Palakkayam Thattu was beyond my expectations. I was expecting a Motta Kunnu (bare rocky hill). There was nothing bare about what I saw.
From the top as far as the eye could see, there were miles upon miles of rolling hills dotting what appeared to be flat ground at sea level, broken by houses, roads and churches. There were a lot of churches.
The windy curvy roads looked so small that I felt I could almost pick up the white Mahindra jeeps that kept noodling down the far away broken roads; one after the other; they kept coming; never ending.
The mountains of the Western Ghats that laced the skyline seemed to be tumbling over each other, but a few peaks stood out. The oddly shaped Paithalmala was unmistakably stark. Almost as stark and abrupt as the sentences that make up this post! Words don’t seem to be working for me today. So I’m not gonna try and get overly poetic.
Let me leave you with – I’d love to climb Paithalmala soon!
I know what you’re gonna say. “Look! Chichen Itza!”. Well PLOT TWIST! This is Uxmal!
Before my trip, my friend Erika, who I met on Craigslist 12 years ago (long story for another day), sent me a cryptic message.
“Uxmal over Chicken Pizza any day”
I didn’t quite get what she meant at the time. I didn’t really prod either, because I was just trying to get through the vast amount of information she was sending me about all things Mexico.
Erika’s family is from Mexico. So. Yes. She had a lot of information to share, including the right way to say “Valladolit”.
“Uxmal over Chicken Pizza”
I honestly thought it was maybe Mexico’s version of the NYC Chicken over Rice 🍛
I really didn’t think much of it until I went to Uxmal.
And then I went to Chichen Itza the next day. 3 hours of pushing through crowds of tourists, and saying “no gracias” to street vendors, I sat down exhausted at the base of El Castilo. I looked up at the mighty pyramid and found myself mumbling to myself “Uxmal over Chichen Itza. Someone get me out of here”
This is the last pic taken of me in 2021. I hadn’t washed the salty sand from the day off my body yet, but the dinner was good and I loved learning about the Argentinian solo (I think?) traveller sitting at the dinner table next to me who trains polo horses for a living.
Not gonna write about how <insert adjective> 2021 was. It was no worse, or no better than the years prior. But as always, I’m thankful for my privilege.
But talking about 2021? I spent a total of 5 months out of a carry on suitcase, travelling and meeting people from various walks of life, while transplanting myself from Manhattan and building a haven for myself in South Jersey, and juggling a multitude of professional and personal projects. I’m thankful for new friendships; some for a reason, some for a season and some for a lifetime.
Every year will bring its own weight in terms of challenges. This year though – I built a ton of muscle! Maybe not a ton, but definitely a few pounds.
Bring it on 2022. Show me what you got. Because I’m gonna approach it with the same level of enthusiasm as I’m approaching that plate full of food in front of me.
Yes, life will always be tough. And I’m not expecting 2022 to be “better”. But I am excited about whatever it has in store for me.
I checked out from my hotel and started out from downtown Nashville at exactly 6.30am. As per Google maps, the entire drive was meant to be 13 hours straight shot, but given that Zoomy (my car, aka the diva), needs charging along the way, I ballparked an extra 3-4 hours to my trip.
I was shooting to get into NJ by around 11.30pm to 12.30am Eastern Time. Even though I was mentally prepared for the long drive, I was also prepared to stop along the way and continue my trip on Sunday if I started feeling too tired. I kinda wanted Sunday to be my couch day at home, so I was hoping to make it in 1 day.
But then again, I was also prepared to drive into a fascinating new city (Philly? Richmond? DC?) where I could hole down for a week. Essentially, when I set out, even though I knew I was going to Jersey, I was also open to new adventures if they were thrown my way. This is another perk of traveling solo. You get to follow your heart!
When I set off at 6.30, this is what the Tesla route planner told me my day was going to be like.
You have to bear in mind that Tesla is reporting all times in Central Time in the above picture. This means that even though it reports an arrival time of 9.30pm, that’s actually 10.30pm Eastern Time. Nashville is in Central Time and New Jersey is in Eastern Time and Tesla’s clocks report time in whatever the current timezone is set to. It doesn’t even call out that we will be crossing timezones.
