Friday, 13 August 2010
There are only one hundred kilometers to go, meaning I’ll be in Chembakolli this afternoon. I should be celebrating tonight. I wonder whether in the heart of the jungle I will be able to? Who will I celebrate with? I don’t know anyone and who would be interested anyway? Passing through the jungle I haven’t been able to contact anyone for over a week. I worry about interrupting the schools education program and wonder how I will introduce myself if I visit the classrooms. What will I say? I can’t speak one word of the tribal language used in the area. I begin to question my motives for doing the ride. What it has achieved? Does anyone care?
For the 188th time I ram the kit into my panniers and drag my bike down the stairs.
Sitting outside the hostel with Shirley by my side I felt I needed to talk to her; let her know how I’m feeling. Will she and I find ourselves in this position again? Will she forget me now the adventure is coming to an end? I casually flick a bit of dirt off her handle bars, she looks so pretty cloaked in flowers. “This is our last day together. Our last adventure.” I run a finger along her top tube. I know every dent, every scratch, every curve, we have been through so much together, Shirley and I. She says nothing but I know she is listening. Her lack of outward emotion does nothing to deaden my own as I swung my leg over her for our last assault; the final leg of our journey.
The air in Mysore is rich with the smell of spices and herbs of the street vendors setting up shop. All creatures great and small came out to see us on our way. Workers knee deep in road waved and cheered as we cycled by. A gaggle of monks cheer and bow as the wind from Shirley makes ripples in their robes. Boys on their way to school on single speed bikes that are far too big for them race along side. “Mr, Mr” before dropping back. My constant companion, the swift, returns to surf my slip stream for a few hundred yards before flying off into the Maharaja’s Palace under the radiant blue sky.
After thirty kilometers a car stops and in faltering English a lady with a pea green and luminous pink sari says, “From Chembakolli” before draping a flower reef made of yellow marigolds round my neck. For the second time today I’m struck dumb and can’t say a word. I fumble to push emotion aside to allow the words out and eventually manage a pathetic, “Thank you,” but she has already jumped back in her car and is driving off in the direction I’ve come from hooting her horn and waving in the rear view mirror.
A few hundred meters on a group of monkeys sitting in the road show their teeth and hiss as I come closer but as I drive by they break out in a playful game of chase through the trees above my head. A large male sits with his knuckles on the floor shaking his head watching the white man cycling a bike looking like a horticultural show on acid through the open jungle. “Is this how people behave in Europe? How very uncouth.”
I’m beckoned over for tea by a group of men who take the opportunity to down tools and get some much needed rest and entertainment. As we sit on hand made stools round a table with each leg different lengths causing our tea to slosh from cup to saucer I imagine I’m Alice in Wonderland, or am I the Hatter? And who’s the March Hair? I saw no Dormouse; only a rat the size of a small dog. The men don’t speak English but this doesn’t stop them telling me their life stories in Kannada and me thoroughly enjoying the accounts.
I finish off my cup and sup what remained in the saucer. I’m torn; I want to stay and chat and savour the taste of tea on the road because I don’t want my journey to end, but at the same time I have the utmost desire to complete my task, get off my bike, and never cycle again.
I’m also worried about the next leg of my journey through the Kalakad Mundanthurai tiger reserve. Do I want to see a tiger or not? Of course I’d love to see the fiercest animal of them all, the most intricately beautiful, my favourite creature. All those people that have rubbed my nose in it for not having seen one yet when they have come across two or three still bugs me. I’d love to post a picture home of a real one after dressing as a tiger at the party in Goa. But now is not the time. Probably best to see them through a jeeps window rather than up close and personal.
I begin to see signs advertising the reserve. I’ve read that it has the highest concentration of tigers in any part of India, and that it’s common to see them prowling by the sides of the road that pass through the park. I start imagining what I would do if confronted by the two tonne beast. What if it has cubs that are hungry? Shirley shudders beneath me – I know she can feel it too.
With my heart beating and dry mouthed I make my way up to the park entrance. A very kindly spoken man with a well groomed white beard and kaki uniform instructs me that it’s too dangerous. I say I don’t mind and that I have to go through. A shake of the head and deep sorrowful eyes say, “No way”. He follows this up with “Tigers, elephants. Too slow” pointing at Shirley.
I look at my map and there is an alternate route. It’s about a 160km diversion. I’ll never make it too the school today. I hang me head, and let the exhaustion flow through my body. My hopes of arriving today have grown wings and disappear off with the parquets that are disturbed by the motorbikes revving their engines in the distance.
The motorbikes are driving through the park at a tremendous pace kicking up a dust cloud that follows in their wake. As they get closer I can make out four men – all riding in black leathers, with black helmets, tinted visas on black Royal Enfields. I’m not the biggest fan of motorbikes but these classic machines turn my head. They are sleek and curvy and exude testosterone. The most popular motorbikes in India and every westerners choice of machine for engine powered touring. They tear past and I return to analysing my map whilst spitting dust and expletives. The screeching of rubber grabs my attention as the bikes turn and accelerate back towards me. The scream of the engine subsides to a low chug as they pull to a halt by my side. The dust clouds catches up with them blinding us momentarily before passing on to trouble someone else. A visa is opened and a dust encrusted face is revealed. As he smiles his dust mask cracks and pearly white teeth light up his face.
“I’m Stan and this is your Royal Escort”.
I’m stunned, I can’t believe it. Who? Why? Where? What?
My questions have to wait.
Baksheesh is handed over to the park guard who takes it with the practiced flick of the wrist that has you questioning whether a transaction actually took place. With one bike on my left flank, one on my right, and two behind guarding the rear they guide me into the park.
My pupils are dilated as I search every inch of the undergrowth looking for Tigers. Stan pulls along side me and above the roar of his Enfield he asks why I look so concerned.
“How often do tigers kill humans?”.”
He replies that I don’t have to worry about tigers, I sigh with relief, “It’s the elephants you really need to worry about.” I remember the story of the tourist killed in Chembakolli one month previously. “But you won’t see them at this time of day.” With only slightly less anxiety I carry on.
Two minutes later the motorbikes hit the breaks and I run into the back of Stan’s making his already loose number plate fall to the floor. As he leans over to pick it up and pop it into his pocket I notice why we have stopped. Ahead of us in the distance they point to the herd of elephants by the side of the road on the left hand side.
“Problem,” he says wobbling his head from side to side. His three colleagues all mirror the wobble of the head enthusiastically – that pretty much means it’s serious. Great!
They form a huddle and I wonder if they are talking about there insurance and risk management policy towards cycle tourists.
Stan walks calmly up to me and states, “We’ve decided, you need to stay right and go fast”.
Motorcycles go fast, cars go fast, jeeps go fast. Shirley is a plodder, she doesn’t go fast. That’s one of the reasons I care for her so much. I bend over and ask if she thinks she can make it. Stan stands patiently and waits for me to answer. After a moment I respond, “I’ll give it a go.” Stan smiles again and flips his visa down again.
As we set off towards the elephants they look up and notice us, I imagine we’ve locked eyes and take up the challenge, like a completely skewed boxing match weigh in. Keeping to the right I put the pedal down. My lungs and thighs screamed in a harmony that would have been beautiful had I not been in excruciating pain. I passed by the elephants so closely that I could smell a freshly laid dung the size of a football that lay at the feet of one of the larger elephants. I imagined them turning and charging, small saplings crashing to the floor, stones jumping as the ground rumbled under their weight, the thunder as their rounded feet pound the earth. The motorbikes had accelerated on. I didn’t want to die, not this close, not now…..
