A Travellerspoint blog

Monsoon's Over?

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I have been trying to write a blog for days, but it isn’t flowing. Its not that I haven’t done anything interesting, because everyday is a small adventure, it just not very noteworthy. I spent about three days travelling to Kerala all told – the tale of it would bore you to tears. I have also been adjusting, sorting things out in my head and making decisions. After all that, there’s no time in the day to write blogs.

Over the last week I have started to feel more at ease, less on guard the entire time, I am adjusting the rhythm and pace of life in India. I am starting to slow down and relax. I still have to convince myself that I don’t have to be occupied at every moment of the day. The fact that travelling is what I am doing now is starting to form in to a coherent thought.

The heavens opened on the day we arrived in Kerala. The sea was battleship grey, with steely clouds building menacingly on the horizon. I t was spectacular, I loved it. The atmosphere was so charged and moody, I found it very energising. When it came the rain was so heavy and incessant, we were forced to sit under the protection of one restaurant where, we spent the entire day playing card games and reading. On the few occasions we ventured out into the squall, we were soaked through and it was impossible to fully dry off.

I was enjoying the weather, but poor Lucy and Michelle were desperate for the beach after a five week whistle stop tour of the north, they deserve a rest. I have months in India so I was just really happy to sit back and watch the drama unfold.

Varkala is a funny little cliff top resort. The front strip is meters away from the sheer drop down to the beach. Like all good tourist resorts there are many little restaurants, bars, tourist offices and shops selling toot, seemingly more specific to India are all the many Ayurvedic massage parlours, Mendhi, and the many smiling, happy people shouting greetings and “come madam, look in my shop”, “What’s wrong with my shop?” “I give you good price, cheaper than Tesco, cheaper than Primark”.

The beaches are ferocious and each year several people are swept away in the unbelievably strong currents of the Arabian Sea. I was paddling up to my calves and a wave knocked me off my feet, landing me smack down in the surf. There are many restaurants and bars all offering surprisingly excellent food. Alcohol is illegal, so beer is bought to the table in mugs or the beer bottle is cunningly disguised by a twist of newspaper. Its really funny seeing one on every table, they are more obvious by their beacon of a disguise. It is a serious issue for the bar-owners; however, as if the correct <em>backshish</em> isn’t forthcoming, frequent police-raids occur. Last week a man was jailed for 15 days for serving beer to the foreigners. (That’s us, by the way).

Yesterday, to Michelle and Lucy’s delight - the sun shone. The world looked fresh and new after the downpour, and smelled quite good too! We made our way down to the beach, accessed by a treacherous stairway hewn into the rock – that was not my favourite part of the day. Once safe on the sand, we procured an umbrella which I sat firmly under, having put on SPF 50, reading the Indian travellers’ classic <em>Shantaram</em>, determined not to get a tan. I actually enjoyed the beach for a change. Taking frequent trips in to the water to be battered and pounded buy the, at times, 10ft waves. At one point the water pulled back so much that it looked like a mini-tsunami coming crashing towards the beach. I was playing in the waves like a kid, but don’t worry I didn’t go out of my depth and I stayed between the flags. Unfortunately the sea is filthy; full of plastic bags and banana skins, bottle tops and weird fibrous masses that slink around your legs or hit you with the force of the water. Despite my perceived precautions I still managed to get slight sun burn, the sun is massively stronger than I imagined.

So where to next? We haven’t really decided, we all want to experience the meandering backwaters of Kerala and our budgets are perfectly matched so coming to a decision that we all agree on should be simple. I am enjoying the company, someone to share it with and the laughter. Lucy and Michelle are working their way back up the coast to Mumbai eventually. I still don’t know what I am going to do. I can’t really decide where to go in Southern India. All the places I had ear-marked to visit I have been repeatedly advised to avoid. I have to choose where I want to spend Christmas – that being the one time I really do not want to find myself alone. I have to choose wisely, between my budget and being able to be near people (Goa Vs Kerala) and a place that I actually like and want to stay in. so I am going to wait until I have seen Kerala to make that decision. The only added pressure being, Christmas is peak season and everywhere will be booked far in advance. Truthfully I am not that worried, I have every faith that it will work out for the best.

