here are my photos. or at least the better ones. we survived!
Um, obviously we got back a long time ago. We really had a great time, and thanks so much to everyone who helped us raise money for charity. We got to see a side of India that most visitors don't.
Here are some of my photos from the trip (and Cambodia afterwards): http://flickr.com/photos/donburi/sets/72157603898167232/
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Well, I am finally home now. I've been back on US soil since about 5PM last night. My tedious journey home took all of the relaxation I got in Goa, wadded it into a ball, and shoved it back into my shoulders again. Sigh. My return trip looked like this:
Leave beaches of Goa at 12 PM
1 hour van ride to Goa airport
4 hour wait at the Goa airport (no stores to wonder in)
1 hour plane to Bangalore
10.5 hour wait at the Bangalore airport (they didn't let me check in my bags until about 3 hours before the flight and I had too much crap to wonder around the city, so it was the hard chairs for me)
10 hour flight to frankfurt
6 hour wait at the frankfurt airport (luckily there were stores & restaurants)
11.5 hour flight to SF
2.5 hour wait at SFO while they sorted out my broken luggage situation.
1 hour BART ride back home from SFO.
Count them, that's 47.5 hours!! At least I managed to have some sushi that I had been craving for at the airport Ebisu.
Today I had a brain fart moment when I was driving; I couldn't figure out whether I was supposed to be in the left or right lane. Also today, I did a now well practiced Indian right hand side pass between 2 tightly spaced trucks, in a city car share prius instead of my 2 stroke engine rickshaw. My teammates would have been proud.
Pics to come soon, but here are two so people will harassing me for them.
Dain pushing the rickshaw to get it over the dirt hill (btw, this is The one and only Nepalese national highway)
The three of us when we finally broken on through the clouds. The Spaniards who took the picture blocked out the sign, which read 2488 m (8162.72 feet). Okay, it's no Everest, but you try driving up that high in 2nd gear.
on the flight from Kathmandu to Delhi, I noticed all the small Indian towns look like piles to firm tofu blocks. Not neat piles, but wobbly light tan rectangles.
Also all the signs on the airport walls that would typically be painted with stencils or manufactured shapes were all hand painted. 'Gate 3' for instance. like an artistic photoshop 'wobble' filter over everything.
I'm stuck here for another 12 hour layover. Taking the free city tour and eat some food. Get a manicure since my nails are even beyond my grossness tolerance. Or I guess I could just chew and suck them clean.
Anyway, the previous posting of gunfights in the streets was based on unfounded rumors. The increased fuel prices triggered country wide student riots and tire fires. At the same time in some small towns, the police posts were raided and guns and ammo were stolen. As I was leaving Kathmandu, the live news feed showed young men throwing rocks and bricks at cops who had armor and tear gas. More later, my free internet at the sing airport just ran out.
so my quick and easy escape from Kathmandu was interrupted by a citywide fuel strike. The price of diesel for instance rose overnight from 60 Nepalese rupees per liter to 80 (from about $4US per gallon to about $5.20US), but the rise includes kerosene and other petroleum products. My simple plan to stay one night in Thamel district, pick up my luggage and custom t-shirts was twarted by fires in the streets and a few gunfights. I flew in from Pohkara and found I couldn't enter the citycenter safely. Hopefully tomorrow will be better since I'm supposed to fly out in the afternoon. I can only imagine Dain is experiencing the opposite problem since he was supposed to fly out this morning to Bangkok.
in similar but different news, West Bengal is being hit with avian flu. Even in the hills of Darjeeling, suspect birds have been found. Pretty bad spread of information there, there are still kids playing with sick birds and people selling birds which died from the disease. Not that reassuring that many of us became sick in Darjeeling. Seems that the real adventure is just starting now that the Rickshaw Run has finished. Oh well. Maybe next year the pimping will involve a gun turret and bullet proofing. One can only hope.
Matt and I have just returned, back to San Francisco after upwards of 24 hours on airplanes and in airports. We got home, put our packs down, and said, Let's get a burger! So we went to the Burger Joint.
