Posts Tagged ‘trip’

Goan Nomad – Part 3 – The Finale!

by Pam

Continued from Part Two.

Eventually we are rescued from the dwarf’s bar, and from his kids, by the guy who rented us the Enfield in the first place, and we roll back into the tiny beach town of Palolem. The place is crawling with waterlogged young Israelis who also missed the monsoon memo. The main street in town is flooded with eighteen inches of water, which we have to wade across to get to the travel agent’s office, so that we can check on the likelihood of our bus actually leaving tonight.

We’re assured that the bus will be leaving as scheduled.

We hole up in a restaurant that serves something they call “pizza,” and watch the rain pour off the roof like a waterfall. The field across the street has gone from a field, to a swamp, to a swimming pool. A few hours later we wade back through the murky water to check in with the travel agent.

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“Buses having number of yours. They contact with too much rain. Worrying there is not need,” the travel agent says without looking up. Phil and I are used to untangling sentences like this. We worry about what it is doing to our brains.

The small storefront is now crowded with refugees, standing on the stoop and at the window watching people wade through the water. The room lights up with flashes of lightning then rumbles eerily with thunder. Every few minutes the entire place bursts into laughter when an innocent steps blindly into the deep end of the street and is swallowed up to their neck.

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I look down at the twin burns on my calf, realize that wading through brown flood waters in an Indian village is probably the worst thing I could do for my blistered wound, and become obsessed with imagining the bacteria that are surely taking up residence in my leg. I panic at the infection that will come and the gangrene that will follow. The next hour will be spent going from shop to shop trying to find gauze and antibiotic cream, and enough tape to create a waterproof seal.

Phil, meanwhile, is completely unmoved by my plight, and has decided that he needs new sunglasses. He goes from crappy store to crappy store looking for the perfect pair to make him look like a Bollywood gangster.

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We decide to leave early for the station so there is no chance of missing our bus. The station is only four kilometers outside of Palolem, so we load our luggage into a tuk-tuk and brave the puddling roads. When we arrive, I show our tickets to the man at the counter, who secretly molests my finger while he looks deep in my eyes and informs me:

“This, madam, wrong junction. Wold bus stand, fi minute walking only.”

I yank my hand away and storm off.

“We’re at the wrong place,” I inform Phil. He looks around, at dozens of buses at dozens of terminals, with hundreds of people boarding the beasts.

“This isn’t the bus station?”

“Apparently our bus stops at the ‘wold’ station, five minutes that way,” I say, pointing that way.

We lug our stuff into another taxi.

“One hundred rupees,” the driver says. “One hundred rupees to wold bus stand.”

“Are you joking?” Phil shouts, full of a brand of indignity that is only possible after being cheated and lied to, everyday for more than six months.

“Too much, we give you twenty.”

“No sir. One hundred. Raining.”

“Fifty,” Phil counters, “We give you fifty.”

The driver wobbles his head in a way that sometimes means yes.

“One hundred rupees, raining.”

While one hundred rupees is only about two U.S. dollars, in tuk-tuk terms this is a fortune. It might even feel worse because the driver has stated his intent to screw us, rather than just gouging us at the last minute. But by now our only dry clothes, the ones I’ve been keeping safe in a plastic bag so we’d be able to travel on the all night air conditioned bus without getting pneumonia, are getting soaked. I push Phil into the tuk-tuk and take over the transaction:

“Okay okay, one hundred, raining! Fuck it, who cares? It’s two dollars.”

A full minute and a half later the auto delivers us to the ‘wold’ bus stop, which is hardly a bus stop at all, and definitely not one hundred rupees away.

“Prrrrrick,” Phil growls, rolling his R’s dramatically after popping his P.

By now it is dark, and we stand under a sheet of corrugated metal for forty-five minutes, asking everyone who passes if this is really where the bus stops, and if they think it’ll come at all in this storm, and every answer is different. I call the bus company directly, and I’m assured the bus “will arriving” at some point. The rain pools and leaks through the metal roof. I don’t believe that the bus will really come, so I call again, and they hang up on me. I call back, and this time the guy gives me the phone number of the bus driver! I fish around in my wet purse for a pen and paper, and write the number on Phil’s arm with eyeliner. We call again and again, but there is no answer.

A taxi, parked next to the bus stop with the driver asleep in the backseat, comes to life, and a brittle version of It’s a Small World After All plays as it backs up. This is normal here: Indian cars have backup songs! Silent Night, La Cucaracha, Greensleeves, Für Elise, but right now it doesn’t feel like a small world. It feels like a giant world, made up mostly of water, and everything I know feels far, far away, and there are things about India that are so strange they defy gravity.