As the undergrowth flew by a familiar noise caught my attention and as I look to my left I see four motorcyclists in hysterics. I look back and the elephants are still calmly grazing on the finer tips of the fresh bush.
“You should have seen your face,” they snigger.
“I wish I could have seen yours,” I retort.
As I leave the park and continue I am joined by more cyclists and motorcyclists, our number is increasing as is the number of flower wreaths round my neck. I am surprised by how heavy flowers can be as they pull me towards the earth. Gudalur is generally a very quiet area and the commotion brings people from their houses some of whom without reason grab there own bikes to join the procession. Poking fun at each other the convoy drifts on at a steady tempo only the motorbikes accelerate and brake rapidly showing their status amongst the other bikers.
Shirley is the centre of attention. Everyone wants to touch her, to flick the switches of her gears, stand on her pedals, stroke her flowers. But she is mine for now, I’m savouring every last moment.
As we pass an opening in the bush I can hear a regular drum beat in the distance and wonder if it’s my heart in my ears or the fast approaching monsoon? Within weeks this road could be like a river, the houses flooded, stock washed away.
I’m told there’s about a kilometer to go as we round a sharp bend. We pull out of the turn and I can see in the distance a huge crowd gathered. Children, men and women all dressed in colourful traditional dress, singing and playing drums. Another festival. It makes me smile as I wonder what it is in aid of this time. As I get closer the noise increases and I can see the drummers become more frantic in their efforts.
I can see their faces now. They are made up of mostly tribal people but there are others in western dress. When I get close enough to read the signs I see it is some sort of birthday they are celebrating. It seems strange to see them using the Roman alphabet. ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Congratulations’. A little closer and I can make out my ‘Velo Love’ logo in the hands of every child. Some held it upside down, others on its side but there was no mistaking!! These people were here for me!!
In all the excitement of the journey I’d forgotten it was my 31st birthday – twenty years since I had first dreamed up the idea of cycling round the world to help people. I was greeted by a carnival of thronging bodies. School children danced and weaved, tribal leaders waved flags, local journalists shot pictures as mothers, fathers, visitors and workers drummed, sang, cheered, and held banners. I picked up a boy no older than six and placed him on the seat of my bike and we danced all the way up the red clay road through the tea plantations to the local school where cake was to be handed out to one and all.
As we arrived I could see the simple school has been decorated with more posters, signs and well wishes. I wanted to be articulate, to thank them for everything they have done, to tell them of my adventures, and to pass on messages from the children in England. All I could do was crouch down beside Shirley and cry. Tears of joy were rolling down my cheeks. I’d done it. I’d cycled fifteen thousand kilometers from England to India. I’d lived my dream.
A country at war on two fronts. I didn’t think this was a trip for this lifetime. The question was whether it might be the end of it?
To the west lies the border with Afganistan where staying alive isn’t easy. Pakistanis can be ousted from their homes at breakfast by the Pakistani army who then proceed to blow up their dwellings in search of targets, at midday have to dive for cover narrowly avoiding misguided US missiles falling the wrong side of the Afgan border, only to be blown up at tea time by suicide bombers.
To the east is India where ever since partition sixty years ago military conflicts and territorial disputes have been rife. A country brutally cut in two by Britain, the scar is yet to heal and blood still weeps from the wound.
Looking past all this is a country shrouded in a Burka of beauty. In the south miles of golden beaches meet hot dry deserts etched with flowing rivers of life. The rich alluvial plains of the Punjab are joined by aquamarine rivers flowing from glaciers enveloped by the three highest mountain ranges in the world. Symbolising the war, violence and the power struggle taking place in Pakistan the Himalayas, the Karakoram, and the Hindu Kush all collide in a monstrosity of power and grace that puts the military powers of this earth to shame. Pakistan has so many mountains soaring above the clouds at over 6000m (18000ft) that reaching this height is not always a guarantee that they are worthy of so much as a name.
I’m balanced on two square inch pieces of rubber, my legs are spinning at one hundred revolutions per minute, the wind is tearing at the clothes that cover all my body except my face which is decorated with sparkling crystals of frost and ice.
The mountains fill my field of vision, in front, behind, left and right. They fill my every thought, my conscious and subconscious. If it wasn’t for a rough road following the valley I’d be lost, and without shelter would be dead by nightfall. One lapse in concentration on the way down could see me repeating my fall in France; but this time the drop is anything from 300ft upwards. With jagged rocks protruding from my falling place ready to impale and smash my body to pulp. My remains would probably be fought over by the numerous brown bears wolves and the rare snow leopards that frequent these mountain passes. My only company. Otherwise I’m alone.
How on earth did I find myself traveling alone on a bicycle in what the national press, media and travel organisations describe as the ‘most dangerous country in the world’? What possesses a man to enter such a country? To put his life on the line? To pit his wits against murderous conditions and men? Can one lone man survive?
To start answering these questions I need , without the help of a DeLorean DMC-12 and the Doc, to take you back in time….
I became a junior school teacher in the leafy suburbs of London in Richmond. I cycled the Thames towpath to school where I’d be greeted by thirty happy smiling faces all longing for the education I had been graced to give them. I guess I wasn’t your stereotypical teacher. I didn’t tell the kids off, I didn’t use a marker pen and a white board, didn’t dress in tweed with arm pads. I drank juice not tea, hung out in the playground not the staff room, ran in corridors, played pranks on other teachers. I was affectionately known as the “naughty kid at school”.
I would always get put in the box classroom far away from everyone else to avoid disruption. Be it throwing paint at teacher in art, dressing in helmets and harnesses and climbing trees in maths, or creating plasticine stop frame animations in science. I wanted my classroom to be alive. Not just a buzz, or a heart beat. I liked the tiles on the roof to be vibrating, some days I even liked to try and blow the roof clean off (I got into trouble for that one). I was one of the pupils and they were all teachers. Their knowledge and ideas were as valuable as mine.
A particularly confident nine year old, Lucy, used to put her hand up and say, “You’ve gone too far this time Sir,” before the head teacher bustled in looking fraught and agitated wondering what all the commotion was about. I loved it.
So when in Geography I was struggling to make the subject of Chembakolli, a rural village in India, as exciting for the kids as it was for me I was troubled. I met up with a friend, another teacher, Louise, a girl I’d met on my course, to ask ‘How I could bring this subject to life?’ She was a teacher who danced her way through class with smiles, laughter and enthusiasm, the perfect person to consult. In a world of home computers, DVDs, MP3 players, the latest video games, interactive TV and numerous other exciting, entertaining gadgets we agreed they needed something they could relate to. After a bit of thinking, and a few too many beers, she stated that kids needed to see a figure they could relate to out there, a figure they knew, respected; living in a mud hut in the village, collecting water and washing in the local stream, hunting for food with a bow and arrow, and taking the long journey to school each day through the jungle avoiding the local wildlife.
As tequila hit the back of my throat and more brain cells bit the dust an idea suddenly emerged through the dulling cloud of alcohol:
“I could go out there?”