And it was so strange... Valencia Street feels like a ghost town. There are hardly any people around. This is almost certainly simply the comparison from India, where there were always LOTS of people, all around, and usually quite close by. But it still feels very weird and I keep wondering, is there some event going on, a rally or something? Is it just too cold? Where are all the people?
The last leg of our trip, from Darjeeling to Kathmandu, was probably the most memorable (and that's saying a lot). We rose and left Darjeeling at 6:30 and were in Nepal before noon, making good time on the excellent highway out of Kakarbhitta at the Indian border. Nepal is absolutely beautiful, with fields and forests and streams, and a paler beige earth than India's bright orange, and traffic is calmer and more helpful.
In the early afternoon we noticed a great movement of people on the highway, all dressed to the nines, and realized some event was going on up ahead. It turned out to be a festival spread out over two sides of a river and the riverbed, mostly dry, in between. There were ferris wheels, peacock feather decorations, blowing horns to rival ours, shrieking small children, brightly colored tents, cotton candy, and lots of dust... it looked quite a bit like Burning Man. We considered going down to it but decided to drive on as there was a lot of distance to cover. I got up on top of the rickshaw and rode for a while sitting on the luggage, as we were only making about 5 km/hr at this point. Everyone loved this, and I had many friendly conversations with people sitting on top of other vehicles:
"Hello! Where you from!"
"Hello! I'm from America, USA"
"Hello! (a bunch of Nepalese)"
"Sorry, I only speak English."
Soon enough we were out of the festival zone and, it seemed, out of the zone of towns big enough to contain hotels. After some discussion we decided to bull through and drive all night, since the highway was so excellent and the directions according to our map were very very clear: when the road ends, turn right; when that road ends, turn right; and you're in Kathmandu.
We drove on through a neverending dusk, with helpful trucks turning on their indicator lights as they approached and setting their low beams so we would not be blinded.
Suddenly we drove off asphalt and into mud. I was startled and let the rickshaw drift to a stop, and asked Max to get out and see if he could tell what was ahead. It turned out to be a fairly steep hill up to a bridge (concrete). With some help from Max, I was able to get the rickshaw going again and we made it to the top of the bridge, tilting and sliding wildly. It was full dark at this point and the only lights were headlights, ours and the oncoming trucks'. There was another mud hill on the other side of the bridge. Construction was clearly in progress, and just as clearly incomplete. The mud was only drivable on one lane, the oncoming one. I waited until there weren't any trucks in the mud that I could see, and started down it. It went on for longer than we were quite happy with, and another truck appeared and started into the mud section just as we were about to reach the pavement again. However, the driver seemed to know how difficult it was to drive such a small, small-wheeled, underpowered vehicle through such deep mud, and actually backed up to let us come by onto the pavement again. We honked and called our thanks, dratted Skanda and Emma who'd told us this road was "brilliant", and carried on.
After that we found more and more frequent sections where the roadbed turned into dirt. There was no more mud, but the dirt tended to be filled with sharp pointy rocks. Who fixes their roads with pointy rocks? We suffered no flats but an enormous amount of jolting.
Shortly after the mud we stopped for a quick fried dinner, and then the road changed again. We found many stopped trucks lined up on the left, which indicates a checkpoint of some kind. We never found out what it was, as we were always waved through checkpoints, too small a vehicle to be dangerous or worth smuggling things in, I guess. There were soldiers with rifles, lots of barbed wire, roadblocks, and maybe 6 or 7 kilometers of raised, walled roadway with occasional bright spotlights. And then it was over, and the dark straight road returned.
