Day 115: Vattakanal (Kodaikanal)
Fourteen hours on a motorcycle yesterday.
It’s funny that sitting for that long can be exhausting, but I suppose it’s a different sort of sitting than the sitting couches and lounge chairs entail. It’s not so much the sitting itself that takes energy, but the awareness required. You must pay attention! Attention to the map of unfamiliar territory, attention to the jingle trucks that don’t so much jingle as they they do scream by, to the hairpin turns clipped into vertical cliffs, the searing sun bubbling the back of your hands and the sweat stinging your eyes. You must be aware of your bike buddies falling behind and the multitude of potholes. You gotta watch for the fresh sugarcane juice stands on the roadside, for rogue bees flying into your helmet. You can’t help but to be aware of the rapidly dropping temperature as the altitude climbs (and how you definitely don’t have enough layers). You have to stay alert on ‘secret roads’ in the pitch black of midnight that teeter on the edge of deadly drop-offs. And pay attention to the signs. No Left Turn. Watch For Falling Rock! Elephant Crossing.
I guess that’s why my body hurts from sitting.
Still, Shay, Aviel, and I extract ourselves from our respective cocoons to watch the sunrise–if you can call it that. An enigmatic shifting of the planets? A stratospheric dimension warp? A puddle of light, glowing ember-orange, manifests in the centre of the open sky, not across from us but below us. It liquefies into a pond of ore, melts backwards into the carpet of cloud and then, as though the sun goddess heaves a sigh from below, a tangerine bubble floats upwards, retreating from its bed of fluff. A new day.
The moment the sphere of liquid fire drifts off the cloud tops, the boys are back in bed. I stay on the porch, gripping a blanket around my body like a fuzzy vice. My breath comes out in smokey bursts against the cold and the sun rays ignite it the way a spark might catch a gas leak. A mug of ginger lemon tea warms my numb fingers as I write, until I drift downstairs to the cafe and dig into an avocado omelette as the sole patron.
The boys appear at one point; we make vague plans to ride down to the lake later. I then return to the room and faceplant onto the bed–nap time. 2500 meter elevation + crack ‘o’ dawn calls got me beat.
When we languidly round ourselves up, Shay, Aviel, and I hit the food shack for roasted corn and instant coffee, then zip down to the lake on our motorbikes. Emphasis on down. Down the gritty pavement, down with my bike. Again. It flops onto the road during a slow-motion turn down a hill as the boys zoom ahead, oblivious. Petrol cascades from the tank but I haul the beast upright before it makes a clean getaway. I’m getting better at this.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” Three Indian guys appear by my side, fussing over me until Shay and Aviel appear again.
Yet another comedic fall is hardly news, and we move forward, toward the lake surrounded by a little green gate and green grass and cows. Homemade chocolates, aloe vera products, and warm clothes spill from the shopfronts. We rent broken bicycles and wobble around the waters edge, stopping halfway to sit in the dirty grass and confab about the consciousness of atoms.
Aviel and I trade bikes for the way back, with me taking the short end of the stick in terms of broken contraptions. After crossing the finish line, screaming like kids at recess, the boys jump into a game of pellet-gun’n’balloons. Shot-up soda cans dangle on a line like lurid chicken wire cylinders. Gangs of Indian men observe us, intently, from their posts on wooden boxes and shitty lawn chairs. Then, they pounce. Suddenly we’re surrounded, cascades of phone-brandishing hands lapping at our faces.
“Picture! Picture, ma’am!”
We don’t hesitate. Tossing my hands up to show off my untamed armpits, I contort my face into something unfortunate for the multitude of cameras. Shay takes part in both sides of the lens, partial model, partial photographer. Aviel leaves the limelight to us, only chipping with a smirk.
“She’s a supermodel,” he tells the crowd. “You know her? She’s famous.”
Shay singles out a local with camera-ready hands. “Each picture–one hundred rupees.”
“What!?” They’ve taken dozens already. Their protests ring out, and a wall of angry faces now stand against us.
“One hundred rupees per picture.”
“Okay.” A small man in the back blinks, undeterred.
Shay and Aviel burst into laughter before any transaction takes place, but Aviel keeps the dream alive.
“No, model,” he explains, suddenly straight-faced. “She’s a foot model. See, look–” He grabs my leg and shoves it in front of our audience, showing off the duct tape-covered wart on my toe. I kick his hand away even as I double over, convulsing with laughter.
We move on to a weird little theatre. Earlier, Shay spotted an advertisement for a “7D movie experience”–whatever that is. Inside, we sit, adjusting our 3D glasses as our seats shift in accordance to the adventure playing on the screen before us. A deluge of “rain” hits before “wind” gusts nearly dry our dripping faces and I try not to vomit into the space between the jerking seats.
By the time we reach our ‘hood after a buzz at the barbershop, that damn fresh mountain air has replenished my hunger and we scarf down chicken salad and hot coffee at the outdoor cafe. The British girl we met this morning and the German couple who’ve been drooling over my Enfield all day are hanging out. Even the Israelis who tried to hook us up with some of Kodaikanal’s famous, fun mushrooms are around. It’s a dang small town. But it’s too cold out here, curled in these plastic seats. I excuse myself to sip beer in the warm restaurant on the hill and indulge in second dinner.
When Aviel comes back, we battle on the chess board until Shay arrives. A serious debate over Israeli politics interrupts the game and I fall asleep to the quake of an angry Hebrew lullaby.