An Unforgettable Final Few Days Cycling in Tamil Nadu

For our Christmas holiday, we splurged a bit and found a very nice hotel in Madurai that was having a Christmas Eve dinner, complete with tree, Santa outfits, and a roasted turkey along with a buffet of other Indian and Continental food. It was a nice reminder of home, and we took the time to connect with friends and family with video chat and text messages. I haven’t shaved with a blade in probably a year, but I made the effort to clean up as best I could!

As we got back on the road, we cycled through quiet farmland roads with many friendly and curious people and interesting temples and monuments. The temples in this area are stunning in their complexity and color.

Near the end of our ride to Karaikudi, a gentleman in uniform waved us over to stop. He quickly explained that he is a Commanding Officer in the Air Force. He’d seen us cycling and would appreciate it if we could take a few minutes to speak with his 600 cadets, who were participating in a 10-day program at a nearby school. We, of course, said we would be honored!

What ensued was nothing short of an unforgettable experience, and we were deeply humbled. We arrived to a line of cadets in full uniform, some with ceremonial rifles, to lead us in to the courtyard. Cadets came running from all corners and quickly took place seated in the courtyard to hear us speak.

Steve and I are quite shy with public speaking, but we did our best to answer all the questions asked, explain our bicycles and bag system, and learn about this program the kids are participating in. Several of them had in fact just cycled themselves 500km over 4 days, quite an amazing feat, considering they hadn’t done any training for the ride! They took with them a message of education to the rural communities of Tamil Nadu as they passed through. We were very impressed with these young men and were happy to answer their cycling questions. We hope they will continue to cycle and spread enjoyment of the sport in India!

Wing Commander C Gunasekran then made us coffee, prepared us some cookies and sandwiches, and took us out to see the young men and women playing sports and flying a model airplane, doing some great stunts for us, something which they’d excelled at in competition. We met some women who’d won awards for rifle drills, and were invited to play volleyball; I had to decline as I’m quite horrible at any sports besides cycling and would have just gotten in the way!

What an incredible experience, and I hope the kids will remember the two crazy Americans cycling the world, and maybe we will inspire some of them to chase their dreams as well.

We wished we had been able to stay longer and see some more of the cultural activities, but our host for the evening had already begun cooking us an elaborate Chettinad dinner, so we apologized and excused ourselves as best we could, and the cadets put on another farewell for us as we cycled off.

As if this wasn’t enough of an experience, we were then contacted (through the cycling club we’d met a few days earlier) by a reporter with The Hindu newspaper. He wanted to write an article about our trip, and so we did an interview with him, and here’s the wonderful article he published just today. Link to online version.

Cycling in India has been a life-changing experience for us. We have made memories and friends we will cherish for our whole lives, and although there have been challenges, there are so many unexpected and wonderful things that quickly make you forget about any difficulties. To those who want to visit India, we say to you, get off the tourist trail and see the real India. Sure, Goa and Varkala are not to be missed. But if you want to see real India, go to Madikeri and sample the food and see the rolling coffee plantations. Stop in the fishing villages along the Malvani coast and watch the fisherman bring in their catch. Find an out-of-the-way temple with a festival. Try to order lunch at restaurants (aka “hotels”) in small towns with no menu and no English on their signs (there are pictures usually so you can just point – using your thumb!). Say hi and smile to everyone you meet. Pose for selfies whenever asked. Put yourself out there in the less comfortable situations and be open to whatever happens. These have been the magic moments of India for us.

We still have two more weeks in India, as we prepare for our trip to Thailand, but we are now planning to take a break from cycling for a bit and relax and explore the surrounding area. We hope to get in a few more rides after our bikes are tuned up at a bicycle shop, and before they are put in boxes for our flight to Thailand.

Thailand and Southeast Asia, here we come!

Okay, so we’ve figured out our path from India into Southeast Asia. Since our original plans to cycle from India to Myanmar at the border crossing have been thwarted, we’ve had to consider another way of getting there.

After considering many different options, the one we decided on is to fly from Chennai, India to Phuket, Thailand in mid-January. I’ve just booked the flight, and we are starting to figure out other logistics.

Why Phuket and not direct to Myanmar? We have friends in Phuket, and it also has a great cycling culture, so we will be able to get our bikes and cycling clothing repaired and updated. Also it’s super easy and tourist friendly, and after nearly three months in India, that will be much appreciated.

After Phuket, our plan is to make a figure-eight through Southeast Asia, heading north into Myanmar and doing a loop there, then coming back through Thailand towards Cambodia, then Vietnam, then up the coast and back west into northern Laos, to Chiang Mai, and then back south again towards Singapore. Once in Singapore, we would like to explore Indonesia a bit before we finally head to Australia!

