January 10, 2012 - January 24, 2012
My cold is getting better and I managed to download a GPS track that will take us all the way to Goa: things are looking up. One morning, the track takes us onto a turnoff. The road is quiet and traffic free. We go down a hill and the road gets narrower and narrower till it becomes a foot path that leads us to a beach. The beach is deserted, clean and the villagers stare at us as though they've never seen tourists. Looking down at the GPS I can see a straight line on the map all the way to the other side of the bay. Conclusion ... we have to back track to the turnoff.
Once back on track we realize that the countryside is getting much cleaner. We pass by a picturesque river with pristine water and virtually no garbage.
On a bridge crossing, we encounter three british folks who are travelling in a rickshaw. They are part of a friendly race across India. In the Kormageddon, they've come all the way from Jaipur; doing a few hundred kilometres a day. We all hang out on the bridge which bounces up and down every time a truck goes by. With their british accent that omits most t's, they tell us about their adventure ... we do the same.
We are all heading towards Malwan to spend the night. I look on the GPS for some accommodation and the only thing that shows up is Hotel Swastik. India is covered in swastikas. You see them on temples, cars and houses.
I haven't done my homework on this but I believe its symbolism is far removed from the evil one we know so well. We skip Hotel Swastik and end up staying in cheap beach bungalows for three days. My cold still lingering, I refrain from swimming; sticking to walks on the beach where the eagles and crows are in a perpetual dog fight above the coconut trees and the crabs create miniature sculptures on the sand.
As we leave Malwan, we take a detour to Maltaki beach; a beach all the way out on the tip of a peninsula. This gives us a late start and on the way back, we stop for lunch at a familly restaurant of questionable cleanliness: the food ends up being really tasty. Like much of India, in front of the restaurant are several cows. One of them is grazing on plastic bags as though it was Scotland green. The bags are gobbled up in one go and disappear straight towards the four stomachs. Not the most appetizing sight but we are really hungry.
Back on the road and I'm leading the pack on a downhill. At the bottom, school just let out and kids are running all over the place; yelling out things I don't understand. I stop a ways down the road and wait for Michèle and David but no-one comes; something is wrong. I turn back and see that they are both surrounded by kids. I come up and ask:
- What happened?
- I ran over a kid!
I look over to see Michèle patching up a child's knee. The scrape looked pretty bad but overall, he seemed okay. We pedal on.
Michèle comments: I was trailing the pack on that downhill, with David slightly ahead of me. I saw the whole thing when David ran over that kid. We had both slowed down because so many kids were criss-crossing the road. The kid that David would run over was crossing the road at a lazy pace. Other kids started yelling something at him. Then he did what I would call a squirrel manoeuver. If he had just kept going, even at that lazy pace, he would have made it to the other side unscathed. But like squirrels do, he turned back in the middle of crossing the road and stepped right into David's path. The kid cringed, David braked hard, but the impact was inevitable. The kid's sandals flew off and he got a nasty scrape on the knee as David's front tire rolled over him. Before the kid could get up, an older man appeared and started yelling at the poor little guy. I didn't need to know the language; the tone said it all.
- Do you want to get yourself killed? What if that had been a motorcycle and not a bicycle?
By the time I found a large enough bandage in our med kit, a crowd of a hundred curious classmates had gathered around. The kid seemed grateful for the bandage but he had a look in his eye like he wanted the earth to open up and swallow him away from all this attention. He would be okay. His embarrassment was bigger than his injury.
My cold is finally over but David and I have a nasty cough which I'm blaming on the atmospheric pollution. People here tend to burn their garbage (when they get to it) and cook on open fires. Add cars and general progress to the lot and multiply by a billion. The result is smog that envelopes the whole country and probably spills over onto others.
So, after my four hour coughing fit during the night, we ride out bright and early. The traffic seems to get busier and at one point we get to an area that looks like a truck convention. Hundreds of them parked by the side of the road.
Then we see something that we haven't seen in a long time; white people. Goa must not be far. Then, all of a sudden, it's dread locks and patchouli; hundreds of them barrelling down the road on rented scooters. We follow the flock all the way to Mandrem. Once there, we try to get orientated by asking directions from a ratty looking woman who is walking towards us. First, David asks her a question and gets completely ignored.
- I think that woman is French he says.
Then Michèle gives it a try with the same result. When the woman walks by me, I don't bother saying anything: she is not concerned with us mortals. I just watch her slowly walk toward the sunset.
Michèle comments: A bizarre transition as we passed from Maharashtra to Goa. First, the trucks: hundreds parked and hundreds more coming. We couldn't figure out why there were so many. Whatever the reason, it was a depressing sight. Next, the tourists on scooters, almost outnumbering the trucks. It made me extra nervous to be in that traffic: the large loud belching trucks and the tourists trying to pass them, no-one paying much attention to us little people on bicycle. Then, that snotty woman: why she was so blatantly rude, I'll never know. It was just such a striking contrast to the overly helpful Maharashtrans when it comes to giving directions.
Mandrem is a nice place. On the beach are people meditating and doing sun salutations. Fifty metres away are packs of Russian tourists getting shitfaced. No need to swim fully clothed like they used to do in Europe in 1910; it's tits and ass everywhere. The restaurants are pricier but excellent, and there's wi-fi everywhere. Goa really is a tourist oasis where you can take a break from culture shock.
