Beauty in the breakdowns: nearing the end… of my rope

by Kim on February 6, 2013 · 55 comments

On and on and on we drive, down bumpy rural roads and manic, crowded highways.

For twelve days now we have been driving this rickshaw.

I have to be honest. I am over the rickshaw run. I’m over the breakdowns. I’m over running out of gas. I’m over the traffic and the honking and the screams of “Hello, where are you from? WHAT COUNTRY?” I am over the goddamned Parle-G biscuits. I swear to you I will never again eat a Parle-G biscuit.

India's top-selling biscuit

India’s top selling biscuit. Also known as breakfast, lunch, and the cookies we feed the dogs.

Today we have driven for 11 hours. My back hurts and I’m tired. I’m in a terrible mood.

We arrive in the small town of Pallikere just as the sun is setting. We will sleep here for the night. We stop at a bright pink hotel plunked across the highway from a beautiful beach. The rooms are basic with cold water and a squat toilet.

But Sarah’s GPS indicates that there is a place called the Turtle Bay Beach Resort just down the road. The word resort is a bad sign. We probably can’t afford it, but we decide to take a look anyway. If nothing else perhaps we can have dinner there.

The resort is beautiful. The beach alone is incredible, clean and dotted with picturesque fishing boats. A few other Rickshaw Run Teams are there, bobbing in the ocean and drinking beers around outdoor tables.

Kim at the beach

Dusk at Turtle Bay Beach Resort

We check the room rates but they are sky-high. We agree it costs too much to stay. We’ll go back to the pink hotel. A room there cost $10 a night.

I try to cleanse myself of my bad mood. We’ve been cooped up in the rickshaw for almost two weeks now, eating crap food and drinking soda. I feel terrible. What I need is a good sleep in a bug-free room and a nice, long run on the beach.

We go to leave but as we’re reversing out of the parking lot I scream “WAIT!” I didn’t even know the word was going to come out of me, but it has bubbled up and filled the air inside our rickshaw.

I am babbling. I tell the girls that before I left home a friend of mine gave me some cash as a going away present and specific instructions to treat myself to a nice hotel room sometime when I needed it.

Guys, I really need it,” I hear myself saying. “Can we stay here tonight?”

Of course they say yes.

We drop our bags in our lovely room and go for a moonlight swim. The ocean is calm and lapping. We float around with a handful of other rickshaw runners, swapping stories and staring up at the nighttime stars. Later, we drink beers and chat over candlelight on the patio. I take a warm shower and sit down on the toilet to pee. It’s heaven.

In the morning I wake early and go for a run on the beach. It feels so good to move my body. Even the sight of men squatting in the sand engaged in their morning poo can’t break my stride. I am actively dodging human feces but I’m so happy to be running that I just don’t care.

We have a slow morning, drinking coffee and eating masala omelets. We drag our feet at the idea of leaving. But we must power on because the end is in sight. We’re two days away from the finish line.

So we pile into the rickshaw to leave but it won’t start. It will not fucking start. My high spirits crash like a kite. Can’t we catch a break? I want to pour gasoline on the rickshaw and light it on fire.

Eventually a few men from the resort help us jump-start her. She rumbles off, weakly, down the street.

We make it about half a mile and she dies again. We wordlessly pull off on the side of the road. Hannah hails a rickshaw and returns with a mechanic. There’s a problem with the spark plug. The mechanic fixes it for 100 rupees ($2).

We’re sidelined for only half an hour but it is our good moods, not our schedule, that have taken the beating. I look at the downbeat faces of Hannah and Sarah. I’m not the only one over the rickshaw run.

For the rest of the day the rickshaw runs well. We stop for the night at a place called Bekal Beach. Our room is a tidy little sweatbox. A thousand black bugs have taken up residency on our bedspread. I take my book out of my bag and smack at them, horrified. The ceiling fan won’t work. It is goddamned hot.

We get up early the next morning to avoid the heat but when we go to leave we find the exit door is padlocked shut. The man who runs the hotel is not in his office or at the check-in desk. We search the hotel but do not find him. Where the hell is he? We bang loudly on the door. 

