70 Minutes in Tibet and homesickness

The climb up to the Kodagu (Coorg) region was pretty epic. Fairly steady 6-8% gradients, but with temperatures around 30°C and 95% humidity, we were drenched. Truck traffic is forbidden going uphill on the road we were on, so traffic was comfortable, and the scenery was stunning, as we followed a gurgling river through mountain palm groves and jungle.

We stopped in Madikeri, one of the “hill station” towns of India, where the Brits would move during the summer to escape the heat, back in the colonial days. We wanted to try the famous Coorg cuisine, and in Madikeri is a well-known place called (conveniently enough) “Coorg Cuisine”. The ancient Coorgs were known as warriors so preferred a meat-heavy diet. We tried the pandhi masala (pork curry), and it blew me away with a very rich and spicy flavor. The rice-based akki roti is also very good; in fact, I prefer it over the other roti (chapati) that we most often get. (Sorry, no photos; Indian food is tough to photograph. I’ll keep trying.)

Two gentleman stopped us on the way out of the restaurant and asked us if we enjoyed the food; they said it was their favorite restaurant and they’d just driven quite a ways to eat there. They were really interested in our bikes and asked about our trip, our mirrors, and wished us a safe journey.

The thing to do in Kodagu is to stay at one of the many plantation homestays and enjoy the peace, quiet, and local food. So we decided to find a nice one to take a rest day.

The last few kilometres to the homestay was steeply graded dirt roads, so we had to walk. But it was worth it.

Steve walking through coffee fields towards the homestay.

Our gorgeous home for two nights.

The plantation has an observation deck where you can relax and listen to the birds and other sounds.

They have 30 acres of coffee plants here.

I have to admit this is not the first image that came to mind when I think of India. It’s like a whole other country up here, cool temperatures (we wore long pants!), misty mornings, and so quiet and peaceful. People in this area are also super friendly, and we got lots of waves and smiles on the road.

We took a plantation tour, and the women guiding our tour found some sapota (fruit) growing and gave us some.

Jackfruit growing nearby.

Our next day of riding took us through a Tibetan refugee camp in Bylakuppe. Here, the Mysore government has set aside some land for Tibetans living in exile since 1961 and built schools and housing.

The entrance to the Golden Temple. We couldn’t go in because there was nowhere safe to leave the bikes.

The nunnery.

Chicken mockthuk, a Tibetan dumpling soup that was delicious.

Being a Sunday, there were tons of kids and other folks hanging out, playing cricket and other games, attending services, and in a generally excellent mood. Many kids tried to get us to stop, a few pointed slingshots at us and giggled, and one super strong young man raced us on a single speed local bike and we couldn’t keep up. I gave him a thumbs up and he looked proud of himself. It was a really enjoyable day, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face most of it, with all the smiles and waves we got. We don’t see any kids with their face in their mobile phone or sitting watching TV; it’s so refreshing to see people enjoying the simple pleasures.

We couldn’t make it all the way to Mysore today without overdoing it, but there aren’t any decent hotels along the way. So we found one that looks okay from the outside and is pretty cheap; it’s definitely not one of the nicest ones, but not the worst either. The western shower head was clogged up with only one pinhole of water coming out, and the bucket provided for the Indian shower had a thick layer of mold growing on the bottom and a horrible stench, so I had to unscrew the Western shower head and stand under the stream of water to get clean. But the bed is comfortable, the sheets and towels clean, and (after some back and forth when he refused to let us bring the bikes to our room) our bikes are locked up in an empty room that seems to be under renovation or something.

So tomorrow we should be in Mysore, and hopefully will see some other foreigners. We’ve seen exactly 8 other foreigners since we left Gokarna a week and a half ago, two in Kundapura at the temple festival, 4 in Mangalore at the mall, and 2 in Udupi at the really good vegetarian restaurant. We see tons of Indian tourists and tour busses, but no foreigners. Although we enjoy being off the (Western) beaten track, it will be nice to maybe meet some other international travelers. Mysore is famous for its month-long or longer yoga retreats, so lots of people come there for that. Perhaps we will find a drop-in class for beginners.

Home sickness

I’m still continuing to feel a bit homesick, a feeling that started up in Turkey and has come and gone since then. India has provided me with plenty of distractions from this feeling, but it is still there under the surface, and in quiet times pops up again, especially now that the holidays are in full swing.

We get a lot of down time in India where this feeling gets stronger because we end up stuck in hotels in these tiny transitional towns. It’s not like Europe where even the smallest towns will have a cafe, bar, or park where you can go hang out and people watch. There are no parks, very few bars, and no cafes, and walking around in the streets is not pleasant with all the traffic, open sewers, and trash. Come to think of it, it’s kind of like staying at a hotel in the US in a small town without a car. Unless we’re on the beach, there’s nothing scenic to see outside the hotel anyway, and all the shops are the same everywhere. So we just hole up in the hotel and do some planning and maybe write a blog. But I’m an outdoor person, and this just makes me stir crazy and start missing home more, with San Diego’s outdoor culture, my patio, and friends.

It’s also getting lonely not being able to keep connections. Even when we meet someone, we only have a day or two, and then it’s done. After 9 months of one night stands, I’m ready for long term relationships (just friends lol).

Finally, the daily challenge of finding a bike-friendly hotel is really starting to get to both of us. Some of the hotels just seem to have a weird problem with us bringing the bikes to the room, and no one can give us a reason why. The best reason we’ve ever gotten is, “it’s just not allowed.” So every day, it’s 50/50; they either say, “sure no problem”, or we have to have an argument. But, in India, showing anger will get you nowhere and will probably make things worse, so we have to do this every single day with as much patience as we can muster, at the end of a long day’s ride. Usually we will finally convince them, or they will give us a safe place to lock them (instead of their default answer of just park them outside). But it’s often enough to knock our moods down a notch. It’s like Groundhog Day; every day the same thing. And it’s enough that I fantasize about stopping somewhere long-term just so I don’t have to worry about having this daily argument anymore. Maybe it sounds crazy, but this fantasy feels so freeing!