Other options we considered:

  • Continue cycling through India to Bangladesh and then fly from Dhaka to SEA, possibly doing side trips to Sri Lanka and/or Bhutan. This was a very attractive option because there are so many interesting things we’d love to see in all of these places, but it would mean we’d get to SE Asia towards rainy season. SE Asia has been one of my most looked-forward to areas for cycle touring, so we decided we should try to get there while it’s still season. Also, the states of Odisha and Andra Pradesh in India, although probably very interesting, have few things that were high on our list. I think it’s likely we will come back to India to cycle tour again, so we are happy to save that for another time.
  • Try to find a cruise or boat to get from India to SE Asia. It is possible and would be quite an adventure, but it’s prohibitively expensive. There’s a boat that runs a few times a month from Chennai or Kolkata to the Andaman Islands, part of India. It’s fairly affordable, running from $30-150/person depending on whether you want to sleep on the deck for 3 days or be treated like a king. But from the Andamans to Thailand, there are no public boats, just private yachts that you can charter. The cheapest are around $3,000/week.

There are many things we will miss from India, and there are many things we are looking forward to in SE Asia. We are very excited to have a goal to cycle towards, and we still have 3 weeks to enjoy India.

Christmas holiday in Tamil Nadu

What a difference a day makes! Our ride and Tamil Nadu quickly cheered us up; India has a way of turning a frown into a smile in the most unexpected ways.

Maybe it was the holiday weekend or maybe it was us being a bit more relaxed and cheerful ourselves, but suddenly everyone we met on the road seemed extra enthusiastic, waving, smiling, cheering.

About halfway through our ride, another cyclist rode up to us and invited us to join his cycling club across the street. Remember yesterday I said we haven’t met a single other Indian cyclist in over 2 months? Well today we met 20! Here are just a few; we exchanged contact info, and I asked them to email me some of the photos taken!

An amazing 20 minutes ensued with people handing us oranges, parking our bikes with theirs, and taking a million selfies, and even a video interview. We shook hands with everyone, and really enjoyed meeting them. They are cycling from their home in Madurai to Kanyakumari in one day, then taking the train home. It is taking us 3 days to do that 250km ride in reverse. Quite an impressive ride! Good luck guys!!

The rest of the highway riding was fairly monotonous, but we passed through some picturesque rice paddy fields, and Steve kept the mood light singing Christmas songs and taking turns with me blocking the headwinds.

Half of the day was actually riding on service roads, which have no traffic and access to local shops and whatnot, so it was a very stress-free day of cycling, if not a bit boring. Even some of the service roads had service roads! But many of those were being used by local farmers to dry and separate their grains, so it was a bumpy ride if we tried to use them.

Still, there were many interesting monuments and temples along the way.

Last night I scoured all the online booking apps and found one hotel that was over our budget but within cycling distance at 107km. Not wanting to risk getting stuck, we booked it. We also booked a hotel in Madurai; I had posted on a TripAdvisor forum along for Christmas things to do in Madurai and someone responded with a Christmas gala at one hotel. They still had vacancy, so we booked a room, which includes admission to the gala dinner. I hope our business casual dress is sufficient for their dress code!

We will update soon on our Christmas events, and we again wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

More Tamil Nadu highs and lows

Today was full of ups and downs, but it had some really great parts.

What a crazy place to be a foreign tourist, Tamil Nadu is… I hate to say it, but as amazing as the highlights have been, the lows have been a bit discouraging. In one day, all of these incredible and disconcerting things happened:

  • A nice fellow from North India joined us for breakfast and we spoke about our mutual travels around India and Southeast Asia.
  • When he heard we were cycling, he then proceeded to tell us that he doesn’t like cycle tourists because they rush through places and don’t get to see anything. WTF?! I was too tired and already discouraged from yesterday to have an argument with him, but I told him he was wrong, we see 100 times more than any tourist, and he backed off. Why would someone dare to make such a blanket judgmental statement to our face?
  • A bunch of touts outside our hotel kept poking our bikes getting in the way of us packing them, and we had to tell them to stop.
  • A hundred people passing us on the highway gave us thumbs ups, waves, peace signs, smiles, and hellos.
  • Three hotels in our destination town refused to give us rooms because we are foreigners. We showed them that they had rooms listed online, and the promptly picked up their phones pretending to be busy and shooed us away. One other hotel would give us a room but had no place secure for the bicycles and refused to let us bring them in the room. Prior to this, in 10 months of travel, we’ve only been refused a hotel twice, both because they had no secure bike storage, zero have lied to our face about availability. Four refusals in one day is absurd and really gives me a foul impression of Tamil Nadu, I hate to say.
  • Even on the 4-lane highway, the scenery was stunning as we rode through rice paddy fields with wind turbines and mountains for a backdrop.
  • After being refused at 3 hotels, two guys on a motorbike waved and said, “welcome to India!” I smiled back and beckoned them over, and asked if they could help us figure out why hotels wouldn’t give us a room. But alas, “welcome to India” appeared to be the only words they knew in English.
  • We had to spend 4 times our hotel budget for a boutique hotel that was amazingly courteous and let us bring the bikes into the room. And they have a bar, a rarity in the prohibition-happy southern states. I need it after today’s nonsense.
  • We decorated our backpacks with Santa ornaments! Steve’s fell off though!
  • And the one most awesome thing that happened today was one of the nicest simple gestures any stranger has done for us on this entire trip, and really really makes me want to love Tamil Nadu despite all the other bad experiences here. A man pulled his car over on the highway and jumped out and handed us two small woven boxes with candy and caramels inside. We later learned that this a tradition of the region, and several locals were very impressed that we had received this gift and said it was a very great gift to receive.

