African Adventures

Luke and I now find ourselves on a new adventure, although the cash has not quit run out we’ve started new jobs for a travel company called Oasis Overland. At the moment we have just finished a training trip with them through East and Southern Africa and are waiting to start our own trip in January.  We feel very lucky to have been given this opportunity and are excited to start showing people around this amazing continent.

Perfect beach on Zanzibar

We started our trip with a few days in Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania. From our previous travels in Africa this was one of our favourite places and it didn’t disappoint. The perfect white sand and clear blue water make for perfect beaches, and Stone Town is an amazing labyrinth of narrow winding streets worth getting lost in. Luke and I also love the night food market here (although some of the people we traveled with did not share our love the next day!).

Zanzibar fishing boat

Zanzibar fishing boat

Exploring Stone Town

Night market in Stone Town.

Night market in Stone Town.

Heading south we made our way to lake Malawi, a very chilled out and beautiful place. Camping on the beach and watching the sun set from the warm lake was not a bad way to spend a few days.

Sunsetting over lake Malawi

We spent the next few weeks in Zimbabwe where I was amazed at how friendly and generous the people here are despite all they have gone through. While it is not advisable to openly discuss politics in this country I’ve had a few very insightful conversations with different guides along the way. As always, hearing multiple sides to a story help me to reshape my own opinions. But mainly I have been impressed with how a people who have been through so much remain so resilient and positive, looking forward to a brighter future.

We’ve been lucky enough in Zimbabwe to have close up encounters with lions and rhinos, as well as see an ancient ruined city.  We also took a very memorable overnight train journey from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls. You might be imagining a romantic Out of Africa kind of train, this was not that. Quite dirty is a kind description, but it was an experience to be had!

Zim runes

Zim ruins

 

 

Our next stop on the itinerary was Botswana, home to the largest concentration of elephants in Africa.  We did a boat trip on the Chobe River and saw proof of this, as well as loads of hippos, crocodiles, buffalo, and so many beautiful birds.

Hippo on the Chobe River

 

Elephant sands

One thing that we missed on our last trip in Africa was the chance to go into the Okavango Delta, a massive waterway feeding into northern Botswana.  We went out in traditional makoros, small 2 person canoes, with a guide in each one poling through the shallow water.  It is a very peaceful way to travel, gliding through the reeds, stopping occasionally to look at tiny frogs or huge elephants.  We camped overnight on an island and enjoyed the brilliant African stars.

Okavango Delta

Night in the Okavango Delta

The next country we visited was Namibia.  Namibia is a special place, with old red deserts, lots of wildlife, and some of the last remote tribal people in the world.

Camping in Namibia

We stayed a night at a place called Cheetah Park, where a local farmer started rescuing wild cheetahs about 15 years ago.  In Namibia cheetahs are a pest and are usually killed when trapped by farmers.  There were 3 of these beautiful cats that had been rescued as kittens and lived as pets at the farmhouse that we were able to get close to and pet.

Saying hello to the Cheetahs at Cheetah Park

Most of the Himba people live in the northern parts of Namibia but we were able to visit a community with a local guide.   The people were still living very traditionally, besides the odd mobile phone and store bought hair extensions.

Himba tribe

A highlight in Namibia was spending 2 days in Etosha National Park.  During the day we drove through the park looking for animals, and at night the campgrounds were next to busy water holes.

Game drive in Etosha National Park

Late night visit to the water hole

Namibia is a land of spectacular scenery, I would be hard pressed to pick my favourite country in Africa, but Namibia would be close to the top.  We saw amazing sunsets from Dune 45 and Spitzkoppe, saw the sun rise over Soussusvlei, and spent an afternoon wandering along the edge of Fish River Canyon.  If you need more excuses to come and see us out here I’ve got lots!

Spitzkoppe

Our camp spot in Spitzkoppe

Sun rise over Sossusvlei

The view from the top of Dune 45

Fish River Canyon.

