We made it!

We made it!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Bangalore! A post from Bec

As we celebrate Christmas Day here in Bangalore (which is a somewhat strange thing to do as only 5% of the pop. are Christians!) we think about home, family and friends.
The kids awoke this morning and to their delight discovered that Santa had made it to Bangalore and had managed to put a few small gifts in their sacks. Last night the staff here had very kindly set up a long table in our room, complete with white cloth and candles and we had an Indian Christmas eve dinner. This morning we have the Christmas carols playing on the lap top as we prepare for our visit to the Snheehadden Orphanage, which is a home for Orphans with HIV. We have purchased a number of gifts, including, cricket sets, balls, board games etc for the children, and we will of course have the bubbles for our kids to entertain the children with. It should be an amazing Day and we will look forward to sharing it with you all. For now, it is a very Merry Christmas to all our family, friends and followers form the Petrucco, Harry and Gyss Coast to Coast Team here in Bangalore! May you all enjoy health, happiness, peace and contentment.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day 16 Walk from Bidadi to Bangalore

Last night we had our farewell dinner for our friends Nicola and Eibhlin. We decided to go and have a pre-dinner drink at the leisure bar. Once again in its day it would have been a thriving little hot spot in the hotel. Unfortunately it continues the theme of a ghost resort with no water in the water feature, dusty glasses on the shelves behind the bar and generally a very run down area. Regardless we all had a great chat about the girls Indian adventure and shared memories and experiences of their time here. Indy and Mags dressed up nicely enjoying their time with the big girls. Meanwhile Gus was on his scooter dodging bats, looking for bugs and spiders and generally being a boy. He came up to me and said he had a splinter, there was a little bit of blood on his finger, nothing serious. Then he let on that in fact he had cut his finger on a blade, which seems unthinkable really, but this is Gus. He took me over to the water feature, which was basically a small tiled plunge pool really with no water in it. On the base of the pool there it was, a razor blade. I immediately grabbed nurse ratchet and we both had a mini meltdown thinking about what could be on the blade. So I was sent down to retrieve the troublesome object. It was dark near the pool so I couldn’t see very well. I jumped over a bar on to some steps which decided at that moment to give way and my foot went straight through the step and grazed right along the top and up my shin. I had fallen through the stairs and in the process done a little bit of damage to my leg. Anyhow I climbed out of the steps, over the railing and into the pool to retrieve the blade. Fortunately it was a new blade, no rust, blood or any other visible problems. Back to the room for some first aid, Gus first who was very brave as Bec doused him in every type of antiseptic she had available and taped up his little cut on his finger. In the scheme of Gus and his injuries this is very minor and had we not been in India we wouldn’t have probably done anything with it, but we are in India. Next Bec turned her attention to me with three bloody grazes on my foot and shin. She took great pleasure (I think) in applying some antiseptic to my cuts. I wish I could say I was as brave as Gus but he was witness to his father’s screams of agony as Bec worked her magic. Gus too showed some Ratchett tendencies as he was wanting to get in there too and apply some pain to his dada. Fortunately that was the end of the drama for the evening, we returned to the abandoned restaurant and enjoyed our final dinner. This was not Bec’s favourite place to stay, in fact the worst we have encountered so far and obviously far from its best.

Today the walk team included Popsy, Nicola, Eibhlin and myself for the first leg. We decided that Indy should take it easy today and Maggie was still asleep when we left. We made ourselves some porridge today and were on the road by 7.30am. Poor Raju was just getting out of bed when we got to the car at 7.20am so he quickly got himself dressed and we were on the road. The walk this morning was again quite basic and straightforward. We are on the road to Bangalore so it is basically a highway walk, not much in the way of villages and the scene getting more urbanised with each step. We stopped for our best coffee of the trip at a small roadside shop. Nothing flash, a clear glass with a beautiful milky coffee inside. Eibh gives Popsy some last minute stretching advice as we wave to all of the school kids on the buses going by. We hear word from the girls that they have packed up and are on their way. Sure enough just up the road a few hours into our walk the bus pulls up and we do the changeover, Eibh and Nicola say their goodbyes to Popsy and myself and Indy jumps back into the walk team. We have walked about 15km and there is another 20kms to Bangalore at this stage.

The three of us continue to walk as the girls and Gus head to the hotel, or at least we thought. As we progress we hit the city fringe and with it comes the smog, the dust, the traffic and the poor footpaths. Bangalore is known as the garden city and I remember it to be that from our trip here in 1996. Now it far more resembled the concrete city with a monorail under construction and roads being built and changed seemingly everywhere. It was not an enjoyable stroll into the city. We hear from the girls that they are caught in a gridlock traffic jam and going nowhere. The plan was to check into the hotel, for Nic and Eibh to have a wash after their walk and then head to the airport. Now the plan was to try to get the girls to the airport in time for their flight. Unfortunately they would not get time for their shower today. We also realised that Raju would not be back to collect us for several hours so after a quick drink stop we press on to find a spot in the city for a break. Again unfortunately we find our way into a labyrinth of construction zones and traffic gridlock, to which we as pedestrians do not fair high on the priority list. A friendly police officer helped us cross one road but after about 15 minutes of very cramped and dusty traffic I suggest we jump in an auto and head into the city. Popsy had a better idea, lets just head to the hotel.

We find ourselves a new auto and a driver who spoke English very well. He agreed to take us back to the hotel, using the meter which is not our usual experience but a welcome option. We were all very pleased to be out of the dust and into our brand new auto that was darting its way through the traffic very effectively. Even the auto driver joked the garden city was more like a concrete city! He took great pleasure in pointing out the major attractions on our route as we headed to the hotel. The drive all up took over an hour as the hotel we are staying at is out of the city near to the international airport. Our hotel appeared like an oasis as we drove along a very dusty road, nothing really resembling our hotel anywhere and then as if out of nowhere the sign for the ‘Angsana Resort’ appeared. As you pull through the gate you immediately enter another world of green grass, coconut trees and a very expansive garden. We were very relieved to see Raju there meaning the rest of the team had also arrived.

We have made it through 6 consecutive walk days, traversed almost 150kms and made it to our Christmas rest stop. Here we will recharge, give the kids a chance to have a swim and rest their bodies and minds and share Christmas together. My sister Kate and her kids Ally and Max will be here soon and we are all very excited about their arrival. The kids are planning a special welcome at the airport with flower garlands, welcome signs and a small welcome ceremony. We hear from Nic and Eibh that they made good use of the butt washer at the airport to clean what they could and were enjoying a relaxing drink as they waited for their plane. You can tell the kids are all very excited about the coming days and particularly some time by the pool. They are busy choosing which room is theirs, we have for the first time on the trip a 2 bedroom apartment and the girls ofcourse choose the master bedroom and are busy organising their gear in the walk in robe. Bec and I are relegated to the loft bedroom, which we are not unhappy about.

The girls and Gus order up some fries and well all take a breath and relax. Jen and Nick are right next door and we know we are in for a nice stay here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Day 9 Mysore – Rest Day

Sorry all, must have forgotten to post this one - it is now out of sync but thought we would add it in anyway.

It is day 9 and after a very emotional and inspiring day yesterday we are all in need of a quiet day to recover. This morning started with a quick round of good mornings between the team between three rooms. Maggie got very excited when across the other main building she could see the monkeys playing and starting to make their way over to us. They kind of swing between buildings quite quickly and it is difficult to pick up where they actually are. After a while we all got quite relaxed again until Maggie started screaming there’s a monkey right there. Sure enough just out on our balcony a monkey was casually strolling by. We all quickly retreated into our rooms. They seemed pretty disinterested in us, or at least we thought. I went back into the room to do a couple of things only to hear Bec calling out “There’s a monkey in our room” from out on the balcony. Sure enough I come out to our small sitting area from the bedroom eyeball to eyeball with a monkey. He saw the bag of fruit on our table and we had a quick kind of stand off before whilst he summed me up. He must have determined that I was little resistance and he quickly swiped the fruit bag and made a beeline for the door. Not too fast on his tail I followed and when he dropped it heading out the door I seized my opportunity and managed to partially close the door with the fruit caught between. At least it was closed enough to keep the monkey from swiping but he was determined to get his fruit and between my shooing and his growling at me it was quite a racket. He eventually let go and then proceeded to jump on the balustrade and continue to growl at me for a while before clearly getting bored and wandering off. After a while we headed down to breakfast only to find one of the staff with his slingshot out shooting what looked like fairly soft pellets at the monkeys encouraging them on their way. Well that certainly got the crew awake this morning.

The kids headed out with Nicola and Eibhlin this morning to visit the Mysore Palace and came back with stories of riding an elephant, sitting on the elephants head like the real riders do it. Indy was also nearly arrested in the palace for smuggling in her camera and then taking a photo. Apparently it was ok to take photos using mobile phones but not cameras – not quite sure how that works and Indy being very logical would have had to argue the toss about this one. I blame Eibhlin ofcourse for leading my daughter astray! Maggie also said she had another monkey encounter but survived to tell the tale.

Jen and Nick went out to do a little shopping, much to Poppas lack of excitement – I think he said he fell asleep. He just wants to get back on the road again. Bec and I took Gus out in an auto for a ride this morning up to the supermarket and decided to buy him a little scooter. He is requiring a lot of attention at the moment and we thought a scooter might help him to occupy his insatiable need for activity and enable us to sit back and watch. Needless to say the scooter was a huge success and he hadn’t been off it for hours. He has now fallen asleep to recharge before no doubt going out and hammering it again for a few more hours. We also made a major purchase of a kettle which should prove almost as valuable as the scooter on this trip as we have to this point been surviving on jen’s little hand held element to boil one cup at a time. With Gus requiring several ‘cup teas’ a day this will be very useful.

We had another lovely meal here at the Green Hotel and Bec, Eibh, Nicola, Indy and Mags have decided to jump in an auto and head out to the shops for a quick bit of shopping before we hit the road again well away from any shopping. I have made the mistake of checking emails and getting drawn back into other stuff that I really shouldn’t be. Easily done in these modern times. I took a quiet glance out the window only to see a massive wasp caught in the inside of the window between the blind and the glass on the inside. This think was huge and its stinger was not to be messed with. There was no way to open the window to let him out and with Gus asleep in bed I had to take my chance and try to squash him carefully. My first attempts only succeeded to get him very agitated which only served as more evidence to ensure this guy didn’t get out into the room. Several attempts later and I succeeded to subdue our intruder. Hopefully he hasn’t invited his friends over!

The relentless flow of traffic with constant horn tooting continues on in the background as we enjoy a quiet moment under the fan of peace and quiet while the little master sleeps.