After another hour passes, we carry our stuff across the street and take refuge in a sweaty little restaurant where the shirtless cook is slinging slimy slop into stainless steel trays at the speed of sound. We sip hot chai tea while Phil charges his phone for the first time in two days.

We scroll through the news on the iPhone, and we learn that we are at the epicenter of an extremely massive monsoon season flood. Villages are submerging all around us, and people are drowning just five kilometers from where we are sitting. The roads are washed out, the train tracks are flooded, and the airport is closed. Nearly a hundred people have already died in Goa and the neighboring states over the past three days. Families are stranded on rooftops; crops have washed away; refugees are crowded into temples and government buildings; food is being airdropped by helicopter. Turns out this is the worst storm and flooding in more than 40 years, and the rain is still coming down.

Our bus is not coming tonight.

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We coax a reluctant tuk-tuk driver to get us back to Palolem; he has to take a rather dodgy alternate route, since the main road is now closed off. We manage to reclaim our room at the Bhakti Katir, but at double the price. It’s after midnight, raining like a bitch, and they know we have little choice.

In our little cabin, the air is so moist that the mattress is damp through and through; it bleeds moisture into the sheets, and into the clothes we are sleeping in. The outside bathroom, the one that was so cute when we first arrived, loses all its charm the first time I have to pee while holding an umbrella over my head.

The next morning, we book a flight back to Bangalore for Monday; now we have four days to aimlessly knock around Palolem, waiting for our flight, and hoping for the best.

Some people would call this vacationing, but we don’t know what to do with ourselves. There are no movies, no media, no computers. We read, and spend hours writing in notebooks. We eat, then wait to get hungry, go somewhere else, and eat again. We’ve already bought all the Ali Baba pants, gangster glasses and wraparound skirts made of old sarees that anyone could want. And I’ve had to talk Phil out of getting a tattoo three different times, on the grounds that the tattoo artist we checked out yesterday, still sucks today. We feel like shipwreck survivors waiting to be rescued.

We are bored.

Phil decides that drinking will help pass the time. This confuses me: in the years I’ve known him, I’ve only ever seen him sip the occasional cocktail or a glass of wine, but now he’s ordering multiple piña coladas with every meal.

“Are you mad at me?” I ask meekly.

“No one drinks piña coladas because they’re mad at their wife,” Phil slurs, and touches his glass to mine. “Drink up.”

We rope strangers into our festival of boredom. One of them turns out to know about ten people we know in Los Angeles, and it actually is a small world after all. We get them drunk and make them listen to us complain about Natalie Merchant songs and dreadlocks. We tell them about India, because the more we drink, the more we have to say about this country. We discuss the language issues and the poverty, the child labor that is everywhere. We talk about how amazing our rooftop is at sunset when the eagles that swoop and hover overhead are swapped out for giant bats with two-foot wingspans. We talk about the kids in our neighborhood who come visit and try to teach me Kannada while they snack on whatever is in my kitchen that day. We ramble on about our driver Mustaq and how he promises me that he only hits his wife when she deserves it. We try to remember all the pushcart cries we hear from our bedroom window each morning.

We are wet and bored and miserable, and we know that leaving India is going to break our hearts.

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Epilogue

In the end we arrived safely back in Bangalore after an uneventful one-hour flight; but it took three hours to get from the airport across town to our house. Traffic was jammed on every thoroughfare, but not because of accidents, or flood damage; but because there were people in the street collecting rupees from every vehicle, for flood disaster relief. Bangalore was fine, but other areas of our state, Karnataka, were hit even worse than Goa. We tried to be mad because we just wanted to be home already, but we just couldn’t do it: we happily emptied our pockets and handed over the cash, before braving the final leg of our journey.

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Goan Nomad

by Pam

In September I returned to San Francisco for a couple of weeks to spend time with my dearest friends Bill and Maggie Weir. Bill gave me away at our wedding, and Maggie is my long-standing partner in radio crimes.

A little more than a year ago Bill was diagnosed with glioblastoma – a wicked type of brain cancer. It’s been a difficult year for everyone who loved Bill, and there are many. Maggie and the children, Sophie, Walker and Logan have ridden out the storm with a grace and strength no one should have to muster. It was a true gift to spend time with Bill in his last weeks. Though bed-ridden and uncomfortable, his positive attitude still shined through.

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Bill Weir passed away on October 8th, 2009. He was a true star. Full of life and love and a spark no one ever imagined would go out so soon.

