Around the world by bike
(509km - 9days)
18/02 - 10/03/2020
18 February – 10 March - Thailand and India
Amanda, my sister, arrived in Thailand later than expected. A few days were spent in Pattaya before catching a flight to Kochi, India. The main reason for going to Kochi was to enjoy a night on a houseboat. Once there, locating a boat was straightforward as there were innumerable ones to choose from.
Our boat of choice was a private one with a single bedroom; thus, we had the entire boat to ourselves. In no time at all, we were slowly put-putting along the famous backwaters of Kerala. The price included lunch, dinner and breakfast, and we immediately settled in upon the deck, beer in hand. The only disappointment was the boat anchored overnight at the same spot we boarded. We assumed the boat would anchor somewhere but not in the same place!
The following morning and after breakfast and a short cruise we disembarked and went to Goa on a beach holiday. We ate, drank, swam in the ocean and cried with laughter. Before we knew it, Amanda’s holiday was over, and it was time to return to South Africa.
With my sister gone, I returned to my friends in Alibag to collect my bicycle and ended up spending three nights instead of the one planned! My delayed departure was due to Holi celebrations; a festival considered one of the most celebrated in India. It’s a fun and colourful event which lasts a day and night. The festival starts on the evening of Purnima or the Full Moon Day in the month of Falgun. The vibrancy of colours brings positivity and joy to the event and the country as a whole. The ritual starts by lighting a bonfire the night before, symbolising the triumph of good over evil. The following day was spent playing with colours.
Anil and Janhavi fed me endlessly, and I was shown around town on the back of an iconic Royal Enfield. It’s true what is said about India, you come as a visitor but leave as part of a family. Following the festivities, I headed north in the direction of Delhi to meet Caron for a month-long cycling holiday in India.
11 March – Alibag – Kalyan – 101 km
After almost a month since my last ride, it felt good to be on the move. As Anil suggested, I slowly made my way to the Rewas ferry, which took me to Karanja, making an easy escape from Mumbai. The rest of the day was spent trying to stay off busy roads and, in the process, I hit a pothole with such force, it resulted in an immediate flat tyre.
Replacing the tube and 101 kilometres later, I slinked into Kalyan where accommodation turned out more difficult than expected to find. The majority of budget places didn’t cater to foreigners and tail between my legs I’d to cycle off searching for an alternative abode. Eventually, a reasonably pricey establishment took me in.
12 March – Kalyan – Kasa – 86 km
I was umming and ahhing about which route to take and eventually decided on cycling along the coast as it looked more interesting than the inland option.
The first 30 kilometres were a fascinating ride as that section was a shortcut through an immensely rural part of India. I hadn’t seen so many surprised faces in a long while, and it appeared a rarity to see a foreign woman on a bicycle in that area. Again, and with a jolt, I realised just how far apart our worlds were. Try as I might, I didn’t think a foreigner could fully grasp their rural culture.
It became evident my rear wheel had a severe wobble; it must’ve been from hitting the pothole the previous day. There was nothing one could do and all wobbling, I resumed my ride.
Around midday, Caron’s message stated all tourist visas to India had been cancelled due to the Coronavirus. This was devastating news as I was looking forward to her visit, but far more devastating to her as she had already purchased her ticket and was packed and ready to roll. I called it a day at the next best hotel to chat with her and discuss further plans. The map was scanned to find a bike shop. The next available one was 55 kilometres north, or one could continue to Daman 65 kilometres northwest along the coast, where surely one would find such a shop.
That night, my abode was a room above a bustling 24-hour roadside restaurant, resulting in a noisy affair. At least the food was superb, and the room came at half the price, paid the previous night. My short cycling day gave me plenty of time to do laundry and I hoped all would be dry by morning.
13 March – Kasa – Daman – 65 km
The dreaded highway ran the next 55 kilometres to Vapi which had a bicycle shop. They looked at the wheel, and the problem seemed the tyre, not the rim.
Daman, a former Portuguese enclave, was a mere 10 kilometres further and not much of a tourist destination, with a black beach that wasn’t incredibly scenic. Nonetheless, the town still hinted at old Portuguese colonial times in Fort Jerome, Monti Daman Fort, and the Dom Jesus Church. While walking the narrow lanes to the fishing harbour, one could almost imagine being in Portugal.
