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The day in Kanyakumari was hot – really ridiculously hot – I tried to spend the day outside but the hotel lobby had AC and comfy seats so we just sat and talked and drank water. Aside from the market and the scene in the town – the find of the day was the sweet banana dosa café – a dosa is like a huge pancake – sugary sliced banana inside and coconut milk – for some reason they also insist on hot curried sauces – this is what the locals do – no way for me. A lot of our group go to this place – about 10 have left so far – 18 of us will go back to the beach at Kovalem to get some last tanning done – then depart – it’s basically 60 hours of varying goodbyes – mine is somewhere in the middle.
Back in Kovalem ( I forgot to mention a few days back – this place was a serious victim of the Tsunami a few years back – but has been rebuilt and recovered well) I say a few farewells – to Ken, Barbie, my team mate Rod who got kicked out of his room due to 100 schoolgirls descending on our hotel so slept in my hallway (it was pretty romantic), Stephanie is off to get married Indian style in Delhi, Bernie and Beryl who I will see in England in a few weeks, Mika – the lovely Japanese San Fran lady, Swiss Erik the napping mountain man, Roommate Rob and Lorry, The Blonde Ladies – Anna and Eva – who kindly bought me a great fish lunch today on the beach, James and Anna – we helped each other get pretty drunk last night on the hotel roof at sunset – the drink was called ‘6000 – Super Strong Beer’ – thanks India for crazily named beers (managed to get about 15 others involved too – good work again – thanks for the dinner James!), Jo and Edwina, Maureen (lunch truck legend) and Victor, Victor, Erik and Morgan of course, Michelene – what a lovely lady – the cool staff – the list goes on – it’s sad saying goodbye but I’m so ready for home now – I need to get back to normality once more – you get pretty tired living out of a backpack and being on the move. My Bike box is ready – the gifts are bought and packed – all my clothes are donated – I will be saving one non lycra outfit to fly in however – the taxi booked for 1am – the alarm set for 12.30 – my Bidi days are over – no beers tonight – trying to get a little sleep before the 5am flight to Qatar – 5 hours transit then off to chilly London where hopefully my dad is picking me up.
The Movements of India –
Cow movements – always go behind a cow as they rarely reverse,
Bus movements – get the hell out of their way – they will mow you down,
Dog movements – peddle fast and shout at them – they want to bite you,
Camel movements – they go slow and are predictable – but give a wide birth
Motorcycle movements – listen for a high pitched horn but stand your ground – they will back off most of the time
Kids movements – shout ‘Hello, How are you’ – or ‘Where are you going?’ to them before they do it to you – when passing schools always wave and give the kids high fives – tip– remember to sanitise your hands after as they wipe their backsides with left hands
Elephant movements – stay away from all wild animals at all times
Bowel movements – we all had a lovely time here
Tuk Tuk movements – grab a side bar and cadge a free ride – especially on climbs
Busy City Traffic Movements – get right in the middle and keep the same speed – look everywhere – expect bruises and minor squeezes – shout a lot – the bell is useless
Monkey movements – don’t go near them – they look cute but want your food – their eyes glow in the dark and they are evil- not to be trusted
Road Worker movements – the road workers are mostly women – they make the road worse and are responsible for the remaining tar on my bike – the best roads in India are absolute shit – it’s a crappy job they do – and they do a crap job
So my summary of this trip then – where do you start?
Actually the drivers in India are good – you need a huge amount of skill and bravery to get through a one inch gap at 70k/h – it’s ridiculous but it works. The people are kind and honest – just curious about us. The food is great – the service needs refinement – the paperwork is painful – the system is frustrating – the pace is slow – the streets are dirty – the people work hard – the bars are all dark and underground – the tourists are few – the scenery is crazy and stunning – they have everything but nothing here – they just need to learn how to do it properly.
So from the Taj Mahal at the start– the deserts and palaces of Rajasthan – the forts and the castles – the crazy long climbs – the Ghats and temples – the fast dangerous descents – the awful sand and rock days – Morgans 3 wheeled adventure – the hand bike giveaway in Mumbai – the accidents and incidents – the big cities – the medieval towns – the Dams – the Rivers – the Oceans – the mountains – the heat – the broken bikes – the falling down the stairs – the bus rides – the drinking – the Bidi smoking – the eating – the parties – the flowers – the Russians of Goa – The Lassi – the prawns – the fish – the English drinking partner arrival in Mumbai – the coffee –the illness we all had sometimes – the chai – the swimming pools – broken chain on day 2 – 4 punctures – losing stuff – laundry – lack of toilet paper – stinky streets –the exhaustion – 5am wailing – snoring – orange tape – getting lost – the luxury – the dumps we stayed in – the bed bugs – the lunch truck – unpronounceable names – the shaking heads – the bloody bag system – the daily 5.30 alarms – the wildlife – the plantations – the shopping – the frustrations – the bloody 195k day – the White Mischief vodka – he snake man – the Indian Wine – the jungle lodges – the truckers in our beds – tuk tuks – the buffets – the old riders – the new riders – the mosquitos – the final emotional ride – the fitness – the 75 year old riders – the weight loss – the staff – the drivers – the water park – the shouting – the horns – the staring…… – it’s a crazy long list – it’s been a real adventure.