Finally the man emerges bleary-eyed from a room down the hall.

You locked us into the hotel!“ I exclaim. What if there was a fire? We’d all be burned alive!”

He just giggles and wags his head, unlocking the padlock so we can go.

__________

We have made it to the state of Kerala, a momentous occasion because Kerala is the state where the rickshaw run ends. It is suffocatingly hot here; all palm trees and jungle heat. Monkeys roam around like dogs.

Monkeys in Kerala

Roadside Kerala monkeys

The driving in Kerala is crazy, even crazier than in the rest of India. The buses, especially, are completely out of control. It’s like the government rounded up the most mentally unstable people and then hired them all as bus drivers.

I am puttering along as close to the side of the road as possible when a bus overtakes me, barreling headlong into oncoming traffic. As he nears a head-on collision, the driver cuts back over into his proper lane and runs me right off the road.

I am furious. I cuss and scream at the driver and I lay on the gas intending to catch up and give him the finger. But when I reach him he leans out of the bus to smile and wave at us. Half of the passengers on the bus are smiling and waving at us. “WHERE YOU FROM?” they scream, “WHAT COUNTRY?”

__________

We are only 50 kilometers away from the finish line. Earlier in the day we’d harbored hopes that we’d make it to Cochin tonight. But the sun has gone down and we have been driving in darkness for the last forty minutes. It’s suicidal. We need to stop for the night.

So we find a hotel but when we check availability there are no rooms free. There’s some sort of convention going on at the hotel. Men are loitering everywhere. There’s a banner hung and I imagine it says “MAN MEETING, NO WOMEN ALLOWED.” I feel like a clown who mistook his tent and walked into a formal wedding party. We are getting some unsavory stares.

A helpful man offers to show us to a hotel that is “safe for women.” We follow behind him in our rickshaw.

The hotel we are shown to is very expensive but there are rooms available and they’re nice and clean. There’s even Wi-Fi, but when I enquire about the password the man at the desk tells me that the government has blocked their internet access because of customer misuse.

Can we have a discount?” I ask. “Since your internet is not working?”

He glares at me and repeats, in an accusatory tone, that the internet has been blocked because a CUSTOMER was misusing it.

Yes,” I say, “but that customer was not ME.”

He looks at me like I have grown an elephant head and proclaimed myself Ganesha.

No, no discount,” he says stiffly. “I’m sorry sir.”

Everyone in India calls me sir.

I throw up my arms and tromp upstairs.

Tomorrow we finish the rickshaw run.

Read my other posts about the Rickshaw Run here.

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Carmel February 6, 2013 at 10:07 am

Wow. I am getting the sense you were frustrated. I can’t wait to hear the end! I’m glad you made it without exploding. :)

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Really, did I seem frustrated? ;) Yes, there were definitely whole days where I was very near the edge!

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Krystin February 6, 2013 at 10:20 am

Hi Kim- I can only imagine all the highs/lows and different emotions you felt during this adventure!! Love reading your posts!

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Thanks Krystin. There were so many highs and lows and other times where you could only shake your head and wonder WTF?! India makes no sense and that is why it is easy to both love and hate it.

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Tracy February 6, 2013 at 10:22 am

It can be easy to forget that traveling isn’t always unicorns and rainbows :) Once again, thanks for the awesome story, I’m excited to hear the happy ending

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:47 pm

Yeah, but did you hear about those unicorns in North Korea? If only I could travel there…

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Laura February 6, 2013 at 10:29 am

Kim! thanks for the morning laugh, I loved the story and I feel like this will be one you will always look back on later and enjoy. Hang in there! And good for you for remembering your friend and treating yourself to the nice hotel it sounds like you needed it.

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Yes, I can already laugh at it now! That hotel was heaven…

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Carina February 6, 2013 at 10:49 am

Why didn’t you go back to the resort when you got back to Pallikere the second time? Or is there more than one Pallikere? I can’t imagine doing something like this, what an adventure.

