Monday, November 2, 2009

India Day 1 – The shakedown (shake-apart in Ben’s case) ride (60miles/64Km)

Despite the afternoon nap I slept very well and woke refreshed, Ben slept so well I had to wake him at around 7.30am . Breakfast was at 8am so I went for a stroll down to the beach. Today was Sunday and there were fishermen on the beach preparing the nets for fishing. Although apparently the church frown upon it and sometimes extract some form of penance if members of their flock transgress. If they don’t pay up then there can be problems if family members want to get married of someone needs to be buried.


They also seem to send a boat out but their challenge is getting past the wave. The beach only seems to have have a short run for the waves and just where the wave breaks the beach has been worn away. So the sea gets deep very quickly and then shallows again.


These guys are lugging the ropes they attach the nets to.


They finally got the boat past the wave area.


This decoration was between my room and Ben’s room – quite a startling relief.


After a bit of early morning snapping it was time for breakfast, there was a choice of both an American breakfast or a Kerala Breakfast. Ben and I chose the Kerala breakfast which was a vegetable curry with some Indian bread – it was delicious.

The plan was to leave at around 10am - we were going to cycle to a nearby beach, around 30Km/20 miles way have lunch and then head back again. Unfortunately they had not fixed the bike Ben was going to ride so Bob, the tour organiser, lent him his bike. We put on plenty of sunscreen and loaded up our water bottles and set off. Apparently it was a fairly straightforward route, but Graham (the Aussie) had been on this trip before led us out. The first thing that hits you is the heat it is just about OK when you are moving, but whenever you stop sweat starts streaming down. You also definitely want to get out of the way of busses and trucks they drive as if they own the road.

The people were friendly, they would often wave and say hello as we went past and the schoolchildren would giggle when they got a response. The roads were pretty good, tarmac, but quite bumpy and sometimes would turn to rubble. There were also sleeping policemen – bumps in the road – in the UK these would be signed to ensure they were noticed – in India they go unmarked and are quite lumpy.

On these trips there is also interest in who are the speed merchants, who keeps stopping to takes picture and who gets lost and how the various bikes perform. There were some problems – although more on that later otherwise Alan will probably think this post is about him.

We passed quite a few churches on the way out including cemeteries where people seemed to gather in their Sunday best. The churches also seem to have large outside areas for people to gather in. I guess when it is really hot you don’t want to be cooped up in a hot church.


There were a few bridges to cross as we cycled along, in places the scenery was reminiscent of Vietnam, with fishermen in the rivers and palm trees lining the banks and the sun blazing down.

P1000819The rivers were quite large and in one place they had not actually finished the bridge and we had to detour inland in order to find a smaller bridge that had been finished.


Here is one of the intrepid cyclists (Ben) looking at a spot where a bunch of birds were feeding on garbage.


Or maybe he was looking at these guys fishing.


Or maybe this fisherman.


At one point we stopped and were asked to wait for what seemed no reason. It was good to get some water – nothing more delicious on a hot day’s cycling. The reason turned out to be a puncture, Alan had the first on the road, after one when putting his tyre on the day before.


I did try to take a picture of the three ladies on the right hand side but were a bit bashful.

P1000842 Whilst waiting for Alan it was also a chance to check out the banana offerings. They range from orange through to green – good cycling food. We had had a few for dinner and lunch – but I am not too keen on bananas but will eat them if pushed.


One thing I forgot to mention is that many of the cars on the road are all based on an old British model – I think it is based upon the Morris – they call it the Ambassador.


The route then took us on a detour past some elephants, not a common sight in the UK.


It was also not unusual to attract onlookers whenever we stopped – here is Graham being mobbed.


After a while we reached Varkula Beach – it seemed to be a bit of a “hippy hangout” although not as busy as last year according to Bob, We were approached by sellers offering various bits and pieces from rooms to let through to health giving massage. We headed for the beach and found a beachside restaurant which provided a great meal – Ben and I shared Aloo mutter and dhall with rice. We also had normal coke to get some sugar for instant energy.


As we sat enjoying the rest we saw a pod of dolphins out at sea. They were quite far out so look a little like specks at sea in this picture.


Here is the beach at Varkula – not too busy, we did see one or two backpackers with their rucksacks and flip-flops though.


Here is one of the hilltop beach stalls.


After lunch during which we discussed another of Alan’s punctures we went up the beach a bit, Alan followed and then had another puncture so we left him fixing it with Ben assisting him and headed back to Wild Palms. The ride in had, what seemed, to be quite a large climb before descending into Varkula, fortunately on the way back the hill seemed to be much easier than I thought. Ben and Alan caught us up and then we followed Christine somehow managing to take one or two wrong turns. The support team managed to track us down each time and direct us back. At one point we stopped for Ben who had gear problems and thought his bike was a bit shaky. When he stopped we discovered his gear cables were loose – but more importantly I also noticed that his frame was coming apart – which is why his gear cables were loose. Bob’s bike also had S&S couplings to allow it to be separated for easy transport and the bottom one had come loose. It was not surprising that it felt loose over the bumps. We tightened it by hand and then caught up with the rest of the pack who somehow had passed us during one of our detours.

Ben had his frame tightened with a spanner, we got a water refill and discovered that Alan was having yet more puncture problems. By this time he had stopped at a bicycle repair shop where they replaced his rim tape with a rubber strip as the problem was tracked down to metal filings in the spoke holes in the rim. The charge for all the work was less then 50p (50cents) so Alan doubled it,

When we got back we discovered Mary (who had been on the Bangkok to Saigon trip) had arrived having had a connection problem and having to stay overnight in London. She had arrived in the early morning but was asleep when we left for our shakeout ride otherwise she would have joined us. It turned out that Jim (also on the B to S) and his family had been further delayed and were expected early the next morning.

It was great to have a shower and cold beer. Ben was planning on going in the sea but didn’t. I did some hand-washing hoping that the clothes would be dry by morning. By the time dinner came around we were starving – this is how it was served. Each course was put on the leaf – generally rice and then a vegetable curry and some form of bread. We then ate it with our right hands after mixing it up. It is harder than it looks. It was even harder for me as I am left-handed – and it definitely should not be used for eating. One course was a sweet lentil like “sauce” into which we mashed a banana and ate along with a thin corn-like pancake – again it was delicious. A sort of Indian Banoffe pie.


Did I mention that we all got to wear garlands as well!


Here is Ben in his. The drink was cumin “tea” surprisingly refreshing.


All-in-all it was a good shakedown day – it allowed Mary, Jim and family to join us despite their travel problems (well Mary definitely). It showed up some teething problems and allowed us to get the measure of cycling on Indian roads and of course remind us that the correct side of the road to cycle on is the left side.

I was very pleased with my bike – a good choice for the roads, it was good over the bumps but not too heavy up the hills. The only thing I would change at the moment is the rackpack which I bought to carry stuff on the back of the bike, it is too small for all my stuff. (Tools, inner tube, hand wash, sunscreen, jelly babies, antiseptic wipes, plasters, lock and Immodium for Ben).

Tomorrow is a rest day/ train ride to our next location Madurai. So we had taken the pedals of the bikes as they will be taken overnight and we have to pack our stuff.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. You have this down to a science. I think I need the livewriter software or the linux equivalent!