Today was another delightful cycling day – ambling along and along, up and down with a few interesting things on the way, but just about the right length. 95km feels so much less than 110km – although the climbing was almost as much as yesterday.
The major change today was porridge with bananas for breakfast. We brewed up, made porridge and set off a bit later as a result but with full stomachs. Far better than starting empty as we have done for the last few days.
The first 20km were largely flat and we made good time. Then, the road started to climb and we climbed with it. We emerged at over 100m into largely uninhabited lands even though we were only a few km in from the coast.
This part of the country has a very low population density. There was the odd village but we did not pass a “town” to speak of all day. There were few shops and we raided where we could for food, but it was so different to the huge populations of Goa. The land seems poorer, the vegetation was jungle at sea level but rapidly became dried out grassland above 75M or so, and was too poor to farm profitably.
We plodded on across this arid landscape, with very little traffic on the road as the sun rose in the sky and the temperature increased. At about 11 we dropped down to a large river where there was supposed to be a ferry.
A man in a tuktuk had assured us there was a “small boat” to cross the river and he was not wrong. Another trip in a canoe. However this time there were 3 other passengers as well as us. The boatman was not phased by having 2 bikes and all our panniers – but to get everyone in I had to stand in the middle of the boat and hold the bikes upright – one each side of me. Bernie crouched at my feet (not a stance that has ever been known before or will ever be repeated again) and the other passengers squeezed in to either end as the boatman punted his way back across the wide but shallow river.
It was stunningly beautiful, basic and utterly ludicrous. However what else could we do? The boatman knew his stuff and we all arrived at the other side without so much as a drop of water on the bikes. We said our thanks, paid the ferryman (50 rupees – about 60p) and were on our way. On the way out we chatted to the locals who were clearly and rightly very proud of the beauty of their village.
Then more ups and downs, cheese sandwiches and tomatoes for lunch and on we went. The road surfaces were pretty variable. Often the tarmac had disintegrated and there were sections with sand and gravel. This makes cycling really difficult, particularly going downhill where both brakes are on hard, the bike is weaving around looking for the least potholed route and progress is very slow. Then, for no explicable reason, there is a section of road that is fine for a few km.
Finally we crossed the river to Jaitapur (or not far from the village of Jaitapur) and had a large bottle of “sprite” between us before the final 150m climb. The combination of liquid and sugar is unhealthy in virtually every other context but it was just what we needed. We stormed up the last hill and found our hotel – the only one we could find for many miles around. We are going into a holiday weekend and this may not be the last time we have problems finding accommodation.
So we finished tired, dirty and satisfied. I managed not to drop the bikes in the river, we got (nearly) another 100km done and are just over 350km from Mumbai. Going through mile after mile of empty scrubland makes it had to think that we will shortly be in a city of 20M people – twice the population of London. But that is another day.