Friday, December 21, 2012

Gazing at the Geminids

December 13th, 2012

This evening seemed like a normal one with the usual battle of chess over dinner at a restaurant with my good neighbour Martin.  However this evening while walking back towards our rooms around the cliff side, we couldn't actually walk along the beach as the tide was extremely high.  We scrambled through the maze of tables and chairs in one of the beach shack restaurants whose small dyke of a few sandbags were just holding up.  Once we made it to the cliff side path which is a couple of meters above the beach, we stopped to observe the high water and it was interesting that there weren't any waves, just a general swelling of the sea.

Then “Whoa!!!  Nice shooting star!”...which was followed by another and another.  As we rounded the rocky point we met up with a Lithuanian woman who told us it was the Geminid meteor  Martin and I hatched a plan to gather some supplies (read: beer and Pringles), warm clothes and a couple of yoga mats to lie on and climb up the hill behind our guesthouse to view this stellar event.

We often have 2-3 beach dogs hanging out at our place but this evening only our favourite, Smiley, was with us.  Smiley is one of the few dogs who has a fairly consistent name with tourists for a good reason.  When he first meets you he’ll come striding up slowly while pulling his lips back and showing his teeth.  He’s not being aggressive...just smiling!  Last year Martin and I were walking with Smiley up on the hill one afternoon and an older French woman came around the corner exclaiming “Oh Smileee!”  Supposedly Smiley was the pet of an Indian family until one full moon night he was howling outside their front door which is considered a bad omen so the family kicked him out...poor dude but now he’s one of the coolest cats (well dog) on the beach.

This sunset pic has nothing to do with this's just a nice view from our balcony!

So with our supplies, the three of us headed up the hill for some meteor shower watching.  We didn’t know until the next day that the Geminids are shooting stars not caused by the Earth passing through the old trail of a comet but through a trail of an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon.  The debris in the trail move around 35 kilometres per second through the atmosphere resulting in shooting stars.

Night over Arambol from up on the hill:

After watching for a while Martin clued in that the shooting stars were radiating out of one area of the sky directly above us and above my favourite constellation Orion.  Again, we didn’t clue in until the next day that it was the Gemini constellation that they seem to originate from (hence they’re called the Geminids)...but it was cool to clue in that we were in fact looking out of the “windshield” of the Earth as this had to be the direction in which the Earth is traveling through space in its orbit around the sun.

The Geminids:

After a while poor Smiley started getting a bit chilled so I wrapped him up in sarong and later added a toque on his head as he cuddled in between Martin and me.  Good Smiley.

Chillin' with chilly Smiley:

Keep warm Buddy!

We stayed up until after 4am enjoying many streaks across the sky until we also got a bit chilled.  What a super stellar evening...well worth the price of admission!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My New Office...In the Sky

September-November 2012

Well first I must apologize for my blog being dormant lately, but I promise you that I won’t let it die, there just won’t be too many posts for the next while...reason being is that I am now plying my new trade of being a tandem paragliding pilot!

While up in Manali I acquired a tandem paraglider (an Ozone Magnum II) and a couple of tandem harnesses.  The wing was delivered in mid September to Goa and my first “guinea pig” was Naomi who visited me last year from Israel for a month and she was back for another holiday.  I was pleased to share this first flight with her and even more happy that it went well (although my wing did drape over a makeshift sun shelter on the beach after landing on our butts but no big deal).  Thanks Naomi!

Hiking up to launch:

Getting Naomi ready to take off:

The first flight with the new wing:

Before taking my first paying customer I wanted to build up some more experience and confidence with the new wing.  It definitely is a nice paraglider and launches, flies and lands superbly.  I first took a number of foreigners that I had befriended in the Cock’s Town restaurant but was then happy to take some local people including Laxmi, a 16 year old girl who goes to school but also sells sarongs and jewellery on Sweet Lake Beach when she’s not studying.  She had never flown before, not even in a plane (which is quite common here) so it was a joy to share the sky with her and her beaming smile.

Happy Laxmi:

Julie from Quebec gives her seal of approval:

As did Aaron a Texan who now lives in Israel:

Naomi back up for another flight...hmm, perhaps this helmet's a bit big for her...