Lou gave me her very best disapproving teacher face. “You’d have to be stark raving bonkers to do that…….. no shower, no hot water, no X Factor, teaching at a village school with no books, no boards, no pens. Eating brains, maggots and chicken feet.” She stopped her tirade. “You’re right!! You’d be perfect.”
“You are what?” It was Lucy again, I was telling them I was leaving to go and live and teach in Chembakolli, “Oh, you’ve gone too far this time, Sir.”
The next moment will stay with me for the rest of my life. A memory burnt into my retinas. The only problem with giving children an open playing field in which to work where they are confident to speak their mind without the fear of retribution or teasing is that sometimes they can really catch you off guard!
Jasper, a boy normally with his head in the clouds but with an amazing aptitude to relate subjects to real life, pops up his hand and asks, “How will you get there?”
In my head I’m thinking “I’ll fly, how else would I get there silly bean?” until following his gaze I see where he is looking. My eyes fix on the back of the classroom. Our Green Awareness poster. I look back at his eager face waiting for an answer. The rest of the class turn in anticipation. I take two steps forward and then one back towards my desk. There’s a big red cross next to the plane partnered with a sad face and a fact card written by my own hand telling the children that air travel pollutes more than all the power plants in China; that it produces more CO2 than any other business. Another smaller cross sits next to a picture of a train and a bus. The next on the list is a child on a bicycle with a big happy face and a big tick.
I am left with a choice - unravel what I have taught them about green issues over the past year or ... the other choice is unthinkable. I shudder.
Just like a school sweater, I know that if I allow one thread to unravel, by lunchtime their whole education will be sitting at their feet like woolly spaghetti. Sarah, Jasper’s seating partner, drops her pencil and as it hits the ground I’m brought back to reality.
One statement, four words: “I’m going by bicycle” changed my life forever.
After speaking to the bewildered school in India to explain that I would be a little late I was left with just two months two organise a trip fifteen thousand kilometers across half the world.
I’d like to say everything was meticulously planned. With the route engrained on my mind after poring over maps into the night with only a cigar and a brandy to keep me company. Knowledge of the history, the culture, the languages of each country I would cycle through saturating my grey matter. Erecting my tent time and again whilst timing myself until I could do it blind folded. Spending days elbow deep in grease taking my bike and equipment to pieces and putting it back together again so I knew exactly how each and every bit should be used. However, every night until the end of term I had activities on. An open evening for new parents, class performances, orchestra, sports days, cross country club, drama club. I had no time to plan anything…. so I didn’t…..
Cotswold kindly offered to organize all my camping gear and Bicycle built me a bike that we hoped could cross mountain ranges and deserts, and handle forest floors, roads and tracks so I had some peace of mind.
On the 17th July all the teachers at St John the Baptist school were drinking a glass or two of wine to celebrate the end of the school year. Exhausted and suffering from the illnesses that a thousand sneezes and snotty noses generate. It was time for teachers to put their feet up, relax, time for holidays, lay ins, and catching up with friends. That was all teachers but me. I was drinking to forget. I was leaving bright and early tomorrow on the expedition of a life time. I’d organized to meet friends at my local café at 7.30 tomorrow morning for coffee and cakes which I hoped would power me on my way.
When I staggered back to my flat too many glasses of wine later the front door lay slightly ajar. Pushing through I should have been greeted by four panniers neatly packed, my bike, a neat pile of clothes ready for tomorrow. My possessions were everywhere, boxes had been turned upside down, drawers hung open, belongings scattered about the floor crunched under my feat as I ventured further in. As I switched on the light I could see that my most expensive piece of kit, my tent, was missing. I held my head in my hands. Burglary? Oh, no, no, no. Sorry to worry you. This was just the state of my affairs the night before I left. I was surrounded by unopened boxes, papers, and equipment. My tent hadn’t arrived yet. Some problems with deliveries meant the tent was still in the post to the Cotswolds store. They were hoping it’d arrive tomorrow and then be delivered somehow to me whilst I cycled to Dover.
By midnight nothing had moved. I was sitting on my bed sewing a present onto my shirt that a girl at school had given me. It was a tiny silver lucky star. It had already become significant to me – a symbol of hope, new beginnings, faith. For someone devoid of religious and spiritual beliefs it was a strange to be putting so much belief in such a little thing. By the time the sun was rising on my first day of my new life I decided it was best to shove everything into my panniers and hope for the best. An emotion I would learn to rely on quite heavily in future days, weeks and months. I was setting off in three hours time.
I woke after a couple of hours sleep to my screaming alarm. I rolled over and pulled my pillow over my head.
I wanted to hide, ignore the fact that a steal framed bike christened Shirley packed with what I hoped were all the basics that a man needed to survive in any situation was sitting at the bottom of my bed. She was chewing at her bit ready to get on the road for the first time, I was chewing my bottom lip hoping that Scotty would beam me up.
Pulling on the lycra I would soon become attached to – literally – I pulled the bike upright and made for the exit. I lived on the second floor and had to get Shirley down two flights of stairs. With all the baggage it weighed about 50kg not far off my own weight. I tentatively dropped the front wheel over the first stair before being dragged down the stairs by my feisty companion, falling to a crumpled heap at the front door. My concerned neighbours opened their door to find out what the commotion was about. Lying at their feet was a thirty year old man lying underneath a bicycle. Laughing they said, “Good luck Dan” opened the front door and shooing me out.
Friends were supposed to be coming to see me off. In the café I was alone barring a camera man who fluttered around taking video footage of me looking awkward, scared and lonely. As the smell of roast coffee swirled through the air my best friend from Junior school arrived with a smile that lifted my heart. She was so proud of me I realized I’d already made a difference. My chest expanded and as teachers, pupils, family and friends arrived all dressed in pink with their bikes at the ready I started to get excited. Could I do this?
A cheer rang through Richmond as those without bikes cheered off about 50 mad folks who’d pledged to cycle one hundred miles to Dover with me to raise awareness of the charity and show their support for what I was doing.
I’d chosen to ride the fifteen thousand kilometers for ActionAid a charity who’s pledge is to “End Poverty Together”
Within five miles we were stopping for a puncture. Not mine, my bike was still intact. I felt smug. I used the opportunity to throw sickeningly sweet energy bars and drinks down my throat, hoping these would give me the extra energy to cross the hills. Carrying all the extra weight in baggage, the hills that I’d once raced to the top off pounding my fists as I summited first, were slow slogs. Sweat dripping off my nose onto my bike, legs burning as though they were laced with glass. These I have to mention are hills. The highest one being two hundred meters above sea level. I would be climbing mountains more than forty times bigger than this in the coming year if everything goes to plan. Friends pushed, dragged, provoked and encouraged me to get my sorry ass to the campsite where we were to rest before my ferry left in the morning.
Once there it was the first chance to air my Ukulele. Others had brought guitars, drums, bells, tambourines and we sat round a campfire playing music and singing until it was time for us all to squeeze into our tents. Mine had been handed to me as I cycled along by the wonderful people of Cotswold who pulled out all the stops to get it to me on time. This was convenient for all those who’d forgotten their tents who now squeezed into mine.
Sunday the 19th
This was my day. The day I’d dreamed off since I was eleven. The day that changes the course of my life forever. The sun was shining, the grass shone electric green, lambs in the nearby field played gleefully under the birds that soared through the salt drenched sea air.
