Curled up tightly in a foetal position, the pain was slightly more bearable although still not ideal for the remaining 17 hours of the train journey that would take me from Madgaon, Goa to Trivandrum (yes, there's a much longer name but every time I've heard a foreigner attempting it, it comes out as Thirivanananath… so we'll stick with Trivandrum). The cramps I'd had all morning had come and gone, sometimes quite painfully so, but within 45 minutes of getting onto the train, the combination of the window that was useless due to the dirt, the quite abrupt rocking of the train and my already debilitated state meant that something had to go. So for the next 17 hours, I alternated between lying in my bed trying to push the pain to the back of my mind and get to sleep in the hope that that'd make everything go away and realising that it wasn't making anything going away and having to make (sometimes, quite rapid) dashes to the ‘Indian Style' toilet, which was by far the closest. The Indian-Style toilet, as you will no doubt appreciate, was essentially a porcelain hole in the ground, with a very visible exit out onto the tracks below. Elegant, it certainly was not. As the night wore on, I didn't even get out of the toilet on many occasions before having to return to the ‘squat' and on the rare occasions I did make it back to bed, I found myself becoming exhausted, the insides of my eyelids actually sore as if someone had poured salt water onto them. Finally, the Delhi Belly had not only struck (indeed, my stomach hadn't been quite so great since the moment we arrived) but wasn't planning on going anywhere for at least 24 to 48 hours by the looks of things. As a result, I became the less-than-proud patron of every single toilet in the vicinity of my carriage during the journey. Western-style, Indian-style and any other style they cared to offer; all were frequented at least once during the journey.
Like all good illnesses, it waited until nightfall to really take its toll; I'd lie in bed barely awake, slowly drifting off when, just like an old air siren from the war, a simple rumble from my stomach would wake me straight back out of my stupor and into the curled-up position once again as another raft of cramps passed through, always culminating in a sudden jump out of bed and dash down the carriage, to go Indian-Style once again. The night wore on, my fatigue got worse and eventually I ran out of both the toilet paper I'd carried from Ireland for just such an eventuality and the toilet paper I'd nicked that morning from the hostel, in hindsight showing excellent foresight. Take it from me, you resort to desperate things when there's no toilet paper; while there was no way I was going without, there was also no more paper to be found. As a result, a situation not too different from that scene in Adam & Paul ended up playing out; I wandered through the train like a ghost, pale and sweaty, in the dead of night stopping at every toilet and every service area for more paper or napkins. The pain was unbearable. As the sun dawned, I woke up like someone who stayed at the party the latest and got the most drunk; bleary-eyed, tired and completely disorientated. The cramps came and went less often and at one point I even optimistically tried to stretch the intervals between ‘visits' to 2 hours (and failed) – the worst was certainly over but like in all battles, there was many wounded; luggage was strewn across my bed from where I'd initially tried to find medicine, I was still quite groggy, unsure of my surroundings and thirsty and I imagine all the toilets in the carriage saw more use in one night than in their entire previous services.
Getting off the train, I was perfectly aware that I was the type of guest no hotel owner or manager would ever want to see coming through their doors; and at first, I was almost embarrassed to see that far from the grubby-looking man that met me in Delhi, I was met this time around by a man standing proudly just off the platform as if he was waiting for a long-lost relative, who would later turn out to be the manager, Sambath – and for added good measure, he'd also brought his mother along. In a further turn of amazement, neither of them carried a tatty sign like I'd come to expect bearing a misspelled version of my name, instead they both executed the ‘long-lost relative' vibe perfectly by asking me as I trundled up the stairs with my belongings if I was who they reckoned I was. It was almost too much. They say it's the simple things that make all the difference and in those 10 minutes between leaving the train station and getting into the car, I managed to forget all about not being well and the sickness that had plagued me all night and continued to do so. In-keeping with what I'd learnt about driving in India, our driver sped towards Kovalam, where I was to stay, like a man on a mission. He threw the car onto the centreline of the road, racing towards an oncoming bus, pulling back into what was apparently ‘our side' with such closeness that I could feel the sudden wind of the bus as it raced past, a big sign in multicolours adorning it praying; ‘Mother Mary, Bless Our Way'. ‘Never mind that, you're in a bus, bless MY way, it needs all the blessings it can get' I thought to myself. We tore along the road reaching Kovalam just in time for me to begin developing the need to get to a toilet post-haste once again.
Having spent half my time in India to date in the mudhut having to deal with the effects of it flooding during the daily rains and my room in Delhi which was always hotter inside than it was out, I was initially unable to even adequately express myself when I saw my room in my new accommodation, Shirley's Beach. The room was so clean I had momentary visions of eating off the floor, there was a balcony for sitting outside and writing and most bizarrely, the room was cool in spite of the raging heat and humidity outside. For the first time in India so far, the room had something I hadn't seen – a fan that actually was large enough and powerful enough to blow cold air at you, not just re-circulate the same hot air. Kovalam was fronted by a large beach that matched every inch of path of the seafront promenade before stretching its way further around the corner and continuing on to the bottom of a hill. All in all, it was a pretty amazing place. I got showered, dressed and debated how best to try and get rid of my case of the runs. Incidentally, I learnt a particularly important lesson – just showering and wearing clean clothes does not actually automatically make you better no matter how good you feel. Although the sea air, the space to walk and the fresh food on offer in Kovalam did much to help my situation, my first trip to the restaurant near us was characterised by a fairly sudden dash after paying the bill back to my hotel room for a few hours to relax, write and most importantly, remain close to a toilet.
I was only in Kovalam for about three days and it was a great shame to be honest as it was without doubt one of my favourite places on the whole trip; the beach was perfect and I took a dip on a couple of occasions, the food when I could stomach it was fresh and tasty, there were plenty of other places to go walking around, it seemed like even the people trying to sell stuff were more upbeat and more importantly, my hotel really was the business this time (www.shirleysbeach.com – If you don’t want to go there after just seeing the website, then there’s something wrong with you). On one of my first conversations with the manager in our place, Sambath, he warned me not to get taken in by drug peddlers down on the beach; at the time, unsure of how many drugs were consumed by guests to Kovalam, I agreed and went on my way – I was glad of the warning and it served the purpose of making me feel even more like a relative who’d come to stay and might not be familiar with my long-lost family’s town. In truth however, the drug peddling thing really was something; I did get asked a couple of times to buy drugs and on one occasion even followed part of the way down the beach to be sure I didn’t want any. However, what I also found was that there was good reason for both Sambath’s warning and the peddlers being so insistent – at least every second tourist I met had purchased some ‘product’ from these salesman of illicit substances and were enjoying them fully. I however had enough problems already with my stomach and the lessening but continuing occasional dashes to the toilet.
I was sad to leave Kovalam – I could definitely have stayed significantly longer. But eventually the time came for me and my silent friend to drive to the airport; once again, at face-bending speeds of course as we raced towards Trivandrum and onwards down a little winding road through jungle before suddenly out of nowhere opening out into the beginning of a runway. Kovalam however had done more than me for many of the other places – I’d gotten proper rest, proper food and I was even going to the toilet less and less. So, once more, it was onwards again, this time for Chennai…
On a separate note, as I’m sure you’ve all noticed, I’m late with my posts – so we’ll say the next post is on the 7th about getting into Chennai and subsequently trying to escape, going back to Germany and seeing Anna again and then on the 9th we’ll conclude. How does that sound?