After a long, 12-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, we quickly ran to the other side of the airport to make our connecting flight to Kochi. Arriving at the gate, we met another rickshaw team, “Fire It Up” from the Netherlands. We introduced ourselves and joined them embarking onto the plane and made way for the last 5 hours of travel for this initial trek…
The Kochi customs situation was fairly easy compared to others we have ventured into, so that made this the initial introduction to India at 8:30 in the evening a bit more pleasant. Also, since we did land so much later in the day, the temperature was a bearable 90 degrees… Then… we met our taxi driver… On the surface this man seemed to be extremely pleasant and his car was clean with no real smell, so we considered ourselves fortunate and pushed on. This 90-minute ride seemed a bit more like a carnival act than just a trip to the hotel. Several times he would put the car into park and jump out of the car! We all sat nervously looking at each other really wondering what was going to happen next. Watching him take a water bottle and completely dump it over his head and face. Still not sure what was exactly happening he would shake his head and verbally shout something that only a person from the planet Tatooine would understand. Face and head dripping, he would jump back into the car and continue on his way. This fire drill happened at least 4 times during the trip and, to this day, we still are not sure what exactly was going on…
The hotel we had chosen, Chimeral Residency, was right across from the parade grounds, an area where all the race’s rickshaws were parked and being prepped for the race. The owner opened the door for us and asked us to take our shoes off before we went any further into the hotel. She then expressed how worried she was because we were arriving so late. Thanking her for her hospitality, her help (or possibly her son) showed us to our rooms. Although very barren, the rooms were clean and the AC was on. Collectively, we all agreed that this was a win and quickly put our bags down to find a place to have dinner before everything closed for the evening.
We went from restaurant to restaurant asking if the were still serving and even though there may have been other patrons sitting down, no one was serving any longer. We were about to give up when we saw a string of lights hanging from a tree with plastic patio furniture surrounding it… We asked the young man, who we later got to know as Daniel, if they were serving food and fortunate enough they absolutely were! We asked if Daniel had beer also thinking that it would helpful to help our sleep. He nodded and smiled and said it is what we call our special tea. What we later came to realize is Daniel was that first person that for a price could help us with anything. What we also then came to realize is since this was no standard restaurant, just a few tables around a tree, everything Daniel was serving was being brought in by a few other men on Motorbikes that kept delivering things to the guests that ordered. Also, because they were not a proper restaurant, they must serve us beer inconspicuously in coffee cups. The last thing that we learned that night, as we sat under the tree having dinner for the first time in India, was a sign that was leaning against the tree was that we were eating at the Bob Marley Cafe. And with that our new friend Daniel spent most of the rest of the evening trying to see what other Bob Marley-like items he could fetch for us!
We arrived at the Parade Grounds bright and early, very anxious to meet our forced-air conditioned vehicle for the next 2 weeks. The designs of the other rickshaws were fantastic from Star Wars to the Batmoble to even a Tuk-Tuk decorated as a VW Van - all were well represented. Our rickshaw, that we decided to name, “Lady Karma”, sat patiently in the corner and just painted blue like a blank canvas. Danny noticied that all the metal rails and seats had plastic covering, which we immediately recognized that we have been given a brand knew Rickshaw. Happily, we told those around us of how fortunate we were with this new rickshaw, only to be quickly grounded when they explained to us that new doesn’t really mean anything. They pointed to a another rickshaw in the corner with the engine strewn across the field. That rickshaw was also brand new and it was also the first engine fire that they have had this morning…!
We got in line with the other racers to register and get our keys, Rickshaw Run rickshaw license, and instructions.
Under the strong Indian heat, we began putting all the handprints that each of you sent us with onto Lady Karma. Slowly, she transformed from a very simple rickshaw to what she is today! You will also notice that we made sure both NYC and Texas were being represented! After completing the design process, we were then given a quick walk-through on how to drive a rickshaw and where the engine was. Danny was the first to take Lady Karma for a spin. He took to it fantastically! Braking, turning, even honking the horn, he took to this vehicle like he has been driving it most of his life. “It's Like Nascar!”, I heard him yell as he passed on one of his practice runs… Joanna then jumped in for her first driving experience. Although, stalling and pulling the lever to start the engine initially was her biggest hurdle, once she started rolling she was a pro. Finally came my turn, as I confidently got into the driver seat. Pulling the lever to start the engine, I knew this was a piece of cake. I then put it into a gear that I thought could possibly be first gear and then prepared to make my way down the track. No so luck. I am really not sure what happened but the engine revved and Lady Karma shot forward immediately pushing my back to the seat. I squeezed on the brake to slow down, realizing, no that was not the brake, that was the clutch! Continuing my almost airborne launch into a row of parked rickshaws 'til miraculously my foot found the pedal on the floor, which I came to realize was the brake. Slamming onto the pedal, I came to a rest looking straight onto another parked Tuk-Tuk… The dust settled and I finally took a breath! Oh boy…. So tomorrow I shall work on my driving skills a bit more.