Thursday, July 14, 2011

It’s a Goa-st Town!

June, 2011

I must apologize for the long gap since my last entry, but it hasn’t been due to a lack of enthusiasm for my electronic diary nor heavy dose of procrastination, it’s more a matter of not that many compelling events to recount. I’ve been hanging out in the same place for the last month and a half so a travel blog takes a bit of a hit in these circumstances. I hope you haven’t given up on my blog just yet, and if you’re reading this, you obviously haven’t! If you’re tired of continually checking the site to see that there are no new entries, I recommend that you sign up as a “follower” and then you receive an email the next time I add something new.

So, on with this entry...the first I’ve done that covers an entire month in one go...

I returned to Goa, and specifically Arambol Beach after my trip up north...and it was even quieter here than when I left a month ago, more shops and restaurants closed down and hardly any foreigners (which can be nice in a way, you get to experience more of the true culture of the area).

The dead main street in Arambol:

I found a really nice room in one of the guest houses on the main road from a nice local guy, Derick, from whom I’d rented a scooter from before. The room is spacious, has a wardrobe (a rare luxury) and is a mere 100 meters walk to the ocean which I have a glimpse of from my balcony...all at a cost of 200 rupees a night (a little over $4)!

The view from my balcony:

I’ve never spent time in an area during a monsoon season so I was a little intrigued and even a bit excited to see what it would entail. The first day that I was back in Goa, it did rain for about half an hour but that was it. However, since I’d only seen rain here 2, maybe 3 times over the 4-5 months I’d spent here, that bit of precipitation was something. Well the next’s as if someone up in the sky opened the faucet as it was “Hello Mr. Monsoon!” It rained virtually the whole day and we’re not talking a sprinkling, this was “full power” rainfall.

The first week it rained every day, but not all day so I was able to get out, hike up the small ridge where I have gone paragliding, walk down the now empty beach. Speaking of the beach, it sure changes quickly during this season. Sand is eroding and washing back into the sea (in spots about 2 feet in depth) causing waves to break further out. Sadly a lot of the sand is now covered in an oily residue from bilge discharges from ships just off the coast in the Arabian Sea. Now add garbage that has washed down to the beach from the human settlements but hasn’t quite made its final run out to sea, it’s not always a pretty site. But there are some beneficiaries, especially the local pigs who seem to find a full buffet of goodies under the sand.

The sand has turned black thanks to off shore oil dumping in front of the Olive Garden:

Thankfully these dark clouds missed me:

Yum yum...

The eroding beach:

I do enjoy seeing a variety of clouds now...during the tourist season it's often just a clear blue sky:

Like where I grew up, there were two seasons: winter & construction. Here it's: tourist & construction. This was an Italian restaurant called Felini's:

Some of the beach restaurants already haven't fared well in the monsoon:

This is a popular party place called Cocks Town, but obviously not popular right now:

One of the early days of June it seemed quite nice out so I decided to go for a long walk down the beach for some exercise and mental relaxation. What a difference from the tourist season as I only encountered four or five other souls, most of whom were local fishermen hopefully tossing their handheld nets into the sea. Strangely some of these guys thought that their best spot to make a catch was in the darker, oily water. Sure, maybe the logic is that the fish can’t see the net coming thanks to the petroleum pollution...but I’m making a mental note not to eat fish here during this season.

One of the "oily" fishermen (the tiny dot in the middle):

All of the beach restaurants and huts were either packed up or completely enshrouded in tarpaulin and dead palm fronds. It was quite peaceful actually...until I looked back and out over the ocean where I noticed some pretty dark clouds heading inland. I was at least 2-3 kilometres down the beach and immediately turned around and starting a quick walk back. I even attempted jogging a little, probably the first time since my paragliding accident in March and thankfully my back didn’t complain about it.

A nice lake in front of the Olive Garden:

Anyone lose their toothbrush:

Nice oily striations:

The deserted beach:

The "monsooned" beach:

Within 10 minutes, I learned “Rule #1 of a Monsoon Season: Don’t walk too far down a beach unless you don’t mind getting completely drenched.” The skies opened up and it bucketed down. I took temporary shelter behind a building but between getting bored and also dripped on, I decided to just get wet and start walking back. I wearing shorts and a t-shirt and my only concern was for my iPod and cell phone. I tucked them in the deepest pocket I had on the leeside of my body. Well, that was slightly fruitless. By the time I got back to the area of the beach close to my guest house, I might as well have walked out of the ocean. I was soaked. The rain had eased up a bit at this point, enough so that I removed my shirt and wrung it out to lessen the weight of the material and as much or more water came out as when I hand wash it! Thankfully it was still warm enough that I wasn’t shivering from being wet. I then returned to my guesthouse and gingerly removed all of the items from my pockets. Everything was wet. Business cards and rupee bills in my wallet needed to be laid out to dry. I walked out onto my balcony and then realized “Rule #2 of a Monsoon Season: Don’t leave your laundry out to dry if you leave home”....d’oh!