The girls enjoyed their trip out to the shops in the autos and came back with a few new things to wear, I think they enjoyed just some time out more than anything. Gus awoke after a good 2-3 hours sleep ready to party, he jumped straight out of bed basically on to his scooter and was ready to roll. The next few hours consisted of taking in turns following Gus around on his scooter, he particularly liked performing tricks for the other hotel guests and staff. In between scooter trips Gus was catching frogs in the hotel pond, trying to catch lizards in the garden and dodging the bats that come out at night. A quick and quiet dinner on the lawns before retiring to our room for a green tea and the girls to a game of uno in their room.

A quick calculation shows that whilst we have been here for 10 days we have only competed 15% of our walk with 6 straight walk days totalling more than 150kms in the next leg into Bangalore. Tomorrow we have a community visit plan and an opportunity to distribute some of the items we have raised funds for. It plans to be an amazing day.

Day 15 Walk from Chanapatna to Bidadi

As often happens I awoke a little earlier than Bec and Gus and took some time to just lie in bed and think about our journey so far. Interesting to me that I am for the most part quite settled on this trip. In the past India has presented to me a trip about searching for answers, for happiness and about planning for the future. This time around it is much more about living in the moment and knowing that life that is awaiting us back in Melbourne is a good life that is where we want it to be. I have taken a strong message this year losing my friend Tim Johnson and trying to live up to his goal about living with a great attitude in the moment. I know I don’t quite live up to Tim’s lofty standard but it is a constant sense of purpose and direction for me now. It is in a strange way inspiring to be here in India already inspired and living life with a real sense of purpose and direction. It means I am more relaxed and more living day to day, rather than waiting for that epiphany to come along.

I take a moment to think about our team. The kids have been incredible. They have been engaged, fun, motivated and very involved in every activity. Indy has been a beautiful strong and committed member of the team. She has fully immersed herself in the opportunity and has already taken a great deal from her interactions in the communities we have visited. She is just such a credit to herself, every day I just sit in awe of my 13 year old daughter who amazes me with her attitude, commitment and ability to rise to the next challenge. Maggie has brought her humour and her special razzy ways. Despite winning the award for the least organised member of the team she is an incredibly strong and resilient 9 year old who has proven herself to be up to some major physical challenges. There are not too many 9 year olds who have walked 26km across rural India in one day and Maggie did this and more. She is also a very positive member of the team who loves the interactions with others, all of the kids we meet just love Maggie. Maggie is the type of beautiful kid who sings her way through life, on the walks she is often found singing at the top of her lungs and when she is in the Maggie zone just talks your ear off, barely stopping for a breath.

My mum or Nanna to the kids has been very strong this trip. She has clearly come with a very positive attitude and despite a couple of very testing events along the way she has stayed strong and positive which is great to see. Mum has also been extremely helpful with Gus and has really stepped up to enable Bec to be a part of the walk and relax knowing that Gus is in good hands. Popsy is as he always has been our rock. Popsy moves between this no fuss, get on with the job individual to a fun loving, song singing, storytelling entertainer who the kids just adore. Nicola and Eibhlin have been wonderful. Coming to India for the first time they came open to the experience with no expectations. Interestingly I find people have two quite different experiences of India, I personally have had both. The first is that they hate it, couldn’t get out of there quick enough and never want to return. This is the very unfortunate experience where you don’t stay long enough to get over the initial shock. The second experience is that India is a magical place where you have these wonderfully contrasting experiences of people, culture and every sense is utilised. In my talks with Nicola and Eibh it is clear they have moved straight to the second experience and loved every minute of it. We have also loved having them here. They have been amazing with the kids and it has been energising having them also as part of both the walk team and the support crew. They have gone out of their way to put the team first and been incredibly supportive. As I think about our little Manny Gus who has just been a little legend. At 3 years of age he is just so loving of everyone he meets and so freely interacts with adults and children alike. He has had his meltdowns and tantrums as any 3 year old would have but he has also been so loving and involved and it has been incredibly beautiful to have him here every step of the way. Finally to my courageous and beautiful wife Bec, the absolute soul of our family and a woman who inspires everyone she meets. She brings the sunshine everywhere she goes and everyone loves her, including ofcourse me. She has been the queen of “where’s my” and has just been so calm under so many different needs and requirements of the team. She is our organiser, our supporter, our nurse, our friend and part of the walk team. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive team member than my wife. I have loved spending each and every day with Bec, she is my world.

So today the kids decided it was time for a full rest day. We are in Day 5 of 6 long walking days and with a cold going through the team the kids decided to take a well earned rest. Nicola, Popsy, and I with Big mama coming off the bench left nanna and Eibh on support crew duties and headed off for our 26km walk from Chanapatna to Bidadi. The morning started with me doing something I had committed to never do, get involved in a family dispute, that is another family’s dispute. We had just got out of the vehicle to start walking. As we walked off we could hear a child screaming. He was about 5 years of age, dressed in his school uniform and was standing beside the vehicle parked behind ours next to the freeway. As I turned around I noticed a man step out of the vehicle to face the screaming boy, he had a stick in his hand and was winding up to hit him. He saw me starting to walk towards him and looking at both of them intently. He hid the stick. As I walked up to enquire what was the matter he started grabbing the sobbing child very roughly by the cheeks clearly trying to quieten down the situation as he could see I was becoming very interested. I gestured that he should not hurt the child. At this time our driver Raju could sense my involvement and came around to share with me that the boy wanted to get back on the bus with his family and not go to school today. The family were trying to encourage him to go to school, something that we often have at school drop off times with Gus. Whilst I was uncomfortable about the physical nature of the interaction who was I to get involved. I walked away with mixed feelings about the whole incident, again just another morning in India. As the child’s family drove up the road in the bus the boy ran screaming after the bus, he dropped his thong of his foot. I walked back and grabbed it for him, the back half was worn down to nothing and one of the rubber straps had broken, I grabbed it anyway and handed it to the boy as he walked back, having lost his fight to get back on the bus and head to school.

Aside from that event the day was very much a walk day, little interaction and experience and just about pushing through the k’s. We put our head down and walked the 26kms in about 4 ½ hours, pretty good going. Nicola with her sore knee did an amazing job keeping up for about 15kms and Bec and Poppa and I finished the walk into Bidadi. The terrain was pretty uninspiring as we walked along the highway. Difficult walking as you need to watch every single step. For most of the journey the verge is a combination of crushed rocks, many tennis ball size and covered with dirt and dust. It is quite uncomfortable walking. The only alternative is to walk on the edge of the road and trust that the speeding buses coming up from behind will have the courtesy to miss you. We choose to walk on the rough verge.

Tonight is a farewell dinner for Nicola and Eibh as they travel back to Australia tomorrow, they will be missed. Tomorrow we walk into Bangalore for a few rest days, collect my sister Kate and her kids Ally and Max from the airport and our family will be reunited once again. We have several amazing days ahead of us including a couple of rest days, good times ahead.

Day 14 Walk from Maddur to Channapatna

We had a lovely dinner last night. During the day Jen had noticed a back area to our hotel. It was kind of like an open carpark with a series of little brick huts for families to dine in, next to a small playground for the kids. We didn’t even know that area was here, great find Jen, another one of nanna’s great ideas. We decided not to sit in the huts because they were made for 5-6 people and we had 9. The staff set up a long table outside for us and we dined under the stars, and the occasional bat flying by. Gus was able to ride his scooter around and we all had a very relaxing evening. Nicola and Mum shared their days with us, they had ventured out to a local community with Gus and were able to see inside a few homes and interact with the people they met. It sounded like they too had a great day.

This morning we have another 20+ kilometre walk ahead of us and the walk team consists of Eibhlin, Maggie India, Popsy and myself. Nicola was still a little sore from her mammoth 26km walk the other day but committed to join in for the last part of our walk today. Again we decided to head off the main road and tried to follow the railway tracks like yesterday. Unfortunately we were not as successful today and despite heading down to the tracks we could not find our parallel road we were searching for, so back to the main road we went. Our second attempt was a little more successful and had us walking through the backstreets, through houses and interacting with kids as they were getting ready for school. Our walk took us through an industrial section where there were large granite factories taking massive chunks of granite, the size of a car and slicing them down to thin bench top size slabs. Maggie was singing her way through the walk much to Indy’s discomfort and Eibh’s amuzement. We ended up walking through a farm area, out to another couple of small towns and eventually finding our way back to the main road.

Indy was a little flat today and I was encouraging her to join Raju on the bus as it went passed to find our night’s accommodation. Just ahead Maggie saw a sign to a McDonalds and this put a spring in her step. Not that the kids go to McDonalds very often but the thought of something familiar was very energising for Mags. She picked up the pace and was ordering her lunch as we walked. The others found us a little way up the road and we decided to do a changeover. Indy and Maggie (very reluctantly I might add) jumped in the bus and Nicola joined the team. The kids headed to Maccas for their fries and we had our vegemite sandwiches for lunch. I was pleased to see Indy relenting and being prepared to manage her self and her limits. The start of the walk saw her quite defiant and stubborn and determined to walk every step. I think my rest day was very good for Indy to see there is no shame in missing some time, you are still here, still part of the team and still undertaking a massive adventure.

The walk was quite uneventful and we covered the full distance and some more by about 1.30pm in the afternoon. We made it to the town of Chanapatna and as the others were finding it hard to locate our accommodation for the evening we decided to press on. The town was quite large and had a big bus station in the middle of it. It was very hot and dusty by this time and it was a great relief when we were able to make it out the other side and once again on to the open road. A few kilometres up the road and Raju managed to find us. We had walked our 20+ kilometres and the sun was starting to get very hot, time to call it a day.

Our accommodation was interesting, the word I use when I am not quite sure what label to apply. I think that 20 years ago this place would have been a mecca but now just looked like a very tired and run down almost ghost resort. There was an unfilled massive swimming pool, various recreation areas, all run down ofcourse, there were rabbits in the gardens, turkeys walking around and a leisure bar and café, both looking like they have not been used in some time. The rooms were large but very uninspiring and every square metre seemed to contain a moth ball. The kids decided to bunk in with Nic and Eibh again so we decided they would take the larger room, Jen and Nick in another and Bec and I with Gus in the third.

After a walk around the grounds we had some dinner, veg ofcourse, and then called it a night. Popsy and Indy are coming down with a cold and we are not sure who will make it for the walk tomorrow. We are 4 days into our 6 day stretch and the physical element to our challenge is starting to kick in.

Day 13 Walk from Mandya to Maddur

Last night was a little unsettled between bright lights shining into our room, to a wayward mosquito net to Gus waking to go to the toilet and again asking for a cup tea we had a somewhat unsettled sleep. Maggie and Indy are in the room with Nicola and Eibh again and went to their rooms to watch twilight on the laptop. I think Nicola lasted 10 minutes and Maggie lasted about 15. We woke this morning at just before 7am and given we had committed to a 7am breakfast to get an early start it was straight into preparations. The walk team today is Poppa, Eibhlin, Indy, Bec and myself. Nanna and Nicola have generously agreed to be on Gus duty to allow Bec a valuable and cherished walk opportunity. When we left to go down to breakfast this morning Maggie was still fast asleep, she had a big day yesterday.

