February 17, 2007

The Trials of Travelling

Or . . . . . $%&^ and Double #*&^(*&@3!!!!!!.

As I mentioned in the last post, my luggage was misplaced on the way to Doha, Qatar, when I transferred flights in Madrid on Sunday morning. I knew something was wrong when I arrived to Barajas airport in Madrid, to Terminal 4. Barajas is split up into four terminals, and Term 4 is the newest, biggest addition to what is already a fairly large airport. It's so spread out, that to transfer from Term 4 to the other three, you have to take a thirty minute bus - if you're lucky enough to get ahold of one! I landed early in the morning, about 8AM, and was then sent scurrying through the bowels of the airport, passing through passport control, security checks, and at the direction of the information personnel, taking an underground train to what I thought would be Terminal three. . . .

Actually, I'll back up a little bit. Saturday night, I went out with my buddy, Luke, a Canadian living in BCN with his lovely girlfriend. Little did I know that his Dunlop Socks would be the fluttering of the butterfly wings that would wreak havoc with my entire week.

I rolled the clock around, like I always do before I take a long flight, so that I would be able to sleep during the journey and hopefully wake up fresh when I landed. I caught this on a scooter in BCN on Saturday evening, met up with Luke, and then spent the remainder of the night packing my bags. Correction - packing my bag. Normally I like to travel with two small pieces of luggage, like I did when I went to Australia the previous week, but this time I thought, "Hmmm, since it's only six days, and it IS Qatar, one of the less interesting places we go to, maybe I don't need as much gear as I normally do. . . . maybe I should just cram everything into ONE bag. . . ."

So, single bag packed full of my street clothes, my uniforms, my dopp kit, all the little things that make a hotel room survivable, my AXIO hardpack, and my imitation Prada computer bag that holds Olga and a ton of paperwork, and I was off in a taxi, dozing on the way to airport in Barcelona. Big thanks to the Catalan fellow who charged me for Every Single Bag as luggage - you're a champ. I checked in, nice and easy, and thought I'd grab a photo of this - the Post Office of Spain (well, just one of the many offices). Correos has sponsored riders in GP for years, including Max Biaggi, the Camel Pons team, and various other teams and riders. The US Postal Service takes care of bicycle riders who compete internationally, because naturally anyone from outside the US is going to send something with via USPS.

Ever seen an F1 car sitting around in any of your airports? This baby was Sharp!

Anyhow, brown cow, back to Barajas. I woke up once we landed, got into the airport, and was sent on my merry way by the helpful informaticos people down a couple escalators to the train. The train is nice, fairly quick, and I thought that I'd get to the next terminal with plenty of time to spare.

Only to find that once I stopped, I was back in TERMINAL 4!!!! ARGH!!!!!!!!!! @#*&^$@*&!!!!!!!! ^&^QW%E&*^Q@!!@!!!!!

Everyone I talked to seemed to pass the buck. "Si, si, ask the next person when you get off the train and they'll direct you." SO I TOOK THE TRAIN AGAIN. WTF!?!? CATSO! I was back in TERMINAL 4, AGAIN! I finally bulled my way through Passport Control a second time, which really threw them for a loop because I'd already been stamped that morning, and made my way out of the airport Terminal to catch the bus. Best moment on the bus was either A) running into the same group of obnoxiously loud teenage Spanish girls who were on my flight from Barcelona, or B) letting an obnoxiously rude American mother/daughter combo know that they speak Spanish in Spain, just like in LA, thank you very much. Not that I speak Spanish all that well, but when I approach a stranger, I just don't start rambling on and bitching about this and that, and then demanding directions and advice. Who the hell are you? "Si. . . ? Lo siento, no hablo Ingles, hahahaha." So I get to Terminal 3 in time to see a huge line waiting to check in at Qatar Airways, and right at the front were my Spanish teamates. SCORE! I jumped in with them, checked in, Verified that my luggage was being transferred to the flight, and then climbed onboard the older plane and wedged myself in to the 1950's, too-tight seating arrangement. Ohhh yes, it was going to be a long, cheap flight. Every other time I'd bounced to Qatar, I'd flown out of Heathrow, and the plane and crew was always top-notch, spic-n-span, and NEW, with tv's and video games built in to the seat in front of you. This time it was grubby, packed full of people from who knows where (Not Spain, haha), and absolutely Reeked. Seriously, like a heard of dinosaurs had passed through and left us some special prehistoric presents. But we made it. A small success in itself, until a couple of us realized that our bags weren't there. That meant waiting in line to report them missing, filling out forms, and dealing with people who really care. I handled the business, made it to the hotel, and woke up early the next day to head to the Losail International Circuit.

If you see the star in the picture above, that's a great big mall, rivaling anything I've come across before in the States. There are bigger and better ones around the world, but in this corner of the globe, this thing was pretty massive, clean, and well-stocked. I forgot my camera when I went there, but trust me, it was nice. For a mall.