That said, this is still the experience of a lifetime, and every day (especially in India) has been so unique and interesting and has taught us so much about the world and ourselves. I look forward to every single one of the upcoming countries, cities, beaches, natural parks, etc. And although the homesickness and daily frustrations will stick around, I can’t see us stopping anytime soon; we are here in the midst of India with so much wonder and excitement all around us. How can we leave this behind without at least glimpsing it all first?

So, I’ll repeat what we’ve said many times to all of our friends and family: we really, really miss each of you and are thankful for your continued support and friendship and encouragement. And, where are you going to come and meet us? 😁 Seriously, Asia is awesome; you should come!

Thanksgiving in India

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our American friends and family!

While we haven’t found anywhere for a turkey dinner, we’ve found some dishes approximating some side dishes, like bread stuffing. It’s not really anything like it, but it’s all we got!

We left Mangalore late, after finishing up with our bicycle repairs in Mangalore. They rebuilt my wheel with new brass nipples, but unfortunately it seems the tension on the wheel was too low, and I’ve had to re-tension and re-true the wheel after a spoke came loose after 80km or so. Sigh… I’m learning a lot about cycle maintenance though.

One awesome find at the bike shop, though. As I was having them help me find some longer screws to attach a huge heavy Indian bike bell, Steve noticed this sucker hanging from their shelves. It claims to be the loudest bicycle horn you can get. 140dB! And it’s freaking awesome for India. I get a few surprised looks from others because it is as loud as some car and motorcycle horns! With India roadways being as much about sound as sight, it will come in handy. I think we will need some extra batteries though!

When we arrived in Puttur, we were surprised to see a circus in town. We asked around and learned that it opened today and the next show was 7pm, so we had an early dinner and headed to the show! Why not? It was an old school circus with acrobats, fire eaters, water spitters, a motorcycle sphere, and some unfortunate animals that they really ought to give a nice retirement.

As always, it’s been lots of fun and games on the road. Tons of people waving, giving thumbs up, kids looking at our bikes, etc, but as we get away from the coast and really into areas that never see tourists, it’s getting even more intense. When we stop anywhere for food or water or bike repairs, we draw a small crowd of locals and kids who check out the bicycles, honk our old squeaky horn, squeeze our tires, and ask us the same questions, “Where are you from?” “Where are you going?” “How much cost the bicycles?” “Do you like India?” “Can we take a selfie?” It’s fun for us and gives us a chance to ask questions back like good places to eat, but it’s challenging to eat a meal with every bite being watched carefully. We’re getting used to it though and just learning not to be self conscious about our inept one-handed eating techniques.

We had a huge “small world” moment when we texted a cycle tourist Jeremy, whom we’d met on our last day in Croatia many months ago. We knew he was doing some work with an organization called Engineers without Borders in Bangalore, so we reached out to say we were in Mangalore. He responded that he was heading to a work trip to Puttur the next morning, apologizing that it was 50km from Mangalore. We received the text message as we were checking into our hotel in none other than Puttur! So the next morning, we shared coffee and breakfast at the hotel (where he was also booked!) and caught up on our travels!

He gave us some advice to pick up a “lungi”, simple pants the locals wear, so we’re going to keep an eye out and give it a shot…

Tomorrow is our big climbing day up into the Coorg area, known as “the Scotland of India” for its similarity to the Scottish Highlands. We’ll be thinking of everyone back home stuffing themselves on turkey as we psuh ourselves up a 3600ft climb to our homestay on a coffee plantation, where we are taking our next rest day. May not be Internet, so we’ll update when we can.

Temple festivals, excellent food, and bike repairs

We spent the night in Kundapura, a lively town that seems to have one major claim to fame: the popular dish called chicken ghee roast was invented at a restaurant called Shetty Lunch Home here. So of course we had to try it out. It was amazing, spicy, buttery, and tender; unfortunately the dining area was too dark to take a photo; we couldn’t even read the menu.

On our way to dinner, the streets were packed with people and vendors, and we saw a stage setting up for a performance. We asked our server, and apparently we managed to arrive on the once-a-year festival for the temple in town. Sweet! After dinner, we really enjoyed mingling with the crowds, checking out the temple, watching a parade and street performers, fireworks, a live band, and the hundreds of young kids making duck calls with the toys that one of the vendors was selling. These are the kinds of random events that are so much fun to take part in, completely unplanned.

After Kundapura, the highway 66 became complete, and is now a proper 4-lane divided highway with wide shoulders. Well paved, and sometimes busy, but often not. Still, motorbikes tend not to pay attention to the direction of travel, so you still have a fair bit of unexpected oncoming traffic to worry about.

However, we’ve kept almost exclusively to quieter coastal and inland roads to get a break from the highway noise and commotion.

We even went as far as to ignore Google Maps and OpenStreetMaps and followed a seaside road to the end, hoping there would be a ferry to keep us off the highway. And guess what? There was! I guess we are starting to figure out some small things about India. For just ₹5 each (bicycles free), we got a seat on this bad boy, along with a dozen other pedestrians and 3 motorbikes. The other passengers took turns squeezing our tires and checking out our bikes.

We even got a numbered and stamped receipt, because India loves paper, and you never know if the captain will forget whether you’ve paid after the 5 minute trip is complete…

The other side of the ferry was an adorable peninsular fishing village with folks drying shrimp and fish on the pavement and small colorful cottages scattered through the strip of land, ocean on either side.