Hope you enjoy the photos, I’m not sure how regularly we will keep up with the blog now, but we’ll try and update you all when we can.

Our friendly travel companions

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Iceland Bike Trip – part 2

I left off on the last blog as we arrived in Vik, the southernmost city in Iceland, about half way through our journey.  At this point the riding was feeling easier for me, but the wind that was blowing against us most days did not make the actual pedaling any easier.

Hiding from the rain in a road tunnel

 On the day we left Vik we encountered such wind again and when we were looking for a sheltered place for the night found an old hut that was a couple kms off the main road.  It had been built as a shelter for travellers but the main road had since moved so no one else stopped in while we were there.  It was a great find and we were happy to be out of the wind and rain that night.

Our hut for the night

We biked through a large lava field on day 12 of our travels.  The lava is all covered in a thick moss which made for a very comfy nap spot for me while Luke too pictures.  The scenery changes very subtlety in Iceland, from a distance it all looks similar, but the change from Lupins to moss covered lava was pretty cool.

Napping in the Lava Field

As we were making good time on the bikes we decided to do a little side trip up a 4WD track to see the Laki Crater.  We stopped first in the town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur to go in the hot pools and stock up on food.  We anticipated it taking us 3 days to complete the loop.  Sadly we only got 18km on the first day (we needed to do 36).  The road was very bumpy with lots of steep hills and loose rocks, and proved to be a bit more than I could handle with the loaded bike.  So we admitted defeat, mainly because we didn’t have enough food to last us if we kept up at the current rate.  The day was not really a waste though, we stopped at a beautiful canyon and camped near another stunning waterfall, and as always the scenery was beautiful.

On the way to Laki Crater

After stocking up again and soaking in the hot pools in Klaustur we carried on the ring road heading east.  We stopped at an old farm, Nupsstaour, that used to be a tourist attraction but after the old farmer died in 2010 at the ago of 101 it has been closed.  There were a few people who had walked up to the old farm house and buildings so we decided to have a look as well.  It used to be considered the most remote farm in Iceland, and was cool to see the grass covered roofs and visit the little chapel.

Núpsstaður Farm

Our next stop was Skaftafell National Park.  We camped on the edge of the park our first night there overlooking one of the glaciers.  It was easy, and allowed, to free camp as long as you were not within 5 km of an actual campground or in a National Park.

Looking over Skaftafell

Skaftafel is one of the main tourist stops, so the trails and the campground were busy.  But it was worth a stop.  We hiked up to the waterfall and then Luke carried to hike high above the valley while I went back to rest my legs.

Svartifoss

The next day we hiked out along the valley bottom to look for some natural thermal pools that we had read about.  They were not marked on any of the park maps so we weren’t sure if they still existed or if the locals liked to keep it a secret.  We did find them, 2 murky little pools, but they were hot and the view from was amazing.

View from the hot pool

On day 18 we biked 51km and got to Jokulsarlon, the Glacial Lagoon.  Another popular stop on the tourist trail it is an absolutely beautiful spot.  The lagoon flows into a river which meets the sea after about 500 meters.  Big chunks of ice wash up onto the black sand giving it the name of Diamond Beach.  We camped on the edge of the lake that night and Luke was rewarded with some great sunset shots.

Jökulsárlón

Diamond Beach

After 2 more long days of biking we made it to Hofn, I’m not sure I’ve ever been as happy to reach a destination!  We still had 5 more days left of our trip but this was the point where we could get the bus back to Reykjavik.  I can easily say that biking in Iceland was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I was proud of myself that I kept going for 20 days.  And the funny thing is, that I think I would possibly do it again!  Not in Iceland, but maybe somewhere the weather was a little more friendly.  All up we biked around 800 km in 60 hours over 20 days.

Celebratory Viking Beers in Hofn

Back in Reykjavik we rented a car for our last 4 days and travelled around the Snaefellsjokull peninsula.  We hiked up an old volcano, spent a day walking along coastal trails, and admired more stunning scenery.  Perhaps worth a mention is that we saw the tallest structure in Europe, a gigantic radio tower (maybe not that interesting!).

