Our day in Kerala began early on the beach, watching fishermen and traders bartering for wicker baskets brimming full of fish, some still jumping around desperately trying to make it back to the water. It was smelly, crowded and frenetic but very organised.
Trading on the beaches has been happening for centuries. Everyone has a job to do, someone will catch the fish, another will walk it up the beach and someone else will negotiate the fairest price with the traders. Small loans are also offered, giving people with cash flow problems the opportunity to buy fish to sell at the local market. Loans are repaid the same day for a nominal fee and I was assured that no ‘heavy’s’ are involved; it has been happening like that for years.
After the beach we went on to a farmer’s house where we ate delicious, homemade banana curry and chocolate cake. We got kitted out in safety gear (helmet and high vis vests) and with fuel in our bellies we went on our way. To be honest I don’t normally take such precautions when I cycle around the Cotswolds but I was quite glad that I was going to stick out like a sore thumb on an Indian road!
Once we set off I realised the high vis jacket wasn’t needed; the roads were quiet and the drivers courteous and I soon worked out a few of the signals needed for Indian roads. For example, when a rickshaw driver is turning he will stick out his foot on the side he wishes to turn. Indian roads have always been a mystery to me but as soon as I was in charge of my own vehicle everything started to become clear.
After a short ride we turned, firstly to visit a small village where residents survive on small rations from the government and a couple of other charities. There’s even a charity that helps people pay for weddings and funerals – very expensive events Indian society. As Kerala is the most literate state in India the village also has a reading room where people contribute to daily newspapers and books.
The rest of the journey was devoted to cycling through paddy fields and water bodies, the tracks were wide and cows roamed aimlessly around, happy and undisturbed. We lifted our bikes onto dugout canoes to cross waterways and we experienced cycling against the monsoon rains and chatted to locals along the way. The ladies we passed were curious, most of them giggled and laughed at me – probably at my extremely attractive helmet hair and fetching vest, it was hard not to miss me.
I caused much amusement when I almost fell off my bike into a huge puddle of thick mud, I paused for a moment before I sunk my clean left trainer deep into the mud to save myself from further embarrassment. The rest of the day I hopped around on one leg, visiting the kitchen of the house where we began earlier in the day and watching fishermen throw out leaded nets in the most elegant way possible.
On the wall inside the house is a picture of the farmer’s father, he lived until he was 102 years old and after capturing a glimpse of what his life might have been like, I’m not at all surprised.