We spent the night in an overpriced “homestay” in Malpe, a small fishing village filled with kids and families enjoying the beach. It was a comfortable enough place, but we wanted to find a less expensive place to rest and also try out some of the famous Udupi food, so the next day we made a short 8km ride to Udupi.

Beforehand, I called up a few hotels to see if they had availability. All were booked online except for some crazy expensive ones. After calling a few, one said they had a room for a decent price, so I left my name.

When we showed up, however, they wanted us to leave our bicycles outside in front with nowhere to lock them. We tried to explain that we at least need something to lock it to if we’re going to leave them outside, and they insisted that their security guard and cameras would keep it safe. Maybe they are right, but it seems silly to take a chance when there’s no good reason not to lock them inside somewhere. So we left and checked with another hotel nearby, and they said no problem we can bring the bikes in the room. The eager luggage boys even insisted on taking them up for us and somehow crammed them into an elevator the size of a shoe box.

We had an amazing unlimited thali lunch at Woodlands, a well known place for Udupi vegetarian food. You have to eat here if you’re in the area. The server was awesome and explained each dish to us and when to eat it and which ones to eat with the puri and which to eat with rice.

I’m finally starting to get the hang of eating with my hand. I ordered a masala dosa and it arrived with no silverware, but I mopped up every bit using my hand and some techniques I’ve learned from watching others eat as well as some YouTube videos.

We re-routed our ride from Udupi to Mangalore towards inland roads and had one of the best rides of our trip in India so far. Quiet country roads, interesting temples, curious friendly people, and mostly good pavement. The last few km near Mangalore got a little crazy but that’s to be expected from a city of 1/2 million.

We stopped at Taj Cycle Co, a bike shop that someone on a bike touring Facebook group recommended. Had a great chat with the fellow there, and he showed us a video of a local bike race from Pune to Goa that’s a qualifier for RAAM (Race Across America). Looks like there’s an up and coming cycling culture in this part of India!

They’re going to order me some brass nipples to rebuild my wheel, and once that’s done we’ll set off. One of the guys at the shop asked about our route and said that if we’re headed to Madikeri, we should just skip the rest of the Karnataka coast and northern Kerala coast and head inland straight from Mangalore. So with that suggestion, I’ve redone our cycling plan and we will head inland up into the Coorg region of Karnataka once the wheel is rebuilt.

In the meantime, we are exploring the city and trying the food. There’s not a huge amount to see here, but they have a lot of nice malls, restaurants, and shops, so we’re doing some shopping and wandering.

I wonder if they serve hamburgers…

Someone told us they are shooting a film, and these guys are local celebrities.

Getting our kicks (in the ass!) on Route 66!

Can’t believe it’s been so long since the last blog! We’ve been enjoying our time overall and are now halfway from Mumbai to the southern most tip of India!

I will try to summarize the highlights and lowlights of the past few days.

Beach huts

OMG, we love the beach huts! There are lots of them in Goa and a few in Gokarna (northern Karnataka coast). Every season, they build and then take down these (usually) simple huts on the beach, with palm landscaping, restaurants attached, plumbing, electricity, and internet. Often they are quite affordable, and some without plumbing or electricity go for just a few dollars a night. We stuck to the ones that were a little more posh and still only paid under $15 a night. We ended up doing two rest days, one in the hidden little beach, Benaulim Beach, and one in the more well-known Patnem beach. Palolem is one of the more popular places for beach huts, but we preferred the less busy ones. Benaulim Beach is a hidden gem.

Our first beach hut in Benaulim.

Our next one in Patnem.

Cows chilling on Patnem Beach.

Some kids come out and entertain with tight rope walking in exchange for tips.

If you’re not into bugs, you should probably stick to the more deluxe accommodations.

Goodbye Goa, hello Karnataka

Entering our third state, we left the nice quiet roads and tourists behind in Goa and ventured forth into the unknowns of Karnataka. It seems to be more religious than other regions, as we see many temples, mosques, and churches, and we hear the call to prayer and see people worshipping more often than elsewhere. It’s also much cheaper, and we’ve been able to find some inexpensive accommodations and excellent food.

Catholic Church in Goa.

The bed covering at one of our cheapest hotels. Maybe it was on sale?

Temple towns of Karnataka

There are lots of temples and temple towns along the coast of Karnataka. Gokarna and Murdeshwar are the two we stopped in. It’s interesting to see the devotees going to temple and wearing traditional dress. We asked around to see if there was a guide who could explain what’s happening to us, but we couldn’t find one. We’ve done a little Googling and lots of observing, but it would be awesome to try to learn first hand.

Om Beach in Gokarna.


Murdeshwar town entrance. They’ve spent a lot of money on this gateway and the first 1/2km of road, where there are no shops or anything, but past that, where the real city, shops, and hotels are, it’s quite filthy with trash everywhere. It’s too bad for such a popular pilgrimage place that they don’t take more care.

The largest statue of Lord Shiva in the world. The building next to it houses an elevator so you can get a good look at the statue. We arrived late so weren’t able to go up.

Pilgrims bathing in the ocean. This is the first time we’ve seen the men strip down to their skivvies. Everywhere else, they just walk in, fully clothed, as the women are doing in this photo. Western beach wear is not considered respectful, or at least that’s what we understand.

A hotel is not what you think

If you ask for a hotel in India, you’ll be given excellent recommendations for places to eat. In fact, they will all have signs saying “Hotel So and So”. But if you ask for a room there, they will look at you funny, and say, no, just food, no rooms. Say what?!

So apparently, a hotel is where you get food. Every once in a while, they will also have a room or two, and sometimes it’ll be a proper hotel. But usually just food.