Some time after that, maybe around 10, we decided to stop for a snack. There were some fruit sellers at the side of the road, one of whom, a kid of 13, spoke excellent English. He warned us gravely of the road ahead, deploring the political situation in Nepal (a cool civil war, currently in a cease-fire) telling us several times, "The current condition of Nepal is very bad." He said that on the road ahead, there were lonely, forested sections where bandits lurked, preying on any who stopped in their purview. "Anyone who waves to you, anyone who tells you to stop, you do not stop! You go." He said it would be safer during the day, but barring that it would be safer in a group with some large trucks that would not be stopped by a roadblock. I pictured tree trunks across the road and a truck ahead barrelling through, and insisted that we wait for a truck to escort us.
We had another question for the young fruit seller, which was about the availability of petrol. We had a full 10 gallon spare tank with us but were low in the tuktuk's tank, and thought it would be advisable to enter the bandit area with as much petrol as possible, including a full tank so we didn't have to worry about stopping to wait for the reserve. He told us there was a gas station ahead, about a kilometer, that would still be open, and we decided to fill up there.
Well, we got to the gas station and found an extremely drunk attendant who told us that they were out of petrol, they only had diesel. We had some discussion about this - there is no gas gauge on the tuktuk and the tank is black metal so there isn't a good way to tell how much gas you actually have in there. We poured in as much as would fit from our spare tank, which turned out to be about 6 liters, nearly the capacity of the tuktuk tank. Then we tried to decide whether to go on or not, with the 4 remaining liters being all our spare. This decision was complicated by the lack of any hotels we'd seen for hours. We used the gas station's toilet and bought some potato chips from a shack across the street. All this while the drunk attendant and some others had been hanging around, occasionally honking our horns, and now he started talking to us again.
"I like, you like, you no like, OK!"
"You like our tuktuk? thanks! We came from Kerala in it."
"You like, no like, OK! How much, 500 rupees only!"
Eventually we worked out that he wanted to sell us petrol at a price of 100 rupees per liter, approximately 3 times the listed price. We decided it was no time to haggle... but we didn't have any Nepali rupees. After a long time and a lot of swaying, he agreed to accept our Indian 500 rupee note in exchange for 8 liters of petrol (the standard exchange rate, 5 to 8). But this brought its own problem as we only had 6 liters of capacity in our spare tank. We emptied out two water bottles we had and tried to explain that he would have to put some of the petrol in these. It was unclear if this made sense or not but he staggered off to turn on the pump. We didn't make any attempt to get 2T oil; we had some with us, it would be enough.
The drunk attendant returned and started to pump gas into our spare tank. It was a three person operation, as he had started singing at this point and was not paying much attention to the gas. We managed to get him to stop pumping just before the tank was full, much to his confusion, as we had not reached the agreed 8 liters yet. We held up the 1 liter water bottles and he flailed the nozzle around at them. We got the nozzle into one of the bottles and filled it; there was some spillage as he was paying close attention now to the pump gauge but not to the bottle. The gauge read about 6.8 when the bottle overflowed and we yelled at him to stop pumping which he eventually did. The last bottle was the worst, because he was consciencously trying to give us the full 8 liters we'd bought, but without realizing we didn't quite have the capacity. Max was holding the bottle, I was holding the nozzle, the drunk attendant was pumping at full speed when the gauge passed 7.6 and the bottle was full. Petrol sprayed in a fountain out of the bottle and all over Max and me. We yelled and hit his arm, and he confusedly stopped pumping, pointing at the gauge to indicate we didn't yet have all we'd paid for. We told him it was OK and hurriedly stowed the bottles out of sight.
So now we had gas, but I was dead set against going on without a truck escort, due to the warnings of our very believable young fruit seller friend. We waited for ten minutes or so at the gas station, but there were no trucks going in our direction, only one fast bus which we knew we could not keep up with. We decided to go back to the fruit sellers to wait for a truck as it was quite cold at this point and they'd had a fire. Luckily a convoy of trucks showed up almost as soon as we got back to them, so with more waving we set off across the Bandit Infested Areas.
