samnstew

22 – 29 November: The penultimate chapter – a last 1000 km on the road to Kerala.

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So we were on the road around 10.30am. It was getting hot, but not too bad – and we’d had a decent break from getting togged up in all the riding gear while we were in Anjuna. We found our way out towards Mapsua, and then were on the NH66 south back towards Panaji and the airport. It was quite busy with traffic, but moving quite well. We continued on aiming for Margao, getting a few pics around the place, some lovely old buildings and full school yard of kids. Then across the railway, where had taken the journey back to Bombay in 1990.

We then took the main beach road continuing south. We stayed in Colva 27 years ago, and just wanted to get a look at the place again. It was only around 45 km, so we we back cruising the beach area by 12 noon. There was so much development in the area, but I did recognise the dead end road, and then off to the right – one of the hotels we’d used on the beachfront to make phone calls (there was no service at our backpackers bungalows). After a week in Vagator and Anjuna, it really wasn’t anything spectacular, though the beach was a wide expanse of sand, we hadn’t had in Anjuna.

We drove around a while, a bit further south to Benaulim. It was so big now, and even had a Dominos Pizza! – it was such a sleepy fishing village back then. But again we didn’t find any nice beach huts to stay on the waterfront. I really didn’t want to be far off the beach, and so we tried a couple of places – the first was 7500 rp a night (no way). We decided to keep looking, and drove back towards Colva. We took a back lane again (not far from the beach), and tried another place – getting cheaper at 2500 rp, but no Wifi. There were guest houses all down the lane, and signs for restaurants and bars on the beach (lots of signs in Russian – looks like an invasion!) – and the next one we tried had good off road packing in the garden, was 1800 rp, had wifi and the room had a small balcony. By now it was 1pm, and we were getting too hot to go further. It was part of the Oyo rooms chain, called Ashton Ajoy – and would do us for the night.

The info sheet in the room, said in included a basic complimentary breakfast – and had the wifi code. The internet did connect, but it was pretty terrible – so slow!! I tried to send the t-shirt pics to Shalaka on facebook but it just kept failing! It was getting really hot outside in the sun, so we were happy to relax a few hours under the ceiling fan, make a cuppa and snack on some biscuits – and Stew had another samosa left from the morning too. We browsed the maps and tried to check routes and places online too – It was slow going, but an hour later we had a kind of idea of a couple of places to aim for in the next couple of days. Margao to Udupi (With the Malpe sea front 6 km away), was going to be around 300 km, estimated at 6 hrs, so maybe a bit too far for one day. Margao to Cochin was 770 km, estimated at more than 16 hours – so I reckoned at least 4 days drive for us. There were a few national parks back behind the coastline, and Stew found  Jog Falls, which we could try for. I found a couple of places to stay, and on the GPS it said 220 km, so I wrote down some names and made a sketch map – we’ll just have to see what we find.

We headed off walk about onto the beach around 4.30pm – a lovely time of day. The heat waning and the sun beginning it leisurely descent. There were so many people on the beach…..but as far as we could see either locals or Russians! We were trying to remember places from when we were last in Colva, but there was little to go on.

We ended up at the beachfront ‘Boomerang’ restaurant bar – to watch the big red sunset, and activities on the beach. There was a beach volley ball pitch in front of the place, and the locals we playing in their underpants! A couple of young western girls in bikinis were doing there best to take a couple of beach poses of themselves. And there were so many local stray dogs – cute, but definitely a problem (We counted 16 right in our view).

The sun got devoured by the pollution before it reached the horizon, so then we read our books with a couple of beers, before we ordered dinner. The place was quite busy at sundown, and then quietened off. It wasn’t quite deserted, with a couple more tables occupied, but I imagine xmas time its a quite different story. There was a whole range of food on offer – pizza, Italian pastas, Chinese, fish & chips, as well as Indian; but we were just happy to go with the Indian, and ordered a chicken tikka masala, with the usual and another beer. It was as good as the last couple, and with not having had much all day we ate it all. It was a bit more pricey than Vagator, but really not expensive – just the beachfront location was worth the extra. Stew was saying how he ‘needed a holiday’, and we both laughed at what Lez would make of the comment. Food and drink done, we paid up and walked back to our digs. Even though we hadn’t really done much today, we we only lasted another hour before turning out the lights, and getting our music on to sleep to.

And another dog night in Goa; a few isolated barks and thankfully only one bigger barking match after daybreak. It will be nice to get away from them when we can. But reminiscent of our stay here years ago, we also heard the early morning toots of fresh bread being taken round on bicycle. Stew got up to make us some tea, and we managed to get a very slow connection online, to check the emails and get a news fix. Deepak had sent us a photo from ‘The GOAN’ newspaper from the weekend. We’d been photographed again at the Mania event, so I sent him a quick thanks. We were just starting to pack up when there was a quiet knock at the door. I hardly heard it – until it repeated. So I opened the door, and a guy was asking if we wanted breakfast. Complimentary it was nothing fancy, so we just ordered coffee, and Stew an omelette and me some toast. But it would get us going on the road for a few hours.

