Getting out of India

10/7/09

Wednesday was my last day in Mumbai so I spent almost the entire day relaxing in the room because I had lots of traveling to do to get to my next destination, Cairo.  Besides resting up my other main mission was to get dad setup for his final two days in Bombay alone.  I woke up kinda early and showered while dad organized his bags and made a list of the stuff he needed to do (iron shirt, get school visit details – address/time, list the places he wants to visit in Bombay, etc).

I helped dad with his list by trying to figure out how to see the things he wanted to see using our favorite taxi driver, Jackey.  I also got him setup to know what he’d need to do to pay for our hotel room.

I updated the blog by writing stories on the netbook.  I also copied pictures from our cameras to the netbook.  For lunch we broke away from Leopold’s and I ordered a pizza from Dominos.  While the pizza was on the way dad went downstairs and came back with a guy to help with laundry because he needed his dress shirt ironed (Rs 10) and I gave him my dirty towel, a pair of socks and 2 t-shirts.  He swore they’d all be returned by 9pm tonight and I explained over and over that I’ll be leaving around 10pm to fly out of India.  After dad had the laundry thing taken care of he went to an internet cafe to get school visit details and he stopped at a street vendor to get us some drinks to have with the pizza.

We watched John Q and National Lampoon’s Senior Trip on tv, ate our pepperoni pizza with Mirinda orange soda and read our books for the rest of the afternoon.  Around 10pm I said goodbye to dad and went outside to meet up with the taxi driver who’d taken us home from Leopold’s the night before.  It took us over an hour and a half to get to the airport.  We passed by Chowpatty Beach and it was insane – hundreds of young guys yelling at each other and revving up motorcycles.

I got to the airport around 11:45pm…

Back to the grime of Bombay

10/6/09

Dad and I woke up and decided to try and have breakfast at Smuggler’s Inn because even though our sandwiches there the other day were terrible, their breakfast menu sounded great.  We walked into town around 8am but Smuggler’s Inn was closed until 9am.  Almost across the street was another restaurant called “cheeky chapatti” and a white guy had just pulled up with a bag of fresh bread and said they’d be open in 15 minutes.  To pass the time we walked on down to the ocean.  There were already quite a few taxi touts out asking where we were going, did we need a taxi, would we want one later, where were we staying, etc.  We also had a few offers to rent a scooter (Lyle and Simone had rented a scooter for an entire day for Rs 150 – $3).

When we got down to the beach we watched some guys pulling on a rope that was running out into the ocean, we thought it was probably some net out there and they were pulling in the morning catch.  Lots of cows were milling around on the beach so we got a few pictures of that since it isn’t something you’d ever see in Huntington Beach, Gulf Shores, Hilton Head or Charleston.

On the way back to the little wooden joint where we planned on having breakfast I stopped in a little store that had a bunch of hippie-type bags hanging from the ceiling.  I’d wanted to get Jean some at the Anjuna market, but that plan was a failure earlier in the week and this would be my last chance before leaving Goa.  I bought three bags with some help from my dad – it sucks being color blind!  After I got the bags we crossed the street and had tasteless omelettes…  If you’re ever in Palolem, skip cheeky chapatti and wait for Smuggler’s Inn to open.

Once we finished breakfast we walked on back to our guesthouse and laid down in the A/C until 10:15am when we checked out.  We took a small taxi van for the 1.5 hour ride from Palolem to the airport in Diabolim with two Indian guys in the front.  They asked if it was ok to blast some Indian music and we said “sure”, so we swerved from lane to lane, dodging other vehicles and animals to some pretty sweet tunes – the ones with the almost fake sounding high pitched female vocals you hear in Bollywood dance sequences.  It was awesome (except for being smashed into the back and having no A/C).

When we’d been in the van for about an hour and a half the driver turned around and said “ok, only 2 kilometers more”.  We drove another 25 minutes before he pulled into the airport.  I know the sense of time in India is different than in America, but perhaps distance measurements are too.  It reminded me of asking my grandaddy how far something was when I was a little kid and he’d say, “oh, just a hop, skip and jump away”, then it would take 40 minutes to get there and I always thought his hops and skips must be huge…

At the airport we waited at an outside window to figure out if that’s where you get ticketed or not for about 10 minutes while some guy argued with the lady behind the glass, then I leaned around him and asked if we check-in there or inside and she pointed to the main airport.  We handed over our flight itinerary to the guard outside and then were let into the building.  We walked over to the counters where other flights were checking in and saw an agent from our airline (spiceJet), so we asked when we could check in and the guy said we had to put our checked luggage through the x-ray machines behind us that were sitting in the center of the room, but we’d have to wait for that for another hour.

While we waited to check in I bought an Rs 110 paper mache Ganesh (god of education) for dad and bought this little heartburn inducing pizza/onion thing.  Once we were able, we checked bags through the x-ray machine to get security stickers on them and then we carried them to counter and checked in.  We walked to the other end of the terminal and waited in line for another security checkpoint to open.  While I waited in line I read a board that listed everything they ban, including “nunchakus” and “throwing stars”.  I had a pack of matches and lighter so I asked if they’d be ok and he said no and threw them in a little bin.

Finally after a line of Indians formed behind me they opened up and I went through first.  After running my backpack through the x-ray and walking through a metal detector that didn’t go off (they said to go on through with belt and keys!), I had to stand on a little platform and pull everything out of my pockets and get wanded.  The wanded everyone.  I sat under a really powerful fan for a long time and watched people come through security.  I was a little surprised at the amount of traffic flowing in and out of the “Smoking Room” behind me, especially since those schmucks made me toss my lighter and matches because they’re restricted!  Some things are difficult to explain or understand in India.

We finally went to our gate and boarded, but on the way to the plane we noticed some Indians were breaking up rocks and taking them to a cement mixer.  Not so unusual, but the strange part is that they were transporting them in woven baskets balanced on their heads.  I’d prefer a wheelbarrow…

Dad and I sat next to each other on the short flight and I took some pictures of the clouds with his camera set to “aerial” mode.  As we were coming in for the landing in Bombay I got some shots of the slums – lots of corrugated iron roofs clustered together just like in Slumdog Millionaire.  Dad kept complaining that his ear wouldn’t pop and even asked me to take a picture of it because he was worried that something was wrong, but I told him it was because we descended from 30,000 feet too quickly and sure enough the following morning his hearing was back.

The domestic terminal in the Bombay airport is much nicer than international arrival terminal, but they still didn’t have but maybe 10% of the lights on in the entire place.  I got our luggage while dad exchanged some traveller’s cheques and then we went to the pre-paid taxi stand to get a cab to the same hotel we stayed in before heading down to Goa – The Bentley Hotel.  You have the option of paying way too much for the hotel’s to have someone meet you at the airport (Rs 900-1000), you can try your luck haggling with a freelance cabbie and hope he doesn’t change the price by the time you arrive or you can catch a pre-paid taxi.  The pre-paid taxi stand offered two options for our ride to Colaba: Rs 310 for a non-AC taxi or Rs 425 for a “cool cab”.  We decided the extra $2.45 for air conditioning would be money well spent so we splurged.

We paid our Rs 425 and I was given three identical carbon copied receipts and told one was our receipt, one was for the security guy in the taxi parking/staging area and the last one we were supposed to give the taxi driver “when you arrive at destination”.  We walked outside and ignored the freelance taxi touts as we followed the signs to “Cool Cabs -> Stalls 1-5”.  When we got to a taxi parking area (I still wasn’t sure where stalls 1-5 were) about 8 guys swarmed us.

I figured that we should be looking for the security guy who got one of the receipts so that he could assign us to a taxi, but there wasn’t a security guard anywhere around.  The taxi guys were all yelling and crowding around us and asking where we were going.  I showed them the receipt and one guy grabbed all three sheets and they all studied it – I was concerned that I didn’t have the receipts any more and that we may be in the wrong place.  After they checked the receipt over and yelled at each other they parted a path and pointed at this jalopy.

The car they were pointing to was a dented up and rusted blue little car that looked like it was made in the late 1940’s.  Before I could even say anything I heard dad yell out, “No!  Can we have that car instead?”  He was pointing to a newer little hatchback right next to our beater.  All the guys started saying no and pointing back to our assigned car and eventually it came out that there was a queue or ranking system, but I promise that it’s not very obvious.  They got our bags and crammed them into the tiny trunk and we got into the back seat.  The interior was more worn out than the exterior…

The cabbie had to yell at several other drivers for a few minutes and it was so crazy that I yelled out the window “What’s the problem?”.  A guy stuck his head in the driver’s window and said, “He doesn’t know where is the Bentley Hotel and we are trying to figure it out.”  Wonderful.  In retrospect we should have backed up or maybe even gone back into the airport for a minute and allowed someone else to take this cab so we could get the next one in the rank.

We took off, stopped by a security booth on the way out of the parking area and gave the guy his copy of the receipt and then got out into the streets.  The skyline was almost completely covered in the dirtiest smog I’ve ever seen, and the water we went over had tons of trash floating in it.  Mumbai is nasty after being in Goa for a week.

At one point the driver started asking us something and we didn’t understand anything he was saying other than he wanted money for a toll.  The pre-paid taxi slip says something about customers not paying tolls but it was translater by someone who doesn’t speak English regularly because it didn’t make much sense.  After he asked about the toll 4-5 times we finally said “ok!” and he took some route over a bridge that cost like Rs 20 for the toll.  When we got to our hotel I had wanted dad to get a picture of our “cool cab”, but there were too many people honking at him because he stopped in the middle of traffic to let us out and by the time we paid, got our bags and moved out of the street he was gone.  Like I’ve said a bunch of times, there are some pictures I really wish I had but I don’t think about it until it’s too late.

By the way, the air conditioning in his cab was a joke…  He had a pull lever on the dash with no other controls and he’d pump it occassionally for a 20 second blast of air.  He had to turn it off completely every time we had to climb a small hill.

After we checked into our hotel room and enjoyed a little A/C, we walked around the corner and tried to eat at the Ascot Hotel but they told us the restaurant was for guests only.  We decided to go back to the place where we’d eaten every single meal in Bombay, Leopold’s.  We planned on getting a taxi there instead of walking the 10 minutes because it was really hot and humid, you have to go along sidewalks COVERED in touts and vending booths with people yelling at you and a cab ride should have been about $0.50.  When we walked about 100 feet from the Ascot Hotel towards our hotel there were so many aggressive taxi touts yelling at me that I got pissed off and decided to just walk to Leopold’s instead of giving them the business.

On the way to Leopold’s we stopped at a few eyeglass places and my dad got his pair fixed while we waited.  When we got to Leopold’s we sat at the table nearest the door where we’d sat before – right next to where the assistant manager stands.  We ordered a few pitchers of beer and some food and stayed there for about 3 hours.

Leopold’s is always full of westerners and that attracts all sorts of beggars and touts.  The restaurant has at least two full time security guards, 1 with a big stick and 1 with a shotgun, who stand by the doors and keep the touts and beggars at bay so that won’t hassle the guests.  Dad’s back was to the door and I was facing the outside.  While we were talking and drinking a young women with a tiny baby kept wobbling her head and motioning that she wanted food.

I communicated back that I’d give her money in a little while and she sat there smiling and watching me for about 30 minutes until I got up and went outside and handed her 100 rupees.  She refused the Rs 100 and said “me, baby need rice, milk” and pointed across the street at something.  Rice and milk?  Go buy it with the $2 you’re turning down!  She refused to take the money; I couldn’t understand why and a small crowd started to gather as other beggars and mothers with little babies wanted to see what I was giving her.  After trying to give her the money several times I just shook my and returned to my seat in the restaurant.  A bunch of waiters and the assistant manager all looked bothered that I was encouraging the beggars they were trying to fend off for their customer’s sake.  I could tell they didn’t want to tell a customer not to do that but that they also didn’t approve.

I explained what happened to dad and after a few minutes I called over my waited and asked if I could get an order of rice to go.  He looked really nervous and kept looking back at another assistant manager and said “one moment please” and went to talk to his boss.  You could tell this was a problem.  The assistant manager must have given him the go ahead because he came back and asked if I wanted “dahl”, which is like some lentil stew over rice.  It was Rs 150 so I said go ahead and make some and put it in a box to go.