Max had taken over driving and Matt and I were huddled in the back seat. It was probably under 40 F and nobody quite had warm enough clothing. It was OK in the drivers seat as you were protected from the wind there, but in the back seat you got the full force of wind (well, our top speed was only 60 km/hr, or about 35 mph, but it was still cold). Matt worked out a way to tuck in the blankets we'd lugged from Cochin (rolled up and stuffed in the "ears" of the tuktuk rabbit) to make a kind of windblock on each side, and then we were warmer.
As it happened we had no trouble with bandits at all, we drove through the whole reportedly infested area without incident, aside from all our trucks passing us within the first two hours. This made me nervous, but I remembered a quote from The Hobbit (Bilbo underground in the Orcs' lair), "Go back? No good at all. Go sideways? Impossible. Go on? Only thing to do!" and on we went. Nobody tried to flag us down, and in fact the one time we stopped, to refill our gas, the men next to the fire we'd chosen for light made us move further away for fear of explosion. We moved further away.
Soon enough after this we came to the T intersection our map showed, where we had to turn right. Now we started going uphill noticeably, and the temperature dropped another little bit. We went on, passing occasional towns, and started climbing seriously. We recalculated the distance and our rate of progress, and decided that instead of making Kathmandu at 1 or 2 in the morning, we might get there at 4. This seemed like a time where we could still get a hotel and some sleep, which we all wanted.
The road got smaller and a lot steeper, and the temperature kept dropping. After a couple hours of this, we came to a series of rocks across the road with an arrow pointing left, and a well-worn track around the rocks to the right. There was some Nepali writing which we could not read. We decided to follow the main road, as obviously lots of traffic did that, and we thought the risk of getting lost was higher than the unknown problem ahead we were being directed around - at least until we found out what the unknown problem actually WAS. We went on, and crossed a bridge... which as we came off it made some very bad flapping metal sounds and bounced us uncomfortably. "I don't want to go back across that bridge!" I said, and the others agreed. We soon passed another set of rocks in the road and felt confident that the bridge was the item being detoured around.
Soon after that, we hit another area of rocks instead of pavement, and the road branched. One fork led down and left, and seemed fairly hard packed. The other led up and to the right, and showed clear tracks of large truck tires. We knew we had to turn right eventually but we had no idea if we were at the turn yet, as the road was twisty enough that the straight-line distance measurement we had from Matt's GPS was nowhere near the distance we actually had to drive. We got out with Max's little flashlight and surveyed the options. After some discussion we decided to go right, as a) there were truck tracks, b) it went right, and c) we didn't think it was time to go down again, yet.
So on we went, Matt at the wheel, up the dirt road with the rocks. After a couple hundred meters we suspected we had taken the wrong turn, as the road got a lot steeper, smaller and thinner, with drops at each side - how deep, we could not tell in the dark. A single truck could have gone on the road, but there was no way two could have passed, and we knew we wanted to follow the trucking road. So we decided to turn around. This was harder to do than to decide, because of the steep drops on either side and the road surface, which was quite soft. We managed it eventually, after four or five turns, and Matt began the process of taking us back down. He said later that he had the brake pedal floored the whole time, which Max and I did not know, as we were definitely moving downwards. Luckily the vehicle was still steerable, and we slid all the way back to the original fork with our hearts in our mouths. We took the other turn this time.
Annie said that when they came through that part the next day, there was one woman doing road work in a sari, who pointed them to the left to Kathmandu.
After a bit the pavement returned, but thinner and more bumpy. We kept on, and the road soon started going up again, up and up and up. There were an amazing set of stars overhead, in an amazingly small space, as we now had mountains all around us. Max and I dozed in the back, shivering, as Matt drove on, up and up and up. We could see tiny lights across valleys to one side or the other, which almost looked like stars too. It was impossible to tell how high the mountains were, or how deep the valleys. Matt was grateful it was dark, as he knew his fear of heights would kick in if he could see at all what the edges of the road were like. When we stopped the tuktuk to pee by the side of the road, we could hear tiny trickles of water, wind in trees, an occasional animal call, but nothing else.
