and waiting for him. After few minutes, he said, “There is another flight at 12.30pm. It is direct flight to Santiago. Would you like to board.”
I said, “Yes. Do I need to pay and how much.”
He answered, “Of course, you may need to pay. I need to check the amount.” I checked money in my pockets. I had few hundred Australian dollors and 80 USD. But that was very small amount. David again asked me to seat down on sofa which was far from his counter. I was not feeling to seat.
After few minutes, David called me. He gave me a print out and said “This is your flight ticket. Hurry up man.”
I said, “How much do I need to pay you?”
He said, “Big amount sir.”
I got all money in my hand and said, “This is all I have. If you need more then, I will choose not to fly.”
He said, “The price is one smile, sir!”
I said, “Mr David, are you crazy? I am not in the mood. I lost my flight. My record journey is at risk.”
He said, “Common Vishnu. Give me a smile and grab you flight ticket. I am serious.”
I read the print. It was ticket. And I started laughing loudly at airport. Half of the airport was looking at me. I could not control my laugh. I was bumping in the sofa and laughing. I wanted to hug David. I could not imagine, without his help, what would you happened with me and my friends.
It was already time of the flight and I was late. David took me through special queue. I had noted list of articles which I carry. List starts with my undergarments, clothes, mobile, books, batteries, tooth paste, sun cream etc. I was throwing tooth paste, sun cream, torch and other articles. The lady told me not to throw if it is less than 100 gm. I showed her and she put them in separate bags. I hate to drop my tooth paste and other articles. Even more important, at next destination, you have to buy them immediately next morning.
I had 65 litre sack. The lady gave me a very big plastic bag to put sack. And she tied it and sealed it so no one can plan anything in my sack.
Ah! What a comfort, when someone helps you like this at airport. She pushed my bag on belt and finally I check it.
I was still laughing and security guards were looking at me. I did not care! This is what happiness is.
Thank you David and Qantas for giving me opportunity to continue my record journey Circumnavigation of Globe. Thank you very your kind hospitality.