Friday, January 11, 2008

Thanjavur to Madurai

Check out today's video!

We leave Thanjavur to a noisy riotous musical send off which was cool! We’ve got GPS points, we’ve done our research, and we’ve only got a couple of challenges. The ride is relatively short, so we’re sure we’ve got it nailed. It’s a beautiful rural ride, on pretty decent roads, and we relax and enjoy the day. The school is in a nice spot surrounded by cleaner, more organized homes. We spend a lot of time with the kids – they love for us to take their picture or video them, and then watch themselves on camera. There’s a lull and loss of urgency since it seems like we have lots of time and a relatively short ride. WRONG. When we leave the school, we take a wrong turn and end up having to back track on rural roads. When we get back onto the road, it’s a shock that we still have so much to cover. It’s going to be uphill. Still, every time we take a wrong turn something great ends up happening. I’m wearing the jester hat (as seen in the Hindu!) and when we ask for directions, we're mobbed by kids.

As if Indian roads are not insane enough, we keep passing stretches where our lane is blocked off by rocks and covered by some weird substance. As we pass more and more, we figure out it’s corn and that the farmers are putting it on the road to dry. It’s strange how it’s a perfectly acceptable use of the flat hot surface. We’re rushing to Madurai for the ‘High Tea’ at the Elements Hostel, and do an express stop at a Fort for one of the day’s challenges. It’s basically a giant boulder with and incredible view of the surrounding countryside.

When we get in to Madurai…it’s a much bigger, more chaotic, and more confusing city than we expected. There’s a hairy moment when I bump a motorcyclist while trying to avoid a bus, and we’re afraid of the mob justice that materializes out of nowhere in a heart beat. We quickly smile and well wish our motorcyclist friend who is unscathed and beat a hasty retreat. Playing dumb and smiling a lot works great. I probably shouldn’t have wished the guy “Happy New Year”, but between that, the jester hat, our crazy looking rickshaw seems to make everyone smile and probably gave him as good a story as we have.

Frazzled, we pay a rickshaw driver to show us to the Elements Hostel. It’s a total waste of time since there’s no press conference and the “high tea’ consists of chai in Dixie cups and some Ritz crackers. We’re instructed to wait as maybe the tea and china will show up, but when it starts to get dark, the group heads out together for the 15 minute ride to the Germanus Hotel, map in hand, with instructions to stick together. What could possibly go wrong?

The map is a wonderfully drawn stick figure that actually has some road names on it - up until the point where there is a long line and a left turn. At that point there are no more labels, and you certainly can’t tell if you have gone too far. Within ten minutes we don’t see any of the other “caravaning Rickshaws” in front or behind us, but we’re confident we’re on the long line, and simply need to make the left and we are there. After a few kilometers we ask for directions. A small, confident throng informs us we are going the wrong way and need to go back and make a right. Ah, we must have simply overshot! Wrong.

We get misdirected four separate times in horrible traffic, and the situation goes from bad to worse when we hit another rickshaw. The driver is angry, but it’s the crowd that’s forming that is more worrying. We quickly jump out and express our regrets and start offering to pay on the spot. 200 rupees later (about $5), we’re in the rickshaw and heading to the hotel, following another taxi rickshaw. It’s a terrible end to an underwhelming day. When we get to Madurai, we tuck into the beers, and set a few things straight. We are going to try to win this thing, and while we’re not willing to cut things out of our schedule and just rush past India, we don’t need to go wasting time when it’s not necessary. We also resolve to really make a complete and finished video instead of just home movies. We have a late dinner with organizers Aravind and Marika, complete with several power outages, on the roof top deck; we are amazed at their no-holds-barred approach to ordering the staff around. I guess trying to organize any logistics in South India will convince you of the necessity to crack the whip.

Don't forget the video, and if you love it, give it 5 stars! If you don't, let me know and we'll do better on the next one!

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