Individual TVs with touch screen features, jam-packed with the latest Hollywood hits. A Thai meal paired with real silverware, a cloth napkin matching the pattern of the place mat, and true customer satisfaction. I just described the experience of flying with an Indian airline. Surprised? My eyes were slathered with awe once I left the Kolkata airport, having not seen high quality anything since coffee hour in Qatar. I flew Jet Airways. My standards for air travel are now exponentially higher. I wandered the new Bangkok airport. I now know the super-human extent of modern architecture. I walked onto the tarmac at the Siem Reap airport in Cambodia. I could smell rain and the pure air of a tropical haven. I finally remembered what air could smell like. I was officially out of India.
Rain. Rain! Warm rain that recalls the vast memories of beach vacations on Caribbean islands. I looked for the ocean, knowing we were hundreds of miles from one. It was astonishing, the amount of water the air could hold, and all of it was fresh and without evidence of trash or dung-fueled bonfires. Though I've never used an oxygen tank, I imagine the sensation is something like what I felt in my lungs as I descended the stairs of the plane: wet velvet coating the tubes and filling all alveoli with down feathers, without the supposed suffocation side-effects.
I smiled as my shoestrings licked the tropical rain puddles. The sounds of the engine were muted by the winds. My country count ticker clicked: 39.
Life returned to being slow and understandable. It was without any trouble at all that I found a taxi driver whom would not only charge a reasonable cost but didn't exude a shady air, openly chatted about Khmer culture, and drove me around town in search of a suitable guesthouse within my limited budget.
Five star hotels rocketed out of the earth on all sides, and my eyes flickered with the light of a dreamer. This place was nice. This place was clean! I would have gladly walked barefoot or had dinner on the curb of the main thoroughfare. Rith, my new friend, laughed and continued to navigate the flooded streets without a blink, follow the rules of the road, and go the speed limit. Heck, there were speed limits again!
Rith (which is pronounced in no way like it appears) took care to inquire at each guesthouse for vacancies and keep looking when the inn turned me away. Once an open room revealed itself, he remained on the ground level to make sure I was satisfied then gave me his card for future service and parted into the night. The glistening teeth of his smile as he left reminded me; the unprovoked smiles from Africa were back. The Midwestern girl in my nomadic shell rejoiced.
There was a moment before I left my room in Darjeeling, when my bag was packed and strapped to my resting frame, that I took a deep breath and realized the transit days ahead of me. I knew I wouldn't be comfortable until my room in Siem Reap materialized and my proximity offered chances for Angkor temple explorations. Flopping my bag onto the floor and landing on one of my two queen sized beds covered in comfortable bedding, that moment reoccurred to me. A deep sigh left my unburdened being, signifying the other bookend to the journey between. I was finally put.