People love adventure – differently. There are those who enjoy going through it, and then there is me. I like adventure a lot, after it’s over.
Take for instance, that evening two Fridays ago, when friends convinced me to join them for a party in Kitengela (a Nairobi wannabe suburb). I was hesitant, seeing as I had a flight to catch the following morning, but they convinced me there was still a good many hours before my 5 am flight to Abyssinia, so off we went. What I did not know was that the forces that seemed determined to keep me from my onward travel to Hungary had not given up – despite the visa securely stuck and stamped on my bright blue passport.
As fate would have it, there were roadworks on the 3 km stretch to my friend’s house. A heavy downpour had interrupted the crew who left behind uncompacted murram. It soon became a muddy stretch, and a truck skidded, got stuck and cut off the road. We found ourselves in the middle of a growing gridlock, and if you know Kenyans, you know how quickly it goes downhill. We could already begin to see ourselves spending the night by the roadside. My friends thought it was exciting because… a journey should not be predictable; it should have some ‘adventure’.
I begged to differ. To me, this was a last dash attempt by the forces that wanted to keep me from travelling. They had already thrown everything at me. The consular who was suddenly called away and the visa could not be issued. The alternative efforts to secure the Schengen visa that did not yield (thank you Hungary Embassy in Nairobi for stepping up and saving the day). The error (yes!) on the ticket that cost good money to correct, and now this. Was I really going to be telling my grandchildren that I did not make it to the conference because I got stuck in the mud on some avenue in Kitengela?
I have ridden a motorbike to get to an airport before, certainly not on a muddy stretch on a rainy day. Thankfully it did not come to that. Hours later, on a somewhat sunny morning, I landed in Vienna, Austria, just in time to connect to my train which would take me onwards to Budapest. If we were to go by my dreams, I would enjoy the views of the snowy alps against the soundtrack from The Sound of Music, yes with Maria’s distinctive voice singing, Do, a deer, a female deer, Re, a drop of golden sun, Mi, a name, I call myself …
The only thing standing between me and this dream was the lady at the train ticket counter. Why don’t you have a ticket, she demanded after I showed her my piece of paper with the times appropriately highlighted in yellow. Yours truly does a double-take. What do you mean? That piece of paper brought me all the way from Africa …well…technically, it was the plane… but you get my point.
Tap tap, my lady goes on her computer, tap tap tap she goes again and shakes her head, and tap tap, go to platform one, she roughly throws at me. Don’t I need anything else? I mumble, well aware I barely had time if I was to catch the 7:01 am. Use that sheet, she says with a look that reduced me to a gel of confusion. Down the ramp, blue suitcase trailing behind, I find platform one just as what seems to be my train pulls up.
The bud of my joy had barely blossomed before disappointment shriveled it right back. None of the names on the screens or scrolling across the train matched those on my ticket. Double-check – the time was right, and this was platform one. I lunged my suitcase onto the train. Once inside, the second-guessing started. Which is the worst of the two evils? Be left by the right train or depart on the wrong train; better to go out and double-check.
I hopped off and approached a young man who most assuredly confirmed this was not the train to Budapest. I knew the train would pull off in seconds; there was no time to drag my suitcase up the ramp and to the woman at the counter. Just then, a young, dreadlocked melanin-rich young man strolled up.
“Budapest? Take the train and change at Hauptbahnhof.”
Tis’ all I needed. I mumbled a quick thank you and went back onto the train. Well… after a few minutes of wrestling with the door and after yet another young man walked up and pressed a green button and the door slid left. I beamed a sunny thank you; why didn’t I think of that?
The train slid away from the station, and I turned my attention to the scrolling names to identify how many stops away to Haupt-whatever, but I couldn’t see such a name. I swallowed the panic, slid next to two French-speaking melanin rich brothers, and asked for help. Not to worry, sister, they said, we’ll show you where to change trains, and a girl relaxed.
When my stop came up, I wrestled out my luggage and headed for the screens and once again, narry a familiar name. I asked the man holding a JW sign to point me to the OBB (train service) office. Madam, that’s not a ticket, said the burly guy at office one. What do I do? Go to the ticketing office. Where is it? Forty metres to the left, came the quick response (true story). And sure enough, it was there all right, but a long queue was snaking out. Since I couldn’t very well walk to Budapest, I adopted the attitude of ‘iris whariris’ (it’s what it is) and took my place at the back of the queue.