The best part for me – aside from the riding – has been this great and diverse group – we all got along so well – 2 months is a long time and sometimes people can really get on your nerves – this group tick along fine – we all helped each other – we all got along – we all had fun – good and bad – who cares if you had a bad day – there’s always someone to eat or share a beer with here.
I would recommend this tour to anyone – there will probably be just a few changes next year – but good ones I think – the TDA did well for a first tour – I would do another one day – somewhere else – maybe – let’s see – most of the guys on my tour were over 55 – an amazing feat – took me by surprise – wonder if I’ll be doing this when I get to that age?
Over and out – time for a clean bed – some probable last minute paperwork at the airport tomorrow with a bike – delays – heat – a curry on the plane – no upgrades – the family from hell next to me – Qatar Duty Free – raining in London – it will be good to get home…… Off to Belgium next week with 3 mates – Tour of Flanders 3 day cycling/Stella Artois Tour trip – great to get on the road bike again. I will be working at some stage soon too…..
22/3/2011 – Last minute update from Qatar (5 hour transfer) – nightmare at the airport this morning – bike box too big but managed to talk them down – had to pay a whopping baggage excess of £300 – yes THREE HUNDRED POUNDS – for my bike – credits and debit cards not working in their machine – the airports one ATM was broken – luckily I had £350 in cash – which I had to change up at a truly extortionate rate of 60 (usually 73) – and pay the bloody bill – only took an hour and a half at the desk – then I go through – still got £40 in rupees – can’t change them back so end up buying duty frees – you gotta love India – I’m not even sure the bike is worth £300 in its current state – at least I got a legroom seat – watched The Kings Speech – free internet at Qatar – better not fall asleep and miss my transfer – and the bloody bike better be there! Now – I wonder if they take rupees here…..
If you want to read the TDA blog – see some more photos etc. and Henrys words on the elephant – check http://www.tourdafrique.com/tours/indianadventure/blog
This will be the last blog – hope you enjoyed it – I hope to keep in touch with a lot of people I met here and plan a family trip to Canada in the near future – great trip guys – no more Bidi’s or Kingfisher – see you one day maybe…..
Clive – email@example.com
What the hell is that? – 4.30 am – a huge sound system is pumping music on the beach – there’s no escaping it – I call reception – its Sunday – market day – let’s get up at 4 and make a racket day – so – no alarm – no lay in – what do I expect in India – I’m up – time to write the blog then and pack my bike – crazy times – sleep deprivation – a porter knocks on my door 6 – he obviously knows I cannot be in bed with this noise – but he gives me fruit and water – so not all bad – it this good customer service – or is it all about timing? I decide my whole backpack and bike can go in one box – the rest of my stuff will be disposed of over the next 2 days – my bike spares are with Vinny – the staff have been tipped – I’m downsizing in a big way.
Spoke to the family last night – all seems well – a box has arrived from Goa so they have some presents already – today I’m exploring the town and heading for a pool or the beach – today is the festival of colours – all over India – I expect to be covered in paints at some stage – they go crazy for it here – I better be careful – my clothes have to last me just one more day.
I did a quick interview with Morgans cameraman Erik about my experiences on the trip then head down to the waterfront – it’s a cool little place selling shells, pearls, street food, bags, textiles etc. – any really cheap here – probably the cheapest I’ve seen in India – more likely I’ve been overpaying everywhere else. I visit the Gandhi Mandapam – a museum where his ashes once were – this is the place he walked to for the right to make salt – there are a lot of Indian tourists here – visiting shrines and temples – its buzzing but not overbearing and a great way to wind down after this trip. The place is also unique as it has both a great sunrise and sunset being on the southern point of India. Most bikes are boxed now – people are relaxed and planning their departure. I’m probably going to swim in the sea and take it easy now – done some shopping – seem the sights – all by 10am – the benefits of a 4.30 start. Back to Kovalem tomorrow for the final day there.
