Friday, February 18, 2011

The Last Days On The Goan Beach

Hello from Hampi! I've left Goa and the beach, am now inland and and for various reasons (time, internet access, etc) behind on the blog, so I've got some catching up to do. Let's get to it.

Our first full day in Goa got off to a lazy start, as any time on the beach should. We slept in, laid around, got breakfast at the restaurant across from our guest house, Avalon Sunset (highly recommended, we became regulars eating just about every breakfast and dinner there). Honestly I'm really not sure what we did all morning, but it was nice to lay back and read a book.

We managed to get to the beach at FIVE o’clock, haha, and were greeted by this scene. Because cows hold a special place in the Hindu religion they are essentially allowed to roam as the please. The cows take full advantage of this naturally and they want to chill on the beach like the rest of us! As I walked through this group of cows, one of the largest ones walked straight towards me and bumped into me head on. I was unsure what this meant, but given the size of the bulls horns (and testicles!) I was not going to wait and find out. We laid out on the beach with a cold Kingfisher (India’s most popular beer?) , kicked the soccer ball around and watched the sunset. We then had dinner, walked down the beach to see what was going on in the evening (nothing actually) and turned in for the night. An uneventful day no doubt about it.

The next day we walked around town trying to find a place called Cafe DeLish, because the woman who ran it, Jane, was a friend of Hunter's uncle. We had breakfast there, chatted for a few minutes, and then took off on our newly rented scooters to explore the beaches of Goa.

We rode north from Anjuna to Vagator which was small but nice, and walked up the hill to Chapora Fort, which was really just an old wall and nothing else. After the last fort, nothing will compare, but especially not a wall. As usual, the cows were there to keep us company. We had another feast at Avalon Sunset, including a great seafood sizzler and turned went to bed.

Our plan for the next day was a full on moto-adventure. After breakfast we took off again and came to the next beach up the coast, Morgim Beach. It is a very large flat expance of sand with nice sun shades and beach beds. I spent most of my time reading my book (Papillon, fantastic) but the beach was nice and sandy and the waves were fun to play in. A little farther down the road we stopped at a small temple with a fresh, bright coat of paint and some wonderful characters at the entrance. Moving up the coast we went to Mandrem Beach which seemed to be only European people, ate lunch and kept moving. Next up the coast was Arambol, which was a real scene. I thought Anjuna was supposed to be the hippie beach, but Arambol was a whole different level. It was a long, tight, crowded drive to the packed beach, and every other person was covered in dreadlocks. Having no interest in such a crowded place, we turned around without even getting off our bikes and drove the rest of the way to Querim Beach at the very northwest corner of Goa. This beach was very small, very quiet and just had a few beach restaurants and venders rather than the chaos of the other beaches. We watched the sunset and got back on the scooters. The ride back was pretty intense. The roads of India are crazy enough during the day, but darkness adds a whole new element. The roads were narrow and winding, and for an hour or so we were blasting through the streets, dodging other bikes, cars, cows and more. It was a very fun ride.

Back at Anjuna, we were looking for a party or a band or something, so we started walking down the beach. What we found was a ghost town. It seemed that most of the bars were closed, and those that were actually open were nearly empty. I thought this was supposed to be a center of nightlife! It turns out that it's no longer the case, the party died in the 90s or something. Now there are noise ordinances that close many places at 10pm, and we were told that the bars who hold events from time to time bribe the cops to stay open late. It was a bit of a bummer, because we were all looking forward to a night out.

The next morning we had planned another scooter adventure, this time heading south. We bypassed Calangute Beach which is the section with most of the big beach resorts and a large casino, and checked out Siquerim Beach. It was another tourist hellhole. As soon as we pulled up, we were assaulted by demands to pay for parking (we parked right outside the pay area), to go on sightseeing tours, and to buy tourist junk. We walked down to the beach to see the old fort which was just another wall, and turned around disgusted.