The drive was fairly smooth, even though I hit a thunderstorm just as I pulled into the Mt Jackson supercharger around 6pm. I was warned of this thunderstorm by my friends in NYC, since it was making its way from the East Coast.
Once parked in front of the supercharger, with the rain pouring down, I Googled whether it was safe to charge in a thunderstorm. The answer is yes.
This particular supercharger was thankfully at a gas station/convenience store. While letting my car charge, I ran into the convenience store when the rain broke momentarily. By the time I got my coffee and was ready to go back to my car again, it had started pouring.
The Tesla superchargers were installed quite a walk away from the store, so I waited for a break in the rain to make a dash back to my car. While waiting, an airline pilot struck up a conversation with me. We talked for about 10 minutes about California and New York and life in Virginia versus the big cities, before each of us decided that we should probably dash out.
I often wonder about the brief acquaintances we make throughout life. I’ve met some really cool people and shared some genuine moments with some amazing people across the world. For a brief time, our lives interwine and we share a moment. And then we go our separate ways never to see each other again.
One of them is the front desk host at the second hotel I stayed at in Nashville. She was amazing, and went above and beyond her job description. She would greet me everyday by my first name and always had a cheery smile on her face.
I wonder how long it would be before she forgets my name, and I forget hers. And how long it will be before we both forget about each others existence. Does it matter? Probably not. We are not meant to retain everyone that comes into our lives.
Heading out from Mt Jackson, and driving out into the thunderstorm, I got to see some amazing lightening formations in the sky late into the evening. My friends tell me I take a lot of pictures, but half the time, the things that I retain the most in my mind’s eye are things I don’t capture on camera.
These memories linger and show up years later in my writings. Maybe someday I’ll write about the lightening that split the sky on that drive from Nashville to the Jersey Shore.
But anyway, you’re not here to read about lightening or about interactions with random strangers. If you’ve made it this far, you’re here to find out about the key takeaways from my massive one day drive in a Tesla.
45 mins of charging per 3 hours of driving
My diva needs a 45 minute feeding break for every 3 hours of driving. What this means is that for a 13 hour drive (which is how long it takes to drive from Nashville to the Jersey Shore), add in an extra 3 hours for charging.
This isn’t so bad really, because it sort of forces you to stop and stretch your legs, eat while not driving, take a nap etc.
Restroom breaks and food breaks can’t be combined with charging stops
Another huge callout is that unlike our gas guzzling peers’ fueling stops, the Tesla charging stops don’t always guarantee a restroom or a place to purchase food. For example, one of the charging stops was at an outdoor mall (Knoxville, TN) and another one was in a Hyatt parking lot (Whytheville, VA).
This means that unless you packed food, you will need additional food stops, and guaranteed separate restroom breaks. These stops ended up adding an extra hour to my entire trip.
Autosteer is reliable but be on alert
I love the Autosteer. I’m fairly certain this drive would have been exhausting had I not had the Autosteer. I thought it did pretty well in general, but I did have a couple of truck drivers honk at me while I was using it. I haven’t figured out why. Perhaps the car was hugging the lane too close to their truck? Perhaps they were worried because maybe I seemed distracted? I’m not sure.
Either way, I try to be as alert as I can when using it. But I also trust the Autosteer more than a human in being alert for 17 hours straight.
This is one example of why it pays to be alert when using the Autosteer. If the car in front of you starts braking slowly, the Autosteer wouldn’t pick it up until it gets too close to it, and then it slams on the brake. This is a scary experience and has caught me off guard a couple of times, especially when there were cars behind me.
In general the Autosteer does a good job of making sure you’re paying attention by having you apply pressure on the steering but on highways where the speed is expected to be constant, it doesn’t check in on you often enough.
Autosteer stops working if Tesla decides you’re distracted
If Autosteer asks you to apply pressure on the steering, and you don’t, even after it starts making warning noises, Tesla penalizes you by disabling Autosteer for the rest of the drive.