We were the first to line up for breakfast and most of us decided to go for the simple omelette and bread although nanna and poppa went for something Indian to go with their coffee. Interestingly this morning the omelette came out wrapped around the bread, something we had not encountered before. We also had a glass of fresh pineapple juice to wash it all down. The highlight this morning was the ability to be able to start our walk direct from the hotel, something we haven’t yet had the opportunity to do. So the walk team said our goodbyes and were given a warm send off from the support crew.

Today we were determined to spend more time away from the main road and from the start walked away from the main road and onto a small road that ran down the railway line. Google maps revealed last night that as long as we had the main road on the right and the rail line on the left we should be fine. Immediately this morning we felt the benefit and beauty of walking along a small country road past all of the farmers out doing their chores and the families washing by the river or preparing their breakfasts or fetching their water. Only the occasional vehicle going by, it was like heaven compared to previous days walking along the main road. It is Sunday morning and people are out everywhere working hard and we can see the busyness of Indian life once again.

After a while we came across a small township and as we walked down we seemed to walk through the butchers quarters. Every second shop had a carcass of some description hanging in it, it sounds quite disgusting but wasn’t really that bad. Eibh reckoned it smelled like her dad’s cowyard in the main street. Everyone was again extremely friendly with a seemingly constantly flow of ‘Hi’ ‘How are you’ ‘Fine’ ‘Where are you from’ ‘Australia’. Everyone is very welcoming and the kids think that we are very funny all walking by in our get up. After the butcher’s courtyard I spot an Indian Barber and gesture to the group it is time. Since day 1 I have been wanting to get a very short haircut, something I have never done before and this is the ideal opportunity. The kids have been against it from the start, but it was now time. Popsy wanted to have a trim also, he is currently at a number 2 and went back to his near bald state. The barber shop consisted of 2 chairs crammed into a small yellow room. One chair was occupied by a gentleman getting a shave so Popsy took the other chair. Eibh and Bec were on filming duty as the procedure commenced. As you can imagine we were starting to draw quite a crowd of interested onlookers all keen to see what this crazy group was up to now. Sunday morning in a small country town and there was a quiet buzz in the relaxed morning air. Popsy received his hair cut with the clippers back to near bald and before finishing the barber gave him a coating of baby powder which had him smelling and looking clean like a babys bum!

Then it was my turn. Indy had one last run of her fingers through my hair and had an obvious trepidation about what I was about to do. Into the chair and I asked for a number 2 with the clippers hoping that meant something to my friendly barber. He applied something to his clippers and we were away. Unfortunately the power cord plug kept slipping out of the wall so the clippers kept stopping and every time they did they pulled a small clump of hair with them, no harm done. In the end the barber called in for reinforcements and someone to hold the plug in the wall. The back was clipped and at that point left a nice little birds nest on top. I wondered what would happen at this stage if the clippers died. Meanwhile the girls were all having a great laugh watching the procedure unfold. The gentleman next to me had finished his shave and was moving on to having his sideburns blackened with a tooth brush! A few minutes later and I was a new man, or at least I had a new head, complete with a baby’s powder once over. Indy was in shock, but Bec said she liked it. We paid our $2 total for the two cuts, had photos with our barbers and thanked them for their wonderful service. Arturo Taverna had nothing on these guys.

We were back on the walk. Indy with her great affection for Eibhlin continues to talk in her aussie / Irish accent which is a little hard to get used to but fun at the same time. We continued through the town and out the other side past the Mysore sugar factory, which according to the locals is a major attraction. Popsy recalled seeing the sign suggesting that Mandya was the sugar city. The factory was really quite impressive, but we decided not to enter for a tour and walked past continuing with our journey. We walked past a river where the trucks were being backed into to wheel deep water for their Sunday wash. Bec stopped for her first bush wee of the trip and whilst chaperoning her Eibh stood on a prickle bush and we spent some time pulling these centimetre long thorns out of Eibh’s shoes. Very nasty and very lucky no damage done.

As we continued on the road disappeared and we initially walked along a narrowing dirt path with sugar cane and other crops all around as we made our way along following the railway line. The peace and quiet was just lovely after days of screeching bus and truck horns that tormented us. After some time the path disappeared and we were told to cross the tracks and walk up the other side. Not so much a track but a grassed area alongside the tracks. From behind us two wagons each with two oxen were coming up. We stepped aside and let them pass, Indy hoping for a ride, that is until we saw their load was a wagon full of manure. So here we were in rural India following two oxen led wagons full of Manure to a town called Maddur. Up ahead the men in the wagons told us to go back up to the tracks as the path had ended. So we walked for some time along the railway tracks, fortunately no trains coming. A little while up the tracks we saw that a grassy path had opened up and we decided it a better option than the tracks. Bec warned everyone to stay vigilant and gave us all a run down in the event of a snake bite what we should do. At this time I was looking for a staff to walk along with and I was walking along leaning in toward the side of the path seeing what I could find. We had been walking for a few hours by this stage so I wasn’t as sharp as perhaps I should have been. As I looked down I saw what could have been a reasonably large part of a stick. I was looking at it and just before my brain worked out it was not a stick it started moving. I was leading the group and jumped about six feet in the air backwards, Eibhlin let out we think a profanity and Popsy just started yelling “What is it?” What is it?” Sure enough the stick was indeed a snake and we had our first reptilian encounter. The best kind, a warning but no contact, it disappeared as fast as we saw it. All of our hearts were beating pretty fast at this point and our eyes were certainly taking notice of the grass ahead.

We had out stop for a piece of Lyons fruit cake packed by nanna before continuing our journey. We had made our way through another small town, but this time was a little way from the main road. We ended up walking through some housing and at one point Eibh commented it feels like we are walking into someone’s backyard. Bec started questioning my navigation skills, to which it could be argued she had pretty good evidence. From the houses we saw a small path leading through the fields and noticed a motorbike heading along the path in front of us and assumed it would be fine. We could see the main road only a couple of hundred metres from where we were so assumed it would be okay. We walked past a small house with a couple of women and several children who came out to say hello. In the front of the house it looked like there were three colourful tombstones in the front yard. The further we walked the smaller the path became and we eventually ran out of path. A young lady walking her cow gestured to us to walk along the paddy fields to our right, which we could see the main road was not far away. So we had a quick team pow wow and decided to risk it. The initial part of the walk was fine along the side of the paddy fields but then we noticed there was a large crop of sugar cane with a small half metre wide gap for us to walk through. We looked back and the lady was still gesturing us on. There was now about a 50 metre stretch, which we affectionately named snake alley. Given our encounter only an hour before we all nervously proceeded along the narrow path. As a group we decided given my obvious snake experience I would go first, followed by Eibh, with Indy squeezed in between Eibh and Bec with Popsy bringing up the rear. The anxiety of the group was palpable so Popsy started up with an old favourite family song “Tintanara kicks forward, forward, forward, Tintanara kicks forward” and we all joined in which helped take our minds off the snake alley of death.

Before we knew it we were out the other side and popped out next to the service station on the main road. We stopped there to have a quick toilet stop and vegemite sandwiches. Indy wasn’t impressed with the toilet, Eibh added that “the toilet paper was too good for that toilet”. Not our most glamorous spot to stop for lunch but we all needed a short breather after traversing snake alley. Being back on the main road we then decided reluctantly to stay on the main road to finish off our walk. We pushed out the last 10kms in good time and after the usual stop for cokes and chips we saw the sign ‘Welcome to Maddur’. We stop for our team celebrations and team photos by the sign and as if on cue Raju and the tempo traveller pulls up to pick us up. As we travel back to the hotel, Eibh speaking to Fletch her husband talking him through his first ever online Bpay payment – this trip is taking everyone out of their comfort zones, the wonders of technology. On our drive back to the hotel, reflecting on our near 25km walk today we commented on what a great day we had all had, a day that had everything.

Day 12 Walk from Srirangapattana to Mandya

We were up early this morning hoping to make an earlier start to our walk day. Breakfasts have become a little more pedestrian in recent days, cornflakes with banana and milk, toast and jam, fried eggs. After my stomach scare last week I have been happy for the slightly plainer breakfast options this week. After Indy’s tiredness at the end of the day yesterday I strongly suggested a rest day, I think she was happy for the coercion and relented. I think the fact that I missed a day last week was a good thing for Indy to see that we are all going to require rest days from time to time and I was very glad to see her relent and take a rest today. Maggie who as we were going down to breakfast was just waking up stated to the group that she was joining the team today. So the team today was reliable old Popsy, Nicola (for her first full day), Maggie and myself. A quick check of the itinerary revealed today was going to be one of our larger walks at 26kms. The support team of Bec, Jen, Eibhlin, Indy and Gus were doing an awesome job at providing the support to the walk team and helping with the management of Gus, who requires a lot of attention.

We started our walk from Srirangapattana and about 10 minutes in Maggie was asking how long to go, it was clear it was going to be a long day. Not long after our start we noticed a small side road running off the main highway and were keen to get off the road every chance we had. We walked down a small country lane through local houses and immediately the local kids came running out, given it is a Saturday they were all home. Everyone was pleased to see us and as we walked along we noticed a woman who had just fetched her water. Her face beamed as she saw us and immediately we could tell that her English, whilst broken was quite good. We stopped and talked, she explained she was collecting her water for the morning. She gestured that her house was just down the road and asked if we would like to see, which we ofcourse did. Her name was Celia and a few metres down the road we were invited in to a very small home, really just a room which had in it a bed which took up most of the room. On the walls she had many items that meant her house doubled as a shop and a small divider at the end of her bed separated another very small room which also had a bed for her two adult sons. It was very interesting to see how Celia and her family lived and the size of her home. She was extremely friendly and offered Maggie and Nicola a range of goods from her shop and refused payment. Nicola had to force some rupees into her hand for the items the girls bought.

We walked on and a little further up the road we rejoined the main road and just off the road the kids were at school, much to Maggie’s disgust on a Saturday. We decided again to come off the main road and walk up the school windows to have a chat to the kids. They showed us their work and we had a quick talk. We walked on and found a small place for our morning coffee, to which Maggie joined in. Whilst there a man came up and said hi and that he had seen our story in the paper. We had a chat and he told me his name was Manjunath, he was the manager, he was from Hubli a town about 600kms away near Mumbai. He shared with me he had a wife and small daughter that he missed very much. He was here working for financial reasons and in a few days was going to be able to return to his family. He shared with me that he liked Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, two Australian cricketers and asked if it would be okay if he could give me a gift, a book to which a friend had recently given him. We wished him well and continued our walk.