Our next stop was Aguada Fort. It was built by the Portuguese in 1612 to protect ships and refill their fresh water tanks, store arms and to house the lighthouse that marked the point. The fort was really just a big wall with a large empty courtyard in the middle and a lighthouse at one side. Rather boring really.

We motored on in search of one nice beach to relax at and eat some lunch since we had struck out all day. This is what a typical road around the beaches of Goa look like. We went furhter on and found ourselves on the main bridge to Panaji, the capital of Goa. This was a bad thing, because we didn't have helmets (they didn't have helmets to give out of course) and that was illegal on the main road. Everyone had them but us, and being tourists we were prime bait for police harassment and extortion really. Also, technically you are supposed to have an international drivers license to ride a bike, and we didn't have that either. Not that any tourist does (well, maybe a handful, but I've never met one of them), but that would be another thing for the police to get us on. We hurridly turned around to get back to the relative safety of the tourist beaches, hoping we wouldn't see any traffic police in the next few minutes.

We then stopped at the last of the popular beaches, Candolim. This place is strange for a few reasons. For one, there are so many Russian tourists here (and more than one Indian here has told me they don't like the Russian tourists) that many shop signs and menus are in Russian. For another, the beach seemed to be only, and I mean only people in their 50s and 60s, most of them overweight. And finally, maybe the strangest of all, the beaches key feature is the River Princess, a huge tanker ship that ran aground on the beach in the 1990s.

The next day Sazzy and Hunter had to fly back to Delhi. Hunter was going back to the Sates, and Sazzy is going to Bangkok to meet up with Sam, yet another of my Seattle friends coming out to southeast Asia! We took a taxi from Anjuna beach all the way to Panaji, the capital city of Goa. The book had some good things to say about Panji, and I was going to use it as my transport hub to Hampi, so I went with them and planned on spending two nights in town.

The town has a few nice attractions and this is the main one, the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1541. The town also has a very nice and newly renovated (2010) 'cenral park' area called Garcia de Orta, plus all the other cool old streets and architecture that come along with a history like this town has. We walked around in the hot sun for a while, taking in the sites and I have to say I did kind of like the place.

I ended up staying at a place called Comfort Inn, on 31st January Road. The guy was a bit of a jerk, the room cost 300 rupees for a shared bathroom, he wouldn't even let Sazzy use the bathroom (quoting 'terrorist concerns'), and the checkout time was 8:30! I ended up staying anyways, because other than the guy being a jerk, the room was decent and clean, plus the others in that area/price range have similar policies.

After passing and juggling a soccer ball in on a sidewalk and then a park for a while, it was time for Sazzy and Hunter to get to the airport, so it was time to part ways. Just like everyone else I've been with on this trip, as expected Seeing some of India with Sazzy and Hunter was fantastic. Getting to see a bit of India with Sazzy and his family, and especially the wedding was something I'll never forget. Traveling with Hunter, who was just like me, along for the ride, was a pleasure and has helped convince me three can be the perfect number to travel with.

At this point, I have no other friends to meet up with since flying out to meet Sam just isn't fitting into my schedule right now. That means I'm in India for nearly a month and a half solo right now, but I certainly hope and expect to meet some new friends on the road to travel with and I am looking forward to that.

That evening I pretty much just wandered around town alone taking in the sights again, and looking at the brightly lit church and park. As I walked down the waterfront I ended up chatting with two members of Green Peace India for about a half an hour which was pretty interesting. We talked mostly about the changes that need to take place and what they are doing about it, as well as asking me a few questions about America and American perceptions on environmental issues.

Based on the advice of the rude guy who ran the guest house, I decided to return to Anjuna (and I just left, haha) for the Wednesday Market, an outdoor market that is supposed to be a big deal. I went to the public bus station, and for 10 rupees got a ride to Mapusa, and then paid another 10 for the ride from Mapusa to Anjuna. The bus was old, crowded and bumpy, but it was worlds cheaper than a taxi and very easy. If we had known this earlier, we would have saved a lot money taking it instead of a taxi, oh well.

