The Achievable Dream 5-part series - the definitive guide on DVD for planning your motorcycle adventure. Get Ready! covers planning, paperwork, medical and many other topics! "Inspirational and Awesome!" See the trailer here!
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So you've done it - got inspired, planned your trip, packed your stuff and you're on the road! This section is about staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure. And crossing borders, war zones or oceans!
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Tire Changing!Grant demystifies the black art of Tire Changing and Repair to help you STAY on the road! "Very informative and practical." See the trailer here!
Ladies on the Loose! For the first time ever, a motorcycle travel DVD made for women, by women! These intrepid women share their tips to help you plan your own motorcycle adventure. They also answer the women-only questions, and entertain you with amazing tales from the road! Presented by Lois Pryce, veteran solo traveller through South America and Africa and author of 'Lois on the Loose', and 'Red Tape and White Knuckles.'
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Ride TalesAn easy way to post your ride reports, whether it's a weekend ride or around the world.
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Our plan for the day was to ride the 25 miles or so to Old Goa to do some sightseeing. Since Re's battery seemed to be dead and I didn't want to replace it before determining if it was the battery or the charging system, the first order of the day was to swap batteries between our bikes. We got out the tools and the tarp and got to work removing my battery. When I removed my battery, I immediately noticed that it felt awfully light. I gave it a quick shake and heard nothing. I looked at the side of the battery and could not see any fluid in it. Huh. It has been several years since I had a bike that did not have a sealed battery and had quite apparently forgotten about checking the fluid level in the batteries. I pulled the caps out of the cells and could see no fluid anywhere. I'm not actually sure why it was still working. Since I had no idea where to find distilled water in India, I refilled my battery with purified water and hoped for the best. We went on with the battery swap and found upon removing Re's battery, that hers was equally dry. We put the bikes back together and got ready to head for Old Goa.
The ride to Old Goa was scenic, we wound our way through rice paddies and small towns before running into the bumper to bumper traffic in Panaji. We battled our way onto and off of the big bridge before heading east back into the countryside.
Old Goa is an interesting town filled with grand, old, Portuguese churches dating back as far as the mid-16th century. The town was packed with Indian visitors as we were there during the buildup to the Feast of St Francis Xavier on December 3rd.
After walking around with the other tourists for several hours, we retraced our route back to Calangute for a late lunch and a lazy afternoon. The good news for the day is that both of our bikes appear to have good batteries and functional charging systems.
While we certainly enjoyed out guesthouse in Calangute, the rest of the town really isn't our scene. The tourist scene here reminds us too much of Phuket, so we decided to head south to Gokarna. In my quick check over the bikes, I found everything to be good except my front tire, which was low again. One of these days I'm going to need to fix that. The first part of our route this morning retraced our ride back to Panaji, except today we continued south on the Nh17. The first part of the ride was busy with lots of traffic, so we didn't get to do much sightseeing along the way. The roads in India so far have been one of the major letdowns. Between the road surface and the traffic, it has been very difficult to look around for more than a quick glance. Eventually we crossed the border into Karnataka, the state south of Goa, and the temperature seemed to rise by ten degrees. The condition of the roads also changed for the worse at the border, but not too bad. The nicest change in Karnataka was that the amount of traffic dropped dramatically, and we finally had a chance to watch the scenery. The Nh17 wound its way through palm groves, small towns, and gave us glimpses of the ocean every once in a while.
We made it to Gokarna by 2:00 pm and found a hotel that was recommended to us by our friends, Alan and Maggie. We opted to skip the AC and got a room for the low, low price of 9 USD.
After unloading the bikes (once again) and packing the stuff into our room, we walked through town to find some lunch. Gokarna is a temple town and draws many devotees to its temples every day. It also attracts hippies. Filthy, filthy hippies. But the hippies of today ain't what they used to be. There is just something that seems inauthentic about twenty-somethings with freshly scrubbed faces and dreadlocks, carrying yoga mats and pushing strollers with toddlers in them. You say you want a revolution? I'm pretty sure that didn't involve doing the downward facing dog in designer clothes while little Om plays in the corner... But we pressed on and found a great place for lunch, where we ate too much and paid too little. Re and I are both finding that the problem with the very low food prices here is that it is way too easy to order way too much food. After a quick stroll on the town beach (not the nice one) we went back to the hotel to catch up on some writing and to try and digest. Since we were still full at 9:00 pm, we decided to make a dinner of and potato chips, Magic Masala flavored.
