Headin’ South from Mumbai
We took a rickety old ferry from the Gateway of India, across the filthy water to Mandwa with a large number of Indians, who enjoyed the on board entertainment: us. We felt the pressure lift when we rolled off the pier, into the shade of the coconut trees; ahh space and oxygen – what luxuries.
It was already pretty late in the day so we didn’t make it too far; only 20 or so kms, but an beautiful little shady road, mainly flat, through little villages full of confused-looking locals (I guess we mustn’t have been what they were expecting). We arrived in Alibag, where we stayed in Guruji Beach Resort – cheaper and less grandiose than it sounds! All other hotels were full (or hideously over-priced – R6000 (£80) for a tiny, dirty room?! Yeah I know it’s Diwali but come on, that’s a little much, no?), and we were getting mozzy-bitten and frustrated so we were delighted to come across Guruji (best price after haggling R820 (£11; for spacious clean room with bathroom) down a backstreet near the beach. The fish thali wasn’t great, I think we were the only guests, so the fish must have come out of the freezer, and was uncooked in the middle.
The following day we only made it another 20kms down the coast, the scenery, despite it’s beauty, was seriously hilly – us being unaccustomed to riding after 2 weeks lazing around waiting in Dubai/Mumbai. AND for some reason we’d got into the habit of sleeping all morning, completely unable of rousing ourselves before 11am! It felt like we were jet-lagged from our 2 ½ hour flight; which seemed a little absurd a good 5 days later. By the time we managed to get out of the guest houses in the morning, it was lunch time. Tsk! What we needed was a little kick up the backside; and such a kick rolled up alongside us as we sat by the side of the road trying to get a map to load on the kindle, in Mhasala – in the form of a fellow cycle-tourist, namely David from New Zealand! Wow! Another foreign cyclist, in India, must surely be a pretty rare sight! We were gobsmacked! he’d started out in Singapore and ridden through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia before flying to Mumbai, and riding down the coast (in almost half the time we’d taken!) When we met him, he’d just completed a 100km day (we’d only just begun! -slackers!) He came at just the right time; and was heading South to Sri Lanka, which is what our plan had been, before we only got granted half the India visa-length we’d be counting on. He was just the inspiration we needed to get our sleeping pattern back to daylight hours, we checked into a nearby lodge, and made plans to set off just as the sun rose at 6.45 the next morning. Great! I love the early mornings in India, and looked forward to leaving the town just as it woke up.
The next day turned out to be a scorcher, even as we hit the first hill before 8am, we were sweating buckets. For some reason Joel’s sweat glands work on over-drive so he looks like he’s just been for a swim for the most-part of the day. This is really a struggle for him, as it’s almost impossible to keep hydrated when you’re losing so much water. He was wondering if he’d be able to continue, but kept on truckin’, stoically. We wound around the little lanes, deciphering the Hindi signs, and after stopping for a second breakfast (something we found we had in common with David, and probably quite a few other cyclists!), reached a little river and loaded the bikes onto a waiting ferry.
The other side of the river, we rode through a tiny fishing village, with no roads, only narrow little lanes between the houses, and everyone was out in the street wishing us happy Diwali and smiling as we passed. It was so colourful, with lots of traditional, bright, sand patterns drawn on the ground to celebrate the festival of light. The day was Friday – the weekend of Diwali, and we’d been warned that the guest houses along the coast would fill up, as they’re popular with the local tourists, who drive down from the state’s major cities, Mumbai and Puna. We rode out of the little village along a coast road/path, but a couple of chaps stopped us in our tracks saying “How you will go? high tide is there!” They happily diverted us up the steepest hill on the planet (but luckily not too long), which we made a good crack at, but Dave (his bike a good 20kg lighter) zoomed on past. We stopped for breath next to an old man with blue eyes I recognised from the ferry, who’d asked us for money, just ‘because’. He timely asked me again, and a saw a little win-win situation. For ten rupees (13p) he pushed Arthur up the hill for me. (Don’t worry, he wasn’t that old! He was perfectly capable, and happy to make such easy money. He kept a fag in one hand the whole way up.) We then followed the coast round until we reached a second river, where we ummed and ahhed about which place would be the crossing place, not wanting to drop down unnecessarily, and then have to climb back up if it was wrong. Our water supplies were getting dangerously low, and the heat was almost too much to bear; these hills were tough going and Joel and I were burning. David checked out the options and reckoned we’d do best to keep going a bit along the road. We followed and got some mixed advice from some road-workers, stopping to lunch on the side of the way. One group said to ride straight, presumably to a bridge, 30kms away; the other to go back to the point we’d considered previously for a ferry. We turned back. Luckily there was a port there, in the business of shipping aluminium ore to Ukraine, and the boss spoke perfect English. We’d missed the boat, but this friendly chap set about making us feel comfortable with water and all, and in fact arranged for the port’s boatman to come and collect us. We had a kip in the meantime.
