Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fire on Arambol Beach

November 15, 2011

This afternoon I was walking along one of Arambol’s back roads towards the beach when a huge cloud of dark smoke billowed through the trees. A foreigner behind me remarked “That’s a big fire!” Burning garbage is common in India but that has got to be a lot of garbage I thought. As I reached the main road the scene was a bit frantic. People were pushing motorbikes and scooters up the lane. A shopkeeper was tearing down the highly flammable weaved palm tree awning from above his storefront. A man was instructing a foreigner to pour water on her balcony. I looked down the road and could not see the beach just 30 metres away due to the thick smoke. An Indian yelled at a foreigner for taking a photo just as I had contemplated to do the same. There was a definite feeling of panic in the air.

I took a small alley and then a shortcut out to the beach and backtracked to see what was happening. A large crowd of tourists, both Indian and foreign, along with many locals were standing around looking on with curiosity, awe and shock at a recently erected beach restaurant, the Morningstar, that was engulfed in smoke. By this time the flames were pretty much out and the threat of it spreading to the permanent buildings behind it had dwindled. The place must have gone up like a matchbox with all of its dried palm weaved panels and dried palm fronds on the roof.

Arriving on the scene:

I snapped a few pics but then felt pretty useless. Of the few hundred people standing around watching, only about a dozen were doing anything about it. Sure, the main threat had gone but the sooner the remaining fire and hot spots were put out, the sooner the smoke would stop covering the nearby buildings that I’m sure suffered some smoke damage. I found a bucket under a sun bed, scooped some water out of a nearby pool from a small stream that empties onto the beach and poured it on the smouldering wood of the collapsed structure. I continued shuttling buckets of water back and forth for about 20 minutes along with others who would occasionally relieve me of my bucket and I would do the same with others. A few more people joined in including one of my favourite servers in Arambol, Johnny from the Om Star restaurant.

There was lots of smoke:

Smoky fire:

The restaurant shack is completely gone:

As the last flames were extinguished, guess who showed up? Of course, the firemen! Just in time guys. This incident made me realize how poor Arambol’s firefighting ability really is. Had the fire spread into the main building by the beach, who knows what would have happened? Later I was shown by the manager of 21 Coconuts Restaurant the three holes he got in his thatched roof from bits of flames jumping over. Luckily he had some guys on the roof to put these out.

The flames are pretty much out:

The fire truck finally arrives:

By this time, there wasn’t much for the firemen to extinguish (they're the ones with the yellow helmets):

The fire had decimated the restaurant in about 20 minutes. I read in the newspaper that the owner claims it cost him 6.75 lakhs, which is 675,000 rupees or about $13,500. The cause: faulty wiring hook-up to a refrigerator. The owner was planning his official season opening for the next day...d’oh!

I was surprised when that evening and the next morning I had six different Indian people, three of whom I didn’t know, remark to me that they saw me helping to put out the fire. I didn’t feel like I had done much but I guess it was more than most.

The next day I walked by the site around lunchtime and was amazed to see that the area had already been cleaned of all fire damage. In less than two weeks a new restaurant was constructed and the Morningstar Restaurant’s season officially opened...impressive.

The next day:

And back in business less than 2 weeks later:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Anjuna Beach

November 9th, 2011

A few days ago I had a nice paragliding flight at Arambol Beach and landed at the Olive Garden as I have done many times before. What was unusual was that upon landing, not only did the last note of a Red Hot Chilli Peppers song hit just as my foot touched the ground, but I received a small round of applause from sunbathers lying and sitting on sun beds. First time that’s happened. Then a woman approached me at it happened to be a fellow Canadian, Brittany, whom I’d met here last season. Not only is she a fellow Canadian but lives in a suburb city of Edmonton, 30 kilometres from where I grew up.

I sat down and had a beer with her and her three Swedish traveling companions as we watched the sun set and joked about the “moon” rising (there was a woman performing yoga in front of us in a bikini and a short dress...invoking some funny remarks by all). There were brother and sister, Jonas and Ellen, and another compatriot they met during their trip, a bleach blonde haired guy named Pelle. All of them are in their 20s and very friendly.

Over the next few days we enjoyed some dinners, hanging on the beach and swimming in Sweet Lake. A plan was hatched to go to the famous Wednesday Anjuna market including staying over for a night and they asked if I would like to join them. Sure why not? Strangely the only other time I’ve been to the Anjuna market was back in February with Naomi and the Swedish couple Martin and Ida. What’s with Swedes taking me to shop? And it’s not IKEA!