<em>Shanti, Shanti.</em>

Posted by saraintrep 08:56 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Last Night I Did Something Foolish...

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Last night I did something foolish, something rash, something impulsive. Something I’m still not sure I should have done. But, well, I did. And I’m just going to have to live with it. I cut my own hair! Don’t worry, I’m partially trained. But still, this was my own head, and I am not double-jointed.

Now I take pride in my hair, so normally I’d never even conceive of cutting it myself. Let alone admit to you lot. But drastic times call for drastic measures and that’s what I did last night. I got my scissors out and I cut my hair.

I was desperate. It was long and heavy and the weather is unbearably hot. My head feels as if it’s permanently housed in its own private sauna. And getting my hair cut in India… I don’t know. Fashion haircuts are thin on the ground here. Beauty ideals dictate that the women here have very long, very thick dark hair. Exactly the kind of hair I was determined to lose, in fact.

Armed with my hair-cutting scissors and a vague knowledge -- acquired on my three-day ‘Hair for Make-Up Artists’ course, and the experience of having watched my hair cut hundreds of times...I began. Soon there was quite a lot of hair on the floor, but I have very thick hair. It was looking shorter and more manageable and my head felt cooler already. So far so good. Who knew? No dire clumps, no wonky edges, no slips, no cuts, no bald spots. Pleased with the result I decided to go to bed and re-assess in the morning.

Brief interlude in which I sleep

I woke up to find that… Shock horror. No. Nothing. I’m actually quite impressed with the result! The only thing I did wrong was right at the end. Right at the very end, when I was practically home and dry. I could’ve left it and it would have been perfect, I got a little cocky. “Just a little bit more off the front” I thought. Just to finesse it. Just to finish the whole thing off.

I now have a fringe.

I haven’t had a fringe since I was 9.

Don’t get me wrong I didn’t try to fashion myself a Betty Page fringe or anything. It comes to about my nose, but because of the curl in my hair it bounces out to the sides framing my eyes.

That’s right. I now have a fringe. Like a shitzu dog.

Posted by saraintrep 23:53 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Elephants and Other Animals

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After four days in Anjuna, I was itching to get back on the road again. Not just because despite taking my vitamin B1 religiously, smothering myself in 50% deet every evening and lighting enough mosquito coils to stop malaria in its tracks, I am still getting bitten. Especially my feet, the irritating red bumps clashing with my Revlon Red toenails.

After the first night extravaganza, Anjuna turned-up no more surprises. I had lazy fish lunches at the beach, went to the flea market (bought a hat), had evening drinks with various people, read and hand washed endlessly – I feel like I work at Mumbai laundry! To liven things up I did get stung by a jellyfish – no ’F.r.i.e.n.d.s’ fans, I didn’t wee on myself – and was also head-butted up the bum by a homeward going, sunset beach-strolling cow. An actual cow, not just some girl I took a dislike to, or rather her to me, after all, she was the one doing the head butting; I’d just bent over to take off my shoes so I could walk in the surf. No. It was a cow, of the bovine variety. They have a lot of them in India you know.

As Thornton had friends staying at the house for the weekend, I decided to head to Panjim. Just up the road, Goa’s capital would be my new base for exploring. I had to catch two of the local buses to get there. These rickety vehicles trundle along picking up new passengers anywhere along the route and packing us all in like sardines – the trick is arrive early to get a seat. Or be a foreign girl. The one I needed was full so I was ushered up to the front to sit in the cab near the driver. It was like a mini VIP section. Indian music blares out of tinny speakers, perfect soundtrack to the lush countryside. It was great to feel I was travelling again; there is so much to see I feel guilty if not actively pursuing the “next place”, however, the break in Anjuna allowed for some much needed R&amp;R. I am supposed to be trying to master patience or rather my lack thereof. I keep having to remind myself I am only two weeks in!