14 March – Daman
One more day was spent in Daman while trying to sort out my internet connection and, in the process, I warmed to scruffy Daman.
History had it Diogo de Melo was blown ashore in a violent storm in 1523. He then claimed the land for king and country, built a fort and the area remained in Portuguese hands for the next 400 years. Daman is by no means picturesque, but the inexpensive food and beer prices made up for the lack of scenery.
The violent storm’s story scared me and I considered changing my plans and heading in the opposite direction. I’d been cycling into the wind the past two days - no fun at all.
15 March - Daman - Renbasera guest house - 25 km
During the night, I woke with the infamous Delhi belly and felt tired and weak in the morning. Unfortunately, staying an additional day wasn’t possible. I was informed the hotel was being renovated, and all rooms had to be vacated.
First, the idea was to move to another place, but once on the bike, I proceeded along the coastal road. My lack of energy caused slow progress. Still, I made the short detour to the Parsi Fire Temple built in 1742, to see what the temple was about. The Zoroastrian religion appeared complex, and I didn’t even try to understand it. Only Parians were allowed, and I, thus, couldn’t enter the complex. Outside, vendors sold tiny pieces of wood (some not so small) as offerings to keep the flame going.
Cycling and vomiting under the scrutiny of villagers is no fun at all. What a picture I must’ve made and I wondered what they made of such a spectacle. Reaching the highway, a guesthouse along the road came just at the right time, and I couldn’t have been happier. On trying to eat, nothing stayed down, and by evening the friendly man at reception offered to find me fruit. How kind of him.
16 March - Renbasera guest house – Surat – 100 km
In the morning, I felt a whole lot better and was keen to get underway. Unfortunately, the dry, hot, dusty air and heavy traffic, didn’t make enjoyable cycling. The temperature climbed to 38°C, and it was barely the beginning of spring. Caron couldn’t come to India anymore due to the cancellation of tourist visas could’ve been a blessing in disguise. By April, the mercury rises to 40-45°C, not a pleasant time to be cycle touring.
Even drinking a considerable amount, it remained almost impossible to keep hydrated in such weather. En route, I invested in a face mask as people gave me a wide berth. One couldn’t blame them as travellers were primarily responsible for spreading the Corona virus.
I pushed onward with a mask-covered face until reaching the outskirts of Surat where I bunked down at the roadside Swagat Inn with an adjacent restaurant.
17 March – Surat – Vadodara – 130 km
Strangely enough, I didn’t feel sleepy the previous night and only switched the lights off at around 3h00. Yet, surprisingly, I still woke early and felt remarkably good and proceeded in the direction of Vadodara.
The mask bought was a blessing in disguise, as my mouth and lips didn’t get as dry as earlier. Six kilometres down the drag, I stopped to get a bite to eat and then pushed onward. Apart from a few roadside stalls selling colourful truck decorations and ladies in colourful saris collecting water from wells, not a great deal of interest was happening.
In Vadodara, the best place to find accommodation was in the train station’s vicinity as it’s usually there one found budget rooms. However, some hotels claimed they were fully booked, which I doubted, and I suspected they weren’t keen on accommodating foreigners. The Corona virus had become a royal pain in the ass.
18 March – Vadodara
With the Corona virus spreading like wildfire, cycle touring became no fun at all. Attractions were closed, hotels unwilling to let foreigners in, and all festivals cancelled. Phew! Rumours of a complete lockdown scared me and time to rethink plans as the last thing I wanted was to get stuck in a non-descript place for an unforeseen period. I’d two good options: one, to return to Goa and hang there until the virus blew over (not a bad one) or, two, retreat to Thailand which made financial sense as my accommodation in Thailand is free, but not as lovely as Goa. Whatever the decision, I had to return to Mumbai to arrange onward transportation.
With my mind made up, a train ticket was purchased for the following morning. As the bike had to be booked in at the parcel office, I returned to my abode, collected the bike and rode the short distance to the station. There the bicycle was sent on its way at a meagre 100 rupees. Sadly, one couldn’t book in the panniers, leaving me with a dreadfully awkward handlebar bag and four panniers to lug around. I say again, I intensely dislike using public transport - it’s far easier to cycle.
