Falls ihr es noch nicht wissen sollted -

For those who don't know yet: We both finished our studies. Mascha got a ingeneering degree and Matteo his PhD in chemistry. But, as we will have work enough in the next years, we decided to postpone (as long as our savings last) this beginning. The FIAT Uno project was not practicable. We will try by bicycle.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Goodbye India

Experiencing the sun at the zenith
Dear readers,
the intervals of our post are getting larger and larger, but nevertheless we would like to write one last post on southern India, even if we have already arrived in Sri Lanka!
We left you in Mysore in the state of Karnataka after that we moved south-west along the coast of Kerala crossing  the high range of Wayanad, Kalpetta, Calicut to Kochi and Aleppey.

Waiting for the ferry to Kochi
A wise man once said: "Whatever you say about India - the opposite is also true." After two months in the subcontinent we can only agree we this quote. Maybe you will as well after reading the following stories...

Typical south Indian lunch -
eating with hand became normal for us
Crossing the border to Kerala we rode through the Nagarhole National Park, where we were surprised from the darkness. We managed to get to a small village (without electricity) at the edge of the park. After looking without success for a place to camp with our tent, we asked some local people if they had any idea. They could not suggest anything, but advised us not to sleep outside because of the wild elephants that come in the night and had already killed several people, the last one two days before our arrival. We explained them that under these circumstances we would need only very little space inside for our mattresses. But instead of giving us shelter, they just confirmed that we should not in any case ride the cycle after down to find a hotel. We were trapped. The same people who warned us not to cycle by night to find a hotel and who said that was too dangerous to sleep outside, did not think to offer us a place inside. At that point we recognized that many Indians are friendly but not hospitable and we wished to be back in Iran. In the end we put up the tent on a small lawn (before India we would have called it a garbage depot) between a shop and a mosque. Since we are writing now it means that no elephants overran our tent that night.

Following the tea plantation's workers to the factory
Another one of the rare times we tried to sleep outside in Kerala, things went wrong as well. Kerala in densely populated and there is hardly spare land. One evening we were trying to find a place to camp after all hotels we checked were either full or too expensive. The most suitable spot we could find was a house under construction in a residential area. We parked the bicycles there and went to have dinner. When we came back the were neighbors with torches looking at the bikes. Nothing unusual, but these people had already called the police as well. We talked to them and explained our dilemma and could at least avoid the police from coming. But even though they were very understanding and confirmed that that the road was very dangerous at night, they made us leave the empty property as soon as possible. We eventually found a hotel after some 15 Km on a pitch-black road.

Wayanad with Shaj
Fortunately things can be different as well. For instance during a break in Wayanad, a car driver stopped to have some conversation with us. Shaj turned out to be an international tour operator who found us and our trip very interesting and offered us his help. Even if made his living with taking care of tourists, he invited us to camp one night at one of his places near a lake and visit the surroundings with his car the next day - all free of cost. We fairly surprised and could not believe it at first, but in the end we spent two very nice days together. Thank you Shaj! So, if you plan a trip to Kerala and need any support, contact him at www.godzone.in; we hope for him that he will charge you more than us.
One of our best campsides
In almost the same way we met Riyas. During our lunch break in a small garden, he came and asked some questions. Unlike the vast majority of Indians, he did not stop after the questions "you from?" and "your good name?". At the end we spend the afternoon together exchanging some insider comments on various aspects of our respective societies. For instance, he was surprised that in Europe it is not usual for couples to have free sex with other people. On our side we discovered how difficult (almost impossible) inter-religious marriages are in India, and that despite of what westerners have heard about Karmasutra and stuff, most Indians never see their partner naked!

Enjoying velocity
Having suffered to climb the mountains of the western Ghats before the Jogfalls some weeks ago, we had the pleasure to drive down hill where the mountains of Wayanad go steeply down to the sea. Every serious cycling tourist in front of a decline like this struggles between enjoying the fascination of landscape or the pleasure of velocity. Matteo usually opts for velocity leaving Mascha far behind, who neither enjoys the landscape nor the velocity to a full extend being concentrated to manage the curves safely. If you are in the area we strongly recommend to drive down the road from Kalpetta to Calicut. Unless you have a motorbike don't try to drive up and especially not around noon and by foot as some hundrets of crazy local Christians did carrying crosses for the "Via Crucis" before easter. - Happy Easter by the way!
Crazy Christians climbing the Western Ghats at 36 degrees

With a public ferry through the backwaters
One of the most interesting features are for sure its backwaters with its endless canals and waterways, paddy fields and lagoons. A couple of millions of people still live on the banks, practicing fishing and agriculture. To have a closer look at this ecosystem we opted for a small hand power driven canoe and a public ferry. The canoe let us into the narrow sidearms, along gardens with spices (cinnamon, muscat nut, pepper, curry leafs, bay leafs, oregano), small factories for the processing of coconut into its many products (oil, ropes from fibers, coconut paste, flour...). We also had close looks at the daily lives of the locals passing their homes only 2 meters away. They were very friendly and we were allowed to take a lot of pictures. Once our boot had to stop because an elephant was having a bath in front of us, blocking the path.
To cover the distance from Allepey to Kottayam we took a local ferry. We had the impressions that in this way we got a far better idea of life in the backwaters, than by hiring one of the thousands overpriced housboats carrying tourists along the canals.  We advise you to do the same - and not only because like this we payed 40 Rupees (plus 40 for the bikes) instead of 5000 Rupees.
Washing cloths - 
One single saree

- washing elephant

Preparing tea for fellow travelers at the airport

At least 2 hours of sleep...