About 15 minutes later I had a piping hot to go box of dahl with rice in a bag.  The whole time the girl with the baby kept wobbling her head and smiling, watching me.  She was joined by two other mothers with tiny kids playing around the cars parked along the street.  I waited until I thought most of the wait staff weren’t watching me and I ran outside with the food.  I walked up to the girl and handed it over, but again she refused!  She kept saying “milk, milk”.  I told her I didn’t have milk but here was some rice for her to eat.  She said something like “baby no rice, need milk” and after trying to hand over the food a bunch of times I went back inside with my dahl.  I was getting pissed off and sensing that something was up.

Dad said that all the waiters and assistant managers were watching me while I was out in the street and they were kinda going crazy and whispering and shaking heads and looking nervous when I got back inside.  Dad actually got pissed off about their apparent attitude and said out loud that we were leaving and not coming back.  I asked him to calm down and then called over one of the assistant managers, Thompson Rodriguez.  I know it was Thompson and I think his last name was Rodriguez, but maybe Diego or Diaz – something that sounded Spanish and he said it was because he was part Portuguese and from Goa.  I asked him what the deal was and he broke it down.  He explained that my Rs 100 ($2) offer wasn’t accept because she wanted me to buy milk and rice from a vendor down the street that she was in cahoots with, then after I walked away she’d return it for Rs 400-500 ($8-$10).  She wanted more money, not food or milk for her baby.

I was pretty upset with being scammed by this woman, but after a few more beers I realized that she obviously needed money even if she was dishonest.  I asked Thompson if he could give the food to someone who needed it and he took the dahl outside and said something to the same woman I’d tried to give it to and she took it.  We finished up about 45 minutes later and as we walked to a taxi within 20 feet of the door she came running up and said “milk!” and I yelled at her to go away and then she said “ok, 100 rupee!” and I just shook my head and said “no” and closed the taxi door.

One other thing about that night: I asked Thompson about the terrorist attack in Bombay from November 2008 and he said that Leopold’s was actually 1 of the 5 places the terrorists shot up.  He pointed out some bullet holes in a column behind me, then more in the ceiling, then had me get up and showed me some bullet holes in a big glass window and a hole in the tiled floor where a grenade went off.  He said he was working that night but instead of being at the doorway where he normally stands he was towards the back of the restaurant after having left his normal post only 5 minutes earlier.  The men stormed in with automatic weapons and killed over 20 of the people in the restaurant, including 2 of the staff.  After they were done at Leopold’s they walked down the street to the Taj Hotel and that’s where the stayed for over a day killing people.  The Taj Hotel is the one I wrote about earlier that is closed for remodeling for 2 years.

When we got back to our hotel we went to a nearby internet cafe and checked email, then I made some calls back home from a tiny phone booth where I had to sit halfway inside the both with my legs outside of it.

Here’s the pictures from our final morning in Goa and our arrival back in Bombay:







And here are a couple of the pictures that I mentioned in the previous post that my dad took on in Palolem while I was at the Smuggler’s Inn:

Palolem, Palolem and more Palolem

I’m lumping together three days into a single blog because we didn’t tour anything or explore too much in Palolem.  We spent the majority of our time relaxing: reading, drinking, eating, sleeping, talking, etc.  It rained quite a bit in Goa, but the rain stopped after the second night and it was mostly hot, humid and sunny for our final two days in Palolem (some quick 20 minute showers, but not the non-stop deluge from before).  I really enjoyed not having anything to do, no itinerary.  We lost track of time and never really knew what time it was or even what day it was during our 5 days/4 nights in Palolem.

Palolem is the southernmost beach town of noticeable size in Goa.  We started in the north at Arambol, then the capital Panjim in the center and finally Palolem.  Anyhow, here’s some of the noteworthy stuff that happened…

10/3/09

We got up kinda late, had breakfast at the guesthouse restaurant, and then walked down to the beach using the “shortcut”.  The shortcut is the little back road that runs along in front of our guesthouse and if you cut through a few layers of palm frond shacks and watch out for falling coconuts, you pop out on the less developed end of Palolem’s beach.  We walked around and took pictures for a little while, exchanged money at a store near the cut-through for the beach, and almost got run over by some sort of bull that run between us and came really close to taking us out.  We were actually both nervous but snapping away with our cameras as it eyeballed us and ran straight at us.

Around lunch dad and I had drinks and food at our guesthouse.  The main waiter at the little outdoors restaurant was a really nice guy.  We talked to him and joked with him a lot during our stay, and we ate at the guesthouse restaurant for all but 4 meals in Palolem over 5 days and 4 nights (the other 4 were at 4 different places though).

Eventually dad got tired and went to the room and I started talking to a girl about 15-20 feet away because I’d heard her speaking English earlier.  She ended up picking up her food and coming over to my table so we could talk.  Micheline is 32 (almost 33) and from Winnepeg, Canada and she’d been to India before on an organized tour (Varanasi, Udaipur, Agra).  She was here meeting her husband (I forgot his name) who was a Canadien Army supplies guy stationed in Dubai.  He’s 42 and ships truck parts to Afghanistan.  She’d been eating alone because he was in town doing something, so we talked for a long time until he came back.

When Micheline’s husband showed up we had some kingfishers and talked until dark when they left to go into town for dinner.  The only part of Palolem dad and I had seen since arriving late the day before was the “shortcut” street that did look like a bomb had gone off and destroyed most of everything.  Shortly after the Canadiens left for dinner dad came out of our room and had dinner with me at the Palolem Guesthouse restaurant.  I basically sat in the same chair, except for bathroom breaks, from around 2pm-1:30am.  If you’re wondering we dad napped a lot and I stayed at a restaurant drinking, eating and talking to people all day, it had a lot to do with the fact that it rained solidly for the entire day.  Power was only working for probably 60% of the day…

At one point while I was sitting alone the head waiter came to my table and said he’d be going to the big market an hour away in Margao tomorrow morning around 5am and wanted to know if I wanted anything.  He listed all the fresh seafood they’d have, so I decided to try Tiger Prawns, which are massive shrimp (8-10 inches long).  I asked how he’d have them prepared and he said “grilled, you will like”.  I told him to get enough for dad and I, and when Micheline joined me I mentioned it to her when he walked by and she ordered Tiger Prawns for their dinner the following evening too.

While dad and I ate we met Lyle and Simone.  We talked to them for a long time.  I thought they were great!  I moved a lot growing up and went to many different schools, I’ve worked many different jobs in several cities and states, plus I’ve traveled to several places in my short life.  I do think that I’ve met more people and a wider variety of people than your average 32 year old American who grew up in the same city and lives there today.  Of the thousands and thousands of people I’ve talked to in my life, I have to say Lyle and Simone rank in the top 10 most interesting.

I can’t do their stories justice in under 5000 words, but in a nutshell here’s the stuff that blew me away the most.  Lyle is originally from Chicago, he joined the Peace Corp out of college and was assigned to Ghana.  He served his two years there (this was like 1980/1981).  I don’t remember the exact chronology, but he did 3 months in Somolia and ended up moving to Lesotho.  I’ll be in Lesotho in another week or two!  He basically did community development, like teaching the locals how to raise their crop yields, create clean/filtered water sources, etc.  He stayed there for 5 years and founded his own NGO that’s still operating there today!  He had lots of stories that connected these events, like a working breakfast with the king of Lesotho and how he got on his bad side by refusing to funnel money to the king’s mistress.  Lyle is amazing and his life story could make an incredible book or movie.  The only person in the room that could surpass Lyle in interesting stories was his wife of 15 years, Simone!

Simone is originally from Marseille, France, but after bouncing around in the late 60’s and early 70’s, unhappy with her life’s path in Europe, she made a major change.  A German boyfriend bought a VW bug for a few hundred dollars after seeing a movie on a place in India called Auroville, and he wanted to go see it for himself after seeing how happy the children there were.  They jumped in this bug with their backpacks and decided to drive to India, and when the car died they’d just take busses and continue on.  She drove from Germany to India in 1973-1974, going through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, etc.  They settled in Auroville and after over 30 years she’s still in Auroville.  She met Lyle there, had a child and raised him there, and basically did stuff you only read about – not things that your average person does.  She may be an idealistic hippie, but to me Simone and Lyle are two of the most brave people I’ve ever met.

They have done things I would be too afraid to attempt even though I love the thought of them.  Moving to rural Africa by yourself to help people takes courage and confidence, and so does moving to India to live in a place like Auroville, especially for 30+ years!  I asked them so many questions and loved all their stories.  If you ever read this Lyle or Simone, thank you for sharing all those stories!

Before Lyle and Simone retired for the evening Simone suggested that we all eat dinner together the following night (they decided to have the head waiter pick up Tiger Prawns for them too!).  They’d met the Canadiens earlier and so we set up for all 6 of us to meet for dinner at 7pm the following night.  We decided that whoever saw the Canadiens next would let them know.  Eventually the Canadiens did come back and the went straight to their room, but within 5 minutes the husband came back out and sat down with dad and I and drank Kingfishers and Old Monk rum until 1:30am when the staff turned out the lights for good and closed down.  He was really funny and had lots of good stories.

10/4/09

It stormed all night long, but the rain finally broke about 9am and it didn’t rain solidly any more during the rest of our trip.

Around noon dad and I walked all the way into town the long way instead of using our shortcut to the beach.  It was our first time into the main part of Palolem, but now that the rain had stopped it was hot and muggy.  We stopped at a restaurant called Smuggler’s Inn for lunch.  I had a nasty chicken club sandwich and dad had a fried chicken sandwich that he pulled apart into 60 pieces.  I got steamy at the restaurant because the power died and all of their fans stopped.  I stayed at Smuggler’s to have another Kingfisher while dad walked on down to the beach taking pictures.  He took one of a couple who both had bandages on their legs (scooter accident?), another shot of Indians in full clothes in the ocean watching skimpily dressed Israelis, and a good one of a cow chilling out amongst some scooters parked on the beach.

At 7pm dad and I went to the restaurant right outside of our room and shortly afterwards Lyle and Simone showed up.  Within another 20 minutes the Canadiens showed up.  Once everyone was there and we all had a drink, the head waiter asked what we wanted with our grilled prawns.  The two couples wanted curried vegetables and rice, but dad and I went with french fries (“chips”).  We all talked and told stories and within an hour the food was served.  We each had 6 enormous prawns on our plate and they were the best shrimp I’ve ever had.  Dad said they tasted like lobster and it was the best meal he’d had in a long time (it just needed some clarified butter and saly to be perfect for him).  We were all about 2 prawns into our meal when an Australian couple that the Canadiens knew sat down near us and we invited them to join us.

The waiter said there were some more Tiger Prawns so they ordered the same thing based on everyone at the table saying how awesome they were.  The Australian couple were retirees who do lots of traveling.  They’ve been to several of the places I’ve been, like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Varanasi, so we told stories and compared notes on our experiences.  The Canadien guy told us how in Syria if UN army personnel run over a boy they just keep going because if you stop to check on him you’ll be stoned to death by the villagers if he dies, but you can check on a little girl because the reaction won’t be the same.  Lyle told us about his experiences in Lesotho and Somolia, and how he ended up going to Auroville for the first time.  I had so much fun listening to everyone’s stories and the food was excellent!  I had several Kingfishers and Old Monk’s, but the evening surpassed the great night I had on the boat in Halong Bay with those two crazy Australians – mostly because I was with my dad.

The power went out several times all day long, including during our dinner.  I think I’m getting used to the idea of power as a luxury…

10/5/09

We didn’t do much of anything all day long.  Dad and I spent a lot of the day reading: I read more of my Bourne Identity and he read parts of 2 or 3 books.  We did walk down to the ocean on the shortcut path and sat on a volcanic rock wall watching Indian kids playing soccer in the waves, Israelis swimming in the ocean and some dude doing tai chi.  The tai chi guy was in a zone and it looked like he was pushing his chi out towards the setting sun and the Arabian Sea.  It was peaceful…

I ate dinner (fresh grilled calamari) by myself while little black bugs were dive bombing my drink and t-shirt.  Dad was napping and reading in the room.  Lyle and Simone stopped by to say goodbye.  They told me that Jean and I could email them and stop by Auroville if we ever wanted to.  I also stopped by the Australian’s table on my way to the room for the night to say goodbye.  Once I got to the room I ended up reading my Bourne book for a few hours before bed.

All day long there were only a few quick (30 minute) rain showers but it was sunny or at least not raining most of the day.  The power did manage to go out several times and when dad and I stopped by an internet cafe in the early evening they said the connection was down for at least another day.