Snæfellsnes Coastline

Overall we loved Iceland.  It can be expensive, but if you cook your own meals and stay at campsites (or fee camp) the cost is not that bad.  I would recommend travelling there, and cycling if you are looking for an extreme challenge!

Our rental car

We’ve made a video of our travels, it’s a little long but a good watch , you can find it from the link at the top of the blog or click HERE. (The video doesn’t seen to play on all tablets for some reason, but works fine on computers.)

Kirkjufell at Sunset

Iceland Bike Trip – part 1

Arrival in Reykjavik

We arrived in Reykjavik on a beautiful sunny day, paid a small fortune for a bus into the city (about $25 each, plus the same again for the bikes!), and got our little tent set up at the campground.  The campground is probably the best place to go before starting any trip in Iceland, there are some amazing free stuff shelves.  We stocked up on fuel for our stove, lots of free food, as well as toilet paper, plastic bags, and much more.

Reykjavik church

Reykjavik itself is a pretty city, lots of interesting sculptures and architecture. We spent a day here on either end of our trip wandering around the harbour and down busy streets.

Fully loaded up we headed out of the city on our bikes.  We had decided to head east of the city and see the Golden Circle first, a popular tourist loop.  Wanting to avoid the main roads we followed the GPS out of the city and found ourselves on some very small paths, but through some beautiful area.  The first day a cycling was pretty hard for me, lots of hills and rough tracks (I had 2 naps by the side of the road that day!).  However we finished the day with an amazing ride down through lupin covered hills.

Icelandic Road Signs

The next day we made good time with the wind behind us to our first destination, Þingvellir National Park, a rift valley that marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  It is also the site where early settlers of Iceland began to hold parliament, from 930 to 1798.  When Iceland became independent from Denmark in 1944 the people celebrated at Þingvellir.

We left the park and carried on our journey east along a bumpy secondary road in the rain.  We arrived in the little town of Laugarvatn in time for lunch and decided to try out the local swimming pool.  There is a fancy thermal pool for tourists, but across the road is where all the locals go, for a 10th of the price with the same water.  Feeling warm and clean we headed back out into the rain.  We got a few more miles down the road and found an abandoned barn to shelter in for the night.  It had a lot of dry manure on the floor, but it kept us out of the rain, so I didn’t complain too much.

Backroad to Laugarvatn

Campsite in the poo barn

On our 4th day of riding we got to Geysir, the geothermal area that all other geysers are named for.  There are a few different ones that erupt here, one regularly every 6 or so minutes.  We hung around in the warm sulphur air for a while before heading to Gullfoss.

Iceland is full of amazing waterfalls, but as Gullfoss was the first we came to it was that much more impressive.

Gullfoss (Golden Falls)

Day 5 started off with more rain, another swimming pool, a few hot dogs (Iceland’s favourite food), a very annoying headwind, and more rain.  Finally completely demoralized we stopped under a bridge and crawled into our damp tent.  At this point I was very seriously considering the error of deciding to do this trip on bikes, however, the sun was out the next morning.

Lunch stop

We made it to Ring Road and stopped at another nice waterfall for an early lunch and to let things dry out a little.  We were starting to see a pattern of nice mornings and windy afternoons, and this day decided to really step it up.  We somehow managed to do about 40km against such a strong headwind that we had to pedal downhill.  The wind in this country is not to be underestimated!

Seljalandsfoss

At one week into our journey we arrived at 2 of the most beautiful waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss.

Seljalandsfoss

We could see Seljalandsfoss for about an hour before we got to it, pouring off the cliff face.  There is a path the leads behind the falls and makes for some good pictures.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss is one of the most photographed falls in Iceland, for good reason I suppose, it is stunning.  We set up our tent with a view of the waterfall and spent the evening people watching until the last of the tourist busses had left.  The campground was still very busy, but by midnight not many people were too interested in the falls anymore and Luke got some nice shots.