From Panjim I had decided to go up to Ponda, where there is a spice plantation and the exotic promise of elephants. Stopping for breakfast at a little eatery I had spied on the way to the bus station, I sat cosied up on the first floor Portuguese restaurant ‘Hospedaria Venite’, with its little jutting balconies overlooking the bustling street below. I ordered a yummy banana lassie and an omelette. I was tucking in when two women came and sat at the table next to me. Pamela and Cathy, two nurses from Australia who had left husbands and (admittedly grown-up) children behind for a month-long Indian whirlwind tour. Chatting for a moment, they decided to join me on my trip to the Spice plantation. I was thrilled; I now had company without even trying.

Another little bus took us up to Ponda, where we were advised by a ‘helpful’ man that we could get another bus to the plantation for 5 rupees instead of the 300 rupee taxi. We were greeted at the plantation with a cup of hot lemongrass, ginger and cardamom tea - delicious. A guided tour to see, smell and taste a wide variety of spices. Freshly cracked nutmeg, soft as a walnut and tasted so delicious, the largest coriander leaves I’ve ever seen, vanilla and peppercorn creepers growing around other plants, chillies, cinnamon and a demonstration of how to climb beeltenut trees and swing between them. The place was an incredible green paradise; set by a lake it was idyllic. After the tour we were fed a Goan feast on a banana leaf. I couldn’t believe how scrumptious it was. They managed to strike the right balance between giving value for money and not turning it into a “Disney SpiceLand”.

Then the bit I was excited about.... the elephants. Cathy and I had paid to bathe and ride an elephant. Something was lost in the translation; I had thought we would wash the elephants after they had been working as I had previously researched back at home. Actually what was supposed to happen was: sit on elephant, elephant squirts you with water.

Mala was huge, naturally, and had a speckled pink trunk and ears. She was instructed to get in to the, fairly small by paqiderm standards, pool. Poor Mala having to struggle down the steps, STEPS, imagine a poor elephant having to negotiate steps. Once in the pool she had to lie down so Kathy could get on. Then a few sharp instructions and Mala had to fill her trunk with water, throw same trunk backwards over her vast boulder-shaped head and spray it all over Cathy. Mala did it once, but her heart didn’t seem in it. I have seen elephants do this on the telly. They seem to love it, drenching themselves with gay abandon, but Mala was having none of it. The instructions were coming thick and fast as Mala was being urged to do it again. She did so but under duress. Then they started poking her with sticks to make her do it again. In protest she trumpeted loudly and did an enormous poo in the pool, that, by the way – I was standing in. She really was not enjoying this and I felt uncomfortable with the slight err towards animal cruelty that I decided, I wouldn’t take my turn, much to the handlers’ bafflement. They clearly thought that my reason, that Mala didn’t seem to want to, was very strange. Both Cathy and I rode the other elephant, Babu. I am not really certain how I feel about it. I cannot be sure that those elephants have any quality of life and Mala was not at all keen to perform her demeaning task. I also am not convinced I like riding on animals but I had wanted to see if my back would hold out for when I do a tiger safari up north.

Above our heads I spotted a gigantic green and black spider, waiting ominously in it’s appropriately halloweenesque web. Then a man came passed with a scorpion on a lead! Ok! Slight exaggeration, it was tied-up to a piece of string. From which it hung limply, upside down and still very much alive and no-doubt biding its time. Having been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of at least three “the biggest scorpion I ever saw...” stories, a lot of them based in Anjuna (where I am staying normally), the sight of this frankly huge scorpion, about the size of my palm (NO exaggeration) with vicious front pincers the size of broad beans, terrified me. The day before I left Anjuna I had seen a similar sized dead one in the road near my little house, it had turned metallic blue as it was rotting and being eaten by ants – that night I put up a mosquito net!!