Kudle Beach is south of Gokarna by a couple of kilometers and can be reached via a footpath from town. On our way to the beach we stopped for breakfast at the same restaurant where we ate lunch yesterday. We both decided on one of the stereotypical backpacker breakfasts of fruit, muesli, and yogurt and some coffee.
The breakfast was delicious, but I was a little concerned since it came with at least 8 ounces of yogurt (really it's curd), and I am lactose-intolerant. I knew it was probably going to be a bad idea, but it tasted sooo good.
Once at the beach, we spread out our towels and stretched out to try and get a little sun. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon talking about our plans for after this trip. We discussed several different options, but most of them involve living overseas for at least a few years. Around 2:30 we decided it was time for lunch and picked the beach restaurant that looked the most promising. Strangely, about a quarter of the menu was Israeli, which was fine with me, as I enjoyed falafel and hummus rolled up in a naan, while Re had fried fresh prawns. Since we both felt we'd had enough sun for one day, we hiked back into town. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped again at the same restaurant for an iced coffee lassi and iced coffee shake rest stop.
0 miles. Feeling relaxed for the first time in a long time.
I woke up this morning feeling very bad. Stomach cramps and a desperate feeling had me running for the bathroom. Figuring it was all the dairy I'd had the previous day, I took a couple of anti-diarrheal tabs and got ready to hit the road. My quick check over the bikes revealed the same conditions as usual, my front tire and Re's rear tire were both a little low, and the shock mount bolts also needed a little snugging. After getting the bikes packed up, I once again, made the mad dash for the bathroom before setting off down the road.
The ride today started out relatively cool and was very scenic as the Nh17 crossed several low bridges over wide rivers that led to the coast. The road surface was again highly variable, with long stretches of smooth road punctuated by potholes and areas where the road base was exposed. As the ride went on, the day got warmer, and several times we ended up riding along the beach before turning back inland. Our original goal for today was a town called Kannur, about 50 miles beyond Mangalore, but I did not feel well enough to ride that far today.
In North America and Africa, we could reliably average 35mph, including fuel and food stops, but here in India, we have to fight to average 25mph. Consequently, we are having to lower our distance expectations. Riding here is also exhausting. The constant stream of oncoming traffic in our lane and general road chaos doesn't allow a moment to relax, and by the end of the ride most days, Re and I are worn out.
We made it to the hotel in Mangalore by 4:00 pm, and I went up to the room to lie down and cool off, while Re unloaded the bikes. I hadn't had to make any emergency bathroom stops since this morning, but I still did not feel good at all. When dinnertime came, we looked in the Lonely Planet to try and find some not spicy, blander food that would appeal to my stomach. We found our answer in the form of a Pizza Hut at the nearby mall. We walked the 8 blocks to the mall and rode the escalator up to the 4th floor, where we enjoyed pizza and garlic bread for a belated Thanksgiving dinner. In honor of our Pilgrim forefathers, I got the pizza that had corn on it. After dinner we wandered around the mall in search of hair bleach for Re. Strangely in India, the only hair colors they have seem to be eight shades of brown plus black. The more we walked, the less good I felt, and we walked quickly back to the hotel. Sigh.
160 miles in 6.5 hours. I'm beginning to suspect that this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no lactose-intolerance...
Last night's bad feelings turned into multiple trips to the bathroom. Between visits I actually slept well, but I woke up very sweaty in the morning despite the A/C. I checked my temperature with the thermometer from out first aid kit, and it was normal, so hopefully it's nothing worse than a simple case of, “Delhi Belly.” I did take one of the Azithromycin tablets that we brought with us last night, so hopefully it does its magic soon. Our goal for the day was a short ride to Kannur, so we didn't get on the road until 10:30 am. Between the sprinkle of rain and my tummy troubles, I decided to skip any bike maintenance this morning and just started riding.
Like previous days, the ride today was a mixed bag. Traffic was very, very heavy all day, which contributed to slow going. There were long stretches of road that were in good condition, but these were again broken up by patches of shit.
The first part of the ride was pretty, passing over many rivers and riding along the coast. Due to the heavy traffic, it took us over 2.5 hours to cover the first 45 miles, and we didn't make it to Kannur until 3:00 pm. Once we reached Kannur we pulled out the cellphone to call hotels and found that every recommended one was full. Only certain hotels in India accept non-native guests due to paperwork and reporting requirements, so our choice now was either to search for another hotel that would take us, or to ride the 60 miles further to Calicut. Since I felt pretty good at the moment and Kannur didn't look like much, we decided to continue on. The traffic between Kannur and Calicut was very heavy and especially aggressive, and Re and I found ourselves sandwiched between buses and trucks many times today.
