Any further south and we’ll be meeting penguins.
Our journey had so far taken us through frenzied city streets, dusty villages and coastal tracks. As we pushed on further south we expected things to get easier. We should have known better. Due to the remoteness of the area it became a lottery finding places to refuel and on many occasions we had to coax a few more miles out of the rickshaws by siphoning the fuel from one to another.
The last days of the trip were particularly long with upwards of ten hours in the seat and 8am starts to ensure we got to our rest stops in daylight. Headlights in India are entirely optional and we didn’t want to be headed down a single track road in the dark with an unlit tractor coming the other way.
The camaraderie of all the other teams kept everyone in high spirits even when they were on their hands and knees in the midday sun trying to fix an engine.
On one stretch of the journey we were warned about “jumpers”. Not of the woolly long sleeved variety but locals who might apparently jump in front of tourist vehicles in the hope that they’ll get injured enough to earn sympathy money, but not too injured that they get funeral money. Thankfully the “jumping” on this occasion was restricted to cows and chickens just at it had been the rest of the trip.
And so finally, after two weeks, all but two of the sixteen teams were still going strong albeit patched up with the usual quantity of duct tape and cable ties. After consuming nearly 2,000 kms of tarmac, mud and sand, and what seemed like the same length of toilet roll, we finally reached Kannyakumari.
A huge monument marked the southernmost tip. It was surprising to know that although we were still in the Northern Hemisphere (just) there was no more land immediately south until the frozen wastes of Antarctica. If might have left us feeling rather isolated had it not been for the hordes of hawkers trying to sell us sunglasses, sun tan lotion, or a bottle of holy water. Surprisingly, this was the only place on the whole trip where we experienced any form of begging or hassle and even then it wasn’t intimidating although it was persistent.
Still it paid off in the end – a pair of genuine fake Ray-Bans was knocked down from 280 Rupees to 70 Rupees in the space of ten minutes (which is about how long the sunglasses lasted until a lens fell out).
And so to our final destination, our hotel in Kannyakumari. Our hosts were full of smiles and each of us in turn was blessed and presented with an ornate necklace of seashells. Sipping cold drinks by the pool was the perfect end to an epic trip And yet we still had the closing party to look forward to.
Later a huge buffet was laid on for us outside in the palm filled gardens under the flickering light of charcoal burners. After a few speeches an an awards ceremony for best crash, best supporting bodge, and best fancy dress we partied on in to the early hours. And where did we end the night? In the swimming pool of course.