Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another Goa at Paragliding

Yes...I know, you're probably wondering when the stupid Goa puns will run out...

November 26th, 2010

I was determined to get in the air at the next opportunity that Mother Nature would provide and it looked like it would be today. I hiked up to launch in the early afternoon and there were three Ukrainian pilots with one of them ready to take off. He had a few failed attempts and on one of them he almost took off with a small cravat (one of the paraglider lines was going over the top of the wing...a potentially very dangerous situation). Another guy launched as I talked a bit with Aleg, a happy sweat drenched guy with a bad haircut (short black hair with a minor mullet). I let him go next since they were there before me and none of them were able to stay up for very long, the wind just wasn’t quite strong enough.

The Ukrainians prepping to launch:

And he's off:

Another guy wandered up to launch and it was an older French guy Jacques who is a tandem pilot. He’s a diminutive grizzled guy and he was planning on flying his tandem glider by himself so he actually had a chance to stay up...provided he could get into the air first. I helped him resetting his wing as it was big and heavy and he did take 3-4 attempts before finally forward launching off the hill. Jacques was able to climb above the ridge and in the end probably had about a half an hour of flight time. Me however...not so lucky. I made 4-5 passes of the ridge, hugging super close to the terrain but I just couldn’t maintain my height. I landed on Keri Beach (where you’re supposed to but this was my first time of my 3 flights to do so) and began packing up my wing.

Jacques in flight on his tandem:

Part way through the process, a man walked up to me and said that the police chief wanted to talk to me. Hmm....I’m guessing he’s not wanting to compliment me on my landing technique! I asked if I could finish packing up first, did so, and then walked into the covered beach bar where the chief, a man in his forties wearing glasses and short sleeved collared shirt and slacks, was surrounded by a bit of an entourage. It wasn’t obvious that they were the police as none of them were in uniform. He was already talking to a few other pilots asking whether we had permission to fly here. This was news to everyone. He claimed that we had to go to the Panajim District Magistrate (about 80km away...probably close to 2 hours away...probably a full day trip) to get permission. Strangely he wasn’t telling everyone as Aleg was sitting a few tables away and wasn’t spoken to at all. What a bummer...all that for a 2 minute flight! I’ll have to see what I will do about the situation...

The night before at the Olive Garden I was introduced to two tandem pilots from the Manali area (in the north of India...which is where everyone who works at the Garden is from). Ram, a highly energetic and friendly guy, and his friend (I never quite got a hold of his Indian name but that’s okay...I think he said 2 words the whole time) both probably weigh barely 120 pounds wet. Well they were also getting scolded by the chief and Ram did not look nearly as happy as he did the previous evening. The whole police crew left and I sat and had a beer with Aleg and a bearded sixty something British guy Steve. Some other guy, maybe Spanish, came up to us and asked whether we had seen the two Indian tandem pilots as their gear was just sitting alone on the beach. Later I found out that it was Ram and his friend’s gear and I hadn’t noticed that they were taken away by the police and spent at least one night in jail! I guess their situation was a bit more serious seeing as they were doing commercial business without a licence and being Indian, you don’t get as much leeway as foreigners (at least that’s my impression). Poor dudes...

Where Do the Days Goa?

November 20-25

Goa is the type of place where it’s very easy to fall into a Groundhog Day routine (apologies if you’ve never seen the movie and don’t know what I’m talking about...but it essentially mean that you repeat the same day, day after day). My activities have primarily been relaxing & reading, jogging & blogging, eating & drinking.

Unfortunately there have only been a couple of days when the weather has been suitable for paragliding and for one reason or another I have missed the opportunities. One day I consciously decided that there were too many wings in the air (I could see at least seven) and that it just wouldn’t be that fun. The ridge isn’t that long so your head would have to be on a swivel, constantly looking out for other pilots. Added to that, I was almost a kilometer from my hut (with my wing), then I’d have to walk back and go another kilometer up the promontory so it would have taken probably an hour to get up to launch.

A paraglider in flight(tough to see)...I was jealous:

Sunset cricket:

The other time I could have flown was on the 25th but unfortunately I was recovering from Delhi Belly. Yes, I finally got the true traveller’s bug. It started with me feeling a slight fever one evening and I figured it was mild sun stroke. That day I’d headed to find a place to do my laundry and got slightly lost (well lost sounds a bit extreme, more like I didn’t take to quickest route) and spent close to an hour walking around. After that I went for a jog and then finally got in the shade. I didn’t actually get sunburnt but my skin was definitely radiating some serious heat. I returned to my beach hut around 9:30pm, about an hour after I started to feel a bit off. Unfortunately Mr. Diarrhea decided to join the party.