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Doh, nope, wrong name (I wrote it down wrong in my journal!). The place with the bugs was Bekal Beach. I’ve updated it (good catch). Even if it had been Pallikere again we couldn’t have afforded that resort twice!

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Rob Ward February 6, 2013 at 10:57 am

Great post! Love the honesty.

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Thanks Rob.

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Christina C February 6, 2013 at 11:53 am

Wow, I can totally sense your frustration and desperation at the moments you’ve described. The funny thing is, after you have lived it and you are back safe, it becomes an adventure. There have been many times traveling when I’ve wanted to just lay down and have a tantrum or set something on fire as you’ve mentioned. But after it all, it becomes one of those adventures that puts things into perspective. I have to say though, I can do w/out bugs in my bed :-)

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Oh yeah, I can ALWAYS do without bugs in my bed.

Yes, I’m already looking back and laughing at the experience. It’s the hard times that really make you feel like you’ve accomplished something!

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Rhonda February 6, 2013 at 2:06 pm

OMG.. I SO KNOW HOW YOU FELT… I can’t begin to recall that frustration so many times in India. And then the next day, or even the next moment, something amazing would happen. Oh, the love and hate of India

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Totally. I love that I know you know exactly how it is.

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Cheryl Dinan February 6, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Kim. I enjoy your adventures so much!!!I think the cuss words are offensive and not necessary though. Mom

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:50 pm

MOM! You are so funny!! I am going to do a blog post that is a compilation of all of your facebook and blog comments.

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Sofie February 8, 2013 at 1:47 am

Just had to say I’m looking forward to that:D

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 5:30 am

It will be funny, I can tell you that much!

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Maddie February 6, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Gave me a good giggle this morning, love your story telling as always!

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Thanks Maddie!

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Amanda February 6, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I have SO much respect for you ladies. Pretty sure I could never do this myself without going totally bonkers.

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Well, it’s amazing what one can endure. It was a great experience. You should do it!

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) February 6, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Thank goodness you decided to splurge on that nicer hotel! Honestly, when you travel long-term and have no proper place to call your home, I have realized how important it is to pay a little (or even a lot) more every now and then to have a place where you can just luxuriate in all the comforts you miss from home and escape from the world. Not for forever, but just for a night or two. It’s amazing how much a clean room, with a comfy bed, a hot shower, and a proper toilet can revive your flagging spirits and make you feel mostly human again.

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Oh, totally. I love that my friend KNEW that about travel and gave me that gift. It was the perfect gift! And I think I used it at just the right time. Sometimes a western toilet just has the ability to life your spirits :)

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Hannah February 6, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Another brilliant post Kim! That night in Turtle Bay was so much fun – thank you again for sharing your gift and turning a bad day into a great night. I’ll always remember us hanging out in the pitch black sea, gently bobbing around and staring at the stars, oh and seeing that dude washing his ass in the sea the next morning! And I’m afraid I have to disagree with your mom; when it comes to that bloody rickshaw, cuss words are definitely necessary :)

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Kim February 6, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I have no doubt that if my mom was on the rickshaw run she’d be cussing too.

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Jojo February 7, 2013 at 12:31 am

that’s how it goes on the road..you will definitely miss it one day so enjoy the tears the same way as the laughs.

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 9:03 am

Oh man, I don’t want to even think of the day when this will be over. I’m enjoying it all, even during the frustrating times.

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Amy February 7, 2013 at 5:50 am

Wow, it sounds like emotions are really magnified on the Rickshaw Run – extreme highs and extreme lows. It’s fascinating and inspiring to hear about all your experiences, good and bad.

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 9:04 am

I think that those magnified emotions might just be part of traveling through India! It’s a land of extremes, for sure.

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Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5 February 7, 2013 at 6:08 am

I totally support the need to splurge on a nice place every now and then!

Those random nights were some of our best, when your bodies are so tired and run down with travel that a fancy hotel for one night can help re-energize you!

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 9:04 am

Oh yeah, we needed it like crazy… and it was wonderful.