I rented a scooter as did Pelle. Brittany and Jonas both preferred motorbikes and Ellen took turns riding with Jonas or Pelle. Having the best knowledge of the local roads, I led our little convoy on the half hour ride down to Anjuna.

Gassing up:

Looks like a cock fight, but not much happened:

We first had lunch then sorted out our accommodation before hitting the market. I had one or two items I was looking for but in the end only bought a baseball cap for the server Ram at the Olive Garden which he requested when he heard I was going. More interesting than looking at the myriad of products laid out were some of the shoppers. One Russian woman wore a pink mesh dress over a bikini along with some big leather boots...oh dear.

In the market:

Brittany with one big sandal:

The shopping spree lasted all of 45 minutes before Brittany and I ran off to a beachside restaurant to have a drink. I had heard through a friend that Elvis might be in the building later. No, not the real king but a guitarist named Elvis Lobo who has supposedly been ranked as the best guitarist in Asia. Sure enough, over an hour later there was finally some movement of tables to make an area for some musicians to play. Elvis was on electric guitar while another guy Cliff was on an acoustic one...and they rocked. They were absolutely incredible and well worth the wait. Pelle and Ellen joined us for the entertainment too.

Brittany enjoying a beer after the “hard” shopping:

And so am I:

A young girl tightrope walking:

Now she’s upping the ante, adding a wheel:

I like the kid’s shirt behind Pelle:

Surrounded by Kingfisher products:

After a couple of hours we headed back to our guesthouse to find Jonas and sort out our dinner and evening plans. In the end we headed to a wifi cafe run by an Indian guy that Brittany knew from last season. Sitting on beanbag chairs, we enjoyed some snacks and beverages while getting to know a couple of guys from the far away state of Gujarat in the northwest of India. Gujarat is a dry state although they did say that they do consume some alcohol in their homes but it’s a definte no-no out in public so they come all the way down to Goa each year (takes a couple of days by train) just for the relaxed liquor laws.

Eating and drinking in the wifi cafe:

Our new Indian friends:

There were big plans to go out to a nightclub but moving 5-6 people who have had a few drinks is like herding cats...and in the end we just hung out on the beach but it sure was a fun evening. The next day we had breakfast by the beach, ice cream at Baskin-Robbins and then hopped back on the bikes to head to Arambol.

Pelle and Brittany the morning after:

And the other side of the table is doing about as well:

Pelle’s bike was hungover wouldn’t start:

Brittany was itching to go...

It was a fun little excursion but I don’t think I’ll be shopping in the market again anytime too soon but do hope to see Elvis and Cliff play again.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Old Goa

October 28th, 2011

I decided to visit a place in Goa that I haven’t been to (yes, there are still a few). Old Goa is located 10 kilometres east of the Goan capital of Panjim so it was about a 45 minute scooter ride from Arambol. Old Goa has a rich but sad history. Malaria, cholera and other diseases decimated the once glorious city...oh, and add to that a bit of Inquisition and you’ve definitely got a recipe for fun. From its peak of 200,000 inhabitants in the mid 1500s it dwindled to 1,500 in the late 1700s and it was abandoned in 1835. The capital of the region was relocated to Panjim where breakouts of disease were less frequent.

Old Goa is on the banks of the Mandovi River and I decided to start there, by the Viceroy Arch. This is probably how the majority of the residents and visitors arrived back in the city’s heyday. It was erected by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s grandson who himself was a viceroy so naturally there’s a small statue of his grandfather. If you recall from an early post, Vasco was a celebrated explorer but a bit of a nasty man as he cut off the ears and lips of a priest suspected to be a spy and then attached dog ears to his head!

The Viceroy Arch:

Vasco da Gama on the arch:

A ferry boat on the Mandovi River:

A hundred meters up the road known as “Rua Direita” (direct street) I found the first of four churches I would visit. It was the Church of St. Cajetan who was a contemporary of the more well known St. Francis Xavier (we’ll get to him more in a minute). St. Cajetan was known for his work in hospitals with “incurables” and being upstanding against the increasingly corrupt Roman Catholic Church. It was constructed by Italian friars and happens to be the only domed church left in Goa. The grounds outside were lovely and the church didn’t disappoint either. My guidebook told me that it was perhaps the least interesting church in the area but in the end it might have been my favourite. And I’m glad I used the guidebook as I might have missed a peculiar painting in the church. The scene has St. Cajetan lying back on some bed while he is being breastfed by an angel about 10 feet away with incredible accuracy! Very strange...