We were lucky today to be in a town with a boutique hotel and with a credit card to use. Tomorrow we might not be as lucky. It’s 80km to our preferred hotel, and 100km to our second choices. None of them are bookable online (without an Indian credit card), and if they all say we can’t stay, then we will be knocking on the door of some churches and hoping to have a place to wake up on Christmas Eve or else riding into the dusk towards Madurai.

We are thinking of flying from Chennai to Thailand in a few weeks. We will have to take a flight at some point from India (or Bangladesh) anyway because of being unable to get a border crossing permit from India to Myanmar, and we have been in India longer than any other country so we are ready for our next country. And it will be nice to be in a place that’s more common for cycle touring as well; we haven’t met a single other cycle tourist in 2 months in India. But we are still excited to see some of the UNESCO temples between here and Pondicherry and think we will enjoy Pondicherry and Auroville as well, so we still have some things in India to look forward to!

Welcome to Tamil Nadu! Go away!

While we enjoyed Varkala, Kovalam we found a bit less interesting, with more touts hassling tourists, higher prices (some breakfast items were more expensive than they are in the US!), and not as scenic. But our hotel room was cheap, so we took a day off and got bored. It was time to get back on the bikes and make some distance!

Lighthouse Beach

Somehow the sight (and smell) of all these fish outside each restaurant convinced me NOT to order the fish. Maybe it had something to do with the lack of ice? I ordered the chicken. It came out raw in the middle, so I fed it to a stray cat and switched to veg dishes for a while…

It’s been two months since we arrived in this country! And today, we were going to reach the end of India! Well, the southern most tip of the Indian subcontinent, anyway.

The ride was full of challenges, though, upon entering our fifth Indian state, Tamil Nadu.

It started with kids coming up to us, which has always been a fun sign. They love to practice their English and joke around and poke the bikes. But this time, they simply said something in Tamil and held their hands palm up; we didn’t need a translation to know they were saying, “money”. While we get this sometimes in the cities, this was a first outside tourist areas while on our bikes and was quite depressing.

(Just a side note: I don’t give to beggars because many are part of bigger organized groups and the money is rarely given out fairly. Instead I find responsible organizations that I trust to help those in need. In India, I’ve made a contribution to Reality Gives in Mumbai, which provides education for youth in the slums.)

Another sign of entering Tamil Nadu is that spitting is back in. Spitting and smoking in public is against the law in Kerala. Lots of Indians chew paan (a mixture of narcotic betel nuts with tobacco and other spices) and spit the reddish mouth juice into the streets. These red stains are all over India but nicely absent in Kerala due I guess to strong enforcement of the ban.

Not only did we see lots more red stains everywhere, but one guy spit out of a bus missing me by inches. I caught up with the bus and the asshole wouldn’t even make eye contact.

Now I was getting grumpy, and I wasn’t the only one apparently. I tried to cheer myself up by smiling and waving “hi” at some kids and young adults, always a way to elicit a smile everywhere else in India. But here in Tamil Nadu, I just got worried or upset looks. Thinking maybe the hand wave gesture isn’t nice here, I tried the Indian head wobble with the same result. It’s one of the things we’ve grown to love about India is the cheerfulness of almost everyone we’ve passed, and suddenly it was gone.

Traffic was not nice, either. In addition to the typical India traffic patterns, Tamil Nadu people seem to be in quite a bit more of a rush and like to overtake a lot more aggressively. There are also a ton of triple and quintuple sped bumps everywhere causing traffic jams, where everyone again tries to overtake each other even though everyone is stopped, taking the speed bump at 0.5kph. Honestly, I think the potholes are sufficient; they don’t need to add speed bumps to the mix, but whatever. We’ve grown used to getting off the road to safety in these situations, but today was notable for the number of times we had to do so, often cursing quietly in the process. (Yelling is considered incredibly rude in India, and it was all I could do at times to prevent being an insufferable asshole, I’ll tell you.)

The roads were quite rough in places, and riding along the coast was nowhere near as nicely paved as Kerala. Part of this is due of course to the tsunami from 2004, and we saw some monuments commemorating the lives lost to this tragedy and took some time to stop and have a moment of silence.

At one section of washed out road, we turned around and made the next turn inland trying to find a way around. There was a family standing there talking in Tamil, and I waved, and in response, one of the men said something that sounded an awful lot like, “go away!” I will try really hard to assume that I misheard, but after another gentleman gave me directions with hand signals, I turned around to see the family quite agitated, a woman raising her voice to the man. I waved sheepishly an apology and received a snarl as a response, so we quickly left.

On the plus side, we did get a number of friendly waves and smiles throughout the day, and one person even said, “welcome!” to us. It just seemed that the difficult interactions far outweighed the pleasant ones, quite the opposite of every other day in India so far. Two fellows even asked us if we’d eaten, and we assume they would have offered us something if we hadn’t just had lunch. And whenever we stopped, we got tons of questions about our bikes, which is normal, especially when we stopped outside a paan shop to fill our water bottles. So perhaps we just got unlucky today; I hope it doesn’t continue negatively for much longer.