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Kristin Thomas February 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

Hey Kim! I love your honesty. I think it’s easy to read travel blogs and get lost in the romance, but it’s refreshing to know that traveling still has it’s high and low days.
Also thanks for sharing that your diet have been crackers and soda. It’s something I wonder about…what does everyone eat while they are traveling the world. Good luck at the finish line. You’re almost there!

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Oh yes, there are plenty of highs and lows (it is life, you know!).

Thankfully I am off the cracker and soda diet (for now) though I ate a lot of that in South America. I’m a vegetarian so there is an added hurdle. But the food in India is amazing. I’m eating like a queen here!

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Karen February 7, 2013 at 10:22 am

Kim, I think I am enjoying this as much as you are hating it. I would not do well there. Hang in there…it’s almost over.
Karen

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Thanks Karen! Even in the bad moments I was enjoying it (a little) because it was just so insanely, frustratingly, funny.

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Steve C February 7, 2013 at 11:22 am

What were you thinking when you signed up for this Rickshaw Run? My thoughts of driving on Indian roads are similar with suicide! Every cuss word in the book could not describe the down times of this adventure. However,,,,,If I’d have tackled such a challenge, my thoughts would be very similar to yours. India makes the highs higher and the lows lower.

Kim, Great story (chapter) and very well told. There’s a life after blogging for you in the world of being a travel writer with books under your belt!

But the dilemma is; how much of your time do you take away from the joys of traveling to sit, write and publish? “What I ponder when I wander”

Also, What happened to Brian? He didn’t do any responses to the comments on his camel trek blog. Will there be another on how to veg on the beach?

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm

I was thinking that it was terrifying and that it would be a crazy adventure! (and it was both!)

And thanks for your kind words about my writing… it’s the plan to write a book someday (when I am settled somewhere for awhile and can actually do it).

Brian is sitting on the couch and I keep nagging him to follow up on the comments :) He has another post scheduled to go live one of these days!

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Sarah Somewhere February 7, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Great read Kim! I totally forgot about that breakdown!! That resort was such a lovely treat, thank you to you and your friend VERY much. Oh, I totally want to read that compilation of ‘Mom Quotes’! :)

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 7:48 pm

OMG, that “mom quotes” post will be the best… I wonder if she’d let me do it or if she’d get mad? I mean, did you see the one about the monkeys?? “KIM, stay away from monkeys. They may look cute but THEY WILL EAT YOUR FACE OFF.” Hahahaha.

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Sofie February 8, 2013 at 1:50 am

Maybe you should let her do a ‘mom said’ guest post:D

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 5:30 am

I’m going to ask her about it… maybe she’ll do it?!

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Hunter February 7, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Take the train down to Varkala and stay at a homestay next to the Helipad. Very relaxing town, nice beach and cold beers

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Sounds wonderful :) I’ll add it to the list.

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Tyrhone February 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Ha, drama makes for the best reading material. I can imagine 2 weeks of driving across India would be enough to strain anyone’s patience.

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Kim February 7, 2013 at 7:49 pm

For sure.

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Renee Schauer February 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Great update! Can feel your frustration! But what an adventure! Stay safe!! Renee

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 5:31 am

Thanks Renee!

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Bama February 10, 2013 at 3:51 am

I thought I had a very rough ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang in Laos. But that was nothing compared to this. Keep up the spirit Kim! There will always be ups and downs even when we’re doing what we love the most. But at the end of the day, looking back you’ll smile and cherish those memories.

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Kim February 10, 2013 at 5:32 am

Thanks Bama! It’s so true that there are always ups and downs, even when doing what you love. And I’m already loving the memories of the rickshaw run :)

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Paul (globalhelpswap) February 13, 2013 at 2:12 am

God we know that feeling! Where every budget hotel is dirty and all you want are clean white sheets, a tiled floor and maybe just maybe a hot shower!

We also had been given money for the low points which we called “The luxury budget”. It came in handy on occasions such as these and probably saved our relationship!

Hang on in there!
Paul x

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Turkish March 21, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Nice !! All the best!!

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