After we finished the Rickshaw Run and sadly parted ways with the new friends we’d made along the way, Dave and I took a Backwaters tour. A taxi brought us south from Kochi to Alleppey. We didn’t see much of that area as we were hustled right aboard the houseboat that would be our domain for the next 2o+ hours. The houseboats are all lined up and double or triple parked along the coastline just as far as the eye can see. We were told that there are 2,000 such houseboats. They are huge and seemed such a waste for one couple! There was another stateroom besides ours, but no one was scheduled to sleep in it. The government mandates the start (12 noon) and end (9AM) times of the houseboat tours. It wasn’t noon yet and we were solidly parked in, so I wasn’t sure why we were being rushed aboard. But we were greeted warmly by our captain and the cook with fresh coconuts to drink the water from and made comfortable. Next thing we knew, a big group of people came aboard with a lot of luggage and walked towards the stern of the boat. Dave and I looked at each other and shrugged, assuming they must be using our boat to get to the boat behind us. That seemed to be the case, because as soon as they were situated, the boat behind us moved out and we followed. It didn’t seem to matter that we were up tight against the boats on either side. Just give it a little more throttle and rip some of the woven siding off and you’re free. It was an ominous start, but merely turned out to be a wonderful and relaxing trip. Now, India as we experienced it so far is certainly not for everyone! It was not a pampering, relaxing, resort-type vacation by any means. But this, the Backwaters of Alleppey, I would recommend for nearly anyone. True, it is no cruise ship, but it is a bit of serenity in a crazy and crowded country. I hope you enjoy the following video on our houseboat experience.
I skipped over the finish of the Rickshaw Run in the blog. It was inadvertent, but the ending was so anticlimactic for us. First, let me rehash a little. In the planning phase, the Rickshaw Run seemed like the craziest, most adventurous thing we would ever do. Everyone thought we were nuts: other cruisers, our parents, our friends from India, even random people we would meet. Then we arrived in India. Our first taxi ride from the airport in Kolkata to a hotel for the night was certainly crazy. We saw cows blocking the road in the airport. Traffic didn’t seem to follow any rhyme or reason. Oncoming cars missed each other by a fraction of an inch. Dave and I looked at each other and wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. Perhaps everyone was right.
Spending a few days in Shillong finding our way around, acquiring SIM cards for our phones, finding decorations for our rickshaw, and even finding our way to the Rickshaw Run staging area helped us acclimatize to India. However, it still did not prepare us for our first few days of driving ourselves around in the rickshaw. Day one was short and we knew where we planned to spend the night (Guwahati), so it was easy once Dave drove us out of the congestion of the city. Day two was the hardest. We were afraid of getting food poisoning and wanted to be careful where and what we ate and we didn’t know how to find reputable restaurants. We also didn’t know how to find a hotel and ended up driving until 11:00 at night. And THAT was crazy! We couldn’t see with our measly lights and everyone coming towards us drove with their high beams on or flashed us continually. The roads were bad and we couldn’t see the potholes.
By day three, we started finding food and learned how to look for a town with a hotel. By day five, we grew accustomed to the traffic, the attention, and the roads. We were pros at finding food and I got the hang of taking photos while in motion. That doesn’t mean they all turned out, but many did. The strange, scary, and intimidating became normal. Nothing shocked us any longer and we wondered why we were so nervous in the first place.
But Dave did an excellent job of driving! We babied our rickshaw and, other than flat tires, we didn’t have any problems. Sure it started to run rough at times, but that is to be expected when you are driving 8-10 hours a day everyday in an old vehicle. Some rickshaws were not so lucky.
So, the finish. I’m not entirely sure what happened there. We arrived in Fort Kochi two days early and even though it was only 11:00 AM, we went straight to our hotel and checked in. We parked our rickshaw and used a rickshaw taxi to run some very important errands. While out driving, we stopped by the finish line. Everyone looked at us like, Oh no! What happened to your rickshaw? Haha! We told them not to worry. The rickshaw is fine, we just didn’t know where to go. Had we driven over the finish line then, we would have been 2nd to finish. Well, after shooting the breeze with the officials, we promised to bring it the next day. But then we went on a tour of Fort Kochi that lasted all day, so we still didn’t finish.
On the final day, we finally got motivated to drive across the finish line.
We posed for a ceremonial picture before proceeding to the registration booth to turn in our keys.
We signed in as number 30. But there was no cheering squad, no photo finish, no stage to pose on, no marching band, no champagne popping, nothing exciting about finishing.