I really like the traditional boats of this area. Abras, I think they're called.

Much of Qatar is still under construction, the city having boomed in the last decade once they realized how much oil they were sitting on. Everyone wants a little palace in the desert now.

And the desert hasn't changed at all. Still big, still imposing. This is not a place I'd like to get stranded in. Maybe in response to how we drove last year, I noticed they installed some radar cameras along the freeway to the circuit, so we slowed down appropriately once we figured out exactly where they were planted. This time around, we had what Martin called, the "pelicula americana" cars, because we were loaded with a Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe Z71, and some other big Chevy SUV. We proved they can do all sorts of things with the right motivation, and at one point, I thought we'd pull a Dakar washing machine, which is when you roll your truck enough times that come out with all your colors mixed together. . . . heh heh. The roundabouts were great, big wheels spinning and clawing for traction as we tried to maintain that perfect balance of control and the psychotic.

Ahhh, they call it Lusail out here. This would be the sixth time I've been here since January, '06, and it's where I got my start on the international scene, so I have fond memories of the place. The track, that is, not necessarily the drivers or the roadways (which are nearly impossible to navigate). Even after all this time, I still managed to get lost due to the lack of recognizable landmarks. The constant construction also makes it tricky, because everything is in a state of flux. Doesn't help when you're always in a different hotel each time, either.

Setting up at the track was fairly easy, because there's so much space in the garages that it's not a problem to place your flight boxes somewhere once they're emptied. I made myself a nice little area, hooked up Olga, the router, the printer (we ended up buying a new one in Qatar, because they're dirt cheap), and proceeded to get to work. Sometimes at the track, if we finish a little early, we'll go for a jog around the track. Well, those people who like doing that sort of thing. I'd rather bike it, and maybe I'll be able to get one of my BMX's to a couple tracks here in Europe. I doubt if I could even run one of the tracks, anyway, because my knee is so jacked.

This team, which shall remain nameless (and blurry, too) to protect the innocent, set about cutting their hair. I like to do this sort of thing once a week, too, except I find it's generally better to do it in the hotel where I can take a shower immediately afterwards. Best of all, I don't have to really do a super clean up when I'm done, and that's one of the nice perks of having room service.

The garages lock up nice and tight at Losail, because everything is new, but a lot of good stuff stays outside the main garage bay in an area protected by awnings and cloth walls. That didn't sit too well with me, so we got ahold of these great big brass locks, made in the People's Republic of China. You'd think they would have cost a dollar or something, but here in Qatar, they ran 15 (FIFTEEN) euros, nearly twenty bucks! At least, they made me feel a little better, even if one of them came with keys that were all bent. A few minutes with a hammer (Ducati and Harley special tool number 1), and a vise, and everything was good to go. Brass for the price of gold, hahaha.

The three day test passed really quickly for me, and I hardly noticed it go by. We'd finish up late every night, 9:30, 11:30, etc, and then I'd try and get a beer in the hotel. Being a muslim country, alcohol is hard to come by, and two beers will set you back about twenty bucks or so. I think it's definitely worth it. I'd have a nice dinner buffet first, loading up on Qatar versions of international food, which like a lot of things in Qatar looks good on the outside, but then tastes just a little bit different once you're getting into it. The second night without my stuff, my roomate and I decided to get the guys together who were missing stuff and make a run to the store to stock up on toothpaste and things like that. I drove us to the mall, we shopped for an hour, and then had dinner at Applebee's. Don't get the Nachos there. The next night, my stuff had arrived, but no word on how to claim any of the things we bought because no one would give me a straight answer on the phone. "Yes, yes, please speak to the airline representative at the airport when you're checking in to leave." Yeah, right, and monkey's might fly . . . . We packed up after three intense days, and we did really well on Thursday so I was quite pleased despite knowing that I had a ton of stuff to do because Barros had laid it down with a couple minutes left of the final session. That's racing, so no worries there. We dragged our boxes outside into pit lane so the shipping company could load up the trucks, and went back to the hotel so that we could get a good night's sleep before our lunchtime flight the next day. Oh, hardly noticed that Valentine's day had come and gone, the only difference being that the hotel bar was filled with slightly more Filipina and Korean girls that night, and there were hordes of drunk English guys in tight pants looking to buy some affection. I can't believe that stupid hotel bar wouldn't let me in with slippers on (and arabs wear slippers everywhere with their robes), but if you're a working girl? Come right in and sit down. . . .#*&$%@#*&^ You!!!

Super Sergio, Barro's telemetrist, is a great guy with a really cool accent. He's optimistic about the season ahead, and the teams' current line of thinking is that if we have the right pieces in place, we can really go places.

The next morning, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so I said Arrivederci Qatar, and we loaded up five oversize boxes to Madrid. . . because it's time to get ready for the IRTA test in Jerez, and we're going to look pretty this year.

It ended up being another overbooked flight full of crazy people, but because we were flying West, I got to follow this sunset for hours. It was magnificent. Incidently, I spoke with the Qatar Airways service desk about my lost luggage, because there's a per day reimbursement for lost luggage, and they fed me a another line of crap. Basically, they tried to hand me off to the Qatar Airways people in Madrid, because they were the ones who lost the luggage in the first place. I said, look, I don't even live in Madrid, so pony up some Reials ($) because I bought some stuff and you guys owe me. No dice, the guy wasn't having any of it, so a hearty Muchas F'n Gracias to those guys. Now that I think about it, on the flight from Madrid to Qatar, I had a big shard of glass in my dessert, and when I bit down on it, I heard a weird crunching sound. I didn't know what it was, but it ended up stabbing me deep in the tongue and when I pulled it out, my hand was covered in cake, and I was holding a bloody splinter of glass about half an inch long. I filed a report on the plane, but haven't heard anything or gotten an email from them, so yet another Gracias to Qatar Airways. What a trip. And it wasn't even over at this point.

I also spent some time talking to Rahkman (Rock-man), and he was a really cool Pakistani who imports trinkets to Spain and France. His English was good, and I helped get him some vegetarian ravioli so that I could have more of the lamb. He told me later that it was dog, but either way I figure it tasted alright.

And finally, perhaps foreshadowing how I would be feeling in a couple hours, I snapped this pic of Jose, the electronics guy on the team sitting behind me on the flight. I mentioned to my boss in the hotel back in Qatar that I thought they'd lose my luggage again, and sure enough, THEY LOST MY LUGGAGE AGAIN! TWICE. 2X IN ONE WEEK. (#*&%(#*@&*(@$(*@&#($*&@#! It only gets a little better, because I also missed my connecting flight in Madrid. The plane out of Doha was delayed by an hour, and when we flew in to Madrid, they were experiencing a thunderstorm. Let me tell you, it is freakin' awesome to fly by huge bolts of lightnings, so strong the whole plane lights up and you can actually see the beam in place as the place goes by at 600 MPH. AWESOME. Everyone on the plane got pretty scared, and it definitely smelled different after the first really big blast, but I was just jamming away with the iPod, and let's face it, whatever is going to happen, is going to happen. So we land at Terminal 4, and then taxi the plane for thirty minutes to get to Terminal 1. THIRTY MINUTES. Sheesh, it almost would have been faster to get out and walk. We disembark, I have ten minutes to catch my connection (so I already know I've missed it), so I proceed directly to find the travel desk to get another flight arranged. Spanair Terminal 2 hands me off to Spanair Terminal 3, and mind you I'm lugging around 20 kilos of gear on my back and in my handcase, so I'm hustling around, sweaty, and looking for someone who can finally get me squared away. I get another flight, which is delayed an hour due to rain, and I wait another three hours in Barajas for that flight. I get to BCN, find out my luggage is lost, and end up waiting another three hours because the counter girl says it's coming on the next flight. Then, "No, no, I meant the next next flight." Oh boy. Three hours waiting at BCN while they're cutting marble/granite/whogivesa#@$^ tiles to renovate the converyor belt next to mine (fantastic sound, really), and tons of people are waiting with me. It got so bad, people were lighting up cigarettes inside the airport, which is illegal, and no one cared. No one said anything, so I joined them. After waiting until 3AM, I gave up, gave them my information, and caught another expensive taxi home. I need to add, it's a little stressful, because all my team gear is in that luggage, and I'm flying out Monday morning at dawn, so I could really use my stuff. They have two days to find it before I'm screwed, because if I'm not here to receive it in BCN, who knows where it will go. . . .

The moral of this story is that I'll always pack two bags, just like I did last year, and like I'll be doing everytime from here on out. Work and personal effects will be split up, so that in the event of one being lost, I've got the back-up. Same line of thinking that I use with my computers, my cameras, everything. I always have a back-up. And if both bags get lost? Then it was meant to be, I guess. These are just a few of the trials of travelling internationally to go race motorcycles. Not having your essential gear at the hotel/track when you're out there with the team really stinks, but it's something every member of MotoGP goes through. These are some of the ties that bind us.

I decided to get out of the house this afternoon, take a nice bike ride down to the water, and get some pizza. It was great. Then a huge thunderstorm hit when I was riding away, and I got immediately drenched head to toe. I pulled over, ducked under a building's overhang, and watched the storm for about thirty minutes, dancing a little to the music. It really makes you feel alive to be in something like that, and if didn't have my computer and other electronics in my backpack, I would have just kept on riding. Later tonight I think I'll go home and collate some more data, and in the meantime, I'm STILL WAITING FOR MY LUGGAGE.


Holy crap, that is an insane story. At least you are alive right? Remind me never to fly QATAR Air.

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