Strangely there is no ferry between India and Sri Lanka. So we were forced to take a plane for our next destination again. As the plane departed early morning we drove to the airport the evening before and spent most of the night cooking hot meals and tea for Indian fellow travelers to empty our gas bottle, which we could not bring on to the plane and which seemed to last forever! The rest of the night we spent dissembling and packing our bikes with some cardboards we found on the street. Because we did not have the luxury of big suitable cardboards as in Oman, it took quite a while and we were happy to find a wrapping station inside the airport, otherwise our "piece of art" would have fallen apart immediately. Sri Lankan Airlines did  not make any problem, so we could check in all our luggage without any further costs. The Indian authorities in contrary did not believe us to have traveled mostly overland to India and wanted some proof of the route we took. We could not provide either our ticket to India (thrown away) nor all the hotel bills (thrown away of course!) nor our flight ticket from Sri Lanka onwards (not purchased yet - "How is that possible?!"). Time was ticking and as the departure was only 15 minutes away Mascha was additionally sent to explain the content of our checked-in luggage. "Well madam, you've got a lots of tools inside. Why?". 5 minutes before departure the luggage problem was solved, but we were still stuck at the immigration office. We were beginning to wonder if we would manage to get on the flight at all and if there would be any more problems with our hand luggage containing various metal, heavy kitchen equipment. The solution came when Matteo suggested to have a look at our blog to check our route. Finally we were allowed to pass and to start our next stage in Sri Lanka.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Would you hire this guy?

An unemployed 29 years old guy with a three times broken nose in a tea plantation

Dear head-hunters, CEOs and resposibles of the human resources,

 today is my birthday. I was born on the 6th of April 1982 in Padua, Italy. It means that for the next 365 days I am 29 years old. I do not think that I can allow myself to be unemployed for the next 365 days too. Hence, I need a job.
If you are thinking that I should not have spent all my savings on this trip by bicycle, it is good to know, I will not work for you. If you like what I am doing, well, I can work for you. Not now though, I am still cycling with my girlfriend through India and I am not completely broke yet. But you can already think about it. Do not worry, I am offering you good stuff: Me.

I have a master degree in environmental science. My PhD in chemistry dealt with aerosols, diesel engines and organic pollutants. I can and I would like to work in the environmental management, solid or liquid waste disposal or air pollution control. I know something about that. I think I am smart enough to learn the rest you would need from me.

As student I used to earn some money carrying heavy stuff from A to B, teaching children and youth to play rugby and delivering pizzas. This trip was funded with savings from my PhDs salary and with the money I earned by playing the bassoon in chamber and symphonic orchestras. The bicycle was a present of my parents. My mother tongue is Italian and I am fluent in English and German. If  I am not cycling  I live in Munich and I play rugby. I like classical music, rock and this trip supported my belief that the Italian food is the best in the world. 
My nation gave to the world Berlusconi, but spaghetti and lasagne too. Ok, we are even.

Regards, Matteo.

If you are interested to see my curriculum vitae, just send an e-mail at mararrac@gmail.com
I will answer you from the next interent point.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Southern India

water buffalo with really long horns
Dear Readers, friends and families,
Mumbai train station
time passes as we travel further south in India. Our last post is from Rajasthan. Because of our short visa ("only" two months) we decided to take a train to the south to continue cycling there. First we wanted to go to Hampi. It should be a marvelous place in the state of Karnataka. But as there where no simple connections from Udaipur we decided to go to Goa first and see what's happening then.
They have a crazy system here in India: if you want to book at the station you have to hand in a paper with all the trains numbers, departure time and so on. Don't know how you are supposed to find out all this data. But fortunately there is one counter for disabled, blind, veterans...and, guess what: foreigners! After some time at the train station and several attempts to book a ticket at this counter, we found a trip with only one change at Mumbai. "Wow, that's cool" we thought. Well, that was before we where in the train and found our that we did not only have to change trains in Mumbai, India's biggest city with 20 Million inhabitants, but also train stations! This meant a trip trough all the whole city of Mumbai with the bikes, all our luggage and the traffic. Ooops.

In the rice paddies
To make a long story short: we made it and it wasn't all that bad after all. And we arrived happily and after some good sleep in Goa. There we decided that we are actually cyclists and wanted to cycle again and not wait for the train to Hampi two days after. We will see this place next time.