I think we put off finishing because we didn’t want to acknowledge the end. We had a fantastic time. We met fantastic people. We ate delicious foods and never did get sick. We were set free in a country so totally alien to us with the mobility to go where we pleased. Why would we want it to end? Our only regret, which isn’t even a true regret, is that we focused on finishing on time and passed up a lot we would have liked to have seen. We wanted to complete the challenge, which we did. But if we had it to do all over again (and we might), we would take our time and focus more on exploring.
Dave and I arrived in Fort Kochi two days before the official end of the Rickshaw Run, so we took advantage of the time by touring the Fort Kochi area. We met a guy outside our hotel that spoke really good English and had a rickshaw taxi. He helped us run some very important errands, such as booking our flights to Varanasi and to Mumbai for our flight to the states. We were starting to panic because we could not book online or over the phone using an international (American) credit card. He took us to a travel agent (remember those?) where we booked the flights and paid cash. Shew! We were able to get out of India after all. Having endeared himself to us, we hired him for the whole next day. For over 8 hours of his time, vehicle use, and petrol he only charged us 250 rupies! This is only about US$3.50. Did we haggle with him? No! Dave insisted he accept a lot more. We just don’t understand haggling in India. What are we going to argue about pennies? Dimes? It is nothing to us, but everything to them.
In the video below, I show a photo of a Kathakali ad on a wall. This is a traditional theater that we didn’t make it to but wish we did. Google it. It is pretty cool. The best part is the prep: all the makeup and costuming work. Amazing! I also mention some ladies that asked me to take their photo outside of a Catholic church. I am not sure if they were there for the church. If so, then I cannot tell the difference between Hindus and Christians by appearance. I’m not sure why I expected to. You can’t judge a book by its cover! One final note: Over-fishing is a worldwide problem and I typically despise the use of nets. However, these Chinese fishing nets can only be used where they are installed and they do not scrape the bottom. They are limited to catching whatever swims into the net while it is down. This is a much less damaging form of fishing with nets and I am glad we saw a demonstration.
As you can see, there is not a whole lot in Fort Kochi for tourists. But I like it that way. India is in less danger of losing their culture any time soon than many of the countries we have visited.
The hardest part of the Rickshaw Run was probably finding mechanics to perform the 1,000 km service. Some of the other runners had good luck getting mechanics to come to their hotels. When Dave and I tried it, it didn’t work out so well. On our way to our hotel, I did notice lots of mechanics and even one or two that looked like they may be rickshaw mechanics. But we couldn’t remember where they were when we left the next morning. A nice English speaking man welcomed us to India and asked how he may assist us. We told him we needed a mechanic and he guided us through town from his motorbike to a mechanic.
While waiting for a mechanic to open, some women were hanging out of the building windows to see us. I smiled and waved and they waved back. Since it was still closed, he was asking around and making some calls to find out who would be opening soon. It was 9AM and nothing gets started in India until 10 AM.
Meanwhile, one of the ladies came down with her daughter and gave me a leaf bowl filled with rice. She said it is their traditional breakfast and wished me to try it.
More narrative recorded during the Rickshaw Run…
We haven’t been partying or drinking much since we got here. We detoxed in Alaska. We drank a little at the bon voyage party, but last night we tied one on. There were four other Rickshaw Runners at our hotel and we all met in the bar after dinner. We had a blast swapping stories and lost track of the time and how much we were drinking. We felt pretty rough this morning, but we didn’t regret it. It was our first chance to socialize since we hit the road. 5:00 AM came early, though. We heard from some of the guys and they didn’t get started until 10:00 this morning. By then we had nearly 150 km under our belt. We’ve been slowly falling behind schedule, only making 200 km instead of at least 233 to stay on track. So the 326 km today were sorely needed.
Witnessed an accident today right in front of us. A motorbike was cutting across traffic in the right lanes while it was stopped. We were moving in the left lanes and didn’t see it until it came out right in front of us. At that moment another motorbike was passing us. Dave was able to stop in time, but the two bikes collided. I think the front of the passing bike hit the legs of the man and woman on the crossing bike. The passing bike stopped to check on the people, but the other guy just took off. He didn’t show any concern for his wife. The guys on the passing bike were clearly worried and seemed reluctant to leave. I’m sure the man and/or woman will be bruised at least. It is fortunate that the accidents we see happen in heavy traffic that is moving very slowly. The only accidents we’ve seen on the open highway are the big trucks and we haven’t witnessed them happen. With signs like these, I’m not sure why there would still be accidents.
Just had to say it. I instantly thought Caltrans when I saw this road crew.