The highlight of the day was being flagged over at one of the police checkpoints so the officer could let us know that our headlights were on. Since we bought our bikes in the US, there is no way to turn off the headlight, and this seems to cause a significant amount of consternation for many people we encounter on the road. On any given day that we ride, we get at least a hundred hand signals or headlight flashes to let us know that our lights are on. Young people, old people, children, men, women, all want to make sure we know our headlights are on, we have even had people come out of stores to let us know they're on. So it was no surprise when an officer stopped us today to let us know that our lights were on. I once again explained that our lights cannot be turned off, to which the officer smiled, shook my hand, and wished us a safe journey.
We arrived in Calicut around 6:00 pm only to find the same situation with the recommended hotels. All of the ones where we wanted to stay were full except for one of the higher-end hotels. Tired and not feeling well again, we decided to spend the 50 bucks on the fancy hotel and rode off in search of it. We knew the general direction, but unfortunately ran into a series of one way roads that sent us off into the unknown. Fortunately, some friendly local people took pity on us and drew us a map to the hotel. As we approached the hotel, Re spotted another hotel two doors down. While I waited with the bikes and chatted with the crowd that gathered, Re walked to the other hotel and found that they had nice, air-conditioned rooms for around 22 USD. Sold! Since the road we were on was one way, we did like all good Indian motorcyclists, and rode the wrong way up the one way street, spending equal amounts of time on the road and on the sidewalk. By now, I hadn't eaten anything all day, but my stomach could not face the extremely spicy Indian food served in this area. Lucky for me, there was a KFC across the street. Re was kind enough to head across the street and returned with a chicken sandwich, coleslaw, and a Diet Pepsi before heading out for some dinner on her own.
165 miles in 7.5 hours. The bikes are running well and seem to enjoy the Indian petrol much better that the African varieties.
I woke up feeling better today, but apparently my bowels didn't get the memo, since they had already booked a couple of appointments in the “reading room” for this morning. After taking another Azithromycin, we loaded up the bikes and added a little air to the tires. We were greeted by the best roads in India so far and actually enjoyed the ride for most of the day. There were some torn up areas but only for ten miles or so. The scenery was similar to that of the previous several days, with rivers, and green and coconut palms everywhere. It did sprinkle on and off throughout the day, but never enough to actually wash our filthy, filthy, filthy riding gear.
Before we left Africa, our Dariens were in need of a washing. Now after two weeks in India, they are turning gray. The amount of dust and diesel being belched all over us has made washing our gear a priority.
Re has taken to riding with a bandana across her face to at least cut down on the amount of grime that gets stuck to her face every day, but I kind of like the Captain Jack Sparrow look. Some nights we are amazed that hotels will even let us in the front door with as grubby as we are. All kidding aside, I have found that I have developed an occasional cough since we arrived in India.
Around lunchtime we stopped in a small town for some lunch and had a nice time chatting with our fruit vendor and the rest of the usual crowd that gathered. We made it to Ernakulam around 4:30 pm and found a good guesthouse run by a friendly Royal Enfield rider. While he was looking over our bikes, Re had the brilliant idea to ask if he knew of a local welder who could fix her rack. She rightly figured that Royal Enfield riders would know all the repair shops, and John said he knew of one to send us to tomorrow. After another dinner of too freakin' hot food, we returned to the room to have some Pepto Bismol tablets for dessert and watch Spider Man 3 on the tv.
131 miles in 6.5 hours. Riding through the multitude of small towns is killing our average speed.
Our plans for today were to get some ride-related problems fixed and do a little touring around the town. The ride-related tasks were to find a place with washing machines where we could wash our Darien Lights and to find a welder to fix Re's rack. Assuming we got these done in a timely manner, we also wanted to take the ferry to Fort Cochin to do a little sightseeing and then book a boat tour of the Kerala backwaters for tomorrow. After a lazy morning, we spoke to John again, and he was able to give us directions to a laundry business that should have machines and directions to a small welding shop, both within walking distance. Re grabbed one of our jackets to use as an example of what we needed washed and went off in search of the launderer. While she was gone, I removed her Pelican case and top rack and saw how extensive the damage was.
Upon closer examination, it wasn't the welds that had cracked, but the the actual metal that had torn next to the welds. Of the three attachment points between the top plate and the tubular side frame on each side, two had completely torn and the other four had cracked. After a while, Re returned with the bad news that the launderer would not be able to get to our gear for three to four days, so we will need to look for another solution. We then set out for the welding shop, and twenty minutes later, found ourselves at the front door of the Welding House. The shop wasn't much to look at - there were two guys sitting out front, brazing brass fixtures, and from the recesses of the shop we could hear a couple of grinders running.