We decided to spend another day at Skogafoss, for 2 reasons, I needed a break, and there was a really good walk up the river behind the falls.

 

Setting off again we felt refreshed as we headed towards Vik, the southernmost town in Iceland.  We’d read about an old US military plane that had crashed years ago, and thanks to a few tourist vans parked by a gate we found the road down to it.

We detoured down to the Dyrhólaey peninsula, where the storm cloud we had been trying to outrun all morning finally caught up with us.  Hoping for some sort of shelter at this frequented tourist stop we arrived at the car park overlooking the cliffs and black sand beaches at the same time the rain did.  No shelter in site we used the spare tent fly and plastic bike bags to try and create a space to eat our lunch.  It was a pretty low moment.

Moments after the rain passed, I think my face and body language say it all!

But after about half an hour the rain eased up and we ventured out, and once I saw a few puffins I felt better and could actually appreciate the beautiful spot.

Dyrhólaey peninsula

We carried on to Vik, and stayed at a very nice campground there.  The town is right on the beach with a pretty little church up on the hillside.  We decided to spend the next morning hiking up the peninsula overlooking Vik the next morning and were rewarded with stunning views and a beautiful sunny day.

Black sand beaches at Vik

Church in the Lupins

The weather was definitely a challenge in this first part of our trip, and being my bike trip I didn’t really know what to expect.  I wanted to try and give you a real look at what this trip was like for us, not just the good parts, because a lot of it was hard work.  But at the same time so rewarding, and as you can see, Iceland is pretty stunning.  So stay tuned, the rest is still to come!

Headland above Vik

Beach hopping until the end.

Mark and I spent a few days in Mangalore before setting off north up the coast heading for our final destination of Goa. After a 60km ride we came to the temple town of Udipi. This town has a large temple complex right in the centre and hundreds of pilgrims line up to enter the temples.

Pilgrims in Udipi

We spent 2 nights in Udipi and on our second day we went for a ride with our unloaded bikes to a fishing port that was close by. It was a hive of activity with the harbour full of bright purple boats being unloaded. Men were rushing around with large crates full of fish while the woman were sorting the large piles of fish.

 

busy fishing harbour.

Our next stop was Murudeshwara. This town is famous for the worlds second tallest Shiva statue. The statue is very imposing, sitting on a rocky outcrop overlooking the crowed beach. However, it was a great spot to just sit and watch the locals going about their daily life as the sun set, and eat Gobi Manchurian (Deep fried cauliflower), my favourite South Indian snack.

The worlds second tallest Shiva statue.

People watching on Murudeshwara beach.

We had high hopes for our next stop, Gokarna. There are many small temples here down interesting side streets and we decided to stay here 6 nights as we still had time to spare and liked the town so much.

Making friends with the holy cows in Gokarna.

The long stretch of beach in Gokarna was also nice for swimming. When we got bored of the beach there it was only a short walk over to the nearby beachs of Kudle or Om.

Gokarna beach.

Om beach.

Mark and I reluctantly set off and finally crossed into the state of Goa. We made our way to Polem, a town on the backpacker route for good reason. The picturesque palm tree lined beach was very clean and great for swimming. As it’s the off season it was quite and we got a great room for very little.

Polem beach.

We were very tempted so spend the rest of our time here but sadly we had to make our way up the coast a little more to our last stop, Colva.  Mark had to sell his bike and this was the best place for that as it close to a large city. Colva is not as nice as Gokarna or Polem and judging from the signs it must get a lot of Russian tourists in the peak season but once again it was quite.

Heading back from town with my bike box.

In the end Mark managed to sell his bike and I boxed mine up for the flight to the UK.  Our total distance was 2633km and our ride time for the 3 months was 165hr 54minutes.  It was a great adventure and one I will never forget.

Celebratory drink at the end of our trip.

