Goa was feeling pretty damn good after the crazy ride across India from Kolkata. A comfy hostel filled with lots of happy friendly solo travellers; a two minute walk to the beach and all the bars and restaurants that line it. Perfect. I ended up spending 9 nights there in a few places, regenerating some energy and topping up with Western delights. Even just wandering up and down the beach a few times was great, the first time I’d properly been to the sea in 8 months! It was nice to get out for some drinks with all the travellers too. The trip has periods of solitude, I love them it’s why I travel solo, but the breaks between them are amazing when you find a good group. They all got to meet Bacon too, at first slightly weirded out at me carrying a hand puppet but once they knew his story they all had to have a photo with him.
The weirdest thing about Goa was that it felt a whole lot like Benidorm, that someone had dropped it in India. Some sections of the beach were full of English holiday makers tanning themselves and drinking cheap cocktails, there was even a section of the beach where the restaurants would have menus in Russian and that was where all the Russians would stay. It was a strange mix of India’s tuktuks and dirt roads, tourist beach with bars run by English blokes who knew the regulars names and a travellers hub all in one place.
After a few days I moved to the North of the state to a new beach area. Each beach in Goa has a different vibe and attracts a different crowd. I found out my first choice of Palolem was the right one. I moved to Anjuna to a pretty awful night in a crappy hostel with a bunch of new world hippy stoners and a small beach full of overbearing Indian market sellers. I didn’t even stay for my second booked night, my lovely mummy saved me with a birthday present of a lovely hotel in the Old Quarter of Panaji, Goa’s capital. The city was absolutely lovely, nothing like any other Indian town I’d been to. The old colonial buildings have ended up becoming the tourist area but much more tastefully than most places I’ve seen.
From Panaji I headed back in to India proper, being in Goa had felt like a little retreat from India. Beaches, tourists, a lot less traffic, less chaos. It is India obviously, but not the sensory assault version. I headed for Hampi, a very old Hindu city, destroyed over 400 years ago. Most of what remains are temples and their grounds. Still remarkably well preserved with internal rooms and statues still standing.
The 7 hours ride out there nearly did me in though. It felt like riding in an oven, a 35 degree wind and direct sunlight all the way. The next day I had all the signs of mild sun stroke, though it wore off enough in the afternoon for me to venture out. I jumped on the bike and went exploring. Hampi is spread over such a wide area you really need some transport to see it all in good time. Me and Donkey could do a quick whirlwind tour of the major spots in an afternoon. I’ve seen enough temples to last me a lifetime so I wasn’t taking in the details of the carvings as much as the scale of the city ad the beautiful areas they were set in.
At the main temple were a couple of motorbikes being blessed by a holy man. It’s common practice for Hindus to bless their vehicles, and this is a very holy site. It was a very strange contrast for these 2 brand new bikes being draped in flowers in front of a 600 year old temple. I’m not entirely sure that’s what they were imagining when they built it. The “Photo Babas”, as someone called them, were sat around nearby trying to make eye contact and catch a tourist for a photo in return for a “donation”. In all their robes and over the top face paints. It made for an all together very Indian sight, motorbikes, blessings, ancient temples and culturally important figures being used for a quick buck off tourists.
Leaving Hampi I headed back toward the coast, aiming for the Western Ghats. A mountain range that runs parrallel with the coast that I’d been told made for some great riding. I’d been put in touch with Abijith, a biker living in Bangalore who gave me a ton of good advice for routes, so there was no more guessing for me. I was so happy once I got back to the mountains too. Mountains are my happy place, I prefer the riding, the climate, the towns and even the people. It’s all a bit different in mountains and I’ve found I’m much happier there than not. It seems a big difference for a small change but it’s been true everywhere so far.
In and out of the mountains for the next few days was really nice, winding roads, less traffic and some stunning views, not to mention the cooler climate up high. Meeting a couple of bikers on the road and riding together for a few hours, getting along as easy as if we’d known each other for weeks. Chatting to an older Indian biker over lunch and getting some great advice and inspiration from him. Riding some amazing roads and nearly slipping in Elephant poop in the road multiple times. The Tea Plantations near Kochi were a highlight, the sight was postcard worthy and the smell of them incredible, wafting in and out with the winds. The wasp flying up the sleeve of my jacket wasn’t so fun a panicked stop and strip on the side of the road as it took it’s anger out on my side.
A couple of days in Fort Kochi were pretty uneventful but nice, chatting to some interesting folks in the hostel, topping up on good food, and organising my route out of India. The town itself is was a lot like Panaji. An old Christian Portuguese colonial town turned into major city. Thought it’s still a small fishing village in places, just with a huge container port sitting on the opposite side of the bay with gigantic ships coming and going all day.
I was all rested up and ready for the last stretch in India. My cargo ship out of India in Chennai was booked for in a few weeks time and I wanted to head south and a quick visit to Bangalore before then. The next day held more adventure than I was banking on though.
Leaving Kochi on the coast road led through some nice little village; I was a little lost, not knowing where the highway is and the GPS not really knowing the roads. I knew I could just head south though and would find a highway eventually. I came to a railway crossing that just took forever to open up again. I switched the bike off and tried not to focus on the fact I was melting sitting in the sun in all the bike gear. After a good 15 minutes to the train rolled by and the barriers lifted. And Donkey wouldn’t start. He let out a little wheeze from the starter but wasn’t turning over at all. God damn it. I must have left the lights on or something by accident and drained it while I’ve been sat here. What an idiot. I jumped off and pushed it over the tracks, not wanted to be stuck on the other side for another 15 minutes when the next train came.