The market was indeed big, and it did seem to bring in people from all around. While it had some nice crafts, lots of clothing, tea and spices, and many more things to be honest it wasn't anything that isn't already sold at the stands along the beaches every day, just more of it. I'm really not sure what the big deal is, it's mostly just tourist junk...

That said, I did buy a few things that I needed. I broke my sunglasses (they cost me about $3, no big loss) the other day, so I replaced them with some equally cheap ones, I bought some light weight pants because I want something cooler and more comfortable to wear, and bought a new shirt for the same reasons. One of the things at the market I actually liked were some of the door handles, especially the ones in the shape of an elephant head and trunk. Satisfied with my purchases I took the bus back to Panajin.

In town I wandered into a different park, the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Park. This one was pretty run down, full of men taking siestas on the benches, brown grass, strange fiberglass garbage cans such as the giant penguin, that have “Use Me” written on them and some rusting yellow and orange playground equipment.

I'd been putting off shaving and decided I'd get it done at a barber. I've only had someone shave me once before, so it was a bit of a new experience. And yes, I watched him put the handle in disinfectant and then put a brand new blade on! For 40 rupees (less than a dollar) I got quite a shave. First he washed my whole face off, then brushed on the shaving cream with the old style brush. He went over my face with the razor two times, than gave a sort of face massage and a rub of three different moisturizers or something. He didn't nic me once, and it was certainly the best shave I've ever had.

I then bought my bus ticket to Hampi for 700 rupees, more than I was expecting to spend, but not feeling too bad about it. Next on my to-do list was to get a mobile broadband modem, but as I was wandering almost aimlessly to find the store, I herd a lout parade two blocks, and I walked quickly to get in front of it and see what was going on. I suddenly found myself in a massive parade of Goas Muslim population and one of the banners said it was the “Birth Anniversary of Prophet Muhammad.”

I stayed right in the middle of it all, as hundreds of people walked passed me along with many cars and trucks loaded with speakers and piled with men singing, teens chanting and little kids running around smiling, it was all pretty exciting actually. This guy seemed to be the main event, singing with a group of drummers and then making a short speech. It was sort of amusing that this was all taking place at the base of the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, but the only reason for that was that the mosque, Jama Masjid, built in 1779, was only a block away.

After being distracted by the parade, I wandered around for quite a while more before I finally found it, the Tata Indicom store. Because I've had trouble getting online since being in India, I decided to spend a few bucks on a mobile internet system. India hasn't been anything like Thailand or even Cambodia. There is no free wifi anywhere, neither at guesthouses or bars/restaurants, and while internet cafes are still around they are a pain. This, if the coverage area ('Nationwide') is should be very helpful with keeping my my blog, usual communications, train tickets, and of course keeping up with my sister Holly's ski races in Oslo, Norway!

I ended up with the Tata photon+, which I was told is the best. I used one in Delhi, and it was quite fast, but where I've been so far it has been slow and a bit problematic... That said, it works, and is nice to have.

While I had been looking for the wireless store, I'd seen a sign on a building for a 'public observatory' that was going to be open that night. Intrigued, I entered the big building of government offices ranging from the 'Department of Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs' to the ''Directorate of Official Language' to the 'Office of the Conservation of Forrest, Wildlife and Ecotourism' and took the elevator to the seventh floor terrace for the 'Public Amateur Observatory Department.' On top I found an older Aussie couple, and a handful of locals, all under 16 I think. Three boys were the leaders of it, pointing the 5” telescope into the sky. We looked at the Andromeda galaxy, Orion, Saturn, the moon and others, as well as getting to watch the International Space Station pass overhead. I hung around and talked space with the kids until the were out of things to show me with their scope (the big scope only gets used 'on special occasions') and walked back to my room, having really enjoyed coming upon that little activity

Next I head off to Old Goa, home of the largest church in Asia and off to Hampi. Being back on my own is exciting, and I'm really looking forward to exploring India in the coming few weeks and meeting new people along the way. Since I'm already in Hanpi as I write this, I'll give a sneak peak: it's awesome, so stay tuned!