The Rickshaw run takes 3,500 km. We managed the journey in 5,000 km, only one team (that I know of) travelled further.
After making it across the midsection of India to Goa through some fairly desolate landscape with the occasional ridiculous view, we found ourselves driving through incredible jungle-filled mountainous terrain and an even greater juxtaposition of road quality than usual.
Our tuk tuk then decided she was done.
We’d somehow fallen 30km short of the beach. After spending the night in the town of Ponda [Ponda-ring the state of our engine – sorry] we used our tourist charm to see a mechanic at short notice and so gathered our things, ‘fixed’ the judder-ridden-constantly-cutting-out mechanical problem and raced south towards the other group and a private beach to enjoy some well-deserved down time.
To our dismay we soon realised that the mechanical problem – still of unknown origin – was far from fixed. With the determined grit of an army engineer (civil, unfortunately) Ali set to with a screwdriver, twisted some twisty things and prayed to the gods of rickshaws that this would somehow alleviate the problem.
Amazingly, it did.
Some 100 km later down gorgeous, windy seaside roads we arrived at the Namaste Resort, Gokarna. The sun was shining, the waves were chopping and an apparently deadly current was waiting for over-zealous swimmers to get out of their depths. So the beach rather than the sea. I could live with that.
Our plan was to bypass Cochin and visit one of the orphanages that our charity sponsorship would help support before turning back on ourselves and crossing the finishing line on the 20th August. To do this we’d need to cover around 800 km in the next day and a half so mishaps were not advisable.
Unfortunately no one told the mishaps this. An hour after leaving Gokarna and Gertrude (‘Gerty’ to us) was back in the fetal position, complaining of a migraine and refusing to budge for more than two minutes at a time. Not a particularly long-term fix, then. After refuelling, cleaning the carburettor and filters and replacing the spark plug we eventually grumbled into an Auto Garage.
With smiles on their faces and laughter in their eyes the mechanics went to work. Two failed fixes later and the laughter had mainly disappeared. To their credit the smiles were still there and each time we reappeared looking glummer and slightly more annoyed about lost time they kindly partially ignored other clients and went to work on our moody machine.
After four or five hours of hoping the mechanics would fix our (apparently vastly outdated) engine and waiting for divine intervention, we agreed that the others should move on. I loyally chose to abandon the sinking ship and join Team Moustache. If it was fixed then we’d see them at the orphanage and if not then a somewhat faster lift in a huge truck would see them meet us in Cochin in a few days.
Finally, her time was up. Her 54,537 km had taken their toll. There would be no bodge job this time.
Unless, that is, our technique for cleaning a carburettor was on the negative side of adequate. Blowing down the blow-able tubes and cleaning the rest with petrol and a toothbrush was what our Rickshaw Run lessons had taught us. Unfortunately what they had taught us was not enough. It took the mechanic two separate cleans to find both specks of detritus hidden in the dark abysses of the tuk tuk metalwork; once he had then she ran like a newly oiled rickshaw of 10,000 km. A full day after the first engine grumble and she was finally flying along. Not today, retirement. Not today!
On we pressed, driving south down many a pot-holed road and a good few hours of night driving – no longer so terrifying. A day later we woke up from our makeshift beach campsite – amazing – and hurried on for a couple of hours before coming to a sudden and quite unexpected stop. . .
In the middle of a town the traffic in the right lane had paused to turn right and I barely had time to slam on the breaks when a motorbike tried to cut across our lane and smashed into our front.
Fortunately the man wasn’t badly hurt as I’d connected with the side of his bike which had bounced off undamaged, unlike our rented auto-rickshaw which lost a left indicator and suffered a hefty dent to its front.
The man, understandably, wasn’t happy.
I wasn’t happy either, but I probably wouldn’t help the situation by getting angry at his apparent lack of responsibility for the event, especially when I only had the English language at my disposal. In the two weeks or so that we’ve been travelling down from Shillong, it’s become obvious that looking before turning, joining or crossing a road is a skill that many people refuse to apply. I really don’t understand why.
After the police arrived and I was assured by the locals that it wasn’t my fault, I began to realise that I might not be lynched by the mob (again, Shantaram) and that as the middle aged man only had a small bruise, it really wasn’t the end of the world. 1000 rupees (~£10) covered the ‘hospital costs’ for the injuries sustained. No papers were asked for, no insurances swapped, no numbers exchanged, no reimbursement for our damage, no way he was going to spend 1000 rupees to check that bruise. Still, a lucky escape all things told.
After pinching myself several times to make sure that whole surreal experience actually happened we got back on the road and drove. And then we drove some more. And some more. Eventually we arrived in Munnar – Kerala, (in the dark), two hours crawl up a mountain at the home of 350 orphans and adult mental health patients.
I am so glad we made the effort.