25th March, 9.37 PM, Days Hotel Mesa Country Club, Phoenix
Back to writing after a long break of 11 days. In those last 11 days I travelled from Richmond to Portland, spent a great week in Portland before travelling to Phoenix. Now I am writing from my hotel room in Phoenix in the last evening in US soil, by tomorrow this time I will be flying for London and obviously the final destination is Bangalore which I will reach on 28th early morning.
The stay in Portland was really memorable. I went to Portland from Richmond through Atlanta. Atlanta airport is one the biggest and busiest airports I have seen till now. It is the main base of Delta airlines in US and has lot of terminals, gates and people.
In Portland, I stayed in an area called Washington square, around 4 miles from my office in Tigard. There was a huge shopping mall next to my hotel and I spent long hours in that mall. I did 80-85% of my shopping there, had good meals and tried cheesecakes from a Cheesecake Factory outlet there. It was a wonderful place with some interesting stores.
In Portland I also met Alison, my US team lead, someone with whom I am working for last 6 years but met face to face for the first time. Alison is a wonderful person, lots of fun and great to talk to. We had long chat sessions outside the office related topics and went for team lunch and dinner quite a few times. I met some other team members also, people with whom I am working for last 6 years and overall my stay was not as boring as in Richmond.
The big story in Portland was to meet Pavelda and visit Pok Pok, the traditional Thai street food restaurant! Meeting Pavelda in Portland was an item on the agenda and we spent a great evening together with good food followed by visit to couple of pubs and chat about Arsenal, Kanad and Boss (Not in exactly same order) over couple of drinks!
My stories with Taxi drivers grew in Portland too; here I met Pat, a man of 60 plus age, who drives his son-in-laws taxi when he is not giving lecture to MBA classes in a nearby university!! We used to have great chats about consumer behaviour, tax laws and other financial topics! He was a nice man and dropped me in the airport last Saturday.
From Portland I travelled to Phoenix through Seattle, a peculiar route thanks to my travel agents. In Phoenix my main plan was to meet Sekar, another of my team members in US and visit to Grand Canyon with him. Sekar is a much more senior member in the team but despite the age difference we two have a great rapport and visiting him here was a long standing plan.
Saturday night I had dinner in Sekar’s place. Proper Indian, home made food after 2 weeks and it felt nice. Returned as next morning we were supposed to start for Grand Canyon and Sedona tour at 6.15 in the morning.
The Sunday came; I was ready by 6.15, when a tour group was supposed to pick me and Sekar up for the trip. The guy came exactly on time; his name was Robin, a man in late 50s with gray hair. Sekar also came to my hotel on time and we two were the first ones to be picked up. After picking 8 more people in next hour (couple of Canadian couples, 2 ladies and an uncle & his niece) we started our journey.
It was a long journey of more than 5 hours, we gained height as we travel and that was clear from trees in both side of the road. When we started journey, it was mostly various cactuses, the huge ones which u see in those western movies and small ones like bushes with yellow flowers. As we travelled more it changes to pine and other trees which grow on the hill. Long rows of pine tree with a mountain range in the far were a great sight. To add to it there were small areas of snow where enough sunrays do not go.
The mountain range was volcanic mountain range with the peak being called Sun Francisco peaks and since it is still March I could see that peaks were covered with the snow. My first ever experience of seeing snow covered mountain peaks.
Since those Canadian couples wanted to have a helicopter ride we first headed to the helicopter base where we lfte them and then rest of us moved towards Grand Canyon National Park.
In the mean time I should write little bit more about Robin, our van driver and tour guide. Not only that he is a very good driver, from first to last he kept continuously talking about all the historical and geographical and political aspect about Grand Canyon and Sedona. Talking for so long is a skill itself and not only that, it was very informative and he clearly did his homework well. And to add to it, this guy may be doing this for years now and have to repeat himself couple of times every week!
My first view of the Canyon was breath taking. We were taken to a vantage point just in front of El Tovar, a hotel just on Grand Canyon since 1905. There are different layers of rocks, some of which were built billions of years ago and those different shapes and colours, which were created by movement of wind and water. It was to see to believe and I realized how much study I did on Grand Canyon nothing matches the experience of actually seeing it from your eyes and I clearly understood why more than 4.5 million people makes a visit to Grand Canyon every year. We roam around that area for some time, post which I did some shopping.
At 1 we moved to the desert view watch tower, a 70 feet high stone built structure near the canyon to have a view of the Canyon, the view was great as you can understand and I also could see the Colorado River at the bottom end of the canyon.
After a quick lunch we moved to the Painted Desert area where the native Indians used to live. Currently they have a huge shop of Indian related products like rags, small dolls, jewelries, bags, bow & arrow for decoration etc. Another great view there was the bridge on the Grand Canyon, especially the old wooden bridge and it’s a shame that they don’t allow even people to walk on the bridge.
After this we started our return journey through the desert. Long spaces of yellow and gray land till we reached Sedona and then dramatically the colour changed from yellow to red and then started a 2000 Feet trail down the roads through the red rock, pine trees and apple ranches through the Sedona hills. More and more as the sunset was approaching those red rocks became more vibrant and I will always remember some of the brilliant views in that part of the tour. We had dinner at Sedona in balcony of one of those restaurants with the Sedona Mountains in the back. These were the moments which you carry with you all your life.
We returned to Phoenix around 8 and when Robin finally dropped us in our hotel it was close to 9.30. A great day’s tour came to end. My first visit to one of world’s 7 natural wonders and I have to say it matched its reputation to the fullest.
Today was more of a Phoenix city tour. Sekar took me to places like ASU, Tempe Public library and a Tirupati temple. This was followed by a meeting with dear Arunimadi (my old colleague from HSBC) and had lunch together. After a good couple of hour of ‘Adda’ with stories of Bichitra and others, we dropped Arunimadi to her place and did my final shopping of the tour, chocos for friends and bags for Ma and yes one 1 TB hard drive for me.
Now it is past midnight, my last night in this USA trip. It may sound cliché but this is truly a memorable trip for me. A trip where a experienced a different life, more disciplined, more independent but may be more self-centred way of life. Some of the myths were broken; some of the myths are proved right.
I am carrying the memory of the footbridge on James River and the Desert View watch tower in Grand Canyon but I am also carrying the memory of some very friendly people around, people I met in my hotel, in my office and in the restaurants. I am carrying the memory of Shabbir and his father Shamim who made my travel in Richmond absolutely easy and fun. I am carrying the memory of Aziz, the Pakistani guy who referred me as a ‘brother’, praised my Urdu and told me “Abar Dekha hobe!” (‘see you again’ in Bengali!)
Yeah… USA… I may be leaving tomorrow but I do hope and I am quite sure of it, that- Abar Dekha Hobe!!