At this point I was ready to leave the jungle/spice plantation and return to concrete buildings. The ‘helpful’ man from earlier suddenly reappeared and started ushering us to the bus, however we had decided that we would take a taxi back down. He had a quick word with the waiting drivers and miraculously none of them spoke any English or wanted to take us in their taxies. We conferred and decided fine, we would take the bus but in our own time. We started to walk to the main road and who should appear at our elbows? Except now he actually demanded money! Needless to say we did not give him any.

Small palaver later and we enlisted the help of the security man to order us a taxi and we were on our way. On the bus we met up with a young Swedish couple (Adam &amp; Josefine) who had also been elephant riding. They are travelling around south India, Sri Lanca and the Maldives for three months before returning home to embark on five year medical and psychology degrees. They were really lovely and we all got on so well we decided to have a drink together at the Venite from earlier. I then discovered that, I had not been as intrepid as I had thought. I had not found a special, hidden, unknown place - it is in Lonely Planet, (other guide books are available) written up as: “Without a doubt the lunch address to which most tourists head.” Damn you, Lonely Planet, damn you and your extremely useful, accurate and comprehensive guides!

Soon Cathy and Pamela had to go and I was desperate for my shower, I am averaging about three a day with as many clothes changes- hence the Mumbai laundry. Adam and Josefine asked if I would like to join them later for dinner, which I did. We had a lovely fish supper, except very fresh and done in butter not batter and garlic, served with inexplicably cold chips. Oh yes and I drank beer! Voluntarily! Well kind of, a glass of wine is very expensive, not to mention foul and I can’t keep drinking rum and full-fat coke. We had a great evening, talking about all manner of things and I hardly noticed that I am ten years older than them and they probably think I’m a grown-up.

They kindly walked me to my hotel, which was in total darkness with the doors locked – I had taken my key so they didn’t know I was out, oops! Luckily there was someone asleep just inside the door, so I was granted entry.

I was knackered and keen to get to bed. I was brushing my teeth looking at the TV, so when I went to spit in the sink I didn’t notice the huge creature sitting in there, I spat toothpaste all over it, it jumped up in the air and I screamed. Locked the toilet door from the outside, had to get re-dressed and went to get the man from downstairs to come up and rescue me; he was armed with a huge can of bug spray. I was about to protest and ask him not to kill it, whatever it was, but remembered that I had already woken him up twice and thought better of it. He went into the bathroom and peered in to the sink, as I cowered in the corridor, peeking round the door frame. He uttered something that sounded suspiciously like “fly” (for the record: it was NOT a fly) and sprayed it liberally with poison.

Excitement over and I was able to get into bed, settled down and turned on the telly – I was not surprised that Jaws 3 was the only English movie available worth watching.

Posted by saraintrep 23:51 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sleepy Goa?

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Did I speak too soon? My first day in Goa was fairly eventful by anyone’s standards. I woke up and properly explored my little cottage and surrounding gardens. Once dressed I made my way down to the local restaurant and hired taxi-bike to take me to the shop to purchase food, wine and phone credit.

The phone has not been activated yet and I have doubts that it will be, as I don’t have a permanent address in Mumbai where the SIM is registered. All very tedious and complicated.

Food shopping was much more successful. Brown bread, cheese, salad, fruit and a lovely bottle of red wine. Just what the doctor ordered. Once back at the house I met the cleaner who was giving the house a once over, it being shut up since the monsoon. I washed up some cutlery, crockery and other utensils and set about making a tomato sauce for pasta (that I have been craving for days).

I lazed around, read, organised myself a bit and then went out in search of the internet. As I have not taken the plunge into hiring my own bike just yet I chose to walk along the shore, walking in the waves. The sea is not turquoise but it is clear as anything and fairly warm and inviting.

I was accosted by two teenage girls who demanded that I buy some of their wares, which I refused. Their next demand was for me to buy them a drink each at the bar. Amused by such barefaced cheek I also declined this tempting proposal, upon which I was informed that I was a bad person - but not to worry I have made my peace with that already.

I did find a wifi place but the connection was useless so giving up, I did what is apparently unthinkable in Goa – I walked home.