As we walked along the road we came to a hill. We commented that the road could have easily been any country road in Australia, a dual carriageway, gum trees along the side of the road and dusty verges. As we walked up the hill, me basically pulling Maggie up the hill, a man walking his bike came up alongside us. His name was Chinderal and he had his grass cutting on the back of his bike for his two oxen he had back at his home. He talked a little English but often just talked away in his local language as though we understood what he was saying. He shared with us that he was not yet married, that this was happening next, whatever that meant. He offered us to come to his village which we thankfully declined today and as we had made it to the top of the hill he jumped on his bike and said goodbye.

After nearly 3 hours walking Maggie, finding each step a challenge we found a small roadside mound in shade to stop for a sandwich and a rest. It was now 12 noon and we were expecting the vehicle any minute and Maggie was hoping to catch a ride to the hotel. We kept walking for a while longer and stopped for a cool soft drink and rang to check in with the support crew. As it turns out they were doing a bit of shopping much to Maggie’s disappointment who had been hoping for a pick up. We started walking again and this time Maggie enjoyed a chat about our new puppy in waiting Jasper. For the next 90 minutes Maggie talked with me non-stop about our puppy and all the plans she had for him. She set a cracking pace, so much so that we left Poppa and Nicola in our tracks. Maggie was off and not a complaint to be heard. The support crew finally arrived and after our hellos and health checks Maggie jumped into the air conditioned car very happy with her efforts. We topped up our water supplies and Maggie having had a minute to rest decided she wanted to finish the days walking. This is the same girl who ten minutes in was asking when she could get picked up, she was asking for an auto, asking if we should try hitch hiking, wanted to jump into an oxen wagon, was continually asking ‘where’s Raju and now after 20kms walking she was looking to finish the walk, what a super effort.

We said goodbye to the team and headed off to finish our walk, thinking we only had 2-3 kms to finish up. Indy joined us for the final leg. After a few kilometres Maggie turned to me and said ‘my knee feels like it is having childbirth’ it has been a long walk for my little lady. In the distance we could see a town and as we got closer could see the sign Hotel Jyoti International, we had made it as it turned out the final stretch was more like another 5kms. The walk today in total was about 26kms, nearly 6 hours, what an effort by Nicola for her fist walk and Maggie, my nine year old daughter who both walked every step.

As we neared the hotel we could see Mum, Bec, Eibh and Gus waiting for us sitting at the tables out the front of the hotel Our $30 a night hotel has turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise and we are very pleased to be here. A cold coke and packet of Lays Indian chips and the weary walkers and support crew shared our stories from our day in a very relaxed setting. Indy having spent the day with her new idol Eibhlin has even started talking with a kind of hybrid Aussie / Irish accent, very cute. Indy has just come in and informed us that Nicola had used the as she put it the butt washer to have her shower. Poor Nicola, exhausted from her day didn’t see the shower and proceeded to have a wash with the small hand hose usually reserved for the washing of one’s butt, it has been a long day indeed! Eibhlin has just informed me that Indy after all of this decided to also use the butt washer as it turned out to be warmer than the shower, oh well when in India!

One of our longest walk days of our trip, great effort our little Maggie.

Day 11 Mysore – Walk to Srirangapattana

Last night we heard from my sister Kate that Max and Alice between them and their schools (St Mary’s memorial and Westminster College) raised a total of an additional $1500AUD for our cause, what a great effort. Ally had a casual day at her school and gave an inspiring talk to her school mates and Maxy organised a walkathon, very fitting, from Glenelg to Somerton in Adelaide. What an incredible effort and it gave us all a real buzz to know back home there are still people interested in the cause and supporting us all financially. Given our experience of yesterday we know just what a difference this additional $1500 will make to these kids we are meeting.

We had planned a 9.00am start from the hotel so up early for breakfast, all dressed in our Green ChildFund T-shirts and now we are affectionately known as team green or team Irish. There was a buzz in the air after the incredible day we all had yesterday although I only got a small amount of sleep last night, between the emotion of the day and the bright lights shining into our room I found it hard to get to sleep last night. Mum had a great idea and asked the hotel for a loaf of buttered bread and compiled a selection of vegemite and peanut butter sandwiches for our walk today. We headed off in our vehicle to meet at St Theresas church. On the way I asked Bec if she knew where my sunglasses were, I felt on my hat where I normally keep them and they weren’t there, they were on my face, how well am I doing today!

We arrive at the church for the start of our walk today and see Prem and Antony and their smiling faces. There were several other ChildFund staff, Father Jonas, Vincent and other members of the team, everyone clearly feeling very positive after a very successful day yesterday. We were not quite sure of the plan today, other than to protect Gus and his cheeks. As the minutes passed it was conveyed that the plan today was to start with a fundraising drive through the streets of Mysore in two groups before coming back together to wish the walkers off for the remainder of the walk. We had several green buckets and childfund flyers to distribute to the local shopkeepers. We started our walk and as we went momentum gathered and buckets were slowly filled. The majority of people were very happy to support the cause and in particular the kids were very successful, especially Maggie who was a natural.

Amidst the slow walk around there were the usually engrossing moments in time that India provides. The calf standing in the middle of the main road with the bus screeching to a halt to gently nudge it, and I mean very gently nudge it on its way. The butchers, to which Gus asked why the thing hanging had a tail, interesting conversation given Gus and his love for Goats. Perhaps the most confronting sight was the two men, witnessed at different times of the morning with no legs who were each literally rolling down the road amongst the traffic and pedestrians getting to where they needed to go. Just difficult to comprehend what life must be like for these two grown men, having to roll sideways down the road, just stop for a minute and think about what it is again we have to complain about, a moment of perspective again in India. You saw the usual contradictions of those who had the most to give often giving the least or not at all and those who clearly had very little happy to contribute what they could. There were ofcourse the tourists who were happy for Nicola to explain what we were collecting for to then turn and ignore her when she then asked for a small donation. Then there were the people last night from Wales staying with us at the Green Hotel, who had seen our story in the paper and approached us to ask if they could make a donation and made a very generous donation, ah the contrasts of the human condition, you can’t escape it. I have learnt (or am learning) not to judge and not to compare just to accept. I have found when falling into this trap in the past it does your head in. So now I try to focus on what I can do and nothing more. Still a work in progress….

The morning was very successful for ChildFund albeit a very long morning. The 4-5 kilometres we walked to collect the fund took over 3 hours to complete and by the end of it we were all getting exhausted. We were the first to make it back to the meeting place which was at the major roundabout in central Mysore. We heard from the other group that they were still half an hour away, on my mind was the fact that it was now nearing 1pm, the hottest part of the day and we still had 15kms to walk. We stood in the shade and just watched as the traffic of every possible vehicle imagineable as well as thousands of pedestrians worked their way around the intersection of 5 roads coming together. At one point the traffic was stopped and an old man, covered from head to toe in dirt, wearing just an old shirt and shorts, small cloth wrapped around his head and bare feet came walking around the roundabout in the middle of the 3 lanes pulling behind him a small wagon (flat top, two wheels at the side). Next minute the lights changed and the scooters and motorbikes came from behind him and swamped him, then the autos, then the cars trucks and buses. Not to be put off the old man just kept walking and the traffic just made its way around him, only in India.

After some time we saw Indy with Vincent, one of the staff making their way to our group. Indy, bucket in hand had a very successful morning. Her bucket even included a cheque for 250 rupees. Next we found Poppa and Maggie and Bec, Nicola and Maggie jumped in the car to return to the hotel where Mum and Gus had returned a little earlier in the morning. So we had Poppa, Indy and I together and there was just some confusion regarding Eibh’s whereabouts. Someone suggested that she had gone in the car with Maggie, although we didn’t see her. A few calls later and we were still none the wiser. The time was going past 1.30pm and we were getting anxious to get on the road and then out of the crowd pops Eibh, bucket in hand doing her last shop for ChildFund. Antony’s casual observation of the buckets suggested a 10,000Rupee morning for ChildFund India, a very important effort not only in collecting funds but also in raising awareness. One of the highlights of the morning was experienced by Poppa, India and Maggie when one of the girls who yesterday received her new bike came riding by. She stopped and came up to the group saying thankyou again and was on her way to school on her bike, it was wonderful for the group to see the bikes in action being used for good straight away.

A quick vegemite sandwich and a round of goodbyes we walked with Father Jonas to the edge of town where he sent us on our way to the main road to our end point for our day. After this the walk was quite uneventful, thankful generally for the milder conditions and once we were out of the town of Mysore the walk was very pleasant. We made our destination by 4.30pm and despite an enormously long day we were very happy with our efforts. Raju, as if on cue arrived to collect us to take us back to Mysore for our final evening. Once back at the hotel the day had taken its toll on Indy who was exhausted and after a wash up, a little cry and a cuddle was convinced to come down for our final dinner. The evenings are quite cool out in the grassed courtyard and dinner by candlelight is one of the treats at the Green Hotel, the food is definitely the other. Eibhlin ordered up for the table, Gus on his scooter going around catching lizards, and then later with Nicola’s help catching frogs we had a lovely finish to our time in Mysore.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Day 10 Mysore – Project Visit and A Day We Will Never Forget

Today started as all days with the visit from the monkeys and being chaperoned down to breakfast by the monkey herder with his sling shot. India received a visit from the Indian Tooth Fairy last night having lost a tooth and found a rupee under her pillow this morning. As we sat and enjoyed our breakfast we had the outside restaurant to ourselves and Gus enjoyed riding his scooter up and down the path alongside out table spotting monkeys in the distance and entertaining the waiters. As a team we took some time to review the first leg of our journey and had a discussion about what has been working well, what hasn’t been working so well and ideas for the next leg. It was a fruitful discussion filled with many positive observations and some good ideas for the next leg.

After breakfast we headed out to the Mysore Press Club for a meeting with the Press. Having never done anything like this before we had no idea what to expect or what would ensue. We all walked in and there was a small stage with a long table at the front of the room with 5 chairs behind it. Bec, the kids and I sat at the front with Prem Kumar from the ChildFund India National office and Father Jonas from the Local Project we are supporting here in Mysore. Mum, Nick, Eibh and Nicola sat in the seats with the journalists. There would have been maybe 15 journalists in the room. Prem and Father Jonas talked first and then I shared some information about our walk and why we were doing it and what it was all about. There were a few questions from the press and then Gus decided to share a few of his thoughts about his goats before we were off. I didn’t think I would ever be a part of a press conference especially not in India, but there you go. As we were leaving Bec pointed out the lifesize portrait of Mahatma Ghandi on the back wall, it felt very much like he is with us in spirit.