Then as we were packing the bike up, the owner was asking some questions, and said he’d taken some photos. When I said we’d been in Goa 27 years ago, he said – give me a minute, and went off inside. He returned with a gorgeous photo book, and a wonderful story. Two American’s and an English lad, passed through this way 40 years ago (1974), and had not returned in India since. They had no contact, and one had wanted to return for so long. He came with his family in 2014, and a photo book he had made – and spent several days wandering the beach asking if anyone recognised anyone in the photos. Just 5 days before they had to fly back to the US; someone on the beach recognised the family Rodrigues…and took them to the place we were staying. What an amazing reunion and snapshots of Goa at that time (much as we remembered it a decade later). Our guesthouse owner was in fact one of the little boys in the photos. In 1974 the travelers had rented a beach shack from the family (Rodrigues), 120 rp for a month! And they stayed 3 months. All the houses around the guesthouse were his families; brothers and uncles, and built in the last 20 years. You could see the family were doing really quite well with the situation (even though there were only Russians here now!). I snapped a couple of photos of the book, and the place before we left. The story was so worth staying for the late set off – well, not too late, it was still only 10am as we headed up the road into Margao.

It was quite a tough day on the road – 5.5 hrs and we covered around 230 km. We were on the main NH66 south coastal road, but there was a lot of traffic, and a lot of road construction too, so road conditions weren’t the best. The passing scenery was lovely though, so much forest – tropical initially, with palm trees and rice paddies. There were some great waterways, estuaries, and beaches – and we stopped at one just before Kawar, to get a fresh lime soda each and Stew got a 30 rp plate of Puri bahji too (So good). You could tell it was a navy area, with a battle ship monument on the beachfront.

We were trying to run the petrol tank down, so we could make a fill at over 1000rp. And it did go on reserve before we had to turn off the highway towards Jog Falls. The tank fill was 20 litres, the most we’d done in India and came to nearly 1500 rp. We pulled up by a huge banyan tree just for a bit of shade, leg stretch and a swig of water. Another 15 km and we started climbing the forest road. It was so lovely – no trucks this way, and the traffic was so much less, BUT it wasn’t easy going for Stew.

It was only 50 km to Jog Falls, and we knew there was some accommodation there – but the road conditions deteriorated severely – huge potholes, breaks in the tarmac to rough surface, and down to single track lane in places. We were pushed off the road a couple of times – and it was so hilly and windy, so pounding Stew’s arms. We’d got a little more than half way, when Stew pulled over. He said he didn’t fancy another 20 km of this. I said we were more than half way, and really didn’t want to go back. We were getting quite high, and the air was so much less humid and fresher. He was persuaded to continue on – I think we’d got over the worst patches, but it still wasn’t easy. We reached the Jog Falls area by 3.30pm, and just 1 km from the gateway entrance there was a hotel – lodge place. We pulled in past the restaurant round the back and what a wonderful view we could see over the rugged valley.

There were a couple of cars and mopeds parked up, and we went to ask about a room. AC was 1400 rp and non-AC 900 rp. We checked both, and were more than happy to go with the non-AC, an extra $10 for AC when you don’t need it was really too much. The room was spacious, comfy and clean, and we’d soon checked in taking the tank bags with us. First job was recuperating a while, and I made us some tea and coffee, which we had with a some diggies. An hour later we were feeling more normal, so unpacked the rest of the bike (we were told the monkeys around may grab things).

And then we went for a wander down the road before sunset. Less than 1 km down the road we found the entrance to the falls, and checking at the gate entry was 50 rp, and they opened at 7am. We asked about a hotel for a beer, and were directed another km up the road. We could have taken the bike but were actually enjoying the walk up the steep incline. We’d half thought we should have tried another couple of places for accommodation, but what we passed were not any better than where we were. The hotel we could get beer, looked decidedly worse – so we just got takeaway, with nowhere decent to sit. We’d walked a good half hour, so the cold beer would soon warm up . And then I saw a tut-tut across the road – problem solved. We asked the fare to the Yatri Nivas lodge, and weren’t sure if 50 rp was too much – but it was fine for us, and we were dropped right out the front door, just in time to catch a gorgeous red sun sinking behind the hills. We had the first beer in the twilight out in the garden overlooking the presipiece and view, it was so nice – and Stew said he was glad I’d made him keep going when he’d pulled over earlier.

So we planned to go to see the falls early in the morning, then back to the hotel for brekkie and packing up. We should be able to make it back to the coast at Udupi, just not sure which way we’d go yet. As it was dropping dark we headed back to our room and we finished off the rest of the beer, before heading to the restaurant for dinner around 7.30pm. We were the only people eating, but it was nice to have a change of scene from the room. We thought we ordered chicken massala, daal, rice and chappaties – but no chicken appeared. English wasn’t a strong point, and not worth asking for another dish after we’d finished. We’d eaten enough anyhow, and what we had was good too. Back in the room we read a while, before putting music over the headphones to fall asleep to.