And, aside from too much trash, the coast is stunning, a true gem. Lined with small villages with colorful houses, tons of churches and temples at least every kilometer, crashing surf, and palm trees everywhere. And not a single tourist in sight.

Finally we reached “the end of India”, Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip. From here on, all of our travels through India will trend to the north instead of south. Of course this city is quite a tourist spot, mostly with Indian tourists but we spotted a European couple and spoke with a South African couple at dinner.

We found a nice hotel for a good price and an amazing shower. We haven’t had a hot shower in over a week, as most places don’t have 24 hour hot water and we shower in the afternoons after our ride when the water heaters are usually off. So we both soaked for a while before finding a nice restaurant that would have had an ocean view if it hadn’t been dark.

So the next three days will be riding along the highway and stopping at non-descript towns until we reach Madurai, where we plan to spend Christmas. Not my first choice for a Christmas destination, but I’ve had stranger Christmas’s before, so it will be fine.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!

Varkala, our next tourist zone!

I’m not going to lie. As much as we enjoy the adventure and the unexpected interactions and experiences we’ve had in India in the many places we’ve been with zero foreign tourists, rolling into a town like Varkala that has all the Western comforts, beautiful beach, and tourist-friendly hotels, bars, and restaurants set along a scenic cliffwalk is enough to make us pause and relish the things we miss from home. It’s like a little mini vacation in our more adventurous overall journey.

But it does tire quickly… After two full rest days, we are growing bored of the cookie cutter expensive (relatively) but poorly-made tourist food, hawker stalls, and disillusioned tourists. I don’t think most of them realize that they aren’t seeing the real India at all, and it makes me sad to think that most of these people will go home to tell stories of “what India is like”, describing this ridiculous tourist trap. India as a whole has none of the touts, no one trying to rip you off, no Israeli food (duh!), and almost everything they sell at these stalls are for foreigners only.

It’s funny because in Europe we hated these places, but in India, because the overall experience in the country is so foreign, these stops at tourist-heavy towns are guilty pleasures, like little oases of refreshment for us. We can indulge in some of our favorite foods, drinks, and habits that we miss from home, while relaxing and planning our future path, before continuing back on our much more rewarding jaunt through the real India.

Leaving Kochi, we said our final goodbyes to our generous, loving, and helpful homestay hosts Linda and her husband.

There were dozens of Catholic churches on the way out of Kochi, and Steve got some great photos.

Our short day ended in Alleppey, with flooded streets after the recent rain showers. Trying to figure out how to cross one particularly large puddle, a man on a motorcycle started talking to us and invited us to check out his budget guesthouse. For a reasonable 1200 rupees, we got a basic room with an ocean view and a place to lock the bikes and dry our laundry! Perfect!

We didn’t realize the town is under construction as they are building a huge elevated highway, so the rest of this beach town was quite a disaster, but we found a decent place for dinner even if the former ocean view now consists of nothing but concrete and mud.

It started pouring during dinner so we hired an auto-rickshaw to go back the 1km to our hotel, saving us from getting completely soaked and caked with mud.

Our next day was a tiring 90km trudge through muddy roads, heavy traffic, and lots of smoke from burning garbage. My cold was still causing me grief, so it was a bit uncomfortable. But we found a perfect place to rest for two nights where I recovered fully in peace and quiet on Monroe Island, amidst the undeveloped backwaters. Our room at this quaint 3-room resort overlooked peaceful waterways where locals paddled canoes and kids played drums on tin roofs and we heard chirping birds and beautiful rhythmic chanting all day long. And the local Keralan food they served was good, and the server explained each dish and how to eat it. A nice couple from Germany was staying there also, having just finished a week-long ayuverdic treatment in Kovalam and looking to see more of India before returning home.

The resort offered a canoe ride through the backwaters and nearby lake, and we enjoyed a two and a half hour 1mph relaxing drift through the waterways in a canoe punted along by our friendly captain using a long stick.

Our next day of riding through a maze of tiny residential back alleys (thank God for GPS!) took us to Varkala, where we found a lovely hotel just steps from the cliff and the beach. The couple running the place are absolutely amazing, friendly, accommodating, and cook a mean breakfast (yummy masala omelet and banana pancakes)! Plus we have a balcony with private bike parking and sun to charge my solar panels (the power here is a bit iffy).

We took advantage of some more rest days (boy we are getting lazy!) to plan our route through Chennai for the next few weeks and consider some other options. Tomorrow we will head towards the much more touristy Kovalam, where we hope to get a taxi or bus ride to see a lion park! I love seeing big kitties in the wild so we hope to see a lion or two if we are lucky!

Finally the rainy, humid, cloudy, hazy weather seems to have gone, so we hope to have some nice cycling days coming up before we get to Tamil Nadu, where I understand we are cycling directly into their winter rainy season. Well, we’ve been super lucky avoiding rain all year, but I doubt our luck will hold up forever. I hope at least we get a little snow for Christmas! 😁

Kochi and houseboats

Kochi has been quite an experience for us, and our homestay host Linda has had a lot to do with that.