Just bumped into an English guy – Tom – he has just finished a solo tour with panniers from London – through Europe – all the way here – makes our trip look like a day trip. He’s not the first rider we’ve seen – there was Alan from Ireland who joined us for 3 days around our elephant incident – and I met a 51 year old Indian guy who did 30 hours flat – Delhi to Mumbai – so there’s a few out there seeing the world by bike.
A knock on my door – ‘Bag Please Mister’ as my door is opened for me whilst I panic in my room – I am late – again – I stand in front of the porter (who has just walked in) – I am naked and hand him my bag – ‘Why did my alarm not go off?’ – did the others get up ok? – I wake up my neighbouring rooms – Bernie and Beryl lay on their bed still fully clothed from last night – then I look at my watch – I read it upside down initially – Its 5.25 – what the hell is this guy doing in my room? – the concept of time here is crazy. I’m up – I need water, coffee and food – Tony is up – he has to get his baggage and bike from the truck before it drives off at 6.30 to flag our route – it’s another quick goodbye for him before he goes back to bed – I’m jealous – I need sleep too.
It’s now a 2 hour breakfast as we sit and drink tea and coffee and the toast keeps coming – I’m in no hurry today – we have to meet at a point at 2pm and do the final ride in together. Morgans out here today – I ride with Rod and Victor and we leave last at 8pm taking our time – we’re all wearing our new turquoise cycling shirts – it’s hot and I’m sweating a lot – last night’s drinks are pouring out of me as the day rises to 30c by 9.30am. There’s a few climbs but it’s a great ride – lots of turns to miss – lots of chai stops – we ride slowish – at my pace – I’m feeling weak today. It’s a funny feeling – the final ride – it’s been a long journey and people have spent 8 intense weeks together – you never forget something like this and often people can become lifelong friends. We pull in about 1pm and hit the lunch truck – our trusty friend who has supplied us with fruit and sandwiched on the nicest and weirdest of locations – you can have lunch here between 8.30 and 3pm – depending on the day – I will miss my 6 daily slices of water melon an my cheap white bread sandwich.
At 2pm we group ride the final 4k to Kanyakumari – we get cheered as we come in and assemble at the harbour for photos in front of the huge Thiruvalluvar Statue on an off shore Island – this is the most southern point of the Indian Peninsular and where the 3 seas – the Indian Ocean, The Bay of Bengal and The Arabian Sea meet. We spray each other with champagne – have a few hugs and photos – it pretty emotional. It’s about 4060k in total for me – 3800k for the ride and the rest in a few trips at the start and a ride or two at some of the wildlife places – well I made ‘EFI’ status – it’s a good feeling – there’s a few of us – I’m glad to put the bike down now.
A party tonight and a great slide show of our trip – there’s shots of all of us and some of the crazy places we’ve been to – there’s a few tears in people’s eyes – some are leaving in the morning – some – like me have a few days for last minute shopping etc. – some are going off elsewhere for another adventure straight away – I’m ready to go home and get into my own bed. After a few drinks and some great food I head to bed at 9.30 – last night has really caught up with me – for the first time I am going to switch off my alarm completely – now that’s a good feeling – into the refuge of my suite – the AC is pumping – football on the TV – it’s going to be a great sleep…..
As we leave the luxury sanctuary of Palm lagoon on our bikes we are refreshed and ready for the ride today – I am once again covered in mozzie bites from the previous night – I dint know why but I seem to react badly to them and they come up huge on me – my 2 x daily disgusting tasting malaria tablets (4 on a Monday) seem to be working and I have to keep taking them for 4 weeks after the trip – just in case.
The ride was pretty flat as I spend the day with Swiss Eric, Rod and Tony – we push along at a decent speed and do the usual coffee / chai stop – these stops seem to be getting longer as we now take 2 or 3 double coffees down – sitting in the sun – killing the day. As we approach the hotel we set up Tony – so he can ride through the gate – arms raised – and take todays yellow jersey as ride winner – the hotel staff are actually already waiting for us to welcome us in – they are lined up – paint our faces – give us flowers and necklaces – and today there is a special winners prize -an ice cold Kingfishers wrapped in cold flowers and tinsel – how good and crazy is that – why on earth did I let him go in first – they took a stack of photos and Tony loved it – it seemed his last day was already started in way of celebrations.