On the other side we had to walk down the beach a bit before arriving in a gorgeous jungly village, just like something outta the Jungle Book. Monkeys n all, much to Joel’s delight. We found one guest house with one room available, and after a small mix-up with the first room, which turned out to have been pre-booked, we moved into the attic room and the manager told us we’d get breakfast thrown in free for the hassle. Nice and early he said, what time you want? 4? 6 we said, OK six no problem.
We went for a walk around the village before dinner, and after some ominous rumbling, the heavens opened! The first rain we’d seen in a good 2 ½ months. Unfortunately it didn’t last long, to Dave’s pleasure, as he’d seen far too much water on his way through SE Asia, having hit Vietnam during the monsoon!
The place was teeming with Indian holiday-makers, mainly big family groups from Puna. We all ate dinner communally, veg thali served on banana leaves, as is customary in S India.
The next morning we were up at 5.40 and went down for breakfast at 6, as we’d been promised. We sat around drinking chai til 7.30 when it was finally served. A spicy semolina dish, with grated coconut on top. Tasted like super-noodles to me.
Today was easier going temperature-wise, and I think our legs have re-adjusted to riding again, so the hills didn’t cause quite as much grief as yesterday. We rode along the coast, up and over the various hills, and stopped at around 3pm when the boys found a bar… As they enjoyed their extra strong Kingfishers in the dingy little room, I received a call from my friend Tom back home, and took pleasure in catching up on the latest from home.
We checked into the last room in town again, this time a ‘Deluxe Suit’ [sic] was the only one available, complete with a gazillion lights and switches, air-con and hot water! All for R2500 (£30 – £10 each). The entire hotel, and the only other in town had been booked up for a YEAR by a local ship-building company, this was the only room free.
It came as quite a surprise when the phone rang, just as we were all getting into bed, and a little voice explained that he too was a cycle-tourist, and had just arrived! He turned out to be Gurav, from somewhere near Delhi, also riding from Mumbai to Goa, but arrived too late to get a room. He took our number, and we agreed to meet him tomorrow morning to ride on together! I hope he finds somewhere to stay, last we heard he was off to the bar! We’ll see…
We were practically woken up by Gurav; waiting downstairs and raring to go! He popped over to a controversial shipping yard (the one who’d booked up both hotels in town presumably!) to get the low-down – as he’s studying journalism, and met us a few kms down the road, where we were waiting for our extra large omelette brekkies. It was great to ride with him, he could even read the signs and speak to the locals, something we could previously only struggle with. He was a really sweet chap, and a great addition to our group. He only had a few days left of his college holiday, so was pushing hard as he wanted to make it to Goa. Something I think he ruled out after the first few gruelling hills! (There were plenty more!) We made it to Ratnagiri, where Joel and I stopped at a post office to send home some of our unnecessary camping gear – an experience that was pure India, a ridiculous number of hoops to jump though, ended up lasting us over three hours! We had to find a box, then find some white material to wrap it in, then sew it up, then write the to/from addresses in marker on the packages. Corr Blimey, this was enough to drive us both through serious frustration into hysteria! We waved goodbye to Gurav, who got the train back to Nagpur, where he’s studying. (His hostel there costs him about £10 a month! Super cheap!)
The next day was Joel’s birthday, I woke him up with a pistachio and pineapple and luminous green flavour cake, complete with number candles I’d found the night before. They didn’t have a nine, so he regressed to 26 (I’d bought a six thinking of turning it upside down, but alas, no wick! 26 will do.) Other pressies found in record time included; a mosquito-wall-plug, the biggest firework I could find, a card for one’s dear husband, written entirely in Marathi verse, a handful of chocolate eclairs and a bagful of local fruit, including pomegranates, his favourite! The biggest present was yet to come, although we didn’t know it just yet.
A few more seriously sweaty days in the saddle saw us finally board the ferry over the creek that divides Maharashtra from Goa; the boat was full of Russians and other bright white tourists, none of whom acknowledged our presence, which felt a little odd after being stared at unabashedly for 2 weeks. Bring on Arambol beach I thought… The boys were shocked at how crossing a little creek could feel like crossing an entire continent – we suddenly rolled into Europe, but a little hotter and cheaper. We checked into a cute little bamboo hut on the beach for Rs250 ($5) and hit the beach for a fresh fruit juice cocktail and a fresh fish tikka supper all for next to nothing. YUM! I heart Goa! ❤
MORE NEWS TO COME! ran outta time, gotta meet Abhinav for dinner. xx
Pics and latest news tomorrow x