She runs a 9-room place a 10-mimute walk from the tourist zone where she lives with her husband. She’s got a ton of local connections for all the things we wanted to see in this part of Kerala: houseboats, cooking classes, kathakali (local performing arts), and drivers. It was hard to keep her from filling up our days with expensive activities, so we had to push back a little bit arrived at a really enjoyable itinerary for our stay!

Our first day was to explore Fort Kochi, and we had a great time checking out churches, Jewish synagogues, and some bars and restaurants.

The liquor laws are tough here, just having repealed prohibition, but we found a few places to get some beer.

We mailed a ton of post cards home as Christmas cards. If you didn’t get yours, you can blame the Indian postal service. It has nothing to do with us forgetting about you, we promise!

Linda hooked us up with a great performance of kathakali, theyyam, and the local martial arts that we really enjoyed. It was a bit touristy but also quite nice.

Linda offered to give us a cooking demonstration while she prepared “beef” (water buffalo) briyani for 30+ guests, giving us step-by-step instructions that we hope to repeat when we return home. It was quite tasty!

Now it was my turn to get sick, but with no fever and responding to Tylenol and decongestant, I don’t think it’s anything serious. So we took a relaxing day, went to the mall to get new clothes (the Merino wool is too hot in this humidity, so we are switching to some much cooler synthetic clothes from Adidas and Clumbia). And then we booked a houseboat tour through the backwaters.

This is “the experience” of Kerala, so we had to do it. And Linda got us a driver and booked everything. It was quite a cool experience to sleep on the backwaters for a night.

On the way there, we saw some local fisherman pulling in their catch, thanks to our awesome driver who pointed out lots of interesting sights along the way.

Our houseboat was comfortable enough even if it was riddled with termites. We were constantly dusting termite poop from our feet and bedding. The front deck was nice with the best views, though the upper deck was also pleasant. We had a sizeable bedroom with ensuite full bathroom and a small dining room. It was nicer than I thought, but it’s not exactly luxury. Still, the food was amazing.

They stopped by a fish market and asked if we wanted to buy anything to add to our menu, and the tiger prawns are a local specialty and looked amazingly fresh, so we picked out a bunch. We will have to live on masala dosa for a week to make up for our extravagance (honestly, compared to prices back home, it was peanuts), but the onboard chef fried them up in some spices and they were incredible. But first we had to walk a ways to find a woman with scissors who cleaned and shelled the prawns for 40 rupees while her parakeet made fun of us in Malayalam. Good times.

The most comfy spot where we watched the world go by.

Cozy bedroom with air conditioning!

Steve’s spot…

Cool spiral staircase on the water tower.

Boat traffic on the backwaters.

Some of the houses along the coast.

Our sunset; we parked overnight and went for a short walk through rice paddies.

These plants were everywhere, clogging up the backwaters. Their roots seem to just float in the water, and don’t go all the way down to the ground.

We awoke to thousands of ducks quacking happily by us. Later we saw duck on the menu and wondered where it came from.

One more day in Kochi and then we are back on the bikes heading south towards Varkala! In the meantime, in a moment of weakness, I bought a drum! The idea of doing some drumming at some of our less interesting stops sounded good at the time, and it was a good price and has a good sound, but I have no idea how I’ll carry this on my bike…

It’s not malaria!

We’ve been over a week in Kerala now, and it’s time for a blog!

We ended up staying an extra night in Mananthavady, a small town in Wayanad with a little charm but nothing to do. We had some decent meals with many curious onlookers, and I found a guy with a sewing machine to fix my shirt that was coming unhemed for 20 rupees (30¢). We also did a lot of reading, relaxing, and route planning, and Christmas shopping (no bike-mountable Christmas lights to be found) until the drizzle passed.

Finally, we got on the bikes again for a roundabout tour of Wayanad through coffee and tea plantations. Steve vetoed us climbing up another 1000m towards the famous hill station of Ooty, so we decided to get one last ride in the hill country before descending to the coast. Sunday was the perfect day to do it! We were stopped for probably a dozen selfies, and two mosques forced us to stop, all smiles, and offered as much sweet rice pudding and coffee as we’d like to drink. We happily accepted and chatted with the folks there, telling them about our trip and posing for selfies. We tried to ask about if there was a festival or something going on to explain this generosity, but it seemed like maybe it was a regular thing. Kerala is known for its festivals this time of year. Lots of other cars and motorbikes stopped and enjoyed the offerings as well. None of the Muslims looked put off when we said we are Americans, though I made the mistake of reading the news that morning and knew that our government is up to no good again in this regard. Nevertheless, we were totally safe and well cared for by these friendly guys, like these young men who stopped and asked for selfies.

Wayanad is known for its amazing homestays with gorgeous views, so before we left, we were intent to find one that didn’t break the bank, and we found an amazing place in Kalpetta, just a short walk from the busy city, but feeling like it’s in the middle of nowhere, the Wayanad Hillview AirBNB homestay lived up to its name. We had the well-landscaped place all to ourselves most of the overnight stay, and the caretaker Bishnu made us an amazing dinner and breakfast, cared for our bicycles, and made us feel at home.

