|Trip to Goa, Oct. 31 - Nov 4|
This past week, I've had a bit of a break from the normal day-to-day life at the school as the children received a ten-day break for Diwali, since this is the one of the main times when families get together during the year. My family in Bangalore used the occasion to plan a trip for us to Goa, which was very nice of them considering most of those involved went along despite the fact that they were missing out on school/work commitments to do so. But hey, a vacation is a vacation I guess, and the rooms were booked so off we went!
Goa is a wonderful place, separated from Karnataka (Bangalore's state) by the Western Ghats which we crossed in the dead of night. It was colonized by the Portuguese and was one of the last states to become a part of India – so the culture there is very distinct. This manifests itself in things like the different names (most Goans have Portuguese names like da Silva or d'Souza), the abundance of churches, and the very beautiful, very different, architecture. Oh, and it has gorgeous beaches!
We spent the first day there recuperating from the long (16 hour) train ride from Bangalore to Vasco da Gama, one of Goa's chief towns. Said recuperation was aided greatly by the hotel's seaside location, meaning that within two minutes of our hotel room we had access to a pool, a restaurant, and the beach. We made some ventures into town as well as to some of Goa's beach shacks, which are, well, just that. They're wood and thatch structures on the beach where you can get drinks and some tourist-friendly Goan fare. Culture shock from day 1: As we were on a tourist beach, there were very few Indians there! I found myself surrounded by white people for the first time since leaving Canada. This was also a shock because aside from some Brits and Americans, most of the white people were Russians who spoke very little English (or any Indian language), making communication difficult. Many Goans have learned some basic Russian, and there are signs in Russian dispersed through most tourist areas. The tourists were also of an older, fatter, generation. A generation that did not know shame, at least where swimwear and body weight were concerned. To escape the bikini-wearing grandma squad, we planned our escape for the next day.
This escape took the form of a rented scooter from the hotel watchperson. Note to travellers: the watchman is your friend, since he is likely to have cheaper hookups than the people at the front desk. We paid Rs. 500 ($11) for a two day rental. Side note – if I ever quote a price, I am not sure whether it is the Indian rate or the tourist rate, since I tend to get both. This one was negotiated by my cousin so I assume that it is an okay deal! Now, I had never ridden a scooter before, but after a two-minute explanation by my cousin I felt fully qualified. To my credit, I took my first and only spill in a parking lot made of sand and loosely-packed gravel. We saw Fort Aguada that day, which you'll see in the photos above. After a little discussion, we decided to visit Colva beach, as there was a resort there which my family used to go to. It was a 50 km drive or so, which is a formidable distance when you don't know the roads, the bike only goes 40-50 km per hour, and both drivers are inexperienced. Suffice to say, it was an adventure. Getting into Colva, after a few detours, we even managed to get a flat tire which we got patched up – though the bike kept wobbling funny afterwards. To top everything off, the resort we had meant to visit was closed, meaning that all we ended up doing was getting lunch, relaxing on the beach for a while, and going back.
The ride back was also pretty eventful; we got stuck in a traffic jam, also the first Indian traffic jam I have ever been in. Note to the uninitiated: traffic jams in India are insane, especially if you are on a bike. The general tendency is to traffic weave among buses and cars – you can't opt out either, because doing so blocks the way for the bikers behind you, so you have to keep going (I have to say, Toronto cycling experience really stood me in good stead on this one). So on we went, narrowly avoiding rocks, buses, lightposts and concrete dividers – although I did manage to jam my cousin's foot against the median so that was kind of bad... though I consider it his comeuppance for telling me repeatedly, while going at top speed or through an intersection, “no, go that way!” Aspiring motorcycle passengers take note: the driver cannot see which way you are pointing, he is more worried about not dying. Near-death experiences aside, the drive was gorgeous! I highly recommend scooter rentals to anyone visiting Goa, definitely the best non-guided way to see the place.
The next day we made another scooter trip to Anjuna beach, which was less than 50 km away. It was quiet and touristy, we smoked hookah in a clifftop restaurant, which was amazing. Then I got ripped off hardcore in the market there, which was slightly less awesome. In many ways, it was like a robbery – I came, was surrounded by people, the rest is a blur and then when I came to I was missing a significant amount of money. Although robbers don't usually give you potential Christmas gifts, so that was nice I suppose. We also had a nice drive back through a torrential downpour which I found exhilarating.
The trip to Anjuna also marked my first up-close-and-personal experience with corruption – exiting the hotel, my cousin was driving and we were pulled over by a roadside cop. He proceeded to run us through the mill of questions, and it was revealed that my cousin had 'forgotten' his license (reality: he did not have one). While he went off to the hotel to look for said imaginary license, I conversed with the officer. Having heard that the best course in this situation is to be obscenely respectful, I showed a lot of deference, used 'sir' a lot, and so on. Those who know me will know the pain caused to my soul by such a display, but that's another story. Anyway, when my cousin arrived, sans license, he informed us that he would write us a ticket for 950 rupees ($21). I told him that I would pay, at which point he told us that he would 'help us out' because I 'spoke so well,' and reduce the fine to 500 rupees. Of course, a ticket was conspicuously absent from this transaction. I decided not to push the issue, which I have been kicking myself for since, despite assurances from people that insisting on paying the official fine can lead to negative consequences from police officers who want the bribe.
After this whirlwind of activity, it was time to leave the next day. I think I would need to come here for at least two weeks before I would be able to actually relax on the beach. There is just so much to do and see! Though now, after a nice break, I am pumped up and ready to get back to work and finally tackle the dreaded T-word (more on those developments later; I should really write a serious post one of these days).