Monday, January 31, 2011

Colourful Characters

January 19th, 2011

While traveling it is inevitable that you will encounter a myriad of different people from many walks of life. You make connections with some and merely pass by others. Some are instant friends while others take some time and energy before a bond is forged.

One man that I met, Robby from Belgium, struck me instantly as a friendly fellow. The short, thickset, shirtless bald man approached me one afternoon as I sat plucking away on my laptop at a table in the Olive Garden. He had heard that I was from Canada and wanted to inquire about work opportunities in my home country. Robby is a tiler by trade and the industry is still in some turmoil back in northern Europe so he’s investigating other options.

Love the hat Robby:

Me and Robby:

Over the next 3-4 weeks, I spent more and more time with Robby and his oddly matched roommate Merv, a kite surfer and dock worker also from Belgium. The only reason I say oddly is that they just didn’t look like two guys you’d expect to see hanging out together. Robby: short, stocky, bald – Merv: tall, long hair, mustache. Mallory affectionately called them like Asterix and Obelix (from those French cartoon books). The bond...simple: lifelong friends of over 40 years.

Robby enjoying a "Hello to the Queen" dessert:

Robby with his groupies, Mallory and Rewa:

Robby is a budding comedian...or at least I think he thinks so. He is a master of corny one liners and longer jokes that cause one to groan involuntarily. Some were obviously canned jokes while he was also able to craft new ones on the spur of the moment. The more times I heard his deadpan delivery, the funnier I found him. I’d like to share a few of his comedic moments although without Robby driving the punch line home, this will not do it justice.

- “I once had a dog that died because he thought too much...he thought he was going to get fed.”
- “I only go to male dentists. When I’m in the chair before he starts, I can hold his balls and say ‘We’re not going each other are we?’”
- Someone had one of those metal head massage tools at the table in the restaurant and a few people tried it. It was passed to Robby and he stated “I tried it once and it got stuck, so they had to cut my hair off...”
- “Dave likes plain rice...because he likes to fly.”
- “I once had an accident where I broke all of my fingers. The doctor worked on them and later said ‘I have good news, your fingers will be alright and you’ll be able to play the piano.’ But I never played the piano before...”
- Robby is missing part of his pinky finger. We asked him one day how it happened. I inquired whether it was from work and he said “Yes, it was work related, I didn’t want to go so I cut it off...”

Robby and Merv outside their home:

Sending him off:

Enjoy your travels Robby and thanks for the laughs!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The British Invasion

January 16th, 2011

Back in the early summer in southern France I befriended some English paraglider pilots and we ended up traveling for a week together, hitting numerous flying sites as we headed north towards the Swiss border. We connected again in September in St. Hillaire to attend the Coupe Icare free flying festival and this is where they introduced me to Deano, another Englishman who has been in Goa for the last five weeks. Alex, Kester and Gans (his real name is Ian but from his thick Newcastlian accent he obtained this nickname as instead of saying “I’m gone” he says “Us gans”) are planning on traveling through India and Nepal for the next 2-3 months, primarily to hit paragliding sites.

They arrived one morning after taking an overnight bus from Mumbai and after some breakfast (more like a brunch) we hiked up to the main launch with our wings hoping to get in a flight. Conditions were decent but not epic but by the end of the afternoon everyone had taken to the air. It was great to fly with these guys again.

The boys up on launch:

Alex kiting:

Kes really likes his helmet...

Flying by Kes and Gans:

We stopped at a restaurant bar called the Dolphin View for a post flight beer. While we were sitting chatting, looking out over the beach and ocean, we saw a paraglider come around the corner from the area known as the “bowl” and he was very low. We watched intently as we all questioned whether he would make it to the beach...and he didn’t. He splashed into the ocean, thankfully missing some nearby jagged rocks. Landing in water with a paraglider can be quite dangerous as the harness can act as a life jacket, which is good, but it is a preserver that is attached to your back and butt and may force your head under water...which is of course bad. Additionally, it is very easy for a pilot to get limbs knotted up in the lines of the paraglider which is being pulled to and fro by the waves. The boys (Alex, Kester, Gans and Deano) raced down the beach but we could already see that there were others helping out. Thankfully the pilot, a Russian, was okay and they were able to retrieve the equipment too.