Well there is always something disturbing the nights sleep. No dogs tonight, it was a right cat fight at some point. And then just before 7am, we heard a knock down the corridor, and there ensued a pretty big argument. Thankfully it did quieten after a while, so we managed a bit of a doze. The night had been so cool and fresh, and such a change to sleep under a blanket (even though it was a thin one). With daylight in the room Stew got up and made us some tea, and then we were up and dressed for an early visit to the Jog Falls. There hadn’t been a lot of rain, and the Monsoon long gone, so the water was not in full flow, even so it was quite a sight. And when we got to the viewing area, we were so surprised to see our guesthouse was perched right on top of the falls.

The early sunlight wasn’t the best, but we managed to get a couple of decent photos. We spotted one of the Enfield Himalaya bikes parked up by the guest rooms, so we went to have a look. We had seen a white guy riding one nearby by when we were walking last night – and as we were there the guy came out of the room, wearing a Mania T-Shirt. Stew pulled up his jumper, to show the same T-Shirt! He was an American but now living in Spain, and it was the 4th Mania meeting he’d been to. He flies over and rents a bike, so we chatted a while, all things bike travel. And then back to the lodge, we got everything packed up on the bike before getting some breakfast. There were a few other families about too, and Stew had chatted with one group from Hydrabbad, another group of about 8 were having dosai breakfast. Stew asked for samosas or parathas, but it was dosai or nothing. In fact it was really good and so fresh, and we also managed to get a small cup of milky coffee (not bad for 120 rp). I also got a photo in the lodge of the Falls in full flow…quite a sight !

We’d looked at the map, and decided it was really best to go back the way we had come in, and it wasn’t too bad really. The scenery was spectacular – and we stopped to get photos on a couple of the bridge; one at the top of the falls, and a second on a pedestrian footbridge, that allowed 2-wheelers.

We would have crossed had it been necessary, but we didn’t need to. We were back on the coastal NH66 in under 2 hours, and then had a tough couple of hours with heavier traffic and trucks, and road works all the way. We stopped for petrol when we’d done about 120 miles since the last fill. We needed just over 15 litres to fill the tank, and coming in at just over 1000 rp, we paid with a 2000 rp note and got change in 100 rp notes. There was a small ‘hotel’ eating place next door, and we were really wanting a quiet cold drink and snack, but we were followed in by a group of around 20 teenage school boys, and found only full (banana leaf) meals on the menu – so decided not to bother.

It was only another 50 km to Udupi and the beach front at Malpe. And amazingly, the road finally improved to decent dual carriage way. Even so we were still hot and weary by the time we got to the coast again. It was like Goa before the tourist development – Malpe, mainly a fishing village industry. We even followed a truck load of ice to the waterfront.

There were a couple of places to stay, but it was so a local holiday place – and mostly Muslim too. We were the only white faces around. We were too tired to shop around, so drove into the first place we came to – ‘Paradise Isle Resort’, a place trying to be something its not, and a bit overpriced, but would do us for the night, and just off the beachfront too. We managed to pay on the card 3600 rp ($75 AUD) – but it did include a buffet breakfast, and there was a decent pool too, BUT only wifi in the lobby!! Oh, and towels, toiletries, a kettle, tea and coffee too, which you would expect for the price (But even though there was a cupboard under the TV labelled mini-bar, the cupboard was empty, not even a fridge). We peeled off our riding gear, and were soon recuperating with a nice cuppa. We unpacked the bike, and tried to wifi in the lobby – pretty rubbish, so we weren’t able to check in on anything. We decided to spend the last hour of sunshine in the pool. It was so lovely, and we had the whole place to ourselves.

It was going on 5.30pm before we headed back to the room, to shower and Stew also did a bucket full of grubby washing, while I strung up a line and hung the washing out. Feeling much better, we thought we’d go for a wander with our books, and see what was on offer along the waterfront. It was a decent and pretty clean wide golden beach, but little in the way of restaurants or bars. There were plenty of street side kiosks, and many selling fish dishes, and as the big red sun was sinking it was quite busy with locals. We sat and watched the sun dissappear into the polluted haze above horizon!

We did find one place just off the beach where we could sit out in a garden with a beer, and read our books a while. We nattered about getting near the end of this road journey, and what we’d like to be doing next – there were still a lot of things we both wanted to do and see together (Oz, Africa, New Zealand….). The place did seem like a good place to order fish, so Stew ordered a prawn masala, which we shared with aloo matter, rice and chappaties. We enjoyed the meal, though not as good as the chicken tikka masalas’ we’d had recently. And then it wasn’t late by the time we got back to our room, so Stew watched the last hour of the ‘Hobbit’ movie. While I managed to get the days diary typed up.

