Friday, March 25, 2011

My Hospital Stay in Wai

March 12th-23rd, 2011

I ended up staying in the small hospital, called Geetanjeli, in the town Wai (remember, pronounced “why”...the irony of that kept creeping back into my head) for 11 days! When I injured my back five years ago paragliding I fractured 2 vertebrae but I never even stayed overnight in the hospital so this was a bit of a surprise.

The first night I slept fairly well, all things considered, but perhaps part of the credit goes to painkillers. My room was right next to the intensive care unit so unfortunately Natalie and I could hear the incessant beeping of medical equipment monitoring some patient’s vitals. It was reassuring to have Natalie stay overnight seeing as I couldn’t move much so she fetched things for me such as medication and water. Strangely the nurses will write a prescription for you but not actually bring the medication and the pharmacy is part of the same building but you have to go outside to go to it...which was a wee bit difficult for me at this juncture.

English Dave first showed up early in the morning having ridden down from Panchgani on his motorbike. Dave and Natalie went out to retrieve some food supplies and I was mildly surprised when they returned with coconuts as part of their bounty!

The cavalry arrives with coconuts!

Why are we posing like this?...

Natalie mentioned that I could upgrade to the “deluxe room” which really meant that it was air conditioned and had a TV, for only 300 more rupees (under $7) per night! Of course, why not? So a wheelchair was brought to my room and I gingerly, and painfully, got out of bed and into the chair. They wheeled my just 10 meters down the hallway and then there seemed to be a problem...a big set of stairs. What, no elevator? Come on Dave, of course not, this is India! Well there was an elevator of sorts but this one was not manufactured by Otis!

Because they're my elevator of course!

Arriving in my new "deluxe" room:

The new room was decent. I was impressed that I had not only a remote control for the TV but one for the air conditioning unit that was mounted above the window which looked out upon some sad looking concrete apartment blocks. However, not so well thought out was the fact that there was no light by my bed nor were the switches for the main light nearby; they were located by the door. The call button for the nurse was on the opposite side of the room, under the window although I was given a phone and could reach them in that manner. Equally baffling was that there was a fan on the ceiling with the on/off switch by the door and the dial to control the speed was across the room, again under the window...who wired up this place?

My new room:

Getting settled in:

My first coconut milk in India:

Much to my surprise, and delight, there was a standard western toilet in the bathroom, but no shower or bath. I could ask to have a bucket of hot water brought in but for the first few days it was easier to be a bit stinky than attempt to wash...however, eventually ,with a bit of help, I did wash in order to feel human again.

Surprisingly there were no food services either. I guess it is just assumed that your family will come and stay with you and take care of this, um, minor detail. For the first three days I relied on my new friends from the Eco Camp to stock me up with snacks and sandwiches but unfortunately Natalie, Dave and Olivier all headed north to Himachal Pradesh (a marathon 40+ hour train journey), so then I was reliant on Andre, the owner of the Eco Camp, and he’s a busy guy so I didn’t expect he could make the trip down to Wai every day although there was only one day the rest of my hospital stay that he did not appear. It is a bit humbling to all of a sudden be dependent on people that you have just met and hardly know...and I can’t thank them enough.

For two dinners I was able to order a hot meal through Amol, a nice, bearded fellow who I think played some kind of administrative role in the hospital. Both times it was the same soupy chicken curry in a bowl with rice on the side. The first time was only on day 3 for me and I still was lying horizontal and fairly immobile. The plate was passed to me and I noticed there was no cutlery. Amol asked, “Oh, do you really need a spoon?” Okay, now I know I’m in India and it’s normal to eat with your right hand...but come on, a soupy curry while lying down in a hospital bed!?!

My CT scans...check out my name!

Getting fitted with a lumbar belt:

Much to my chagrin, every morning, at 6:30am, a woman would come in, turn on my light and proceed to sweep my room. This seemed a bit odd to me. Why did this need to be done this early? Especially in a room occupied by a patient who can hardly get out of bed?!?