Here are the pictures from our three full days in Palolem:





More rain, this time in Palolem

10/2/09

On Friday morning I woke up to find several large globs of blood in the bed around me.  There was lots of it, but no sign of any cuts on my body.  After looking for cuts, possible dead bugs or anything to explain it, we decided that I must have coughed up blood during the night.  I had a sore throat the day before and was coughing like crazy all day long, and I continued coughing all night too.

I think I got a lung infection, either from other sick people on all the flights I’ve taken recently or possibly something from being in damp/wet/cold/hot environments constantly for over a month.  I was actually more concerned about the hotel charging me for the sheets than I was about being sick.  As far as the sickness goes, my main concern was that I’d be in bad shape when I went to leave Bombay and they’d catch me in immigration and stick me in quarantine for two weeks because they’d think I had swine flu; I’d be unable to meet Jean in Egypt!  I started taking Cipro to try and squash whatever it was, and it helped – a lot.

After the blood incident we took showers and packed our bags, then headed down the slippery hill once again through pounding rain.  The restaurant at the bottom was packed with Indian tourists – maybe 40-50 of them.  Breakfast was a buffet, so dad and I went and got in line, and in true non-queing Indian fashion, just as I was standing in front of the puri bowl (bread), the Indian in front of me yelled to his buddy who ran over, wedged between me and his friend in front of me and grabbed the last two pieces of puri.  I couldn’t believe it!  I turned around to dad and asked, “Did you see what the hell that idiot just did?”  I ended up not picking up anything from the small buffet, but the waiter we’d talked to on all of our other visits to the restaurant took our omelette orders and picked them up for us so we wouldn’t have to push our way into that line, and he brought us our own basket full of puri.  What a guy!

After breakfast we slogged back up the hill and tried to use the internet but it wasn’t working; I remembered when the IT guy told me a few nights before that torrential downpours cause shorts in the underground wires…  Note to self: monsoon creates poor internet connections in Goa.

While I was fiddling around with my laptop and trying to get it to connect, the internet guy came in and said they wanted our room and that checkout was 10am, it was 9:50am at the time, and I told him the front desk guy the night before said 11am was fine for our checkout.  He made a crazy face and left.  When I went to ask the front desk lady about a taxi to Palolem he came running up and said “11:00 is ok!”

Besides coughing up blood in my sleep, having a sore throat and coughing non-stop (producing cricket ball sized loogies), I was having stomach issues too.  I’m guessing I got a hold of a bad mango lassi somewhere.  I felt like crap so I sat down in the room (and bathroom).  I commend my pop because he stepped up to the plate when I was in bad shape and he hit a home run.  He had to figure out our transportation to Palolem (in heavy rain) and find us a place to stay.

He picked up our tiny travel guide and called around to hotels in Palolem.  The pathetic TimeOut travel guide only lists 3 (THREE!) places for Palolem, and the first was full, the second was way too expensive and the third didn’t have a phone number because it was palm frond huts on the beach.  After about 30 minutes of calling around he finally got the number to The Palolem Guesthouse and they had a double room that supposedly had AC for Rs 1400 per night.  He asked them to hold it and said we’d be there in a few hours.

Dad let me rest in the room while he went and paid for our room at Prainha and arranged a taxi to Palolem.  Unfortunately the same guy fella from yesterday who took us on our Old Goa/Spice Plantation tour was the one who got our business again.  The day before he’d asked for Rs 1800, I offered Rs 1100 and he countered with Rs 1200.  I’d declined, asked the front desk guy what was a fair price and he said Rs 1200, but when dad got back to the room the new price was Rs 1500!  I’m guessing he knew we wouldn’t be out looking for better deals in a major rainstorm.  It didn’t matter though – we had a way to Palolem.

We got in the Toyota SUV and drove through the pounding rain for 2 hours.  Luckily we only went off the road once and we only had to cross 3 flooded areas.  I don’t know if we would have made it in one of the tiny van taxis we’d taken the other times, but the big SUV stood up to the tests.

When we got to Palolem the driver stopped at a little intersection that had two feet of muddy water running quickly through it and he just kinda shrugged his shoulders and pointed across the flooded area.  I think if he’d spoken English he would have said “the hotel’s that way and I’m not driving in there.”  About that time a scooter with two people came plowing through it and I guess he knew it wouldn’t fly with us if he claimed his SUV wouldn’t make it so he went through it and about 40ft into it he turned right onto a little road and our guesthouse was right there on the left.

We checked in to a dark Palolem Guesthouse because there was no sun due to black rainclouds and because the power was out in Palolem.  Dad went to check the room out and said it was good so we gave our passports and followed an old lady to our room.  The tile walkway from the main building past the outdoors restaurant to the second building with lots of guestrooms was really slippery, plus it was dark and you had to duck in several places to avoid getting clotheslined – literally, clotheslines were running from palm tree to palm tree across the walkway.  If you’re under 5’9″ you wouldn’t have a problem, but my dad and I are both 6’2″.

When we got to our room we crashed on the tiny beds that were side-by-side and looked like something out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  I was coughing really badly and just wanted to rest and not get rained on any more.  Dad tried to read but the power would only come on in spurts of 10 minutes and then the room would go black for 20 minutes while the rain pounded down.

After a while dad went out to check out the town and look for a foot massage place, somewhere for food and beer, an internet cafe and the beach.  He was back within 15 minutes and said if Arambol was Lexington, Palolem was New Haven.  To put it into words most people can understand, Arambol was a big city compared to the tiny hamlet of Palolem he’d just observed.  He said there was only 1 restaurant other than the one at our guesthouse and it had 2 people there, he couldn’t find anywhere that sold water, pigs were in the road well before the beach and it looked like a fire or bomb had gone off because it was a disaster area about 200 yards beyond our guesthouse.

I continued to try and rest because wanted to get better, but after the tenth time he asked me to check it out I put on my shoes and we went out together.  I told him I thought he must be missing the town because the guide books say it’s bigger than Arambol.  There was a snack/water seller 5 feet out the front door of our guesthouse, we passed by 2 other restaurants within 300 yards of us and both had 4+ people each, but he was right about there being plenty of pigs and chickens running around; we never made it down to the beach because it started storming so we turned around and stopped in at one of the restaurants.

We got out of the rain and under a little canopy, and sat down at a damp table.  A white lady who spoke what sounded like American English took our order.  We tried to order two Kingfishers but they can’t sell alcohol on Fridays (we found out later that they can, but this Friday happened to be a national holiday – Gandhi’s birthday).  We tried to order Cokes but she said they had none, only 1 Pepsi left, some Diet Pepsis and a few 7-Ups.  Dad took the last Pepsi and I ordered a 7-Up.  We tried to order pizzas but since the power was out in the whole town they couldn’t cook pizzas because the oven wouldn’t work.  I held up their 4 page menu and asked what was actually available and she ran to the kitchen and said nothing with bread (toast), but pastas and Indian dishes were ok – anything that needed just a flame to cook.  My health has been faltering so much since Thailand that I decided to go with something somewhat safe, macaroni and cheese with chicken.  Dad ordered the same thing.

The waitress turned out to be a partial owner of the restaurant (and attached guesthouse I think), and was from Kansas and she’d married an Indian guy.  They’d only opened up for “the season” 10 days earlier but she said the past four days they’d had solid rain so it was good and bad because they were swamped (supposedly) since the other restaurants in town haven’t opened yet but they only had about 20% of the stuff on their menu because they run out early each day due to the crowds coming to one of the few open restaurants in town and because and the markets have been closed due to rain.  Most people in Goa (and most likely all of India) shop at markets for fresh meat and produce each day because power supply and refrigeration are issues, so they don’t load up for a week at Stater Bros or Albertsons like Americans usually do.

The beach towns in Goa are definitely seasonal.  The season supposedly starts the last week of September and goes until the end of February, with the high points being Christmas and New Year’s.  During the monsoon/off-season, most shops, restaurants and guesthouses close down.  In Palolem most of the handicraft vendors, massage places and stuff like that are actually demolished each year at the end of the season and forced to re-build the next year.  You’ll see lots of roll up metal doors with nothing but the frame holding them up because the bamboo/palm frond walls and roof were torn down at the end of the previous season and the vendor hasn’t returned for this year’s season yet.  We were told they’re only allowed to have shops setup for 6 months, but we never got an explanation as to why.

Back to the darkened restaurant with the Kansan waitress…  After 35-40 minutes this guy comes out of the kitchen (remember, it’s dark) carrying two plates of food.  As he’s walking there was rain water dripping off the patio floor above him, and it was dripping on him and most likely into our food.  Before he gets to us the Kansas lady yells at him saying “macaroni with chicken!” – he’d forgotten the chicken.  He does a u-turn and 10 minutes later this cold plate of overcooked macaroni with some bits of cheese (not refrigerated b/c they have no power) and some chicken with lots of gristle is served to us.

I was starving so I pushed the nastiest pieces of chicken away and ate the rest, but dad only ate half his plate.  Bad is all the things I listed, good is that everyone in rural India goes grocery shopping daily so it couldn’t have sat around too long and at least the water to cook the noodles was boiled.  I told dad that this was the most suspect meal we’ve had in India and that if we don’t get food poisoning from it we should be good for the rest of the trip.

We paid and went back to our hotel and laid in the dark for 30 minutes before the power came on.  When the lights, air conditioner and fan all popped on dad noticed some “bugs” on the floor.  I didn’t pay attention to it until I went into the bathroom and walked into 20+ humongous ants all over the place.  I stomped on as many as I could and ended up spraying OFF under all the doors.  They looked like those leaf cutter ants you see on National Geographic, carrying twigs and bugs through the jungles of Central America.

One other thing about the bathroom – they had the omnipresent big bucket with little bucket inside.  We’ve had that in all of our Indian rooms and we haven’t decided if it’s for washing up after using the toilet or for using in the shower.  We’ve yet to use the buckets.  Also, just like many of the dangerous showers I’ve used in developing countries, this one didn’t disappoint.  I took a picture to show two 220V light fixtures next to the shower head, an electrical outlet and switch below it and like all the others in India, there aren’t any guards and there are no such things as shower curtains.  Oh yea, there was a second electrical outlet on the wall opposite the shower head but I couldn’t get that in the shot.

Dad is asleep right now and I’m working on blogs (9pm on 10/2).  He says our top priority tomorrow is to try and get me to be seen by a doctor (yea right, not in this town!).

Here are some pictures from the day we moved from Panjim to Palolem in the heavy rain:


Old Goa and spicy mosquitos

10/1/09

Dad and I woke up and made our way down to the Prainha Hotel’s little beachside restaurant – walking down the slippery tiled path through the rain.  After breakfast we went to the lobby and setup a taxi through the frowny front desk lady that would take us around Old Goa to see the historical sites, and then to Ponda to visit a spice plantation.  The cost was Rs 1400 for a big Toyota truck that was pretty comfortable compared to the beater taxis and vans we’d taken in India so far.

Goa was a Portuguese colony several hundred years ago (1500’s/1600’s), and they imported a lot of their culture to India.  Because of the Portuguese influence you now have lots of old Christian churches in Old Goa, as well as streets with Portuguese names, food with Iberian tastes, etc.  Our main objective in Old Goa was to see St Francis Xavier.

Our first stop was at this old church where St. Francis Xavier preached Christianity back in the 1500’s, and after he died in China, his body was brought back to Goa and has been permanently on display ever since.  The driver dropped us off in the street a hundred yards or so from the church, but the touts only hassled us for the first 10 feet until we passed through a gate.  A sweet little dog looked up and me and when I made a kissing sound at him he went into puppy mode – wagging his tail like a crazy dog and hopping all over the place.  I wished I’d had some food for him, but he was happy to follow me and get some attention.

Inside the church you could walk up to this alter area where St. Francis Xavier was in a glass casket about 15 feet up in the air and about 10 feet away behind a barrier, so you couldn’t see him very well.  You could see a head and some feet sticking up, but that’s about it.  We tried to get some pictures but they don’t show much of one of Christianity’s most prolific missionaries.  The next room over had some black and white photos on the wall of him, and he’s held up suprisingly well to have been dead for going on 500 years (he died in 1552).