I don’t have a SIM card or any wifi so there’s no looking anything up. A tuktuk driver stopped and asked me what the problem was, when I said battery he gave me a point up the road and said 1KM. Alright, I guess there’s something up there. I slung the jacket over the seat and the helmet on the bars and started pushing. Thankfully it’s flat here, but 10 minutes of solid pushing in this heat isn’t easy. Every scooter or tuktuk that went by was either simply staring, slowly crawling by, or asking what the problem was, where I was going, is it broke. I could barely catch breath from pushing to tell them anything.
I finally spotted the garage, rolled up and took a breather and a big drink of water. I tried to explain that I just needed a jump start, and they tried to explain that they didn’t have anything to jump start with. It took longer than it should be we eventually met in the middle. They called a friend who came over on his moped with a battery and some cables and we got Donkey jump started, easily. Thank god. I kept him running for 15 minutes, usually more than enough to get a good charge in the battery. I switched off and tried to start again, nothing. Bugger. The guys around understood what it meant well enough, the battery was dead, the new one I got in Kolkata after Vietnam must have been dodgy or something, not holding any charge. We jumped him again, I geared up and rode off, following one of the guys to a battery store. A new £25 battery later and I was back on the road, relieved it hadn’t cost me much time.
Oh how naive I was. I stopped for some lunch, a nice little bakery with sandwiches and donuts, a rare find in India. I got back on the bike and went to start up and got nothing again. Ohhhhhhh shit. The realisation hit me like a weight in the chest, something was seriously wrong. The charging system isn’t putting power into the battery, and nothing in that system is going to be easy to fix or replace in India. Especially not while I’m in this nowhere town, so I needed to get to a big town to stand any hope of fixing it or receiving any parts.
Thankfully across the road was a little garage. They jump started me again and I shot off as fast as I could. Hoping there would be enough charge coming in to keep me running to get to a big town. I kept the revs high, hoping that would squeeze as much power into the battery as possible. It’s a fuel injected bike so it uses power constantly to run, without an alternator the battery just slowly depletes. After another hour of riding, with dials dying occasionally and the ABS warning light on, he finally gave up, just died flat with no dials or even lights on the dash. I was in an absolute nowhere town again. I asked around and the nearest battery place was about 2km down the road. With only about two hours of sunlight left I just started pushing. It was a pretty fast road with no room on the shoulder, but that didn’t stop mopeds and tuk tuks pulling up beside me to ask me a million questions while I was pushing.
I rolled passed a police truck and they got out to see what was wrong, confused by the giant alien foreigner pushing a giant bike, sweating like he’d been for a swim. I figured it was worth asking them about hotels and distances. No hotels in this town, not for 20km each way, the battery store might help. They had such confused looks on their faces as I started to pushing to leave I couldn’t help but laugh.
Once I got to the battery place I asked in vain about any kind of fast charger they had. It would be at least 12 hours for the full charge I’d need to make it to the city down the road, and with no hotels around that wasn’t easily done. They had new batteries though, so I lumped up another £25 just for the purpose of getting to the city. It worked. Just. I rode for 2 hours and the minutes I rolled up to the gate of a guesthouse he died, and wouldn’t come to life again. Well, looks like I’m staying here for a while.
The next day it was down to business, I was worried at this point. I’d given it some thought on the ride and almost the only things that could be broken would not be easy to fix here. Replacements would be very hard to find, if they exist at all in India, and shipping things from overseas is notoriously difficult in India. If I was delayed too long I’d have issues with my visa and documents for the bike, let alone the cost of hanging around.
I needed to figure out what was actually broken, but to do that I needed some charge in the battery to at least start the bike. So it was off to the charging place to drop that off for 8 hours or so. Then out to search for a multi-meter, thankfully I’d accidentally ended up in a great part of town, surrounded by little fix it shops and cheap food. In the centre of the city was nothing but branded shops but here was everything I needed. With a multi-meter I could start poking and prodding everything for short circuits, correct voltages and continuity. With battery back in the afternoon I could confirm it was the stator not providing any charge. A big sigh of relief, the stator is repairable with nothing but copper wire in theory, almost the best case scenario now.
I spent all evening reading online and watching youtube videos, getting ready to start on the most in depth job I’d ever attempted on Donkey, in the back garden of a hostel. Weirdly, the only other tourists in the hostel was Marvin, a German guy and an engineer, he didn’t know a lot about bikes but running things passed him for sensibility helped a lot. And he had a knack for getting into the engine. Once we’d got the alternator cover off it was obvious it was screwed, black and burned at the top like I expected, the oil hadn’t cooled it enough, it overheats, melts and shorts out. It was likely already on its way out but not helped by a few days running a little low on oil. Long runs in high temperatures tends to burn a little.
At this point some local bikers had spotted Donkey over the fence and come to investigate. He’s a very odd bike here and stands out just as much as I do in India. They all wanted to come say hi and know what the hell I was doing there. Thanks to them I ended up finding a guy who could fix the stator, he ran a little stall down the road utterly full of motors and generators. He reckoned he could rewind the stator in a couple of days and have it back to me. Score!
In the meantime I met a ton more local bikers and ended up out for dinner with them and another guy staying in the hostel. They took us around on the back of their scooters like VIPs. I broke out Queenie’s wave at one point to all the other mopeds passing us and staring.
Two days later with the stator back in, I breathed a huge sigh of relief as the voltage on the battery shot up to 14.4. Perfect. Donkey is back in business. Only 5 days lost, and still on schedule. I did manage to rip the gasket on the engine cover so that might leak for a while but slow enough to manage I think.
It’s these kind of disasters you never want on a trip like this, it can cost a lot of time and money to fix things. You can’t plan for them but you know they will happen at some point, and if you can solve them, they’re just a good story.
17/02/18 – 11/03/18