There were a number of “nursing techniques” I just had to laugh and shake my head at too. For instance, I had a pee bottle that I used for the first 4-5 days. No nurse ever emptied it...again, it was assumed that I would have family or friends there to take care of it. One evening, Dr. Kaddu, the head doctor and I believe owner of the hospital, came in with another doctor and a couple of nurses to check on me. While speaking with the doctors, I hadn’t noticed that one of the nurses had in fact picked up my pee bottle, but hadn’t emptied it, she simply took it from the small table by my bed (where it was conveniently located) and placed it across the room, in the corner on the floor...damn! I had to get up and retrieve it!

The nurses would often come in, check up on me and then leave without closing the door too which kind of defeated the purpose of having the air conditioning plus it was much noisier. I would often yell to try and get their attention but many times I just resigned myself to getting up and closing it myself (at least near the end of my stay when getting up wasn’t so painful).

English Dave and Swiss Olivier stop by en route north on their motorbikes:

Dr. Kaddu was a bit of an interesting character: a balding man in his 50s with glasses and sporting some well kept ear hair that grew along the full curvature of his ear that was trimmed to an even centimetre’s length...and often distracting. He was a very nice guy but could definitely do with practicing his listening skills. Numerous times I found myself repeating the same thing and they would fall on deaf ears (perhaps this hair was playing some role). Thankfully he often had a female doctor, Dr. Ingulkar, with him and she would eventually get my point across to him by saying it in Maharathi (the local dialect).

After the first few days I started to have an incessant headache. It wasn’t a migraine or anything super strong but it just wouldn’t stop, from morning to night, and nothing I took would help it. I was sure that it wasn’t dehydration as I was drinking lots of water. I wondered whether just the impact of my crash could have caused it but then you would think that it would have started from day 1. I mentioned it to the doctors and they had all kinds of suggestions for its cause: too much using of my computer (aw, come on, I used to work on these things 8 hours a day for 13 years!), too much TV, too much reading, too many pillows... I think it came down to a side effect from the meds I was taking and/or too hard of a pillow. Lying there for 24 hours a day for many days in a row, your body is not going to like it. I also developed some chest pains behind my lower right ribs which I think was my liver complaining about the meds too.

By day 4, I was constipated. A normal situation considering I was continually horizontal and my body had gone through some trauma. I was provided with some laxative and I had to laugh at the drug’s name: Evict! Almost as good was the name of the initial pain killer I had on the first few days which was a suppository...called, wait for it....”Just In”!

The infamous laxative...Evict!

My room...getting a bit messier:

Just a week before coming up to Panchgani I had purchased a USB modem to be able to access the Internet wherever I could get a cell signal. Indians are crazy about their cell phones and towers are almost everywhere (and cell phone usage is very cheap) but surprisingly it didn’t work in the hospital. I could connect but the data transfer rate was so slow that a web page would not fully render. So instead, while battling this ceaseless headache, I watched a lot of TV. There were over 50 channels but of this only 7 were in English, 3 of which were sports, 3 movie channels and one, strangely, was “Turbo”, Discovery’s automotive channel (read: lots of mechanic shows about making hot rod bikes). Never in my whole life have I, or will I again, watch so much cricket! (the world cup of cricket is on right now) I can kind of see why people like the game but I have a difficult time getting over a sport where you can be watching it, take a nap, watch a movie, and come back to the game and not much has happened!

Thankfully I have a cell phone (thanks Deano!) and I was able to talk and text with family during this time as it means a lot to have their love and support. My Internet connection started to work near the end of the week and amazingly enough I was even able to Skype (with video) to my family...awesome! It was nice to be able to surf the net to...albeit at a snail’s pace.

One evening I was talking to my friend Naomi in Israel and my door opened up and three young kids, a boy and two girls aged about 12, 8 and 6, came into my room and just stood there staring at me for about ten minutes as I continued to talk to Naomi. At first I found this a bit annoying but I think i was at my wit’s end with this headache, the longest I’ve ever had in my life. They asked, in minimal English, mostly gestures, whether they could have some food. Even though I wasn’t eating much at this stage, I guarded my little horde of cookies, crackers, an apple and some chocolate with my life as I didn’t know when I might get some more. The kids soon left but returned the following night and this time I was up to engaging them more and ended up offering them my chocolate. I wasn’t quite sure why they were in the hospital this much but I guessed that it was to visit a sick family member.