Michèle comments: Goa is an escape from India while still in India. At first, it annoyed me to be amongst the droves of tourists. But then I decided to get over it and just enjoy the benefits of the tourist bubble. Having real coffee, for one thing, and sipping on tax-free, i.e., cheap, port wine, readily available in the formerly-Portuguese state. At Mandrem beach, many signs are in Russian, and even on Google maps, its name appears in cyrillic script. No wonder that place is dubbed Moscow beach.
Next to our place is a puppy that is kept tied up all night. It is yelping so loud that the sound goes right through my ear plugs. After hours of trying to get to sleep, I burst out of bed cursing my face off. I reach into my pannier for my knife and storm out. I grab the puppy and wedge my knife between its neck and collar. In one stroke I slice the collar to cut him loose (you didn't thing I was going to kill a puppy did you?). Proud of my good deed I walk back to the house to finally get some sleep. The only problem now is that the puppy is at my heels. So, I slam the door in its face and head to bed. About five minutes later, the yelping starts again but this time it's right outside our window.
Next stop is Anjuna. No nice beaches here. The only attraction for us are yet another batch of friends from Turkey and Iran. Tommie and Marie are here pursuing a yoga course that will allow them to teach. On top of it, they have left their bicycles behind and bought a motor bike. We have dinner and a few drinks, share travel stories and future plans. They give us encouragement for our summer idea: more on that later.
Michèle comments: It felt good to share the ups and downs of long-term bicycle travel with Tommie and Marie. They have been on the road from Holland since May 2011. They understand how easy it is to become discouraged and how dreams of the future are sometimes the only things that keep us going. The evening drew to a close and again we went our separate ways, saying 'au revoir' because it feels certain that we will meet yet again. Happy continued travels, you two!
We leave Anjuna to go to a town called Panaji to get our Hep A booster. Despite India being a prime location for medical tourism, the vaccine cost us more than in Canada; go figure. To get to Panaji you must use the main highway which means heavy traffic or in other words... a shit ride. Once there, Michèle and David go hotel hunting while I sit quietly trying to calm my nerves from riding in heavy traffic all day. Then a man stops in front of me. "Don't ask" I say to myself, but of course he had to.
- Where are you from, he asks in broken English.
I struggle to put on a smile but a full day of blaring horns in my face prevents me.
- I don't remember, I tell him.
He gets really offended as though I was denying him something vital; then he storms off.
Later on, the straw breaks the camel's back as the penny pinching gets to me. At a photocopy shop, we copy four passport pages onto two pieces of paper. The charge should be for two copies but the guy charges us for four. Despite the charge being next to nothing, this prompts me to scream at the guy for a good minute with veins popping out of my head. After draining my frustration, next comes the embarrassment of an uncontrolled spaz: I head straight for bed.
The next day we leave Panaji in the midst of rush hour. Then, it's mostly heavy traffic all day as every blaring horn tries my patience. The ride is long but we get some light traffic towards the end. Once we make the turn off to Agonda, we are greeted by the one and only tree that is inhabited by hundreds of giant bats. At sunset, they all fly off in a massive flock.
Agonda is another tourist oasis where the food is great and the coco-huts are cheap. Not much happens here aside from sunbathing.
Woke up after a bad dream: the ferry to Sri Lanka was booked solid for months in advance. Turns out that the reality is the opposite; the ferry is not popular enough and has been discontinued. For us, this mean another plane hop and all the exotic security incompetence that comes with it. More on that later.
Michèle comments: Bad dream is right. What a disappointment to find out that the ferry was no longer running. This was a brand new ferry service, having been launched in June 2011 after some 30 years of no ferry connection between India and Sri Lanka. It was near impossible to get any official news of the service cancellation or if it would be resumed. The ferry company was not responding to emails and its website was 'temporarily offline' or something equally as vague. Without anything better to go on, we resigned ourselves to there not being a ferry. We brainstormed many options, all of which had to include a flight. Originally, we had thought our three months of cycling with David would be two months in India and one month in Sri Lanka. Finally, we opted for the other way around, cutting our time in India to one month. Hopes of clearer waters, for snorkelling, and of clearer air, for breathing, were among the reasons that led to our choice.
I leave Agonda with a tear in my eye; so comfortable there. The ride to the airport is about fifty kilometres to a town called Vasco de Gama. On the way we can see that some of the giant bats had the misfortune to take a rest on a power line.
As we go into Vasco de Gama, we are greeted with the usual: a sea of refuse filled with all the semi-domestic animals.
We find a mediocre hotel that has satellite TV. Flipping the clicker box, we end up on a movie channel showing Romancing the Stone and after that, Conan the Destroyer. For our final night in India, we sit back and watch Arnie wield his massive sword to fight the bad guys.
Michèle comments: Ahhh India. Nostrils assaulted by the stink of pollution and garbage, then soothed by a sudden waft of delicious smelling food and hints of incense. Ears blasted by non-stop honks in busy Mumbai, then calmed by the waves on the beach and nothing much else along coastal Maharashtra. Not nearly so scary a cycling destination as we were led to believe. Maybe we'll go back again some day.
All our India photos are here.