We slept better than we had the passed few nights. It was nice having an actual double bed, rather than two singles pushed together, so you were always dropping down the gap. Even so the we were still disturbed by people banging doors, very late and very early, and one session of barking dogs. If I listened very carefully I could even hear the waves, which was so nice. We were dozing on as daylight was filtering in the room, and I came to full conciousness from a great dream…..quite immersive and graphic, almost like being in a hi-tec game, with quadrants moving, and going through so many life experiences. I really didn’t want to wake as I was really enjoying it, but it was quite fleeting and in the end I did get up and made us some tea. Pulling back the curtains, it was great to see the wide expanse of beach and ocean, which was almost deserted at this hour. We were moving on again this morning – the room really was too pricey, but we wanted to make the most of the facilities. So tea done, we put on our cossies and went for a morning swim – having the whole place to ourselves. We’d timed it pretty well really, as there were a couple of coach loads of guests, just finishing breakfast as we got up to the first floor dining area. It had a great view over the bay – but no where to sit out. It was all huge windows and A/C !! Even so we enjoyed breakfast with a view – the local food was best; Poha, wada, idli, and we also had some fresh fruit, and the a couple of slices of toast all washed down with some milky coffee. Stew pocketed a couple of boiled eggs, and I got a few slices of bread – for an afternoon snack. Well, enough to keep us going for the day on the road, we thought we’d just try the internet again in the lobby – but no joy. It was hopeless, so we gave it up as a bad job, and just set about packing the bike.

We made it on the road by 10am, and hoping to get around 250 km done today – maybe south of Kannur. But we hadn’t been able to look for any accommodation, so we’d just have to see what we came across. The roads were pretty tough going, and we were already hot and sweaty within the first 10 mins – and a long way to go. It felt like hard slog all day, so much traffic, and road work obstacles, just having to keep your eyes constantly peeled. Stew pulled up sudden a couple of times getting so close, and he had more than one set of boy racers doing stupid things, and then cars not really wanting to let us pass. There were a few decent stretches, but a lot of time we were climbing windy roads through the lush palms, and crossing so many estuary outflows to the see. We were close to the ocean, but really didn’t see much of it all day.

We did one petrol stop, coming in at just under 1000 rp. We paid with a new 2000 rp note, and the attendant tried to fob us off with an old 500 note in the change. But we politely declined (Its no longer legal tender after yesterday, though locals, can still make some deposits). Then Stew was looking out for a quieter stop we could just get a drink – and in the end found a small bakery & cold drink shop. We both needed a leg stretch again.

We were still 20 slow kilometers from Kannur, and were hoping to get a bit further, but we were both getting quite weary, so we said we’d follow the signs to the beach front and see where it took us. I was using the GPS to try locate nearby hotels, and at least that got us through onto the waterfront. It opened out to a huge quite lovely beach, but there were no facilities – private homes, holiday homes and a few resorts. Nothing on the beach at all – and at least 4 km from town. We decided we’d try in the town, and first came across the ‘Savoy’ – it looked more like government bungalows, which would be fine, but they had no wifi. They directed us on to the next one, we found under construction and again no wifi. They sent across the road to ‘Muscat’ – Here we were directed into the restaurant to ask for a room, but again no wifi. BUT they were so helpful. They rang a couple of places for us, and in the end found that the ‘Muscat Resort’ down the road had non-AC room, with breakfast and wifi for 2000 rp. Well that would do just fine, so we thanked them for their help and headed off. We found it all good, maybe 1.5 km along the road, and further along from the huge beach in a rocky bay (no beach here – but the view was great).

We were soon set up in a decent (As good as last night) ground floor room, with an even better view than yesterday. We needed to get out of the stinky riding gear, and just recuperate under the ceiling fan. I made us some tea, while Stew had a rinse in the shower. We also had a decent afternoon snack, Stew making a boiled egg sandwich, while I had a slice of bread with peanut butter and choc spread. We were then brought round wifi codes – it was to pay for 100 rp for 24 hr per device, but that was fine – just to get online. Stew tried first and it was quite OK, and so I hooked in too. I just checked emails, and sent on off to the shipping agent – still trying to get a contact in Cochin, saying we’d be there on Sunday. We were also looking around for what accommodation we could find in Cochin – not too expensive, but with wifi, a reasonable place to stay for a few days, and also near to the port and shipping agents. We wrote down the names of a couple of hotels and guest houses near to Cochin Fort, which didn’t look too far from the main Port area on Willingdon Island. An hour later we were both feeling much better, so went to unpack the rest of the bike – we had a wander around the grounds, and found a lovely swimming pool overlooking the ocean (open 8am to 6pm, so too late for tonight), and the big red sun was in its final decent again, so another lovely sunset.