My trip home was a sad one, then; but it was tempered by great meals and wonderful visits with friends and family, I even got to do a couple of radio shows at Pirate Cat.

Meanwhile, back in India, Phil was battling his first bout of serious food poisoning, which segued into a throaty chest cold that had swine flu written all over it. He was sick the entire time I was gone. When I returned to Bangalore he looked twenty pounds thinner and still had greenish circles under his eyes.

We were both ready for a vacation.

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We head northwest from Bangalore to Goa on a grueling overnight bus with air conditioning – massive amounts of arctic air conditioning. It is so cold, and the AC is blowing at such gale force, that we have to pull blankets over our heads to sleep. A lot of road travel is conducted at nighttime in India, but I’m not sure of the value exactly. At nighttime the roads are jammed with trucks playing chicken with each other. Seriously, ninety percent of the time when you look out the front window, something, a car, a truck, a bullock cart, an elephant, a camel, is headed straight for you. This isn’t really any different from day time driving, except that when you arrive at your destination you are wrecked and lose the first day to sleep.

We arrive in Palolem, on Goa’s southern coast, and immediately rent a delicious, black, 350cc Enfield Bullet Classic, and find a room at the beautiful Bakhti Kutir, an eco-resort in the jungle that looks like it’s been built by gnomes. For a couple of days we bodysurf and wander through the tiny beach town, and eat fresh seafood. On the third day we head north, to explore Goa’s coast.

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Burning your calf on the exhaust pipe of a motorcycle is something everyone who rides bitch does – once. My first time hurt insanely bad for six weeks and took two rounds of antibiotics before finally healing. I have to admit I’m more than a little proud of that dark oval on my leg. It feels like a cosmic tattoo, something that will always remind me of our time in India. That first burn was a badge of honor. My second burn, which I achieve before we even get out of Palolem, feels more desperate, like I’m pounding on the door of the Hell’s Angels clubhouse, begging them to let me join.

I bandage my leg and we ride up the coast under a sunny sky. the ocean air reminds us of Santa Barbara, and the sun is turning both of us pink. We spend that night in the Goan state capitol of Panjim, where we finally strike gold in our search for the classic Goan cuisine we’d heard so much about, at a strange little place with a Portuguese-Indian proprietress.

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From Panjim we head inland to beautiful Old Goa, through stunning scenery, rice paddies, fishing boats, tiny markets and fluorescent sarees, while traffic and rogue water buffalo both try to kill us.

In India, Hindu temples are generally as ubiquitous as cows, but in the state of Goa, the sacred temples are far outnumbered by majestic Catholic churches, a legacy of the Portuguese. Outside of the giant Basilica of Bom Jesus, which holds the sacred remains of St. Francis of Xavier, men sell cast wax body parts. Low tables with boxes full of small translucent legs, arms, heads, lay alongside fist-sized hearts and Barbie-sized whole bodies.

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Like the Mexican Milagros, the idea is that you buy a body part to symbolize the part that ails you, and melt in on the outside altar of the church. I buy a leg, and place it on the altar and watch it blaze and melt away. Something about burning a leg to magically heal the burn on my leg seemed more wrong than poetic, but when it comes to religious voodoo, I am never the skeptic. I’ll try anything.

We light candles for Bill.

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From Old Goa we hop back on the bike and head back to the coast and north again, up to the tiny town of Baga, hoping to find a little of the rave glam we’ve been hearing about for the past twenty years.

In the evening, we sit on Baga Beach at a low table smoking from a hookah, drinking piña coladas and watching layers and layers of waves slide to the shore in the moonlight. The night air is beautiful and blowing gently in all directions at once. Families and young men crowd around tables dining, amidst great clouds of sheesha smoke. The beach is full of people with glowing red horns – children, old men, fat ladies in saris, young men in tight shiny shirts, nearly everyone at every table glows crimson, while the Eagles greatest hits play on the sound system. This isn’t exactly what we’d expected from the rockin’ rave reputation that the word “Goa” still invokes, but right now, it’ll do.

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Tucked in our strange little room, we wake in the middle of the night to the sound of rain. Pounding rain. Hammering Rain. Rain that we’re sure is washing out roads. Rain that we fear will short out everything on the Enfield. Rain that will trap us in our small Catholic room – a room decorated with only a mirror framed with tiny seashells, and a fake Barbie doll dressed in a iridescent gold plastic that circles around behind her like some impossible samba costume. Goa’s Portuguese roots are showing. The whole room looks like it’s waiting for Cindy Sherman’s camera and the junkie models to arrive. I look out the window and can see the road turning into a shallow river. I go back to sleep and dream of the end of the world.