The nearest bar to me, Curlies, is in the book. Described as “the best-hidden place for an evening drink” and at staggering distance home I felt that this is where I would meet some lovely people to spend an evening with. Looking forward to my first alcoholic drink in India I marched down the dirt track lane, accompanied by a few dogs and my wind-up torch.

Ensconced on a table, with a really, <em>really</em> bad book (donation from the Seattle Chick) and a comparatively expensive and revolting glass of white wine, I surveyed the other patrons looking for potentials. Groups of boys and couples aplenty but no other single girls. I waited, listening to the thready trance music and watching the women cooking on the beach. I was perfectly relaxed.

I met Jan at the best place to meet people i.e. the loo. We had a quick chat about how gross they were, obviously, and she went back to join her party of friends. I wasn’t letting her get away that easily and spied them sitting together and went and asked if I could join in.

Two couples, Jan and her boyfriend were English and the other were Northern European (him) and Indian (her) and Mark the ubiquitous Aussie. They were really friendly and we chatted and laughed for about an hour before they decided to go off for dinner and invited me to join them, which I did. I had to ride pillion on Mark’s moped. I have now three such rides under my belt but am not convinced that I like it. The roads are so full of potholes, there are no street lights and as my ability to trust the driver (any driver) is non-existent, I am nervous just getting on the thing. However, Mark assured me that he knew the roads really well and only drove really slowly to miss the aforementioned potholes. He was true to his word and did drive really well. We arrived safely at the restaurant; the only thing that didn’t make the journey was the book, which flew off as we’d turned a corner.

The evening was passing nicely and I was having a good time. They were really friendly and invited me to join them the following day on the beach etc and told me the good places to go, all of them having been here two or three months. Mark is very eccentric, loud and typically after a spliff started getting deep and talking about quantum physics, the beginning of creation and other guff. He offered to read my palms and I let him. Much to my amusement, the generalisations abounded but when he told me that it was important to me to follow the crowd and always try to fit in, which he could tell from the gap between my baby finger and ring finger on my right hand, I felt I had to set him straight. I would have thought the fact I was travelling alone would have been an indication of the opposite. He was very confused and told me that it was the first time in five years that, as long as I wasn’t lying, he had got it wrong. I tried to console him by explaining no one can have 100% success rate and it was bound to happen sooner or later. He explained in turn that he was very tired.

We were starting to think about leaving when, predictably, an alcohol induced argument started up between Mark and Jan. Mark being boringly sensitive. However, it soon settled down and everyone was friends again. They offered to give me a lift home but as I didn’t want to go pillion with Mark, deciding he was too worse for wear, I hopped on with Jan and partner. Entire families and all their shopping seem to ride together on bikes here, tiny babies casually sitting on mum’s lap as she rides side-saddle, so wasn’t too worried. besides the boyfriend seemed to be a very sensible chap and as they are in their 40’s - well past the exuberance of youth.

We set off homewards with Mark driving beside us, going on about continuing the party, getting some booze and dancing the night away. We three on the bike could not have been less enthusiastic. Mark turned the corner before us and I saw him gracefully arch into the air before bike and he disappeared into the ditch. Jan and I gasped in horror. As we pulled up alongside ‘the accident site’ we both leapt off the bike calling his name.

Suddenly from the ditch emerged a now bloody Mark. Having (luckily) only cut his head above the eyebrow, he was pouring blood because, of course, heads do bleed. A lot. He was staggering about in the road asking “am I bleeding?” over and over. We made him sit down on, what I will euphemistically call the curb. in front of our bike’s light so we could properly see the damage. How he got off so lightly I do not know, but he really did only have a small cut above his eye as well as a rapidly swelling face and possible concussion. My wind-up torch was employed again because apart from the headlight on the bike there were no other lights except those on the distant houses. I am standing there now thinking “what the F@*?” How typical, how did I manage to find the only excitement in Anjuna??

Soon the road was filling up with headlights and as the police and other locals started to arrive. They asked me if I was with him, who had been on the bike with him etc. Then started to call an ambulance, I think, and set about impounding the bike. When to his infinite credit, the English man insisted on taking me home. Not having to be asked twice I jumped on the bike and he took me back.