The dark clouds and water:

In the rain:

During the first couple of weeks of June, I was riveted by...if you can believe it since I’m in India, ice hockey! However, the games weren’t being played here but back in Canada and the US. Having lived near Vancouver for the last 13 years, I have become a fan of the Vancouver Canucks and this year they fielded one of the best teams in their 40 year history. When I was up in Manali I was actually able to watch a few of their games with a fast enough connection in the Purnima guest house I was at combined with fact that I could get on one of their computers at 5:30am (often the starting game time over here). I was not quite so fortunate here as no Internet shop is open that early and my USB modem is just not fast enough to stream video, however I was able to listen to a radio feed over the Internet, although I could only obtain a signal if I was out on my balcony as the concrete building shielded reception in my room.

So there I was, almost every second day for a few weeks, awake at 5:30am, sitting in the predawn light on my balcony staring out at palm trees swaying in the light morning breeze...listening to ice hockey! Those were the good days. More often than not, being monsoon season and all, well it would be raining! I was thankful that I had recently, and wisely, purchased an umbrella which facilitated building a mini fort under which my laptop and I sought refuge. Unfortunately in the end the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in the final and deciding 7th game. Heartbreaking yes, but I think they’ll do it next year (oh ya, forgot to mention that they have never won the Stanley Cup in their 40 year odds are in their favour right?!?).

Tuning into the game:

My fort:

There are between 15-20 dogs that live on the beach in Arambol. The odd one is cared for by a local home but most must fend for themselves. Almost all of them have one partially cropped ear tip, signifying that they have been denied future donations to their gene pool by the local vets...which is good to see (not denouncing the quality of their genes, just that there are enough of them for the amount of food available). The dogs fair quite well during the tourist season as many foreigners are taken by the cute faces looking for some table scraps but this is not the case during the monsoon season. I have witnessed a few of the foreigners left buying large quantities of dog food and filling the bellies of half a dozen or more dogs in one go. I try to help out a little bit with the table scrap donations but sometimes it’s difficult when you have 5 or 6 dogs around and don’t really even have enough for one. No need to cause a fight to break out. Unfortunately there are tussles as these guys get hungrier and skinnier but most of them obviously make it through to the following season...thankfully it’s not a true dog eat dog world...

Letting sleeping dogs lie...

The lifeguards must have food...but I think these guys are trying in vain:

The weather at the end of June was much milder, in terms of rain, and it was nice enough that I’ve ventured out three times to try and paraglide off of the small ridge in Arambol. Unfortunately only one of those attempts was fruitful as the other times it was too windy. I hadn’t flown solo since my crash in March in Panchgani so there were a few nerves as I set up to launch. The wind was fairly strong on this day too so it did take me 4 or 5 tries before I was able to get the wing above my head and stay close to the cliff edge and even then I had to “spacewalk” for a few minutes before I took off.

I flew for a total of three hours, the first two being rather sedate, just getting my wings back. It was fantastic to be in the air looking out over the ocean and sharing the view with only eagles. I left the main ridge and crossed the Sweet Water beach to the smaller ridge in preparation to hop over that and land on Arambol Beach. I lost next to no height on the crossing and realized that it was a nice westerly wind, hitting the coastline perpendicularly which hadn’t happened often when I was flying here during the season. Usually this crossing over Sweet Water was a one way trip but I decided to try heading back and I made it with no problem. I repeated the crossing a few more times and then decided to practice a top landing on the main ridge (a big motivator being I had to pee!). It took a number of attempts before I was successful as with the strong wind I kept getting popped up too high when I came over the launch area. So I slowly expanded the big loop I was flying: away from the ridge out over the sea, then running parallel to the ridge but still over the water and then back in again, lower each time. It can be a bit unnerving flying out over the ocean but you’ve just got to put your trust in physics!

Bladder happy, I took off again, flew a bit longer and then landed on Arambol Beach, just a hundred meters from my guesthouse. It was great to get my wings back!