The bus was crowded but we both got seats separate from each other
. The friendly 20-something student I sat beside was very helpful in filling me in a little bit on where I was and what we should do. We were indeed now on a bus to Alibaug, and he laughed when I asked him to tell me a bit about the place, saying we had really just got on the boat not knowing anything about it. He was from there, and said it would allow us to see more of what countryside life was like. He also told me about a few beaches that were really nice to swim at, and how much it should cost to get to them. Following his advice, we got our first autorickshaw (a little, loud 3 wheel vehicle with open sides, also called a tuk-tuk, possibly because that's the noise the engine makes) for a 20min ride to the nearer beach. We watched excitedly as we drove past little villages and dry rice fields. Arriving at the beach was not quite what we had hoped though. Garbage covered the ground of the parking area, and as we walked through the palm trees to our first glimpse of the sea, flies swarmed around huge piles of discarded coconut shells and food waste from the food vendors.
It was at about this point that we realized that we had not been paying close enough attention to how much money we had, and were now in a remote little village with only about 30 rupees more that we needed to pay the return fares on the rickshaw and ferry. And we were hungry. We walked around for a while in the blazing sun, in a fairly pathetic (and hopeless) attempt to see if there was anywhere we could pay for food with a credit card
. How unrealistic this was may be illustrated by the fact that there were no real restaurants to speak of, and not only did no one speak English but few even spoke Hindi. We eventually bought some water and chikka, a sesame and honey snack, and decided to just enjoy the beach. When we walked down a ways the garbage thinned out and it was very beautiful. We had our first swim in the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean, and saw the first blue sky since we landed in Asia (in Mumbai, the hazy smog stops the sky from ever really shining blue, despite the consistent clear weather every day).
We had arranged with our autorickshaw driver for him to return to pick us up in plenty of time for us to catch the ferry. But after about half and hour of waiting, we were really starting to worry. Every engine we heard (there were not many) peaked our hope, and when we did eventually spot an autorickshaw (not ours) we vowed to get it no matter what. He was dropping someone off in one of the small lanes, so we waited and intercepted him when he came back out. Much to our relief, he agreed to drive us back to Alibaug. The next hurdle was finding the bus that would take us to the ferry, another 20minute journey. We found a bus terminal, different from where we had been dropped off but we figured it must be the place. Asking for the ferry to Mumbai, we found a bus that people assured us was for Mumbai. We got on, with no more than the exact amount it had cost us to get there in our hands
. But when the ticket taker came around, he told us we were 20 rupees short. Confused, we tried to tell them it had only cost us 160 rupees to get there, and tried to confirm if this included the fare for the ferry as well. But language barriers are tricky things. With the help of another passenger, the conductor eventually accepted our money and handed us a wad of papers that were our tickets to Mumbai central.
For some time now, a sense of foreboding had been welling up in my stomach - something just didn't seem right. As the bus drove on, and on, and on, past increasingly unfamiliar landscapes, I finally was able to verbalize what had slowly been forming in my mind: Alibaug is not an island. And this bus was not going to take us to the boat terminal. This bus was going to take us all the way to Mumbai, by land! And no, it was going to take not a lovely 1 hour by boat, but 3-4 hours on a hellishly hot cramped bus, with no breaks and no money to buy any food. But, we did arrive in Mumbai... eventually.
(I would like to say that we learned our lesson from this. But even as I write this entry, many weeks and lessons after this early adventure, just yesterday we travelled 2 hours out of our way because we accidentally were trying to get to Kollam instead of Kottayam. So maybe, the lesson isn't to always double check that you are getting on the right bus, but rather, to know and accept that sometimes you will get on the wrong one.)
For a little change from Colaba/Mumbai, Ashu suggested that Gordon and I take a boat somewhere. It sounded like a great idea: cool sea air, a chance to see the Gateway of India as it was intended, and a break from the hectic bustle of the city. Rather than Elephanta Island, where we heard the main attraction of caves containing ornate Buddhist paintings was closed for the day, we opted for Alibaug. We knew nothing about it except that there were beaches that were actually clean enough to swim at (unlike in Mumbai) and it seemed a lot less touristy and more relaxed. The boat trip was wonderful, the temperature perfectly refreshing for being on the sea, and took about an hour. We were the only westerners on the boat, and when we got off, we hesitantly followed the crowd onto a rickety public bus, hoping it would take us where we wanted to go.