Walking back up the hill by torchlight towards the house at break neck speed I was relieved to see the porch light I had left on to help guide me back. Then I stopped in my tracks, the padlock that I had definitely put on the door on leaving, was not there. Puzzled and, after my experience, a little drained and worried, I approached the door with caution. A pair of shoes outside led me to conclude that it couldn’t be a burglar, unless he was a very considerate or anal burglar, who, although might rob you blind balked at the idea of leaving muddy footprints on the rugs.

It was Thornton, owner of the house, with every right to be there. I remembered with dismay that I had left the house a bit messy deciding to clean the next day in daylight and at my leisure rather than in the dismal electric light. Thornton however had already cleaned up, being himself embarrassed that the cleaner had not done a good job of getting the monsoon out. We chatted for a while and then he started telling me horror stories about scorpions and snakes getting into the house as well as how the houses really are not as safe as they look. All things that I would rather NOT know.

Bewildered first by the accident and then by Thornton’s unexpected arrival, it took me ages to settle down. I did manage to get to sleep, eventually, only to dream of bloody faces and huge snakes waking several times to strange noises and imagined dangers.

So how does that rate on the intrepid chart? Tomorrow I am buying a big bottle of TCP and will probably avoid joining them on the beach; I’ll let the dust settle on this one I think.

Posted by saraintrep 03:50 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Goa, Goa and Gone

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The train was only two hours late and I figured that was pretty good going. The train journey was great. We were fed breakfast and lunch. I had two Brits to chat to and a very friendly Indian man. Asking all the usual questions about my job and marital status (which I have already been told is my duty to be married...oops!), the backstory for this mythical husband is developing and he has been quite ill, spending a lot of time in hotels.

Going on Jenny’s recommendation, I am now a teacher which, is considered an honourable profession and works out fine until spending any length of time in someone’s company and they start wanting more information – such as the age of my students and the subject I teach. I hate lying and feel very awkward most of the time.

The scenery was also wonderful. Again very green and often hilly. We went passed small villages and farms and I went and stood in the open doorway and watched the countryside flashing by, the warm air preferable to the cold air-conditioning of the carriage. It felt very romantic and I enjoyed the complete lack of health and safety.

Arriving by taxi in Anjuna my instructions were to find “Jo Banana’s” and then the housekeeper who would take me up to the house. The taxi and I had to ask directions several times to make sure we were going in the right direction, I think that he was bewildered as to why I wouldn’t want to go to a hotel or guest house.
Having found the housekeeper, she led me by torchlight up an earth pathway to a little cottage. She didn’t know I was coming so she quickly set about getting me clean sheets, turning on the water pump and sweeping the floor. It is practically the last house in Anjuna Beach and a quick glance told me that there will be bugs! She bought me a cold bottle of water, mosquito coils and safely matches. I immediately set about lighting them, one of the matches did a back-flip and shot into my eye – brilliant!

I have met Basmati who is a rescue and seems to live outdoors, a perfect guard dog. I also have several resident geckos which I am thrilled about because they will eat up all the creepy-crawlies. I have managed to shower and wash off some of the dye from my new kurta, which has dyed me, my underwear and new trousers a pretty pink colour. The kurtas are all now soaking in salt!!

The little house couldn’t be more rustic, there is no TV, a small two ring gas hob, a fridge, temperamental electricity and I think it’s perfect. The cleaning lady and electrician will come tomorrow to get everything in good working order. I feel very snug and relaxed here. I think that this level of peace and quiet, right next to the beach and one or two bars is exactly what I need. I am sitting writing this by the light of one lamp (I love lamp) and two candles, how romantic. Outside I can hear the cicadas, music drifting over from the neighbours and the occasional bark from Basmati.

I cannot wait to start exploring tomorrow, go shopping for my own groceries and actually do some cooking which I am really missing. I have a really good feeling about this.

Posted by saraintrep 03:48 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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