Just like in several other places in India, people were interested in us.  A group of Indian guys probably in their forties walked past me smiling and nodding, and when I acknowledged them one came back and asked if they could take a photo with me.  I told them it would be fine so we lined up and they took a couple of pictures, then I asked for them to take one with my camera too and they didn’t know how to handle that one, but they stayed in line and let me get the same momento they’d been after.  It was strange at first, but I’m starting to get used to it…

After visiting the St. X church I stopped into a building that said you could watch a free video on Francis Xavier, but the lady said the projector was broken so I left.  Dad and I crossed this large area to the Archaeological Survery of India complex, but after walking inside we left immediately because it turned out to be another church and a Bishop’s house.  On the way back to our SUV we noticed dozens of women out in the grassy areas picking weeds.  We speculated that instead of hiring a guy with a weedeater they could provide jobs to people and accomplish the same thing.  The women were all squatting down along fences, pulling weeds.

Our next stop was for something I was interested in, but dad was a good sport and went along.  India was a footnote in all the history classes I took growing up, and the main thing that’s mentioned about India besides Gandhi is that it was important for the spice trade to the Dutch and British.  I’d read about the spice plantations in Goa and wanted to tour one.  Our driver took us out to Ponda to visit the Sahakari Spice Plantation.

We paid Rs 400 for a tour of the plantation and a buffet lunch.  On the way in a group of girls started singing and dancing but stopped abruptly when one of them slipped and fell.  As we walked through a gate and across a little bridge they put flowers around our necks and a bindhi dot on our foreheads.  We sat down under a little canopy and drank lemongrass tea and ate cashews until some other people showed up (an Indian couple & 4 French people),  then an English speaking guide took us on our tour.  The place is a working plantation with something like 160 acres, but they have this small 2-3 acre parcel at the front with all the different spices they grow so tours can be led quickly through it without having to drive around the entire complex.

About 3 minutes into what turned out to be a 30 minute tour we were swarmed by massive mosquitos.  They were only bothering dad and I because everyone else was wearing pants and we had on shorts.  I can’t believe I forgot my OFF.  Dad was hopping around on one leg swatting them and said several times he was about to go back to the taxi, but he stuck it out.  We saw all sorts of spices, from vanilla to cocoa to cardamon and of course curry.  They also showed us a place where they stomp cashews to make the distilled spirit I drank the day before, fenni.  On the way out of the mosquito infested jungle the guide said “now I will pour a cup of refreshing water with citronella in it to ward off mosquitos”.  I suggested that in the future he pour it on people BEFORE the tour.  It was FREEZING cold water and I smelled like a citronella candle for the rest of the day, but that was better than smelling like whatever it was the old lady in Arambol washed my clothes in…

Dad and I were ready to head back to Prainha, but the driver stopped by two Hindu temples on the way, Shreeshanta and Mangueshi were the names (I think).  Dad went into one of the temples while I stayed outside to keep an eye on his sandals, and while I was out there this young Indian guy who is a teacher in Calcutta came up and started talking to me (the usual: where are you from, what are you doing, how long are you staying, do you like it, etc).  We talked for about 10 minutes until dad came out of the temple and as we were walking away he came running after us and asked if we’d mind if his brother took a picture of him standing with us.  We posed again and again I had them take one with my camera.

On the way back to the hotel our driver kept trying to arrange himself as our driver to Palolem for the following day.  Eventually he said he’d charge Rs 1800, but I offered Rs 1100 and he agreed to Rs 1200 after we arrived and I started to walk away.  I told him to forget it and said we’d find another cab in the streets for cheaper.

Later in the evening I asked the front desk guy about a fair price for the trip down to Palolem and he said the driver we’d had all day wasn’t from the hotel (ahh, they set us up with him) and the front desk guy said Rs 1800 is for an entire day so maybe the driver thought we wanted to go and come back.  I assured him that the driver understood it was one way and only a 1.5-2 hour drive.  The front desk guy said Rs 800-900 for a one way trip to Palolem was fair, but then he called the room a little later and said Rs 1200 for a non-AC taxi or Rs 1400 for one with air conditioning was the going rate.  He changed that story the following morning, but I’ll save that story for another post.

After resting in the room for a while dad and I went down the slippery pathway in the rain to the restaurant by the beach for beer and club sandwichs.  I’d been seeing Indians ordering lime sodas in restaurants in Mumbai and Goa so I wanted to try one.  When all the foreigners were drinking Cokes, beer or coffee/tea, Indians seemed to always order a glass about 1/4 full of fresh lime juice with a glass bottle of soda water.  I ordered one and it was delicious.  I got it “sweet” instead of going with the “salty” option.  While we were sitting there the team of 8 staff put up these huge rain blocker partitions so the heavy rain would come under the tiled canopy on dad and I…  We were the only customers and two of only four people staying at this huge hotel, so the service was pretty good.

After dinner we went back to the room and took a nap and then we went to the little room just outside of the lobby to use the internet.  I posted a few more blogs and chatted with Jean, then went back to the room and ordered two cokes from room service and wrote blogs on the netbook until I was too exhausted to keep my eyes open.

I felt like crap all day with a sore throat and lots of coughing.  I was getting worried that I’d gotten swine flu and would end up quarantined at the airport when I tried to leave for Egypt.

Here are some pictures from that day:










Anjuna was a flop, so on to Panjim

9/30/09

We had planned on visiting what is possibly the largest hippie market in the world on Wednesday (9/30), but instead we ended up in a taxi for several hours…  Anjuna is a beach town like Arambol, but it attracts more hippies.  Each Wednesday “during season” (runs roughly from the end of September through March), they have a huge market that began in the 60’s and 70’s with hippies selling hash, hash pipes, jewelry, t-shirts, etc.  Today it’s supposed to be a massive market with all sorts of hippie goods and local handicrafts.  Gone are the days of buying hash at a stall, but I was on a mission to get some cool purses and beads for Jean, and dad wanted some Ganesh or Shiva stuff to take back to the States.

I went downstairs while dad was getting ready and asked the shop/guesthouse owner about going to the Anjuna market and he said it should have opened for the season two weeks earlier and that his neighbor has a taxi.  I asked if it would be Rs 500-600 and he said “very close”, then yelled through a fence at his neighbor’s home.  The guy came around a few minutes later and asked where I wanted to go so I told him we’d like to go to the Anjuna market.  I asked if it would be open since it was drizzling and he did the Indian head wobble and said something like “I don’t know, but it should be.”  He asked if I wanted a one-way ride or for him to wait so I asked how much if he waited 2-3 hours for us to shop and then took us back.  He said the trip is about 45 minutes to one hour to get down there, so with 3 hours of waiting he’d charge Rs 700 ($15).  I agreed and said we’d be ready to leave in 5 minutes.

We loaded into his tiny van taxi and his little son got in the front and we bounced down the road until we got to his son’s school.  We dropped the kid off and then took the hour drive down to Anjuna.  Goa is really lush – obviously, it rained almost non-stop since we got there and I saw an article in the paper saying some area in Goa had set a monthly record already with 101 inches of rain!  I tried to get some pictures of the jungle scenery but the taxi was jerking and bouncing too much to get a good one.  I’m blown away by all the palm trees – everywhere.

When we got into Anjuna we went down this muddy road towards the beach and he was driving REALLY slowly, like 5-8 mph.  Dad and I looked at each other after noticing that all the little shanties were flat on the ground and the solid structures were all closed up.  There wasn’t another single taxi or motorbike in sight, only 5-6 Indians standing around under a shelter, and they laughed when we drove by.  It was obvious that the market wouldn’t be happening and that our taxi driver and his neighbor (our landlord) had duped us.  He sat there in the car at the end of the road and when I finally asked what was the deal he said “it raining, no market”.  Thanks, buddy!  It was raining when we left Arambol and he said it was probably going on.  He wanted the days worth of taxi fare and didn’t care if we wasted our time and money.

Dad and I actually started laughing and he hopped out and took some pictures of the barren market space.  When the driver spun around and started heading away I told him to take us somewhere for breakfast and he said “ok”.  When I followed that up with a “Do we get a discount because you didn’t have to wait for 3 hours?”, he just wobbled his head and kept driving.  That means “no”.

We stopped for breakfast at some little restaurant and dad got some fried wontons and I had paneer butter masala (again! I almost like it better than chicken tikka masala now).  While we were eating I noticed that our driver had an omelette and something else which dad and I believe he got for free as a commission for taking us there.  This taxi driver was a turd.

After breakfast we went back to Arambol, packed up our stuff, paid Rs 1200 for 2 nights/2 rooms ($24 total) and then waited for the old lady who took my laundry the day before to bring it back.  When she finally showed up it was damp and stinky.  Damp because I’m sure she only line dries and it’s been raining and 100% humidity, and stinky because I’m betting she washed it in filthy water.  It was a bad morning…

We were ready to get out of Arambol, even to the point that we arranged to take the same rip-off taxi to Panjim, the capital of Goa, for Rs 500.  Arambol to Panjim is like an hour and half in a taxi, but took us a little longer because of the heavy rain, a few cows that wouldn’t move quickly enough out of the road, and we hit a traffic jam coming into Panjim.  Panjim is geographically almost in the middle of Goa, on the coast.  My crappy TimeOut Mumbai/Goa book only listed 3 hotels under the Panjim heading, so we decided to try “Prainha Hotel”.  I showed the driver the address before we even left Arambol and he wobbled his head and said “ok”, and it was under the “Panjim” heading in the book, but in actuality it’s in a suburb of Panjim called Dona Paulo.

Our idiot driver got lost trying to find Prainha Hotel, but after going 8 miles an hour and asking five or six different people if they knew where to go, we finally pulled up to this big complex with a guarded gate.  It was our hotel, or at least the one we were going to try to get a cheap room at…

I’d asked dad to run in and find out how much a room was and to take a look at a room and make a decision so I could keep our driver busy in the taxi so he wouldn’t drive off in case the hotel were full or too expensive and we needed him to drive us through the rain somewhere else.  My dad balked at the idea and told me to go check on the rooms.  I ran on in to the lobby and as soon as I reached the desk I looked to my left and there was the taxi driver.  He had followed me into the hotel instead of staying with dad in the taxi.

The kid at the counter said we could have their Rs 2700 + tax (> $57/nt) room for Rs 2500 (inc tax), and that it had A/C and the property had several other ammenities.  I asked about a second night because there were some things we wanted to do and see in the area, and the guy said busy season starts 10/1 (tomorrow) so the rate goes to Rs 3000.  By the end of conversation he said we could keep the room at same price for another night.  I looked at the room and it was very clean, huge and nicer than the place we stayed in Mumbai, plus they had an on-site restaurant, a private beach, internet cafe and travel desk.

Our moron driver had been listening to the entire transaction, and since he knew I’d agreed to pay $50/nt versus the $6/nt we’d paid for his neighbor’s simple rooms, he had rupee signs in his eyes.  When I walked out to his taxi to get dad and our bags, he said I owed him an extra Rs 200 ($4) because Dona Paulo, where the hotel was, was our final destination instead of Panjim.

I told him that we agreed to pay Rs 500 for the two hour ride from Arambol to Panjim and that I wasn’t going to give him Rs 200 (40% more) to take us 15 minutes outside of Panjim.  I followed that up with the fact that I’d paid him the entire Rs 700 for tricking us into going to /Arambol when he knew there wasn’t going to be a market and he didn’t have to wait the 3 hours.  I handed him Rs 550 (50 extra) and he said “700!”.  I was beginning to lose patience with this schmuck so I handed him another Rs 50 and said “that’s all!  no more!”.  He frowned, folded the money and put it in his pocket, then followed dad and I inside as we went to officially sign in for the room.  He actually had the gall to ask, “Where else you go?  Do you need taxi?”  Other taxi drivers were watching us and listening and I finally lost it.  I can’t write what I said here, but it wasn’t nice.  He left.

We checked into our awesome room and ordered room service immediately.  I ordered some Goan sausage which was VERY spicy and dad said the colors were so bright that he had to take a picture of it.  After we ate we slept in the dry A/C splendor for a while.  When we woke up we got on the internet to post blogs.  There internet connection was terrible and the guy told us it was because the cables are all underground and during rainy season they have constant shorts which results in no service.  The internet guy loved my netbook and had to flip it all around and ask me 100 questions about it.

After checking emails dad went back to sleep.  I had a sore throat and bad heartburn – the heartburn from the sausage and the sore throat because I was getting sick.  I went down to the restaurant and asked what would work to help a sore throat.  I ended up having some brandy and then the local Goan firewater, fenny (also sometimes spelled “feni”).  The cashew feni wasn’t too good, but about 6 Goans surrounded my table when I got ready to try it to see how I liked it.  I was the only guy there and ended up talking to all of them for a few hours.  By the way, I told them the feni was good and they all smiled and were happy that I liked it; it would be good if it were consumed after a bottle of bourbon.