That said, we’ve already got our next adventure lined up.  Lisa and I are headed to Iceland in a few days time, and I’ve convinced her to do it on bikes!  Stay tuned…

If you’ve not see the videos from our trip yet check them out on youtube Here

Mysore, bed bugs, and finally back to the coast

It was a long hot ride along the main highway for 2 days to get to Mysore from Ooty. We decided to spend 3 nights in Mysore to see the city and recover. Our first night here was one of the worst of the trip. We always stay in the cheapest hotels but this time we soon found it was crawling with bed bugs. After getting eaten alive we decide it was best to just sleep in our tents on the floor and find a different hotel in the morning.

After finding a cheap bed bug free hotel we set off to see the Mysore palace. It’s a very grand looking building sitting right in the centre of the city. The inside was very nice with mosaic floors and most of the walls contained large paintings, even the domes of the ceilings had clouds and stars painted on them. We received an audio tour guide and in typical Indian fashion the numbers were in no discernable order and some of them were placed in front of different points of interest, but overall it was informative and we did attain a better understanding of the history of the city and the palace.

Mysore Palace

Mysore also has a very lively market that we spent quite some time exploring. You can get anything and everything here from super sweet mangos and melons to incense and spices. We were treated to an incense making demonstration while listening to the many uses of various oils!

We really enjoyed our wanders and explorations in Mysore, but when evening came we soon realized that the bed bugs from our other hotel had hitched a ride with us. Mark got the brunt of the bites with both of his eyes so swollen he could not ride the next day!

Incense Demonstration

After Mysore we started heading west and stopped in a town called Bylakuppe. Thousands of Tibetan refugees settled around here in the 1960s after the Chinese invaded Tibet and they have made this their home with Tibetan temples and restaurants serving up delicious Momos. We were fortunate enough to visit the golden temple during a religious service. The constant chanting and drums were occasionally punctuated with the traditional Tibetan horn. The mandatory silence in the monastery and the sheer number of monks made this visit very tranquil (by Indian standards!).

Momos

Golden Temple

Alas, not knowing much about bed bugs we spent two more nights being attacked and finally found them crawling back into our bags the morning we were leaving. Upon  further research we discovered they can move 100 feet and hide almost anywhere! Needless to say everything was washed in scalding  hot water and our problems came to an end! We had our first bite free night six nights after encountering them!

We then had to cross over the Ghats one last time to get to the coast. Luckily there was a nice little hill station with some great views called Madikeri half way to break up the ride. We spent 2 nights here. We rode out to Abby falls for the day but the waterfall was not very impressive as it’s the end of the dry season.

Abby Falls

It took 2 days of riding from here to get to the city of Mangalore by the coast. Its a big modern city with air conditioned malls and large supermarkets. We decided to treat ourselves to an all you can eat pizza to celebrate that we had made it over the Ghats and it would be a fairly easy 500km to our final destination.

One last thing, if you’re not see the videos from out trip yet check out the link for the videos at the top of the screen.

More Hillstations

We headed north from Munnar and stopped in the small town of Marayoor. On the way we passed through a protected sandalwood forest. We saw monkeys along the roadside and were lucky to see an endangered giant squirrel and a large deer.

We took a short ride out from here to see something called dolmens. They are ancient man made structures that are believed to be burial chambers but they don’t really know for sure. They’re made from four large stone slabs for the walls and one for the roof.

On the way back to town we made an impromptu stop at a karate studio. We were treated like royalty and were entertained by the young students practice fighting.

We then headed down through the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary to the sweltering hot lowlands. The scenery was great through the park and we saw more monkeys,and although cars warned us of elephants ahead,  we didn’t see any of the park’s wild elephants.

It took us two days to ride across the lowlands and get to the next section of the Ghats. This time we decided not to ride our bikes up to the hillstation of Coonoor, but get a bus instead. We loaded our bikes onto the roof and relaxed on the 35km bus ride up to the town at 1500m. The bus only cost $2 for both of us and the bikes, it would have cost us more in tea if we had ridden up!