I crawled out of my tent looking like a monster from the deep. Swollen eyelids, tongue lolling to one side, hair encrusted after not showering after the grueling ride yesterday.
Sports coaches will tell you the best way to recover from a long hard day in the saddle is protein shakes, plenty of carbohydrates, gallons of water and electrolyte to replace the lost fluid and minerals. Possibly the worst recovery is five pints of lager and pie and chips. But quoting Bear Grylls “Survival means doing what you have to do.”
My mouth tasted like I’d been sucking used cat littler all night and my gut rolled and gurgled. The sun burnt my eyes with its brightness and the beautiful noises beat against my eardrums like thrash metal. Luckily I only had a few miles to the port of Dover where my vessel awaited me. She was a fine beast. The Olympic Spirit was her name, weighing in at over thirty-thousand tonnes. Her spirit rubbed off on me as we dashed and dived across the English Channel to take me across the seas and my first border, to France. The start of my solo trip!!
The white cliffs of Dover were drifting away engulfed by the sea mist and spray by the time I was up on deck. As the water spattered my face I knew that people were waving so shouted out goodbye, the sea-gulls echoed my call, and carried it to my friends and loved ones waiting at the shore.
What do I do now? For the first time in 2 months I had nothing to do. I sat and I waited. When the boat docks my adventure really starts. I imagined the glory of it all. Riding down the plank, finding the road out of Calais and heading off into the sunset.
I did ride the plank but I couldn’t find the road I needed. I just couldn’t get out of the city. My pigeon French got me nowhere whilst jabbing my finger at my map “Où est ma route?” In response my French friends raised their shoulders in a shrug, held up their hands, stuck out their lower lips and said “Bof”.
Round and round I went. One hour after I’d arrived I was beginning to ask myself how on earth I was going to get to India? After two hours I think I’d traversed every road in the city and was beginning to ask myself if I’d even make it out of Calais.
After three hours I decided to bite the bullet and rode up onto the motorway. Cars peeped their horns, drivers showed me that my understanding of French expletives was better than that of normal conversation, and I was comforted to see that hand gestures meant the same in any language.
I didn’t care, I was on my way. Until the police pulled me over and told me to exit at the next exit. They followed behind all the way with their lights flashing. My first police escort!! Awesome.
I’m at the bottom of the cliff, I can’t speak and I can’t feel my body.
Thirty seconds ago I had been cycling with friends in the Cote d'Azur in France, climbing from turquoise blue sea to snow capped peak repeatedly to train my legs and lungs to be able to cope with the pain during race season. My cleanly shaven, white, freckled legs were becoming honed machines, pistons that fired without the slightest effort. My lungs were able to suck in and process liters of the thin mountain air with each gasp. I was feeling strong, pushing harder with thoughts of glory in the back of my mind.
Suddenly my super light carbon wheel clipped a rider in front, my best friend and arch enemy on the bike, Stephen Bell. If ever there was a man built for cycling it was Steve. Arched back, narrow piercing eyes, thighs like tree trunks and a competitive edge that could slice diamond. We had been rivals since my introduction to cycling with the dominance switching from one to the other as the years passed by. We had crossed the finish line with exactly the same time in our previous race and I was starting to feel the balance tipping in my favour again.
The contact flipped my bike throwing it to the right, towards the cliff edge. Catapulting me and the bike clear off the road, down the vertical face of the abyss.
I remember the fall in slow motion. The first moment as I left the road; the faintest smell or burning rubber; the floating sensation; making to grab a lone, straggly weed growing between the cracks in the limestone rocks, the sight of it coming free in my hand with only the tiniest amount of force; the sensation of falling forever. And then nothing.
There are more eyes looking down on me now, some I recognize some I don’t. The screams are still ringing in my ears. A single tear falls through the air, the sun reflects off the shimmering surface as it falls to earth like a tear from heaven. It lands on my left shoe which triggers a tingle in my big toe. Initially it just sits there in my toe as if wondering what to do next, contemplating it’s options, then the sensation spreads up my right leg and down the left. I can move my legs. It rushes up my spine, splits and zips down both my arms. My fingers are wiggling. With an almighty bang this sensation explodes in my brain and voice box. My mouth opens and I shout back at the onlookers.
“I THINK I’M ALIVE”
This is a story about love. It is also a true story. Our main character is a boy born in the Peak District amongst the bubbling Buxton springs. Nestled in a green and thriving valley he was born into a simple household where his cot lies. Two pairs of eyes look on him from above, one set blue the other hazel brown.
The eyes belong to his parents, two people who formed a bond and gave their genetic structure to our boy and then their lives. They struggled to afford to furnish their flat but lavished him with undivided love, attention and care. Albino blonde, spattered with freckles, ears that his head will eventually grow into, with his mothers blue eyes, and a strong jaw line adorned with a cheeky grin he lies quietly, like a bomb waiting to detonate.
Placing him in a backpack his Dad, an international athlete, would take him orienteering before he could walk. Running from point to point, through rivers, over fells, climbing rocks, how could our boy not pick up a bit of this adventurous spirit along the way? An attitude that no experience was a bad experience was shaped. His Mum found him drinking from the toilet bowl at the age of one, rather than tell him off she asked what it tasted like, whilst reassuring him that the water from the taps was nicer.
As soon as he could walk he would climb tables, leap off sofas, clamber into streams, chase frogs. He’d run up and down the almost vertical steps outside their house. When he was two years old his family finally had the money to see what was outside our tiny island, and they all went camping in France. On a ferry crossing a wise man in a dark overcoat with a fashionable moustache watched him run around, overexcited and without a care in the world and stated, “He’s like an accident waiting to happen.”
At four years old he undertook his first adventure on his bicycle. Having just removed his stabilizers he decided this was it; no more help. Having opened the front door he sat on the stairs that lead from the hallway. Mounted his bike; wobbling at first but then cheering wildly as he managed to stay on; gripping the handle bars so that his knuckles were as white as his legs were shaky. He passed the dressing table, the chest of drawers containing all the muddy shoes and maps, the coat stand whizzed by as he picked up speed, passing through the front door he didn’t want to stop and proceeded to cycle down the steep steps that ran up to it before flying over the handlebars.
The 'poorlies' on his knees and the lump on his head did nothing to deaden his adventurous spirit which was nurtured and allowed to grow with time. The scars that remained were treasured - he was the first boy in his class to ride a bike without stabilizes. He was back on in no time and he was fast. The fastest kid in the street. But he couldn’t turn corners and wasn’t much good at stopping.
When the family moved to a house just up the road from their flat a cycle workshop was created in the cellar where his Dad would use parts of wrecked old bicycles to fix his wrecked new bicycles.
When he was eleven during a junior school leavers assembly in front of all the Mums and Dads his headmistress asked his classmates what they wanted to do when they left school. Footballer, doctor, film star, politician they replied one by one. His answer was no surprise to the audience who had grown used to his quirky optimism and spirit, "I want to cycle round the world and raise money for charity". A big 'Ahhhhh' resounded around the school hall. “So sweet.”
Before he could start realizing dreams he had a few more lessons to learn.
He graduated and left Southampton University with the highest honours in tomfoolery, indulgent buffoonery and mathematics. Educational establishments having rapped him in cotton wool for the past fifteen years, protecting him from growing up, armed him with a solitary piece of paper rolled and tied with a ribbon, a degree certificate, and told him to get out there in the real world; find a job; build a life; start a pension; acquire life insurance; marriage; a family.