From the press meeting we then headed out to visit two of the local child care centres that are part of the Kiriya Pushpa Family Helper Project, which is supported by funding from ChildFund India. Each was located in a small brick hut and filled with beautiful young children. Bec had brought bubbles to blow for the kids and we had balls to play with and after a quick introduction we pretty much played with the kids the whole time we were there. Gus brought along his scooter and put on a show for the kids. We learnt how ChildFund, in conjunction with the local project office, work with the community to identify areas where government programs are not available and there is a gap in the provision of care for children. These centres allow parents to leave their children 6 days a week whilst they go to work (mostly as labourers) and the children are taught, receive nutritious meals and monthly medical checks. As always it was beautiful watching our kids interact so naturally with the Indian kids, they all had a great time together.

After the visits we had a quick 30 minutes back at the hotel before heading out to the St Teresa’s grounds and the project office. A presentation had been planned for us to be able to meet with the children who were going to be the recipients of many of the items we had been fundraising for. Upon arrival we were greeted by many of the staff from the project office and the ChildFund India National office including Antony and Prem. There was another journalist from the Indian times wanting an interview and several photographers also present. We just can’t believe the level of attention our walk is getting from the Indian Press. We are very pleased to be able to use our walk to raise the awareness to the wonderful work of ChildFund India and the many current needs of vulnerable children. According to our friends from ChildFund India the press attention has been creating a great deal of interest in the work of ChildFund India and many requests for further information.

We sent some time playing with the kids and talking with the staff before heading around the back of the project office to the school hall and the venue for our presentation. As we walked behind the project office building and walked across the school grounds it was apparent that this was going to be an amazing event. As we approached the hall there was an incredible buzz emanating from the building and as we got closer there were literally hundreds (approx. 500-600!) of children and parents, teachers and staff waiting for us. The hall was set up like a church with two rows of long chairs set up at either side of the hall and a long aisle up the middle, complete with red carpet! As we walked up the aisle there were just so many kids, they were all so happy to see us, as were we to see them.

At the front of the hall was a large stage with chairs set up for all of our team and Father Jonas and Antony. There was a large “Coast to Coast” banner behind the chairs welcoming us to the event. As we walked up to the stage, we looked back into a sea of beautiful faces, it just took our breath away. We had welcome speeches from Father Jonas and Antony and then there was traditional and modern dancing from the children, and some short plays about HIV awareness and child rights. I was asked to light a welcome candle on the stage and I went up with Indy, Maggie and Gus and we each took a turn at lighting one of the candles. This was fine until Gus decided he would start blowing them out as we were lighting them! We got there in the end. It was all just quite beautiful. I could tell from the looks on the faces of my friends and family that they were as blown away as I was by the whole event. We were very honoured to see the Bishop of Mysore join us for the presentation. At one point Maggie was sitting next to the Bishop and they were having a nice old chat, Maggie loves to talk – would love to have been in on what they were chatting about!

Then came the moment we had been building up to for the last 15 months. We were asked to come down from the stage and present the children with their items. Firstly there were many girls who received brand new bikes to enable them to school. In September we identified during my visit that there were several children who had to walk up to 5 or 6 kilometres each day back and forth to attend school. This was not only time consuming and difficult but also unsafe. We were able to present these girls today with their brand new bikes, it was so wonderful to see the look on their faces as they were each presented, by my daughter India, with their new bikes.

After the bikes we presented new school bags and school kits to orphaned children. There must have been over 100 amazing kids who were called up to receive their brand new satchel from either Maggie or Gus. The children must have ranged in age from 3-4 year olds up to teenagers. One at a time they came up with the most beautiful and grateful look in their eyes. I just took the moment to kneel down and look into the eyes of each one of these incredible kids. I looked over to see Bec having a quiet tear to herself back at the chairs and decided to join her in what would have to be one of the most special moments of our lives. After the hundreds of kids received their school bags and kits it was time for Eibhlin to distribute her water filters for the local schools. These filters will ensure the children at these many schools get access to fresh drinking water. The whole process was just the most unbelievable experience and I just felt numb all over.

I am sure I am not doing the day justice, but for those of you who are reading this and have donated to ChildFund as part of our walk, these are your funds going directly to these children. We actually saw the kids who were benefiting directly from your generous donations. If only you could have seen the looks on the faces of the kids as one after one they received their much needed items. In this community we are also providing funds for emergency medical treatment for HIV infected children, a cause we are very committed to supporting.

By this stage the kids were whipped up into a bit of a frenzy. I was asked to give a small speech and as I came up on the stage with Bec and the kids Gus had his first moment he had been waiting for. He had been watching all of the kids dancing and acting on the stage, and all the while asking “when is it my turn?”, well it was now his turn. So as I started to speak Gus put on a show of cartwheels and backflips (technically forward rolls but Gus refers to them as his backflips) While the “Gus show” was going on I gave a small speech where I talked about the fact that every child in this world is special, and every child deserves the right to grow up in a safe environment, healthy and able to go to school. That we want to live in a world where this is not an aspiration, but a reality. I shared with people my experience of the warm and friendly hospitality I have always experienced when in India and shared our two most special quotes – “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something’ and ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. I mentioned that the people in the audience who were clearly so grateful for what we were doing, would probably never truly understand how special it is for my family and I to be here, and to experience first hand, the difference the contribution we are making from Australia will make to the lives of the children in the room. I thanked them very much for allowing us to a part of today.

I then handed the microphone to India who provided a very moving and inspired talk about the impact this whole experience was having on her life and how grateful she was to be able to see first had the impact the funds raised were having on kids, followed by a few beautiful and heart felt words from Maggie. Maggie then handed the microphone to Gus who was waiting for this moment. On stage 500 people in the palm of his hand and he was off. He talked about goats, he talked about helping kids, he talked about our driver Raju, he talked about all sorts of stuff. One hand on his hip the other on the microphone. He had to get the wind up from India and Mags or he would probably still be talking now. Bec decided not to talk today and was happy to leave it to the rest of us to convey just how thankful we were for the experience we were sharing together today.

After our presentation the Bishop of Mysore gave a very heartfelt talk, including his thanks and appreciation for the commitment being made to the children of Mysore. After the Bishop it was time for another play from the children and then another highlight of the day, dancing from Veenai and his team. Wow, what a performance, he was spectacular, look out Bollywood. The day was drawing to a close and after a few final words of thanks the presentation was over and we all adjourned to the school grounds for tea. As we were having tea all of the children were walking around with their new bikes or school kits, it was just amazing. Veeni came up to Eibhlin and I and presented each of us with a beautiful gift that he had obviously organised of his own accord which was incredibly touching. Veeni, you may recall from a recent blog is an 11 year old boy and just such a special kid. He is on the waiting list to be a sponsored child and whilst benefiting from community programs and sponsorships has not yet been sponsored himself, until now. He is a beautiful example of the many, many children who families can provide regular support to through a child sponsorship through ChildFund International.

Gus took off again on his scooter across the grounds so I followed him away from the main group to find a small concrete area for Gus to practice his scooter moves. I just took a moment to look around the school field and just watch the kids. There were girls with their new bikes looking super proud as they rode around. There were kids wearing their new school bags on their backs, some of them barely bigger than their bags. I took a moment to think about 15 months earlier in Barwon Heads Caravan Park when I had been feeling pretty flat about my life and wanted to do something more. I was tired, anxious and lacking motivation for life and work. I thought about the contribution I wanted to make in this world and I thought about what I would like to do that would be extraordinary and I turned to my wife as we were pushing Gus on a swing and said “I want to walk across India”. Fast forward 15 months and here we are. Together with many wonderful friends and family members we have collectively raised well over $50,000AUD and on our way to my initial secret target of $100,000AUD. We are walking across India as a family and on the way meeting some wonderful people and children and having an experience of a lifetime. I am hoping our journey is also encouraging others to find a way of doing something extraordinary for themselves and inspiring people to make their contribution to this world. It doesn’t have to be a walk across India, it can be anything. Remember everyone can do something,

As the sky was becoming darker and the day drawing to a close the kids were slowly coming past to say goodbye, There were so many friendly faces and so many parents coming up to say thankyou for the support we were providing. We spent time saying our goodbyes and then all fell back in the bus with a quiet sense of euphoria and shared stories of the day. When we returned home it all became too much for our little man Gus who had a major meltdown. No sleep during the day and a very big day. There was screaming ‘I don’t like you’ ‘ don’t look at me’ and one of the biggest meltdowns we have seen from our tired little man. Just so you know that it is not all euphoric experiences over here! As this was going on Indy had a little meltdown of her own, hers a more happy one. She was so emotional about what she had experienced during the day and it just all caught up with her. She is now of an age where she really gets it, what we are trying to do as a family and for her to witness through her own eyes was incredibly moving for our beautiful Indy. After a little talk, lots of cuddles and a wash she was off next door to play Uno for the beds with Nicola and Eibhlin. Meanwhile Manny had calmed down enough for me to give him a cuddle and he expressed that he didn’t like it when people were pinching his cheeks. It turned out that once again there was a moment when he was surrounded by people, all wanting to touch his cheeks and he got very scared and overwhelmed. In case we needed it (and we shouldn’t have) Gus was reminding us that he needs to feel safe when we are at these events so we made a promise together that this wouldn’t happen again. He had two cups of tea and went to bed.

As I sit here and type my blog, bowl of noodles for dinner, Bec and the rest of the team are down enjoying dinner and as I understand it very emotional about what they were invited to be a part of. The celebration today organised by Dola, Antony and in particular Prem Kumar from the ChildFund India office together with our friends from the Kyria Pushpa project, Father Jonas and his team have provided us with a day we will never forget, thankyou.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Day 8 Sultans Bathery to Mysore – Welcome & Community Visit

We awake to another beautiful morning. Pleased to see my stomach slowly recovering and whilst not quite ready for the full Indian breakfast starting to return to a sense of stability. As we go about our morning routine and pack up Maggie and I wander around doing a monkey search and see many. The sun is starting to slowly rise above the high coconut trees as the girls have a quick hit with the badminton racquets whilst we await breakfast. I am standing watching the girls having fun whilst behind them in the short distance the monkeys are going about their morning routines.

After breakfast we head back to our rooms and on the way the kids stop to check in on the two ducks that seem to live in the grounds. Yesterday as Maggie and I played cards the ducks started bobbing their heads up and down towards each other which caught Maggie’s eye. Then one of the ducks stood up on the other, to which Maggie said “How cute, they are playing a game of stand up”. A quick birds and the bees discussion ensued to which a reply of “ooh yuk” from Maggie confirmed she understood. Maggie stated that she was excited about the babies that would come, I wasn’t so sure this was a likelihood. Anyway today as we were walking back to the room to get our bags and leave the ducks hopped up and sure enough out pops one duck egg. The kids were very excited to see it almost arrive on cue. If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought it had been planted. Maggie was right after all!

