***i have two unfinished posts that preceded this but Star Wars style you can get chapter 12 now while I have wifi***
We started on a lovely early morning in Arambol, where we met our taxi driver who was super punctual if not early and left our slightly gross hostel behind (farty old guy next to Sara I’m talking to you) wishing we could have stayed longer (not in the dorm but in the beautiful festival of Arambol beach!)
Our drive took us to our first ever train station Patnem and there was no queueing despite what we had been told so grabbed a ticket for the first train heading down to Margao where we would catch our long anticipated 12 hour train in whatever india had to offer us as 1st class!
The first train was super quiet aside from the occasional food or chai seller working the aisles of each compartment who would holler in an inaudible way supposedly describing their wares… finally at margao we had a solid few hours until our connecting train so settled in for some food at a vegetarian restaurant on the platform – a complete bargain compared to our usual meals at about 50p for the most delicious mountains of veg fried rice, masala dosas and incredible chai – definitely our best yet!
By now our train was about 30 mins away but there was still no sign of it on the board – nor any particularly helpful officials for that matter! So we asked around other platform bystanders until a friendly guy offered to look it up (Sara and I just can’t get wifi at train stations without Indian mobile numbers). Struggling to find any information he read our train details back to us…
Stranger “okay so 12.42 from margao”
Stranger “and for today”
Stranger “so the 17th Feb”
Me “oh crap….”
So yeah we weren’t 4 hours early, instead 20 hours late and had just mixed up our days and inadvertently stayed an extra day in goa!
Clearly distraught, helpful stranger gave us two alternative trains that would get us to Kerala the following morning so we queued for about an hour and fought off anyone (everyone) who tried to cut the queue! Finally brandishing two tickets we felt we had succeeded – even though these tickets would not guarantee us any kind of seat, the train was 15 hours long, in 7 hours time and we still didn’t really understand which coach the ticket would allow us on!
Needing a change of scenery we booked a cheap cab into the town to find a cafe with wifi to change our accommodation as our bed for the night would now be a train. Now this is where nothing was really on our side, the taxi driver dropped us miles from where we had asked, nowhere in margao has wifi (despite getting directions to and trying at least 6 different spaces) so carrying our massive rucksacks in the heat of the day we followed our final set of directions to what turned out to be a petrol station cafe with no wifi where we sat defeated killing time with toasted fake cheese pizzas while the cafe experienced intermittent power cuts!
Eventually we headed back to the station to find our train was a further 2hours delayed so found a place selling Bourbon biscuits and put on some Harry Potter – the ultimate comfort – just what we needed!
As our train was due to FINALLY ARRIVE 14 hours from when we left arambol we found our second helpful person – Divyah and her husband Sandeep who suggested we follow them to their cabin as we had no idea where to find a seat! We were glad to find assistance as suddenly a mass of people began pushing past us onto the train and by pure chance there were two unoccupied berths below theirs! Settling down unsure of whether we were in the right place – only aware of the fact we had read not to ever travel as young white women on the sleeper class, Sara and I padlocked our bags to us and nestled under pashminas while Divyah insisted on sharing her entire iPhoto album picture by picture with me including over 1000 of her wedding photos! Exhausted I fell asleep at about midnight to be woken at 4am after unprecedented sleep by a family who had booked our births- speaking in broken English they explained how we could make to four beds into 6 and share one. So for the next three hours Sara and I slept (kind of) on top of our bags and under what can only be described as a shelf!
Exhausted we were woken by the sun and some lovely views across Kerala but also by the food sellers yelling into each bunk! I soon discovered that I had most likely sweated off my mosquito repellant and been bitten in the middle of my forehead and on the sole of my foot! When we finally arrived at Ernakalum station about 30 hours after leaving our hostel we were ready to get on the next possible train to our ashram in south Kerala. Grabbing a ticket the lady at the information desk explained our train was at platform 1 so we hopped on.
However, as the theme of being let down continued on we realised our train was travelling north and had been given the wrong information! At this point we were both starving with no time to find food – living of salted banana chips and warm bottled water! Again we managed to find a helpful but overly chatty guy who tried to give us the history of Kerala along with instructions and new train details and after squeezing it out of him eventually, we made a plan to travel part of the way to the ashram and get a good nights sleep in Alleppy first.
Our next and 4th train in just over a day was again running late despite being described as on time on the electronic departure board – we eventually found out that the actual board to watch was a simple whiteboard in the foyer that was actually updated with correct information. We finally found seats and feeling totally hopeless but still laughing at ourselves dumped our bags down ready for another 4 hour stint. Constantly however we were interrupted – lady lady, where are you from, where are you going, are you married, do you like india, do you like Kerala/my little daughter/my job, let me tell you about Kerala/my little daughter/my job…. so headphones went in and we both played excellent ignoring games as much as we could!
Finally we arrived in alleppy – somehow early! By the time we reacvhed a hostel bed that allowed you to fully recline and a working AC fan we were in well relative heaven!
So things I’ve learnt so far
1) Check dates for train tickets
2) Don’t trust people who give you a quick answer
3) Expect delays
4) Expect no one to know what’s going on
5) Never engage in small talk on a train unless you are prepared to talk forever