Retire To Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras Journey To Alleppey
“Vicki and I like India,” writes Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst.
“Beautiful beaches and quiet backwaters, simple villages and lively towns, delicious eats and so many friendly smiles.
“But, like nearly everyone here, we dread moving around. The failed infrastructure challenges even savvy travelers. For example, most local maps are wrong. Not just out of date, but drawn wrong. So you need to ask people how to get from place to place. Indians, like so many others in poor countries, tend to make up answers rather than admit they don’t know where you’re talking about.
“Frustrating. Difficult. Think of moving around India as travel through a potholed Twilight Zone, with millions of others alongside.
“So we try to stay put. But, after two relaxed weeks on the beach at Kovalam, we wanted to move up the coast to Alleppey.
“The night before travel day, I arranged with a driver, Abdullah, to meet us at the taxi stop at 8 a.m. I used Abdullah last time I was here. He was like an old friend. But, at the appointed hour, a replacement driver showed up. He was a short, jolly guy, who said he was our driver’s brother. He seemed to know all about us—who we were, where we were going, what time to meet us, and the fare I’d agreed with Abdullah. But just to make sure, I asked him the name of our regular driver, that is, the name of his brother.
“I asked if Balla was a nickname for Abdullah. ‘No. His name is Balla.’
“Once we were under way, our jolly driver said, rather thoughtfully: “Paul, there are 42 drivers working this taxi stop. None of them is named Abdullah.”
“Like I said: Twilight Zone.
“Besides making arrangements with Balla/Abdullah, I’d asked maybe half a dozen travel agents in the Kovalam area what times trains left for Alleppey. The agents gave me wildly different timetables. They all agreed on just one thing: There was an early morning train, around 6 a.m.
“There isn’t. I finally found a timetable on the Internet. None of the travel agents mentioned a train at 9:10. That’s the train we took.
“Halfway to the train station, our taxi ground to a halt in a massive traffic jam. As it turned out, we had chosen to travel on the day of a major Hindu temple ceremony. Thousands of worshipers crowded the streets and blocked our way. We arrived late at the train station, at 9 a.m., to catch the 9:10 a.m. train.
“We jumped out of the cab and hurried to the ‘Enquiry’ booth.
“‘Can we buy our tickets on the train?’ I asked the agent. He sat there, mute, never moving his eyes, his head, his mouth. I repeated the question, more slowly, figuring he might have trouble with English. Same response, nothing.
“Finally, I gave up and dashed over to the ticket windows. On the way, I thought I heard the enquiry agent yelling at my back, in perfect English. But, by that time, I’d given up on him. Anyone who takes that long to answer, you figure he’s making something up.
“I bought our tickets. Vicki found our platform, and we rushed down to the train. We dove into the nearest car just before the train departed.
“Drained, we found empty seats and sat down, figuring the conductor would come by and move us to where we belonged. As it turned out, the conductor never showed. There we sat for the entire three-hour trip to Alleppey.
“The tea wallah showed, though. He came through every 15 minutes or so, serving up hot-sweet-milky tea or coffee. The tea service was so civilized, and the train seemed so much better than bouncing over potholes in a cab or bus.
“We got off the train in Alleppey, and the rest was easy. Easy for India, that is. Again, Alleppey maps were wrong. But we eventually got our bearings. After a late lunch, we rented a boat and headed into the backwaters, where we watched snake-boats practice.
“Looking back, our travel day worked out fine. In fact, most everything in India seems to work out fine. Eventually.”