So this brings up a delimma. If a hotel is really a restaurant, then what do you call a hotel? The best we’ve come up with is to ask for “rooms” and that sometimes is understood…


The food has been good, but since we were in places where international food was available, we’ve been eating Indian food from different regions including many tandoori dishes, Indo-Chinese food, as well as Continental food like pasta and pizza. We know it will be hard to find this as we get away from the touristy hotspots, so it’s nice to indulge.

Lunch on our cycling days is usual where we get the more local stuff. We almost always get vegetarian stuff for lunch, so we look for “hotels” with signs that say “pure veg” or “veg/non-veg”. We stopped one day and had an excellent paneer fried rice, and today we stopped at a place with no menu and just ordered a “mix plate”, and we ended up with a bunch of vegetable fritters with some sambar (spicy soup / dipping sauce) and coconut chutney. There was a sweet bread and a potato cake that we really liked.

One of the tandoori vegetable dishes we really liked.

Highway 66

Since entering Karnataka, we’ve been almost exclusively riding on Highway 66, since there are almost no other roads to take towards Kerala. It’s in the process of being upgraded to a really nice 4 lane divided highway, but at the present time, it is a complete disaster. Seriously, a horrible place to drive, never mind ride bicycles. After over 12,000km in 16 countries, this road is the worst we’ve been on. The road surface is usually okay, but the traffic is insane.

If you are thinking of cycle touring this section, don’t. Wait until it’s complete or take the train. Other blogs have said the train allows bikes aboard at some stations, and it seems many tourists skip this area.

On the sections of road that are completed, one side of the highway is not open but it’s freshly paved. Bicycles and motor bikes can sneak past the “diversion” signs and ride traffic free on these perfect roads, and we take every opportunity we get.

But in between these sections, the road is too narrow for two cars to pass, paved over multiple times with temporary asphalt, and twists through hills and over decaying bridges. The road is full of heavy truck traffic, motorbikes, and some cars. The trucks don’t hesitate to overtake on blind corners or too-narrow bridges, and believe that their horn will magically remove all obstacles. We even observed a school bus full of kids over take on a narrow bridge and stare us down until we had to veer into the gravel shoulder and stop.

Rest assured, family and friends, I am re-routing the rest of our ride to avoid this highway and stick to quieter coastal and inland roads, even though it will mean bumpier roads and more hills. I’ve heard the completed national highways are actually quite nice (though boring) to ride on with wide shoulders, but this road is just impossible right now. If we continue to encounter these conditions, I promise that we will not be cycling anymore in India and will figure out a way to use trains and busses to get to where we want to go.

A good example of what we encountered on Highway 66.

India Day ??: Living outside the rules

Finally we left Panjim. Our package is stuck in customs who-know’s-where, but we had to get moving. 5 nights in Panjim is way too much unless you are on work or something. We had hoped it might prove to be a good long-stay place, but for us, it’s not. With the difficulties with transport, we felt stuck in one place, and it was not easy for us to meet people.

So, we left the hotel with our contact info. If/when the package arrives with our new cycling shorts & bibs, we will figure out how to get it, maybe leaving our bikes and taking a train back. Our one-year-old cycling shorts are thread-bare and almost transparent in spots, but we can put shorts over top of them to benefit from the much-needed padding without shocking anyone with views of our nether regions, so we can keep going.

Update on the taxis: a local told us that they just voted to require meters within the next 2 weeks for all taxis. I haven’t verified this myself, but I hope it’s correct; it will be a huge benefit for travelers here.

Today’s ride was really heavy in traffic, and light in encouragement. We got a few thumbs up, but overall people ignored us our just looked at us funny. A big change from the constant attention in Maharashtra. Navigating the increasing numbers of left-handed roundabouts (aka traffic circles, aka rotaries) is also proving to be a challenge, even for me, having lived four years in the Virgin Islands, where they drive on the left. Here, not only do they drive on the left, but only the most agressive drivers get priority, and it’s a bit of a challenge forcing your way into the rotary on a bicycle, but we are learning the magic power of an outstretched hand with your palm held open. Apparently this traffic-cop gesture trumps all Indian instincts and immediately gives us the right of way, no matter what.

The highlights of the day were our lunch stop at Tropical Spice Plantation and the beach hut we found for the night.

The spice plantation gives an interesting tour and includes a buffet lunch for ₹400 each. We saw how fenny is distilled, betel nuts are grown, along with dozens of other less-intoxicating spices from turmeric to allspice to cardamon and more. The buffet lunch was pretty good as well. They pointed to a place to put the bikes and said, “bike parking here,” which prompted us to ask, “do you get many cyclists?” “You’re the first!” Our guide later told us that Goa is starting to promote cycling for its health benefits as well as its low environmental impact, though, except for a few kids with fancy mountain bikes, we’ve only seen poorer working-class folks on bikes. We had a moment between us where we both agreed cycling is the best form of transportation for the environment and personal health. She also had lots of great insight on the health benefits of various spices as well. It seems India has a strong focus on health and wellness with its ayuverdic medicine, spices, vegetarian offerings, and availability of more healthy foods throughout India.

And then… I broke another nipple after lunch! I never did get the wheel in true after the last breakage, so maybe the wheel is a bit weaker now? In any event, that’s the 4th nipple to break in this wheel on this trip, two fixed by me, and two by bike shops. I don’t think it was built well to begin with, so perhaps I need to get it rebuilt or get a new wheel. At least it’s just the nipples; no broken spokes so far. We have another 6 nipple spares and a few spokes, and after that, it’s game over until we can find some Western bike parts. Bike mechanic friends, care to comment?