The post flight beer:

The boys returning from their rescue attempt:

That evening we hit a restaurant called Oasis that Deano recommended for some seafood. We met up with a French friend of theirs, Bertrand, and a German woman he had just met in the last few days, Ute. Almost everyone ordered fresh fish while Gans did not hold back. He splashed out by ordering a huge lobster and some large prawns which set him back 1600 rupees ($35) which is a king’s meal here (one can eat for as cheap as 60 rupees and by contrast my red snapper meal was 350 rupees)....and he was not disappointed although he did suffer some tummy troubles over the next few days but it wasn’t necessarily from this meal.

Our lovely seafood choices:

Gans getting personal with his lobster:

After dinner we ventured down the beach to a party place called Coco Loco for a few drinks and laughs. The night got a bit messy when a couple of bottles of Royal Stag whiskey somehow made it onto our table and I think a few of the guys were feeling a little worse for wear the next day.

Post Royal Stag:

The conditions for flying were pretty weak over the next few days but the three guys didn’t mind so much as they were getting their beach fill...but as quickly as they had arrived, they were off again, heading up to a place called Panchgani (which means Five Hills) to do some thermal flying. It was great to see them again and I’m sure it won’t be the last time...the paragliding world can be quite small at times.

Travel and fly safe boys!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rewa, Mallory and Jon Move On

January 13th, 2010

It’s inevitable that you make friends while traveling, especially when you’re by yourself. Some are just brief encounters where you learn their name and where they’re from and perhaps have a few conversations while others become your traveling companions for days, weeks or perhaps even months.

Jon hails from England and he spent over a month in Arambol, staying in the same set of huts where I’ve been. I immediately hit is off with this 23 year old who is well mature beyond his young age. I admired his constantly happy disposition and his philosophy of always having a “sunset beer”. We discovered a sports bar that shows Premier League football matches and serves up a really good beef burger which in a country where the cow is sacred, it is difficult to find. Jon taught me a lot about football as I was not aware of many of the nuances of the sport. For me, I was just trying to satiate my thirst for pro ice hockey which I do miss.

Jon with one of his favourite Olive Garden workers Ashish:

My next door neighbours for a few weeks were a pair of young New Zealand ladies (well, not as young as Jon), Rewa and Mallory. Rewa works in costume design for television shows back in her home country while Mallory is making her way to London to see what work she can find there to continue her travels.

The lovely Kiwis:

Jon ended up staying much longer than he expected to in Arambol and I think the ladies extended their stay a bit too...this place has that effect on people. Finally they decided that it was time to move on with their destination being Hampi, a place with many temples and interesting rock formations. We had a bit of a party for their last night which began outside of our huts and continued on in the Olive Garden.

The four of us shared many dinners, card games and laughs together. I wish them the best in their future travels and hopefully our paths will cross again someday.

A rousing game of "Presidency" (aka A*%hole):

Jon suffering from one of Mallory's rules...having to drink beer through a straw:

The front line men at the Olive Garden: Ram and Pinku...great guys...not terribly relevant to this post but I love the pic!

Rewa, Mallory, Me and Jon on the beach in front of the Olive Garden:

The last night party outside our huts:

The girls decided to prank Robby by purchasing the same "It's Better in Goa" t-shirts that he's been wearing:

The final goodbyes:

Happy travels guys!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cruising North Goa: Trees, Forts and Beaches

January 10th, 2011

A group of four of us: myself, Englishman Jon and the New Zealand women, Rewa and Mallory, who are staying in the hut next to me, decided to rent a couple of motor scooters to tour around some of north Goa. I wanted to show them the big banyan tree (the biggest and oldest in Goa) that I visited with Zohar back in December. Around midday, we walked to the same place where I had rented a scooter before for only 150 rupees a day but now the going rate was 300! Even though we’re only talking a couple of dollars difference we were all taken back a bit and decided on principle to go somewhere else. The next spot wanted 500! Eventually we located a couple of bikes for only 250 but it did cost us about half an hour of wandering around.

Live to ride...ride to live...

Cruising by a large field:

Jon and I were on one bike while Mallory drove with Rewa on the back. Mallory loved riding which was obvious by the omnipresent smile on her face. We cruised along some nice curvy and hilly roads en route to the small town of Pernem and then moved on to the big banyan tree at Parcem. I ran into Deepak, the man who invited Zohar and me into his home the last time I was here. We chatted briefly but didn’t go into his house this time. There was a cute little puppy sniffing around as we prepared a small picnic. We tossed him the odd potato chip which he happily gobbled up. A truck came driving by and stopped beside us. I tried to pull the puppy closer to us but it frightened him and he lurched backwards right under the front tire of the truck. Quickly Jon yelled to the driver and we pulled the dog out of harm’s way...whew.

The lady bikers:

Warning: Objects appear much closer than they are...

