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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Naomi's Last Few Days

October 20th-22nd, 2011

In Naomi’s last few days of her month long holiday, she wanted to have some shanti days around Arambol.

On the 20th we rented a scooter as I had some errands to do in Mapsa but Naomi also had a mission in mind. The Californian woman that we met back in Kumily at Abraham’s Spice Garden had mentioned that she had been ecstatic to find a Subway restaurant in Goa, specifically at Baga Beach. Baga is southwest of Mapsa and only about 20 minutes away so we headed off in that direction. She also hadn’t been to this beach typically crowded with Indian tourists so she was interested in getting a glimpse of it...I think.

We had to ask a few people where the Subway was and somehow we had scootered right past it but did find it. Ah familiarity. The restaurant could have been anywhere in the western world although of course the menu board prices were in rupees. The subs weren’t cheap by Indian standards with a 6” one being about $4 in cost. Naomi was quite excited to have her sub and I have to admit that mine wasn’t bad either!

We cruised by the beach but didn’t stop for long. Seeing a busy, commercialized beach makes me appreciate Arambol all that much more.


Naomi enjoying her sub:

Found my pimp-mobile!

Hanging out with Manu at the Olive Garden:

On her last full day we just hung out at the beach, primarily at the Olive Garden. We ventured into the ocean for a bit of body boarding on a big white board from the restaurant which was around last year but was finless. Somebody added two small fins on the bottom which helps steer the board a lot. We were able to ride waves for 30-40 meters, right into the beach. I tried standing up a few times but failed pretty miserably. Unfortunately there are jellyfish in the water right now and although neither of us was stung directly, we both had some itchy parts on our bodies that felt like minor stings so we probably didn’t stay in the water quite as long as we wanted to.

Naomi found a delicious new drink...pineapple and watermelon juice combo:

The "Flower Lady" came by. She says something like "Hello, flow you buy?" and is one of the hardest workers on the beach:

That night, Naomi’s last night, she chose for us to go to the Double Dutch restaurant. It had recently opened for the season and we had dined there back in February. It’s off the main road, a few hundred meters in from the beach and has a nice outdoor garden setting. Their specialty is steaks. Steaks?!? In a Hindu dominated region where the cows are revered? Yup, steaks...and this was a pretty tasty one I must say. I’ve tried steaks at a few other places and typically they are bad cuts of meat with many sinewy and fatty bits but Double Dutch seem to know what they’re doing.

We’d brought a bottle of wine with us to celebrate the last month’s adventures. It was a lovely meal.

Enjoying our wine:

Subsequently we stopped by Sporting Heroes for a cocktail and to see a few friends. For all the times I’ve been to Sporting Heroes, I’ve never had one of their famous cocktails. During the monsoon season, Madu the manager had told me that one Bollywood actress comes down from Mumbai at least once a year for a week just for the cocktails! She goes there every night and runs up tabs of 10,000 rupees ($200) in a sitting. She must be buying a lot of drinks for people as the Cosmopolitan martini’s we had were 160 rupees each. Tasty indeed and a nice finish to Naomi’s last night.

And then on to Sporting Heroes for some fancy cocktails:

On her last day, we had brunch at the Rice Bowl and then stopped by the Olive Garden to say goodbye to the crew there. Unfortunately Manu was already off to Mapsa to do “shoppings” (as he calls it...and I do too now!).

Naomi on our balcony:

In the Olive Garden:

Naomi with Ram:

The taxi was arranged through Derek at Chilli’s Guesthouse for 1pm. At the last minute I decided to accompany Naomi to the airport, about an hour and a half away. Just a kilometre or so after we turned onto the main road from Arambol, we saw a big crowd gathering by the side of the road where there’s a small lake nearby. We stopped as well to investigate. I crossed the road and went down the small embankment to the barren, rocky area where everyone was standing. There was a 6-8 foot long snake on the ground, seemly in shock from being too baked by the harsh sun. Its breathing was slow and laboured.

A few shirtless Russian men and a woman were discussing what to do as other Indians stood their distance from the snake. One guy grabbed a stick and pinned the snake’s head gently to the ground as the other grabbed hold of the snake just below its head. They both lifted the snake up and began to carry it towards the water. A little unsure of how to put it down, they tentatively placed it a few feet from the water on a steep, dried mud bank. The snake didn’t move at first but then began to slowly head towards the water. Seeing as Naomi had a plane to catch, I couldn’t wait longer to see if the serpent found relief in the lake so after Naomi came down for a quick look, we headed off in the car south.

The huge distraught snake:

Carrying it to the water...hats off to you guys:

Carrying the snake to the water:

It’s been a great month while Naomi’s been here. It feels like we covered a lot of ground and did a lot of different activities but didn’t overdo it either...although she did comment that she needed a vacation from her vacation shortly after returning to Israel. In some ways the time progressed very slowly and in others it flew by.

Shalom my dear friend...perhaps our paths will cross again someday.