For the past three or four days they have been constructing three new huts right behind mine and they often begin at 7am. Sadly this evening, since there was rain in the morning hampering their work, they continued until 11:30pm! I was not pleased. I laid in my bed switching between shivering and sweating and making frequent trips to the toilet...not fun. It was my last (and a terribly long) night for the week at this beach hut (2Pac) and I did tell the older, usually a bit drunk owner, Sebastian, that I was not pleased with the construction and I would be moving. So I’ve relocated to the huts behind the Olive Garden, the restaurant with the ”Cheers factor”: where everyone now knows my name (and I know most of theirs...I have a few more to learn). It’s not only cheaper but much more convenient. It also means that the toilet seat beat out the view (read the last post if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

My first hut:

The view from my first hut:

My new hut:

Happy Pinko, one of the Olive Garden waiters:

At times on the beach there can be a lot of locals walking around hocking stuff, ranging from jewellery to sarongs, CDs and DVDs (illegally burned I’m sure) to coconuts and pineapple. It can become a bit of an annoyance at times as I’ve often not been able to make it through a paragraph in my book between vendors interrupting me. I was slightly surprised one day, as I was walking along the beach, that a fifty year old woman came up to me with a large sack and asked whether I wanted to buy a paraglider! “Good German glider” she said. I declined as obviously I don’t need a second one and I’m guessing that it’s stolen and it looked pretty beaten up. I later found out from Manu, the manager of the Olive Garden, that a friend of his bought it for 1000 rupees (about $25 CAD)! He said it’s old and probably not flyable but good for practicing kiting on the ground. I guess you just never know what you may be offered to buy.

A coconut vendor:

Typical beach bar restaurants:

What a gorgeous beach Arambol is....

I have passed this cow at this point walking up to launch a number of times...I think it lives here:

Arambol from up on the ridge:

Enjoying the sunset:

So I had my first experience of baksheesh one of these evenings. I was walking along the beach close to midnight, heading back to my hut. It was close to a full moon and there were lovely 2-3 foot waves crashing in on the sandy beach. I decided to sit down and enjoy it for 5-10 minutes but soon two guys walked up to me, one wearing a police uniform and caring a 3 foot long wooden stick (their weapon of choice on the beach it seems). They asked me what I was doing and I said just enjoying the waves and the moonlight before heading to bed. Well, I guess this is not allowed! They claimed that I could be doing something illegal (smoking hash) and/or it’s dangerous for me to be alone as I could be mugged. “You must pay minor offence!” the non-uniformed man informed me: 500 rupees (about $12.50 CAD). It seemed all a bit dodgy as they weren’t writing it up so I was sure the money was just going into their pockets but I didn’t feel like pushing the issue for that amount of money...not worth a night in an Indian jail! A few days later, just before sunset, I saw two cops hassling a lady who was smoking (I think it was just a cigarette) and I could tell be the hand gestures and body language that they were trying to fine her but she wanted a written fine. In the end they gave up and resumed their beach patrol...good on ya lady...fight the power!

One of many beautiful sunsets:

The only buskers I've seen, I believe a sister duo but the younger one definitely had the harder job:

Knuffle Bunny relaxing:

Great rays:

This sunset looked like a nuclear explosion...virga surrounded by a dark ring of clouds:

Cows and dogs love the beach and the sunsets too:

Some nasty clouds that thankfully blew over:

Yet another sunset...

How easy time flies in Goa...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gotta Goa Paragliding

November 19th, 2010

I decided to go for a jog this morning to try and counteract all of the Kingfisher beers I’ve been consuming. It’s nice running along a sandy beach although this one’s fairly hard packed so it’s a bit tough on the shins, knees and calf muscles. Fantastic that after the run I just walk into the ocean to cool off.

After a shower I said hello to Raj at 2Pac but then noticed some wings in the air at the north end of the beach so I was off. It probably took close to an hour for me to get to launch. By this time the wings I had seen were long gone but I noticed a couple of tandem wings take off from a launch further north from my spot. This time I had no monkey spectators but a random local walking past stopped and even though he didn’t speak English, he was nice enough to help me reset my wing out after a couple of botched attempts. One failed launch was thanks to the fact that one of my leg straps decided to not only hold my leg but one of my testicles...youch! I’m surprised that doesn’t happen more often now that I think of it (not that I’m boasting that I have a lot there that can be’s more a question of the positioning of the straps!).