The one employee who spoke a few words of English, took the rack from us and gave it to the welder and his assistant, who did a very workmanlike job of repairing the tears and welding the cracks. I assumed that they would remove the powdercoat from the affected areas before they started welding, but no.
In less than ten minutes, they were finished and handed the still red-hot rack to the employee who had assisted us earlier. He asked if we wanted any grinding, which I declined, or if I would like black paint, to which I said yes. He set the rack to cool for a minute and disappeared into the back, to return with a paintbrush and a can of paint. Since the welding process had burned a lot of the powdercoating off, he quickly scraped the loose coating off with a broken sawblade before brushing on a thick coat of paint. In less than fifteen minutes, we had our rack welded, painted, and returned to us. Since I had not enquired about the cost of the repair before they started, I had no idea what this would cost. Assuming we would pay a rush charge and the foreigner charge, I was expecting to pay between 10 and 15 USD, so Re and I both smiled when we were told the total was 80 rupees (1.60 USD)! We thanked all the gentlemen profusely and made our way back to the guesthouse before noon. The walk back was interesting because most of the rack was still too hot to touch, and part of it was covered in wet paint, so there were only certain places I could hold it while navigating the sidewalks teeming with people.
After dropping off the rack in the room, we headed to the ferry to Fort Cochin. The ferry ride through the harbor was a short twenty minutes through a working port. One thing the ferry ride did not provide was relief from the stifling heat and humidity of the day.
We spent the next two hours wandering through the crumbling, colonial buildings and along the waterfront.
Here we saw groups of men operating Chinese-style dip nets, which have been used in this area for the past seven hundred years. We returned to Ernakulam in the late afternoon and went to the tourist office to book our all-day backwater boat trip for tomorrow. But no. Apparently, there will be a strike tomorrow to protest something or other.
The Indian political system is made up of a number of parties, and the ruling party in Kerala is the Communist Party of India. And apparently, they like to strike whenever the mood hits. Communism- the political system where everyone but the political leaders lose. We were assured that the boat trips would resume the following day, but we didn't want to hang around that long, so we will have to work on Plan B.
Back at the room, Re suggested that she might try to hand wash our riding gear and decided to use her jacket as the guinea pig. After removing the armor and emptying the pockets, she put her jacket in a bucket, added some soap and warm water, and did her best grape stomping impression. Several changes of the rinse water later, she had one dramatically cleaner jacket. We decided to stop now, because we weren't sure that they would dry overnight and it would be better to have just one damp jacket. Since the paint had finally dried on the rack, I took the opportunity to reinstall it while Re went in search of some fruit. I was pleased to find that the rack had not warped significantly from welding, as all the welding points still lined up. Later that evening, we went out for yet another too freakin' hot dinner.
0 miles. Why is the food in southern India so ridiculously spicy?!?! I swear they put chilis in the ice cream!
Since the strike screwed up our boat trip from Cochin, Plan B was to head a little farther south to the town of Kollam and take a boat trip from there tomorrow. Since Kollam was only about a hundred miles away, we took the time to do a little bike maintenance this morning, remounting Re's Pelican case and doing a general fastener check. My front tire is still losing 5 psi every day, but it never seems to lose any more. When we started off this morning, we each had about 2/3 of a tank of fuel, so we were in no hurry to get petrol before we left town, since petrol stations are plentiful (especially compared to Africa). I did, however, notice that most but not all of the petrol stations seemed to be closed, but it didn't really register until our fuel lights let us know we only had about 1 liter each. It was then that I remembered the strike today and realized that was why virtually all petrol stations were either roped off or blocked by empty buses and trucks. Unlike Africa, we have not been carrying much petrol in our jerrycans since we haven't needed to. Fortunately for us, we happened to have approximately 6 liters between our two jugs and had to refuel out of these since every petrol station we passed for more than twenty miles was closed. After refueling, I saw we had enough fuel to make it to Kollam but still pulled in to an open station that we found about fifteen miles later.
The roads today were good and the strike seemed to have reduced the number of vehicles on the road significantly, which was a nice bonus. Once in Kollam, we found a cheap hotel and decided (for some dumb reason) to forgo the AC. We ate another too damn hot lunch downstairs at the restaurant before heading down to the jetty to book our backwater canoe trip for tomorrow. Later, back at the hotel, we started to realize the error of out ways in not opting for AC. Our room had no screens in the windows, and therefore, we couldn't open the windows to let in the slightly cooler air outside. To make matters worse, when we finally did lie down, we discovered that under the sheet, the mattresses were vinyl covered. It's going to be a sweaty night and not the good kind.
