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Santosh’s Loop

In was a bright sunny morning in the city of Cochin and we had been summoned downstairs by the owner of Vasco Homestay, Santosh himself, asking that we kindly pay our bill. However, once we were in his office, the true purpose of the meeting made itself apparent: the man had read some of our correspondence online and was interested in learning more about AsiaWheeling, a request that we happily indulged. Furthermore, it seems he had a recommendation for the day’s wheel. Oh, and one last thing, we had to change our room over to the only other room at the Homestay.

This one proved equally sprawling with two giant living-room-sized chambers. One you might call a bedchamber, and the other an antechamber, which sported a gigantic six-foot by six-foot wooden door with a number of giant brass locks (only made slightly less impressive by the presence of a secondary entrance by which we could share our water sources with the maid), a makeshift (but quite comfortable) cubicle-bathroom erected from some seven-foot high pieces of faux wood plastic sheeting. At the end of this great endeavor, the bill still remained unpaid, but our relationship with Santhosh was solid. So we left his office thrilled at our good fortune, and itching for another visit to the spectacular dosa joint we had enjoyed the morning before.

This we did, and following Santhosh’s instructions, we dutifully wheeled to a new ferry terminal where we purchased tickets for about 20 cents each toward the northern island of Vypin.

We took our place among the other vehicles which were lining up and spilling out into the busy street prepared to board the boat.  When it arrived, we did our best to stake a place for ourselves in the mad dash that followed. Successful in that endeavor, we waited in choking anticipation for the vehicles around us to deactivate their engines, and then for the blue smoke to clear. Once the ferry was underway, it was quite enjoyable, and proved a very short ride. Aboard we ran into a fellow by the name of Sam, a Canadian who was on a vast journey of his own. We bid him farewell at the arrival terminal (really just a bit of concrete, a ticket taker, and a pile of garbage), and wheeled out onto the island. This place certainly had a different feel to it, compared with Ernakulam and Cochin. All the buildings were one story, and most of the shops and businesses seemed to be in constant battle with thick jungle foliage that struggled for supremacy. Perhaps not so strange in a community that, no doubt, relied on fishing for the majority of it’ earnings, half the businesses seemed to be ice factories, cranking out large chunks of the stuff to be used in the preservation of fish.

The roads were also very tough to ride on. The Speed TR is a trooper, but it has no shock absorbers, and we were getting incessantly rattled around by the pockmarked roadway. About half way across the island, we pulled a licht into an even more rural road, which as it turned out was actually less bumpy due to a large amount of sand, dirt, and rubbish that had blown in to fill the potholes. On this new road we made our way north until we finally came to our first waypoint. It was a giant container and tanker dock, still partially under construction and aimed at providing crude oil unloading and storage for the port of Cochin.

There was a large newly paved road that ran the length of the project, and we road it first one way until it petered out into construction, and then the other, all the while gawking at the pure immensity of what we were beholding. There we signs alerting us to strict rules against photography in the area, so any photos that you may see may be considered “found,” author-less photography.

At one point a fellow approached me on a cycle of his own. I can only assume he was one of the thousands of workers required for a project of this scale.  He challenged me to a race.  As Scott would be the first to point out, accepting challenges to race on AsiaWheeling is generally poor form, inviting dangerous competitive behavior. However, I figured the empty and brand new blacktop invited a little action, so off we went.

Cycling onward, we meandered into a Catholic church, observing what seemed to be one of the day’s many incredible sights. After thoroughly exploring Vypin island, we made our way across the bridge to yet another island with yet another, even more giant port construction project underway.

As Santosh had explained, it was a joint venture between the Indian government and Dubai Ports World, and it was not surprising that security was much higher. We stopped to get a look at it, and were shortly thereafter accosted by armed guards suggesting that we get on our way. Santosh had explained to us that this project would require a significant dredging of the surrounding bay that would, of course, cause untold levels of devastation to the aquatic ecosystem and those that relied on it.