         

We checked in reception about the restaurant, and Stew couldn’t get the TV to work – but we said we’d look later when we were back. The place didn’t have beer, but the ‘Savoy’ up the road, where we had called in earlier, had a bar. And breakfast was served from 7.30am behind the reception area. So we headed up into town with our books, and sat in the Savoy bar for a couple of drinks (definitely a male domain – but no hassle, and nice to spend an hour reading again). It was so old school and dated; I’m sure the place was made for guests who came to the military area or hospital to visit family. We could have gone back to our place for dinner, but I fancied going back to the restaurant where they had so kindly helped us find the room. It was only just a bit further up the road. We walked in around 7.15pm, the only customers – but we were recognised and welcomed, I commented that we were early for dinner, and maybe the locals didn’t eat till 10pm . To which was replied, well more like 9pm, but we were still early, I said I thought we’d be in bed by 9pm!! The place was really pleasant and nicely set up. The menu was much the usual, but with no tandoor, there was no tikka masala. Instead we ordered a spicy butter chicken, rice, raita and chappatis. The meal was really tasty, and quite a lot nicer than last night. By the time we’d finished another lager family group had also come in to dine. Our bill was only 410 rp, and Stew left 500 rp, not only for the decent meal, but also for their kind help earlier. From there we had a good half hour walk back to our place, which was nice after the meal. The road were pretty quiet, so it was no real hassle walking along the dark streets. We were more than happy having some wifi, that was almost decent. I did another half hour on the diary, before checking emails again, and turning in for the night.

What a crazy night; you just never know what to expect. The place seemed reasonably quiet, with only a few banging doors and loud talking before things seemed to settle. Then we were fast asleep, and suddenly woken by loud banging – like someone hammering. It just kept going on and on. I was half in and out of sleep, but an hour later Stew just had to get up to investigate. He found workers fixing up a roof, hammering nails for the roof on a veranda – incredible!! They kind of got the message, and after another 10 mins when Stew got back, it finally did quieten till day break, and we could just hear the breaking waves.

We next woke to a very light room around 7am, and Stew got up to make us some tea. And us both getting online, it was quite a treat. Stew was getting his news fix, while I sent a message off to the girls, and then did a quick look of facebook. A couple of the guys from the Guardians MC club in Pune had put up an article on their ‘Livinit.in’ website, based on the interview they did with us there. A few details weren’t totally incorrect, but it was really nice to see – and the story they had put together.

The pool opened at 8am and I headed off for swim – Stew almost got out of bed, but not quite. It was so lovely, and there was even one other guy swimming laps too. He spoke to me as I finished, saying I must swim a lot, as I’d done the 50 laps without stopping! He chatted a while, as he asked if I was on the BMW motorbike – so quite a long story. He turned out to be a local dentist, who came to the pool for a swim most mornings (And never really saw anyone else) – he also had 2 daughters (school age). He also told us there was going to be a strike all over Kerala on Monday (everything closed) – so we’ll need to check that out. Not easy to get away I spotted Stew walking up to the pool – he was ready for breakfast, so I took the cue to make my exit.

It was only just about 9am, and as I got back to the room Stew was counting up our bank notes – we had 16000 rp now all in 100’s, and we had spent all the 2000 rp notes we had. I told him about the strike on Monday, so we said we’d check online – we decided we’d stay one more night already. So we headed off to the breakfast buffet, which was really nice and relaxing. The terrace was a bit sunny, but we got a table by an open window overlooking the bay. There were quite a few other guest too – but not a coach load. We ate a leisurely breakfast – local first; dosai, bhuri, sambar, coconut chutney, and uttapam (shredded spiced noodles today). The waiter brought us round hot milky coffee (twice), and we also had some fresh fruit (mostly pineapple), and a couple of slices of toast with marmalde. We’d been looking online for someplace else to stay down the coast, maybe 100 km north on Cochin – but there didn’t seem to be too much on offer. Even so we didn’t want to be driving into Cochin at the end of the end of another long tiring day on the road. We really wanted to make one more overnight stop, so we would be fresher, tackling the big city and trying to find a decent place to stay. In the end we decided we’d better move on from here tomorrow Sunday, and just get as far as we can, as we really don’t want to be stuck here to set off on Tuesday morning, and then still a couple of days to get to Cochin! So we paid up for another night, with some of our cash, and went back to our room for a couple of hours.

I was just checking emails again, and found a reply from Manoj, the Scope logistics guy in Mumbai. He’d now given us the contact name, shipping company address, emails and phone numbers for who we needed to contact in Cochin – Great! That really gave us something we could now work with. The place, Aspinwall & Co, was in the port area on Willingdon Island, not far really from the Fort Cochin area we’d looked at for accommodation. It would be a bit of a drive (7 km or so), but there was also a ferry service we can check out when we get there.

After all that ‘work’ we fancied going for a walk, and from checking the map there was a fort and small beach further along from the hotel. So we packed a bag with our books, donned on hats and sun glasses and set off. We didn’t get far turning right – there were military gates ahead. We stood and watched a while, as people were coming and going. Then a young girl from the house next door walked across, and spoke in very good English, if she could help (she will have been around 10yrs – I think). She told us it was a restricted area, but we could go to the other beach further north, and we could walk to the lighthouse too. We thanked her and headed off towards the lighthouse. This turned out to be also defence lands, but with public access. We almost paid for entrance to the lighthouse and museum, but found it was closed for an hour, so we just paid the 10 rp to walk the esplanade gardens. The grounds were really nice, gave us a good view of the lighthouse and across to our hotel too, and we could even get down onto the rocks. Stew went crab hunting.