Looking down at the hospital foyer:

Near the end of my stay, I finally ventured outside as I needed to buy some bottled water. I thought I would just have to go to the pharmacy attached to the building but it seems as though I had run this guy dry. Looks like I’ll have to walk over to the bus station to one of the vendors there. I had initially been fitted with a lumbar belt but now they had ordered in a different brace for me that is like a big grey plastic cross on my chest and wraps around to the back. Well, you can imagine I had quite a few sets of eyes checking me out as I crossed the dusty parking lot of bus station...not only was I the only white guy around, I looked half bionic! On the way I did meet some cool kids, of course playing cricket, and chatted with them for a bit...they did put a smile on my face.

Where my two hot dinners came from...glad I found this out after the meals...

The bus station where I walked to a couple of times for water and snacks:

The Geetanjeli Hospital:

On the last day I was definitely ready for a change of scenery. Andre called to see if I was ready to be picked up. I hadn’t paid my bill yet although I had seen Dr. Kaddu and he had given me the clearance to leave. I told Andre to come in and I should be ready to go...I mean, how long can a bill take? Oh Dave, haven’t you learned that you’re in India yet? They gave me a bill but it was just a handwritten total on a small piece of paper. I guess they’re used to patients just paying in cash and going. I however, needed an itemized bill for claiming for medical insurance back in Canada. Can you believe that it took over 2 hours!...well I can.

Dr. Kaddu, Dr. Ingulkar and not my favourite nurse (never caught her name):

Dr. Kaddu, my favourite orderly Milesh:

The 15 minute windy drive up the mountainside to Panchgani was surprisingly not too bad on my back. I definitely felt it but thought it was going to be worse. Andre showed me to my room in the ground floor of his house...quite nice! There’s a rudimentary kitchen too so I’ll be able to cook some of my own food which is nice. There’s a nice Russian couple with a one year old in the other room. I was a little concerned about a crying baby but so far, no it’s sure nice to be out of the hospital!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Plummeting Painfully While Paragliding in Panchgani

March 12th, 2011

This morning I felt that I could attempt to paraglide. An Indian pilot from Pune, Dilip, arrived late last night and he and I were the only ones to accept Andre’s offer to go to one of the takeoffs to check out the flying conditions. Unfortunately the wind was quite strong from the east. We parawaited for about an hour and English Dave showed up on his motorbike but then we all headed back to camp to wait for the air to mellow out.

Late in the afternoon Andre came by again and asked who wanted to fly and again only Dilip and I jumped at the offer. We went to the same launch that we used a couple of days ago that faces west and there was next to no wind there. We waited for about twenty minutes as we watched some large birds thermalling but Dilip said that they are always there due to the garbage dump nearby. I thought it was time to launch but Dilip didn’t seem quite as convinced and he was also dealing with some business issues on his cell phone. We could see the west wind starting to make its way across the lake and I wanted to get in the air before it arrived and began to distort the thermals so I set up and launched. At first I found some weak thermals but stayed above the ridge but soon ended up a bit below the landing zone so now it was either find lift or end up in the valley below with a long bus ride(s) to get back up to Panchgani.

I soon found a consistent thermal below launch and climbed steadily at 1-2 meters per second. Once I was three to four hundred meters above the ridge this increased to a smooth 3-4 meters per second and I continued to climb. I saw Dilip finally take off but he never managed to climb out while I ended up topping out at 1900 meters above the launch (about 3100 meters above sea level)! I was beginning to become level with the top of the inversion layer with the rusty brown air on the bottom and clearer, blue sky on top. I contemplated where to head on a cross country route. I wasn’t planning on going too far but I had to go somewhere with all of this height. To the east I could see some smoke indicating that the predominant wind was east. I decided to go north, crossing over the lake created by the dam off to the southwest. There was a ridge on the other side that ran east west and I thought I could fly along that heading west a bit and then back to the east towards the town called Wai (pronounced “why”) which is the place to catch a bus to get back up to Panchgani.

The foot's in there for perspective!

See the nasty coloured inversion layer behind me?