The level of security at the site suggested that the builders also understood that what they were doing was controversial and would prefer not to have Adventure Capitalists and ReExplorers nosing around. Well, here at AsiaWheeling, the last thing we want to do is to stir up muck. So off we went.

Before we left that island, we made our way first north then south exploring the local neighborhoods, stopping to check out the smaller ferry terminals. It seems there are quite a few ferries in the greater Cochin area, many of them little more than over-sized rowboats with an outboard motor. At one point we found ourselves in need of another cup of coffee, and as though answering our prayers, a strange kind of golf club appeared on the horizon.

We made our way inside and drank two very sweet coffees at a rather post apocalyptic crumbling snack stand that obviously once served many foods, but had slowly declined to offering just coffee and some kind of microwaved shape which seemed very popular among the surprising number of people that had gathered to not golf in the surrounding area.

Refreshed and reinvigorated, we hit the road once more, bouncing and rattling our way over the cracked pavement onto yet another bridge bringing us back onto the mainland and into the city of Ernakulam.

We struck out into a new and even more boiling crowded part of the city. This one was filled with hyper-specialized shops focusing on everything from pipe fittings, to hydraulic fluids. We were forced to spend significantly more time waiting behind long lines of traffic. So densely packed was the traffic that even a cycle could not fit in between. But soon enough we had made it back onto manageable roads and were wheeling again down a new street when the allure of a place simply marked “coffee shop” drew us in.

Now, dear reader, AsiaWheeling considers itself a connoisseur of the Indian Thali, having had plenty of them, all over this fine country and even quite a few in the U.S., but let me tell you, this was the finest, most succulent thali in the entire history of AsiaWheeling.

The rice was a strange and wondrous new variety, with giant grains and some bits of the brown exterior still clinging to each morsel; the poppadoms were crispy, salty and warm to the touch; and each of the many little cups promised new and untold depths of flavor.

We were truly knocked off our feet. Reader, if you are ever in Ernakulam, please, please, get in touch with us and take the time to eat lunch at this place. You will most certainly not be disappointed.

Then we were back on the cycles, once again unable to stop singing “She’s a lady…” at the top of our lungs and wheeling through the stop and go, impossibly dense Ernakulam traffic. There was room enough that we could mostly noodle our way around the cars and auto rickshaws that were stuck idling in the heat, and the fact that we were a couple of crazy foreigners in Panama hats, singing Tom Jones tunes at the top of our lungs and ringing our bells in time had a kind of parting of the red seas effect. Before we knew it, we were wheeling back by the giant uncut lumber yard that we had seen the previous day, indicating that Cochin and our dear Vasco Homestay was near.

It was a quick ride across the bridge, and then we were back in the city of Cochin. Out last waypoint took us by the local fisher-people’s operations, where we found them using a hitherto unheard of system of giant cantilevered nets.

Perhaps I had better let the images speak for themselves on this one. Tired and in great spirits, we wheeled back to relax in the sprawling cheeky luxury of our room at the Vasco Homestay.


  1. Elena | March 10th, 2010 | 11:43 pm

    your journey is the jam. more about food adventures please, it all seems so epically wonderful.

  2. Henkes | March 11th, 2010 | 9:48 am

    Great pictures… you never disappoint with those!

  3. Lauren | March 11th, 2010 | 9:49 am

    I concur! also, are there more Asia Wheeling T-shirts for sale?

  4. Woody | March 12th, 2010 | 12:10 am

    @ Elena
    Thanks! You’re not the first to make that request. We’ll get to work putting even more food adventures into the blog.

    @ Lauren
    There was quite the run on the market at the beginning of the trip, so we only have smalls and mediums left I think. You can buy them here, though.

  5. Mark/Dad | March 14th, 2010 | 1:28 pm

    I really like the boats (especially the aqua colored ones) and the nets. What is with the giant “LIFE” sign?

  6. Woody | March 15th, 2010 | 7:52 am

    I think it’s life magazine… perhaps at one point for sale there? You guesses, dear readers, are as good as mine.

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