I'm working for HELP International as a Country Director in Hyderabad, India from May-August 2010.

Chennai--In Marie's words

This weekend we went to Chennai. We decided to take the twelve dollar and twelve hr bus ride. It sounded like a great idea. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

We left for the bus Friday night with plenty of time to spare. It also happened to start raining pretty hard while we were waiting for our shuttle to take us to the station. By the time our shuttle came, the rain was coming down in sheets and the streets were little festering rivers. We ran to our shuttle, with vague hopes of staying dry before we sat for twelve hours. Needless to say it didn't work and we got soaked. The shuttle it’s self was a cozy little green rusty van meant for twelve people. There were in fact more than twenty, us being six in the trunk space. We also happened to be the only women. So there we were driving away in a sketchy van full of men.

We got to the station without trouble and boarded our super ghetto, non A/C bus. The windows leaked and we continued the entire night to get soaked. We kept stopping for our fellow passengers to take smoke and pee breaks. I mean all the time. We’d been on the bus for two hours and hadn’t even left Hyderabad. Kristen asked about the stop and the bus driver told her that we were all waiting for the gentlemen off the bus. They got back on right after she went back to her seat. I think they got the hint, but then promptly started smoking next to the no smoking sign! It was ridiculous and nauseating. I could deal with wet, the smoking and peeing but then the worst film I have ever seen was started at 11 pm. Who wants to watch a crappy film starting at 11?! Well someone did because the volume was uncomfortably loud, as in my earplugs only softened the deafening noise. I eventually fell asleep on and off for the remainder of our stormy night. A fight broke out in the middle of the night. Apparently our driver was going to leave a few men taking an extra long pee break.

The next morning I woke up around seven, very grateful we were getting off at eight. Eight o’clock rolled around and we were still in what looked like never ending rural territory. It was never ending because Chennai was still 175 km away. They started another equally awesome and audible movie at eight. Who does that? We had one bathroom break for women, yes they do specify, around ten (and a million for men before that). Thank goodness!

We finally arrived in a city that looked the same as Hyderabad regretting our decision to leave home. I got off the bus first and was mobbed by a bunch of cab drivers. It was a glorious welcome, I stood on the almost bottom step of the bus with a lot of arm reaching for me and lost it a bit. . . I was yelling something to the effect of don’t touch me or talk to me. The first part worked, but the second not so much. You are such an easy target being white and blonde here. After fifteen minutes of negotiating a price to our hotel and trying to be robbed by small children of everything I own we got in these delightfully untrustable men’s auto. They wanted to stop everywhere except our hotel. They tried to milk us for money left and right. After two separate gas stops our auto decided to “stop working”. Please we’re not stupid. The other driver wanted us six to climb in the other auto there was no way we were fitting. He generously offered a stop next to him. I informed him I would not sit anywhere in his auto if my life depended upon it. I hailed two different autos for us and we left after a huge argument and not paying them. He picked the wrong group of very self-empowered girls to mess with that morning. We’d had it with Indian men and they were icing on the cake. So we got our way and drove peaceably to our hotel. We checked into the VGP Golden Beach Resort. It was probably pretty cool at some point in time but was now pretty ghetto fabulous. The best way to describe it is a white trash small town version of an Indian attempt at Disney Land and old Las Vegas. Since it’s not tourist season anymore (Summer is over) we only saw one other guest.

We put our stuff down and went to the beach. It was the most intense beach I have ever gone to. The waves destroyed us. They knocked us over like bowling pins. The undertow was really strong. The security guard warned us either we had 30 minutes to stay or in 30 the tides would weaken. Neither piece of information was correct. I neglected to put sunscreen on my back and consequently turned about as red as I’ve been before. The lines of my make shift swimsuit are really crisp. We went to dinner at a lovely restaurant that was infested by mosquitoes. I have 30 bites on my feet alone. That’s actually why I’m awake at 3:30 am writing this. I couldn’t sleep because my back hurts, but mostly my feet are so itchy.

The next morning we had our continental breakfast especially prepared for us. We had the huge dining hall to ourselves. Breakfast was okay. I’m just grateful they had toast. Otherwise I would have skipped the meal all together. Starving is better than eating rice sometimes.

We spent the morning at the beach again. I learned from the day before and lather myself first in SPF 70 and then in SPF 30. About an hour in I did the same thing. I still managed to get my legs and arms pink. I don’t know how because when I went to shower off I had to scrape a layer of white crap (sunscreen) off of my skin. I didn’t get it all off the first time even.

We tried for an hour to go 25 km back to Chennai to catch a movie before we loaded the bus. First we went in the opposite direction to a cinema that was sold out. We were starving and decided to go in anyway. We had to buy our stupid little ticked to go in. You can’t do cash at food courts, you have to have a card with money on it first, then you pay only one cashier for the entire thing. It’s stupid and really bureaucratic, thus being a widespread established Indian tradition. We ate an interesting lunch and decided to leave. They wouldn’t refund us initially. It took a lot of pulling teeth to get our money back off of those stupid cards. After that whole ordeal we spent a long time trying to find the cinema, which was located on the main road, but our auto driver wouldn’t listen to us and asked seriously 25 people how to get there. The only option was Robin Hood. In desperation, we took it. We had to peace out early to get to our bus on time. Unfortunately, two of our group had left a little earlier to get airtime for her phone. So in our time crunch we had to find the only other white people in a huge mall. It only took ten ish minutes thankfully. It’s harder than you think, by the ay. We left and arrived at the bus with enough time to find a toilet and buy a roll for dinner. It was a true Sykes vacation food wise.

This bus was a lot more comforting upon arrival. It was slightly nicer, we weren’t the only women, and there was a child. It came and boarded on time. We were feeling really pretty good. We only made one unnecessary stop, which I nipped in the bud. I didn’t want to roll in four hours late again. No crappy movies were in sight, that all changed when ten pm came to. Whoever is in charge of the movie selection should die. He, and yes I can honestly say it was a man, picked a horror film. Why? That was all I could ask. Like the first set of films, I tried to avoid watching. After we fell asleep it started raining. I got sprayed through my closed window for a better portion of the night. It was the most painful bus ride ever. My back hated me. My feet were fine because they were too swollen to have any sort of feeling. We took the long way home and arrived at noon again. So each time our 12 hours turned into 16. We just can’t win.

Despite Marie's satire, it was a fun trip.


  1. Oh man. I am so annoyed for you! What a mess it must have been standing in the rain, being on that bus, and dealing with the auto hustlers! Glad you made it out alive!! Miss you!

  2. I don't know you marie, but this was a really great read... I am glad it's over for you guys though!

    kristen - email me or call me with updates!!!!

  3. oh my goodness that sounds like one crazy adventure! ah i am jealous you guys are there!