Here are some pics from our failed trip to the Anjuna market and then on to our palacial hotel in Panjim, errr…  Dona Paulo:



A little Indian fella beat up my legs

9/29/09

Dad and I woke up pretty early and got ready to head into town.  By the way, the guy that owns the little hostel where we’re staying and runs the convenience store downstairs gave us business cards for his place and it’s called “Shivkrupa General Store & Guest House”.

We headed left out of the guesthouse to go down towards the beach, but we stopped at a little internet cafe (that had no internet service) so that dad could exchanged some dollars for rupees.  After he was finally successful with that, we went down to the beach and had breakfast at the first place on the beach (to the left).

The little beach restaurants are quaint at night but they’re a little…  umm, rustic in the daylight.  The table stream out from the restaurant’s roof onto some dirty sand (it doesn’t clean up for about another 20 feet).  We watched a bunch of pigs eating trash off to the side of the path down to the water from our table as we ate our “English breakfast” that consisted of sunny side up eggs (again, of dubious safety), toast, tiny shreds of bacon and milk tea.  Two European hippie girls walked down to beach while we were eating breakfast, and they bought large prawns and brought them into the restaurant and had the staff cooked them up for their breakfast.

After breakfast we walked along the beach and saw fishermen sorting fish from their nets.  We were oblivious to them, which is strange for two Westerners to get no hassle at all from a group of Indians with something to sell.  We couldn’t figure out the work hours for the fishermen because we’d seen them cleaning their catch out of the nets on the sand the evening before, but in the morning they’re selling fresh seafood next to their boats along the water.

As we walked along one of the girls that was selling jewelry and other trickets at the beach the evening before (“Lola”) came running up to me yelling “Hey, whiteboy! Don’t break my little heart!”.  She had the same line the night before when I refused to buy anything from her.  She didn’t have her wares with her this time but it didn’t take long for her to get to the point: “You want necklace?”  I told her I’d look at them later but I didn’t want one now and she kept asking, “You promise?”  I told her I didn’t promise but that I had every intention of looking at her stuff again later.

Some of the other kids from the previous night also waved and came running down to say hello to me, but dad ran on ahead because he thought they’d be selling the DVDs and beads again.  They didn’t have any of their goods and just wanted to say ‘hello’ and ask if I liked the necklaces I bought and the one guy wanted to know if I’d tried the DVD yet.  They couldn’t have been friendlier.  The lady with two little girls who I’d given Rs 200 for an Rs 100 necklace the night before and then she gave me an extra bracelet came down to greet me, and she had one of her daughters with her.  The little 2 year old girl smiled and said “hullo!” and put her tiny hand out to shake mine.  She was adorable!  I asked her mom and the other lady I bought a necklace from if I could take their picture because they looked so colorful.  They smiled, did a little of the Indian head wobble and said “sure, no problem”.  They posed on the beach for a shot while dad took some from 100 yards away of us.

Before I left the sand I tried to save some little shark looking thing that the fishermen must not have wanted because they just threw it on to the sane to die.  It was sitting there sucking wind about 30 feet from the water.  I didn’t want to pick it up bare handed in case it had some catfish like spines or anything, so I pushed it wish my foot into the water.  It wasn’t meant to be because each time I’d get him in about 2 inches of water the waves would just beach him again.

Dad and I eventually made our way back to the guesthouse and went and layed down in the room while it poured down rain.

Dad came by my room around 3-4pm saying he was going to get a foot massage from one of the 5-10 massage places along the main road, but an hour later he said he checked on the massage prices first and then went to a bar instead and had some beers.  I had never had a foot massage so I got up and went to get one with him…

There was a little massage place basically across the street from our guesthouse (next to Lumuella Guesthouse where we tried to stay when we got to town).  For Rs 250 ($5) you could get a 30 minute foot massage.  The board they have advertising the different services out on the street shows pictures of massages that look like they’re being given at a resort in Tahiti, but this place was no Tahitian Club Med.  It was cheap and in an exotic location, but it wasn’t a beautiful building by any stretch of the imagination.

Dad and I were led by this lady into a tiny office area and she tried a few times to talk us into a more expensive massage (Thai, Shiatsu, etc) but we insisted on the Rs 250 foot massage so she took our money and told us to follow these two young guys who were standing outside.  Dad and I were led down this little path and into separate little dark palm frond shacks with a table in the middle and a little plastic table with a few things on it against the wall (towels, oil, etc).  You were supposed to take your shoes off at the door to the shack.

I got on the table and the kid closed the shack door and rolled up the legs of my shorts a little bit to about half way up my thighs, then he dribbled oil on the tops of my legs from my toes to just before my rolled up pant legs.  I can’t possibly describe the entire 30 minutes, but here’s the abbreviated version.  We talked a little bit while he worked but he didn’t speak much English (“What’s your name?”, “Where are you from?”, etc).  I heard dad yelling at his guy once that he only wanted his feet done, not his legs.  My guy worked on the top of my feet and legs for 15 minutes and then I flipped over and he worked on the bottoms of my feet and the backs of my legs.  I know now why I’ve never had a foot massage – it hurts like hell.  He beat the crap out of my legs.  I had sand on my feet from walking on the beach, and that mixed with the oil made it feel like he was shotblasting my legs – the skin getting torn up.  I thought he was going to pull my calf away from the bone a few times, and I almost told him to forget the whole thing when he started pulling and twisting my toes to crack them.  It wasn’t fun for me at all.

When the time was up he took this tiny wax paper sheets and tried to wipe to oil off my legs but it ended up leaving oil stains on the cuffs of each leg.  I hope it comes out because I only have 3 pair of shorts for this whole trip.

I was in so much pain from the massage that I convinced dad to go to Loekie down the street and get some Kingfishers and food with me.  While we sat there he said he felt his toes for the first time in decades and it was the best part of the trip so far.  He even said that he wants to get a massage every single day that we’re in Goa.  We had very different experiences.

While we were in Loekie dad stomped around on the carpeted Bedouin area with his shoes on where the hippies all veg out and read books.  Every takes there shoes off and leaves them outside the carpet, but dad walked through the filthy mud to the outhouse behind the restaurant and then came right in on the rug with his clogs on, taking pictures of cool lamps hanging from the ceiling.  Several hippies stopped reading and starred in disbelief.  Dad made t off the carpet without anyone saying anything, but you could tell he disrupted their utopia.  We also enjoyed watching the little kid help his dad build a shack across the street.

After we’d had enough Kingfisher and paneer butter masala we went to the room and fell asleep early.  I listened to music, wrote blogs and read my book for a while, but we were in both asleep by 10pm.

Here are some shots from our first full day in Arambol, Goa:






Getting to Arambol

9/28/09

I didn’t sleep but maybe 2 hours on the train because it was so wobbily.  I woke up around 6:30am and when I looked over the side of my bunk at dad, I could see from the tiny bit of light him wave.  I eventually got down from my bunk, went and peed on the train tracks – when you look into the toilet it’s just a straight funnel down to the tracks, and they even have a sign saying don’t do your business when the train is stopped at stations.  When I got back to the room dad sat up and we both read our books by dim light for the next two hours or so.  The seat cushions are so thin that I finally decided to go back up and lay in my bunk to read because my butt was hurting from sitting on the lower one.

Around 9:30am the British guy woke up and started reading travel guidebooks.  I went back out into the hallway and stuck my head outside the train door and when I looked back several Indians had their heads out the windows watching the green hills go by.  It was peaceful with just the rythmic thumping of the train as the soundtrack, and wind rushing over your face.  Everything was SO green.  It looks like Costa Rica, Laos or some other tropical destination.  I tried to get a picture of all the Indians with their heads out the window but they were all blurry because the train wasn’t very steady.

The British girl was awake and down on the bottom bunk by the time I got back to the cabin.  While the four of us sat there talking 3-4 different salesmen went through the hallway yelling out what they had (“chai!” – tea).  I asked one official when we’d get to our destination (Thivim) and he said 10am, then another guy said 11am a while later.  Around 11:15am someone opened our cabin door and said the next stop would be Thivim…

When the train came to a complete stop the British couple got all their stuff and once they cleared out of the small space in our cabin, dad and I put our stuff on and exited.  It looked like 90% of the people on the train were getting off in Thivim because the grass/mud next to the train was full of hundreds of people walking towards the station.  Dad and I joined the masses and smashed in with everyone else as we passed through metal detectors on the way out of the station (there weren’t any security guards and it beeped for everyone).

As we were walking down to concrete ramp towards a bunch of these miniature vans (think US sized mini-van cut in half lengthwise and widthwise), I was surprised that we were swamped with touts trying to get us in their taxis.  Instead, there was actually an orderly queue at this little one-man kiosk that said “Pre-paid Taxi” on top.  I lined up behind a couple of guys and then this young white guy came up to me and asked where I was going, and when I said “Arambol” he said he was going too and asked if we could share a taxi three ways…  I agreed, but it didn’t really matter to us because the posted rate was 500Rs (~$10), so 150Rs (~$3) wasn’t any huge savings.

We put our luggage in the rear, dad and I got in the back seat and the German guy (probably 22 years old) got in the front.  I told the driver that we wanted to go to Lamuella Guesthouse in Arambol (based on a sentence in our travel guide), and the German guy gave some cross streets as the place he wanted to be let out because he said there were 2 guesthouses there he wanted to check.

The drive took around 45 minutes to an hour and was my dad’s first real Indian driving experience.  Bombay has the most normal driving situation out of the 6 Indian cities I’ve been to now, so it wasn’t that crazy of an experience.  The drive from the train station in Thivim to Lamuella in Arambol was closer to the Indian driving experiences Jean and I had on our last visit.  Dad yelled out “whoa!” and closed his eyes no less than 15 times as our driver passed lorries while we were going around blind turns and over hills, and as he dodged cows, dogs, people, tuk-tuks, other taxis, water buffalo and just about everything else that comes out into an Indian road.

I had Jean give my dad this little “Mumbai & Goa” travel guide by TimeOut because it was small and light, but I think I should have had her send the Lonely Planet South India book instead.  TimeOut doesn’t have much information at all, and each place only has 1-3 hotel/restaurant recommendations.  It’s a pretty sad guidebook now that I’ve used it for almost a week…  I picked Lamuella because this crappy travel guide’s one sentence says, “Modern, airy rooms are available at the Israeli-run Lamuella Guesthouse (Arambol Beach Road, 0832-561-4563, RS 450 – Rs 700 double), the smartest (and most expensive) guesthouse in Arambol.”  The book only listed one other place in the entire town.

When we pulled into Arambol we dropped the German guy off at the police station and drove down the muddy little road lined with shacks until we got to Lamuella.  The downstairs was an al fresco restaurant/bar with about 4 tables and a few hippies where there whispering to each other or reading.  We grabbed our bags, hopped over the mud puddle, took off our sandals and left them next to everyone else’s, and walked on up to where a group of women were standing.

There was one white lady and a group of 4-6 Indian women, and as I walked up I could tell they were talking about dad and I.  I asked if they had a room with two beds and the white lady (presumably the Israeli who owns the joint) said “We were just discussing that and I don’t think we will.”  I could only understand about 60% of white she said, but I gathered that they had a single room and she was willing to “throw down a matress”.  I asked her if I could see the room, so dad sat down and checked out the restaurant menu while I followed the lady upstairs.  At the top she pushed open a door that was already cracked open…

I looked into this dark room that was maybe 18 feet long and 7-8 feet wide.  It looked like it was airy all right, just like my trusty guidebook said – it appeared to have a gigantic hole at the top of the back wall where the wall should meet the ceiling.  The space between the existing single bed and the wall wouldn’t have left enough room for a sleeping bag, much less a matress.  I decided that neither of us would want to sleep on the ground at this dump, so we should try somewhere else.  I will say this about Lamuella, I only saw one room which must have been the worst because it was their last one, the women working there were all really friendly, and later dad said several times that their menu looked amazing.

I told dad to sit and wait and I’d go down to road to scout out another option.  I ended up basically crossing the street to what appeared to be a tiny convenience store.  I walked in and the guys at the counter all starred at me.  I asked the guy behind the counter if he had a room with two beds and he said no, but that he had two rooms with one bed each.  I asked to see them.