For lunch on the road, we often stop at small roadside restaurants like the one below. Many of them have pictures and English translations even if the staff only speak Malayalam, and this sign was particularly useful as it taught me the plural of “meal” in Malayalam, which Google Translate doesn’t seem to know.

Keralites are proud of their communism, and there are hammer and sickle signs and flags everywhere, even painted on the street.

Known for its festivals, we’ve randomly passed through many Kerala towns all decked out. This below seems to be an Islamic event, based on the crescent moon flag, and indeed one restaurant owner commented in his limited English on our crescent-moon Turkey flag on our bicycles, “Turkey? Muslim?” To which we said yes, then pointed to ourselves and said, “Catholic”, and he nodded. It’s a bit of a lie, but easier to translate than “agnostic”. His briyani was excellent, though the chicken was a bit tough.

Wayanad is known for its picturesque tea plantations, but we only saw a few on our way out of Kalpetta. If we had continued upwards towards Ooty, I think we would have seen more.

Next up, we enjoyed a huge descent down the Wayanad Churam, a steep 7% road with 9 hairpins, no shoulder, and populated mostly by wild monkeys. Luckily there was almost no traffic going in our direction, but the road was rough in some parts.

We had big plans to explore Khozikode (Calicut), but suddenly Steve was feeling quite ill, so we thought it best to find a place with air conditioning so he could rest. He’d been having hot flashes, and he’s too young to be having menopause. We found a delightful 5-star resort near a Red Crescent hospital, but they refused to match the affordable price we saw online, and the online we site refused to accept my international credit card. Steve was in no shape to continue onward, so we had to pay a stupid price for him to sleep comfortably in air conditioning, but at least it was a nice place. Unfortunately, though, he suddenly switched from being too hot to too cold, and even with the A/C off and the door open, he shivered miserably all night long.

I meanwhile was Googling what could be wrong, and of course my mind went right to malaria, which has as its identifying symptom, alternating shivering for a few days, then profuse sweating. Although Kerala is quite low risk for malaria, we’d been in Mumbai, Maharashtra, and Mangalore, which are known to have some incidence of malaria.

So we told the hotel we needed to stay another day and go to the hospital. Bad news was they had no vacancy the next day, but they said the hospital would see us quickly, so we could still check out before noon. They even arranged for a driver to the hospital and didn’t charge us. After paying 50 rupees, the doctor saw us immediately and took his temperature, which was normal. He said normally he’d be concerned for malaria based on the symptoms but because there’s no fever, it’s just a cold. He sent us back with a digital thermometer for $3 and some pills to help with nausea and muscle pain to treat his symptoms. Total cost $4.50. We have travel insurance for emergency medicine, but I guess we don’t really need it for this…

We had to leave the hotel, so even though Steve was sick, we cycled 50km to the next place we could find some more affordable hotels. Unfortunately we missed out on visiting a local performing arts school, and had to cancel on another charming beachside AirBNB, but Steve’s health was more important.

After we arrived and showered, Steve took his temperature and we were surprised it was 101. This isn’t good! We asked the front desk, and they pointed us to a hospital. 30 rupees for an auto-rickshaw, and 100 rupees for a doctor, and we told him what was going on. He agreed to do a malaria test for 200 rupees, and we waited for the results. It was negative, so he sent Steve home with some decongestant, PMS medications, and a mild painkiller, all of which we tossed after we googled what it was; perhaps people here get upset if they are sent home from the doctor with no pills? These were totally irrelevant.

Calling Steve’s doctor back home, he recommended a better treatment for a possible infection using one of the antibiotics that we had purchased before the trip began. We had enough in our bags to compete a full course, so Steve started them right away. The next day, he was already feeling better, and is fully recovered several days later.

Eastern Medicine: 0, Western Medicine: 1

We split up the rest of the ride to Kochi as best we could and enjoyed cycling by the coast, even though a tall rock wall blocked our view of the ocean. It’s so flat here that they need to shore up the coast to protect from floods. But the backwaters are stunning. Just check out my future private island in the photo above!

Near Kochi, we started seeing some more tourists again, and we stumbled on a European cafe run by a Portuguese-French chef and his Indian wife. They had hamburgers on the menu, and we couldn’t resist! Not bad for a hamburger in India, I must say. We enjoyed something new after weeks of Indian food only.

Our ride into Kochi was only marred by finding that the local ferry refused to take bicycles. This was surprising because I was following the GPS route of another cyclist who had taken the ferry, but no matter what we said, they just shook their heads. Finally, a customer came up to us and pointed to another ferry terminal across the water and said we could ride there and they took bikes.

It was another 10km, and Steve was cooked, still a bit sick I think, so it was slow going with lots of traffic. When we arrived at where Google says the ferry is, there was nothing there except some guys hanging out. We asked where the ferry to Fort Kochi is and they said it’s 2km that way! Shit.

Luckily, halfway there, a fellow approached and asked if we were headed to Fort Kochi. We said yes and he said he would take us for 300 rupees each. The public ferry is 10 or 20 rupees, but it was still another km or more, and probably had a wait and would be busy, so we said yes, as long as you are leaving now. He said sure but then looked at the bikes and said, “actually it’s 1000 rupees with the bikes.” Damn capitalist! We said no way, and went to head to the public ferry, and he quickly realized we had a clue and came around and said fine, 600.

