KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We had spent the day inside the hotel due to the heavy rains and when they finally stopped in the evening, we decided to venture out for some fresh air and a good Greek meal. I looked back later and realized that it was a Friday, but it wasn’t the 13th so why did things go so terribly wrong later in the evening?
We chose to go to the quiet restaurant we had passed when we were on the Lonely Planet walking tour the previous day. It was located a little ways away from the hubbub of the central touristy zone of the Monastiraki metro station, and looked towards the ruins of the Roman Agora (market). As we settled at our table, we noticed a young man seated alone near us.
The waiter was clearly pleased to see us because he had encouraged us to come and eat at his establishment when, on the previous day, we had stopped to look at the menu. Most tourists say they will come back another day, but very few do. He had told us there would be live music in the evening, and that was another reason we chose to come. He apologized that there wouldn’t be live music after all, supposedly because of all the rain that day. I don’t think they expected to have many diners in the evening.
He helped us order our food once we told him we wanted some traditional dishes and not just the usual Greek salad, souvlaki, kebabs and spanakopita. Anil ordered a local draft beer and I decided to have a glass of ouzo, a Greek drink that tastes like black licorice. When our food arrived, it looked, smelled and tasted delicious. Anil’s was particularly impressive because if came wrapped in parchment paper and when he opened the corners that had been twisted together at the top, the steam poured out and the aroma was divine. Our waiter asked if we wanted dessert, but when we told him we were already too full, he brought us a single serving of a light dessert, compliments of the house. It was a ‘sweet’ gesture.
I can’t remember how it was that we started talking with the fellow sitting on his own, but we learned that he was an American from Arizona and that he was taking a quick couple of days off from his high-tech job in Germany to make his first visit to Greece. After finishing our meal, Anil and I moved closer to his table and continued visiting with him, eventually learning that he works for Honeywell, the company that recently bought Matrikon Inc., the company that I worked for before I retired four years ago.
The three of us talked and passed the balance of the evening and when we asked for our bills, the waiter presented us with three small complimentary glasses of ouzo. They were very tiny for sure, but it was another nice gesture. Our new friend refused his drink immediately and the waiter was very surprised and said to him, “You’re not going to drink this?”, in a very surprised tone.
Now, I have always loved the flavour of black licorice and though I haven’t had much ouzo in my day, I have enjoyed Sambuca very much in the past. I poured the little drink into my glass and ended up having both. We kept talking and were oblivious to the fact that the manager and the waiter had shut down the restaurant and were leaving to go home for the night. Our friend asked us if we knew the way to the metro station and we told him we were walking right past it to get to our hotel, so we would take him there.
We parted at the Monastiraki metro and took a moment to introduce ourselves by first name only, before we said goodbye. Joe disappeared into the metro station and Anil and I walked the few short blocks to our hotel. We stopped to get new passwords for the internet and ended up having a chat with the desk clerk. We must have chatted for at least fifteen minutes about the state of the Greek economy, and about the second round of elections that were going to be held on Sunday, just two days away.
We went to our room and as I walked across to the window in order to close it, the room started spinning and I felt dizzy and nauseated. Oh dear, I thought, I’ve eaten some bad food and I thought I was in for a terrible bout of food poisoning. I stretched out on the bed and could barely move. I wondered why Anil was feeling fine, because we had shared each other’s food, as we usually do.
All I could think of were the times when I had become terribly sick after eating eggs right before going to a museum. We hadn’t been to a museum yet, that was still to come for us. I asked Anil to bring the garbage container to my side of the bed in case I was sick, because I didn’t feel like I could get out of bed. Poor Anil, I made the mistake of telling him I felt like I was having a stroke or something and that he should keep an eye on me. I don’t think either of us slept very well after that.
In the end, I didn’t get sick to my stomach, but I did lie awake listening to the sounds of Friday night revelry coming from the street seven floors below. Then suddenly, around 3:00am, I heard the sound of the locks turning on our door and the door being pushed open. I shouted to Anil that someone was coming into our room, and because he wasn’t sleeping soundly either, he leapt to his feet shouting that whoever was there should “Get out! Get Out!”
I was still feeling poorly, but told Anil to call reception immediately and ask for the security guard to come to our floor. While we waited, Anil dressed and then went to the door and opened it. He was surprised to see two very confused looking Asian men standing there with their luggage. They told him that they had been given a key to room 701, our room as it happened. Anil told them there must be a mistake and that they should go back to the reception desk.
In the end, it turned out that the desk clerk had made a terrible mistake and had given them the key to a room that was already occupied. Anil spoke to the man and he was very apologetic. It was three o’clock in the morning and I doubt any of us got much sleep after that. The new guests scared the daylights out of us, we startled them almost as badly as they startled us, and the poor night clerk probably wondered if he still had a job.
I tossed and turned wondering why I felt so badly, but mostly I kept worrying that I was not going to be feeling well enough in the morning to tour the Acropolis. We had decided not to see it our first day in Athens, it had rained heavily on our second day, and now, early Saturday morning I was incapacitated from a bad meal. We knew that the Acropolis and most of the museums were closed on Sunday and the weather forecast was calling for more rain. I was feeling rather sorry for myself.