On the main takeoff:

 Looking down on my Goan friend Sanjay:

Charlotte who I met last year in Manali came for a visit and a flight:

Flying my Finnish friend Sakke:

Martin, my Swedish neighbor from last year is back too:

Touching down on Sweet Lake:

Eventually I felt ready for a real customer and it happened to be a Sikh fellow from the Punjab.  Ironically, although I feel I’m super safety conscious my first paying passenger didn’t wear a helmet as he had a turban on!  What to do?

My first customer:

Thumbs up from Rata from Slovakia:

Don't need any words here:

My plan is to continue flying here in Arambol for the tourist season in order to continue to build my flying experience.  It is fun sharing free flight in the sky with many different types of people, both Indian and foreign.  I’ve taken two actual pilots now, one a Canadian who flies big commercial jets for Cathay Pacific and another guy who is an Indian fighter was fun to show a different type of flying to those guys.

So now that I have a “job”, my days are Groundhog Days.  I wander over to Sweet Lake Beach when the wind is blowing in from the sea (usually around 2pm) and fly any willing customers until sunset around 6pm.  It’s a short work day but often requires climbing up the hill 3 to 4 times with my wing which is a good workout.  I must admit I do love my new “office”!

In light of this, there may not be too many blog entries over the next few months since my days will be quite repetitive in nature but please check back once in a never know what might transpire here...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Finishing the Monsoon

August, 2012

Arriving back in Arambol Beach in Goa, I was surprised by the relatively decent weather.  June and July are the heaviest months of rain but I remember a stint last year of 9 days in August when the sun never showed its face.  Thankfully that didn’t seem to be the case this least for the first half of August.

I was also surprised that one of the regulars during the tourist season was already here, Juan from Chile.  I’ve written about Juan before and he’s quite the character although he does like his “Tooki Tooki” (rum) a bit too much but he’s a very talented musician.  Juan greeted me with a warm hug and expressed how this was the first monsoon season in Goa and he was glad to see a friendly face.

A few new foreigners started showing up and one day as I was sitting at a table outside of Cock’s Town restaurant when two Dutch ladies came walking along the beach with their backpacks and promptly sat down with me.  Marielle and Maya had walked for over an hour along the beach from Mandrem where their taxi had let them off so they were quite pleased to sit down and have a beer...which was followed by many more over the course of the next few weeks, some of which were over serious games of Carrom or cards.  It was nice to have some new company and I acted as their local tour guide.  One day we ventured to Old Goa in a sweet retro taxi to check out the numerous churches including the mummified body of St. Francis Xavier.  For some fun amongst all of the religious seriousness of the area I made the ladies hunt for the strange painting in one church of a saint receiving a 6 foot stream of breast milk from an angel (see this previous post for a pic of it).

Our sweet taxi ride to Old Goa:

Frances, the incense loving driver who incessantly adjusted his side view mirror:

The church that houses St. Francis Xavier:

The domed church with the strange painting, just in the bottom right:

Checking out the church in Panjim, the capital of Goa:

A well deserved drink back in Arambol:

Juan being Juan charmed the ladies and especially Marielle, so much so that they wanted to get married and asked me to be the priest! (Obviously not a real marriage but something to do for fun).  The weather happened to be decent that day so I thought it would be funny to be a “paragliding priest” so I had a short flight near sunset and landed in front of them at Cock’s Town while donning a little white collar around the neck of my Hawaiian shirt.  Needless to say everyone was speechless.  I performed a little ceremony by the water with the “Power invested in Tooki Tooki” and they were a couple until “death or she leaves Arambol does them part”.  Later that night Juan entertained us with a small acoustic guitar concert after a lovely dinner at 21 Coconuts also known as “Chez Phillippes”.

Juan with his priest:

The ceremony begins:

An excited couple:

Marielle and Maya:

Juan puts on a show:

As the Dutch ladies left I met two Swiss couples: Valentin & Sarah  and Mirco and Melody, along with a long haired, bearded fellow Sakke from Finland.  Many more games of Carrom, cards and a bit of Frisbee ensued.  Now living in a modest “apartment” (really a guesthouse room with a TV, fridge and a two stove top burner) I invited the Swiss over for a pasta dinner one night and repeated a week later with Sakke over after Sarah and Valentin left India.  Fun times.