I followed the guy upstairs and down this long hallway and he pushed open the door to the last room.  It was very basic, but it had a bed, an overhead fan, a western style toilet (dad was dreading the Indian toilets), a shower with hot water (the guy forced me to test it out), and a refrigerator.  I asked how much each room would cost and he said Rs 300 per room per night ($6).  I told him I’d take that room and the one next door to it, but that I had to go get the other person traveling with me and our packs.

I went and got dad and our stuff, then we went upstairs at Shivkrupa General Store to put our stuff down in our rooms.  The general store/guesthouse owner came up with a little whisk broom and swept out most of the trash.  Dad’s room was much hotter than mine because he only had a single window and I had three with two of them on the side wall facing the wind.  We both plopped down in our beds for a while until we were hungry, then went out into the streets.

We stopped by an internet cafe to check emails, but their internet was out.  Next we stopped at a restaurant called “Loekie Cafe” and had some Kingfishers and food.  One of the waiters spoke great English and talked to us about India.  I said something about Bombay, London and Los Angeles, and he interrupted and said, “Yes, but you cannot compare these cities because Bombay is very dirty and poor, so the comparison isn’t equal.”  True.

After being at Loekie for a while we went on down the road, stopping at a few shops here and there to see why they were yelling for us to come in.  Jean would have loved this place…

We finally made it to the beach just before sunset, probably around 6pm.  The beach was only a 6-10 minute walk from our guesthouse, but we took a lot longer by hitting the shops.

There were quite a few people milling around on the beach.  Dad and I dodged the cows and dogs and went down to the water.  We kicked off our sandals and walked along in the water for a while before turning around and heading back.  There were 4-5 fishing boats pulled up on the sand with the fishermen cleaning and folding their nets for the following day.  The shore is really long, starting at dense jungle-like vegetation and stretching 100 yards or more down to the water (at least at the low tide when we were there).  The area from where the main road meets the sand, and up near the jungle part, there are a line of open air restaurants.  Each one had pulled out tables on to the sand and they had young guys running down to people walking by to try and coax them to come look at the menus.

We ended up going to sit down at the last one before it’s nothing but beach and jungle as far as you can see.  Unfortunately neither of us had our cameras at this point, so we didn’t get any pictures of this or anything else for the rest of the evening.

We sat there at a table on the beach for probably 3-4 hours, drinking Kingfishers, talking to locals and eating Indian food (the paneer butter masala was some of the best food I’ve had in my life).

Several young touts came up to us.  The guys were selling bootleg music and movie CDs and the girls were selling beaded necklaces and bracelets.  I bought a movie CD with 3 movies (Bridge Over the River Kwai, Gones of Navarone, etc) and the guy promised me it would work or he’d take it back.  He said he’d be in the same place tomorrow and to just bring it back.  I joked around with him for a long time and he couldn’t have been any friendlier.  I paid Rs 150 for the CD ($3).  I bought a strange looking orange beaded necklace from a young girl after joking with her that the kid selling CDs with her was her boyfriend, and calling her “crazy” at her first price for the bracelet.  She’d crack up when I called her “crazy”, and the boy would laugh when I said he was her boyfriend – she’d look embarrassed and say “no, not my boyfriend”.

I also bought a multi-colored bead necklace that was a similar design to the orange one from a beautiful young woman who had her 3 year old daughter with her.  They sat in the sand next to my chair and she showed me every single necklace she had two or three times each.  I could tell that she was hurting because with it being low season there just weren’t any people to buy her stuff.  She said she hadn’t sold anything all day and could I please just buy one thing.  I asked if that was her daughter and she lit up and told me her name and said it means “Sea” (she pointed to the Arabian Sea in front of us), and said she had a one and a half year old at her home.  She told me the necklace I liked would be Rs 250, but since I’d paid the other girl Rs 100 for basically the exact same thing I kept haggling her down to Rs 100 and she finally agreed but looked sad.  She put the necklace in a little bag and I handed over the Rs 200 she’d wanted and fought hard to get.  She smiled so big and thanked me, then shuffled through her box of necklaces and handed me a pretty yellow and silver one and said “This is for your wife.  Thank you.”

After we’d had enough food and beer we walked back down the beach towards the road to our guesthouse.  The beach looked really cool with dozens of table out on the sand, each one with a candle burning on it.  There were maybe 20 other Westerners out there, but it was a far cry from being busy.  We walked up the road to our guesthouse and dad made sure he stopped in every single tout stall that yelled, “Hello!  Come look, please!”.  I didn’t sleep very well because it was hot and humid in my room – I’d closed the windows because I preferred the heat to battling mosquitos all night long.

Here are a couple of shots from the train and our guesthouse over the general store:


Sleeper class looked rough

It’s 10/1 and I’ve been on the road for 4 weeks now.  Dad and I are in Panjim, Goa for our second night, but tomorrow we’re heading further south.  It’s been raining a lot, but today we did a ton of site-seeing anyways.  I’m still trying to catch up with the blog while I’ve got a dependable internet connection, so here are two more posts and as my sister requested, more pictures.

9/27/09

Dad and I woke up rejuvenated after getting some needed rest the night before.  Dad called the lobby to order breakfast (our 2 slices of toast) while I was in the shower, and when I got out I realized he had asked me what room number we were in and not what number to dial, so the staff delivered our toast to room #9.  They laughed about it when I called back and said we were in room 31, not 9.

After we got ready we were on a mission…  We needed to find an ATM for my dad because he didn’t exchange money at the airport and we’d failed with three different banks the day before during our city tour.  During the city tour we had tried to go to the Bank of India to exchange money, but their power was out and wouldn’t be on for another hour and a half, then we tried HSBC and they said they didn’t do exchanges, so we tried a third bank who said they couldn’t do exchanges on Saturdays because they didn’t have the rates.  Today was Sunday, so no banks would be open and he needed money because the money I exchanged at the airport was running out since I was paying for both of our stuff.

We walked all around the area where our hotel is, called Colaba.  Eventually we found an ATM and both withdrew some Rupees.  Next we decided to go have a real breakfast, so we walked to the place where we’d had lunch the day before, Leopold.  We both had cheese omelets and potatos – it was really good and cheap.

After breakfast we walked down to The Gateway of India to check it out again, and if there had been a square foot of shade we’d have sat down to get pictures of the different people walking about, but it was getting hot and there was zero shade.

We walked around Colaba some more, went to an internet cafe to check emails, bought a newspaper and then some batteries and finally made our way back to the hotel.  We relaxed in the room for a while and took our second showers of the day since we’d been sweating all morning.  Once we cooled down and read/watched some tv, we took off again.

We walked around some more and ended up at Leopold once again.  This time Leopold was packed and we were led to the one empty table in the center of the room.  We drank beer for a while and talked to several of the waiters who stopped by to chat, then we shared a club sandwich.  After about 2 hours in Leopold we walked back to our hotel.  Along the streets in Colaba you have non-stop little stalls selling everything you can imagine: fruit, knock-off clothes, hippie bags and beads, rocks, saris, etc.  I think it’s weird that they try to sell some of that stuff to people who obviously have no interest in it, like the guy who asked me several times if I’d like to buy a pashmina shawl.  I thought only women wore shawls, and it was like being in a sauna it was so hot, so who needs a scarf?!

I did buy a necklace for Jean that I liked, and the price was great!  My dad bought a book.

We spent the next few hours cooling off in the room and packing up because we had an 11pm train to Goa to catch.  I’d made a deal with our hotel to keep the room a little later – they said half price until 7pm and agreed to 3/4 price until 9pm.  Nine was still too early to leave, but we weren’t sure what all we’d have to do at the train station.  We checked out at 9pm on the dot and caught a cab to the train station which the travel guidebook says is the busiest in Asia (that says a lot if you’ve ever been to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo!).

When we pulled up to the train station is was bedlam.  It was dark (about 9:30pm), and the guy parks in the middle of the street about 200 yards from the gateway leading into the train station.  All in front of the gateway are hundreds of Indians sitting around, selling food from little carts and all sorts of other stuff.  Of course everyone is starring at us because there aren’t any other Westerners in sight.

We walk inside and notice that the board announcing which platform the trains will be at doesn’t have our’s because we’re too early.  We stood there for a few minutes and then walked into another large area at the end of some platforms to see if there was a different board there, but no luck.

I had been concerned because when I ordered our tickets on the Indian Railways website (www.irctc.co.in) we were waitlisted for our first class A/C sleeper tickets.  I’d purchased some backup tickets in the “sleeper” section, but those weren’t in private cabins but in an open car with everyone else and you just get a bunk on the wall.  If this tells you something, two sleeper class tickets for the 12 hour train ride were less than $10 total, but the two “1AC” (first class AC sleeper) tickets were like $25 total.  Anyhow, I was concerned because I had been checking the status of our 1AC tickets for a while and every time it came back as us being numbers 1 & 2 on the waitlist.  When someone that has a confirmed ticket cancels it, you move up, but that hadn’t happened.

I’d called the Indian Railways office from our hotel before leaving and the guy said we had seats, but I couldn’t understand what else he was saying, but it had something to do with checking the status at the train station.  While my dad and I were standing around looking lost, this porter pushed his handtruck over to us and asked where we were going.  He ended up being really helpful and friendly, but he also asked no less than 50 times if we wanted to put our bags on his handtrucks so he could help us.  No need to pay the guy when we can easily manage to carry them.  He pointed out which window I should go ask about my ticket at (“Enquiry”).

I got behind two young guys at the window, then about 5 or 6 more guys crowded around me and within 4 minutes people were pushing ahead of me and asking their questions.  After the third or fourth guy that just came up, pushed in and did his business, I put my arms between two guys in front of me and just pushed them out of the way, stepped up to the window and shoved my ticket printout through the hole.  The guy typed in a few things, wrote down the car and cabin numbers on my print out, then said something I couldn’t understand.  I thanked him and got out of the craziness.

Dad and I bought a few snacks and drinks, then went into a “Men’s Waiting Room”.  The room already had about 20 people in it and they watched us like we were on fire for the first 5 minutes, then they finally started looking away.  Our seats were right next to the bathroom and it reeked of pee.  Dad flipped through his camera guidebook while I watched a family sitting on the floor in front of us re-pack all their stuff.  The dad, who was nicely dressed when we got into the waiting room, wrapped a cloth around himself, took his shirt off and then dropped his pants.  Nobody batted an eye and then a second guy did the same thing.  The guy treated his daughter like crap, yelling at her and stuff, and she looked terrified.

We decided to move on once it turned 10:15.  We figured that the platform number would be up on the board by then, and it was.  We walked outside underneath some shanty-like canopy with hundreds of Indians watching us in the dark to our platform.  The train was already there.

I tried to ask one official looking guy where we were supposed to go and he blew me off, then dad pointed out another guy and he pointed towards a car and said we were in there and to double check the seating chart taped to the side.  While we’d been walking down the platform to figure out where to do we noticed hundreds of Indians were already packed into the sitting car.  Instead of sleepers you can buy a super cheap seat if you don’t mind sitting up in a non-cushioned chair with tons of other people crammed in there for 12 hours.  We also walked by the “sleeper” class which I had backup tickets for in case our 1AC didn’t clear the waiting list, and we were both VERY relieved that we made it into 1AC because there were already dozens of people crammed into those cars too, and they were sitting 3-4 per bunk bed.  No telling if we could have had an actual bed to sleep on or not, but it looked way too insane at 10:30pm to want to try it.

I found our names on the seating chart and we were in Cabin 1 with two people that had Western names (Gillian and something like Grant or Charles).  Dad and I went to our cabin after almost getting stuck in the narrow hallway.  The cabin has a top and bottom bunk on either side, two small overhead fans and a little table against the wall between the bottom bunks.  The windows were tinted and heavy soiled with something, so you could barely see out.  Dad and I plopped down and both agreed that we were thrilled that we weren’t in the sleeper class.

Around 10:50pm our roommates showed up.  A young British couple on vacation for 3 weeks – seeing Mumbai, Goa, Hampi and Kerala.  He had recently finished “university” and was an actor (stage, tv, movies), and she said she did freelance work in the media (television).  They were friendly.

