Thursday, January 16, 2014

Your Old Faithful Travel Guide

I am generally known to be a level-headed, not-usually-hyper, rational person. But sometimes, only sometimes, I do things that befit this description. I do stupid things that befit my age, and maturity. I realize that I just wrote the concluding paragraph without even starting the post.

I was on my way to Seattle during the winter holidays. I was flying on Christmas eve, hoping to reach Seattle just in time for Christmas. When I was checking in at the airport and the machine at the kiosk asked me if I would like to board the next flight in return for a $200 travel voucher, I should have taken the hint and said yes. I did not. I was in a hurry to reach my most favorite place in the world. Which I did not.

There were weather related issues, and by the time I reached Denver, I had missed my connecting flight to Seattle. I could neither reach Seattle on Christmas eve, nor could get the $200 travel voucher. I spent the night at a hotel in Denver, and had to be up by 4 am to take the 5:20 am shuttle to be on time for the 6:00 am flight to Seattle. In the fear that I would oversleep and miss my flight, I mostly did not sleep at all. By the time the alarm went off, I had already showered, packed again, and was ready for the airport.

A few years ago, this lifestyle and not sleeping at night suited me fine. But I can see that I am reaching that age where I need my full 8 hours of sleep at night, need my bed, and cannot do red eye flights anymore. It spoils my entire next day, when all I do is sleep. So I boarded the flight to Seattle, texting my friend that I need some Ghoom 3 (Dhoom 3 had released that weekend, and ghoom is Bengali means sleep). Sometime during the flight, probably after I had my complimentary apple juice without ice (I always have that in flight), I put down my head on the serving tray and dozed off. I slept on and off, being very uncomfortable in that cramped space, and somehow managed to have a dream that I was visiting Yellowstone National Park.

Suddenly, I woke up with a jolt and looked outside the window. To my amazement, I saw that we were flying over the Yellowstone National Park. It was quite possible, since the route from Denver to Seattle goes through that area. Now how did I know that this is Yellowstone National Park? Because I saw the Old Faithful geyser erupting below. I have been to that national park once, 4 years ago, and loved it. How lucky one can be if one gets to see the bird’s-eye-view of such a world famous place, for free. I have traveled over Arizona, hoping to see the Grand Canyon from the airplane, but nothing I saw looked like the majestic Grand Canyon. And here, I could see the Old Faithful geyser right below my nose.

Ecstatic, and still a little groggy from sleep, I took out my camera quickly, changed lenses, and took some pictures. Barely able to contain my excitement, I told this to the neighboring two girls sitting by me. “Hey look, we are flying over the Old faithful geyser in Yellowstone”, I beamed. To my confusion, they looked initially surprised, and even tried craning their neck to see the view, but lost interest in the few seconds. I mean, how could one not be excited about the view? Maybe they have been there enough number of times to not be excited anymore? Maybe they had never been there, and did not know what they were missing? “Crazy people”, I said in my head, and looked outside, taking a few more pictures of the geyser that was slowing fading to my right now. But something about their reaction bothered me. Something in general bothered me. Why was the area around the geyser flat? I tried to remember what it looked like 4 years ago. I am pretty sure that I had seen many tall and rugged mountains during that trip. Something just did not seem right.

I kept wondering for the next fifteen-twenty minutes, when I saw the Cascade chain of mountains appear. Ten minutes later, I had landed in Seattle.

Given how quickly Seattle arrived after I saw the Old Faithful geyser, and given how flat it was around the geyser, the only rational explanation I can think of is this. Brace yourself, for I may be right, and it will shock you. We were flying above the Pullman area of eastern Washington, and what I mistook to be the world famous geyser, was a tall factory chimney which was billowing white smoke. We were hundreds of miles away from Yellowstone, both geographically, and figuratively. That explains why we landed so fast. That explained the first confused, and then irritated look those women gave me (as if they were saying to themselves, are we idiots?). And that explains how age is catching up with me, and how a groggy, half asleep state of mind makes my imagination go crazy. This is so embarrassing that sharing it in the anonymity of this blog makes me feel only marginally less stupid. I cannot imagine sharing this with my friends, who know me for my passion for travel.

For the rest of the plane trip, which was not a lot thankfully, I did not make eye contact with my fellow passengers. And you know what? Someone out there is laughing really hard with her friends, recounting how a sleepy woman mistook a factory chimney to be the Old Faithful geyser.


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