Celebrating the hindu "holi" festival on the way to Karnataka
Therefore it was time for some beach hopping, swimming and sunbathing. Goa is a small state in India (once a Portoguese colony) and was one of the last ones to join the independent India after the collapse of the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar in the middle sixties. The famous party-scene on electronicmusic-,  light drugs- and LSD-basis is concentrated in small spots on the north of the state. Disappointingly we arrived by train in the south, where heavy-drinking British pensioners and new Russian middle-class make up the core of the touristic bulk. Our will to get stoned was less pressing than the will of avoiding the cycle trip to the north to cycle south again, so we decided to take he best of the south part of the state. We spent  good time on some of India's finest beaches like Benaulim or Palolem with marvelous fish dinners on the sand at a price of a bargain and enjoyed the cycling between green rice plantations. Then we moved south to the state of Karnataka to the even better beaches like Kuddle beach, Om beach, Paradise beach near Gokarna.....Yes, it was nice. But it was a bit strange to be afraid of sunburn and having to put on sun blocker. But after 4 months in the fresh air and under the sun, all but our arms and legs is still quite white: typical cyclist-tanned skin! 

Maybe we repeat ourselves, but it was interesting to see how different India can be. If you only know Rajasthan, you wouldn't believe something like Goa can exist in the same country - and the other way round. In Goa colonial influence is still very present with a lot of christian churches (the majority here is christian) and the women wear dresses and no Saris. Some of the younger ones would even show their knees: really vicious! The taxes on Alchool are much lower than in the north, making the prices up to 70% lower. For us European it is strange to associate transgression with Catholicism and Christianity. In our cities often the most "transgressive" suburbs are associated with Islamic immigration, and if you want some weed, often the dealers comes from north-africa or other Mediterranean countries. Here is the other way round! We noticed the same also in Iran in the city of Esfahan, where the local youth got smuggled alcohol and hashish from Afghanistan in the Christian suburb of Jolfa. So guys, In Asia Christianity rocks, and the pope smokes dope!
For Natalie - even nature loves Schnoerkel!

Changing theme, we would like to asses one of the first peculiarity of a country that at first should impress a cycling tourist: How the locals deal with road traffic?
India is an exotic touristic destinations for many travellers and it is easy to identify with it, at least to some extent,  the typical post-hippy-left-minded-shanty-peace&love white people hanging around everywhere in the subcontinent who fall in love with the country (or their imagination of it...). Despite of that, India has since millennia one of the most racists and most terrific social system ever created by human beings: the cast system. It is coherent and inherent to the dominating Hindu religion but influences also the other vast minorites. The cast system has been officially abolished, but in practice little has changed. Without entering in the details of such a complex thema  Matteo is of the opinion the religious and social background heavily influences the attitude of the indians on the roads. Indeed, the traffic system is strictly hierarchic too. On the top of the pyramide there is the cow. The incontestable king (or better queen) of the roads make its existence on every surface of a city or of a road which it elects as its place. It is a common scene to see many Indians on a huge variety of vehicles (often with a huge number of Indians on them) that until a minute before had fight almost to death for every available square centimeter of road, waiting patiently and quiet for a cow. The cow stays in the middle, maybe taking a shit or making the road full of piss and then, but only if it wants, will abandon its position to allow the others to carry on on their way, ignoring them and staring at the world with the its typic odd and stupid expression.
milking cows in front of our hotel
Below the cow, the rest of the person and animals taking part to the road traffic rules itself also hierarchically: by dimensions. Dimension is the real key to interpret the traffic here, and the acceptance of the fact that a bicycle count much less than a truck, is of vital importance on Indian roads. The unification of this simple rule with the general attitude of the Indians to cheat and to come better off, lead to the other major characteristic of the Indian traffic: a wild honking. Every vehicle tries to gain importance and hike the stairs of the hierarchy by cheating on its dimensions by a louder honking than its competitors. Surprisingly, the public transports buses, which by rule of dimension should be already almost on the top, have a private fight with the trucks, and mount the most powerful and loud honking systems on earth. It is something you cannot imagine how loud they are. The serie-honking systems on Indian vehicles are much louder than in Europe, and many mechanics offer to tune them even louder. It's common to find piaggio Ape which honks as loud as a complete drunken brass-band. This is not the exaggeration of an European tourist who wants to sound cool or to be funny. It is really so, and it is hardly funny. Of course in some cities it's worse than in others (To our experience Jaipur is the worst) but on average it's almost the same everywhere. The problem is that this wild honking system has already come to a saturation. Actually, if you imagine a Cartesian system where on the X axis you put the frequency and loudness of the honking and on the Y axis the effect you obtain on the other people, the curve you get is a parabolic curve with the alfa therm < 0. That is, the effect the street competitors will steadily increase with the increase in the honking up to a maximum to decrease as steadily if you increase the honking further. Paradoxically here there is such a wild and constant honking that nobody cares that much about it. This is a common effect (I am thinking about the Italian politics and its language for instance). It bears for sure the name of some mathematician or sociologist that described it. I am not sure that it can be represented with a parable but I hope you got the principle (and if you want you can discuss it by posting a comment).
Once you get this simply rules, to cycle in India it is really enjoable and so far surprisingly easy. Nothing to do with the horror that a German cyclist described at one party in Munich. To him to cycle here was simply impossible and he gave up after few days. Either he was just a German or Mascha and me are becoming just too tough. But overall, India is just beautiful.
Public viewing for the Cricket final: India is world champion!

Matteo in the Mysore Palace