The glide over the lake was gorgeous and peaceful and I felt like the king of the sky with no other paragliders around and having picked the perfect time to launch. Dilip was still fighting way below back by the ridge and all of the other pilots opted to stay at camp...their loss. Unfortunately my high def camera’s battery had run out just before I taken off so I carefully pulled out my point and shoot camera from the zipper pocket of my flight deck, cautious of the fact that valuable items like my wallet and keys were also in there, but I needed to capture some of the moment.

What views...even if it is a bit hazy:

Flying high above the lake below Panchgani:

I began to hit strong and constant sink as I reached the other side of the lake and flew towards the ridge. I noticed some smoke from a fire near the top of the north face and also some flags of a little temple and they both indicated that the predominant wind here was not from the east but now the north. This meant that I was flying into the lee side of the mountain, a potentially dangerous situation as the wind would billow over the ridge and possibly be turbulent.

Unfortunately I realized as I approached the ridge that I was a mere 50-100 meters too low to be on top of the ridge in the “safe zone”. I had lost all the height that I had gained over Panchgani in the 10 kilometre glide as I was continually hammered with -2 to -3 meters/second sink before I had left the lake. Not to worry, I’ll cruise a little closer and head west...there must be a thermal on this south facing ridge which will pop me up that hundred meters and it’ll all be good. Well, I never found the lift. It wasn’t too turbulent but the air felt funny and the wing was sluggish so I must be in some downward moving air.

This is the ridge that the wind was coming over towards me and I had hoped to be high enough to get on top of to stay out of danger...but I was 50-100 meters too low :(

Okay, safety first. I turned south, away from the ridge to scan for a place to land in the kilometre wide stretch of land by the lake. Now, I had read an article a month and a half ago in the news about a Russian pilot who landed in a farmer’s field and wrecked some crops and an altercation and police involvement ensued...I better select a fallow field. Alright, another consideration is “Where is the road that leads to Wai?” It runs parallel to the ridge, half way out on the flat land to the lake. I spotted an unused field that was fairly long but a bit narrow, close to the road, “Let’s go for that one.”

Although the wind up above was from the north, I decided to determine the wind direction down here in the valley. The field ran from north to south so I beat a leg south and then one north, noting my ground speed on my GPS. They seemed to be fairly equal and I couldn’t see the leaves moving on the trees so it seems like it’s going to be a no wind landing. I began my figure eight approach from over a hundred feet up coming in from the north and it took quite a while to lose my height. Every time I dropped some I would climb back up a little.

When I was about treetop height, 50 feet above the deck, I had to pull a rather aggressive turn thanks to the trees on the east side of the field, realizing that this was quite a narrow field. A turn like that will induce energy into the wing so as I exited it I popped up but then strangely, and scarily, my wing stalled, folded up and I began to plunge towards the ground!

The next 3-5 seconds are all a bit of a blur and I have to admit that I don’t recall exactly the sequence of events. It’s like being in a car some ways everything happens so slowly yet in other ways it flashes by and only certain snapshots are imprinted in your mind. One that is permanently etched in my brain is looking straight down at the dirt field with bits of hay stubs poking out here and there, feeling as though I was not suspended by my wing at all. My life didn’t flash before my eyes but pretty damn close...

I also recall that I swung around 180 degrees, continuing to fall but the wing then re-inflated and I spun back in the other direction before smacking into the ground, landing directly on my butt. Why I didn’t use my legs to absorb most of the shock, I don’t know. It’s kind of a tough skill to practice because when the shit really hits the fan, the brain doesn’t always do what you expect it to do. Thankfully I do fly with a harness that has some back protection and so it dispersed a lot of the energy but I knew immediately I had damaged myself.

The wind was knocked from my lungs so while lying on my left side I just focussed on trying to relax and let the oxygen get back in. The tight, seized up feeling in my lower back was familiar to me as I had a paragliding accident five years ago at home in Victoria, Canada, on a small ridge by the ocean side where I slammed into some rocks and fractured my L4 and L5 vertebrae (the bottom two in your back). Sadly in that case I was captured on film by some member of the public and appeared in the city’s newspaper the following day with the caption “Paraglider Plucked from Peril”...which was a bit of an exaggeration but the editor must have been proud of himself.