19 March - Vadodara – Mumbai by train
The train to Mumbai was at 7.30 and required an early tuk-tuk ride to the station. Luckily, there’s always a porter in India to help carry bags. So, I strolled unencumbered to the platform where my train was to arrive. This gave plenty of time to have a steaming cup of chai from one of the iconic chai wallahs and chat with the kids living at the station. I watched a family pack up following their night of sleeping on the platform and was in awe at how organised they were.
It felt all gave me a wide berth as foreigners were suspected of spreading the Corona virus. I was, thus, left in peace and could decide what to do next. While on the train, a flight to Bangkok was booked and I could only hope the flight wouldn’t be cancelled. My train’s destination was 12 kilometres from Colaba, the main touristy area. I, therefore, looked for a bike shop and accommodation close to the station. The plan was to collect the bicycle, cycle to the shop, find a box and then grab a taxi to a nearby hotel. With the hotel booked and paid, I could kick back until reaching Mumbai.
The train reached its destination at around 15h00, where I located a porter, collected the bicycle and cycled to the predetermined shop. The shop gave me one look, covered their faces, told me they were closing and shooed me away. I was shocked! Round the corner, a friendlier shop had a box and was prepared to pack the bicycle. I grabbed a taxi to the place booked, but the staff informed me they were closed! What the heck? I tried contacting Agoda but without any luck. The hotel manager wasn’t accommodating either and referred me to Agoda. Security (with covered faces) again shooed me away. They were adamant I’d leave immediately and couldn’t do my phoning from the foyer.
Eventually, a taxi took me to Colaba, 12 kilometres away. Coloba, which usually had a lively tourist trade, was like a graveyard, with not a person in sight. Those walking around did so with quick, urgent, masked-covered faces. The warren of stalls usually lining the road was packed up, and restaurants closed. Mercifully, my chosen hotel allowed me in, and I was sure I was the sole guest. How bizarre had this whole situation become? I biked through the N1H1 and SARS pandemics but have never experienced anything this crazy. Worldwide, flights were being cancelled and I could only pray my flight would take off.
20 March – Mumbai
The usually bustling Mumbai was deserted, and it was the eeriest feeling walking through this megacity without a soul in sight.
21 March – Mumbai, India – Bangkok, Thailand
My flight was at the ungodly hour of four o’clock in the morning, and it felt I was the sole person at this usually hectic airport. Once again, a considerable amount was charged for the 5kg overweight, but one couldn’t do much about that. I simply wanted the flight to take off and not be cancelled. While waiting, I kept an anxious eye on the flight schedules. I nervously watched as flights were cancelled, wondering if mine would be next.
Relieved, the plane touched down at Bangkok airport as scheduled, and I caught the usual bus to Jomtien.
22 March - Jomtien, Thailand
Finding myself in my little bunker wasn’t all bad, even though it wasn’t by choice or the best of areas. A nice long walk along the ocean put me in a better frame of mind and, once back, I unpacked and cleaned the place, which was a tad dusty by then. After reassembling the bicycle, a short cycle led to the supermarket to stock up with needed essentials, as I surmised I would be in Thailand a while.
23 March - Jomtien
I took a walk in the morning but found it tedious and started jogging. Not much further, I tripped over one of the uneven drain covers and knew something was wrong with my wrist as it didn’t look quite normal. I continued walking but, upon returning to the apartment, realised something was indeed wrong. A baht bus took me to Pattaya Memorial hospital.
The baht bus (so-called because back in the day, it cost a baht) is a pickup style truck with a canopy roof and two bench seats in the back for passengers. At 10 baht per person, per ride, the baht bus (aka songthaew) is the most popular and convenient way of getting around to and from Jomtien and Pattaya.
At the hospital, I was impressed with the service. X-rays revealed a fractured radial and the very competent doctor on duty suggested an operation to fit a plate. I wasn’t keen on such an operation and insisted on a cast instead, a painful process, but survived.
24 March - Jomtien
I did my usual morning walk as by now, the knee was also painful; all I could do was walk as running was out of the question, and with the cast, it wasn’t possible to cycle. At least upon my return, I could soak halfway in the pool.
I further discovered I barely made it to Thailand by the skin of my teeth. The day following my arrival, Thailand closed all airports to incoming flights. It seemed anyone in Thailand would be in the country for an unforeseen time. Phew! With the limited amount I could do with the arm in a cast, I started editing my photos.