There was also an old kids playground and an ice cream hut – so we both fancied sitting for an ice cream. Stew had the full glass fruit, ice cream, nuts and topping version, and thoroughly enjoyed it, while I was happy with my scoop of vanilla. We would have sat a while longer reading, but the hut was blaring out Indian music, really spoiling the while atmosphere of the place.

There were no families around, and the place looked frequented by young couples – clearly enjoying a space to be on their own away from their elders. We thought we’d be more comfy and relaxed for the afternoon around our pool. So by 2pm we’d got on our cossies and headed to the pool with our books. We had the place to ourselves for ages.

We both enjoyed a refreshing swim, and Stew even managed a siesta while I got through a few more chapters of my book. By 4pm Stew was peckish, so took himself off, while I did another 30 laps before heading back for an afternoon coffee too. And by now there were 3 families at the pool too, all locals with young kids – and no one in any swim wear. The kids were so cautious of the water, and taking some coaxing to relax and enjoy it. It was nice to get showered off, and then a brew and biccies. I was putting together an email for the shipping agent in Cochin, and I had to photograph the Carnet and Stew’s Indian visa to get copies to send off too. Stew was getting into a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad on Netflix, and just trying to finish one before we headed out for dinner – so I did a quick flick onto facebook, and found both SarahB and Lacey online, so managed to shoot off a bit of conversation, hoping they were having a good weekend. Lacey was doing her first triathlon of the season tomorrow, and then in the evening both her and Sairha, were going off to watch SarahB singing a gig with her choir. Stew had then done, so we headed out with our books, and dressed in long pants to ward off the mozzies. It was a longer walk than we really remembered, but nice to get a few kilometers walking excersise in too. We just had a couple of beers in the Savoy parlour, and read our books an hour, before walking back. We both fancied dinner back at the hotel tonight, and there were tables set up out on the terrace when we got back, with quite a few people eating out, including a big family group having a birthday dinner. The setting was lovely, even if the waves crashing on the terrace wall was really quite loud. Looking over the menu Stew wasn’t too keen on a vindaloo, so I said to try the local Kerala curry (a long double barrel name), made with coconut and spice, and then we ordered aloo jeera, rice and chappaties. The meal was great, even though the aloo jeera was not like we’d had before – if was definitely jeera, but here a curry sauce with ginger, tomatoes and lentils. The chappaties were excellent – so another satisfying and filling meal.

We were not sure what the night would bring, but I was already looking forward to my swim before breakfast. It was the quietest and best nights rest I’ve had for quite some time, and so nice to hear only the waves in the distance. Stew didn’t do so good, as he said he had to get up to bathroom twice! It was only 7.30am, and once I was fully awake got up to make us some tea. Then I was getting into my cossie to get out to the pool by 8am, when it opened. Stew was getting his news fix, and said he’d come along soon. The morning was fresh, though a bit overcast, with the sun only just over the palm tress next door. The dentist was already in the pool again, so we said good morning, as I set about doing my laps. Stew joined us after I’d done 40, and I managed to do another 20 before a few more got into the pool, so it was getting a bit crowded. It’s one of the best ocean views we’ve had from a pool. We both showered off, and packed a couple of bags, before heading off for the decent buffet breakfast again. It wasn’t as busy as the day before, but there were still quite a few tables taken, mostly with families and kids too. Today there was a veg curry and channa masala, with uttapama (a spicy ground rice dish), some pancakes and fried rotis – quite delicious. We were also brought round a pot of coffee, and finished off with some fresh fruit and a slice of toast. Definitely a good feed for the road. We were aiming to be on the road by 10am, and didn’t do too bad – even though the bike was attracting quite a bit of attention as we were strapping everything on.

The GPS said Cochin was 183 km distant – but we just didn’t think we’d make it that far!! The roads were pretty attrocious all day. We managed 5.5 hours all up, hard slog, hot and sticky, and nothing much to report in the way of scenery. The highway was mostly single lane both directions, weaving its way through the dusty towns, villages, across the waterways, and wending its way through the lush palm forests beyond. We saw little of the coastline, and when we did take a turn towards the beach found only a local smelly fishing village. The vehicle load was pretty heavy with trucks, buses and tut-tuts besides the more affluent cars, but there was so much gunge being pumped out of the exhaust pipes – Stew was already looking like a chimney sweep when we stopped for a cold drink.