When this happens, one hack is to pull over, put the car into Park, and then back into Drive again. Autosteer will be available again for the rest of the drive. But please be alert.
In the end, I pulled into the parking spot in front of my home in Jersey at exactly 12.30am. I did very good on time. And the drive hadn’t felt excessively long.
In closing, I want to leave you with this song that I recorded while the Autosteer was doing its job.
I tried to think of what picture to use for this post. And I couldn’t pick. I finally picked the pic of the old Tavera.
Day 2 of landing in India, back in December, I told Joby I was in India for 3 months. Joby said “Bavitha, I give you 3 weeks”. I ended up extending my trip to 4 months.
So going back to this pic. This is a pic I took last week of the old Tavera that I drive every time I visit Kannur. There is something about going from an EV (electric vehicle) to driving a 15 year old stick shift. You feel like you’re part of the machine. You coax and you nudge the beast so that it feels comfortable with the speed you’re going at.
That is how India felt to me. India felt raw and real. You have to reason with it, coax it, and over time you find its rhythm and you settle into the pace that’s comfortable for the both of you.
India taught me how to be vulnerable again. It taught me that it was ok to let my guard down. It taught me that I don’t have to have my shit together all the time. I’m thankful for Alex, one of my few good friends, for being my sounding board, even though at the beginning of the trip I told her not to check in on me everyday because “I needed some space”.
Even though being in new cities by myself is not new to me, being in a different city each week has tested me at various points. I’ve felt emotional highs and lows that I haven’t experienced in a really long while. Managing a full time job while doing this wasn’t something I talked much about on insta, but yes, I have a job. It’s been challenging balancing it, but so well worth it.
I’m thankful for all the people that came into my life these past few months. 4 months ago I didn’t really have good friends that still lived in India. Now I’m leaving with some lasting friendships, and even some rekindled friendships from my childhood.
And how can I forget to thank all my insta friends? The reason I was posting so many stories was because my entire trip was driven by my small, but lovely group of insta friends who helped orchestrate all my last minute flight bookings and expeditions. From giving me places to check out in each of the cities I was in, to even telling me what cities to go to next. You trolled me, humored me, laughed at my jokes that normally only I laugh at, and some of you ended up becoming really good friends ❤. Thank you.
No I’m not crying. These are not tears. I’m just cutting some onions over here.
Ok, Oscar speech over.
But wait. I forgot to thank my mom and dad. Yes. Thank u, Amma and Acha. Every time someone asked me “does your parents know you’re travelling alone?”, and trust me, I’ve been asked this way more times than I care to count, it made me realize that the life I’d been living since I was 18, where I was given the right to make decisions about my life, and make my own mistakes, is not the norm for majority of the women (and perhaps men too) in India.
The initial outrage that I’d felt when asked this question, has over time turned to understanding of where the question came from. Empathy. I have more of that now. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that the way I carried myself perhaps wasn’t the norm, and that perhaps I didn’t match up to the expectations that society might have for someone that fits my apparent stereotype.
So thank you mom and dad for being progressive AF 20 years ago. You both are way ahead of your time.
Every story is simple if you break it down to bare metal. As i pick up this book, which by the way feels damp and sticky because of all the moisture in the air, I wonder if my story was as simple. Living through it was messy and complicated. It is my hope that in writing this manuscript, I’d be able to see things as a third person might see it.
It all started the day I dropped my phone as I was waiting for the ACE going downtown. The platform was packed, as you would expect. The Times Square stop is always packed. You have the locals like me, and then you have a good chunk fo tourists.
As I bend down to pick up my phone, I couldn’t help but notice a woman looking at me from over her phone. She was dressed in a black knee length pea coat wrapped tightly around her, and black dress pants. Her black leather ankle boots peaked out from under her pants. She had blonde hair that was sleeked back into a tight ponytail.
I held her gaze long enough to make it uncomfortable, and she averted her eyes. I win. I thought to myself. I retrieved my phone, checked to make sure the glass wasn’t broken, and resumed checking my phone to appear busy.
