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: