(There are no pictures with this super-long post, but I promise the next one will have some!)
First, allow me to provide some background. Since our arrival, all of us ladies have been dealing with some serious staring. I've discovered that my clothing is, for the most part, inconsequential. I can be completely covered from head to toe and down to the tips of my fingers, and I will still be hooted at or stared down, even if they are passing me on their scooter from behind. Clearly, us foreign folk are not common in these here parts.
Initially, I ignored the comments because I was so engrossed in everything else, from finding my way around, to watching my step (still do this - stepping in cow doo or on a ginormous dead rat is never pleasant), to keeping my eyes peeled for where to buy curd or notebooks or what have you. Now, however, I make a conscious effort to avoid eye contact and put a perpetual scowl on my face so that I didn't give anyone the wrong idea...
Just as I was about to lose faith in the male Indian (insert disclaimer here: I work with some great Indian men and had already run into several somewhat helpful servers or shopkeepers, so I am embellishing for the sake of the story), Goa happened. The trip to Goa (beach) itself was in many ways uneventful (yes, we went to a beach during monsoon season). There were highs and lows, which I'll get to another day, but the trip home takes the cake.
Eight of us made the trip. At the commencement of our afternoon eight-hour train ride home, we learned that we would be stopping in one station for about 30 minutes. When we finally made it to that station at 5:30, the projected wait duration turned into one hour, then one and half, then two, then one again - no one seemed entirely sure. The conductor finally told us 1.5, that we were waiting for another train to come in, we'd pick up some cars, we'd go one direction and half of our train would go another.
Everyone in the group decided they needed a stretch, so we agreed to go in shifts to walk around. When it was my turn about 10 minutes later, Noelle and I hopped off quickly for a stroll, leaving our things on the train. All things. Things includes cell phone, money, credit card, ID, jacket, glasses, water, snacks ... you see where I'm going with this now, don't you?
We walk to the end of the platform then start to head back after about 10 minutes. Soon after we about-face, I hear a hissing sound that sounds suspiciously similar to breaks being released. I mention this to Noelle, who is not immediately worried. It happens again. A whistle sounds. We're a little worried now so we quicken our pace to a jog. The train next to us is DEFinitely moving.
We haven't made it back to our car yet, but we are NOT getting left in this station! Feeling rushed and with no time to find an English-speaking station employee, we hop on and decide just to cross through the cars to get to ours. We hustle in direction we assume is correct only to be met by a dead end after about three cars. Fantastic. Now we'll have to wait til the next stop to hop off and back onto our section of the train - we have none of our stuff and we'll probably miss dinner (you know how I feel about that).
Frustrated, we ask someone about 3A/C (our section), and he points us back the other way. That can't be right. I'm thinking, this is definitely not right. Something is wrong here.
"Noelle? Noelle!" My voice takes on more urgency as I begin to realize what just went down. We are on the WRONG train. We are moving the WRONG direction. I glance through the open door next to me, seriously contemplating jumping off (hey, they do it in the movies AND in the books - Water for Elephants, it's quality). Unfortunately, it is darn dark out there, so I couldn't be sure of what I was jumping into, plus the train was really picking up too much speed for me to see myself rolling safely into a pile of rocks. We were hurtling toward New Delhi, not Bangalore via Hubli, and there was not a thing I could do about it.
Are you familiar with the phrase "deer in headlights"? This is a perfect description, I would assume, of our faces. The first few minutes were spent repeating to one another that we were on the wrong train, yes, on the wrong train, and, indeed, missing any item that could possibly get us to where we needed to go.
Can you believe it? A few men standing nearby at the moment of our epiphany miraculously spoke English and, literally, saved the day. One offered to let us use his cell phone (he was there charging it). Thank our lucky stars I remembered people's numbers, so we started dialing - couldn't get it to work but the man worked on it for us and came through. We alerted everyone as to where we were and they immediately got on it, checking with the conductor and all others about what our options might be. Three other men talked us through our situation, and collectively we finally figured out that our best bet would be to get off at the next stop, Belgaum, catch a rick to the bus station, figure out which bus gets to Hubli and go straight there. They pooled some money and gave us each Rs 150 for the tickets, 30 for a rick and 8 to call our friends (how AMAZING are these guys).
We followed their advice with only a few hiccups along the way (yeah, I almost missed the bus, too - shoot me, it left 15 minutes early - and Noelle was hanging out the door screaming my name as I tried to get us some snacks for dinner, while the bus driver shouted things at her in Kannada, probably something about "crazy lady, get your danged body back in my bus or get the heck off!") We made it back to the guest house in Hubli only about 10 minutes after the others arrived. Sigh, sweet Hubli.
In conclusion, the evening contained both my stupidest moment (who gets off a train with none of their belongings?) and proudest in India so far (we kept our cool and are resourceful little buggers who made it home on the same night - even my coworkers who'd heard the story early last night were surprised to see me at work morning). I have also confirmed that the other Sandbox Fellows rock.
Ah, so yes, Goa was not nearly so exciting until we left ...