As usual our timing was impeccable and we arrived just in time for a massive Hindu festival. The streets were heaving with people and all manner of  stalls, selling food, inflatable paraphernalia, and small dogs with bobbing heads. There were mechanical parade floats ( godzilla, shiva, and two large bulls) and a music/dance stage that had huge crowds watching a variety of musical and dance performances.

We saw a parade led by a man with a long spear through both cheeks, the spear was so long he had to turn sideways to pass the traffic on the road. At the back another man was pulling a cart with hooks through the skin on his back. They were accompanied by a band and dancing dignitaries.

 

We spent a day exploring the hills around here. Like Munnar, the hills are covered with tea plantations. We went to a tea factory and had a guided tour to see what happens after the tea is picked. It was interesting to see the process the tea goes through.

From Coonoor we rode up to the highest point on our tour, Ooty. This town sits at 2240m. We spent four nights in Ooty and enjoyed the cool climate but the town itself was nothing special. We went to a heritage cinema to see the Jungle book and were surprised that it only cost $1 for both of us. We also continue to indulge ourselves in the local homemade chocolate.

We had read about the road down from Ooty being dangerous and steep with 36 hairpin bends. So after checking our brakes we set off for the long descent. We made it to the bottom with no problems. However the road then enters a national park and we were soon stopped at a checkpoint and told cycles were not allowed through the park and we would have to get a taxi 6km to the next village and ride from there. This was because and elephant had killed a cyclist at some point and now none are allowed through.

So after much hassle we finally got to the next village where we set off on the bikes once again, only to get stopped at another checkpoint entering Karnataka. This time we were told we had to get a truck 20km to the park boundary. Luckily the nice guy at the checkpoint stopped an empty truck and helped us load our bikes and us into the back and away we went.

We are now halfway through our time here in India and have ridden 1800km and we still have a long way until we reach Goa.

Backwaters and Hill Stations of Kerala

Kerala Waterways

After a relaxing 2 nights  in Varkala we headed up the coast to Kollam. The town itself  is just another busy, noisy Indian town. But it’s also the southern starting point for the backwaters of Kerala. The backwaters are a network of over 900km of stunning palm fringed rivers and lakes. It’s a popular tourist destination and there are hundreds of house boats that take people out for overnight trips, canoe rides, and village stays.

 

We decided on a cheaper option than a house boat and took an 8 hr scenic cruise up to Alappuzha and our bikes came with us! This also meant we didn’t have to ride the 90km to get there. It was a fantastic ride past countless villages, resorts, and all manner of religious  edifices. The backwaters were once used to transport goods from inland to the coast and this can still be seen in the villages running along the banks and colourful fishing boats going about their  daily business.

 

We had planned to leave Alappuzha in the morning but the town looked  nice so we decided  to spend the day exploring instead. There’s a channel that runs into town with fancy tourist boats trying to get your business and a local ferry boat stop where tatty government boats run locals around to the towns and villages out in the waterways. We took our bikes on a ride along these waterways to check out the beach and the rest of town too.

 

The next day we decided to get one of the run down local boats to Kottayam and start our 3 day ride into the western Ghats. The roads started off with just easy rolling hills but the closer we got to the Ghats the bigger and steeper the hills got. It was very demoralizing to work so hard to gain 100m and then find a steep downhill just around the corner and end up at the same altitude you started at!

 

Despite the hard work the scenery on the ride was phenomenal. We passed rubber tree plantations at first and almost rode into an elephant that was being lead down the road. The landscape then changed to jungle and we saw monkeys in the trees and found a spot to bush camp for the first time since entering Kerala. We spent the night in the dense jungle listening to the cacophony of sounds around us and wondering what was making them! Finally on our last day we entered the manicured tea plantations of the Ghats.

Jungle Camping

We finally made it to Munnar after 180km and a combined 9000m of climbing even though Munnar only sits at about 1500m. The best part about the Ghats has to be the cooler temperatures, 30°c in the day and dropping down to 17°c at night this time of year.