30 minutes later, we’d reached Fort Kochi and collapsed at our wonderful homestay.

Next up: Fort Kochi and houseboats!

Decoding the Indian honk

You walk out the door of your hotel to go to dinner or find a snack or explore the town, and it smacks you in the face. No, not the heat or humdity, though that’s also a thing. I’m talking about the cacaphony of honking sounds.

Everywhere around you are the beeps, toots, whistles, and mighty roars of horns on every vehicle. The motor cycles and auto-rickshaws are the most mild, an often-feeble meeeep sound. The cars have a bit louder blurts. And the trucks and busses have a crazy loud hahhhhhhhnk air horn. Many of the trucks have installed custom horns that are either extra loud, extra annoying, or extra elaborate, culminating in deafoning polyphonic symphonies. And probably 5% of the vehicles have used up their horns life too soon due to overuse and let out pathetic, wavering, impotent soft wails that sound like some kind of weird off-tune electronic instrument in the hands of an amateur DJ.

But despite the crazy range of sounds, after nearly 7 weeks of being in India and cycling on the roads, I think I’ve figured out the rules of when and why to honk. And it’s quite a solid pattern, based on what I’ve observed. And it also explains why, with such scary traffic behavior, there are fewer accidents than you’d expect. (Not that it’s an acceptable number, I will add.)

I’d love to hear feedback from any others who live in or have visited India to see if I’m on the right track or maybe off my rocker.

Meaning #1: asking or answering a question

The most common time you honk is when you want to ask a question of fellow drivers nearby. The question is, “I’m about to do something kind of risky; is there anyone in the way that I can’t see?” This risky thing could be overtaking on a blind corner, entering an intersection where someone might be coming from either side, passing a pedestrian or vehicle who doesn’t seem to see you, or even just going around a low-visibility corner in a larger vehicle.

If there is no honk answer, then it’s generally safe to do your dangerous thing. If you get a honk answer, then you have to gauge, based on where you think they are, whether your action might be dangerous. So if you are overtaking on a blind corner, and you honk, and the responding honk sounds really close, then it’s a good bet that you might hit someone if you start to overtake, so you’d better wait.

Meaning #2: insisting yes or no

If you are really in a rush, you can insist on your action by laying on the horn for a few seconds. This seems to mean, “I really want to do something dangerous, so get out of my way.” This isn’t used super often in my experience, but sometimes is, especially by big trucks and busses.

You can also do the same thing in response, which means, “I can’t get out of your way! You’d better stop.” At this point, it’s up to a game of chicken that’s won by the guy with the bigger horn and bigger vehicle.

Note that I never claimed these rules of honking were particularly safe, but just that I’d figured them out!

Meaning #3: saying hi

This one is kind of familiar. A quick toot-toot usually means, “hi!” We get a fair number of these ourselves.

Other meanings

Sometimes the honks have other meanings that I’m still figuring out. A quick honk can mean, “ok gotcha” sometimes, for example, rather than a negative response.

What this means for us as bicycles with electric horns

Since our horns sound very similar to motorcycle horns, we can give a toot in response to Meaning #1 honks to stop them from endangering us. So if we are approaching a corner and hear a toot, we can assume someone is about to overtake on the blind corner, or a big truck is coming around. So we can give a toot in response, and this almost always makes them slow down or stop trying to overtake. So far, it works great!

In fact, maybe too good. Sometimes there would have been plenty of room for them to continue, but hearing our horn, they stop. So maybe it wasn’t necessary, but hey, better safe than sorry, I say!

What this says to me about culture

As I was putting my theory to the test today, I got to thinking about what this says about the difference in cultures. In the US especially and in the west in general, it’s “every man for himself”. If you want to keep yourself safe, then you rely only on what you see and hear. You don’t overtake on blind corners because you can’t see whether anyone is there, and you don’t trust them to make themselves known. Even if you honk, you would never trust that someone coming the other way would tell you he’s there.

In Asia, I think there’s more of a sense of interdependence, with people here being more used to conforming to norms and relying on people around them. So it’s more comfortable to trust your fellow drivers to let you know they are there to keep both of you safe.

Maybe this is hogwash and I’m completely wrong, but that idea did occur to me. What do you think?

A Simple Smile & Wishes of a Happy Journey

India is divided into states just like the United States, and we’ve successfully pedaled in 4 of them already in our first six weeks here.  With over 1.3 billion people, India is the most populous democracy in the world. It is a federal constitutional republic governed under a parliamentary system consisting of 29 states and 7 union territories.  This country is such an amazingly vibrant and interesting place, from the food, to the people, the landscapes, and the richness of colors.  We feel like celebrities as we pedal through the remote villages stopping for water and snacks and a local will approach us to ask where we’re from and sometimes ask if they can take a selfie with us, smiling and then wishing us a “Happy Journey” as we continue on.  We also love when the children yell “Hello” from the side of the road in small or big villages or sometimes from the schoolyard they’re playing in.

Here is some general history and my highlights thus far of the 3 states we’ve spent most  of our time in this beautiful country we will call home for three months total.