From that experience I knew to remain motionless to assess the situation. Almost immediately local villagers began to crowd around me. After about five minutes I removed my helmet as I silently cursed to myself “Damn it, not again.” Some of the curious locals attempted to help me up but I judiciously declined their offer although someone was kind enough to bring a big cup of water from their home which I sipped occasionally (later realizing that might not have been terribly wise...getting diarrhea with a back injury would not be pleasant!). I pulled out my cell phone and called Andre. He was in Panchgani so it was going to take some time before he could reach I better get a bit more comfortable as I was lying on a bit of an angle. I slowly, gingerly slid out of my harness so I could lie flat on the ground and used my helmet to prop my head up a bit.

By this time there were between 30-40 Indians of all ages standing around staring at me. I smiled, said “Namaste” and tried to be slightly entertaining. The circle of people closed in around me so I could nothing but the sky and curious faces. One of the older ladies started to yell in the local language of Maharathi and had everyone back up a bit which was nice of her.

Crowd around me (they literally did!):

The post crash scene:

After about an hour and a half, with the sun having just set, Andre appeared with Dilip (who had landed down in the valley below Panchgani, having not been able to climb out), English Dave and two of the non-paraglider campers, Natalie from the Netherlands and American Dave who actually had been suffering from Delhi Belly so hats off to him for coming!

This kind of incident has happened to others staying at Andre’s before so he is in fact the owner of a rudimentary stretcher. The others folded up my wing and it was placed on the stretcher (as a very expensive pillow). A team of four or five of them slowly rolled me onto it, strapped me in and carried me to the jeep. I waved to the twenty or so locals left even though I couldn’t see them as I was loaded into the back. We began a slow and sometimes bumpy ride to hospital in the nearby town of Wai (ironically pronounced “why”) which has a population of about 30,000. Natalie and American Dave rode in the back with me keeping me company.

Finally at the hospital, I was first taken to an examination room and shortly after X-rayed. It was not easy getting off of Andre’s stretcher onto the X-ray table and then back onto another rudimentary, slightly curved stainless steel stretcher that the hospital had. My paraglider was left in the X-ray room (never thought I’d take it there) as I was then instructed that a CT scan was next. A CT scan! Awesome, I didn’t think that they’d have one here. Sadly, to get to the CT scan, they actually had to wheel me out of the hospital, down a bumpy ramp and into a diagnostic clinic which is in fact part of the same building...seems a bit inefficient but hey, this is India.

Again it was a bit of a pain for me to get from the stretcher on to the CT scanner’s table. There were some definitely painful moments as it didn’t seem like this was everyone’s specialty as one of the three people moving me was a security guard! Once on, my shirt was pulled up and my pants removed. The technicians exited the room and I began to be pulled through the big expensive white doughnut (albeit an old one). The first pass was quick and I thought that would be it but then a painful 20 minutes ensued where I was slowly pulled centimetre by centimetre back through the machine with a scan taken every 30 seconds or so. I had to remain motionless with my arms above my head and the combination of this discomfort with the pain (I still hadn’t received any medication yet) and the chilliness of the air conditioned room put me in a bad place. I kept trying to mentally think of something positive but the weight of my injury and the fact that this time I was on the other side of the world from home was difficult to overcome.

Finally the scanning was complete and they wheeled me back into the hospital and into a room where I was going to stay the night. My new friends from the Eco Camp joined me soon after and then we found out from the doctor that I thankfully hadn’t broken anything but I had compressed the disc between the L1 and T12 vertebrae. My treatment: remain lying flat for the next two weeks and take it easy for the next few months...super, that should be fun!
Not pleased to be here:

It's humbling to have to be spoon fed at 39...

Natalie offered to stay in the room with me overnight which was super nice of her. The others headed back to Panchgani and Natalie and I stayed up for a bit chatting a bit about our families and any other topics that could distract me from my new, not so cool situation. However, I kept trying to remind myself that as bad as it seemed, it could have been much worse...I’m alive, and my legs still work...I will Wanderglide again...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Chilled Day at the Eco Camp

March 11th, 2011

My right elbow (with the stitches), shoulder and knee all asked for a day off from paragliding (seeing as I couldn’t actually bend my elbow enough to work the brake of the paraglider due to the was a bit of a no brainer). Everyone from the camp walked into town and we ate a nice veg thali lunch and then American Dave and I purchased food in the market for a lovely barbeque we had over an open fire later that night.