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A few hours after sunrise, the sky stops pissing down rain. We climb onto the bike to continue our journey north to the next beach town. Almost immediately it starts pouring again, which makes the bike, which has no rear view mirrors and no horn, seem suddenly very dangerous. We ride for only ten minutes before the rain makes it impossible to keep going.

On Baga’s main strip, we pull over, in the shadow of the Sao Joao Batista church, beside a restaurant called the Infantaria. We see the sign and giggle, and know we were thinking the same childish thing: a restaurant that serves babies! Of course, we decide to go in. I climb off the bike on the wrong side and burn my calf again, two inches above the last one. I’m an idiot. They’ll never let me into the club.

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We watch the rain from the Infanteria balcony, and the Indian customers watch us. We’re used to being on display, but we fail to see what is so entertaining about watching two waterlogged white people eating chocolate cake, drinking coffee and icing a burn.

Phil discovers espresso shots with vanilla ice cream; they’re so delicious he has three of them, and it’s hours before he takes a breath. He tells me about the creative dynamic between the Carpenters, and how Karen was nothing without Richard telling her what to do. He then segues into listing the bands Todd Rundgren has produced: New York Dolls, Badfinger, Sparks, Grand Funk Railroad, Hall and Oates, Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, XTC, and so many more. He chastises me for having been a Utopia era Todd Rundgren fan, but I stand firm. If music didn’t exist, my husband and I would have a lot less to talk about: we’re the same age, and we were listening to the same things at the same time, at different ends of California, growing up.

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Resigned to the pounding rain, we buy cheap ponchos that make us look like smurfs, and climb back on the Bullet. We aren’t seasoned bikers yet, and fall seriously short in the “packing light” department: I’m carrying a big leather handbag from Barneys New York, which is now ruined, and a second bag; both are filled with wet clothes. I stack the bags one atop the other and sandwich them between us. The extra weight from a backpack jammed with camera gear and toiletries presses my ass even deeper into the hard seat. The rain pours down and leaks through the necks of our ponchos, the puddles splash up our legs, and the moisture meets in the middle.

After an hour of splashing and bouncing and trying to hang on to Phil’s slippery poncho, I whine in his ear.

“I’m cold and I’m wet, and I’m tired of being loaded down like a pack mule. My back aches, my ass is bruised, and my burns hurt…really bad.”

Phil pulls over, stops the bike, and climbs off. Then, in a rogue wave of vacation silliness, he buys an inflatable sun and insists I carry it, too, along with everything else. It’s just a child’s blow-up pool toy, but to him it’s comedy gold. It’s hard to stay grumpy while riding through monsoon rain in a purple poncho clutching an inflatable sun.

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We keep on moving through buckets of rain all the way up the northern coastline to Anjuna, our final Goan destination, excited because we’ve been reading about the killer market there, and can’t wait to see something other than the same hippie tourist tat that hangs in all the shop windows up and down the state. The roads are bumpy and my ass is still killing me, we are both drenched and sweaty. And Anjuna – Anjuna turns out to be nothing but a muddy little town on a cliff, with sad stall after sad stall selling the same sad wet crap.

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The longer we spend in Goa, and the more we see, the more it falls short of our expectations. It’s not that the place isn’t beautiful: Goa kicks Hawaii’s ass and mops the floor with the Florida Keys, but we were expecting a little more of the legendary beach bunny trance pants party scene. We were expecting some debauchery, some action. This is our own fault: shortly after arriving, we found out the “season” doesn’t officially begin for another two weeks. The guidebook mentioned something about seasons, but being from California, we don’t really understand such things. Now, after two days of being relentlessly drenched, we know the difference between monsoon season and not-monsoon season; we now know that the last week of September isn’t at all like, say, the second week of October.

From the second week of October, we are informed, Goa bursts into life. Coconut huts bloom on the sandy beaches, shops that sell everything and nothing line the streets, restaurants set up in the vacant spaces and feed the beach bunnies. Techno music pounds, hippies flock. It’s a great place for the flocking hippies.

But right now, all over Goa, tattered blue tarps and dead palm fronds cling to the sides of last year’s structures. Building rubble looks like it has been thrown around by a set designer trying to create a believable apocalyptic beach scene.

We decide, innocently enough, to head back to Palolem and return to Bangalore a day early…

Continued at: Goan Nomad – Part 2

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