Maharashtra was the state where we began the Asia portion of our cyclying tour in Mumbai, formally known as Bombay.  It’s the third largest state in the country that’s characterised by 720 km of coastline where we first began pedaling after we took a ferry from Mumbia acculmating for five days after arriving from Greece.  In Mumbai, we enjoyed a food tour and slum tour hosted by Reality Gives (, and did our own walking tour one day and enjoyed seeing the Gandhi Museum & Reasearch center known as Mani Bhavan where Gandhi spent approximately 17 years of his life.  Various religious communities have created a unique multicultural ecosystem in Maharashtra.  Ancient mosques, dargahs (shrines), agyaris (temples), guruwaras, and churches dot the landscape, testifying to the religious harmony that exists within the state.  We took 6-7 different ferries to cross rivers throughout this state, and rode some of the bumpiest and pot hole filled roads imaginable (even worse than Albania), and hoped all of India wouldn’t be like this.  We heard from a local that the condition of the roads are caused from the monsoon season they expierience every year. 

Goa is a state in western India with coastlines stretching along the Arabian Sea. Its long history as a Portuguese colony prior to 1961 is evident in its preserved 17th-century churches and the area’s tropical spice plantations. Goa is also known for its beaches, that we relaxed and found some amazing “built for the season” huts to stay in just steps from the beach.  One of my favorite things we did in Goa, besides relax at the beaches was taking a cooking class at Rita’s Gourmet Cooking School.  We toured a local market before the class started, and then learned how to make different curries for our chicken and fish dishes, prawn puffs, Aloo Mutter Gobi (a vegetarian favorite gravy dish of ours consisting of potato, cauliflower, & green peas), and a dessert called Bolo Mimosa similar to a tart.  As some of you might know, I come from the Midwest where we are famous for making anything into a casserole, so my extent and lack of love for cooking has changed after taking this FUN class.  We hope to continue this tradition of taking more cooking classes in future countries that we visit. 

Karnataka is a state in southwest India with more Arabian Sea coastlines, stunning mountain towns, with coffee & spice plantations,  and where we spent our Thanksgiving holiday feasting on vegetarian dishes for all three of our meals that day.  It was the first Thanksgiving that we both weren’t stuffed from turkey and carb loaded dishes and we think we could get used to that…LOL.  While we missed our family and friends for this “thankful” holiday, it was refreshing to expierience a different culture nonetheless.  After Thanksgiving we climbed and we climbed, and we climbed over 1300 meters in just 56 kilometers (4500 feet in just 35 miles that’s the equivalent of climbing Torrey Pines 9 times) to the heavenly mountains of Madekeri where we spent two days in a remote coffee/spice plantation enjoying the  cooler temperatures and no sounds of horns honking.  We then went to Mysuru, that’s home to lavish temples including Mysore Palace where we spent another two relaxing days and enjoyed another walking food tour in the cleanist city we’ve been in so far in India….and they claim fame to that title.  After Mysuru, we woke up at 5am to make it to our next destination by noon for our first safari of two in Nagarhole National Park that is a Tiger Rescue area.  On our first venture out into the park in our classic safari jeep, we saw spotted deer (over 6000 in this park), the tail of a big lizard deep in a hole grabbing his dinner, several species of birds, and gray langur (monkey’s).  We awoke again at 5am the next day to try again to see some more endangered animals and we’re very successful in seeing a gaur (Indian Bison), an old female elephant, and a tiger (1500 in this park).  This was the first time either of us had expierenced a safari, and it was quite honestly breathtaking to see all these animals living freely and enjoying life in this picturesque setting.  Last but not least, Karnataka (Mangalore) is where I found new cyclying shorts of a brand called Castelli that’s popular with Team Sky and made in Italy….so my taint is very happy now just in case you were wondering?

We are now in the state of Kerala heading back to the coast where Tim has told me it’s mostly flat, so you know I’ll hold him to that.  In my next blog I’ll give you more details on this state that we have some fun things planned such as a house boat backwater tour and to see a local dance performance in Kochi. 

I continue to post more on Instagram as I’ve stated before and you can follow both of us on there if you want to join another social media app that I love because it’s all about pictures (no politics), and hashtags formally know as a number/pound sign.  Our screen names are Steve @scubastevecyclist and Tim @timo4242.

Here are a couple of lists to hopefully make you chuckle and as always, Thank YOU all for your love & support on this incredible journey we’re on and taking the time to read and/or comment on the blog. 

Things I’m used to in India…
-wearing the same clothes everyday
-‎cold showers or not showering for 48 hours
-‎not knowing what I’m eating 1/2 the time
-riding on the left side of the road
-‎sleeping with 1 pillow or a hard mattress
-‎talking in Celcius & Kilometers
-‎the bum gun (Google it 🤭)
-‎afternoon naps

Things I’m not used to in India
-eating with my hands & not using my left hand
-‎the honking of horns constantly in bigger cities
-‎the 60% plus humidity/40-45 degrees of Celcius
-‎the 10.5 to 13.5 time difference between family and friends back home
-‎washing my clothes by hand in a bucket or sink