As predicted yesterday, it was a hot and sweaty night. Neither Re nor I slept very well, and the fact that it was pouring rain did nothing to improve our attitudes. Since we didn't have to be to the jetty for the canoe trip until 9:00 am, we decided to give it to 8:30 for the rain to stop, or we would skip the canoe trip and head to Varkala once the rain subsided. Since our canoe trip was supposed to run from 9:00 am until 1:30 pm, and our checkout time at the hotel was 2:00 pm, we wanted to have everything packed and ready to go before we left that morning. While we worked on getting ready, the rain did stop. At 8:30 we hopped on the bikes and rode to the jetty, where the boat company people found us a place to store our helmets and park the bikes. It was now that we found out that our 4.5 hour boat tour was actually a 1 hour autorickshaw ride, then a 2.5 hour canoe ride with a 1 hour return autorickshaw ride. Oh.
So at 9:00 am, we boarded our autorickshaw for the twisty, bumpy ride to Monroe Island and the home of our tour guide.
There, we boarded a 75-year old wooden canoe and headed out through the canals. Our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out all of the various trees, spices, birds, and other animals we saw along the way.
We stopped for a demonstration of coir rope making and some tea.
We made another stop at a boat building business and saw how the local boats are built. They use planks of wood that are stitched together, and the seams are waterproofed with coir and fish oil. After our return autorickshaw ride, we zoomed back to the hotel and loaded up the bikes for our very short ride south to Varkala.
Varkala is supposed to be a nice beach town, and Re and I are looking forward to some quality relaxing. The ride was only about 25 miles, and we soon found ourselves lost. The beach at Varkala is at the foot of a 100-foot high cliff, and all the hotels and businesses are arranged along the top of the cliff. We had a general idea where the hotel was, but the connections from the main road are a maze of narrow alleys and footpaths with very little signage. After riding around and asking for directions for twenty minutes or so, we finally called the hotel and were assured that we were very close, but they would come and find us. A few minutes later, a man appeared on foot and led us the quarter mile to the hotel. The funniest part of the ride was that we had to turn onto the main footpath at the cliff top and ride a couple hundred yards through the pedestrians to the hotel.
And what a nice place!
All twelve rooms at this two story hotel had front balconies from which you could see the ocean, and our room was on the second floor with a particularly nice view. We decided once again to skip the AC since the room had big windows, a mosquito net over the bed, and a very powerful ceiling fan. All this for only 14 bucks! After unpacking the bikes and settling into the room, we went for a walk along the cliff to scope out our dinner options and then descended the steps to the beach for a stroll and a dip of the toes in the water. The beach here is beautiful, and the scenery ain't bad either. Later that evening, Re and I found ourselves sitting at a front row table overlooking the ocean and enjoying a delicious dinner. Life does not suck right now.
26 miles in about 1.5 hours. My bike doesn't seem to be very happy at part-throttle.
It rained hard overnight, which made for cooler temperatures and good sleep. We woke to a foggy morning and eventually made our way down to breakfast and then walked along the cliff to get the lay of the land. We decided to wait until after lunch to go to the beach since it was still foggy at the beach. We sat on our balcony and worked on ride reports before grabbing a thali for lunch and then headed to the beach.
The beach here is the most pleasant we've been on in India, and the water was a fantastic temperature. There were also some good-sized waves, and the water was very clean. We also really liked the vibe in Varkala the best of any beach town we've been in so far. Whereas Goa was mostly older package tourists, and Gokarna was mostly young, hippy wannabes, Varkala was a nice mix of ages, and most people seemed to be there just to relax. After playing a little frisbee and lying in the sun, we headed back to clean up for dinner.
Again, the morning was somewhat hazy, so we retired to our balcony after breakfast and found that we could get a wifi signal from last night's restaurant and took the opportunity to post some ride reports.
Later in the morning, we walked south along the beach and turned inland to see one of the local temples and to buy some fruit. After lunch, we headed to the beach again and spent the rest of the afternoon lazing in the sun and playing in the waves. After another delicious tandoori fish dinner, Re washed my riding jacket and some other clothes before we went to bed. As we were finishing dinner, it began to rain, and it rained on and off for the rest of the night.
Before we went to bed last night, we decided that we would leave the beach and head for Kanyakumari today. However, last night's rain had us reconsidering this plan. I was woken up before dawn by an extremely strong rainstorm, and it was still raining when we got up at 6:30 am. We decided that if it stopped raining before 9:30, we would ride south today, but if not, we would stay another day. The rain did stop around 8:30 am, and we took that as our cue. After loading up the bikes again, we headed south for Trivandrum.
