Monday, December 18, 2017

Crossing the Subcontinent Of India

An overlook part way up the steep climb through the Western Ghats.  A coastal range of numerous nature and tiger reserves.  An incredible environment to cycle through!
Monkeys and ancient columns at the temple complexes, Hampi, Karnataka.
Small scale farming amongst the nature reserves of the Western Ghats.
The textile factory where all the official government flags of India are sewn.  The fabric is hand loomed from hand spun cotton, likely from the local cotton fields we've cycled by in the past days.
Village kids on bikes.  I am buying nuts and raisins from a general store just adjacent when this pic was taken.
Riding through banyon tree shade.
Lots of huge oxen share the road with us.  Additionally, tractors chug by pulling wagons towered with hay.  The loud music they project is a fun break from the more common sounds of moped horns.
Markos overlooking the rice terraces near Hampi, Karnataka.
We dove inland into India leaving the west coast at Karwar, Karnataka and climbing up the steep switchbacks of the Western Ghats.  The incredible jungle of trees shading the road sidetracked the sweat and exhaustion of the ride.  We rode through the Kali Tiger Reserve (no sightings) and several forest reserves, camping at a tiny, quiet village school when the Eco-camp said they were "Full" (the place looked vacant).    Days that followed opened changing landscapes.  Small fields of rice terraces, ox-pulled wagons towering with sugarcane. Dry, flat, headwind savannas.   Clean, neat, well-kept villages, trash piles and rummaging pigs on the outskirts of towns.  Rough, broken roads, smooth, fresh pavement.  Hundreds of passing mopeds, many slowing to chat "What country? What your name?" We never know what exactly we'll come across in the day ahead.

Bike snacks: little bananas, oranges, pomegranates, the daily mix of raisins and nuts (almonds, cashews, groundnuts, pistachios) and dates

Breakfasts: rice, nuts and bananas; oatmeal with raisins, pomegranate seeds and bananas; egg dish with potatoes, tomatoes, onions and garlic

Lunches: Veg Thali, Masala Dosa and cold drinks (Fanta, Limca, water)

Dinners: dal, curries, chipati, roti, biryani, Sambhar and Rosan, tandoori chicken, Tarn's favourite - Veg Manchuri Soup and concoctions of local vegies (eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, green chilies, garlic and onion) with rice when we cook over our campstove

Boys are busy with semester wrap-up of distance learning school.  Final exams will be in January.  Bike by day, school by night. With the variety of unknown opportunities that come up with each day, (last night we camped out in a school classroom and were hosted for dinner with the 63 Standard 10 boys who live at the school hostel).  Sampson, Markos and Tarn don't take week ends off school but forge on, doing school whenever they can. The incomparable education on the road they experience daily is priceless.

Happy Holidays!!!  We'll find a unique way to celebrate Christmas this year!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hanging Ten in Agonda

Santosh is our guide for the day.  He takes us off the coastal highway here and there for snack breaks at secluded beaches.  Local knowledge is the best!  He rides this ride on a regular basis, the 45 km with us, and then a return to his town while we carry on.
The fishermen slide the boat up the beach on logs and take several hours to unload their nets, pulling fish from the voluminous net that somehow is stacked untangled into a pile

This is an early morning shot - the school, a Catholic one, has morning recitations in their field.  Catholocism was brought by the Portuguese when they colonized the state of Goa 400 years ago.
Three boys taking a snack break in the shade of a bus stop.
Tanya and Markos, ready to roll a few more km.
Cool early mornings offer peace prior to the heat that comes with the sun.  Birds hop into and out of coconut palm fronds, twittering and pecking.  Little pigs follow their mother – this one has eleven.  Long tailed monkeys climb through the branches of the tamerask trees and lope across the road. The be-boo be-boo horn of the bread moped whirs by.  Another morning begins.
We have been in the town of Agonda Beach for one week.  We landed here unintentionally. Last Friday Sampson’s bike merged with an overtaking car, both vehicles avoiding road hazards but unfortunately, choosing a similar path.  Jarred to the left, Sampson’s front wheel hit a large pothole at right angles and took the shape of a taco.  Sampson hopped off unscathed, but the bike required more than the five and a half hour rim-adjust and wheel rebuild.  Rick connected with Indian friends from the larger town we had passed through and a few days later, a new wheel arrived by special delivery driver.  The accident put us back 2000 rupee ($30) but reinforced a known fact. In the case of a car and a bike, the car will always win.  Take care, be defensive, slow down or get out of the way.
We also have two midterms that must be coordinated with our distance learning school in Alberta and a school in this town we have established a relationship with.  Challenges with the 12 ½ hour time zone difference and weak internet reception will be overcome or we’ll move on and try again in another location.
The break off the bikes could not come at a better location.  Agonda Beach is a tourist destination far   more palatable than the last beach we stayed at.  Less crowded.  More calm. Great swimming and surf.  Balmy, breezy sunsets each night.  Who could complain?  We have found the vegetable vendor, the off-the-tourist-street general, normal, Indian vendor of peanuts, eggs, and other dry goods.  We make our meals on the veranda off our fan-cooled room and we wait for the exams to arrive.  Surf lessons yesterday were great for the boys and although the waves are down today, they might get another chance to catch a wave before head out of town for sure on Sunday.  I will go to the Tiger Café, a twenty minute walk away in hopes to load the pictures for this blog post.  The wifi there is known to be the strongest in town.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mumbai to Goa, India