Up and up and up we went. Here and there we passed stone houses, shut up for the night and utterly dark. The road consisted mostly of switchbacks here, and it was bitterly cold. I took over driving from Matt. You had to stay in second gear, downshifting to first from time to time as the combination of switchback curve and grade was sometimes too much even for second gear. It became clear that the parts of the road that were not paved, had been washed out by water or landslides at some point in the past, as they became U-shaped - a rather sharp edge of pavement, a slight downhill incline into dirt and rocks, and a short but steep uphill pull back up over the edge of pavement. Also there were small streams running down the hill, which flowed across the road at specially built segments of road. These parts also started with a sharp pavement edge, and consisted of bricks or scored concrete in a V shape, presumably for traction. It was impossible to tell from an edge, which kind of thing lay on the other side, as the headlight didn't show it until the front wheel was six inches from the edge. It felt each time like we were about to go off a cliff.
We stopped several times to pee and the silence would hit us with almost physical force. Once we stopped accidentally in front of a house and Matt heard someone coughing inside. Sorry for waking you up, people! The tuktuk's muffler is no longer attached to the engine, we are very loud, but the bolts were lost so we cannot fix this.
After longer than I would have believed possible, we came to the top of the pass. It might have been 4AM at this point. It was labeled, but unfortunately I have forgotten the height. There was quite a bit of wind, and some buildings, a few lit. In one doorway, mysteriously, sat two small children, with a glow of firelight behind them.
Now there started to be trucks coming towards us. The road was small enough that some places passing could not be done, so we (as the uphill vehicle) had to pull over many times to let a truck lumber past us. These were easy to hear and see well in advance. Now it was down, down, down. Second gear again the rule, but for engine braking instead of power. I think I hit third gear once before I handed driving over to Max again an hour or so on the downhill part. There began to be a hint of light in the edge of the sky around this time, maybe it was 5 or 6 AM? Our phones all had dead batteries so we could not tell.
Down, down, down. As the light grew we were able to make out our surroundings, which were breathtakingly beautiful. The whole mountainside was terraced for agriculture, the terraces in some places no more than a couple meters wide. Some of the terraces were green and some brown and some tan with hay. Here and there were buildings, occasionally grouped into hamlets along the road through which we drove. A fair amount of building was going on, I noticed.
After a bit it was solidly morning and people were moving about, many brushing their teeth. We passed open shops, and - "Stop, stop!" I shrieked. "That one had blankets!" I bought two heavy blankets for one of the last remaining Indian 500 rupee notes, a bargain at twice the price. Max wrapped up in one, I wrapped up in the other, and we gave Matt the rest of the lighter blankets (there were now 5 of these, one having been lost out the door somewhere on the mountain). We were almost to Kathmandu at this point and would not need the blankets much longer, but I didn't care - we stopped shivering for the first time in hours.
Only one other thing of note happened, after we'd made the second right turn onto National Highway 24 (I believe it was). NH 24 was at least twice as wide as the road we'd been on, and half as twisty; but it had a lot more traffic and a LOT more potholes so we still went pretty slow. Shortly after the turn we heard a great honking and yelling from a white Land Rover going the other way. Sure enough it was Skanda, going down the mountain for some background shots. We had a happy reunion, blocking traffic for a moment or two but everyone wanted to look at us anyway so it wasn't a problem.
That's about it, though. We got into Kathmandu just fine, followed various persons' directions to the Themal area of town where the Rum Doodle bar, our finish line, was located. We finished officially at 10:30 AM on the 16th, with 4300 km on the meter, almost exactly. Found a hotel and some breakfast and then we all went straight to sleep before returning the tuktuk to the Adventurists' storage lot. It was kind of sad to say goodbye to it after all we'd been through together. I know it will have more adventures across India before I go back, but after all it lives there and I'm just a visitor.
We're racing 2500 miles across India to Nepal in two rickshaws to raise $5000 for Mercy Corps. Yes, it's insane! But we are hoping that by doing something a lot insane, we can help Mercy Corps help make the world a little less insane.