“What?” he remembers thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this.”
He was lost in the big ‘grownup’ world. Friend’s values and opinions changed over night, “about turns” were made but he didn’t hear the sergeant make the order. No one wanted to be silly any more. Trips to Toys R Us to check out the cool toys Geoffrey had released this month seemed to be over, cycling to work in the same clothes you went out in the previous night was deemed a no no, protesting against the violation of human rights was out the window, trying to outdo each other with bad taste outfits from the local Oxfam shop didn’t add to your street credentials anymore. It was all designer frocks, Chelsea tractors, mobiles, 2.4 children, second house in the country. Under friends arms he saw briefcases not surf boards, suits were the new shorts, consumerism was the new Marxism.
Lost, and disorientated, he was like a child ripped from its mother’s bosom and left in the heat of the savannah. Out there he was easy prey for the predators. Those that stop at nothing until you are between their jaws wringing the life from you. Financial institution after financial institution snapped, gulped and dived - he had to leap high to keep out of their reach. He did his best but was no match for their craftiness, their cunning. In the end his world became part of their world: the trading floor. He was told to ‘get up to speed fast’ so that they could start ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. Moving at speed and singing were things he enjoyed; working in an office was not.
Without the slightest interest in what he was doing and without a single care for the money that was mounting up in his bank account he was promoted to supervisor and then manager. With his tie slung low, shirt untucked and blonde shaggy hair resting on his shoulders he would fly all over Europe telling people how they should perform, what his firm expected, the results which were fundamental to the business when it was clear to see that he wasn’t following his own advice.
Walking like a Zombie from bed to train to work and then back again. He was miserable, unhappy, his energy lost. His one release was his bike – taking it away on holiday and flying up and down mountains without a care in the world.
The boy in question is me, Daniel Bent. Not exceptional but not quintessentially normal either.
At that exact moment, as I was falling to what should have been certain death in the Alps, I was more alive than I’d been the past five years.
Instead of closing them for eternity, it opened my eyes. How could I have been given so much and not give something back? I didn't need to think of me - enough people were doing that already. I wanted to think of someone else, something else
Back in the office one week after my fall I packed my things into a small box, told my boss I wouldn’t be coming back and within another 24hrs was sitting in a classroom surrounded by happy smiling faces. I was taking my next pedal rotation on my journey through life….
Tuesday, 20 April 2010
Curry night went with a bang!!! raising almost £900 for charity!!! Thanks everyone!!
(Click for all pics)
Also here are a few pictures that I liked giving you a general feel for the trip:
Picking up my precious bike and panniers I popped them together and cycled through customs and out the door to banners and cheers. Mum and Dad, Steve and Fi and someone that looked like a friend of my mums, were standing there cheering. Many hugs later the friend of my mums walked away and I asked mum who it was. Before she could answer someone walked up to me and said "do you want a picture with the princess?".
(Click for more pics)
Princess Fergie had seen Mum and Dads banner and hung around after her plane landed to cheer me in. What a lady!! One last amazing moment on a trip full of them!! We had a cuddle and a few pics and then she headed off with her last statement ringing in my ears.
"Us red heads have got to stick together" - fingers crossed she wants to help with some of the plans i have for the future!! :) Charities, PhDs, cycle teams, book writing.
My dream was over..... my new life, after a 9 month gestation period, is about to begin....
Roger that. Over and out!!
|Home sweet home|
(Click for more...)
But there's a few loose ends to tie up before I submerge myself in the beauty of my life in England......
Firstly, what happened at the end of the trip?
The sickness had kicked in, I'd been savaged by bed bugs and treated like scum in the most popular hostel in all of mumbai. So i decided to pack up and move to the slum. Dharavi slum is the biggest in all of Asia, played a crucial role in the book Shantaram, and is home to some of the biggest smiles in the world.
White man staying in the slum. And their was a festival. Two things to drive the crazy juice into every male in town. Everyone wanted to shake my hand and as ever in India a cup of tea needed to be drunk in every house - with 1 million people living in the slum that's a lot of cups of tea. I was almost torn in two by people wanting to show me different things, but I was loving it!!!
|Night in the slums|
I ended up hanging out in the evening with the young men sitting in a makeshift hut -I had the only seat. I was introduced to everyone's nicknames - which all related to their profession. "Bike boy", sold niknaks on his bike, "samosa" sold, you guessed it, Samosa to commuters. Everyone was fluent in English. They wanted to see me dance. And then regretted it. They wanted to hear me sing. Then regretted that too. What can this stupid English guy do?? I smiled.
We all walked back to my house together and sat on the steps chatting. My last night in India and I'm surrounded by the people that made the biggest impact on my trip, the memories that would stay with me as others died, the way of life that would most influence how I lived. I didn't want to go to bed I just wanted to sit there with these wonderful people soaking it up!!
But I had a long journey ahead and long journeys require sleep. So we crawled into our room. No bigger than a cupboard under the stairs where 3 of us would sleep on blankets on the floor. It was roasting hot but I quickly slipped into dream land to the sounds of the slum lulling me softly.
After that it was to the airport... Oh goodness i'd forgotten... I thought this was the end of my journey. It wasn't.
I got there and BA wanted to charge me a lot of money for my bike. I didn't have a lot of money. I changed up every last piece of currency I had, withdrew my last penny and didn't have enough. The boss lady said I'd had to leave my bike. I explained my journey and story to her with a tear rolling down my cheek. She said "You'll have to leave your bike". I couldn't believe it - I was heart broken. I said, "I've spent every last penny I own to raise money for people in your country". No effect.
The last contact I have with the amazing Indian people was going to be a bad one. It felt like I'd chased the icecream van all the way through town to finally catch up with it and to be knocked over by a speeding truck as I crossed the road.
The gate was closing..... Then the guy behind the desk started checking my bags in. I said, "No, no you can't check me in I haven't paid..."
With a face full of passion and love but a sterness that said don't argue, he looked up at me and said, "I'm paying".
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Some of it was my own fault - going to a wedding in the slum and dancing my head off for hours without having eaten anything for days can cause the human body to give up on itself the next day. 36hrs of fevered, sweaty, hallucinogenic sleep though and I'm able to eat a little bit.
I was due to be a dancer in Bollywood but just before I was introduced to the female heroine I had to dissapear to the toilet urgently. Bummer. And never returned to do any filming. :( Tonight I hopefully move into the slums for one final stay with my buddy and family there.
Here are a few pics
|Mumbai and goodbye|
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Monday, 8 March 2010
(As ever click and view all.....)
My last few weeks in India have been dedicated to purification. Yoga every day, cycling in the mountains, eating Mo mo’s the food of Gods and the Deli Lama – who’s ever present in his adopted new home after the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Mcloud Ganj.
Snow topped mountains surround this bustling village with monks flowing like a river through the centre in their blood red gowns. It’s not the first time these monks have seen rivers of blood – slaughter, torture and assault were daily life in Tibet and still is to an extent. Most refugees here have a harrowing story to tell.
My 2nd day here a monk ran into me saying he’d had a dream about me the previous night – a guy in yellow on a bike – and the Deli Lama told him to find me. He invited me to dinner and told me of his days of torture and then gave me a bag full of gifts that I couldn’t refuse. I still have no idea what on earth happened for those few hours – very strange indeed.