Tea Plantations

We spent 4 full days in Munnar enjoying the cooler climate and exploring the picturesque tea plantations that surrounds the town by foot and bicycle.

Overlooking the Ghats

Beach Time and a Circus

  

We left Kanyakumari and finally started on our long ride north towards Goa. For the first few hours we followed  the coast along a quiet  road with the waves crashing off to the left. We stopped   here for a swim and were tempted to just stay and bush camp. But instead pushed on thinking we could find some where as good in the afternoon.

 

Unfortunately  this was not meant to be. Instead, the roads got busy and even the smallest roads had houses, shops or coconut plantations running all the way along. It started to get hilly and with the heavily loaded bikes and the draining heat the 2 days it took us to get to our next stop Kovalam were hard going.

 

We decided to stay 4 nights here after finding a great little hotel that was a complete bargain as its low season in this resort town. The beach was nice and the waves were great for body surfing. We watched the locals swimming in jeans and shirts as the lifeguards would blow their whistle and tell them to come in if they got deeper than their knees while the westerners were allowed  to go in as far as they like.

 

 

It was hard to leave this great little spot. But we finally decided to head just 20 km’s to the capital of Kerala, Trivandrum. To Mark’s extreme excitement  the hotel we ended up staying at had a circus set up just a few meters down the road. So the first night we went to see what passed as entertainment in India. For about $2 the 2 hr show was a bargain. It started off with the flying trapeze and the evening progressed with juggling, a clown that just stood around passing out props, a wild west balloon  shootout, dancing girls, and all sorts of balancing  acts! However, both of our favorites had to be a guy that appeared with a bucket of water and then proceeded  to splash the floor and himself  while drinking a gallon  or more! He then walked around a bit before spraying it back out of his mouth to fill the jug back up again. The climax of his  performance  was when he swallowed   3 live goldfish then spit them back into the jug unharmed.

 

The next day we decide to carry on with local entertainment and visited the zoo. Not expecting much we were very surprised with what we found. The zoo was larger then we thought and enclosures were surprisingly  spacious and relatively  well kept.  There were different deer, monkeys  and bears from India also tigers and leopards. They also had a rhino, hippos and a lone zebra.

 

We then made our way up the coast to our second beach resort town, Varkala. This place had more of a traveler  feel than Kovalam which is aimed more for package holidaymakers. Most of the hotels and restaurants are perched on top of a cliff that looks down on to the sandy beach below. We found a great spot just next door called black sand beach to watch the sun set.

 

The hotels are very cheap this time of year as its too hot for most people. But it’s hard to find food at the prices we are used to paying. All the restaurants are 3 times the price and even some of the local place’s try to charge us more. But we have always managed to find local food at local prices in the end. It just takes  some looking and asking around.

Made it to the Bottom

Our route to the bottom

 

We finally rolled into Kanyakumari on Sunday morning, 16 days after leaving Chennai. We have ridden a total of 974 Km’s to get here and enjoyed every minute. We could have arrived sooner if we had stuck to the main roads, but where’s the fun in that? We both agree the most memorable  moments of the trip have been interacting with the locals in the small  villages we ride through on the lesser used roads. Mark is now up to 7 flat tyres and is getting very good at fixing them. Luke has yet to get a flat tire!

Riding on the backroads

The ride over the last few days of our southern journey has been interesting. The scenery has changed with banana  plantations, wind farms,  and our first sight of the mighty Ghats rising up in the distance to the west. We took our time getting to Kanyakumari and stopped  often in the shade to cool off and enjoy whatever company came along, someone usually finds us within a few minutes, either cow or human!

Kanyakumari is the southernmost point of the Indian mainland and although it’s off the regular tourist trail it’s a sacred spot for the Hindus that flock here in the  thousands to bath in the sea. The lively main point is great for people  watching while sipping a milky ginger tea and joining the hundreds of  Indian tourists waiting for  the sun to set in the evening.

