Sunday 31st July

After a late night enjoying the amazing “function”, we started the day a little later than normal, although some students were up especially early to play with the children, this being the day of our departure from Amala. A small group of students from the home and the school had also gathered at the gate, smartly dressed in their uniforms, waiting for a bus to take them to a speech competition in Cuddalore. We said goodbye to them before they set off. Before breakfast, most of our group had finished packing. We had quite a lot of things to leave for the children – toys, games, clothes (laundered!) and school equipment. Raja had phoned the railway company and had been informed, to his utter amazement, that the train had left Chennai on time!! A short while before we were due to leave, the children arrived in single file and formed a line, accompanied by the staff at the home, so we could all say goodbye to them individually. It was an emotional event, as we expected. It was hard to leave the children, knowing their situation, to return home to our very different lives. Saying goodbye to Victoria proved to be the toughest challenge for many of us.
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Our bags were loaded onto the school bus and the children formed another line by the gate and waved as we boarded the bus and drove out of the home. Many of us were hoping that we would be able to return one day. It felt as though it should the beginning of something and not the end.
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The journey to the train station at Vriddachalam was a short one; there was little conversation, most of us  spending the time with our own thoughts. Arriving at the station, we carried our bags across to the platform to wait for our train. There were a few things to keep us entertained: the food stall, posing for photos for locals, administering first aid to injured and bitten feet and a group of monkeys who were busy cadging food from people and turning on the taps of the drinking water fountain. Our train, the Guruvayur Express, arrived only a few minutes late. Given that the train would stop for precisely two minutes, we spread out along the platform to use several doors to get us all and our luggage aboard. It was an effective strategy; we were all safely on the train with time to spare before it departed. We waved goodbye to Naveen, the driver and the two older boys Ramesh and Bruce Lee (not his real name!) as the train left the station.
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The train was a very long one. We were booked in Sleeper Coach 6. Each student had been allocated a seat number plus either “upper”, “middle” or “lower” to indicate which bunk. The e-ticket in our possession was very useful as most of our seats were already occupied! One of the train officials kindly helped us to evacuate people so we could have our seats. We then relaxed in our seats to enjoy the 12 hour journey across India.
Throughout the journey we were offered all sorts of items to purchase from sellers on the train: snacks, chai, flowers, reading material etc. We purchased some chico fruit from a seller to share with the group; this is apparently a delicacy of Tamil Nadu and the lady opposite reliably informed us that 20 Rupees was a very reasonable price to pay. It tasted a little like a sweet kiwi fruit. Jack learnt a valuable lesson in cultural relations en route especially with regard to facial gestures! The time was spent playing uno, cards, reading and snoozing.
The train pulled in to Trivandrum station at 11.33pm, only 18 minutes late. To our delight, Pramod,  the travel company rep, was on the platform to greet us and take us to our transport – two  party minibuses! After getting the luggage aboard (something of a challenge) we drove the 20 minutes to the hotel at Kovalam. Rooms were allocated  and we settled down for a well-earned sleep, the crashing of the waves on the rocks reminding us that the Arabian Sea was just a few metres away.

Sandra, Fiona and Brett

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