We pack our bags and jump in the bus for our 100+km drive to Mysore today. We were advised by our friends in India that this would not be a safe walk leg because it runs right through a wildlife sanctuary. Our friends were too polite to say we musn’t but suggested the leopards and tigers could be a problem, we agreed. So we hop in the bus and drive through once again quite beautiful country. The drive is uneventful and after several hours we arrive in Mysore. Mysore is a very large city, the second largest in the state of Karnataka behind Bangalore. As we drive in you feel the increase in population and there is a real buzz to the city. We are only a few kilometres from our hotel when a man on a motorbike next to us stopped at the traffic lights knocks on the window and gives Raju a head wobble and shake of his head to suggest a problem. A worried Raju looks in his side mirror and a look of concern comes over his face. We round the corner and pull over and Raju looks back and says “change of tyre, a 30 minute delay”. We had since been on the phone to Eihblin and Nicola who inform us they are about to arrive in Mysore by train. We are very excited about meeting up with our friends and hearing of their Indian adventure.

After our unexpected delay we make it to one of our favourite hotels in the world, the Green Hotel, voted one of the best budget hotels in the world. It is a hotel that devotes its profits to the local community and is a favourite of many, particularly writers which it has a long history of famous authors who have spent time here writing. This is our third visit and we would highly recommend it to anyone coming to Mysore. We are excited to see Eibhlin and Nicola waiting for us in the lobby and we all check in. We have been allocated the exact same room we had on our last visit. As the staff bring up the extra mattresses for the floor for the girls we are informed by Indy and Maggie that they will moving in with the girls while we are here and it is evident that they are in need of some ‘Gus Free’ time and are very excited about their time with the big girls in the ‘party room’.

Just a few quick minutes to catch up, Gus has a powernap. He was getting quite narky in the car on the way here and very much in need of a rest. When Gus starts yelling ‘I don’t like you’ at the top of his voice it is usually code for I need a rest. We contact Prem our friend from ChildFund India and make arrangements to head out to the edge of Mysore for our event – a walk into Mysore. We unfortunately need to wake Gus who looks like he had settled in for a long afternoon sleep but an 'I love you daddy' confirms all is well and we all drive out to a welcome at Bandipalya about 6 KM from the Kiriya Pushpa community project. As we arrive we see many children & staff (over 50) ready to join us in our walk into Mysore. There are many children joining us, many who are sponsored children with Childfund India and many of the female leaders of the very successful self help group program. There is a real buzz in the air, there are banners made up with messages about our ‘walkathon’ that the kids are carrying to promote the walk and the work of the ChildFund programs. Before we start our walk there is an official blessing for all our team members with chalk applied to our foreheads and a smoke wafting ceremony before a spilling of a coloured liquid in front of our feet. Even Gus in his stroller received a blessing, it was an incredibly special start to our walk. We have a walk route that is a 6-8km walk along through Gunduraonagar, Muneshwaranagar-NIE college road and is planned to finish at the ChildFund project headquarters at St Thomas Church.

Here we are as a large group, the 9 members of our walk team and some 50+ children, staff and volunteers walking along the dirt verge along one of the main roads into Mysore, it is quite a sight. Gus and I lead off with Gus in the stroller, followed by the walk team intermingled with the many children and staff. After a few kilometres Mum decides to take Gus in the bus with Raju and meet us at the end of the walk. We all enjoy the opportunity to mix in with the crowd to many conversations about “what is your good name?” and “where are you from?” The kids are just beautiful and many I recognise from my visit here in September. We head off the main road and start to walk through the backstreets, the walk team all carrying on a myriad of conversations intermingled with the crowd. As we walk through the backstreets we stop in a range of locations for additional blessings and small ceremonies. Comments between team members focus on just how surreal this experience is, Bec makes the comment about what would we be doing if we were at home right now, another of life’s wonderful experiences.

There is one young boy named Veeni who has take a particular interest in me (Eibhlin as well, that is Veeni has taken an interest in Eibh too!). Veeni is 11 years old and in 5th standard at school. Veeni tells me he is a batsman and a very good dancer. He is very small for his age, I would have guessed he was 6 or 7 by his physical size, perhaps a sign of a lack of nutrition as he was developing. Veeni is very chatty and enjoys a snake lolly with me as we walk along. I also see a lovely young lady I met on my last visit who is currently studying beyond high school, not sure what this is called and shares again with me her dreams of becoming a doctor. We share our memories of my last visit here in September and I enquire with her about a very sick young baby we saw last visit. She tells me the baby is recovering and has been to the hospital for treatment.

After many kilometres we stop amidst one of the many urban slums around Mysore. It is referred to as a slum but is the proud home of many of those we walk with today. We stop at a small community space, the same my business partner Jeff and I visited in September when we were here. We walk into a small open shed like area with a galvanised roof and brick surrounds, there are chairs set up at the front for us to sit in. The walk team heads in and I am asked for a quick media interview, which I do to spread the word of the good work that ChildFund India is doing here and try to promote the opportunity to donate funds to our causes here. After the interview, longer than I expected, I enter the hut and there is a cake that has been made to commemorate our visit and a rose and a small lemon for each of the team. The hut is crammed from pillar to post with what seems like hundreds of people, I am sure it wasn’t that many but there were faces everywhere. There is a speech made by one of the women who is a leader in the self help groups and she comments on how excited everyone is to welcome us to their homes. I am asked to light the candles on the cake and then the same lady cuts the cake and proceeds to feed each of us a small piece. I am asked to say a few words which I do to thank everyone for their amazing generosity and thank them for providing us with one of the most special days of our lives. I don’t think the people here truly appreciate just how incredible this experience is that they have created for us.

After the official ceremony is completed the kids sense the opportunity to interact more and we are all swamped for handshakes and a quick chat. Maggie and Indy are particularly popular and seem to have made new friends very quickly. We try to reach Mum and Gus by phone to get them to meet us at several points along the journey but seem to be getting lost in translation. It has been some time since we have seen them and are starting to worry about them but there is nothing that we are able to do. We walk through the crowd saying our goodbyes, having last photos before continuing our walk, now hand in hand with many people on our way to our finish location at St Thomas cathedral. I am starting to get the hang of traffic patrol duties and quite confidently stride into open traffic to slow the vehicles down so the entourage can cross safely. As I look around it is clear that this is another unforgettable moment for the team with everyone with smiles brimming and holding hands with their new friends.

We finally make it to our final destination as it is starting to get dark, a few have dropped off along the way but there is still a crowd of 20-30, mainly kids by now who see us to the finish line, what a day. We are also very pleased to see Mum and Gus, mum has done a great job keeping Gus entertained in the hot bus for all of this time and is very relieved to see us. I say goodbye to Veeni who is still holding my hand and say I will see him on Thursday, Veeni is coming to dance for us at a ceremony we are having, he is very excited as am I.

We take some quick tea, Gus has a run around in the grounds and we are very pleased to see the items we have raised funds for ready to be distributed on Thursday. There is a room full of school kits and water filters and we are informed there are also many bikes ready as well. We are also supplying emergency treatment for HIV infected children. What an amazing way to finish our day, this is what we cam here to do and it is incredible to see first hand the items ready for distribution.

We say our thankyous and goodbyes and although weary there is a lot of excited chat going on in the bus on the way home. Gus ofcourse giving Raju a complete update on all of his activities since he last saw him. Back at the Green hotel we wash up for a dinner on the lawn courtyard at the hotel, candle lights on the table and sit under a beautiful clear star filled sky. It is a very simple venue but incredibly special. We order some tandoori chicken for the kids and a selection of curries and breads for dinner. Gus finds a new friend Bianca, who is a little younger and Italian we think. At one stage he has a possie of 5 young girls following him around the large outdoor courtyard. As we sit and share stories of the day Gus is doing cartwheels and forward rolls on the brick paths with Bianca much to our concern, they seem happy. We have a lovely dinner, I decide to bite the bullet and get back on the wagon with the full curry selection. I can’t last long in India on dry crackers and barley sugars! Gus eats his chicken like it is the first real meal he has had in weeks, it is really only days! We order a second serve for him. A special end to an incredibly special day that was shared with Jen and Nick, Eibhin and Nicola.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Day 7 Walk from Kalpetta to Sultans Bathery – Bec off the bench

The day started with another trip to the bathroom and my stomach relieved itself of every drop of water I had tried to consume through the evening. During the night I was desperately trying to keep up my water intake holding on to the last threads of hope that I could join the walk team today. Unfortunately it became clear that I could not. Most importantly Maggie awoke asking for food and has spent the day grazing her way through an assortment of foods and showing no signs of the cramps experienced yesterday.

Only several days into the trip and I am having to concede a days walking. The coast to coast epic adventure has produced its first casualty, being me. Lying on the bed and the room is spinning, the guys are getting ready for their days walking. Bec has quickly jumped off the bench and will take my place today. Gus has also rigged up for his second walk effort and will start the walk with Bec, Indy and Popsy. Just the thought of a paratha and veg curry makes me sick, so not sure how we will go for the next 5 weeks!

The walk team head off with Raju as Maggie, Mum and I stay home for the day. They will walk from Kalpetta to Sultans Bathery, a walk of just over 20kms. Mum comes in and tells me she is very sad for me that I can’t walk today and I tell her not to worry, it is all part of the adventure. There is something very humbling about realising your limitations, of which I have many, and today has shown me again that despite all of your planning and preparations, things happen.

As the hours went on I gradually felt better. A diet of barley sugars and gastrolites seemed to do the trick and despite a whopping headache and feeling like I have a bad hangover (I assure you I have had nothing to drink) I feel good that my recovery is well in progress. Maggie and I play some cards, watch a DVD and generally take it easy. Mum goes to meet the walkers after an hour or so to pick up Gus and get some supplies from the shop. News comes back from the walk team that is all okay and it sounds like they are having a good day. Gus returns home with stories of elephants and goats and helps himself to French fries and sauce and then quickly retires for his day sleep, one he has definitely earned today.

A couple of hours later and the walk crew return after a successful and tiring day. Bec has completed her first full leg of the walk, Popsy resolute, and Indy pleased with her effort. A buzz fills the place as the energy of the walk team arriving home after a solid days walking. They share stories of elephants, goats, coconut pickers, and many other highlights of yet another successful day. The team head over for lunch as Indy and I enjoy a game of cards and some dried crackers with vegemite. Indy is proving herself to be such a strong and determined young woman on this trip and despite my encouragement for her to take extra rest days she is currently refusing and is determined to walk the entire journey.

