heels on fire: 05/05/06

Friday, May 05, 2006

Day 4

4th May 2006
Muzhapilangadu to Punnal

Coastal Life
The cruel chimes of the alarm clock shook us after just five hours of sleep between midnight and dawn. With a flurry of movements, we made our way to Muzhapilangadu, an idyllic coastal village on the Arabian Sea. Whilst the golden sand was soft and taxing under foot the majesty of the beach flooded the senses. The road ahead felt different, with Rahul running along today and my legs feeling stronger and more accustomed to the road.

Within five minutes of running we had seen a cross section of the coastal life. There was a plethora of birds - lanky herons, elegant cranes and a Red Wattled Lapwing. There was a stout man wearing a mundu (cloth) like a nappy, carrying out energetic yoga contortions. In the distance, I saw a woman balancing a bundle of driftwood on her head. Further along the beach, a team of fishermen were pulling a vast net through the shore break in cadence. The net teemed with an array of hand-sized fish that would make it to the roadside stalls as the day wore on. Stevie, a fisherman of repute could do little to contain himself, wading into the water with the camera to capture the action.

Lazy pace
Slowly, the sun rose above the trees. My heart raced and the sweat began to run. I rued the fact that we had again started later than we had hoped. The pace of morning life around us was brisk but yet strangely leisurely. Des hurried from the vehicle to buy a bunch of bananas. He politely urged the vendor to hurry the sale, as we had to press on. We all laughed at his tale of how his request for speedy assistance was ignored politely. The bananas were slowly weighed on ancient scales, placed in a sheet of newspaper, which was folded carefully around the bunch before meticulously gift-wrapping it with cord. The point was made in the subtlest manner - how could anyone possible be in such a hurry in Kerala? The pace of life befits the surroundings and the climate. Business is ever efficient but never from a perspective of more business equals more sales.

With our heels on fire and having lost contact with the support team, Rahul and I met a woman with a baby. The baby’s eyes were clouded with illness. It was the first sign of ill health that we had come across. We passed through the friendliest village to date. Old and young, male and female stepped out of their shops and working lives to insist shaking hands and making convivial conversation. The feeling was truly uplifting. There were roadside stalls selling fish, sacks of vegetables (cucumbers the size of my arm), coconuts, palm leaves, coconut twine, coconut oil, coconut coir and baskets of betel-nut leaves.

Uphill struggle
We passed an old man pulling a bicycle cart of firewood up the hill that we had run down. It made sense to help and together we put our legs and backs into pushing the cart up the hill. My quads and calf muscles were burning as we leaned into the hill. It occurred to me that this ‘cart puller’ could well have been doing this work without complaint over the course of miles and miles. He was aided by neither electrolyte mixes nor good running shoes. With a massive exchange of toothy grins we said goodbye and continued in the sun. We are getting quite good at it too.

About 13kms into the run we were really beginning to enjoy the surroundings. A stream of kids ran from a mosque to join us for a few minutes of running and chatting. A group of burkha-clad girls ran ahead, giggling with intrigue at the sight of two men with foreign legion hats and strange backpacks with tubes. We soon happened upon a village Carom tournament. Carom is a table version of pool using draught pieces. It is a game which Rahul and I both pride ourselves on as being pretty good at. Soon places at the table were cleared and the mighty Rahul Noble Singh and I were paired up in opposing teams. Rahul teamed with Arvind, a youngster with a tight tee shirt, a flicking style unlike any other and ability to block out the interference of me blowing in his ear. I was paired with another village lad, Mahesh, who had Bollywood looks and body language (each shot was finished with a look to the heavens and a dance). As the tension grew so did the number of spectators. Soon we were playing in front of an amphitheatre of over 25 men, women and children. Not that the result is important…but for the record Mahesh and I won by a whisker. Rahul would get his revenge later at an impromptu cricket match.

The day ended in a town called Punnal, with us sat under a Banyan tree chatting about London with a man in an STD booth. (STD in India stands for Subscribers Trunk Dialling and not sexually transmitted disease!). A truly fun run of 17 kilometres brightened beyond belief by the people and stories along the route.

And in the afternoon Heels on Fire ran with PT USHA, the most famous woman athlete from India or Asia! More about that tomorrow.


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