The next I heard was someone asking me, Ukraina? In a mix of sign language, grunts and nods, I gathered the queue was for Ukrainians and was shown where to wait. After what seemed like an eternity, I was directed to a counter where I once again narrated my story to the lady behind the glass panel. The clock said 7:40, and by this time, I had gathered the next train to Budapest was leaving at 7:47 am. The lady did her tap tap on the keyboard, looked at my document, tap tap again, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be on that train. Sorry Ma’am, but we can’t retrieve this ticket.
I had what I had thought of as the perfect ticket. A combination of plane and rail.This would give me the chance to see the mountains on which Maria acted in The Sound of Music, but now it looked like I would spend the better part of my morning on platform 10 C. The lady at the counter had pointed me to platform 10 C-E, where the next train would depart from an hour later, with a warning to be sure not to board the airport-bound train. Yes, the airport was definitely not what I wanted, yet. Also, I was €52.3 lighter as I had to buy a ticket I thought I had. There goes all the money I planned to buy fridge magnets for you.
Hungary, why are you fighting me so hard? I wondered, huddled there on the platform with only my blue suitcase for company.
Yes, I know trains are plenty, but I am already three-quarters of a day late; is that not enough to appease whatever the forces that seem keen to keep me away? Then I heard the word Keleti on the public address system, and my ears perked up straighter than Sandy’s (our beloved canine). That was my stop in Budapest. It dawned on me that the earlier train had been delayed. Yes, it was only arriving at the station now. I took off, down the stairs and up the elevator in a mad dash, made it to platform 12 just in time and …Budapest, here I come! I was mostly excited, although the little exclusive looking cubicles on the train gave me some anxiety. Did I somehow stumble into first class? I looked for a friendly face who assured me this was economy, right in my lane.
I was fast approaching the one part of this journey that I had expected to be challenging. How to get myself from the train station to Siofok on Lake Balaton (the largest lake in central Europe), my final destination. I had spent a good chunk of time scouring the maps and quizzing google, and finally, I had a plan. My train pulled up at Keleti station in Budapest (Yay!), and my next order of business was to get some Hungarian forint. Would you believe it, right there at the train station were these men, holding wands of cash, offering to give me a good exchange rate. What?! It was so Namanga, or Malaba, or any other Kenyan border point style; it was unbelievable.
But no, I live in Ethiopia, and we strictly change money only in the bank. I scanned around, found a forex bureau, got myself a wand of notes and directions to the metro station. Just as I had planned it the previous day. I swung into the train like a local, and shortly we were at the Deli train station where I was to catch the train for the two hours, of the second to the final leg of my journey. It took some doing with the blue suitcase that I was now ready to abandon, but finally, I found the counter and bought my ticket. The screen said platform 4, 12:30 pm. I found my platform and the train was already there. Among the names scrolling down the screen was Siofok. I manhandled the suitcase onto the train with a sigh of relief. The thought that I could actually make it in time for the afternoon sessions, warmed me up.
I pushed down the nagging itch in my brain. Isn’t this train a bit too early… a whole half hour? But then, I reasoned, I had seen the name Siofok, and with that, I silenced the nag. When the train pulled off 15 minutes ahead of schedule, I knew I must be on the wrong train. Since I couldn’t very well jump off, I stayed put and waited for the adventure to unfold. I tracked our direction on the internet (when the Wi-Fi cooperated), and we were pointed in the right direction. Halfway through the journey everyone alighted, and the engine was switched off. Like – really? I may have been done with adventure, but the adventure wasn’t ready to let me go.
It was starting to feel like Phileas Fogg’s travel adventure. Accompanied by his valet Passepartout, Fogg set out to win a bet by travelling around the world in eighty days. From England to France, Egypt, India, Shanghai, New York, round the world. Through the loss of money, loss of his travel companion, near imprisonment, attacks; by train, steamer, ship, sail-powered sledge, even an elephant! He arrived back in London five minutes too late to win the wager. It was only later that he realised that his journey through time zones had gained him a day, and he was not late after all; he made it to the club where it all started with a few minutes to spare.
That’s how I felt when my cab finally deposited me at 2 pm in front of the beautiful Hotel Azure on the shores of Lake Balaton with half an hour to check-in, freshen up, and catch the afternoon sessions of LittWorld the global Christian publishing conference. Earlier in my seemingly 400-hour day when I was trying to figure out my ‘not-a-ticket’, husband dearest had whatsapped me, leo utalala Siofok. Tonight, you will spend the night in Sifok. How about that for hope as I made my way to a conference dubbed “Publishing Hope Beyond Crisis?”
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