Sakke, Valentin and Sarah in a post dinner card game of Halsta:

Sarah taking a shot in a heated Carrom game:

Sarah and Valentin's departure: 

Just after Mirco and Melody left the weather turned sour.  The monsoon wasn’t finished with us yet.  It rained pretty steadily over the next week and a half with one of the first days recording over 40 millimetres in 24 hours.

There’s one aspect I love of travelling ...the lovely people you get to meet and befriend.  Thank you all for lots of fun and camaraderie.  Travel safely everyone.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Kicking It in Kasol

July 24th – 27th

For my last days in northern India before I head south again, I wanted to visit my friend Panna in Kasol.  Panna is one of the managers of the Olive Garden restaurant on Arambol Beach in Goa where I’ve spent a good chunk of time.  I was hoping to see what his other seasonal job was like.  His family has another guesthouse also called “Purnima” (Full Moon) like the one in Manali where I’ve been staying for the past 3 weeks and they also have an Internet cafe/money exchange/shipping parcels/travel arrangements type office.

Panna’s older brother, Manu who also works at the Olive Garden restaurant in Goa, offered to take me in his bright red Tata Nano car (the cheapest new car in the world that ended up being a bit of a flop...thankfully so as more cars on the Indian roads would fall nicely into the “bad things” category).  Manu hadn’t seen Panna for many months so he was happy to go on a

My driver, the man Manu:

Starting into the Parvati Valley:

Driving through the valley:

I'll admit it's a super roomy car but I wouldn't want to be inside of one in an accident:

The 3+ hour drive first took us south to the city of Kullu and then east into the Parvati Valley with its raging Parvati River lined by steep mountains on both was a gorgeous drive.  Thanks Manu!  I was warmly welcomed by Panna who even offered me a free room on the top floor of their guesthouse overlooking the powerful river 100 meters away.  I felt like a VIP!

The large building it the Purnima Guesthouse where I'll be staying:

Me with the brothers, Panna on the left and Manu on the right:

Kasol is a hotbed for Israeli tourists, usually ones in their early to mid 20s who have just finished their mandatory army duty and they come to India to let off a lot of steam...or really more “a lot of smoke”.  But what I didn’t realize before was that there is a town called Manikaran 5 kilometres away that is a holy Sikh place with hot springs so there’s a constant migration of orange turbaned Sikhs either riding motorbikes adorned with orange triangular flags or stuffed into buses or even packed in the back of big trucks like cattle with a crudely constructed second level to act as beds in order to accommodate the maximum number of worshippers possible.

Panna and I had been planning a day hike on my second day but an intense thunderstorm during the night and some continuing rain in the morning put a damper on our intentions as it was a steep trail which would now be a bit treacherous.  The sun came out in the afternoon and instead I decided to walk to Manikaran.  It was a nice walk although I was stopped a few times by excited Sikhs saying “One photo?”  Sure, why not?  But it did slow my progress a bit.

The raging Parvati:

Me and my new Sikh friends...if they take photos of me, why not have them return the favour?!?

There were some precarious footbridges spanning the angry water of the Pavarti Rivers that I couldn’t help but walk on to feel Mother Nature’s power rushing by below.  As I neared Manikaran the river slowed down a bit allowing tall buildings, some 7 storeys high to be built on the side of the river along with a large rectangular pool on the opposite side and by a temple.  I could see many Sikh men dipping into the warm waters as part of some ritual cleansing.  Can’t say I was tempted to join them as the water wasn’t...well let’s just say it wasn’t crystal clear.  Manikaran itself was pretty damn ugly...especially for being a holy place.  Why don’t they clean it up a bit?

Big hotels to accommodate the incessant flow of Sikhs:

The holy bath:

Does this sign work?

Looking back at Manikaran:

The raging river:

Bit of a shaky handrail...

I left on a bus to Delhi the next day after a brief but wonderful visit with Panna which included a late night heated chess game which ended in a stalemate (I’ve never beaten him so I was pleased with that result!).  Thanks Panna!

Panna's office:

Hard at work:

My good friend Panna:

This is Manu, Panna's right hand man at the guesthouse.  This bag was given to me by Panna to bring two tandem paragliding harnesses with me and sure enough the zipper busted just before I was to catch a bus.  Quick thinking Manu just sewed up the problem...nice work man.

I then flew down to Goa where I will be for the upcoming tourist season.  My plan is to try and do some tandem paragliding so we’ll see how that goes....