Goodbye India (February 18th - February 28th)
A typical Indian breakfast in southern India is a dosa, a large rice-flour crepe, typically served with a small bowl of hot sambar (a soupy lentil dish with cubed vegetables) and another bowl of coconut chutney. I often order a masala dosa which is stuffed with spiced potatoes. If I am outside of the tourist zones that serve more traditional muesli or French toast, this is my breakfast of choice.
(Kanyakumari - Mudarai - Trichy - Villupuram - Chengalpattu - Chennai)
Distance biked so far: 8,503 km
On Monday the 21st I headed north on a new road with a wide shoulder and lane markers. There was little traffic, a testament to the relatively few personal automobiles in the areas outside of the major cities. It was so new that there was little in the way of support services on the side of the road making it difficult to even find water and food. Tamil Nadu is like the other States in that they have their own language Tamil, unknown to most outside their borders. I stopped at one roadside place and had difficulty explaining that I wanted a bottle of water, very unusual in a country where English is so widely spoken. The man was eager to meet me so when I sat down he asked if I wanted a cigarette. I mimicked a heavy cough and shook my head so he asked if I wanted a drink. I said the water is plenty as he pulled out a flask of whiskey. I thought it a little strange and wondered if I was still in the India where it is difficult to find a bottle of beer, let alone be offered whisky at a road stall in the middle of the morning. He proceeded to sit down and pulled out his hand containing a betel nut, a hard nut that is the seed of an areca palm that he told me to put in my mouth. He then pulled out a betel leaf and put some lime juice on it and folded it up and gave it to me to chew. It is the Indian version of chewing tobacco. I immediately felt the impact of the drug; my heart rate increased, and thought I better get moving before he offered me some opium.
The scenery on the southern coast is lush as I follow the edge of the Western Ghat mountain range.
On Tuesday as I was approaching the large city of Madurai I heard a slow hissing noise that is familiar to all cyclists, a flat tire. I pulled off to the side in a relatively people free area and changed it. I was getting déjà vu from those days back in Dubrovnik as the tube I meant to change also had a hole in it. It has been so long since I had a flat that I got lazy and forgot to patch the tubes that I was carrying so I did not have a spare. Just as I stood up it started the heavens opened and it was pouring. What a combination, the first flat in months at the exact same time as the first rainfall since Syria.
I was only a few kilometers from Madurai so decided to wave down a truck to take me to a hotel. I don't like driving in a big city and with the rain, knew the streets would be full of mud and the maniacal drivers would be out in full force. I was in the passenger seat with my eyes closed as the driver weaved in and out, honking his horn and refusing to stay behind the driver in front. The driver was a typical Indian who couldn't do enough to help so took me right to the door of the hotel and helped with my bike. I was rolling it across the street and someone yelled at me so I turned and he pointed to my flat tire and said there was a tire shop a few doors down. I went there and a large crowd gathered as I took my bike apart, turned it upside down and took off the rear wheel. I gathered all of my tubes and told the owner that I didn't need a new tire, just repairs on the ones I have. It was a quick job for them, made longer by trying to navigate around the masses gathered to watch. I took the tubes out and the employees patched them, then I replaced the tires while answering the hundred or so questions being fired my way. One of the employees said he would show me to another hotel as the one I first approached was full. He went ahead and I walked my bike behind him and he seemed to take immense pleasure in leading me through the crowded streets, walking literally in the middle of the road. I was pushing my bike behind him, through major intersections with cars zooming by and honking everywhere, but he kept his slow pace and even took time to answer his cell phone and talk on it amongst the chaos, never losing his big smile or slow pace. I started to laugh because only in India could I walk my bike slowly in the middle of the road through busy intersections in a city of 1.5 million people, without anyone trying to run me down or think it odd.
I have been on my trip for almost 7 months and can still count on one hand how many days it has rained. My luck is running out with the afternoon downpours and on Wednesday I was caught in what seemed a hint of the monsoons coming soon. It was so heavy it was hard to tell if it was rain or hail, with the wind practically blowing me off the road. There was no shelter around and the day was very warm so I decided to take advantage and have a shower. I got off my bike, took off my shirt and applied soap and shampoo and just let it rinse off. Since many of the hotels I have stayed in do not have hot water, it was one of the warmest showers I've had in India. I then applied soap to my shirt, put it back on, and rode away while the rain rinsed me off. I spent 7 hours biking that day but also got a shower and part of my laundry done.