Once the train took off we all sat on the bottom bunks for maybe an hour before I noticed dad was falling asleep, so I told him I’d get in my bunk so he could sleep.  The couple heard me and started getting their beds ready (wrapping sheets, putting backpacks under the bottom bunk, etc).  When they finished dad and I got our bunks ready, then I climbed up into my bunk and dad laid down.  The couple stayed up for a long time watching a movie on some little handheld thing.  I didn’t sleep at all because the train was bouncing me all over the place.  After being in my bunk for probably an hour the air conditioning come on but you couldn’t really tell except for the spurt of dust that blow out of the vent and into my face.

Here are a couple of my pictures from our last day in Mumbai:



And a couple my dad took on our last day in Bombay:

Cricket ain’t baseball, that’s for sure.

9/26/09 CONTINUED

After two days of traveling from Bangkok to Seoul to Bombay, I met my dad at the airport and we went straight to our hotel some time around 2:30-3am.  We went to sleep pretty quickly after getting there because we were both exhausted.

When we woke up I called the front desk and asked them to deliver breakfast to the room.  Breakfast was 2 pieces of toast, a packet of butter, a packet of jelly and some tea.

We got dressed and by 9:30am I called the guy who drove us from the airport to our hotel in the wee hours, Jackey.  He’d given me his card in case we were interested in doing a city tour.  He said 10am was no problem.  When we walked out the hotel’s door into the street Jackey was there waiting.

My dad and I followed Jackey to his little Tata taxi, but that didn’t slow down the other taxi drivers sitting around on the sides of the street from asking if we were interested in their services.  One guy kept saying “Hey Alabama!”.

Jackey had a card the listed all the places he’d take us and it was 900Rs ($19.15) for the 4 hour tour if you wanted him to turn on the air conditioning, or 700Rs ($14.90) if you just wanted to roll the windows down.  Mumbai wasn’t as nasty as Beijing, but it was plenty humid and hot, so we sprang for the extra $4 – not a hard decision.

Our first stop was Nariman Point, which is just a promenade along the water, with views of Bombay.  While we were there, a group of three Indian guys walked by, all starring at us.  My dad and I both nodded and smiled at the last guy and once their group was about 20 feet from us he turned around and walked up to us and motioned that he’d like a picture with us.  He stood between my dad and I and posed for a picture on Nariman Point while his friend got ready to take the shot.  My dad asked if he should put his arm around the guy, and the guy did a very exaggerated head wobble.  I still don’t know what the head wobble they do means, but it was obvious he was nervous.  We smiled for the picture, he thanked us and walked away.

Our second stop was Chowpatty Beach.  It’s a (dirty) sand strip right on the middle of the city.  If you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire they talk about it in the movie.  It wasn’t a very nice beach but there were some interesting sites to take in there, like dozens of guys asleep under trees and little shops that hadn’t yet opened, several little naked kids running around playing and Indian women dressed in colorful saris heading down to the water.

The third stop was a Jain Temple.  The only thing I know about Jainism is that they believe in protecting all life – they wear masks over their mouths to keep from swallowing bugs and they wear shoes with the toes curled up to avoid crushing bugs.  We took off our shoes and a little guy came running up to let us know he’d be watching them for us (he wanted baksheesh – tip).  They had a little board with some rules on it and I was surprised that it said “3. Ladies in monthly period are not allowed.”  Why?  That seemed a little odd and not easy to enforce…  It also said “Do not encourage begging outside the temple.”  I guess the guy expecting a tip inside the temple for standing in the shoe area wasn’t a problem.

We walked around the Jain Temple for a few minutes.  They had a service going on with a room full of mostly women listening to two guys sitting down on a stage.  Inside one of the worshipping areas I saw a lady making symbols on a board with rice grains.  Oddly, nobody in the temple starred at us or really even noticed us.

After the Jain Temple we went up to Malabar Hill and visited Kamala Nehru Park and The Hanging Gardens.  It was hot!  We bought a couple of cold bottles of water and walked through both of the parks.  My dad is carrying around this tiny bear that a kindergarten class gave him so that he could take pictures of it in front of different places, so we put it on a handrail overlooking Chowpatty Beach below.  We also got a picture of it on a gigantic shoe where kids could play inside it.

When we left the parks we drove back down Malabar Hill and on the way Jackey pulled over and explained that behind some trees was a place called something like the Towers of Silence where the Parsi people in Bombay take their dead.  They don’t cremate them, but instead throw the bodies on top of the towers so that birds and dogs can eat them.  There were dozens of birds circling above…  Kinda nasty, but it’s a sacred part of their lives I suppose – returning to the cycle of life instead of being put in a box in the ground.

Our next stop was both my dad and my favorite one of the day: Mani Bhavan.  Mani Bhavan was where Gandhi lived whenever he was in Bombay from 1917-1934.  Supposedly he started “Satyagraha” and his civil disobedience movement to free India from English rule there.  There wasn’t any admission fee, and the guy sitting right inside the door was a really friendly guy.  We walked around, looking at Gandhi’s library, pictures of his life and his simple possessions.  They had a room with a bunch of diaramas depicting the different big events from his life and even though I’d heard it several times, it stuck out to me this time that Gandhi was thrown off a train in Maritzburg, South Africa.  I’ll be in Maritzburg in a few weeks…

I haven’t read anything about it, but the movie with Ben Kingsley suggests that the turning point in Gandhi’s life was when as a lawyer in South Africa he was thrown off a train because he was Indian and sitting in a compartment he wasn’t supposed to be in.  He started a movement in South Africa to get equal rights for the Indians there, and after some years there he returned to India and began his work to peacefully push the British out of his country.

Gandhi was an amazing man and inspired some of the greatest men of the twentieth century.  My favorite part of New Delhi when Jean and I were there a few years ago was visiting his simple museum.  Mani Bhavan had lots of great quotes by Gandhi all over the place, and here are my favorite two:

 “The assassin of the ages came with unholy design and lodged hot lead in the flesh of the man who had known no enemy.  Gandhi had said, ‘If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling.  There must be no anger within my.  God must be in my heart and on my lips.’  He bowed to his assassin and died with the name of God on his lips.”

 “I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world…  Religions are given to mankind so as to accelerate the process of realisation of fundamental unity.”

When we finally left Mani Bhavan, we fought off some touts, got in our taxi and went to see what Jackey claims is the largest laundry area in Asia.  I have no reason to believe it isn’t true because this place was MASSIVE.  The design of the outdoor laundry reminded my dad and I of the tanneries in Fez, Morocco, with all the little concrete cubicles and guys stomping around in them to get the work done.  Laundry was being cleaned and hanging up to dry as far as you could see.  Jackey said it was over three square kilometers in size and that they handle the laundry for local hospitals and other big institutions.

After the laundry and the most persistent touts we’d met yet, we went to see the main train station.  The tour book says that after the Taj Mahal, it’s the most photographed building in India and a UNESCO site.  Unfortunately they were doing some sort of construction on it so there was some stuff in the way, but the pictures still show how beautiful the building is.  I didn’t confirm it, but I believe the construction may be due to the terrorist attacks that happened in Bombay back in November of last year when several Pakistani gunmen killed something like 185 people in the train station and a few hotels.

The next stop was probably the most recognizable for me because after reading 3-4 tour guides about India I’ve seen the image of the Gateway to India many times.  The Gateway is a large arch that was built to honor the king and queen of England when they came to visit the jewel of their colonial crown in the early 1900’s.

My dad and I noticed that Mumbai is not a tourist destination for Westerners because besides at the Gandhi house we hadn’t seen a single other Westerner all day.  The Gateway was no different, but you could tell that India has an enormous emerging middle class because there were a dozen or so large coach busses lined up along the street and hundreds of Indians coming to see the Gateway.

We actually weren’t hassled too much at the Gateway, at least not on this first trip to it.  When Jackey picked us up he pointed out that the beautiful building behind it was the Taj Hotel that the famous Indian industrialist, Tata, had built in the early 1900’s and that it was closed for 2 years in order to repair all the damage done by the gunmen.  He said teams of 200-300 workers were trying to repair it and that lots of damage was done by grenades and bombs detonated inside.  He pointed out a burnt/blow out section on the top floor.  All the stores that line the bottom floor (Bulgari, Gucci, etc) were all boarded up and 10+ armed security guards were walking around the one side of it.

That was the end of our tour, but we still had about 30 minutes of our 4 hour tour to go so Jackey asked if we wanted to see anything else.  We were hungry so we asked him to recommend somewhere and he said we’d like “Leopold”.

About a block away he dropped us off at a restaurant/bar that’s been there since 1871, called Leopold.  It was packed, and surprisingly with almost all foreigners.  The couple of Indians eating there all had Western brand clothes on.

I had the best chicken tikka masala I think I’ve ever had.  My dad’s a little nervous about the Indian food so he had some Western food, but we both enjoyed the Kingfisher beer – severed in this huge tube.

After we ate Jackey emerged from the crowd and flagged us down, then he took us back to our hotel.  We were hot and tired so we cranked the A/C and took a long nap.  Around 6pm I woke up and watched India play Pakistan in cricket.

Cricket is crazy!  I thought it was supposed to be similar to baseball, but it isn’t even close.  Each team bats once and everyone on the team bats, the field is circular and you can hit the ball 360.  The thing that really seperated it for me was that while Pakistan was batting they scored 306 points!  The game lasted almost 8 hours and India lost, something like 242-306.  I don’t think I’ve seen 550 runs scored in all the baseball games I’ve watched in 32 years…

My dad slept pretty much the entire rest of the day because he had some jet lag and had only gotten 4 hours of sleep since arriving in India.

Here are some pictures from our first day in India:








Late arrival in Bombay

I haven’t posted a blog in a while because nothing much has happened until the past 24 hours.  I’m writing this blog on my netbook from the hotel room in Mumbai at 8:45pm on Saturday, September 26th.  India is playing Pakistan in cricket on tv, and right now Malik and Yousef are batting for Pakistan and they’re killing the Indian team: 206-3.  In an effort to bring things up to speed, I’m posting 5 different blog postings at once for each day I’ve missed.  You’ll need to scroll down if you want to read them in the order they happened…

9/26/09

I got into the Bombay airport around 1:20am on Saturday morning.  The process for getting through the H1N1 checks, baggage claim, immigration and customs was painful.  It wasn’t painful because they hassled me, but because they aren’t prepared for more than a group of maybe 15-20 people at a time.  We landed at the same time as another flight and this airport in a city of 10+ million people couldn’t deal with it.  Everyone was being held at the top of a staircase by a lady who wanted us to wait until the group she’d just let downstairs filtered through the H1N1 checks, then she’d release another wave of people.

At the bottom of the stairs you had to weave through aisles, back and forth, to make you way to this free for all area that had a long desk with probably 25 doctors behind it.  You just pushed your way to the front and handed them your H1N1 form, they look at you and wait (I guess to see if you’d cough or puke or something), then they’d stamp your sheet and direct you on.

Next was the aisles for immigration and that wasn’t too bad except that I had to wait forever behind three frowny Russians who had some issue with their visas.  Next was the baggage claim.

My dad flew in on Air France and I flew in on Korean Air.  When you exit the immigration area there’s a big board with two halves.  Each half lists a bunch of airlines and the left half points to the left indicating that the baggage claim area for those airlines is to the left, and the right half of the board shows which airlines have their baggage claim to the right.  I got a little worried because Korean Air was to the right but Air France was to the left.  My dad was supposed to arrive at like 11:45pm on 9/25 and wait for me to arrive at 1:30am, then we were gonna have a taxi from the hotel waiting on us.  I hoped that the left and right baggage claims dumped out into the same place so I’d find my dad.

I was happy when my pack was the first thing to come out at the carousel, then I went and exchanged some USD and traveller’s cheques for Indian Rupees.  When I exited the airport into the humid night (2am), I was greeted by a hundred guys holding signs with the names of the people they were there to pick up.  I walked slowly down the line until I saw “JOSEPH MAT BANA”.  Close enough!  I waved at the guy and he met me at the end of the line.  I didn’t see my pop though…

The guy motioned for me to follow him but I yelled for him to wait and asked, “Where is the other guy?”  He had no idea what I was talking about so I tried my best to explain that my father was supposed to arrive 2.5 hours earlier and wait for me, and had he seen him.  He eventually understood what I was saying and I told him I wanted to walk around and look for my dad and when he looked like he didn’t understand what I was doing I asked him to call the hotel to see if my dad was already there.  Maybe he’d gotten tired of waiting and already caught a cab to the hotel.

