The long and short of it is: 1) Our shits are solid (the best consistency they have been in over a year for that matter), and 2) We have not lost our passports. Thus reassured that all is well in southern India most of you will likely not finish reading this email.
For the rest of you: Ali's transformation into total bike bumness is nearly complete. At this point little differentiates the experience of riding with Ali and riding with Royalty in Exile World Tour. 1) We've run out of toilet paper and gone native. 2) We've slept in some dank hovels that make Anne Arundel County holding cells look like the Best Western. 3) We eat what ever is put in front of us and ask questions later.
Since I last wrote, we cycled across the Terrai region of southern Nepal, rode an elephant in Bardia National Park, visited the Mikey Medium English School for ten days (which was difficult), and took a 42hrs train ride from Delhi to Travandorum, southern India.
In Travandurum we met a great Taiwanese fellow named Henry who has been cycling in India for several months without meeting another cycle tourist. I don't think many cyclists venture down here. They are scared by the tropes of chaos and horror on Indian road ways and the heat. However Henry was uber-enthusiastic and sent us off with a good luck talisman, good tidings and optimism in our hearts.
Our first night we camped in a wooded area next to a family restaurant. In the middle of the night Ali started shouting at a man who appeared to be messing with our bikes and panniers, and brandishing a large knife. As I leapt out of the tent in my skivvy's I thought to my self, "Not this again!" Camping-out in the jungle one night in Western Nepal we had a similar incident, except it was three bandits and a sword. However on this night the bandit turned out to be the rubber tree tapper. We had unwittingly locked our bikes to his rubber tree. In the morning we noticed beads of Elmer Glue like fluid spiraling down tree trunks, dripping into halved coconut shells, on ever tree around us.
We cycled south to Kunnakumari, the very southern tip of the Indian sub-continent; where the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Bay of Bengal meet. Throngs of barefooted pilgrims, wrapped only in checkered picnic blankets filled the streets and temple. At sunset we waded out into the sea and enjoyed the spectacle of thousands of Indian pilgrims splashing and having fun in the waves. The funny thing about Kunnakumari and other pilgrimage sites is that few, if any, European tourists visit these places. I think it is because European tourists don't actually like to mingle with Indians.
From Kunnakumari Ali and I cycled north along the east coast into the state of Tamel Nadu following our typical "plan of no plan." We ended up at Turukchender, another major pilgrimage site. Hinduism is confounding, and so Ali and I wandered around the periphery of the temple unsure if we wanted to wade into confusion inside. Long after dark we bucked up our courage and made our way into the temple. Built of ornate stone work, the temple was filled with a crush of alters, butter lamps, people and activity. We were quickly ushered down into the damp recesses of the temple, packed tight into narrow corridors with many hundreds of shirtless face painted Hindu men. The air was thick with humidity and the smells of sweat, frankincense, and mildew. It was pretty much exactly like the Temple of Doom. When we got to the chamber where a blond woman would normally be sacrificed, we were instead instructed by the attendant Brahman to look into the eyes of an idol to see our future, or something like that. It was awesome. My future looks great. Ali's, well Ali's is up in the air.
Next we headed inland, crossing miles and miles of rice paddies, banana and coconut plantations. One night we rode until after dark looking for a good place to camp or a cheap road side lodge. We arrived at a typical small, crowded, and dirty town. After inquiring we found out there was no lodge in town, however we were taken to the local mosque and given a room reserved for visiting worshipers. Although the room bore uncanny resemblance a prison cell from "Midnight Express", Ali and I both felt comfortable. I know no two Islams are the same, but after the confusion of being in Hindu pilgrimage sites, a mosque and Islamic community seemed familiar, like we knew what to expect and the code of conduct expected of us.
The next evening we found ourselves in a similar situation, but with one exception: the Jumbo Circus was in town! Three dollars bought us ring side seats, up close and personal with the chunky acrobats in lime green and pink Lycra costumes from the 80's, close enough to smell the midgets, and get splashed by the man who would drink two gallons of different colored waters and then barf them back up, separately by color. After the crowds left we pitched our tent with the food vendor's and for one night dreamt we were part of the circus. I dreamt that in our act, I'd light my farts on fire while jumping through a hoop of swords and Ali would tame wild asparagus before your eyes.
Since then we have cycled back over the Western Ghats and down to the sea. After a long (100+km), hot day we arrived in Alleppy filthy and tired. Wandering lost, searching for a cheap guest house, a guy called to us from the gate of a very nice looking heritage house hotel. Ali and I just looked at him with tired eyes. "Thanks, but your place is way out of our price range." However he persisted and Ali jumped off her bike and followed him in. Thus we ended up spending the Thanksgiving holiday in a wonderful room that we were instructed to say we were paying more than twice the price we were in fact paying if anyone asked. The hotel staff was great fun. They served us a wonderful seafood Thanksgiving feast, and were all too happy to take my money when I played a gambling version of Rummy with them.
Now we are in Cochin, ready to head north along the coast, and then cut inland to Mysore. We are excited to meet a friend from St. Mary's, Jesse McD, who will cycle with us the last few weeks of our journey.
Hope all is well. What do you want from India?