Max and American Dave enjoying the local thali:

The small Panchgani market:

Gilles giving a demo of how to use the new lungi that American Dave bought:

Now Olivier's turn:

When we returned to camp, Gilles, Max and English Dave all took off from a clearing that has been carved out on the ridge just below the camp. The rest of us watched them take off and fly and we were later amused by Dave trying to top land at the camp...which is a pretty tricky prospect (I wouldn’t even entertain the idea). In the end he had to land elsewhere but hats off to him for trying.

Gilles checking his lines before launching just below camp:

English Dave taking off:

Dave flying over us:

Dave pulling big ears coming towards us:

Dave performing a wingover in the distance:

The communal barbeque was a success although finding firewood was quite the challenge but we managed to find just enough. Hopefully I might be able to fly tomorrow as that was the whole point of coming up to Panchgani....

Another nice sunset:

The chicken cooking on our barbeque fire:

First Flight In Panchgani

March 10th, 2011

When I awoke and walked out of the big green canvas tent I was gobsmacked by the gorgeous view that awaited me as I had arrived in the dark last night. Wow, there’s a big lake down there (albeit a manmade one) with mountain ridges running in multiple directions. It reminded me a bit of the southern Okanagan area of British Columbia in Canada. It was early in the morning and the visibility was very clear. Can’t wait to get in the air here!

The gorgeous vista from camp:

Andre came by and offered to take anyone interested to check out a couple of the takeoffs to see if it was flyable and Max, Gilles and I took him up on the offer. The first takeoff was a little over a kilometre to the north and was facing in the same direction as our campsite. It was small but definitely functional but would typically be used in the afternoon once the sun had moved across the sky and had a chance to bake the west facing ridge face. Next we went to an east facing launch that was close by and there were some tandem wings in the air already. We watched with amusement as one came in to top land in an unconventional manner yet the pilot and passenger did arrive safely even if they skidded along the ground on their butts for about ten feet. We decided that we would wait until later in the afternoon for better conditions so we returned to camp.

My tent and the "dining room":

The other tents:

Max, Gilles, Olivier and I returned to the first launch after 4pm and the westerly sun powered wind was coming in strong. We prepared our gear on a flat bit of dusty ground just behind and off to one side of the small takeoff area and then one by one moved down to take to the air. Max and Olivier were off first, followed by Gilles and then yours truly. Gilles was picked up while he was still facing backwards and did a fantastic job of controlling the wing as he was turned around, dropped back down on his butt, skidded a bit and then took to the air. I spread my wing out and then waited for a lull in the wind as it was quite strong. Thankfully a tandem pilot and his entourage showed up and I asked him to anchor me to take off. I took a few attempts but eventually was off...awesome, a new flying site!

I flew rather sedately for most of the flight, throwing in the odd wingover and spiral here and there but noticed that I definitely wasn’t in the same calibre as the other three pilots. Part of my tentativeness was that I hadn’t flown at a thermal site since last September in Europe (since then I’ve only been ridge soaring in Goa) and the other factor was that if you sink too far below the ridge and have to land down below the ridge, it’s at least an hour and a half trek back (hitchhiking or catching a bus) around the promontory to a town called Wai (pronounced “why”) to one of the few roads back up to Panchgani. With the sun setting soon, I didn’t like that prospect on my first flying day here.

Looking at the Eco Camp from the air (look for the 5-6 tiny green dots in the middle of the least there's no worries of someone moving in next door and ruining the view!):

Along the ridge:

The standard (and seemingly mandatory) foot shot:

Nice views:

The three guys flying back past me, but far below:

Looking down at Olivier (he's a tiny speck up from my feet):

We flew until after sunset and then I headed towards the landing zone which was a kilometre or so north of the takeoff on the same ridge. It was a fairly large field with a stone fence running along the back and one side of it and then dropping off on the south and west sides. Andre had suggested that you set up your approach running back and forth along the back wall and then come in to land. As I was doing just that, there was a tandem wing in front of me that looked to be setting up to land too so I kept my eye on him...but he was at least 30 meters in front of me. Suddenly I noticed a second tandem flying towards me on a parallel path that was maybe 10 meters in front...uh oh, this could be interesting.

