This is really a blog about 2 days, because Friday yesterday started at 5am. After a couple of hours of clearing up and ticking final things off the “to do” list (including the last piece of legal work) we were ready to say our goodbyes and head for the airport. Many thanks go to the brilliant John Iles who gave up his morning to come with us to Birmingham Airport and drove the van home.
We unloaded 2 bike boxes, 4 rear panniers and 2 front panniers and then froze with cold as we pushed the trollies to the terminal. Not a sensation I expect to experience again over the next 8 weeks.
Check-in was painless and then it was off to find coffee whilst we waited for the 1.30 flight. It was always going to be tight because we only had 2 hours changeover in Dubai, so our anxiety grew as we waiting on the tarmac at Birmingham for nearly 2 hours.
We made up a little time in the air but had to run through Dubai airport to the inter-terminal train, then ran again through endless shopping malls that somehow have an airport attached and finally got to the gate for the Trivandrum flight just as it was closing. Wearing cycling shoes, our cleats echoed around the halls as we ran, wondering what the chances were that our luggage would be moved as quickly.
Then, of course, the plane sat on the runway for an hour before leaving. More films and a full night’s sleep more or less lost, we landed at Trvinadrum (or Thiruvananthepuram to give it its full name) at about 8.30am. Then we had our first taste of Indian bureaucracy as we lined up at immigration. But it was polite, thorough and organised. We then learned that one of our pieces of luggage was missing – Bernie’s bike – had not made the second plane. We were assured it would follow “tomorrow”. Tomorrow’s jobs include gentle persuasion to make sure it arrives as soon as possible.
Then out into the heat which hit us like a hot hair dryer; and this was only 9.30am! The organised chaos at any airport the world over is only understood to those who work there. This was no different. But we met up with our driver and got the luggage loaded. Then, we had just had 80km to the southern tip city of Kanyakumari. However, there are no motorways here, lots of traffic and it took 4 hours along single roads.
At first it seemed that the urban areas appear to extend continuously, but there was deep forested areas just beyond the road, and nearly continuous urban development alongside the road.
First impressions? India is colourful, busy – very busy – and there are loads of motorbikes (maybe 5 for every car). There is poverty but lots of people are doing OK. The cars and motorbikes are newer than 15 years ago and the housing looks a lot more robust. There seem to be fertility clinics every few miles but there are children everywhere and this is not an ageing population.
The driving etiquette is “different” to the UK or the USA, but there is a system of sorts and it works. Junctions don’t have a clear priority system – you arrive at an intersection, sound your horn and then inch your way across the junction with others doing the same at right-angles. Motorbikes are generally slower than cars, and tuktuks are slowest of all. Mirrors are optional but a horn is essential.
We arrived in Kanyakumari and checked in to our hotel. This is a tourist destination and so there are loads of hotels of all varieties. 99% of the tourists seem from within India – coming in family groups to view the southernmost tip of their own country. There were stalls everywhere selling the usual stuff – but more colourful than at home. We ambled down to the sea and took some pictures as we paddled in the water at the meeting of 3 oceans.
Then, having effectively missed a night’s sleep, we dosed, went for an evening walk and came back to rest. Lots of “preparation” tomorrow – day minus 1 – for the second “petit depart” of this trip on Monday morning.
Enjoy New Year’s even everyone.