Kovalem is one of the most famous beach resorts in India – the hippies came to this sleepy fishing village in the 70s – it became the first topless beach in India (now banned) and has grown into a major tourist destination. It maintains its charm and the beaches are beautiful – a prefect run up to the finale of this fascinating bike trip. I am now at about 3950k and will break the 4000k target tomorrow on our last ride – mixed emotions about finishing the tour – great people, great country – but there’s no place like home – 8 weeks is a long time away from my kids and I have to thank my wife Angela for understanding my occasional wanderlust over the years!
The hotel is great – 2 pools – set up a hillside next to 1 of 3 crescent beaches (the only downside being about a50 steps to get to the top) – it’s hot, peaceful, there’s not many tourists in town – which is good – some great seafront cafes, shops, vendors, fishing boats, big waves breaking – it’s a great beach – far better than any so far here – this is relaxing India at its best.
Most people are drinking coffee, beers, swimming and enjoying the surroundings – the waves are big so body surfing is the order of the day followed by a few beers by the pool. Tonight we have our cycling jersey presentation and awards night. The jerseys are cool with a map of India and details and illustrations of the ride on – we will all wear them for the final stage tomorrow. The awards are fun done on a clapping system – Morgan wins best celebrity and the evening goes down well as we head down to the water front for drinks and dinner – this where it all goes wrong!
‘Where shall we eat?’ – was a question asked by different people as the group splits into sections. ‘Just a quick drink here’ before we eat was the solution – so being Tony’s last night we wanted to give him a good send off – it’s been fun having another Brit around (albeit from Sheffield) – someone to talk crap about with from home – and boy does he know how to drink.
We grab a table on the boardwalk – this is where everyone walks by so we go practically the entire group during the evening at some stage or another. ‘What time shall we go and eat?’ – And ‘Let’s have one more before we go’. But we didn’t go – we stayed a very long time there – and pulled in guests at regular times of the night as they walked by – the drinking group grew to about 15 and the party was flowing. Beer, Run and Indian Brandy were our chosen drinks for the night and all were partaking – we did order pizza and fries in the bar – so we did actually manage to beat – one slice of burning hot pizza and 6 fries are a decent meal aren’t they? Anyone who joined us had fun – and got drunk – we were all singing Beatles and old songs (terribly) – Tony was plastered – As was I – Mike could not walk – Bernie could not focus – Rick was singing away – it was pretty messy – the bars takings that night were huge. It’s alright for Tony – he’s having a lay in then flying home – some of us have to get back on the bikes. The night seems to finish suddenly at midnight when 5 men (un-named) decide to skinny dip in the waves whilst full of beer – what a laugh but the bar owners seem concerned – they know what’s inside these hardy swimmers – anyway – 15 minutes pass and the 5 naked men re appear from the sea laughing (not a good look) – the bar seems to have decided to lock up (good move) and we dress and start to climb the stairs home – I have to escort Bernie and Beryl to their room as it seems not to be where they left it. I get in – shower- pack – I’m ready for the ride – got loads of water – just 4 hours sleep is the only problem – I’m getting too old for this drinking lark – but it is the last ride tomorrow……
Well there’s no cycling today – just a boat ride through the glorious backwaters to Kollam – so what does this mean – yes we get up at 5.30 – put on normal clothes – eat breakfast – then relax – easy. Firstly I consider the day ahead – we are on a boat for 8 hours – we need beer! Rod gets 2 water melons – we drain them and soak them in vodka – this will be chilled and served for breakfast. I order 60 x 650 mil bottles of Kingfisher – put them in the hotel bar fridge and arrange for them to be delivered to our boat at 6.30 am – for the non-drinkers I get 2 bottles of water! We also get 3 large cool boxes – 20 bags of ice – we are prepared. With the logistics planned I head to an AC restaurant for beers, food and Indian Brandy – we get hammered and I pass out at midnight – it’s a bad start already.
Getting up is hard – shower and coffees barely assist but we are all on the boat with our bikes – and our beers and Bidi’s – by 7am.
The boat ride is great going through the calm backwater canals – men are fishing – kids are ferried to schools along the way – the water is calm as we chug along past villages – we see elephants on the banks and loads of birds sitting on the Chinese fishing net structures that line the way – superb wooden houseboats cruise slowly by – women wash clothes in the rivers and lagoons – it’s a peaceful slow beautiful cruise – check out my photos to see how lovely the place is.
People are sunbathing, sleeping, reading, eating fruit, taking photos, taking in the stunning scenery and relaxing. I am arranging the bar – considering opening shop at 10am – a fine time for a beer – but James decides 9.30 is actually the correct time for a beer and the bar is open. People soon follow suit and by 10 am the drinking crew are in full force on the sun deck – these are by far the coldest beers we have had in India and slip down a treat. The ice cold vodka laced water melon is sliced and delivered to the unsuspecting non-drinkers – a good trick!