Once in the air I soared back and forth on the short ridge I was on to gain some height to cross over to a longer ridge where the tandems were, passing over a small lagoon lake on the way. The views of the beach, out to sea and even back over the relatively flat lands behind the coast were fabulous. I flew for about an hour, just gently cruising back and forth. I watched a student take off and made sure I gave him plenty of space.

The two tandems in flight (unfortunately I didn't get many pics in flight as I used my HD camera for most photos but the lens had fogged up on me):

I decided to see how far along the ridge to the north I could go. I passed the other takeoff and then the ridge no longer ran parallel to the coast but back at a 45 degree angle. With the wind coming straight in, the lift wasn’t going to be as good there but I expected that I should be able to maintain my height...well I was wrong. I was sinking and sinking. Time to find a new landing spot on this long, straight but narrow beach with a flat area filled with palm trees and a large temple behind it. I found a spot and landed fine on the sand, bundled up my paraglider and headed back to a semi-grassy area behind the trees and near the temple to pack the wing up. There were two of other young Russian pilots, I assume a couple, that landed there as well so I didn’t feel so bad. We chatted briefly and they had just come from Pokhara in Nepal, a place I plan on revisiting next month.

Flying at Arambol beach:

Looking back at the beach where I landed:

The middle beach (Keri):

I possibly could have tried hiking back up to the top of the nearby ridge and try and locate the other launch and use that to get closer to Arambol Beach but I decided I should pay the piper and walk back. While crossing over one of the headlands on a trail, I slid down a steep section and grazed my knee, thumb and heel of my hand. Nothing bad, but my knee was pretty red with blood. It probably took about an hour to get back to the Olive Garden and I was quite spent. Julie was there so we chatted a bit and then I headed off to take my paraglider back to my hut (which is probably another kilometre I sure got my exercise today!).

I headed to a restaurant/bar called Horizon about halfway back from my hut to the Olive Garden. I liked the look of their stepped restaurant looking out at the ocean with lying down tables first, then mid-height ones with relaxed chairs followed by proper dining tables. I also liked the look of their beach huts as they are all slightly raised above ground and have their own little porches directly facing the sea. I inquired and unfortunately they are 700 rupees a night (whereas I’m staying in a 400 rupee place and the huts at the Olive Garden, not on the beach, are only 300). Perhaps after my week at my current place is up I’ll consider treating myself to this place.

Sunset Tai Chi:

Beautiful cumis lit up by the setting sun:

A guy sitting at a nearby table came over and asked me about my laptop (I was busy blogging away). Turns out that Tyson and Jennifer are from Vancouver...the first Canadians I’ve run into here. Tyson teaches ESL (English as a second language) and Jennifer stages houses for sale and also teaches yoga. They were staying in these huts and they were happy with them, especially the porch, however the toilet had no toilet seat. What? Almost twice as much as my current abode, but no toilet seat. Hmm...I’ll have to weigh that in....porch looking out at the sea or toilet seat? Tough call...

Sunset waves:

And the sunset beer...

It was a relatively early night tonight as I was spent...super day in Goa!

Chillin’ in Goa

November 18th, 2010

I checked out of my room behind the German bakery and made the trek down to a place called 2Pac. I decided to make two trips with all of my gear in order to minimize the strain and realized it was a bit further down the beach than I remembered from yesterday...oh well, more exercise. The helpful young guy Raj was there again today (he showed me the huts yesterday) and I picked the one closest to the beach (which later turned out to be a mistake as they are constructing new huts right behind mine). I committed to a week and paid for it all (also a mistake, I probably could have paid for one night to see what it’s like and then decide...traveling lessons).

I had a pretty relaxed afternoon and eventually ended up at the Olive Garden (it’s becoming my second home). I chatted with the manager, Manu for a while and then a friend of his, Mehee, showed up with his chess board so I watched them battle it out. Manu won in the end but it was a good game.

Manu and Mehee battling it out:

I hung out on the beach in the evening reading my book by candlelight (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that my cousin Sid gave to me on leaving England). Later I caught up with the three remaining Norwegian women and it was the last night for both Sunniva and Caroline. They also had to get up at the ridiculous time of 4am so we all had a relatively early night. It sure was nice to meet the ladies.

Life's good!

Hayward's 5000 beer and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by candlelight...sweet.