My other exposure to the Monks was cycling up the huge hill – the monks gave me high fives all the way to the top!! Awesome!! And motivating.
Other than that I’ve been playing small instruments with a cool gang, helping out a little with programs here to help the refugees (I start teaching English in a few days).
Yoga continues to be pain upon pain, as do the continuous hills on the bike. But I’m looking fresh and feeling fresher and really beginning to look forward to seeing everyone back home. :)
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Holi Monkey Dingle Danglers – was today the day I was born for? I think so.
A festival of colour and water. Oh what fun. It was like a colourful snowball fight. In 35 degrees heat.
I was up way before the students so took the time to paint my nails and add eyeliner – it’s not traditional but I thought it’d be fun. I could hear the kids screaming outside and ran to grab one of my pump action water pistols – I’d bought 7, slowly finding bigger and bigger ones as I travelled north, and also spent the morning filling up balloons with water so equipped myself with a bag of those.
I charged outside with a few bags of powder attached to my belt ready to do a Rambo on these kids. I underestimated their ability and grace. I was on the floor covered in every colour under the sun and soaking wet before you can say – Tally Ho!!!
The commotion raised the dead and students alike, and together we fought. I’d been looking forward to playing with the kids in the slum I’d met the previous day and formed a small band to tackle them.
Boooom!!! We hit them hard – in their poor state without the money to buy paint and with little water we had the upper hand until we shared our goodies. Then the slum erupted in the brightest display since the Big Bang. (Talking of Bang – marijuana milk shakes is traditional fuel for such a fight, bang lassies – everyone young and old take them, served from the uni canteen and numerous stalls across the town)
I don’t think I need to mention any more…. Just look at the pictures. As normal there are one or two smiles amongst the pictures…
Leaving the school for the last time this trip was tough. I found myself crying at my last assembly watching the faces laughing, singing, smiling, dancing.
But new adventures await. Not least getting public transport again. The worst kind of adventure. Stress heaped upon stress. But I got through it and found myself in Ahmedabad – a city not renowned for its tourism or fun loving nature.
I was meeting up with a fire fairy, the French Connection and friends at the National institute for Design where they all study.
The first night I wanted to see the town for myself, before I was cooked delicious French Cuisine, and headed to the old part. In typical Indian style there was a festival going on. A Muslim one this time. People were drumming and dancing themselves into a frenzy and when I joined in with both it got totally out of control. I was being grabbed by everyone and pulled in a million directions. I could feel my clothes tearing and my joints loosening.
This was fun to begin with but as more and more people got involved and breathing became a struggle I started to get scared, my smile fell away and I started to fight. Pushing, shoving, pulling, tugging myself free of their grasp. I saw a window and moved swiftly up a street. The carnival was heading in the opposite direction so I felt I was safe – but no…. the carnival split in two. The people in front of me headed in the direction they originally planned and the half behind me changed and followed the white guy who plays drums like Phil Collins and dances like an angel. Right?
It was like a movie chase scene but at walking pace. I took a few lefts and rights down side street wide enough for just 2 or 3 people and eventually found myself lost but free from the crowd.
The day after I took the toys Angela designs to the slum for a photo shoot. Welcomed into houses for tea, and milking the goat had to be done first but then the shoot began. Awesome!! Check them out!!
That night we danced round a fire with the slum children then students – I, dressed in my white Lungi and Kurta that I’d bought Dad for a pressie, played with the Fire Sticks. I managed within the space of about 3 seconds to set myself alight without noticing!! Angela came running with fear on her face, I had no idea why, and ran into one of the sticks setting her jumper alight. I then realised my naughty bits were getting warm and saw that my lungi was alight!! Rolling in sand and patting helped immensely.
Finally at the end of a chaotic day, that’s quite normal for India one of the boys who’d been drumming came and rubbed a few handfuls on coloured powder onto my head and beard. Holi had begun!!
Sorry Dad – the white Lungi is smoke black with mud on the bum, and the Kurta is pink. Still want it??
Monday, 22 February 2010
|Back at school|
After a week away it was back to the school. Within the hour I’d milked the cow, sung and danced tribal songs, learnt to play the drum, been invited on another schools camp and generally tired myself out again. This continued for a while longer until it was time for a holiday again. This time with the folks and my little sis.
As you can imagine there were lots of hugs and smiles, but plenty more besides.
Within 30 minutes we found ourselves on a perfect beach being welcomed by dolphins, and as the days progressed saw wildlife galore on a safari, stayed in a treehouse 40ft above the ground, were welcomed to a wedding, another engagement party and a Festival at an ashram. Helping at school, visiting the tribal village Chembakoli M&D&Nat will sleep for the next month.
Either my luck is hereditary or the closeness of family meant it rubbed off on their arrival. Every step taken led us somewhere new and wonderful, surrounded by people who radiate love and affection. This luck was only emphasised by the unfortunateness of some of those you see along the way.
Beggars, victims of severe disabilities or injuries. We had to drive round a guy lying on the road looking like a child pretending to be a dead cockroach on his back with his arms and legs rigid above his torso – only difference being that this man was dead and allowed to lie on the street with no help at all (another victim of the Indian roads - highlighting how dangerous my cycling through India was – no one stops when they hit people as the villagers are known to come out and savage the car and occupants if the victim is one of their own).
Then you see those making the most of what they’ve been given – disabled and blind, a band came to the ashram and sang and played music that made your emotions rise and fall like a ship riding a storm ridden ocean.
Nat is back at school but Mum and Dad decided to stay at the Ashram – I wondering whether they'll ever leave India?!
Friday, 5 February 2010
Taking the few lessons at the school and having to make a decision whether to sign up for dinner the night before was starting to get too stressful for me so I packed a small day pack and headed for the coast and some spiritualisation and cuddles with Amma – the ‘Mother Hugger’.
I mentioned I’d been doing some stick martial arts on the beach. It’s quite beautiful and graceful – like dance – but you do get a few more bruises and fat lips!!
It started with 2 of us (Lucy – awesome, me – bruised) then numbers started to swell.
One particular night Natalia (Ukraine beauty) and Rafi (India beauty) came and said they’d join us after laughing therapy. What? Laughing therapy. I couldn’t miss this. So 5 minutes later I was with some equally bonkers folk on the beach and we laughed for five or ten minutes (I think it was the first class I’ve excelled at???). Rafi and Nat are bundles of energy that seem to light up anyone they come across. I then returned to stick feeling thoroughly invigorated. Even now I am laughing – it works!!
The next day it was suggested that we meet at 4 and give sweets out on the beach – spreading love and happiness. I’d just bought a orgasmatron (head massager thing) so brought that along too. So we traversed the beach bringing smiles to peoples faces and sweetness to their bellies – whilst promoting laughing therapy later in the afternoon.
That night I’d been asked to lead a class in Animal balloon making (the second class I have excelled at). Monkeys, elephants, guitars, flowers, it was beautiful!! About 15 people came including Rafi and Natalie – such a compliment.
The next day I was off to see Amma. A spiritual leader all over the world – she gives her energy in the form of a hug – I had to check it out.