I am not sure why I felt that trivial exchange marked the beginning of my story, because in retrospect, that incident had nothing to do with how my story started. Yet, I had compartmentalized that as being something very important. Perhaps now would be a good time to scratch that bit out of my story. Perhaps this would be the first step towards uncomplicating my story.
I quickened my pace, adjusting the straps of the tote on my shoulder, the snow underfoot making a quiet shushing sound with each step that didn’t do much to reduce the deafening quietness of the snowday. If I maintained this pace, I will reach the bottom of the stairs just as the train pulled into the platform above. By the time I make it up the 2 flights of stairs, the last of the passengers will be shuffling into the car and I will be able to join them. I can see the platform up ahead in the distance, people huddled in groups in front of imaginary doors, ready to rush in as soon as the train pulled in.
The snow weighing down the branches of the evergreens around me would have been beautiful if I cared. I bend my head down wanting to block out the snow that was blowing into my face.
I was nearing the house, but I didn’t hear any music coming from the house. I looked up at the window, but the window was closed shut. A part of me felt betrayed. I wondered what had happened to the old lady that I imagined lived there.
I first noticed the house 5 months ago when I first moved into town and started walking down this path for my daily commute into the city. I was about 20 feet from the house when I started hearing bits of രവീന്ദ്രൻ മാഷ്’s (Ravindran Master’s) melody drifting to my ears. I closed my eyes for a second as a chill ran through my body. My eyes traveled involuntarily to the top right room of the house and I noticed that the only window in the room was cracked open an inch.
This became a daily routine for me, and I started looking forward to the 30 seconds where I got to imagine a glimpse into the life a fellow മലയാളി (Malayalee). On certain days, if the music coming from the house was unfamiliar, I would make a note of whatever words I could distinguish, and try and identify the song online once I got to work. It was a game that I played with myself to take away from the monotony that was my life.
As the days wore on, and as Summer turned to Fall, crisping up the outside air, the walls of the music room began to get invisible in my head. I could see an older woman laying in bed next to the window, wanting to get a breath of the fresh air outside. There must be a lot of dry heat in her room. I pictured myself walking up to the door and knocking on the door and introducing myself. She would invite me in for a cup of tea and we would talk about life in Kerala, sipping on the milky sugary tea, and agree on how the newgen movies that the youngsters were making these days could never compare to the classic 90s.
Today was the first day that there was no music coming from the house. I chided myself for not having found a weekend to knock on the door and say hi. On an impulse, I started walking at an angle away from the station platform and towards the house with the music room. I hesitated at the door, trying to come up with a good reason for why I was ringing their doorbell at 7:18 in the morning. I rang the bell. No response. I waited 30 seconds and knocked on the door again. I heard a patter of soft footsteps running towards the door, and saw a wet nose pressed against the sidelight of the door. It was a corgi, his tail wagging 5mph. I heard a different set of footsteps, and the door was opened by a man of about 33 with a 2 day scruff on his face. His hair looked like he had been running his fingers through it, and there was a cowlick on the right side of his head.
“Hello” he said.
“Hi… ” I replied
He waited patiently, waiting for me to say more. His eyes looked red.
“I uh… this might sound weird, but I pass by your house everyday on my way to work each morning… and I hear music coming from the upstairs window”
I saw his face cloud over, and I backed up a couple of steps not wanting to be the latest victim of kidnapping.
“I meant to come by and introduce myself several times, but somehow that never happened. I noticed there was no music today… and I guess curiosity got the best of me” I said convinced that he must think I’m a wacko. I saw his red eyes watering a bit. Were there allergies triggered by snow?
“That was my grandmother… she passed away last Friday night”
I smacked myself for my lack of finesse.
“I’m terribly sorry. It wasn’t my intention to barge in like this. Especially when you are grieving. I’m sorry for your loss” I turned around to leave, hearing the chugchugging of the train in the distance, and knowing full well that I will not be catching my usual train that day.
“Wait. Do you want to come in for a cup of tea? It’s been terribly quiet in the house and I would love some company” he said weakly.
“I would love that” I replied pulling the phone out of my coat pocket to email my manager that I will be taking a PTO that day.
all the little stories that went unwritten until now