Good news is, it only took 25 minutes to fix this time, so we still got to the beach with plenty of time. We found a sign for beach huts and followed it down a sandy road to find a cute collection of very basic (and cheap) beach huts right on the beach. It’s perfect, and after being stuck in our hotel for 4 days, we both vowed to only spend time outside except when we are sleeping. After an amazing swim in the Indian Ocean, and after booking an oil massage for tomorrow, we will stay another day… What a life, and for a fraction of what we spend to live per day in San Diego.

It’s a fun eclectic crowd here, which makes it even more of a good time. Hippies from Europe living in another state of India (Kerala) on vacation, a fun guy from Sweden who talks your ear off, and a couple of gents from England playing pool, as well as a collection of couples and a few kids running around. All are in swim wear, and some look like professional sunbathers. After we got in our swim trunks, one guy agreed that our tan lines made it clear that we really are cycling through Asia. Super chill and perfect place to make home for a few days.

We talked to the Swedish guy about retirement options in Thailand and the rules there (Steve almost qualifies for a retirement visa!), and he responded saying you need to live outside the rules. You can retire anywhere and anytime you want. Don’t buy into what society tells you that you need to do. Best advice I’ve heard in a while…

A frame grab from the video that we hope makes it into the Maharashtra Tourism video! I believe this is their channel on YouTube.

A still to distill fenny, the local cashew liquor.

Monkey figurines at the spice plantation.

Spider at the spice plantation.

It’s really interesting that the advertisements here are painted on to houses and businesses, rather than just signs or posters. This one even color matches the place!


Local Goan beer.

We took a trip to Old Goa, where we saw some of the old Portuguese churches.

We got red dots at the spice plantation!

My old Xero sandals were on their last legs, so I found some new ones! Very comfortable so far, and reasonably light.

Goa, land of beaches, red tape, taxi mafia, hippie fleamarkets, and food to die for

It’s been a bit of fun as well as annoyance our past few days in the capital of Goa, Panjim.

Idea SIM Card

First up, I wanted to get another SIM card on the Idea network, which seemed to be more reliable along the coast of Maharashtra and hopefully will continue to be a thing as we go on. Knowing the drill, I took my passport, one passport photo, the card of the hotel manager, and some patience to one of the Idea stores in town. Even though they have a copy machine, they wouldn’t let me use it to make copies of my passport photo and visa, so instead I had to go 4 stores down to the copy man, operating out of a shoebox-sized kiosk, and for 2 rupees, I had my copies.

Another tourist wandered in and tried to ask the staff about getting a SIM card. Not getting helpful information, I explained to her the process and the documents required. Looking disappointed, she said thanks and “oh well” and left the store; I don’t think she’ll even bother. Meanwhile, I gathered all the documents, my prepaid (unactivated) SIM and signed the form three times, including one time half over my passport photo. SIM card fraud must be a serious concern with all this paperwork; the purported reason is to stop terrorists from using prepaid SIMs to coordinate with each other.

Overall, it ended up going smoothly; after 2 days waiting, I was able to activate the SIM, but I couldn’t recharge online for some reason, so I stopped by the store again and activated the plan they offered me under “my offers”, 28 days of Internet (1.5GB/day) with unlimited (Indian) phone calls and 100 SMS/day for around $5 US. Now we have coverage on the three major networks: Vodafone (which our Project Fi phones roam on), Airtel (the SIM we got in Mumbai), and now Idea. Airtel and Vodafone have nationwide coverage, but it’s spotty and not overlapping. Idea seems to have better coverage but only in the south of India; it is missing coverage in some states up north.

Taxi mafia

The last time we used taxis in India was in Mumbai, where they are dirt cheap and available everywhere. Plus, Uber and Ola have ride-sharing apps that work excellently for just a tad more but include A/C cars. We naively thought this would continue in Goa, so we chose to get a hotel in Panjim, which is centrally located in Goa but is probably only worth a day or two to visit by itself. We’re waiting for a package,  so staying in one spot for a few days was required anyway. We figured we’d hop on Uber or Ola to jump around the area, and we’d be able to explore easily.

Boy, we couldn’t have been more wrong. The taxi rates are astounding, more expensive than in the US! And there’s a super powerful “taxi mafia” (aka “out-of-control union”) here that engages in price fixing and gouging, so ride-sharing apps aren’t available and no taxis will use their meter (most don’t even have one), so you have to bargain (hard!) for what should be a simple trip. Prices between cabs vary by 2-3x, depending on how much money they think you have. Add to that, we haven’t seen any official taxi stands (there might be one at the bus station, far from our hotel), so you just have to walk around randomly until someone asks you if you need a taxi. Then you have to be prepared to bargain and most often walk away because they will try to charge you twice the “fair” price. Some have even laughed at us when we quoted a fair price, saying we’d never get that. (Last laugh was on them; at the next block, we found a guy who took us for just a tad more than the price I asked.) If you have your hotel call a cab, which we made the mistake of doing once, they will charge 2-3x the going rate, and demand you also pay for “return fare” even if you aren’t using them to go back! Transportation in Goa is a nightmare, and we are kind of bummed we ended up being stuck in Panjim with no reasonable way to explore the rest of the state most of the week.

The silver lining is that locals are really frustrated with this as well, and one person said it’s the biggest problem for tourism in Goa, and there have been recent votes trying to invite more competition, allow ride-sharing apps, and remove power from the taxi union.

If you are doing a lot of moving around in Goa, we’ve heard the best option is to either rent a scooter (scary) or hire a driver for a half or full day, which will work out to about the (still-high) price of one trip, but you can go where ever you want during the time you have him.