 

 

A lot of people have inquired about the food that we have been indulging  in. So I  thought we would give a little peak at what yummy things we have been eating on our   adventures. Most mornings start with a few Idly, a spongy fermented steamed  rice cake which  is served with coconut and tomato chutneys and a vegetable curry. This is the ubiquitous  and often  the only  option  in the smaller villages.

Lunch and dinner we mix things up a bit with Dosas, a large rice flour crepe like concoction that has some sort of tasty filling. The best being masala ( spiced potato mixture), the strangest is raw red onion. Then there’s Roti, paratta, and chapati. Small, flat breads which are well kneaded, rolled out and cooked to order on a sizzling  hot iron griddle   and served with all sorts of dips, chutneys and curries.

We have eaten very little  meat on this trip, but when we get a hankering  for it, we head to the Muslim food sellers and their biryani  rice. This is a heavily spiced rice with bits of raisins and assorted  vegetables, these are usually  accompanied  by spicy chicken or (our favorite  ) mutton. The portion size is gargantuan  and appeases our cycling  appetites!

For snacks we turn to the deep fried goodies that are for sale everywhere. There are a few types with our favorites being samosas, onion bhajis, battered cauliflower  and some form of Indian falafel that are just amazing spiced and crispy ovals of goodness. There’s also battered chillies, bananas, and different  dough balls on offer. Many times we just order one of each (we have  to sample all the varieties!)

We always eat at the local street food stalls and most meals are served on a banana leaf instead of a plate. There’s no cutlery, instead you just get stuck in and use your right hand (never your left!) This can get quite messy as most meals are covered with sauces and curries but there’s always a hand wash station for cleaning after. Most meals are topped off  with tea, it’s sweet and milky and amazing and sometimes made even better with ginger for a little kick.

All Roads Lead South

Pondicherry Promenade

Mark and I spent two nights in Pondicherry giving us time to relax from the ride down and to explore the city a little bit. The city has a nice beach promenade, complete with the requisite Gandhi  memorial, where the crazy traffic is eliminated  in the evening and the promenade  comes alive, with locals wandering along the beachfront and enjoying  the cooler evening temperatures.

Gandhi Memorial

 One of my favorite things about traveling is looking around the local markets, and in Pondicherry we found a great one just around the corner from our hotel. The melodic noise, brilliantly colourful stalls, and exotic smells of spice and flowers overload the senses as we wandered through  the narrow,  crowded  aisles.

Ponicherry Market

 We left Pondicherry early in the morning to get out of the city before  the roads got too hectic. We were soon back heading south on the interesting back roads, passing Hindu temples, mosques, and churches. Since every village, town, and city we pass has a Hindu  temple we decided to visit  few to see what they’re like on the inside. They are much bigger  than we expected  and filled with many deities  we are slowly becoming familiar with.

Hindu Temples

Most nights we bush camp, but it’s not easy to find an ideal spot where we won’t get seen and which doesn’t have thorns everywhere. Camping is way cooler than the stuffy hotel rooms and we sleep better. However,  we need  showers and a little relax from time to time, so we stopped for two nights in a little town call Vedaranyam.  Nothing much going on here but it was good to have some time off the bikes. We replenished our supply of biscuits and got rehydrated.

Bush Camping

Indian Biscuits

 The ride took a turn to the west and we followed a water way full of bird life and lilies in bloom. We both felt good from the rest and the km’s just flew by, so by the time we found a bush camp for the night we had done 123km’s. We both slept well that night!

 

 The scenery changes slowly the farther south we get. First there were rice paddies and little fishing villages with fish drying in the sun. This has been gradually replaced with a more barren landscape with salt refineries and chilies growing and drying in the towns.

 

Drying Chillies

Salt Refinery

 The bikes are holding together ok with the odd bolt coming loose on my panniers. Mark has been struggling with flat tyres, 4 so far. He’s getting good at fixing them with little help from me. Not bad when you consider we have now ridden just over 800 km’s. We are now in a city called Tuticorin for the night before the final few days to the southern tip.

Fixing another flat