An Austrian couple who cycled down from Turkey will sail to Alappuzha on a hand-made raft they built

The adventures of Austrian couple Daniela Reibnegger, 31, and Christian Benke, 33, will have listeners all ears. The latest in their road journey that began last May from Malatya in Eastern Turkey and brought them to Kochi nearly two months ago is set to take a more thrilling turn. The intrepid couple with a zest for life has built a raft using bamboo, empty oil barrels and old cycle parts. They are set to sail on it from Mattancherry to Kollam, via Alappuzha, “if all goes as per plan” tomorrow.

The two engineers have grown up cycling, swimming and climbing hills in the picturesque Austrian countryside. Hence this long journey across countries was just another adventure for them. “We have been through very hot and very cold climates.” In Tajikistan, they braved temperatures as low as minus ten. In the sparsely populated Pamir range they survived for three weeks on potatoes “dreaming of proper food”. In Uzbekistan Christian fell sick and their plans were set behind by 10 days. But besides these, their journey has been exciting and enjoyable.

After arriving in Amritsar the two took a train to Mumbai and then cycled down the ghats to Kochi. It was in Kerala that the back waters lured them. “We both wanted to go on the water sometime,” says Christian adding that one inspiration came from a British girl who had cycled across Africa and then done a boat trip on the Niger in a boat made by local fishermen.

Once sure of themselves the two went around Mattancherry buying material for the raft. “We wanted to make a pedal boat with propellers”. The Cochin Marine Engineering workshop came to their aid helping them with welding and with other assistance. Their initial budget of 200USD and time limit of a week overshot soon as they faced glitches. They worked around hurdles and finally, in five weeks, they have arrived at a complete, 2.7 x6 m raft that’s set to sail. “It has been an enjoyable process,” says Daniela, who hand-stitched the jute canopy under which she plans to relax as they cruise down the backwaters.

If they were on cycles they would have reached Alappuzha within a day but on their innovative raft it will take them a week. “The speed is of walking,” says Christian. Daniela, speaking on behalf of all cyclists, says that there should be restrictive honking and dumping of garbage on the roadsides should be banned. A tent and a stove will be all that the two plan to carry on their voyage, leaving their cycles behind. On their plan is the return journey to Kochi from where they would once again pedal off on their cycles to the southern tip of India—Kanyakumari .

People warn them that there adventure is dangerous, but the duo says they enjoy the tough and the uncertain. Daniela and Christian can be followed on their blog http www.poab.org (Percival On A Bike)