As the team settles in for an afternoon rest Maggie comes running in “there’s a monkey right there, it is on our roof”. I head out with Maggie and sure enough there are monkeys all around our room climbing through the trees, fortunately they are not tourist monkeys and seem very frightened as they flee to the safety of higher ground. Maggie and I follow them down to the river and sit on the steps by the river bank to watch a family of monkeys go about their afternoon of feeding. As I sit there and put my arm around Maggie we share how this is not an everyday experience and despite not being on the walk team both Maggie and I have still shared in a special experience. We sit there and watch the monkeys go about their business and feel like we are a million miles away.

I sit here and think to myself that 24 hours is a long time, this time yesterday I was feeling very unwell wondering how long my newly acquired illness would take to work its way through my body and now I am fast recovering and excited about what lies ahead.

As I sign out for the day Mum is poking Popsy to get out of bed as Gus is chasing the young boys from the hotel who have machette’s in hand to burst open some coconuts that Maggie and Gus have found. Gus comes running in very excited “the boys had a knife, they chopped the coconut – where are my jelly beans?”

Just another day in the coast to coast adventure.

Day 6 Sultans Bathery – Forced Rest Day

Today we had planned to walk from Putuppady to Kalpetta but after the massive day’s walking yesterday and the condition and steepness of the road we decided to drive on to Sultans Bathery and have a rest day. Actually the road from Putuppady to Kaplpetta was indeed unwalkable and despite Popsy’s concern about the integrity of the walk I assure him that it will be fine. Both Maggie and I have awoken with the first hint of Delhi Belly and Indy whilst recovered well from her big walk yesterday would benefit from a day off. We will tomorrow head back to Kalpetta and walk to Sultans Bathery to pick up our walk route.

This morning we farewelled Antony as he had found a ride back to Bangalore. We had a lovely drive from Kalpetta to Sultans Bathery and located our accommodation at the Orchid Resort – don’t get too excited, I think all places in India are referred to as resorts. The pluses are that we have a shared double room suite and there is some space for Gus to play. The resort is named as an eco resort which I am not completely sure what that means other than the fact that the scenery around the resort is quite beautiful. We are a little way off the main road and there is a small river running along the resort and we are surrounded by rich green vegetation. Unfortunately the pool is the same colour as the vegetation so no swimming here again for the kids. It seems that pools in India are more for decoration than use as we haven’t found one yet that even slightly resembled the colour blue.

I declined lunch today trying to settle down my stomach. I settled Gus down for a sleep as the rest of the crew went for lunch. Lunch was apparently quite calamitous as Mum wore a plate of vegetable curry which didn’t make it off the tray to the table. As you can imagine the waiter was mortified as Mum returned to the room to change looking like she had lost her lunch down her top. Whilst at lunch one of the boys who works at the resort was being carried back after apparently sustaining a fall, bandaged up and looking the worse for wear. Nurse Ratchett quickly surveyed the treatment apparently received from the hospital and was not impressed.

This afternoon I got a quick minute to check emails and we received the number to call Eibhlin and Nicola who have arrived safely. As Bec talks on the phone to Nicola Gus is hunting lizards who were running up and down a large tree. They were disappearing down a fist sized hole at the base of a tree which resembled the look of a snake hole so we encouraged Gus to leave it alone. The young Steve Irwin wasn’t impressed with that advice. Given that we walked past two dead poisonous snakes on our walk yesterday we are a little more conscious of the present dangers.

Bec heads back to the room to play with her camera and Gus and I spend a few more minutes surveying the tree. The boys who work at the hotel come out and say hi and Gus is very excited to be holding court as they hang off his every word. He has five boys all in raptures as he explains everything from lizard catching to goat herding and anything else he could think to cover. Never one to miss an opportunity Gus decides to take the boys on a walk and heads back towards the room. He runs inside and grabs his cricket bat and the game was on. Gus batting and four Indian fieldsman very dedicated to the game. Gus was in his element, ordering the field around and taking his turn batting and bowling, whatever he felt like. The directions coming from the boys about the game were quickly dismissed as Gus took charge. Bec, camera in hand was very excited and grabbed some beautiful photos of the very natural way Gus interacts with the boys.

After a while I decide to leave Gus to the boys and head back to see Bec turning a very pale shade of white. Whilst trying to delete one photo from her camera she accidentally deleted all but two of the photos. Every day of our trip and every moment that she had painstakingly captured were gone. Panic started and despite my best efforts to undo her work it was too late. Just when all hope seemed lost we remembered the memory stick and quickly took it out and put it in the laptop to check what was there. Relief followed as the colour returned to Bec’s cheeks as we could see all the photos saved on a folder and quickly moved to make several backups, a good lesson to learn early on in our trip.

As the hours passed Maggie and I went slowly downhill and the stomach cramps and pains escalated. Nurse Ratchett was in her element dispensing drugs and treatments left right and centre. It became quickly apparent to me that this was not going to be an easy night and after several hours of rest and trying to recover I was in the bathroom quite violently ill. It is in that moment that you are at your lowest, physically very ill, worried about your daughter, and definitely asking yourself the question about is this really what we signed up for. In between episodes in the bathroom I apologised profusely to Bec for what she was going through and in usual Bec style she simply said, ‘today is a dark day, tomorrow will be better’. Inside I knew she was right but I didn’t feel that way at the time.

Fortunately Maggie did not follow suit and she managed to hold down her antibiotic and recover quite quickly. After a couple of very eventful trips to the bathroom I managed to get some sleep and hoping all would be well in the morning.

Day 5 Kappad Beach – Walk from Kunnamangalam to Pudupaddy

Last night was a tough night. Obviously tired from our first day walking, Gus had a very rough night with his cough and was not a happy camper. I think all up I would have had only an hours sleep, Bec and the girls not a lot more. One of those nights where you are constantly up to the toilet, to get water, to find the dummies. At one point we set up a movie which brightened Gus up, he also found a bag of lollies and was back to his old self, this at 4am mind you. We managed to eventually get back to sleep for another hour or so before waking sluggishly and with a puffy left eye at 7.30am. Nanna has put on another very brave face and informs us her leg will be fine. Gus ofcourse wakes up full of energy and ready to greet the day, not so for the rest of us. Poppa and Nanna head to breakfast early to order up while we run around madly trying to get ourselves organised for what plans to be one of the biggest walk days of the trip. We had our usual breakfast and was excited to see we made it to page 3 of the Indian Express newspaper. A very good article for ChildFund and photo included.

After breakfast we leave Gus in charge of the girls and Poppa, Indy and I head off to collect Antony from his hotel and our drive to pick up our walk from Kunnamangalam. It is a beautiful morning and we are pleased to be starting our walk earlier in the morning. The Keralan countryside is just beautiful, with coconut and banana trees everywhere and huge palms and other exotic tropical species. As we walk along the highway we look down to the rivers with the kids playing in the river, it is very inviting. I enquire to Antony why the kids are not at school and he informs me it is Saturday. Another reminder of just how we have lost track of time and the normality of life.

Indy is starting to feel the weight of the stares and share with me there is a level of discomfort she is experiencing. She is walking in shorts and the white legs of a young girl are hard not to look at here in a culture where women are covered from head to toe. As we walk along a young man takes an interest in our walk team. Antony shares with him what our journey is all about and he is very interested. We walk on only to find a few minutes down the road he catches us up and informs us he is the editor of the local paper and wants to do a story on the walk. He has organised his photographer to meet us at the next town. He and Antony decide it is a good opportunity to do some impromptu fundraising for ChildFund. A bucket appears out of nowhere and India and Antony are walking into shops, bucket in hand, sharing our cause and securing donation after donation. One man, a cobbler sitting by the side of the road even made a generous donation. Ofcourse in India it is very easy to draw a crowd and soon we were again followed by many interested onlookers. After an hour or so Indy had raised several hundred rupees and we had another once in a lifetime experience find us out of nowhere.

A little further up the road we met the girls, Gus had been having as sleep in the car. Bec jumped out to order a few health warnings and supplied some hydrolytes amongst other advice. The girls were going to drive on today to the next town of Kalpetta, some 20km up the road and secure our lodgings for the evening rather than drive back to the beach. After a quick catch up the girls headed on and we kept walking, the sun getting hotter as we went and the cool morning shade and breeze was fast replaced with hot sun and heat radiating off the bitumen we walked along. A little further on we receive a text from Maggie, saying Poppa it is too dangerous, you cannot walk ahead. We weren’t sure what this was all about and because Bec hadn’t called we assumed it was nothing and continued on. A little further up the road we saw a nasty traffic accident where a truck had rolled off the road and assumed this was what the fuss was all about, littrle did we know that up ahead was a road we later named ‘Death Road’.

We stopped for lunch, keralan Paratha and veg potato curry which we all enjoyed, particularly Indy. We stopped for a quick toilet stop. The toilet was behind the small restaurant, it was a hole in the ground, the galvanized cubicle still filled with smoke from the previous patron and we are reminded about the small luxuries of home. Later that night Indy shared stories of the position she had to get into to be able to use the toilet and keep her pants on, due to the filth on the ground, she had us all in stitches.

We walked on, making good time even despite the impromptu fundraising effort. We receive a call from the girls informing us that the road from Puduppady was a nightmare and there is no chance we could even consider walking it, to which we ofcourse said to each other ‘how bad could it be?’. This was tomorrow’s planned walk and despite a few words regarding the terrain we were not aware of just how difficult this stretch was going to be. We were walking straight into the Great Western Ghats. We managed to keep walking and get to and through Pudupaddy, an amazing second day effort of over 30km’s and the longest walk any of us had ever done. We stopped for tea and spoke on the phone with the girls who were still lost trying to find the accommodation (I will let Bec share this experience with you below) and we were informed the 20 kilometres to Kalpetta would take well over an hour and was a terrifying trip – how bad could it be again we wondered given our surroundings were quite picturesque and serene? We decided to continue to walk beyond our final destination and as it started to get close to dusk decided to pull up stumps for the day by a roadside fruit stall. By this stage Indy was well and truly stuffed, truth be told so were we all, it had been a long day for everyone in the team.

Bec had finally found our stay for the night and Raju, who had been driving all day was heading back to get us. As we sat there at the base of the Ghats we looked up and imagined what lay ahead of us. The clouds were starting to come in and it was getting dark. We could only just make out the mountains through the clouds. We sat and waited for the tempo traveler bus to arrive. About 40 went by in the 90 minutes it took Raju to get back to us but at last the big TT with Raju at the wheel found us. Needless to say we were all very relieved. We jumped in the bus and I put my arm around Indy and just held on tight. We started to make our way up the mountain and a bit like a rollercoaster experienced the ease of the slow journey along the foothills as we made our way to the main peak. As we climbed the roads got narrower and rougher and we went through what seemed like 30 hairpin bends, single lane construction zone roads, buses and trucks in front of us and behind us. It was like a scene out of that documentary “the worlds scariest roads”. It was night so we couldn’t see what lay beyond the edges of the road but could imagine it was a long drop off. Raju who had been driving all day took particular caution and we made it very slowly up the mountain. All up the trip was fine, on only one occasion did we come around the corner to find a bus on our side of the road. The patience of the Indian drivers is amazing, the height of road rage is a flick of the hand and off they go with little or no aggression at all. We were extremely relieved to get to the top of the mountain, again as worrying as it was it provided another of those amazing life experiences at the end of what was a long day. You would have thought after all of this we would have deserved to just get to the hotel but unfortunately we found our way to a gridlock traffic jam and whilst only a kilometer of two from our lodging we were not going anywhere. Some time later we eventually made it to our homestay for the night, great to have the team reunited and we all shared the stories of our day before crashing into bed for a well earned night’s sleep.