Jon and I are starting our own gang...

The happy Kiwis:

The girls riding:

The river near Pernem:

The big banyan tree:

The rice has grown a lot since I was here in December:

Rewa's impression of a monkey:

Having lunch:

Mallory was itching to get back on the bikes so we headed off towards Vagator Beach and Fort Chapora. There was a bit of a sobering sight as we neared the fort. On a side road there were a couple of scooters lying in the middle of the road and a blonde foreigner woman lying in the recovery position with someone tending to her. There were a number of people already at the scene so we decided to carry on although about half a kilometre later we spotted a police car on the side of the road so Jon told them of the incident and they headed back to help out...nice work Jon!

Jon getting the lead out:

We parked the bikes part way up the hill at Fort Chapora and began to hike up the barren hill. The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1617 and although it was heavily fortified it was captured several times. I read that on one occasion the Portuguese captain of the fort decided to surrender stemming from the fact, if legend is to be believed, from the manner in which the invading forces managed to breach the fort’s defences: it’s said that they clung tight to tenacious one and a half meter long monitor lizards who were easily able to scale the rocky walls!

Hiking up to the fort:

Looking north towards Morjim Beach:

Rewa wall walking:

Looking down to Vagator Beach:

Rewa jumping in the entrance...and Jon got the pic on the first try!

We soaked in the views, snapped a few pics and then headed back to the scooters to cruise down to Vagator Beach for a swim and a drink before riding back just in time to catch sunset back in Arambol (Jon’s a firm believer in the “sunset beer” concept).

Englishman Paul kiting around sunset:

That night there was some festival happening at a nearby temple. It had actually started with some pretty nasty canned music at nine in the morning before we set off scootering. In the evening the music was interspersed with the odd explosion of fireworks and the occasional diatribe by some guy on a loudspeaker. Although he spoke in Hindi I could pick out that it was “Thanks this” and “Thanks for that”. I decided to check out what all of the commotion was about. The temple was colourfully decorated with flashing strings of light. People milled about, looking at stalls selling cheap toys and trinkets. There was a procession of people led by a bicycle that had a big loudspeaker mounted on the front, a battery pack in the back and a man playing a small keyboard. The bicycle looked like it had been stolen from the Whos in Whoville (from “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”). After about ten minutes I returned to my hut. The festival continued until 5 or 6 in the morning but thankfully my earplugs were able to drown it out.

The temple:

The festival at the local temple:

The awesome bike:

The bicycle music train:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Muddy Waters

January 6th, 2011

The wind was howling off shore so paragliding didn’t look like it would be in the cards today (we need wind coming from the ocean in order to take off and stay flying above the ridges). Mallory and Rewa were heading over to Sweet Lake to go and bathe in the mud. I had seen some people caked in dried mud before, namely Israeli Tal and the old man Han from the Netherlands. Supposedly the mud’s minerals do wonders for your skin. Jon and I were going to catch up to them but got side tracked by a game of chess where he thoroughly crushed me.

By the time we reached the Sweet Lake beach, the girls were walking towards us and had finished their muddy experience. Rewa explained that it wasn’t so much “mud bathing” as “mud scraping and smearing”. Jon and I hiked passed the small lake on a trail that led into the jungle. I had flown over this area numerous times but hadn’t checked it out by land. After about by ten minutes we reached the small stream where small pockets of white-yellowish mud can be found. Both being mud bathing virgins, we took the advice from others and began using rocks to scrap off the mud while mixing in a bit of water. It turned out to be a fair amount of work but eventually we had enough of the concoction and began to spread it on our skin. Thankfully we are both secure enough in our masculinity to be able to smear the mud on each other’s backs with only the occasional chuckle!

Scraping the mud:

Getting muddied up:

A couple of deer in headlights:

Jon meditating but I was more reminded of "Apocalypse Now":

Drying out:

Consternated Pillsbury dough boy?

We sat and baked in what little sunlight was poking through the foliage. For best results you’re supposed to wait for at least an hour for the minerals to soak into your skin. More people began to arrive including a funny somewhat chubby family from Liverpool. Once dried, we rubbed off the caked on mud to leave a white, talcum powder feeling substance. We decided not to bathe in the slow flowing river pools but hiked back to Sweet Lake to wash off followed by a Frisbee chucking session.

My superhero pose...not sure who I fight with my soft skin powers...

Freaky Jon:

I've got some socks on:

Jon's super hero look:

It definitely made my skin feel softer but I don’t see myself heading back there day after day as some do. To each their own...