Sunset from the air:

I was mainly concerned with catching rotor (turbulence) from the closer tandem as we both tracked back towards the corner of the stone wall. He turned in to land first while I ventured a little further along to the corner before turning in to run parallel to the other leg of the wall. All of a sudden I lost my lift from about 15 feet up and began to fall backwards towards the ground...damn! I hit into the ground which was mostly hard packed, dead grass but was punctuated by the odd cluster of basketball sized volcanic rocks. The impact was mostly absorbed by the airbag of my harness but I hit a few rocks with the right side of my body.

The landing zone:

I waited a couple of seconds before getting up, knowing that I had incurred at least a few bruises. Gilles and Andre were about 20 meters away and yelled to see if I was okay. I replied affirmatively and slowly stood up, checking for damage. My right elbow took the brunt of it as I could feel some blood sticking to the inside of my fleece sweater. I pulled up my sleeve and although it was bloody, it didn’t look to bad so I put the sleeve back down and went about the business of packing up my wing in the fading daylight.

Not my best landing:

Returning to camp I went to an outdoor sink attached to the end of one of the bathroom buildings to wash up my wound and then noticed that I had a small, but nice chunk of my elbow taken out and thought that it should receive one or two stitches to have it properly heal. I showed it to English Dave and Natalie who were preparing supper in the outdoor kitchen and they concurred that it might need medical treatment and the prudent thing would be to see what Andre thought.

I walked up to Andre’s house and he pulled out a first aid kit to clean it up but after about five minutes he suggested that we pop over to the local doctor and let him have a look at it. We jumped on his motorbike and in a couple of minutes were at the doctor’s office which also had a small pharmacy in it. The doctor was just arriving back from dinner but within ten minutes he was examining my elbow. Yup, it needed a stitch or two. He was also concerned that I might have damaged the periosteum, the membrane that covers the outer part of the bone, so he suggested I get an X-ray and due to a high metallic content in the dirt in the area, he gave me a tetanus shot as a precaution. I thought I was going to have to go somewhere else in the morning for the X-ray but then he said he’d check if his brother was around...I guess it was his X-ray machine! Turns out it was just next door. How handy!

The somewhat ancient looking machine was in a rectangular, pinkish painted room which included some old office chairs and a mountain bike leaning up against the wall...a little different than I’m used to in Canada but hey, whatever works. Thankfully my elbow was fine so I was bandaged up. He prescribed some anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. My bill for all of this treatment was a whopping 680 rupees ($15) and I was out the door only thirty minutes after entering...pretty damn good!

I walked back to camp and everyone was just sitting down to a lovely dinner and they served me up a plate...sweet. Hopefully my next landing at Panchgani will be a bit better.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Off to Panchgani

March 9th, 2011

I hopped on a train in Pernem to head 400 kilometres north of Goa to a place called Panchgani in the state of Maharashtra (and it cost a whopping 200 rupees, just over four dollars!). I was originally told that it meant “five hills” but now I believe it is “five plateaus”...all I do know for sure is that “panch” means five. It is a popular place for paragliding in the south of India so of course I had to check it out.

The train arrived on time and this was my first train ride carrying my paraglider and other gear so I gingerly walked down the aisle, trying not to bump unsuspecting riders. The five hour train ride was uneventful apart from becoming a six hour ride somehow...just some longer stops at some places and perhaps slower speeds in some sections. An older Indian gentleman sat across from me for most of the trip and he was quite friendly, even offering me a taste of his homemade mango juice which was super yummy. There was the usual incessant flurry of vendors rapidly pacing up and down the corridor with everything from chai to roasted peanuts.