Entirely sceptical, Kathleen (Geordie originally from Hong Kong) and I stepped into her Ashram. Temple like thingy watsit. Lots of westerners and a few Indians were there. All dressed in white, looking like their farts don’t stink, and looking down upon those who arrive with animal balloons all over their new bamboo stick dressed in every colour under the rainbow with feral ginger beards. (Yes Kathleen has one too)
In a strange way it looked serene and we whipped out our paperatsi cameras to capture the moment.
“Please put your cameras down and delete your pictures or you’ll have bad Karma.”
Some hard noised women (let’s call her ‘Bitch Face from Hell’ or ‘BFFH I’) in white was clearly not impressed with us.
“Forget about it” I told Kathleen. We knew it was going to be a bit like a circus and had kept telling each other that we were there only to experience one second – the hug.
We entered the hall where she performs her Dasham to be greeted by wonderful live music and gorgeous food to fill our bellies after our long journey, and then joined the huge queue. We were allowed to queue with the Indians as we were just paying a day visit and not planning to stay. Something which had turned up the noses of those in white further.
In the queue I whipped out the Orgasmatron and proceeded to spread some Danesh (my new Indian name) love. Even those who aren’t being touched smile and laugh watching. But no. ‘Not allowed – you are obstructing my view of Amma” – we’ve pissed off ‘BFFH II’. Amma’s a spot in the distance at this point but after 2 hours we were getting close and I was getting excited – hence louder. Add to this the fact that I’d made Amma a bouquet of flowers out of balloons and once again I was being told off by BFFH III, IV, and V. These guys are so at peace!!??
All the BFFH’s (I, II, III, IV and V – plus a lot more) are fighting each other to be part of the entourage that sit behind Amma – struggling to get a spot within about 5 metres of her and then digging in with tooth and nail not to be pushed aside by another BFFH whilst slowly pushing knees and elbows into other peoples backs to get that inch closer as the 1000’s of people came to have their hug. I was wondering why we were there whilst we passed in front of these people – all this for a second – 2 seconds if she takes a liking to you.
Finally it’s my turn and I get onto my knees as everyone else does and then handed the flowers to her beaming face (later Kathleen heard that she’d asked for them to be taken to her room - awesome). She put her arms around me and I have to say – it felt wonderful (but I do love hugs). She sang soft Mantra into my ear. Surely my time was up but she was still holding me in her arms. I started to feel awkward as eyes bore into my head but it was too nice to let go. Then someone I’d been chatting to told her that I’d cycled from England and she let go. I stood to leave but was forced back to my knees by hands behind me. She touched my head, then fed me chocolate, putting it into my mouth as if I was a Greek God. She then summoned everyone around to give me a a cheer and a clap. Wow wow wow!!
Finally I was allowed to get up and I self consciously made my way back as Amma spoke to one of her colleagues who then came up to me and told me Amma wanted me to sit next to her. So people (BFFHs) were pointed at and told to move to allow me through and next to Amma to share our energies.
Bad Karma my ass!!
I got it into my head that everyone was honest and decent.
So I was devastated to be blatantly robbed whilst on the beach. I left my bag open on the beach with my wallet in, SLR camera, video camera, $200, 10,000 rupees. I was planning to do some stick martial arts so left my bamboo rod next to it.
I was only away from it for maybe 1 minute. I was just having a look at the fishermen and when I got back it was gone.
I searched everywhere, asked anyone nearby if they’d seen the scoundrel who’d taken it. I could see its imprint in the sand so hadn’t somehow got disoriented. After hours of fruitless searching I had to face facts – my stick was gone forever. (Everything else was still there)
Sunday, 24 January 2010
So there is a village that inspired my trip, where the children come to the Vidyadaya school. Westerners aren't allowed in the tribal area.
1 month ago a tourist ventured close by and was killed by an elephant so security is high and it's no no no to any questions about the village. Shame.
So when i'm told we're going I'm totally dumb founded, apprehensive and excited!!! The village leaders and elders and spiritualists got together and decided in one day of talking I could visit, the next they said i could have a 'sleep over'!!
And they want me to cycle in......
So it's on to Shirley (the wife) I get again and head off into the jungle. Villages get simpler, then simpler still and then we are in the jungle and my guides on motor bikes have to leave their machines and follow by foot.
After a few minutes the undergrowth parts and opens to a small clearing where there are 2 buildings. A nursery and a temple. Both made of mud with straw roofs. In the distance I can hear children and make out houses dotted into the hillside. women carry water from the stream up to the houses - some of which are miles away. If you have seen Avatar then it has many similarities.
Visiting the families I was welcomed with tea (as usual) and smiles. Some kept their distance form the 'strange one' others were transfixed. I saw some children with scabies but the hospital funded by Accord - the partner of Action Aid in India - has given the medicines needed to cure it.
Night was drawing in so we made our way up the hillside climbing roots and avoiding vines and palms. At the top the chiefs house is the same as all the others. Simple, clean and friendly.
We light a fire immediately to keep the wild animals away and after chatting for hours by fire light (there is no electricity) I am brought a gourmet meal cooked over a fire in the kitchen.
Lying down on the mud veranda the head teacher and I settle in for the night and its surprisingly cool after the heat of the day. The cool of the wild lulls me to sleep as birds and beast make their nest or begin to hunt by night.
I am woken in the pitch dark by the chieftain who says - listen - I can hear a calling. He says 'Tiger'. Oh my goodness their is a tiger close by. He says it is some way off though.... thank goodness. The only protection I have is my sleeping bag and I've even forgotten my mosquito repellent - not much use against the king of the jungle. I lye and listen a bit longer but the tranquility has me at its mercy and I'm asleep before I know it.
A few hours later and I jump out of my sleeping bag - the dog is going crazy - I switch on my torch and see a Leopard disappear into the jungle.
A leopard has become attached to the chiefs cow - I like to think 2 creatures from seperate worlds have fallen in love but the reality is probably a little more gruesome. The leopard unlike the India human population wants beef on the menu.
This wildest of creatures was one pounce from having Mr Bent ala carte.
Again I slip off to sleep lying on the hard floor with wild ideas in my head.
When I wake in the morning I am surrounded by children and a godzillion balloon animals and flowers later they are all happy and I'm allowed to go for a tour.
We walk down the steap hillside stopping in at many of the 150 houses the constitute the village. Lots of tea and smiles again.
Then by another simple temple we meet another chief who has his bow and arrow on him. We practice shooting my shoes (they are off my feet at this point). After a while a youth takes the bow and wants to show what he can do - he fires one shot and a bird falls from the canopy way above us. The young children scamper off to retrieve but the tiny bird and the arrow.
I felt a bit guilty - did a bird have to die just coz I'm here, "What will you do with it?" I ask.
"Eat it" they respond as if I'm an idiot. A fire is rustled up and the bird after being plucked i\and gutted is just thrown on. it's barely larger than a wren but we all take a piece. I had both breasts (about the size of a penny) as guest.
The second bird to fall I plucked and then when it was cooked I didn't want the most succulent breast - so they said take the head. I was told to remove the beak and gouge out the eyes. After doing so, very proficiently I have to say, I was left with this skull. What do i do with it?? Eat it. What the whole thing.
Man, they're thinking, this white guy has no idea - of course all of it!!
I pop it in like a boiled sweet and bite down. The brain oozes into my mouth and tastes like cream cheese. Yummy.
Before I know it it's time to leave - they invited me to stay for a week in the future - I'm keen!! very keen.