While the guy was calling our hotel I walked around through the crowd looking for my dad.  I didn’t see him anywhere and I started to get a little nervous.  I couldn’t go back into the airport because it was Exit Only.  The entire external wall where you come out of baggage claim and customs is glass, but it was all fogged up with condensation because it was so muggy outside and the inside had the A/C going.  I figured that possibly my dad was still in the airport but maybe on the other baggage claim side.

I walked along outside the fogged up glass towards the side where Air France flights would have been arriving, hoping that he had made it without any problems and that he wasn’t lost in Bombay.  I was worried that I wouldn’t see him through the foggy glass too.  It was so hot and I was lugging around both of my packs.  Nobody was on the outside of the glass with me in that area and the taxi driver was watching me from about 150 feet away – he was off the phone and wasn’t waiving like dad was already at the hotel.

When I got to the one panel that wasn’t completely fogged up along maybe 150-200 feet of glass panels, there was my dad on the inside sitting on a bench with his back to me, watching the couple of people trickle by in front of him.  YES!  I was elated!  I banged on the glass and he turned around and smiled…

He took a picture of me through the glass and then we walked back towards the exit, me on the outside and him inside the airport.  I motioned to the taxi guy with a thumbs up and he came running over smiling.  My dad finally exited the airport around 2:30am.

I gave my pop a big hug and we followed “Vickay” back to his tiny Tata taxi.  I tried to turn on my cell phone to text message Jean and my mom to let them know we made it ok, but it was out of juice.

We talked and watched the late night street happenings of Bombay for the 35-40 minute ride to our hotel.  Vickay was blasting all kinds of American easy listening the whole way and ignored me when I asked him to turn it down twice.  We heard that Titanic song by Celine Dion, some Commodores song and all kinds of stuff that we didn’t want to hear, but I guess that’s part of India…  We got here some time after 3am.

Vickay gave me his card and said to call him if I wanted a city tour the following day and I paid for the ride; 800Rs if we hadn’t have used the A/C, but 1000Rs since we asked him to turn it on – it was worth the extra $4.25 ($1 = 47Rs).

We woke up the 3 guys sleeping in the lobby and checked in.  They all looked really pissed off…

I flipped on the tv and A/C in the room and a few minutes later the guy from the room next to our’s was knocking on the door asking me to turn down the tv’s volume.  My dad took a shower and said the bed felt great, and shortly thereafter I hit the sack too.  We slept only until about 7:45am and got up for a day in Bombay, but that’ll need to wait for another blog because this one is already long enough…

Tomorrow (9/27) we leave for Goa.

More waiting, this time in Seoul

9/25/09

Friday was to be much like Thursday, lots of waiting.  I got to Seoul just before 8am but my flight didn’t leave until 8pm, twelve hours later.  When I made the plans for this trip, that’s the best the Skyteam Alliance could do for my connection to India so I was stuck with it.  I’d thought that I would take a city tour and check out Seoul when I booked the ticket, but now that I was at that moment and I’d been up for 24 hours without any sleep, I decided that I didn’t care at all about seeing Seoul.  I wanted to see a bed at that Transit Hotel in the airport that I’d reserved a room at.

I made me way to the Transit Hotel and tried to check-in, but my room wasn’t ready yet.  I reserved it for 9am-5pm because I figured it would take me an hour to get my pack, eat breakfast and get to the hotel, but they checked my baggage all the way through, I wasn’t hungry and the hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the gate we arrived at…

I did go in to the restaurant to check the prices, but they wanted $18 for this tiny buffet with like 6 items (1 being slices of white bread and another being cereal).  Instead I sat in the lobby for 45 minutes chatting with Jean using Incheon’s free wi-fi.  Jean picked up a webcam from my dad when she picked him up to take him to the airport earlier that morning, so we video chatted and it was great to see her and the dogs for the first time in a while.

When I checked in I went to the room, couldn’t connect back to the internet, so I went back to the lobby for another hour and chatted with Jean some more.  Finally I was too tired to talk any longer so I let her go.

I took a shower and slept until my wakeup call at 4pm.  At 4pm I took another shower, changed clothes then checked out of the hotel.  I went to my gate and waited until 8pm to board.  While I waited for my flight I finished reading The Quiet American and went to a bookstore and bought two Robert Ludlum books: The Bourne Identity and the fourth (and newest) Bourne book.

They changed planes on us once because the flight wasn’t close to full, then they changed the gate at the last minute to another one with an even smaller plane.  The flight was still only about 40% full on this third and much smaller plane.  I had a row to myself.  I read The Bourne Identity on the plane, tried unsuccessfully to sleep and watched part of Night at the Museum.  After the 8 hour flight, I landed in Mumbai at 1am and made it off the plane around 1:20am on 9/26 (Saturday).

Another day of waiting

I’ve written 5 or 6 blogs on my netbook, but I haven’t found a wi-fi connection yet so I’ll have to wait before posting them.  Right now my dad and I are in Mumbai, India.  Yesterday we went all over the city and today we’re playing the waiting game because we take an 11pm train from Bombay to Goa tonight.

Just like the rest of Asia, India is hot and humid, but it’s been great to meet up with my pop and travel with him.  I’ll post the blogs I’ve already written just as soon as I find wi-fi or an internet cafe that’ll let me connect to their network.

Sweating in the fifth country of this trip,

Matt (and Hugh)

IRCTC finally works!

I mentioned a while back that I’ve had all kinds of trouble trying to book Indian train tickets on the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) website in the past.  When Jean and I were planning our trip to India a few years ago I tried several times to reserve tickets on their website, and it was nothing more than a frustrating mess.  The website at the time had tons of bugs, looked like it was designed by a 13 year old, and I wasted several hours trying to book tickets.

A few months ago I signed up on their improved website for an account, but I couldn’t reserve tickets because they’ll only allow you to up to 90 days before travel.  Since I was finally within that range I decided to try and book tickets today.  My options for getting my dad and I from Bombay (Mumbai) to Goa were as follows: flying with either Kingfisher, IndiGo or SpiceJet, or we could take the train.  There are several trains that go that route, but the Konkan Kanya Express is the main overnight sleeper train from Bombay to Goa.  The flights were relatively cheap for round trips; Kingfisher was $132 a person, IndiGo was $110 a person and SpiceJet was $96 a person.  The problem with taking a flight in India is that the flight may not ever take off on the day they say it’s supposed to…  Jean and I were stuck in Kathmandu on our last RTW trip because Indian Airlines “goofed”.  The downside with taking the train is that it takes about 12 hours for the trip we want to take instead of the 1 hour it would take to fly the same distance.

I talked to my dad and we decided to try a little of both.  I ended up booking the train for the ride down to Goa, and a one way flight with SpiceJet for our return to Bombay ($45 each).  The IRCTC website tried its best to piss me off so I’d give up, but I didn’t.  This morning I tried to access it and it would time out and give me an error, but when I got home from the trial it allowed me to login.  Next I tried to find the right train on the right date, but I had a hell of a time figuring out the train station names because everything is just a little bit different.  The terminus on the Goan end of the Konkan Express is called “Madgaon” on the IRCTC website, but every map, book and website you look at calls it “Margao”.  The stop before that is called “Thivim” on IRCTC, but “Tivim” everywhere else.  It’s like that for everything, and my only guess as to why it’s like that is from when the Hindu nationalists took control of the government years ago and renamed several cities and roads, these places were included in that change (Bombay became Mumbai, Calcutta became Kolkata, and so on).

Eventually I got everything lined out except for which type seat I wanted.  I knew we wanted a sleeper because the train leaves Bombay around 11pm and arrives in Goa around 11am the following day.  We’d be exhausted if we had to sit up on uncomfortable benches all night long.  There’s a huge amount of options for sleepers.  For beds, they have first class with air conditioning (AC1), two and three tier with air conditioning (AC2 and AC3), first class without AC, and then “Sleeper Class” which is three tier without AC.  Since we’ll be there when it’s gonna be hot, I was definately leaning towards the AC options, and since my dad’s 60 and I’m no lightweight, I didn’t think we’d want to climb up to a third bunkbed in a tiny sleeping compartment.  That meant our options were down to AC1 (the most expensive at $35 one way) and AC2 ($21 from Bombay to Goa).  I ended up going with AC1 because it’s individual compartments with doors you can look while you sleep, like the train we slept on in Morocco.  AC2 just has a little curtain you can pull shut between the beds and the walkway.  I don’t want to wake up to our bags missing, so I decided that AC1 was best.  In case you’re wondering, the 3 tier without AC (Sleeper Class) was $6 for the trip, but you have to provide your own linen and pillow.

My next hurdle on the IRCTC website was that when I finally went to book the ticket, it failed because apparently the server was having some maintenance done on it from 6 to 7 (Indian time), so I had to wait for about 35 minutes until that was done.  I logged back in and tried to reserve our tickets once again, but this time it failed because my credit card (AMEX) didn’t go through.  I was really starting to get agitated, but within 2 minutes of it failing I got a call from American Express and they told me they had suspicious activity on my card, so I explained that I’d been messing with a website trying to buy rail tickets for an hour and a half and they just screwed me.  She apologized, lifted the block and told me to try booking it again.  I tried a second time and much to my surprise, it went through!

The tickets may have been paid for, but the confusion wasn’t over at that point.  The tickets say “Wait Listed”, and there are several notes on the ticket that say you’ll get thrown off the train after being fined if you’re wait listed instead of having a seat.  As best as I can tell, they don’t set up a seating chart until much closer to the date of travel, at which time people with reservations are assigned seats based on a first come first served order.  Our reservations say we’re WL numbers 1 and 2, so I’m hoping that means we’ll be the first two assigned to a sleeper.  The other confusing part is that AC1 cabins come in 2 and 4 bed configurations, but you can’t reserve one type or the other – they just assign you to one.  You also can’t decide if you want the lower or upper bunk, but I did put that we both had a preference of the lower bunk.  I’ve got my fingers crossed at this point, and hope that Shiva or Ganesh will smile down upon us and bless us with a 2 bed compartment.

If you have to make rail reservations before going to India, good luck!

The defense rested their case today, and tomorrow we’ll begin deliberating.  Hopefully this trial will be over by the end of the day on Thursday…

1 down, 2 to go

When I got home from court today, I had a FedEx package waiting for me.  I am now the proud owner of an Indian visa that won’t expire until June 2019!  In another 3 weeks I’ll be applying for my Chinese visa, and then shortly after that I’ll be sending off my passport for a third time to get my Vietnamese visa.

Court was interesting today because we looked at a lot of evidence instead of just listening to witnesses, but that’s about all I can say.  I sure do wish I could post all the details here, but my civic duty requires that I keep it hush-hush and that I remain fair and impartial.  This trial has stoked the wannabe lawyer flames within me, and I’m thinking I may quit my job after being accepted to UCLA’s law school.  Or maybe I’ll just start watching more Judge Judy instead…

Jean ran errands all day and now she’s on the phone with her mom.  I’m glad to hear that her mom’s power is back on after being knocked out from some terrible storm that went through the Birmingham area recently.  My grandfather told me tons of trees were knocked down during that storm.  At least they’re not in drought conditions any more.  I’m betting the people in Nevada would love a storm like that, especially since there aren’t any trees to be knocked over in the entire state, so most likely their power would be safe.

California is supposed to run out of money in less than 50 days.  I’m glad that raising taxes isn’t getting as much attention as it was before the citizens of this state spoke up during the recent election (initiatives 1A-1F).  I don’t know what it means for me if the state goes belly up.  The roads are already crappy, I don’t feel very safe because crime in my area is fairly high, and I don’t live on welfare, get free medical care or anything else the state provides.  I’m not a teacher, fireman, police officer or any type of general bureaucrat.  I work and pay taxes, so I guess I’ll be unaffected until my tax refund is due to me next year, then I’m betting I’ll realize the affect it has on me because they won’t return my money.

I’ve heard they’re going to do away with state welfare and possibly Medi-cal, which is free healthcare.  I would suggest that they get rid of everything we do in duplicate to assist Spanish only citizens.  No higher pay for bilingual state workers, no translations of official documents in Spanish, etc.  We’ll see what happens – 50 days will be here before we know it.  I’m sure Ahnold will save the day just before the deadline, just like I fondly remember him doing in so many classics from my childhood, like Commando, Total Recall, The Running Man and Raw Deal.  If for some reason Arnie can’t do it, I’ve seen plenty of evidence that Stallone can, so hopefully he’s waiting in the wings up in Sacramento.