The Pernem train station:

My train arrives:

Enjoying the ride (really...I am!):

I just bought a USB modem a few days before this trip so I had to try it out and it did work, when we weren’t heading through one of many tunnels. It’s a super slow connection to the Internet (felt like I was back in the mid 1990s) but it should prove to be handy in the future with keeping in touch with friends and family.

Some of the countryside:

A typical sight in the sleeper car:

I arrived at a town called Khed around 5pm. My next challenge was to find a taxi to take me the remaining 95 kilometers to Panchgani. Yesterday I called a French Canadian paraglider pilot, Andre, who runs the Eco Adventure Camp (really just a place to stay) and he told me that I should expect to pay around 2000 rupees. As I exited the station with the handful of others that had detrained (hardly anyone considering the train was 20+ cars), all I saw were four tuk-tuks...hmm, I don’t really want to ride in one of those all the way that’s for sure!

I spoke with the guys there and they said I could get an Omni, a little van, for 2500 rupees...let the bargaining begin... I told them that I had heard someone got it for as low as 1700 (which was true) and that I expected around 2000. Well they stood fast and one by one the rickshaws disappeared as at least ten minutes passed and I wondered if I was going to have to walk into town a bit with my massive backpack. I moved up to 2200 but they still didn’t bite. Two guys were on their cell phones trying to broker a deal and finally a man told me to hop in the rickshaw to go a couple of kilometres into town. There were already two women in the little three wheeled vehicle so it was a tight fit and they giggled as I squeezed in and then we slowly puttered into town.

The Khed train station...pretty quiet:

We stopped outside a little tire store with 6-7 men standing around and again some phone calls were made. One man pulled a plastic chair out from the store for me to sit in but I was happy to be able to stand for a change. A van pulled up and one of the men approached me and said “2300 okay?” Geez, I’m just not the best haggler...okay sure, let’s just get going.

The ride got bumpier and bumpier as we began to climb up steep, winding roads. The driver absolutely loved his horn and used it incessantly. He had one of the fancy types that had multiple modes: a standard honk, a slow fading fog horn and my favourite, the singing trumpet like one that one usually finds on big busses or trucks. We picked up a couple of guys who were strawberry growers/sellers part way along the trip and all three of them crowded together in the front seat while me and my paraglider stretched out in the back.

The driver stopped on the side of the road with a river running 20 feet below to one side. In the distance there were a couple of ridges with purposefully set brush fires burning in the dimming daylight. The driver turned around to me and held out his pinky finger of one hand at a downward angle. I wasn’t sure what he meant at first but I guess this is the Indian hand gesture for “Do you need to pee?”....well sure, why not, you have to seize these opportunities when you get the chance.

Fire on the mountain:

We dropped off the two vendors and continued to climb up the windy roads. The sun slowly set with gorgeous pinks and reds of the sky transitioning into the blues and purples of the interlacing ridgelines...gorgeous. We finally reached Panchgani around 8:30pm. The driver didn’t know where the Eco Camp was so we stopped a couple of times to ask for directions and both times the person we asked knew of the owner Andre. The second guy even hopped in the vehicle to show us where even though it was only another 300 meters from where we picked him up. The driver hesitantly headed down a very long and steep driveway and around a corner where I could see the silhouette of a man outside a house. It turned out to be Andre...excellent I have arrived!

Nice sunset:

I grabbed my gear and when Andre heard that I had paid 2300 rupees to get there he berated the driver a bit in Hindi. Andre and I walked further down the drive to the camping area that was perched on the edge of a steep ridge with some lights of houses far below and also another purposefully set brush fire which burned brightly in the night darkness. There were four or five large canvas tents, about 14 feet square each.

Passing those we came to a sheltered area with people sitting around a table and I was introduced to the crew. Luckily catching the names of everyone was simplified by the fact that there was “American Dave” and “English Dave” (with me of course becoming “Canadian Dave”) along with an older gentleman Chris from England (who was actually leaving that night), Natalie from Holland, Gilles and Olivier from Switzerland, Anjeli from Pune (which is about 70 kilometres north from Panchgani) and Max from Latvia who turned out to be my tent buddy. We chatted for about half an hour and then walked up to town for dinner and everyone seemed to be super friendly...looks like it should be a good week!