On the way back to the school we had to avoid the elephants again. This time I'm on foot coz the head teacher has taken my bike (after lowering the seat a lot) and is flying around like a kid at a fairground!! His eyes are wide and his smile is bigger than ever. He comes back to me and says, 'This is soooooo coooolll!!!'
So I'm back and teaching at the school - I have to force the children out the door of each lesson. It's wonderful, they're wonderful, you're wonderful, life's wonderful.
Again 'luckiest man alive' doesn't come close to me. And add to that Mum and Dad are coming out soon..... so lucky!!
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
My last day of my old life. The chrysalis is starting to tear and I’m vulnerable to the elements and predators as I spread my wings for the first time.
This day is surely my most dangerous – Taliban, wild dogs, stone throwing kids, crazy truck drivers, pan fueled nut jobs – they pale into insignificance as I enter the wildlife park on my bike. Containing the highest number of Asiatic elephants rampaging through the jungle destroying everything in their paths and containing the largest number of Tigers of any other park.
As I’m coming down a hill I halt suddenly as elephants are spotted. What to do – wait and be easy prey for the tigers or risk being crushed to death beneath tonnes of elephant. I decide to go for it – a motorcyclist says “go past on the right and go fast!!”
I’m here and hence safe but man I think that 1hr was risking it a bit too much!!
As I continue I am joined by cyclist and motorcyclists, our number is increasing as is the number of flower wreaths round my neck – it’s starting to get heavy. With 1km to go I see in the distance a huge crowd gathered. Adults children men and women all dressed so colourfully and bearing banners. As I get closer I see they are wishing someone a happy birthday and congratulations. A little closer and I can make out my logo ‘Velo Love’ in the hands of every child. They’re here for me and the tears begin to flow.
Cheers, claps, drums rolls, singing, dancing – it’s a carnival as I walk my bike towards the school with a 6 yr old on the seat and hundreds of people from the village and the school following behind.
Singing and speeches follow, tears follow that. Not just from me but from the teachers, the pupils, the media crowd that have gathered. I think something very special happened today in this little Adivasi village. Wow – I cut a cake, again bearing the ‘love’ logo and now I’ve lost it. My head in my hands as they sing happy birthday in English with their beautiful accents and then sing again in Tamil.
For the second time in India my life has changed forever.
|The final push|
So I have one evening of my trip left, what better way to enjoy it than learning to roll Beadies (the leaf cigarette – no smoking though), making incense sticks, testing every oil until I smell like a flower shop and then ripping up Mysore behind the wheel of an Auto Rickshaw – with the driver taking a backseat shouting to his friends as we cruise past like the rude boys on Southend Seafront.
My life is up in the air and I have no idea how it’s going to land. I bump into a Spanish spiritual lady who I connected with within 10 seconds of small talk. Embarrassed about our embrace with so few words spoken we went our separate ways only to bump into each other later and start chatting deeply. She reassured me that I was on the right lines and without knowing my issues at all said she felt clarity was coming my way in the next week. In love I had to be patient. Sweet.
A few hours before I was due to leave, lying listening to music, each word connecting with my every thought, she asked if I was spiritual. It was one of those questions she already knew the answer to.
“Nah,” I replied, “I’m not into that kinda stuff”.
“The kinda stuff we’ve been talking about passionately for the past 8 hours” she replied smiling.
I’m Danger Dan – nerdy, clumsy, loud, ungraceful, stupid. My farts stink. Spiritual? Come on, get real – I like bikes. No?
Monday, 18 January 2010
Also hoping for some downhill on my last day before arriving at the school and chembakolli but I'm promised more mountains!! 1 day of this epic journey. 1 day. Then what..... A new year, a new school, new experiences, new love, new challenges, a new life.......
These last few days have been some of the toughest. The heat is outrageous and although the map says everything is below 1000m (goody I thought) what it doesn't tell you it goes from 0m to 999m on regular intervals - it's tougher than the Himalayas.
I partied a bit too long in Goa which meant I was left with massive distances which means cycling in the midday heat. At points I wobbled on my bike as my brain cooked, I'd arrive at a restaurent and fall asleep with my head on the dirty tables for 30 mins before being woken by a customer wanting to eat and off I'd go again. Headaches, heat stroke, sun burn.... all part of a days work.
And man I'm gonna miss it!! Way too emotional right now...... 1 day to go..... 1 friggin day.....
Not sure if I posted this one too (From the Times)....
Monday, 11 January 2010
I left the bike in Mumbai and with a gang we head to Goa – the Ex Portuguese colony. People flock in thousands at this time of year to enjoy the cheap drinks, the parties, the sand, the blues seas and the coconuts. I had decided I wasn’t going to miss one piece of it.
Clubbing to horrendous techno on New Years Day – jumping around like the monkeys I’d seen in the trees on the way down, making friends, sillyness, makeshift break dancing on the sand, the domestic tourists were getting some well earned entertainment in the shape and form of a Spanish fire fairy, and Papa Noel (my new nickname). I ended the night lying in a fishing boat with a motorcycle helmet on catching some much needed sleep as the sun rose above me.
But this was just the warm up – the big party started when Michael Jackson (reincarnated) came out to visit me on the 4th. Carnage.
The day started with Indian Olympics – what? You don’t know what that is? Track and field with an Indian twist. First event was the 3 legged race, then throw the chapatti (a flat bread), Onion Barge and spoon race (a variety of egg and spoon race), then the elephant riding race. My team won – no thanks to me – I was useless.
After this we had booked a club for our gang to have a bad taste party. You can imagine everyone dressed in a variety of Indian coloured clothing – the scary thing was that I have clothes like that in my Rucksack to wear on a daily basis.
With a bit of help from my mum I’d managed to get some decent ingredients and with the fire fairy being an artist I was in luck. Just as the food was being served at the party a Tiger roared on the beach - people were climbing palm trees to escape, grabbing their children and running to their beach shacks, pushing boats out to the water to put a barrier between themselves and this fierce looking tiger, dogs howled, cows ran from their comfy sand seats. The tiger then entered the party – Angela had painted me from head to foot as a tiger and I have to say – I looked awesome!!
Mucho dancing, free beers, congas, singing and photo’s with everyone in Goa ensued, then I managed to bump into a super sexy Swedish girl who wanted me to use my hands to paint her body in the same fashion. It was a tough job but someone had to do it!! :o) So the tiger had a tigress and that meant more photo’s and more free drinks.
The next morning I woke in my Hammock (Angela and I had been living in the trees for some time by this point) surrounded by a group of people – through blurred eyes I couldn’t work out what was wrong. They were all starring at me – I looked down and saw the paint and realised I should have washed it off last night. I strolled or should I say prowled down to the waters edge to the surprise of sunbathers and joggers to take a bath. Oh dear. It wasn’t permanent but lasted a few days!! :o)
It hasn’t all been partying though – we had some tough times too. Swimming with dolphins, surfing, kayaking to rocks to jump off (mucho urchins pins in my hands), jogging on the beach, cycling to perfect juggle towns, jamming on the beach, climbing palm trees, back waters, gorgeous fish buffets…. Should I stop there? Did someone say ‘snow’??? Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!
Love you all, Papa noel xxxx
(My camera is broken!!! Arrggghhhhh.... but at the menders. Lots of pics from friends to come - watch facebook and I'll post them on here too)
- ► March (5)