Ready to ride out of Mumbia, India.  This school behind Markos and Sampson is not the school they attend, but no worries.  Both boys have successfully taken monitored midterms through their distance learning school at  Vista Virtual, Alberta Distance Learning Centre.

Markos' 15th birthday.  Shrilaka, Rahul, Mukta and Radha invited us into their family and styled us with an exceptional celebration. (Complete with appropriate attire!)

A glimpse of the road before us.  One of the numerous small villages we've ridden through on our journey south through the state of Maharashtra.

We finally reached the beaches of southern India.  Anita, Raj and Arya got us out to the beach (one hour drive transporting by car and moped) the night we arrived at their home.  What a treat it was!

This is a kingfisher.  Don't know how long he survived in the forest...his wing was injured.

Welcome to India – Where are you going?  Goa?
10 days in India
Ist night – arrival at Mumbai airport, arranged shuttle to reserved hotel.  Settled in by 2am.   Our 1 star hotel fortunately has been hugely improved upon by all accommodation since.
Day 1 – 1 ½ hour taxi ride (2 taxis for all our stuff and family) across Mumbai 26 km to Coloba District by the Gateway to India.  Crazy traffic and horns, our drivers, 2 senior Islamic Indians, were awesome.  The air pollution was so thick that I had a constant mild headache the two days we spent in Mumbai – skyscrapers could barely be made out as we looked upwards on our ride.
Day 2 – built the bikes back into riding form (from airplane transport mode) Our hotel A/C helped us cope with the pollution and the street noise.  Found great places to eat.
Day 3 – Rode 5 km to ferry port and took 1-hour ferry to Port Rewas, south and out of Mumbai and 19.2 million people.  Excellent exit strategy.
….Day 10.  Cruising and jolting down the Mumbai-Goa Highway, sweat flowing, heat intense, shade of banyon trees and jungle growth breaks slow, sun-drenched climbs.  The traffic flows like a river, filling empty spaces with overtaking cargo trucks, buses, cars and mopeds, all dodging potholes and asphalt patchwork. Brahma cows emerging out of the side brush or stationed directly in the middle of the road.  Horns signal too many things – overtaking vehicle, blind corner approach, emergence into traffic, a friendly (but piercing) hello.  Fortunately, the extreme rumble strips that added additional dimension to the road before each and every village, have thinned out over the days as the villages now are more spread out the further we get from Mumbai.  The refuse piles strewn about the rivers and road have also thinned with villages well taken care of and small neat fields of harvested rice and greens separated by fences of hung fabric, to ward off the wild pigs.  Monkeys eat up the banana peels we toss into the forest and jungle bird-squawk is constant.  Raj, a college commerce and business professor by day, snake-catcher by night, informed us that 2-300 people die each year from snakebite in the region we are traveling.  Needless to say we are staying on the road and not camping at all!!

More than anything, it is the people of India that have enriched our experience on a daily basis. Shibaz approached our dusty bikes in Roja – he knew several places we could spend the night.  We followed his motorcycle through the milieu of people, animals and vehicles.  Then to meet his family (father, aunts and uncles and brother/cousins) sharing of tea and gifts of custard–apple fruit and explanations to questions we had.  This trend continued with five families since.  In Mahad, Shrilaka approached us « I’m ‘Warm Showers’, would you like to be my guests? » We spent an amazing next day and a half hosted by her family.  (The day also happened to be Markos’ birthday!) The father, Rahul, took us on a hike to 2000 year-old Buddhist caves. We visited numerous family friends and joined the family celebration feast for the last day of Diwali.  We took a crocodile safari in a tippy riverboat and wrapped up the day with a dual birthday celebration for Markos’ 15th and  Rahul’s 44th birthday, complete with loaned Indian dress.  That was a crazy action-packed day.  Shrilaka and her family took us under their wing and have continued to do so.  Now, five days later, we hear from Shrilaka daily with the connection to our home-for-the-evening: friends and connections she has arranged for us to meet and stay with.  Each experience with these hosts has been golden, and broadened our India far beyond the bumpy and often chaotic road we travel by day.  « To serve people is to serve God » is the mantra of Indian hospitality.