Day 4 Kappad Beach – Colicut – Kunnamangalam

It is about 5.30am. I am sitting on the balcony of our hotel room at Kappad Beach. The crows are making a ruckus in the distance, the waves lap into the shoreline and the occasional person walks by the path between our room and the beach. The sand is only metres from our room. It is still dark as I await the beautiful red Indian sunrise. Last night the sun set was quite spectacular watching the sun go down into the sea. As I look out over our first floor balcony, the rooms are two on the first floor, two on the ground, I look through a couple of coconut trees laden with fruit, as well as another large and very green tree. Beyond the trees, about thirty metres on is a path that runs along the beach and beyond that is the sand. We can see the gentle waves rolling into the shoreline. The kids are still asleep and I am taking one of those rare moments for quiet contemplation. Today is our first official walk day and there are just so many unknowns that if you stopped and really thought about it, it would do your head in. So my strategy, not sure it is the right one, but is to focus on the things I can prepare for and just ready myself as best I can for all the things I cannot. As I write Maggie comes out and joins me on the balcony, a little weary eyed but happy. She complains to me that she can’t sleep because the mattress is too hard. She climbs into the cane egg chair that is suspended from the ceiling of our balcony and we start to think of names for our vehicle, to initiate it into the family.

It is only day 3 and India has already served up so much for us. There have been moments of absolute beauty and serenity, moments of utter madness and despair and then the obvious moments of moving from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Mum calls out hello from the balcony of the adjoining room, happy to see company having been up for hours. Maggie asks if she can add to the blog so I will play typist as she dictates a few thoughts to me on our trip so far. A boat starts up just out from our room.

Maggie starts – It was so fun yesterday when Gus had to pee in the bottle on the bus. Late last night at about 8pm little master Gus was hunting for squirrels and possums and luckily there was one of the staff looking after Gus while we enjoyed our many spices of our dinner. She comments that she is still not sure about the name for our bus. Maggie often drifts from subject to subject, it pays to try and keep up. She continues, was it yesterday, not it wasn’t yesterday, what was the day before that…. Not yesterday but the day before we went out to town and it was very crowded and busy and everyone looked like they knew what they were doing, crossing the road almost getting hit but tuk tuks taxis and trucks and on the ferry we went on to catch to town there was two or three ladies with their little boy and mum had asked if she could please take a photo with me and the lady was covering her mouth like she was freaked out and the other lady was closing her eyes. Yesterday after Gus had vomited through the car as we stopped we had met a lovely little school with lots of little girls and boys that were very interested in the white skin family that stopped for a clean up.

Meanwhile Gus has joined us informing us that he had the best dream about Possums, dinosaurs and squirrels. Bec follows Gus with the mosquito repellent and Indy slowly strolls out and sits next to me in the cane chair. Bec tells Indy about a little fishing boat chugging by.

Back to Maggie…Mum tried to take a photo and everyone hid like a game of hide and seek. Smartly poppa took a video so he could capture the little heads bobbing up and down behind the brick wall. Last night I brutally injured my toe and I almost utterly breaking my toe for the big walk, humungus, blood was squirting everywhere, on the night before our walk, as nurse ratchet India tried to fix me with the betadine who never stopped after I said stopped so she brutally hurt my poor unfortunate toe. Indy suggested she just scraped off a littler bit of skin, an argument unfolds, anyway back to Maggie…… well yesterday down to the beach I wore my short shorts as all the Indian men and women were staring at me like I was a massive freak having a massive egg hanging out of my head – “Told you” Indy informs Maggie that she had told her to wear something else. Final word from Maggie……Bye dudes who are reading this also if the class of 3B are reading this I am having a great time but I’m not having too gooder fun to make you feel bad. See you dudes maybe next time I write my blog.

Meanwhile a fishing boat drifts by, casts their net and slaps the water to arouse the attention of the fish. Indy, Bec and Gus have headed across to see our neighbours, quickly followed by Maggie. My serenity is restored, only momentarily I assure you. The sun is slowly rising now and it is possible to once again fully see all of the beauty that is our Indian coastline. I should now go and check my notes, make sure that I have the right directions to get us from Colicut where we commence our walk today through to Kannamangalam. Those who want to follow on Google maps we plan to walk along Mavoor road through to the medical college and then past the Indian institute of management on our way to Kannamangalam where we will get picked up by our car to return back to the hotel tonight. Bec drops me off my morning strong tea and I will sign out for now.

After the walkers breakfast of omlette’s and French toast, washed down with South Indian coffee we are into the car with Raju and off to our flag off ceremony at the Gateway hotel in Colicut. As we head out on our journey we cross over a bridge, I observe a fisherman in his small wooden boat, bucket in hand shovelling out the water that has obviously passed through a leak in his boat. The simplicity of life. We pass a butcher, the goat hanging in the window is never a pleasant site, many fish stalls are also there as we run the gauntlet of Indian roads. There are school kids everywhere and people all with a place to go surround our car. The kids are up front sining the Bumbeyada song a lovely song they learned on their last trip here as well as a few Christmas carols. This morning was a bit like the morning of a big game, we were all there getting our tape on, getting our supplies ready and getting dressed for the big walk. Everyone looked great in their green ChildFund T-shirts. Popsy is in the bus rifling through his backpack looking for something. Nanna informs him he is like an old lady with a handbag as he can never seem to find what he is looking for.

Unfortunately Raju cannot find the venue and we seem to drive around in circles for a long time in our hunt for the hotel where we are to begin our walk. As we drive along the esplanade I admire the set of very clean waves coming in and crashing on the shore. Mum says “oh look at those poor chickens” as she looks out at a truck carrying many cages of very sorry looking birds, “They’re happy” Poppa responds and we head on. Gus yells out from the front seat “Mum do you have any eye shadow?” to which Bec replies “No”. “I thought you had eye shadow” Gus retorts. Peeling tubes of brown water crash on the shore as Bec looks at me and tells me “the waves are cranking”. Another of those somewhat surreal experiences as we try to find or hotel. Raju out of desperation start asking directions and for the next 30 minutes we are heading up and down what seem like the same streets, lots of discussions and lots of head wobbling as we seek to secure directions to our destination. Just when all hope seemed lost, we arrive out of nowhere it seems to find the Gateway hotel.

We all jump out of the bus to a rock star welcome, our good friends Dola, Antony and Naomi are there to greet us and many hugs and kisses and we know we are amongst friends. We see ahead of us there is a crowd of ChildFund staff, volunteers and sponsored children waiting sitting in several rows of chairs with a vacant space at the front for us waiting. There are television cameras and reporters everywhere and it is all a bit much but very exciting. Naomi, Antony and Dola share some inspiring speeches and ask me to say a few words which I happily do. As I sit down Gus decides he wants a turn and ofcourse he gets up is handed the microphone and shares with everyone about is raising money for goats. This then starts a procession of speeches from each of the kids and Bec. After speeches we all stop for a quick morning tea before we are due to commence our walk.

At this point there are camera crews everywhere, as I look around it seems that everyone is doing an interview with someone. Gus is being carried off and photographed with everyone and when I get a sense he is over it I rescue him back and keep hold of him to calm him down. For the man who is used to a lot of attention even this is over the top. India and Maggie have both given interviews with the press and Mum and Nick are enjoying discussions with many of the people who are joining us in the walk today. Bec takes the opportunity to have a quick meeting with Naomi to confirm a couple of details.

It is getting hot and also a little late in the morning so we decide to kick of the flag off ceremony. All of the ChildFund people, about 60 in total are lined up behind three large coast to coast banners and the walk team is in front ready to commence the walk. Media cameras and photographers walking ahead of us, like we were Brad and Angelina! Gus getting a bit over it all retreats to my shoulders where he would stay for the next 3 kilometres as we walked to our first rest stop, the Memorial Baby hospital where Mum, Bec and Gus planned to leave us for the day. As we walked through the streets as a crowd of well over 60 the childfund people started chanting “We are ChildFund, We are for the Children” and we managed to attract a great deal of interest. Gus and I and the girls walked ahead, Mum, Bec and Nick were in a group a little behind us. Maggie pipes up to inform me that nanna has had a fall and is bleeding. We stop the procession to find that Mum has indeed taken a fall on the very cobbly Indian roads. She recounted that she was waving at a few boys and took her eye off the road. Bec (aka Nurse Ratchett) is into full swing as she dives into her medical kit and performs her expert first aid. Mum is as you can imagine a little embarrassed by the attention and disappointed in that she was enjoying this amazing experience. We leave Bec to dress Mum’s bleeding knee and agree to walk up the road to a place where we would stop and wait for Mum and Bec to catch up. Mum was very brave and despite the obvious damage done to her knee was not going to let that stop her from completing this leg of the walk.

We all make it to the first stop and Mum, Bec and a resistant Gus join Raju in the van off to secure some important supplies for our trip. Our little man Gus has quite a meltdown at the prospect of leaving Dad behind but the prospect of 20 km’s with Gus on shoulders is unfortunately not going to work. The walk team consists of me, Indy, Maggie, Poppa, Antony and all the many childfund people most of whom are not dressed for the occasion to walk such a distance. The woman have on their sarees and sandles and many of the men have on their business attire and not a hat in site. We ofcourse are kitted up with our running shoes, special socks, shorts, lycra undershorts, t-shirts, hats and water bladders. I was happy though to see our walking partner Antony had on his walking shoes.

We walk the first day gradually losing members of our support team as we went. The final group to walk into kunnamangalam was Nick, Indy, Maggie, Antony and myself. It was a long walk with many stops as we had such a big crowd to manage along the way and clearly many were not quite ready for what a 20+km walk in the heat of the day would entail. It was though an incredible gesture of support and we were provided with an experience of a lifetime.

I was so proud of the girls, particularly Maggie who walked the whole way and the longest walk by far of her life. It was hard going towards the end but a tracking metaphor of walking through Mt Martha seemed to help pass the journey and we eventually all made it, very tired but also very proud. The site of Raju in Kunnamungalam was a very welcome site indeed. We headed back to the hotel for a quick dinner and into bed.