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

by Kim on February 6, 2013 · 59 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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