Rod gets his sound system going at midday – cards are played – Bidi’s smoked – and people are enjoying the ‘booze cruise’ on Kerala’s backwaters – one or our best days on the tour.
Upon arrival to our hotel we unload the bikes, bags and cool boxes and head for Tony’s room – no reason other than he has a cool box with a couple of beers left – it’s a natural progression. I then decide I really must stop drinking and find my own room – when I arrive in my room there just happens to be another cool box placed in there – with 6 cold beers left – aha – I take these to the pool for further analysis with my comrades.
We have had some crappy places on this tour – and some great places – but this one is truly amazing – I have a lovely double room with a balcony on the lake – right on the lake touching the water – there an infinity pool – spa – massage – bar – boat rides – laid back music at the outdoor restaurant – and our cool box – perfect. I talk to the owner of the place – he’s been expecting us and has been following my blog from day 1 – amazing who reads this stuff. Its pool time for most people in our new found luxury – just what we need at the end or the tour. Everyone’s in a good mood today – whether it’s the accommodation, the coming of the end of the tour, the great boat ride – who knows – but it’s a nice vibe.
So Kollam – great place – stunning – cool boat house hotel – this is one of the best places in India for me – back on the bike at 6 am – 105k tomorrow – give or take – seems like ages since I’ve been in the saddle…..
Out of respect to Henrys family nobody has yet mentioned on blogs what has happened to him – actually one has gone out (much to the annoyance of the staff and group after specifically being asked not to) but Shanny, our tour leader, has now allowed people to post the event as it is already in the Indian and Canadian Press and all Henrys family are aware of everything – so here it is.
A few days back I wrote of an incident which led to a bus transfer for the second half of a ride. I also said I felt a little nervous riding alone through the wildlife sanctuary at 6.30 am where the animals were out in the masses. This time of day – cool and just light is when they start to move around and feed – most safaris go out at either dawn or dusk. I head off and do my climb, as do the other riders leaving after me up until 7.45am. Henry (Company owner) is again the sweep and leaves about 8 to cruise along. He’s been around a lot – knows how to deal with situations and is pretty savvy as he potters along enjoying local life.
As he’s going through the first 10k of the ride he spots a bull elephant close by and is cautious – a car drives by in a hurry and sounds his horn to go past the elephant – this startles the elephant and the next thing it’s gone for Henry – he tries to run but it ends up smashing the bike and hits him. It’s all over in 15 seconds but Henry is badly hurt as the elephant has run over him – crushing an arm, breaking bones in his back, multiple facial injuries and stepping on his head. The car – of course drives off – it’s what they do here. Luckily Stephanie, one of our San Fran riders, is on hand and assists him. He’s seriously hurt, dazed but conscious – he had his bike helmet on which took the force of the elephant’s foot (obviously a quality helmet). The ambulance took him to hospital (I did see an ambulance fly down the mountain as we were climbing and hoped another rider hadn’t had a traffic accident) where he will stay a few days. Stephanie was shaken and traumatized by this incident – who wouldn’t be. He now has a couple of pins in his arm, has facial injuries and they are checking his back – he has had surgery – he seems in high spirits –was keen to re-join the group at the finish – but will fly home for a recovery so sadly we will not see him again on this trip – he is taking emails and best wishes at firstname.lastname@example.org – we all wish him a full and speedy recovery.
So we are tour leaders down, the groups safety is first – hence the bus transfers we have had to take – but the ride must continue to the end. It’s a lesson to all of us – be aware and be careful – this was just a freak occurrence – it can happen to anyone. A local told me that 2 tourists were killed in the same area by elephants last year – but they left the road to take photos – they paid a heavy price. The riders and staff are still subdued, stunned and shocked – we have to pick ourselves up and pedal on – as per Henrys request – shit happens – our thoughts are with him. Knowing Henry a little now from this trip – it’s a great tale to tell in the future – one of many he has.
Some riders still managed to complain about the transfers and even talked about leaving the tour (a selfish and childish attitude). Shanny had to make a logical quick decision and I think he made the right one – yes it’s a bike tour – yes we missed possibly the best ride of the trip – but saw it from a bus with a few decent stops – but we made it safely – life’s too short to complain – we are not in hospital – we are not going home early with bad injuries – so well done to the staff. Don’t let this put you off cycling or touring India – weird stuff like this can happen anywhere.