Two and a half hours in and we’d only done 140 km !! – we tried to push on after a petrol fill, but the gods were against us. We actually got pushed off the road once, the bus fully on our side of the road was too big to argue with – thankfully the ditch wasn’t to deep and Stew managed to haul us back on track. Then we ALMOST collided side on with a tut-tut – it just pulled out across the road, right in front of a car we were overtaking. Stew managed to grind us to a halt a few inches before contact – there was just nowhere else to go! Needless to say, the driving like this is exhausting. By 3pm we’d got the distance to Cochin down to under 90 km – but both agreed it really wasn’t worth trying to make it. It would be too late, and we’d be even more bushed! We weren’t far off Guruvayur – a place I’d noted yesterday as having quite a few hotels. It looked like a holy pilgrim place, with quite a few notable temples. So we agreed to head there, and I selected a random hotel to get us in the right direction. As we got onto the main small road into the town, we could see guest houses and lodges, lining both sides, between the shops and banks. We tried a couple, but they weren’t really friendly – and both said they were full (though there were no vehicles in the car parks). No matter, we went on a bit further, and I spotted a notice board for Gokulum Resort down a laneway. It would at least get the bike out of sight. We pulled in, and immediately the atmosphere was so different. We were warmly welcomed, and a young lad was already in conversation with Stew as I went to the reception. There were several local guys (you could tell by the attire – a sarong) sorting out rooms and checkout, but moved over so I could ask for a room. They had both AC and non-AC – great. I went to check with Stew, so he pulled the bike into the parking area, and came in to see too. We decided to go AC for 1630 rp, and a porter showed up to the room. The place was so nice, clean and spacious. The fittings were quite old and dated but the room had a separate kitchen area, fridge, and an actual double bed. There were fluffy towels and soap, and we were even brought round toilet paper. It would do us fine. Going back to reception we were asked to move the bike, and the group of guys were around asking if they could take photos and some questions too. The young guy asked what about lunch (3.45pm) – but we said no, we just need to rest! We then paid for the night and filled in the registration, and were pleasantly surprised to find that there was free wifi available too. So that was a bonus, when we found it was working pretty well in the room too. First job was washing our grubby hands, and Stew legged out while I made us some tea and coffee. An hour later we were pretty much feeling back to normal, ready to face a rekkie and see what we could find to eat and drink around the place.

It was quite a walk, but we did find the only bar – restaurant (well really a bar), opposite the main bus terminal. It was definitely a male domain; plenty of skirts around but I was the only female in the establishment. We enjoyed a couple of beers, and even managed to get a couple ‘parcel’ to take with us. It was pitch black walking back, and one of the temples had gorgeous huge oil lamps burning. I tried to get a photo, but it wasn’t much good.

We thought we’d eat nearer the hotel and there was a bright ‘family’ restaurant across the road, but on sitting down it just looked like a kebab place, which we didn’t fancy. We thought we’d try the veggie place across. It was also brightly lit, with quite a few customers – no menu, and more like a canteen. There were pictures above the serving hatch. The decked banana leaf in the centre looked best – but on pointing, I was given a definite shake of the head; no they didn’t have that. They did have chappaties and dosai. So I ordered channa masala chappaties for Stew and a dosai masala for me. It was really quite decent, and sharing the two out made a really good meal, and Stew could enjoy some of the potatoes too. And on paying up – 120 rp, bargain. Cheapest meal out so far I think. We returned to our room by 8am, to enjoy a last cold beer. Stew managed to get a bit of Netflix and I did a bit more on the computer too.

Hartal (Strike) lock down day in Kerala

Neither of us slept too well. There were definitely mozzies about, so Stew put the fan on full to try keep them off in the down draft! The bed was really hard too, but apart from that it was a nice quiet place and by the time we were up and awake we didn’t feel too badly rested. Stew had a shower, while I made us some tea, and we managed a nice 30 min skype chat with the girls. As we hadn’t unpacked the bike, we were ready for the road in under 15 mins, and soon headed out towards Cochin. What a contrast to the road conditions yesterday – roads weren’t exactly deserted, but there was so much less traffic, and mostly motorbikes and a few private cars. And pretty much everything was closed. It was almost pleasant driving along, averaging around 50 pph (almost double what we had managed yesterday!).

The morning wasn’t too hot either, so we were both feeling much more relaxed. Visibility was still terrible through – that white haze just enveloping what otherwise would be good scenery. The only things we had to watch out for were the groups of protest marches that were going on in many of the villages and towns we drove through.

The backwaters were becoming bigger and more frequent, as we crossed bridge after bridge, and we now got sight of the famous Chinese fishing nets of these parts. But I really couldn’t get any decent photos. The road we were on was taking us down to a ferry, and with the lock down today, we just weren’t sure it would be running, so I had to navigate us a longer way round, to cross the bridges onto the main port Island, Willingdon and then onto Fort Kochi.

