Saturday, April 23, 2011

The OG Boys Leaving

April 5th, 2011

With the restaurant all boarded up, it was time for the Olive Garden’s crew to head north to their home state, Himachal Pradesh. Manu would be flying to Delhi while the other guys were hopping on a marathon train journey (30 hours!).

Yes, hard to believe this is where I spent many hours over the last number of months:

The Olive Garden was my “Cheers”...a place where everybody knows your name, a second home to me here. It’s going to be a bit weird with everyone gone but thanks again for the good times!

Some of the Olive Garden crew:

Manu leaving:

Final group shot:

I thought I better make sure that they left so I escorted them:

Sanju giving a final wave:

Within a couple of days, the weather proofing of the huts began, first being wrapped in tarps and then dead palm fronds. It sure makes the place look a bit different.

Closed Classic Huts:

The season is definitely winding down here with more and more places closing, and less and less foreigners around. It starting to get pretty hot and humid too...but the rains haven’t started...yet...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The World Cup of Cricket Final

April 2nd, 2011

Last night I woke up to a big bang...but then dozed off again. In the morning there was someone knocking incessantly at my door. It was Michael, the guy working at Classic Huts and he mentioned that there was an electrical problem. Turns out that the commotion last night was a palm tree crashing down beside my house! It crushed the top brick of a fence, pulled some electrical wires but other than that, not much damage.

The fallen palm tree:

The busted fence:

Today was the big game...the cricket finals in Mumbai with India battling it out against fellow host team Sri Lanka. The game started at 2:30 and went on into the evening. The game can be interesting at times...but it still goes on for too long. I couldn’t help but laugh at the Olive Garden boys...most of whom were sleeping only an hour into the game. I thought about the Stanley Cup finals in ice hockey in North America...and there’s no way you’d find any of us sleeping during that! I have to admit that even I retired to my house for a nap half way through.

Excited cricket fans:

Cool Pinku:

Not so excited cricket fans:

Thankfully India prevailed and there was much rejoicing!

The big celebration:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Olive Garden Closes

March 31st, 2011

Surprisingly just two and a half weeks after my paragliding accident I felt as though I could handle the train ride back to Goa. On March 29th I took a two hour taxi ride from Panchgani down to Khed (and it was downhill most of the way). There were some gorgeous vistas as we wound our way down the hills. I had instructed the taxi driver to take it “shanti, shanti” (slow, slow) and in fact the ride wasn’t too bad on my back. The vehicle was a little compact car and I was in the front seat so being able to partially recline which definitely helped.

Arriving at the train station, the taxi driver let me down a little bit. He knew that I had a back injury and needed help with my monolithic backpack and I had expected him to carry it to the platform for me...and a larger tip would result. But instead I had my daypack on my back and we each grabbed one of the backpack straps and carried it together into the station...and my body complained. I asked him to check which platform the train would arrive at and thankfully it was platform #1, the closest. However, the cab driver insisted that he wasn’t allowed on the platform so he bid me adieu (of course BS as there was no one checking for tickets on the platform). I paid him his money and slowly dragged my backpack to the couple of rows of seats by the track.

I was the center of attention. Not only the only white guy foreigner, but one with a hell of a lot of baggage yet wearing a funny looking cross shaped grey brace on my chest that wrapped around to my back. I actually hadn’t thought of it until this German guy that was at the Eco Camp, another paraglider pilot who had been through a back injury, said “Don’t expect too much help on your travels, people will look at you and think you have bad karma, so why help him?” I hadn’t thought of it that way....this whole caste and karma system is a bit of a bummer. And sure enough, as the train arrived (an hour plus late), I had to drag my backpack onto the train with no assistance. Thankfully my car was close to the sitting area I was at and the seat was in the first I didn’t have to drag the gear too far.

Me and my big bags on the train:

Knuffle Bunny's still ridin' with me:

The train ride was pretty uneventful. I decided that an upgrade to 2nd class AC was warranted considering my condition. I had previously travelled a couple of times in “sleeper” class which is usually quite packed with locals. I think it’s a fantastic way to travel for day trips and although this was a day trip, the 2AC class guarantees that there will be fewer people and for sure that was the case. Even though I supposedly bought the last seat for this class in this train, I had the whole berth to myself which was fantastic. I spent a few hour sprawled out on the upper bunk, reading and sleeping.

Arriving in Pernem (in Goa), I dragged my luggage off the train and then called for Rock, the taxi driver that I hired to get to the train station three weeks prior. He was just a hundred meters down the platform and he was kind enough to carry my paraglider backpack to his cab.

I had called ahead to the manager of Classic Huts, Rajesh, and inquired whether the small white house that he rents along with the huts was available and thankfully it was. Again, with my new back situation, I thought a house would be a bit more comfy, especially in the heat of the day when the huts become veritable saunas.

My new home...the White House:

My new living room...feels a bit dead...

The kitchen:

It was great to see the old crew working their last couple of nights in the Olive Garden. Manu had brought a TV out onto the bar since the World Cup of Cricket was finally getting into the last few games with India beating Pakistan in the semi-finals.

Manu celebrating a 4 run hit...everyone loved the little sign I made!

Sanju cheering:

Now Ram and Pinku`s turn:

The evening cricket crowd:

Of course at the end of the final evening we had some celebratory drinks and even smoked a hookah. The guys were all quite pleased to be finished their season here...although they would be working for the next 3-4 days closing up the restaurant in preparation for the rainy season.

Pinku smoking a hookah like a dragon:

The final cheers to the Olive Garden:

Thanks for all of the good times Olive Garden!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Chilling and Burning in Panchgani

March 23rd-29th, 2011

After getting out of the hospital I spent six days relaxing back at the Eco Camp. This time I didn’t stay in one of the big canvas tents but in a posh room on the ground floor of Andre and his wife Meg’s house. I figured that with the back injury a little luxury (having a bed and an on suite bathroom) was in order.

My days were pretty quiet there with frequent lie downs to relax, afternoon naps (uncommon for me) and lots of reading (also uncommon for me). I unfortunately had less connectivity to the online world as I could not get a cell signal in my room but later found out that if I sat out on the patio that I occasionally connected. I had gotten quite used to communicating with my family and friends while I was in the Geetanjali Hospital...I guess I was a bit of a captive audience!

The big excitement that occurred during this week was waking up from a nap, going outside and discovering that the hillside below the Eco Camp was on fire! Smoke and ashes billowed over the trees and house. However, it was a “controlled burn” controlled as they get here. No actual firemen watching over it but it was deliberately set and no one seemed alarmed. I previously mentioned in a blog entry about the practice of torching the hillsides here every year to supposedly prevent unwanted animals around town (still not sure if that really is the case).

Fire on the Mountain!

I walked down to the edge of camp and found Andre and a Russian pilot, Valentin, both holding garden hoses, watering down the green vegetation on the property as a preventative measure. Thankfully the flames were kept at bay but I couldn’t help but hang out there and watch for a while as it was amazing how quickly the fire whipped up the hill...creating its own pressure vacuum up the steep cliff causing the winds to fuel the flames even more. There were some large soaring birds just hanging in the air above the smoke...I think looking for some freshly barbequed food!

The resulting scorched earth:

I must give a huge thanks to Andre and his wife Meg for helping me over the last few weeks. This was yet another experience where being a solo traveller is challenging. When you can’t physically perform normal day to day tasks such as getting food from the store, it’s amazing when new friends bend over backwards for you (maybe I could have come up with a better expression!).

Fellow Canadian Andre on his deck with a spectacular view:

Merci beaucoup!!!