It’s a pleasant city, quite a contrast from the insanely hectic Mumbai. Aside from the gaping holes that are the sometimes-covered drainage system, walking around the streets here is quite enjoyable, and there are lots of shops and restaurants (and liquor stores, a welcome change from nearly-dry Maharashtra). There’s a definite European feeling about it, from the centuries of Portuguese occupation. Some of the residents here say their parents and grandparents still speak Portuguese at home.

We’ve found some great food, some interesting architecture, and a bit of nightlife, though the nightlife gets going after midnight, well after our bedtime, so we’ve only managed to catch a bit of karaoke one night.

Overall, we wished we had stayed somewhere by the beach instead… Lesson learned.

The beach and Anjuna fleamarket

Our first taxi experience took us to Anjuna, where we spent the day at the famous fleamarket, once apparently the home of hippies selling their possessions (and buying weed) so they could stay a bit longer, but now full of vendors selling clothes, belts, spices, and trinkets of all kinds. We had a great time exploring, watching the crowds, and eating and drinking at beach side cafes.

Fleamarket and roaming cattle behind us…


The Goan food has been incredible, and we’ve tried all the usual items plus a few of the less common ones. The shrimp curry rice is excellent, as is the cafreal (a cilantro-based curry), and the xacuti (coconut-based curry). The bebinca cake for dessert is also quite tasty. Oh, and the local favorite fenny (cashew or palm distilled liquor) can be quite good as well, similar to rakija or grappa but with a hint of cashew or coconut taste.

But the highlight of our food experience in Goa was taking a cooking class from Rita’s Gourmet! Her backyard is a beautiful and very clean full-fledged outdoor kitchen with prep tables, gas burners, and washing/sink area. Along with her assistant and prep/cleanup staff, she made us breakfast, took us on a market tour, taught us about all the local fruits and vegetables, picked up some fresh fish, and then explained, smelled, or tasted all the spices we’d be using.

Part demonstration, part participation, we kneaded and rolled dough for our pies, squeezed juice out of coconut pulp, sauteed onions, simmered curries, and fried fish. The final result was a hearty meal of rissois de camarao (prawn empanadas), galinha cafreal (chicken), aloo mutter gobi (potato, cauliflower, and green pea mix), Goan prawn curry, fried pomfret (fish), and for dessert, bolo mimosa (coconut pie).

We really enjoyed the whole experience, and it was great chatting with the two Australians also taking the class about their travels, as well as Rita’s daughter, who is about to start a master’s program in IT in Southern California (small world)!

Spices at the market.

Fresh kingfish.

Bags and bags of dried chilies everywhere! These are the spicy ones; others are used for coloring or a more mild flavor.

Steve working on the chicken cafreal.

Our pies!

We are ready to get back on the bikes and move on down the coast. We hope to get another day or two on the Goan beaches before entering our next state of Karnataka. We are still uncertain about the side trip to Hampi, but we’ve decided not to rent a car for now, so if we go, it will be by bicycle…

India Day 10: I see white people

Originally we were going to follow the coast to Goa, but when we saw it was a ton of steep climbs, we decided we should look at other options. Since the Tour of Deccan just came through here a few days ago, we decided to follow their route, thinking it would be on the best roads for cycling from Malvan to Mandrem Beach, Goa. And it was!

It was easy to follow with their route arrows clearly spray painted on the roads, but just in case, I found a participant on Strava and downloaded her GPX track.

Half and half well paved, half and half low traffic, we even spent about 10km on the Mumbai/Goa 4 lane divided highway with almost no traffic, gentle gradients, a nice shoulder that was 75% clear of overgrowth, and a smattering of wandering cows, drying hay, and herds of goats.

As we got closer to Goa, fewer and fewer people took any notice of us, just an occasional wave, thumbs up, or “hello!”.

We stopped at a small town looking for lunch but instead found a pastry shop. We’ve seen these everywhere, but amazingly (given Steve’s sweet tooth), we’ve yet to try anything! I ordered us two donut looking things, and they were so tasty, we ordered two more, much to the shopkeeper’s amusement.

A few kilometres later, we found a small stall selling our snack of champions, vada pav, potato cake sandwiches, and had two each. A guy there asked if we were Russian. I think Goa is popular with the Russian tourists.

As soon as we crossed the bridge from Maharashtra to Goa, everything changed. It was like being teleported to another universe (or maybe like the spore drive on Star Trek – I’m really enjoying it). We’ve only seen 2 white people since leaving Mumbai, but across the bridge in Goa, every other person was white. All the signs were in English. Restaurants advertised “continental food”. The roads were better paved. And the goddamn dogs chase bicycles here! We’ve seen hundreds of dogs in Maharashtra and not a single one paid us any attention except to get out of our way, but the first pack of 6 dogs we saw in Goa were close at our heels.

We stopped so I could have a beer before heading towards the beach to find our beach-side hut for the night. It’s super cute, just across a foot bridge from Mandrem Beach, and with a good seafood restaurant attached. After 6 days of consecutive cycling, we decided to spend two nights here and enjoyed a very lazy beach day, reading, planning, doing laundry, and having lunch and dinner on the beach.

Our beach hut. We snuck our bikes inside when the power went out lol.

Basic but comfortable. We didn’t even need the mosquito net.

The huts are separated from the beach with rickety bamboo bridges.

Sunset on the beach.

India Photos: Maharashtra

A bunch of photos from the past few days…

Hindu statue.

Water buffalo (?) swimming.

Following the TOD signs.

Fishing boat by fishing village.

Our favorite snack.

Birds along the coast.

One of the road signs we’ve been following, kind of. Still don’t know what they say.

I knew we took a wrong turn somewhere…

MTDC hotel.

Typical coastal village.

Cows enjoy the beach as much as we do!

Everything in this region is built with these clay bricks, dried in the sun. All you have to do is (try to) dig in the ground and you find this clay everywhere.