The grounds outside St. Cajetan Church:

St. Cajetan Church:

The main altar:

The “immaculate breast feeding” painting, it will be tough for you to see it but believe me, there’s a nice arcing stream of milk:

The church to myself:

I walked up to the main area where three big houses of worship are located. Number two on my church itinerary was Se Cathedral. At over 76 metres long and 55 metres wide, it’s supposedly the largest church in Asia (don’t be lying now Lonely Planet!). Construction began in 1562 but wasn’t finished until 1619 and the altars weren’t completed until 1652...90 years later...this isn’t the pyramids guys! The outside of the church looks a bit lopsided with one tall steeple on the left and I thought that that was just the design. It turns out that a lightning strike took out the right steeple in 1776 and they never rebuilt it. The remaining tower houses a bell known as “Sino de Ouro” or “Golden Bell” which is also supposedly the largest in Asia and is renowned for its rich tone, but I wasn’t too impressed. It is chilling to think that this bell rang out during the Inquisition’s trials of faith that took place here.

Se Cathedral from afar:

Now close up:

With its missing tower from a lightning strike:

Inside Se Cathedral:

The main altar:

I thought the baby doll’s dress was a bit odd:

The church bell ringing:

Right next door was the Church of St. Francis which is no longer used for worship. There was a roped off walkway that circled around the inside of the church that was adorned with many paintings and sculptures with a maritime theme. I spent all of 5 minutes in this place. Next.

Inside St. Francis Church...didn’t really take a pic of the outside:

The adjoining convent has been converted into an archaeological museum. For a whole 10 rupees (25 cents) entrance fee I decided to give it a gander. There was one cool large bronze statue of some dude but otherwise not much to note of to me. Upstairs were many paintings of former rulers which reminded me of the Dutch Palace back in Fort Kochi in Kerala.

A courtyard in the Archaeological Museum:
Out on the main grounds where three of the main churches are located:

Okay, by this point I was getting churched out but there was one more I wanted to hit: the Basilica of Bom Jesus. No, not for its name...nor the fact I would be visiting my second of only eight basilicas in India...but for the fact that it has St. Francis Xavier’s mummified body on display. I don’t know much about this guy but I do know that there’s a university in eastern Canada named after him. If he’s buried here and is known back there...this guy got around.

He was born in Spain in 1506 and he went on many spiritual missions to spread the Jesuit faith. Today it can be challenging traveling around India...I can’t imagine what it was like back then! He died of a fever on a small island on his way to China in 1552 but somehow his body ended up in Old Goa a few years later. Not sure why he’s been put in a glass coffin either but it was high up on a pedestal and you couldn’t actually see him. I guess they take him down once every ten years to parade him around on the streets, the next time being in 2014. They have to be careful though as in the past, someone bit off his little toe to keep it as a relic and his right forearm went temporarily missing too. Poor guy.

Basilica Bom Jesus:

The front of the basilica:

I love the second rule one must abide by when entering this basilica!

Inside the basilica:

The main altar...I think I’ve had enough of these for one day...

St. Francis Xavier’s resting at the top behind some glass:

A photo of a photo of the mummified saint:

After all this church business, I needed something to counterbalance it and what could be better than “Wax World”. Yes, a cheap, Indian version of Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London. As my guidebook stated: “If you’re a fan of kooky representations of obscure historical figures, look no further.” I’m surprised the book said “obscure” as we did have Gandhi and Jesus in the house. Almost as good as the strange statues was the air conditioning relief inside the museum...well worth the $1 admission fee.

A roundabout with a nice Gandhi statue:

Just 100 meters away from his statue in the street, here’s Gandhi in Wax World:

Dinner Party!

The Last Supper:

And the famous scene of the manger:

After all this I was spent so I hopped back on my bike and cruised back to Arambol. A good day out sightseeing.

On the road back:

Scootering back:

Nearing Panjim:

Some “safe” electrical work going on back in Arambol. The power was turned off everywhere and every pole had a guy precariously perched doing some work.