A Fine Grind

Posted on February 11, 2017 under Storytelling with 2 comments


The wheels on the bus go round and round


The quest was simple enough. Hop on a bus and travel 23 kilometers to the town of Nagercoil, India to try and find some coffee, fit for human consumption. Prior to leaving Canada last October, I pondered all of the challenges that I might encounter. Was I worried about malaria, dengue fever, war, insurrection, typhoon or tsunami? Not for a minute. No. As a self- professed coffee snob, I was worried most about the availability of good coffee. With the supply of Just Us coffee from home and a few pounds of Turkish dark roast from Abu Dhabi nearing extinction, it was time for action.

 A friend purchased a bag of store bought coffee awhile back. When I finally ran out of the good stuff, I was forced to use it. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The words ” fresh ground” took on a whole new meaning when I took the first mouthful. It indeed tasted just like fresh ground.

My friends, Ninian and Carol have travelled by bus to Nagercoil on numerous occasions and as they were going there again, I decided to tag along to learn the ropes about bus travel in India. When I inquired about the departure time, my friends told me that we would find out when we got to the station, such is the unpredictable nature of travel in India.

We didn’t have to wait long before boarding our bus but before we did, I noticed a curious looking cleaning crew. With the windows of the bus wide open, crows hovered inside and outside waiting to see if there might be some crumbs lying around. As we stepped onto the bus, I happened to peer at the tires. I am bald but I can tell you that there was far more hair on my head than tread on those tires. The look of the driver’s seat, steering column and dashboard made it appear than the bus was a gift from the new government when it achieved independence 67 years ago.

The bus was not crowded when we left the terminal but slowly it filled along the route. It wasn’t a tough decision to give up my seat to an elderly lady as my knees were pressed up against my chin. By Indian standards the bus wasn’t crowded but if you were just a smidgen claustrophobic or you didn’t like saunas, then this is a mode of travel you might want to avoid.

Ninian and Carol hopped off the bus a few stops before the main terminal in Nagercoil. Prior to leaving the convent, I had taken a picture of my last bag of coffee which showed coffee beans. Even with the language issue, I figured that the picture would make communications much easier. Wrong. I showed it to everybody with a mile radius and many looked puzzled as if they were viewing abstract art. I had several “ hot leads” but I finally realized that it was not to be and would be ordering my coffee on line.

I wandered back to the bus terminal. I decided to go home right away rather than wait for Ninian and Carol. Because of its strategic location, this is a large terminal and not easy to figure out if you’re a first timer like me. I didn’t count them but it looked like there were fifty bays for the buses to arrive and depart. However, because of the sheer volume of buses, the parking lot is used for picking up and dropping off passengers. If you’ve ever been to Disney in Orlando Florida, it resembled on of their mammoth parking lots.

There was no ticket booth ( you buy your ticket on the bus ) and all but one of the signs above the bays were in Tamil except one. It said Kanyakumari. I leapt for joy. I figured that they might have had to arrange a search and rescue party to find me wandering aimlessly in the parking lot after several days of being on the missing person’s list.

There was a short queue of people at the platform and even though it seemed like a stupid question, I pointed to the sign and asked the person in front of me, “ Is this the bus stop for Kanyakumari?” Several people nodded. Another curiosity about people from India?  They have a peculiar way of nodding. It’s more of a swivel and you’re never sure if they’re agreeing or disagreeing with you.

The bus pulled up into the bay. Just to be sure, I asked the driver if the bus was going to Kanyakumari. His nod was a definite “No.” He pointed to the immense parking lot. My translation was , “ it’s over there in the middle of all that chaos. Good luck.” Now the parking lot area resembled an ant hill that had been kicked by a couple of nasty young boys. There were people running in all directions trying to catch their buses. Someone pointed me towards my bus. Once again, I engaged the bus driver, as I stood beside his bus ,underneath his window. His arms were flailing and I honestly couldn’t make head nor tail of what he was trying to tell me. He finally waved me off . It is a good thing I moved because a second after his warning, he expelled a stream of orangey red saliva very close to my feet. He pointed to the back of the bus. I got on.

The bus was just about to depart when the ticket agent informed me that this was NOT the bus to Kanyakumari. I was expelled… like the saliva. It took several more tries before I was convinced that the unmarked bus stand underneath a lamp pole, was indeed good old bus #303. Several dozens of us clambered on. The bus moved a grand total of two feet when the driver abruptly turned off the engine. We were instructed to get off. Several dozen of us clambered off the bus into a replacement bus.

I was told later that this was all quite normal. Business as usual, as they say. The replacement bus might have been a millennium gift as it was very modern with good tires, reclining seats and plenty of leg room. For some reason I felt drowsy and closed my eyes as we exited the terminal. In the blink of an eye, we arrived at the terminal. Had I slept so soundly for 45 minutes in the middle of the day? No. The bus went around the block and returned to the terminal that we had just left. Several people got off the bus and several more got on. Sorry folks. I have no explanation for this bizarre sequence of events.

We finally got out on to the open roads. I put my head on the head rest and a warm breeze blew through the window. I had my eyes closed as I tried to recreate the previous half hour of my life. And just like that, my face was covered in hay. As the bus passed two large hay wagons, some of their contents dislodged and started coming through the windows.

The cost of travel to and from Nagercoil? 19 rupees or about .58 cents. Yes. For that princely sum, I could have gone to a local coffee shop and purchased four cups of Indian coffee but I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun.

Even though the trip was slightly chaotic, it wasn’t too much of a grind.



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