Fixing my broken nipple beside a trash pile, which are too common here.

Kundeshwar temple along the beach.

A temple on an island. They are everywhere!

Horse drawn buggies on the beach are a thing here.

India Day 9: we are going to be YouTube celebrities!

Today was one of those days that you dream about when you think about cycle touring the world. Everything went perfectly, and we have a story that we will remember and tell for the rest of our lives.

We left before 9, and the hotel manager heard we were going to Malvan and said that we must visit the state-run scuba diving school just south of Malvan. It’s got the deepest swimming pool in India and one of the best scuba instructors in the country. So we said we’d be sure to stop by. I’ve always wanted to do scuba diving, but I’ve been afraid because I’ve got sinus and ear issues.

The ride was fairly short (45km) and the roads good overall with not as much climbing as recently. Before we knew it, we were entering Malvan. Before we passed a schoolyard full of kids, we saw a whole bunch of them with their bicycles riding to school or parked in the yard, and when we passed the school, a big cheer went out from a large group of them as they waved at us. We waved back… India is going to give us big heads with all this attention!

It was then that I saw the first white person I’ve seen since Mumbai. It took me by surprise for a minute! We are getting closer to the toruisty hotspots. But that couple was the only ones we were to see all day, even.

I looked on our map and we decided to try to find a beach hotel in Tarkali Beach, south of the city. We went past dozens that looked pretty good, but we were hungry, so we found a restaurant for lunch and had an incredible veg thali and discussed our options.

We were close to the dive school, so we decided to stop by and check it out. On the way in, a man asked us if he could take some photos of our bicycles after we finished speaking with the dive school. Sure, no problem!

The dive school, the Indian Institute of Scuba Diving and Aquatic Sports, was quite impressive. Great large classrooms, extensive certifications offered, lodging for students, immediate beach access, and a crazy deep swimming pool. And it’s all state run, by the same tourism organization that runs the hotel we stayed in. This is the place to go to get certified for sure. We aren’t going to do it right now, though I’m tempted.

The fellow outside turned out to also work for the MTDC, and he’s working on filming some promotional videos for the state to encourage tourism, aimed towards certain audiences. Currently in the works: adventure tourism. He showed us some great footage recently shot with motorcycling through the region, and a cool drone shot of someone cliff jumping in Maharashtra. He’s at the dive school to shoot footage of scuba divers as well. He’s been wanting to get some cycling footage too, and he asked if we’d be willing to let him film us doing our thing. Absolutely, why not? We would love to help out and maybe see more cyclists ride through here.

So he filmed us putting our helmets on, cycling down the streets (from the back of a motorcycle, Tour de France sports photographer style!), and then walking towards the beach with the bikes, and then we did some high fives, which may have been a little goofy. We did a few takes; we are not great actors. I hope he got some usable footage, and it will be great to see the results!!

Not having Internet for days, we wanted to find a hotel in an area with cell signal or WiFi, so the photographer suggested we head to Chiwla Beach back in Malvan, where there should be a cell signal close to the city.

We found a small hotel right across from the beach and they even have WiFi, which is faster than our cell signal. Taking advantage of the Internet to plan our routes, book some hotels and plan some activities in Goa, blog, and download some movies to watch and books to read when we are offline again. As much as we are enjoying the offline world, it’s nice to be connected again!

I also took the opportunity to do a little work on my bike. My seat has been a bit to low causing some hip pain, and my handlebars too high causing hand pain. So those should be better tomorrow.

We went for a sunset walk on the beach and encountered a really fascinating event. A crew of a dozen or more fisherman were lined up on the beach pulling a long rope onto the beach, literally pulling in their catch for the day from the nets they’d laid earlier. I’ve never seen this before, and it was mesmerizing. We watched for almost an hour until it was too dark to see anymore. Not sure how they keep going; the edge of the net was just barely on the beach. A guy at our hotel said they do this every day, three or four times.

Our hotelier generously offered to pick me up a beer, so I enjoyed a refreshing Kingfisher, and we walked to a Malvani restaurant for our last taste of seafood in Maharashtra, a spicy shrimp curry. It was phenomenal, one of the best dishes we’ve had in India. The place was called Atithi Bamboo, and every local we asked for a restaurant recommendation pointed there. It’s even listed in Lonely Planet. Tomorrow we will be in Goa.

India Day 8: tough day with a happy ending

Things started to get a little weird the previous night. We asked our hotel for dinner (they have a restaurant) at 7:00. They said okay, so we came out at 7 to find a different crew working, looked like the mom and dad of the younger ones working when we checked in.

The food was the worst we’ve had the whole trip by far. Overcooked papad, stale naan (usually we’ve gotten chapati (roti), not sure why they served naan), flavorless potatoes, and the veg curry and dal tasted like it had started to spoil (didn’t eat anymore!). The whole dinner, the family watched cricket and talked about us. I know this, not because I understand Marathi, but because the word for “foreigner” sounds like “foreigner”, and they were talking about the dishes we ordered. It made for an awkward dinner, and we didn’t have nearly enough to eat.

The younger kids had given us a WiFi password, but when the older crew showed up, the hotspot suddenly went offline, not to return. As soon as we finished dinner, they asked when we would wake up, and then locked up the whole place.

We headed to bed, watched some Netflix shows (the new Star Trek is really good, and Steve is enjoying Stranger Things 2), swept away a few bed bugs, turned on the Good Knight insecticide sprayer, and had a pretty good night’s sleep.

We woke early to find that we were out of water. After just a trickle left in the pipes, we had no shower, no brushing teeth, no washing hands, no flushing toilet, and no bum gum! Luckily we had some toilet paper and wet wipes that we carry with us. The staff will have a smelly surprise awaiting when they come to clean up.