Gettin’ Goa’in

November 17th, 2010

Not surprisingly after a 5am bedtime I didn’t get moving until after 11am. By the time I was ready to leave the room it was noon and upon opening my door, there was Alissa. She asked me if I’d decided to stay or not. Seeing as checkout time was at 12, I guess I’m staying another night. So I ventured out to walk down the beach and check out what accommodation options I could have for tomorrow. I said a quick hello to the five Norwegian ladies who were hanging out on the chaise lounges in front of the Olive Garden. I walked about a kilometre down the beach and inquired at a few beach hut places. Prices ranged from 400 rupees (if you stayed a week) to 1300 rupees (and I couldn’t see why...although I didn’t even look in this expensive one). I felt satisfied and figured I’d probably take the 400 rupee option.

Looking towards the promontory on Arambol Beach:

The view south:

Upon walking back to the Olive Garden restaurant, I hung out on the chaise lounges with the girls and mostly chatted to Karina while Sunniva read her book and Marta, or should I say “Queen Marta” seemed to have 2 or 3 locals around her at all times; either selling her some jewellery, giving her a foot massage or a manicure. Can’t blame her...when in Rome!

After a small bite to eat, I noticed a paraglider flying on the other side of the promontory at the north end of the beach. Time to go. I grabbed my wing and trekked off to try and locate the takeoff. As I reached the base of the hill, another pilot was walking the other way having finished flying. I asked him how it was and where the takeoff was. I believe his accent was Russian but I’m no expert at accents. He told me the route up and it sounded simple: “Take the stairs after the green restaurant, up to the flag at the point, then back up along the ridge until you get to a lake.” “Lake?” I wondered...I can’t imagine that there’d be a lake up there but I started the ascent of the 100-150 meter high hill.

The view of the beach was gorgeous as I began to gain some altitude. So far, so good. But then I began to lose the path here and there. It was tough to know what was a human path and what was made by some other animal (yes, humans are animals!). I was never really lost as I knew where the ocean was but I could tell that I was heading to far inland for the location of the launch. I began to backtrack and at this point I was tired of the odd thistle in a toe so I decided to change from my flip flops to my hiking boots...bad idea. The socks attracted the barbs and burrs even more as all types of plant matter stuck to my ankles.

The view while hiking up to launch:

The beach north of Arambol (Keri I believe):

By chance I came across this older man, Mardu, setting up to launch (his name sounds Indian but that’s his local name, he’s originally from Denmark). He’s the local tandem and instructor guy who’s been here the last 17 years but I must admit, I’m not sure if I’d want to have lessons from him...he reminded me of Chong from the Cheech & Chong movies!

He did give me a bit of a briefing of the site (always good, even from Chong) and thought that we may not stay up long as the late afternoon wind was starting to die down. He took off and quickly skirted around the promontory to go and land on Arambol beach as there wasn’t enough lift. So I had the option to walk down or try to fly myself...might as well fly, that’s why I’m lugging this damn thing around the world!

While setting up, there was some rustling in the bushes. More rustling that a bird can produce (except maybe an emu...but they don’t have them here). Then I saw him, a big monkey of some sort, actually there were a couple of them but only one sat up in a tree and attentively watch me get set up and then, a first for me.

Try and spot the monkey in the tree...pretty difficult (he's a bit to the right of center, above the black spot of my paraglider and the bright green by the trunk of the tree):

The flight was very quick, maybe 30 seconds. I also cruised around the promontory and curled in behind it to set up for a landing on the beach. I probably should have headed further down the beach to avoid a bit of the mild rotor but the landing was good so no worries. First flight in India! I packed up and walked back to my room. Hopefully the next flight will be a bit longer.

I headed to the Olive Garden for a post flight beer and found Marta there, working on a paper for her course as she received a Henna tattoo. There was a gorgeous sunset with a couple of young women practicing their hippie sports of spinning stick and poys.

Marta getting her Henna tattoo:

I liked the reflection through the glass ball on the woman's head:

Nice sunset!

I had dinner with the Norwegian ladies and the cards came out yet again however since Karina and Marta were leaving to the airport at 4am, the night wasn’t as crazy as the one before although they were the last two of the girls to stay up (past midnight). I hung out and chatted with some of the young 20 something guys who work at the restaurant, specifically Ram, Ashish and Sanju. All of them come from the north, near Manali, and just work down here for 4-5 months of the year...nice guys...I’m sure I’ll be hanging out with them again.

Sunniva enjoying her fancy drink:

Caroline and Julie:

A big stick bug...tried to put my hand in the pic for perspective:

Marta dealing:

The Norwegian ladies (from left to right): Sunniva, Marta, Caroline, Karina and Julie