Sunday, August 28, 2011

Always Take A Utility Knife or Multi-Tool

Darjeeling had been a pleasant place to hang out for a week, but it was time to move on to Bhutan.

Bhutan had determined that I'd ended up in Darjeeling anyway—I'd needed to find a land route to the Bhutanese border—discounting my flight expenses a bit—and Darjeeling was a convenient, pleasant city en route. I'd needed to pass some time since my scheduled trip didn't start until the 30th—I was trying to delay in order to hedge my bets and get to Bhutan as close as possible to the end of the rainy season.

I wore my jeans every day in the rainy chill of Darjeeling, went on the toy train, drank a lot of tea, went to the zoo, and to the nearby Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. I love a good mountaineering story and am a bit of an Everest buff. I also like yetis.

Lots of photos of Varanasi to Darjeeling, including the Darjeeling zoo and its snow leopards are here. (My Mac is still running Snow Leopard and will do so until I am home and able to upgrade without fear of something going wrong and devastating my work output.)

My bus would leave at 8 tomorrow morning for the seven-hour journey down the mountain to the heat of the plains. I had to show up early, so I'd have to be out of my room a bit before 7:30, to hike down the hill from the Dekeling Hotel to the bus departure point. All buses left from what was referred to as the "old supermarket," which had long since been converted into squalid compartments for offices.

I'd bought my ticket today for tomorrow's journey, from the old supermarket, in an office for the State Transport Corporation. I'd asked around at the bus depot, with helpers pointing me up the stairs, where I looked at the available storefronts, considered my options, and got it right the first time. These were the guys who went to Jaigaon, the town on the Indian side of the Phuentsholing border with Bhutan.

I'd settled my hotel bill after dinner and now I had to pack in my attic room. 

I hate packing and will often delay it until the last minute. I always leave something out—and I have a fairly rigid packing order, having been doing this for so long—and then I have to pull everything out again and put it all back together like a puzzle. 

But finally, the backpack was ready and so was I. It was late, nearly midnight now. I grabbed my laptop to go out into the common area where the wifi signal was strong. 

I turned the key in the door handle. 

And nothing happened. 

The key was stuck. 


I pulled, turned, tugged, jiggled, coaxed...I tried everything. But the key wouldn't turn.

I considered my situation. I was six flights above the street, locked in an attic. 

When this had last happened to me, in Bolivia, my roommate Heather had stuck her head out the tiny bathroom window and yelled "Help, help!" The hotel owner had then been there when I dismantled the door apparatus with my Swiss army knife, piling the handle into his hand in pieces. We'd then switched rooms. 

But I'd been in a big rush when I'd left home this time (working, renting out my apartment, planning) and I'd done a poor job of packing. My Swiss army knife was in my garage along with my trail mix I'd intended to munch on across Africa.

Subduing my rising panic, I went back to the door and tried again. 

"Hello? Is anyone out there?" 

No one was outside my room. 


I had a titanium spork. Maybe I could unscrew the door handle with that. 

I rattled the door in frustration. 

"Are you stuck?" 

Finally. It was another solo traveler, another woman who would sit in the common area and use the wifi.

"My key won't turn my lock and I"m leaving early in the morning." 

"I'll go to Reception and get someone." 


The guy from Reception couldn't do anything either—why do small hotels always seem to only have one key? He rattled the door for a while too. 

How does one get out of a sixth-story attic without using the door? 

"Listen, I'm going to take the key off the keychain and I'm going to slide it under the door. Maybe it will work from your side." 

A second later, the door opened. 

"Let's try it again," said the clerk. "Go back in and lock the door." 

"No, you go in and lock the door." 

He laughed, but he did it. And this time, the key worked fine.

Yeah, that's not TOO embarrassing. I'm sure everyone assumed I had done something wrong. I hadn't. The lock really had jammed up on me. But I shrugged. There wasn't much I could do to prove I wasn't just an idiot who didn't know how to use a door properly.

But when I went to sleep...I didn't lock the door.

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