Another evening and like Part One of this story from the Konkan Coast, another struggle to find somewhere to sleep. We were cycling way past sunset after not being able to find a suitable camping spot and we had run out of both food and water. We couldn’t even find a small shop of any kind or a single sign of civilisation. Things were getting desperate and after another 30 minutes of cycling in the dark we came upon a house with an illuminated statue of a man (I later found out this was the family’s deceased great grandfather) out front. We asked if we could camp using the universal hand gesture for sleep. Unable to speak a word of English they waved us in and welcomed us into the family. The kids ran down the road and returned with the school’s English teacher to help translate some basic info.
After freshening up we were served dinner on the floor with the father before the rest of the family ate, a tradition in most Indian households it seems. Then we all laid side-by-side on the stone floor and went to sleep as one big happy family. It was a very comfortable nights sleep and we woke to tea and biscuits the next morning. Hugo and I absolutely adored the grandpa who was the most extraordinary man I’ve even seen with his pants pulled up to his waist exposing his ridiculously skinning limbs, a slight pot belly, sun-worn wrinkles, no teeth and one eye. Probably how Hugo will look in a few years if he continues cycle touring in hot climates!
Most people I have met in India have been extremely nice and their hospitality sublime. However those who work in the hospitality or customer service industry such as shop assistants and hotel owners, have come across incredibly rude. Odd that!? Talking of nice people, we were waved into a community gathering as we cycled past and enjoyed a free plate of food. As we spoke to the friendly villagers I learned more about the one of many religious events, which is an excuse to get everyone together from the surrounding area.
The next couple of days became a lot more scenic as we passed fishing villages, beautiful beaches and mangroves. However, with the improved views came the worse road conditions I have ever cycled on. I’ve recently found out that our rural route is rarely taken by cyclists touring this popular coastline and those with an ounce of sense tend to take the highway. Not us, no, we opt for the knee breaking, soul destroying, bike buckling in-the-middle-of-nowhere route which seriously pushed me to the edge.
Hurrah! We found a restaurant which served proper food, no Vada Pav’s here. I ordered one of my favourite breakfast items, Upma/Utip but as usual, I ended up receiving exactly the same as Hugo. Indian’s (no offence, not all Indians) just can’t grasp the fact we are two separate people with two different orders and think it’s more than acceptable to give me what Hugo has ordered because it’s more convenient and usually more expensive.
My first case of thankfully mild and very brief, Delhi Belly, left me incredibly weak trying to get up the cobbled hills in 40 degree heat and 80% plus humidity. It was the first time I have had to use my electrolyte tablets and it hasn’t been the last. It is sweaty. With just 15km until the next major town Hugo got a puncture but we pushed on desperate for a shower and somewhere to sleep. It was dark by the time we reached the town and getting dangerous, but as hoped, there were plenty of options for accommodation. Unfortunately it was the same old story and there was “no room at the inn“. We finally managed to find someone who must have taken pity on us and gave us a room. Too exhausted to try and find a restaurant we grabbed some Vada Pav’s – oh joy.
The road surface was unbelievable and slowed us down a lot. It was so painful to continuously cycle over potholes plus with the heat and the steep hills, we were both at breaking point. I love to push myself but there is only so much I can take and we decided to spend the last day on the highway up to Mumbai. Things didn’t get much better. It was a total death trap and within minutes my skin was black and covered in oily fumes. SO desperate for a shower and an early night Hugo and I stopped cycling around 5pm just outside of Mumbai, to give ourselves enough time to find accommodation and have a proper meal. All I have been eating for the past week is Vada Pav, biscuits and crisps, I’m dying for something substantial.
My prayers were answered. As we turned the corner, we were faced with a McDonalds! I was so excited to see civilisation and food other than Vada Pav I just HAD to get one. We had reached Navi (new) Mumbai. After a very satisfying Macca’s, we cycled through the slums and pushed our bikes over various railway tracks. Two trains going in opposite directions passed each other at the same time and an old man got caught in between the two tracks. He had to quickly crouch down and put his hands over his head. It was pretty terrifying.
So much for an early night, we spent the next four hours trying to find accommodation in the dark, not something we wanted to do in this dangerous part of town. Now nearly 9pm, Hugo was panicking as he ran into every hotel we found and begged them to give us a room while I waited with the bikes outside. I assured him not to worry and that there have been plenty of times when I have been roaming the streets of a big city alone on my travels. Indian’s say we are talking rubbish but I am utterly convinced we are turned away due to our appearance, even in the slums ffs! There’s no denying that we look like tramps covered in dirt and oil, rips in our clothes and sweat dripping down us. The fact that we are foreigners doesn’t help as all non-Indian guests have to be reported, which means the hotel has to make a trip to the local authorities or invest in a computer system. Also being cyclists doesn’t help either, our bikes (and us) always seem to be in the way no matter where we park them!
I have just about had it up to here with some people. Recently I’ve come across so much rudeness every day. However…. for what may seem like nothing but bad experiences, it’s the kindness of a few which make me love this country. You’ll hear more in my next post but on this late evening a kind receptionist at a posh hotel helped us book a room online, so they had no other option than to let us stay. The hotel spent half an hour trying to get out of it but we had pre-paid and the booking website wasn’t answering their phone so we won. We finally had somewhere to sleep!
There wasn’t much choice of food nearby so our “proper meal” ended up being a handful of Vada Pav’s, if I have to eat another, I SWEAR! After not seeing myself in a mirror for over a week, I spent a good time admiring my cuts, bruises, rashes, spots, blisters and all those attractive things that come with cycle touring. Despite our troubles with accommodation, food, physical pain and pure mingingness, I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s these testing times which make the little things in life all the more comforting and I love it.