02.01.2017 - 03.01.2017
We were out of the front door just gone eight and on our way out we left Vishnu the sheet secreter with a kings ransom of a tip. Ingenuity and efficiency are qualities we appreciate!
The atmosphere at base camp was electric. A sense of the impending had people in jittery mood and was causing one gent to display transient tourettes.
After a semi-rousing speech and a group photo the engines began roaring, the drums were summoned and the horns took note. Dust swirled as Tuk-Tuks bottle necked to race out of the compound. Fingers on the ignition, hairs standing on end and perspiration building, we turned our engines off and smiled and waved as everyone pulled out and turned right towards the ferry.
We had arrived on the same ferry a few days earlier and at best guess it would only take between twelve and fifteen of our chicken chasers at a time. We'd looked at the map and chosen a slightly longer way out over the bridge. We'd also discussed paying the ferry pilot ten thousand rupees to tell everyone he was only taking two tuk tuks today and then cruising past the queue issuing smiles as we went. There'd be enough to spend our money on ahead of us.
As the dust settled there was one team left; Team Army looked like an Indian Pit Crew with at two mechanics and two organisers frantically searching for what had gone wrong with their pimped wheels.
We started our engines; the band had gone. With no fanfare we turned left; it had begun.
The roads were mental. Pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes, tuks, buses, coaches, lorries, dogs and cattle all claiming right of way in one form or another. No one looks over their shoulder. That's the job of the person driving the vehicle behind you. If everyone is looking forward then no one can crash. Sort of.
So: Pedestrians and cyclists keep left but will swerve out unannounced if a street chicken goes rogue. Motorbikes are like sand, they fill every gap until you're being squeezed out of your own pants and you're still not entirely sure how they got through the impenetrable gap you'd left in the first place. Coaches are on the clock. Their drivers have an unachievable time-table but today's the day they're going to get there. That means nothing can stand in their way. If they have to overtake a chain of lorries on a blind corner; well that's just two beeps on the horn. If they're overtaking on the straight (read; in the wrong lane doing 80kph directly at you) that's a flash of the lights. Everyone else brakes and everyone swerves and just about survives. That leaves us with lorry drivers. They're the real heavyweights. They have somewhere to be; they're not slouches but they only got a pass on the school of driving courage certificate whereas the coach drivers passed with distinction.
We saw a few other Tukkers on the way out and had a very one sided water pistol fight with Team Super Mario (They had pistols, we didn't).
Out of town we'd stopped for a coffee on the highway and had been going for only a few minutes when a code red came in from Em and Al. They'd lost power.
It turned out to be a straight forward remedy cured with careful manipulation of the fuel storage cap and the addition of some more petrol. 3-400kms per tank they said! Pasha had done 80.
By the time Pasha caught up with Tony our back tyre was looking a bit squidgy again. When we went to pump it up there was air hissing out of the valve stalk. Tony needed a new inner tube. We were in luck the guy running the chai stall where we'd parked had a brother who did tyres. His brother's shop was nearby. We asked 'How nearby?' He pointed at the building immediately behind his shop. Twenty feet away!
Back on the highway and it was hard, hard driving. Tuk-tuks are neither fast nor nimble. There were extensive roadworks with diversions on and off the highway were lanes would attempt to merge whilst moving from tar to impacted and potholed hardcore. Horns blared and vehicles appeared from nowhere on all sides. This was a lesson in hardcore, no prisoners, driving and like lambs in the lion pen we were about to be eaten alive.
There had already been several near misses, at least what we call near misses, but the road had deteriorated and a series of diversions and roadworks had people doing crazy things. The highway had narrowed into a two contra-flowing lanes. We were tucked in behind Emma and Al when a six wheeler truck decided to overtake us. To our left was a six inch drop off the tar onto sand, rubble, occasional open manholes and signposts galore. To our right was a truck that was only just noticing the two trucks coming in the opposite direction. Two trucks and two lanes was a tight squeeze and given that we were now in our drivers blind spot. We were braking but he was already swerving, into us. We were near is back end when he hit us and we didn't stand a chance. Weoff the road immediately, the side window had popped open and the stanchion had crumpled. We hit the sand hard and like a ship on the high seas Tony was rocking and rolling. God only know how we didn't roll over fully. Once we 'd regained control the pursuits was on and a minute later we'd caught up with the lorry. Managing to get in front of him we slowed him to a halt and pulled over.
Within the next half an hour a roadside court had formed. Tony had been assessed and his damages set at R5000. The driver, who to be fair probably hadn't seen or felt us at the time of impact, seemed fairly dejected at the situation but his keys were taken from him and given to me. I was told that the police had been called and I was not to give the driver his keys back until we had our money. Al had already gotten to work with the gaffer tape and we now had a roof over our heads again. The hole doesn't for the side window anymore so we'd be stuck with that.
The police arrived and a debate ensued the driver said he only had R3000 and by that time the shock was dissipating and moral questions were taking hold. We accepted his offer, shook hands and departed.
The driver was working for a big trucking company in Chennai. We hoped dearly that the money we'd just taken, just shy of £40, was company cash. If that is the case, we'll sleep well. If it wasn't then we'd just taken a fortune from a guy that made a mistake. Whether it was right to accept a reduced amount or any money at all is up for debate. We were both still pale and in shock and very lucky to have escaped unharmed.
The rest of the day was good driving. We'd lost too much time to get all the way to Ooty and so Coimbatore ended up being our final destination. We failed to book accommodation in advance and so we stopped and asked some guy on a stall where we could go. He told us there was a place called Aloft. It was a palace. A chain of palaces in fact. They have one in the old Liver Insurance building in Liverpool!
A cold 'British Empire' lager quenched the thirst accompanied by some cooling cucumber and carrot slices dusted with celery salt.
Dinner came from a little restaurant over the road. Dinesh was our host and we ate Dosas and Chapathis using banana leaves as plates. The sauces were bloody delicious; chicken gravy and another couple of perfectly spiced sauces. We were stuffed. I came to pay and it cost R150. We posed with Dinesh for the obligatory 'selfie' before returning to our hotel.
Laura had a starlit swim in the pool before we spent a night in luxury, lying awake, hearts still racing and the whole room still shaking from the day's exertions.