The ride to Trivandrum wove through a nearly continuous string of small towns and the traffic was horrendous. It took us two hours to ride 35 miles to the zoo. I was pleased to find the zoo's location in my GPS, and it guided us directly to the main entrance. We parked the bikes and cable locked our riding gear to them before we headed into the zoo.
The zoo was a nice, compact size and was filled with lots of interesting animals. We spent the next two hours or so looking at birds and monkeys and their impressive collection of big cats, which included leopards, lions, jaguars, and several tigers.
After making our way back to the bikes, we continued south towards Kanyakumari. Through the rest of Kerala, the road surface was okay and the long procession of towns continued. Once we crossed the border into Tamil Nadu, the roads got a little worse, and traffic became very heavy. We were again back to dodging buses and trucks, and then, we hit Nagercoil. The town itself is hardly a blip on the map, but the traffic gave Mumbai a run for its money. In one section, it took over thirty minutes to go four miles, but we finally made it through. The last ten miles into Kanyakumari was a really beautiful stretch. The Western Ghats, which start around Mumbai, end just outside of Kanyakumari, and here are a line of low, single humps that jut out of the ground, surrounded by impossibly green rice paddies.
We eventually made it into Kanyakumari, and Re set out on foot in search of a guesthouse while I waited with the bikes. Once again, the usual crowd formed, and I spent thirty minutes or so talking about the bikes and our trip with all those assembled.
Re found us a very nice hotel for a reasonable price, with cold AC and a beautiful view from the balcony. Kanyakumari is the southernmost point in India and has a famous temple that attracts thousands of pilgrims each day. So later that evening, we headed out into the bazaar to find some dinner and mingle with the pilgrims. Since we were both exhausted from our ride today, we returned to the room, set the AC for 70 degrees, and snuggled up under the blanket(!) for a good night sleep.
100 miles in about 5.5 hours. My bike has no mid-range and is softly backfiring when closing the throttle. What's up with that?
Last night we set the AC for wintertime in central Oregon and crawled underneath the blanket as a nice treat. A lovely night of sleep was suddenly ruined when, at 5:00 am, the local Catholic church started blasting Mass through their way too loud PA system. After an hour or so, I staggered out of bed and rummaged around until I found our earplugs. These jammed firmly in our ears, it brought the word of God down to a dull roar. Since it was so chilly when we tried to get out from under the covers, we just shut off the alarm and snuggled up to keep warm. Eventually we had to get up, so we turned up the temperature and got ready for the day. The religious service was finally over at 9:00 am, but hey, it is Sunday after all. Re had purchased a watermelon during our stroll last night, and we had some before we went out for a real breakfast of masala dosa. Every other time we've had masala dosa, the filling and chutneys have been mildly spiced. But of course, today, the filling and even the coconut chutney were very spicy.
After destroying what was left of my stomach lining, we walked down to the beachfront to take our photos at the southernmost point in India. Unfortunately, motor vehicles are not allowed, so we were unable to get a picture of the mighty Symbas at the end of the subcontinent. We now have been to the southernmost point in Africa and in India on this trip. Here at the beachfront, there is the massive Kumari Amman temple, which is a Hindu pilgrimage site.
This morning we saw hundreds of pilgrims visiting the temple, bathing in the sea, and doing their shopping in the sprawling market that surrounds the temple.
Also at the beachfront is the Gandhi Memorial, which we visited.
Near the beachfront is an exhibition of the life and journeys of the Indian philosopher Swami Vivekananda, who is also known as the Wandering Monk. The Swami was a fascinating man who spent part of his life traveling India and learning about all of its major religions before trying to revitalize India through religion and social justice.
Later, we took the ferry out to an island approximately 400 meters off shore, where the Swami meditated at the end of his all-India journey. Here, his followers have built a memorial and temple to pay tribute to him. The ferry trip was our first real introduction to the legendary queuing in India. First, we had to get into a mile-long line to buy a ticket, all the while fending off latecomers who believe they want to get on the ferry worse than you do. Then, after finally getting a ticket, we joined another mile-long line to board the ferry. This line was inside the ferry building, and it was hot. A family who was in line behind us shared some of their snack food (chaat) with us while we all waited, and of course, it was spicy. After nearly an hour from the time we first joined the line, we finally got on the boat for the five minute ride to the island. After touring the first island, you queue again to get back on the ferry for the 100 meter ride to the next island to see the 133-feet high statue of the Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar. We didn't really want to go to this island, but that's where the boat went. We would have liked to have stayed on the boat and gone back to the mainland, but no, you must get off and get in another line in order to get back on the next boat. By now, the temperature was 95 degrees and we were dishrags. Fortunately, while we waited for the next ferry, I was able to score two cups of vanilla ice cream, which melted as fast as we ate it. The ferry finally made it back to the mainland, and we only had to queue once more to drop our life preservers in the pile before FREEDOM!