I don’t know what made me realize what had happened to me, perhaps it was the fact that I was still so dizzy in the morning, despite the fact that my stomach didn’t hurt and that I hadn’t actually thrown up during the night. I started thinking about the free drinks that we had been given after joining up with the solo American. I remembered that the waiter had been very surprised that our friend had declined his drink and had encouraged him to try it.
The light suddenly went on. The drink had been spiked, with the single traveller in mind. The waiter had not anticipated the American refusing the gift, nor the fact that one of us would drink it in his stead. There was nothing the waiter could say to stop me before I drank it, without giving himself away. Gone was his chance to drug the man on his own, and then take advantage of him when he was in no position to defend himself. I’m sure the intention was to rob him of his money and/or his passport.
Anil felt my suspicion was justified, especially given the fact that my symptoms weren’t like anything I’ve experienced before with migraine headaches or food poisoning. For sure, I know he was relieved that I wasn’t having a stroke. We went over the events of the previous evening in detail and in the end; we were convinced that I had mistakenly consumed a drug intended for someone else. It didn’t seem reasonable that they would have spiked a drink for either of us, because if only one person was unwell, the other could raise an alarm.
It was clear there was nothing we could do about the situation. Perhaps I could have gone to the police and had a drug test done, but to what end. The waiter could just say that I wasn’t accustomed to drinking ouzo and leave it at that. Our only regret was that we had no way of getting in touch with ‘Joe’ to warn him about what had happened, and put him on his guard in case he returned to the restaurant for another meal.
Luckily, I started feeling better in time for us to eat before they closed the breakfast room for the day, and we set off to the Acropolis. It was good to get out in the fresh air, and luckily for us, the weather was near perfect. The skies were bright blue, the sun was warm, but not hot and there was a light breeze blowing. As the morning progressed, I began to feel better and better.
We returned to our hotel in the late afternoon, totally exhausted and fell into a deep, deep sleep almost immediately. When we arrived at the hotel, we learned that a technician had checked the locks on our room door and we were assured that no one would be surprising us again, day or night. It was dark when we awoke, but we decided to check our email before we left to go for dinner. To our surprise, our son Raj sent us a message that he was available for a video chat. It was Saturday morning in Calgary and he and Vy were just waking up, cuddling with our granddog, George.
We had decided that we wouldn’t write about the spiked drink on my journal because if would probably just alarm our friends and family, but we did tell Raj and Vy all about it during our video conversation. We were fine in the end, and Raj joked to me that I shouldn’t drink other people’s drinks, or something to that affect. He’s right you know; I’ve taught him well.
After winding up our long-distance chat, we set off towards the bustling square where we knew loads of locals and tourists would be out enjoying the unusually warm November evening. I suggested to Anil that we should go down into the Monastiraki metro station to see the ruins that were uncovered there when they were building the metro for the Olympics in 2004. We had to hunt a little for them, but eventually were able to admire the amazing network of water channels and sewers that had been constructed in the area centuries ago.
Just as we were about to turn to leave, I looked up and saw Joe walking towards us. I couldn’t believe my eyes. By the most incredible of coincidences, he too had read about the ruins in his copy of Lonely Planet Greece, and had come to see them. I was so pleased to be able to tell him about what had happened, and how he had narrowly avoided being drugged and perhaps robbed, or even worse.
Joe told us that he had already eaten, thankfully at a different restaurant this time, and when we offered to buy him a coffee while we continued our conversation, he told us that he doesn’t drink coffee. I put two and two together and asked him if he was a Mormon. He smiled and said yes, and that explained to us why he had declined the complimentary alcoholic drink the previous night. He kept apologizing to me for what had happened; I kept telling him it wasn’t his fault.
To wind up this very long story, we ended up standing together in the square, leaning on a railing around an opening to the very set of ruins that had drawn us together again earlier. I think that our recounting of our suspicions along with the incredible coincidence of us running into each other again helped to establish a kind of bond between us. We introduced ourselves to each other properly, took some photos to remember each other by and we gave Joe our email address so that he can keep in touch with us should he wish to.
As we shook hands for a final time, Joe mentioned again that he will be working in China and Singapore in the spring and that if we are passing through, we should get in touch with him. He even told us that he usually has a corporate apartment and we would be most welcome to stay at his place if it suited our plans. We thanked him and parted with hearty handshakes all round.
As Anil and I walked away, Anil turned to me and told me he felt that we would see Joe again one day. This kind of friendship is not new to us; we have met a few people now on our travels. People that we are still in touch with, whom we met and will probably meet again in the future. For some reason, these wonderful people seem to be placed in our path so that we can honestly say, we do not always travel alone.
I’ve decided to write about these events because I still can’t believe that we ran into Joe a second time. I was able to put closure to my worries about him being targeted once again. There was no way for me to know that he would refuse all alcoholic drinks as a rule. I wanted to be able to tell him about what had transpired, and I also wanted to warn him to be even more careful travelling alone. In the end, I was able to do both.