It was a huge place, and a big maritime and military establishment. I’m sure any other day and its totally chaotic. I managed to get us to the location of a group of Guest Houses – so we pulled over, to get a better look. A couple were just too tucked away to even get the bike in, and I tried one on the street with a small parking area – but they were already full. So I tried next door – Casa Bella. The young female receptionist asked how long we wanted, and ended up calling her boss, handing the receiver over for me to speak to him. They were full at Casa Bella, but had another property nearby, Casa Linda – and they could accommodate us for 5 -7 days. It was worth a look, and the receptionist gave us good directions. It was only a short drive up the road, passed a huge Basilica Church, and on the corner of another, St Pauls school. The parking looked fine. Stew wasn’t too convinced, as it was right on the busy street, but we said we should look anyway. The guy I’d spoken to on the phone came out to greet us, and asked a few things, as we really not sure how long we needed to stay, depending how we got on with the shipping. The staff all seemed really friendly, with a few already looking at the bike. The place really was quite decent, with a wide airy lobby, and on the first floor a lovely restaurant overlooking the street. He showed us to a room further back from the road, so the traffic noise shouldn’t be a problem. The room was also pretty decent, quite large and spacious with easy chairs and a coffee table too, and with a little more modern furnishing than we’d had last night – It was 1200 a night non-AC or 1500 rp with AC, and there was even a nice small balcony overlooking a patch of jungle/garden. He added that would include breakfast, as I checked the wifi signal – explaining we needed decent wifi to contact the shipping agents. It looked all good, though not sure how slow it would be yet. Well, we both were pretty happy with the place, it would certainly do us fine for a few nights. So we soon got checked in, and unpacked everything from the bike. We paid up for 4 nights using the Mastercard.

Stew was hungry, so first job was a snack and drink from the restaurant. It was so nice sitting at at a window seat, watching the streetlife. We just got pakoras, raita, a pot of coffee and fresh lime soda. The Fort Kochi area looks like a good place to wander, with tourist sights to see (the Fort – (Aspinwall, I found out later looking online), beaches, palaces, and religious shrines of all denominations) – definitely a touristy place, as we’d already seen other westerners wandering, and it looked like there would be a reasonable choice for eating and drinking too. I did find out that Kerala moved to being a ‘dry’ state in 2014 – so no wonder the restaurant bars just didn’t seem as evident!! BUT with western tourists a big draw for the state, it was still available, you just had to look for it! I did find the ‘Hotel Fort Kochi’ – as the best available option, just a short walk round the corner from our lodgings.

Having well recuperated we headed off for a wander around 3.30pm, taking in all the sights in the local vicinity. It was so quiet with most places closed up, and so little traffic around. We found the ferry terminal across to Willingdon Island, where we needed to go to the shipping agent, but there was no way it would take any bikes. We watched at the jetty as a very tiny and old launch pulled up. But we still thought we could take the ferry in the morning and walk to the agents. We then walked back in the other direction, passed the Aspinwall old harbour complex – the first port traders here in 1857, for coir matting from coconut (and still in business today – the company we needed to contact!),

Then on passed the Chinese fishing nets, and small beach. So picturesque, but so spoiled by the rubbish! The whole place had a quite subdued feel (With the hartal, we presumed – and expecting it to be so much busier tomorrow). The old town buildings and churches were really impressive, both those in good repair and those is total dereliction. There were a few tourist stalls and shops open, but only the same things for sale as we had seen before.

We did find one minimarket place open, so managed to get some scourers and cleaning stuff for the bike, and some dates for Stew, and some insect spray. We were out of mozzie repellant, so really didn’t want to be out for twilight, so we headed back to the room for coffee and biscuits, getting online again. We didn’t venture out again till well after dark, and dressing in long pants we headed to the only restaurant – bar we knew was nearby. It was really quite busy with westerners, and we soon joined them for a cold beer. We nattered and read our books a while before ordering some food. We got a kerala chicken curry (I asked for spicy) and dal fry, with rice and rotis (No chappaties). It was OK, but nowhere near as nice as other places we’d eaten. We were back at our room before 9pm, and managed an hour of screen time before bedding down to some music. Hopefully we wouldn’t get too disturbed as we really needed to be here for a few days!!

We slept much better than previous night, with not too many disturbances – the mosque call at 5am, and then quiet till the traffic started to build after 7.30am. It was quite comfy and not overly hot and sticky sleeping under the downdraft of the ceiling fan. We started the day with a usual cuddle before it got too hot, and a cuppa – and then tried to do a few jobs online, and I was making a list of all the paperwork, documents and questions we needed to ask the shippers today. Opening up the patio door and windows let the fresher morning air circulate. Stew’s iPad was throwing a wobbly since yesterday – looks like he’s picked up some malware, and auto-loading rubbish, when you try to access web pages. We tried the YouTube fix, block pop-ups, and clear history – but that didn’t work. I think he’s going to have to live with it till we get back. We dressed and headed to breakfast, around 8.30am, getting a lovely window seat and fresh air, watching the morning activities on the street. It sounded like school assembly was going on across the road at St Pauls, and we heard the band practice start up to. For breakfast we were brought a pot of milk coffee, and a plate each of omelette, sweet pancake (too stodgy for me), chopped pineapple, and 3 small slices of toast – OK for one day, but I’m not sure how we will feel after a few more of these. We’ll have to ask if we can get some Indian breakfast or just curd and fruit.

SO we had made it as far south as we could get in India, ever hopeful and optimistic that we’d be able to get the bike shipping organised and completed within a week……little did we know at this point just how a long and protracted the whole process would turn out to be……….

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