We walked back to the hotel room, turned on the AC, and took a nap. Suitably refreshed, we headed out for dinner at a non-vegetarian restaurant. I ordered the chicken pilau and was nervous when it arrived, as both the chicken and the rice were lukewarm. But against my better judgment, I ate it anyway. After dinner, I had a funny feeling in my tummy but attributed it to the greasiness of the meal. Fingers crossed!
Once again, a perfectly lovely night's sleep was shattered at 5:00 am by the wall of sound coming from the church half a mile away. But hey. It's Monday? Maybe that's why the assault only lasted two hours this morning. After showering and packing all our gear we headed down to the bikes for a little exploratory wrenching. I had been thinking about the poor running and soft backfiring of my bike and was interested to see what kind of condition my spark plug was in. When we changed Re's spark plug two weeks ago, I didn't really look at it since it was so hot, but she is not now having the same problems as I am. In the hotel parking lot, we pulled my spark plug and found the center electrode to be worn and the plug gap to be approximately twice what is specified. The plug was also fairly black. Well now, that's a problem that is easily fixed. We replaced the bad plug with the freshly gapped new plug from the spares bag and after putting a few psi in some tires, we were ready to hit the road. My bike started more easily than it has lately, and once underway, the effect of the new plug was dramatic. I now have midrange and no more backfiring. It's amazing how much nicer a bike is to ride when it's burning all the fuel.
Our destination for today is the city of Madurai, which is 160 miles due north of Kanyakumari, and our first non-coastal destination of the trip. After making our way through the first five miles or so of city riding, we merged onto a glorious piece of pavement. The Nh 7 is a beautifully smooth, four-lane divided highway, with almost no traffic. No potholes, no slowing down for towns every three miles, no speedbumps, no solid line of trucks and buses belching diesel in our faces, and almost no oncoming traffic in our lanes. The only bad part of the ride today was the wind. The area we rode through had several windfarms and we soon found why they were located here. But hey, if the worst we have to do is fight a little wind, then it's a really good day riding in India!
But all good things must come to an end, and it did, once we reached Madurai. The Lonely Planet compares the traffic in Madurai to that of Rome, and it is pretty bad. Multiple lanes full of buses, trucks, autorickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, all trying to get somewhere now. Once again we were glad to have the GPS which eventually led us to the hotel area near the big temple. There must be a festival going on now, because all the recommended hotels rates have gone up by 50 to 100%. While I sat with the bikes on a busy street corner and chatted with the locals and a woman from Chapel Hill, NC, Re spent nearly an hour checking out the possibilities. She eventually returned with news of a newly remodeled and lovely room in an otherwise kind of shabby hotel. We rode to the hotel and parked out front while we checked in. The big drawback to this hotel is that it's on a busy city street, and they have no off-street parking. The room itself was beautiful, all brand-new, with nice linens and a flat screen Sony TV hanging on the wall.
After checking in, we went in search of a late lunch and tried one of the recommended restaurants around the corner. I have not been feeling very well all day. I don't have any specific complaints other than mild nausea and no real desire to eat, so I ate a fairly plain lunch. Since it was later in the day and we had a full day of sightseeing planned for tomorrow, we went back to the room and caught up on ride reports and blog posts. Later, we headed out for dinner. My stomach hurt, but I wanted to put something in it to keep the system going. We found a restaurant that had fish and chips for me and some delicious Indian food for Re. I ate my dinner but did not necessarily enjoy it, and do not want to think about food or smell food. Back at the hotel, our friendly bellhop gestured to the bikes and had us follow him to a locked metal door on the storefront next to the hotel entrance. He unlocked it and motioned for us to wheel the bikes inside. Yay, secure parking! We were happy to have the bikes off the street, and he seemed very happy to have the 50 rupees (1 USD) tip that I gave him. Feeling better about the bikes and worse about my health, we went upstairs for bed.
165 miles in 5 hours. My bike is running better and our average speed is finally above 30 mph.
Last night's bad stomachache turned into the inevitable today. Sigh. Is it the grease? Is it the spiciness? I don't know, but this stomachache just won't quit.