Knowing the breakfast would be no good, we left at 7:30. It’s a good thing one of the walls of the hotel wasn’t finished and has a gaping hole covered with a sheet, because otherwise we’d be locked in. No one was there, and the door to the lobby was locked. We’d already paid, so we exited through the sheet and set off on the bikes. It was refreshingly cool at this hour.

We haven’t ridden this early before, and it was interesting to see the workers waking up and heading to work. There were several carts serving fried breakfast items, though we opted to just pick up some cookies and water instead. There has been some road work being done along the coastal road, with diggers digging trenches beside the road and laying pipes. On the wide straight parts, they use big digger machines, but on the curves and narrow road sections, there are dozens of guys wielding picks and hoes, backbreaking labor for probably not much pay. And in the morning we saw where they spend their nights; dozens of makeshift tents were scattered along the road with workers milling around making breakfast. Some of these guys have been really friendly, giving us smiles, waves, and head wobbles, but most of them stare at us like we’re riding a unicorn.

Random note about buying bottled water: pretty much all the snacks vendors along the road have various brands of bottled water for sale, often even chilled, and sometimes even frozen solid. So we rarely need to worry about running out. The one major brand is called Bisleti, which we had in Mumbai. No one has that brand out in the country here, but if you want bottled water, you ask for “Bisleti”. You will get whatever brand of bottled water they have. I suppose it’s kind of like asking for a Kleenex in the States. I’ve gotten used to saying “doe Bisleti”, which means 2 bottled water in Marathi. Someone told us you can ask for “pannie water” also, but “Bisleti” works better.

Our initial goal was a small coastal town called Devgad. A few other cycling blogs had mentioned stopping here and I had some of their favorite hotels starred in Google Maps. But, getting started early, we felt ambitious and decided that it would be awesome to make it to Malvan beach for the night. Apparently, there’s a proper dive shop and lots of beach side hotels.

For the first 40km, we were making great time with the smooth roads, cool air, and manageable climbs. But suddenly the road went to shit, and we had 20km straight of the horrible roads like the ones we started out with south of Mumbai. So, close to Devgad, we decided we didn’t want to try to go too much further. In addition, both Steve and I were hitting the wall and were already exhausted. I thought about it and realized that neither of us had eaten any protein yesterday, save for an ice cream and a few cashews. Sticking to vegetarian meals is easy here, cheaper, and a good way to avoid food poisoning, but it makes it harder to get enough protein, which I think has been sapping our energy.

The hills didn’t help either. Although not an extreme amount of climbing if you look at the numbers, each hill, even if only 10m tall, was a 10% grade, sometimes more. It’s nice to have bridges instead of ferries on this part of the coast, but each bridge is preceded by a downhill and followed by a steep climb.

So, we decided to splurge a little for a nicer hotel. I had found the MTDC in Kunkeshwar a few days ago and saved it on my phone. It had great reviews, but we didn’t know the price. We showed up and I think we are the only guests here. Unfortunately the restaurant is not open yet (the hotel is only 6 months old), but they offered to send out for lunch for us, and the manager upgraded us from the cheapest room to an ocean view cottage for free. And there’s a pool! Perfect. Even with all this luxury, we are still well under budget for the day. India is certainly proving to be easy on the wallet.

The manager explained that MTDC means Maharashtra Tourism Development Commission, and these hotels (there are many of them in the state) are all state run places, designed to bring up tourism in Maharashtra and provide jobs for locals. This hotel was under construction for 4 years and just opened but already they had the place sold out during Diwali. Seems like a good strategy to jump start tourism in this almost-undiscovered corner of the world. We haven’t seen Goa yet, but the beaches here have been pretty remarkable so far, and almost empty. It will be hard for Goa to beat them (we don’t like busy beaches), though Goa is world famous, so maybe it will be better.

Lacking in protein, I ordered a local Malvani fish curry, which was excellent, except that the manager asked it to be made “not spicy”. Grr, servers in Thailand always did this to me; because I’m white, they assume I don’t want spice, depsite all my insistence otherwise. Oh well, a minor problem overall; maybe I will figure out how to convince the server otherwise. In Thai, it was “pet mak mak krap, low chat Thai Thai” (very spicy, local Thai style). Doubt that works here…

Later in the afternoon, someone came by with a long form for us to fill out and asked for a photo! Huh? Well we have some spare passport photos for visa applications (and Indian SIM cards), but hell if I’m going to give up one of these precious commodities for a single night hotel stay! So we said no, why would we have photos of ourselves? He even had a glue stick with him like this was the most common thing in the world, tourists carrying passport-sized photos for hotel registration. WTF? So we told him we’d meet him at the front desk, where the amazing English-speaking manager would be able to clarify. He said because they are a government-run hotel, they have to fill out all the forms. It’s crazy because we also had to fill out their registration book, have copies of our passports made, and then we had to fill out this paperwork with our visa number, reason for visit, home address, previous city, next city, and on and on. Damn, India, where does all this paper go?

Had chicken curry Malvani for dinner. Taking a chance with both fish and meat in one day. Hope we don’t regret it, but we need more than potatoes to keep our energy levels up… The meal delivery was quite a fancy affair. They rang us in our rooms, and we came to the restaurant, where someone on a rickshaw pulled up, unloaded all the dishes that would normally be served with our meals at the restaurant, and then played our food and sat and waited for us to finish. Only after dinner did the driver pack up the leftover dishes and head out. Best food delivery service ever! And when we got the bill the next day, there was no delivery charge. Not sure if the hotel picked it up or the restaurant includes it in the prices.

Still no (or close to no) internet, so we will for sure have to get an Idea SIM in Goa.