Eventually, we left the hotel and walked up to see the huge Sri Meenakshi temple, which is the “crowning jewel” of Madurai.
The temple itself is huge, covering six hectares and is marked by twelve gopurams, which are giant towers covered with Hindu deities and other figures, all painted in an explosion of bright colors. The tallest of the towers here is 52 meters high. After fending off the usual touts and guides, and here, tailors, we checked our shoes and went inside. Like most of the temples in India, some areas are off-limits to non-Hindus, but here, large portions of the temple are open. We spent the next few hours touring the temple, observing the pilgrims, and marveling at the architecture.
Re got “kissed” on the head by the temple elephant as a blessing, and hopefully the elephant snot in her hair will bring her good luck.
Sometime after noon, we wandered back to the hotel, stopping on the way to pick up some baked goods which I thought I could eat. After eating our food, we hopped on the bikes and rode the three miles or so to the Gandhi Museum. We arrived at around 1:15 and soon found out that the lunch hour at the museum is from 1:00 until 2:00.
So we killed our 45 minutes by wandering around the grounds of the museum and having our picture taken several times by other visitors to the museum. This is something that happens at nearly every site we visit. People love to have their picture taken with us (I assume with other foreigners as well) and I have no idea how many people's vacation photos we will eventually end up in. Re and I joke that if we charge five rupees for each picture, we could pay for our trip. Finally, 2:00 pm rolled around and we entered the museum. The first half of the museum tells the story of the occupation of India from the early days in the 1500s through to India's eventual independence in the late 1940s. The second half of the museum is dedicated to the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. His life is a fascinating story and is told in great detail through text, photos, exhibits, and letters he wrote. For me the most moving part of the exhibit was the blood-stained dhoti that he was wearing when he was gunned down by a Hindu zealot on his way to a prayer meeting in 1948.
After the museum we rode back to the hotel and escaped from the heat by working on ride reports and blog posts before heading out to an internet cafe to post the results. On the way back to the hotel, we picked up chicken shawarmas and potato wedges, which we ate in the room. While the food tasted good, it did bring on another bout of tummy trouble. Sigh.
Last night's tummy trouble continued through to this morning. Sigh. Since this did not seem to be going away on its own, I broke into our meds and started my second course of Azithromycin in India. Since we only brought four courses between us, I had been resisting using "my" last strip of pills. Azithromycin is the recommended treatment for travelers' diarrhea in India, but Re and I are beginning to suspect that perhaps I have something besides travelers' diarrhea. Next time we get the interwebs, we'll have to do a little research, but for now Azithro it is.
We hit the road around 9:00 am to make the short ride to Tiruchirappalli (Trichy), which is a small temple town situated on either side of the Cauvery River. Today's ride was another enjoyable hundred miles or so back on the same, divided, four-lane highway, with light traffic and beautiful scenery. The fact that it was cooler and breezy today only added to the comfort of the ride, but we did end up fighting a headwind most of the way. The good roads also allowed us to make excellent time, and we made it to Trichy by noon. Once in Trichy, the traffic turned even more chaotic than usual for a town in Tamil Nadu, but we still made it to the bus station area, where the tourist hotels are located. While Re went off in search of a hotel, I sat with the bikes and chatted with the autorickshaw drivers about the relative merits of our bikes versus the domestically produced (and similar) Bajaj M80. Re came back after thirty minutes or so with news of an inexpensive, AC hotel with off-street, guarded parking. We motored the two blocks or so to the hotel, checked in, and then had a delicious thali lunch in the restaurant on the ground floor.
After lunch we hopped back on the bikes and headed for one of the big sights in Trichy, the Rock Fort Temple. Once again, we were extremely glad to have our GPS, which had the location of the temple, because there is no way we would have ever found our way through the maze without it. The Rock Fort Temple is a pretty cool piece of stonework.
The upper of the two temples in the complex required a 437 step climb, but the panoramic view of the surrounding town and river was worth the effort. Both temples are working temples, but surprisingly, we were allowed to enter the upper one. But perhaps the highlight of the climb was the small gang of rhesus monkeys who demand food from the pilgrims and raid the trash cans for any scraps they can find. Like most temples in India we've visited so far, there are safe drinking water dispensers, and these monkeys were clever enough to know how to operate the taps after they finished their meals. It was late in the afternoon when we hiked back down the 437 steps, so we saddled up and rode back to the hotel. After we parked and locked up the bikes, we went out in search of dinner. After my relatively bland meal, my stomach seemed to be doing okay. Fingers crossed.
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