Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Happy Holi!

March 8th, 2012

Holi (pronounced “holy”) is a Hindu religious festival known as the “Festival of Colours”. It is held on the last full moon of the winter season. This day is considered to be the happiest and most colourful day of the year promoting the brotherhood among people and after experiencing it I can say that it does just that!

Last year I was in Panchgani around this time and somehow missed it and although Goa is not the epicentre of Holi activities, it still does happen here (but I am jealous of my friends Brett and Belle being in Mumbai!).

The principle of the festival is quite simple. Buy some brightly coloured powder from a store and walk around throwing it at anyone you like or smear it on their face, arms...wherever. For some reason, this activity just can’t help but make everyone cheerful as everyone exchanges a “Happy Holi!” greeting.

Martin and I had gone for lunch separately and although I saw a lot of the carnage with colours spattered along the path and colourfully smeared Indians and tourist alike I somehow I avoided the gauntlet on my 5 minute walk around the cliff side to a restaurant whereas Martin sat at Deepo’s restaurant with some lovely pink smudged on his face. I joined Martin and almost felt like a bit of a stick in the mud as most people passing by on the path where coloured up. Eventually a couple of Russian women who were making the rounds with their bags of bright colour finding victims to decorate, zeroed in on us and we gladly welcomed the addition of some colour to our mugs. I was finally initiated to Holi.

Martin and I decided to get into the action and after a brief return home we decided to play some pool at the Rice Bowl followed by some beach restaurant hopping. On the way to the Rice Bowl we fell victim to a few of the vendors along the path (we walk by them every day so know a number of them) who cheerfully added some new hues to our existing pink. Anand, a young teenage boy whom we’ve befriended, was more than happy to colour us up and we again were glad to oblige.

With Anand, a 13 year old shop vendor we've befriended over the past view months:

As we were playing pool and having a few beers, two multi-coloured Turks, a couple we think, and an English woman joined us. They were fully embracing Holi too. We played a few games with them before moving to a beach restaurant called Opinhall which sports a nice bar with tall stools with massive round seats. There we met an Australian man named Hamish who was in the same mode as us with his face completely covered as he instructed the bartender on how to make him a fancy dry martini. We chatted him for a while and then continued our bar hopping and then hiked up the ridge to catch a lovely sunset.

Shooting some pool at the Rice Bowl:

Martin concentrating:

Some new Holi friends, this guy is from Turkey:

And she's from England:

And another Turk who played pool with us:

In Opinhall for a drink meeting an Aussie guy named Hamish:

Not a bad look:

Checking out sunset:

We ate at one of my favourite restaurants on the beach, Om Star, where the pizzas are fantastic and the waiter Johnny is the best server in Arambol. This Nepalese fellow is always happy, friendly and actually hustles at providing great service (not exactly the norm here!). We finished the evening at the Olive Garden with some Jenga and a few more beers. What a day!

Back at Opinhall en route to dinner:

At the Olive Garden to finish the night with Ram and Pinku:

Martin mentioned that the Swedish government is considering including some holidays from other religions than just Christian ones into their calendar and he thought Holi should definitely be one of them...I couldn’t agree more, I wish we had this back in Canada!

Happy Holi!

Scootering the Goan Coast

February 20th, 2012

With my Canadian friends leaving last night, it was time to check out of my small room at the “Soul Mate Guesthouse” which at least had a hot shower (my first in many months) and head north to Arambol. I checked my Lonely Planet Goa guide and decided to take the scenic route, at least in the south of Goa, along a route I haven’t taken yet.

My first stop was Agonda Beach, the first beach north of Palolem. It’s a sleepy beach with a long expanse of sand running north south. I imagine in another 10-20 years it will become another Palolem. I walked on the beach for a few minutes, snapped a few pics and hopped back on the scooter.

Looking south at Agonda Beach:

Groovin' on Agonda:

A church in the small Agonda village:

One of many lovely coastal scenes I saw:

The road heading north was a fun one to ride with smooth pavement, sweeping turns winding up and downhill. I soon arrived at stop #2 of the day: the Cabo da Rama Fort. This Portuguese built fort has little history as it didn’t see any real action. It was briefly occupied by the British from 1797 to 1802 and again a year later until 1813 but it never really served the Portuguese in a meaningful way. It became a prison until 1955 and now just a church is the only functioning building within the fortifications.

The entrance to Cabo da Rama Fort:

One of many gorgeous views from within the fort:

I was surprised by the size of the fort, definitely the biggest Portuguese fort that I have visited in Goa. For the first half of my visit, I seemed to be the only tourist in the place. It was probably almost a kilometre walk from the entrance to the furthest point west where there was the concrete remnants of a building. Luckily it had a small one storey square tower that had a staircase running up around the outside that permitted a beautiful view of a palm tree covered spit jutting out into the ocean to the west and a view of the jagged coastline to the south and the long expanses of beach stretching to the north.

The peninsula facing west:

Looking north:

Walking back along the old main road:

Walking back toward the entrance, I followed an overgrown service road and couldn’t help but imagine the Portuguese soldiers 250 years ago plodding along the path, baking in the sun and sweating copiously in their maladapted uniforms...poor dudes.

There were dead leaves everywhere in this forest...

Not sure what killed the leaves but they looked like they were made of spiderwebs:

The overgrown fortification:

A few cannons still aiming out at non-existant foes:

The shot across the front door:

The still functioning church:

Gobsmacking vistas:

I doubt the Portuguese soldiers enjoyed the view:

I continued north and as the road started inland to skirt around the wide outflow of the Sal River, I realized that I probably should get some gas. I ended up on a two land divided road and thought that I must have missed a turn to cross the river and get back to the coast. I stopped and asked a guy walking on the side of the road for gas and the way to Varca Beach. He instructed me to head back the way I came and go about a kilometre back for gas, then backtrack from where I came and turn at the church in the town of Chichinim. As I took the fork in the road towards the gas station I was immediately waved over by a traffic cop on the side of the road. It turns out that I had accidentally turned onto the National Highway #17. By law the driver of a motorbike or scooter must wear a helmet (although any passengers don’t...figure that one out). I had my paragliding helmet with me as I was aware of this law but had it strapped to the back of the seat. I explained to the officer that I had accidentally turned onto the highway and didn’t know it (sign posting is not a forte of India). He checked my licence and in the end I had to pay a 100 rupee fine ($2)...not bad.

Rice terraces on the high plateau:

Hmm...something seems out of place here...tough to see here but the little red thing on the roof is a satellite dish!

Gassed up, helmet on, I cruised back to Chinchinim and found the right junction and really wasn’t surprised that I had missed it the first time. Just before arriving to the coast, I passed through the small town of Cavelossim with its high end shops and eccentric hotels. The Holiday Inn looks to be an old converted cathedral with an attempted modernized look while another one was shaped like a fat freighter boat with the windows of the rooms being portholes in the side of the hull. I couldn’t imagine the rooms being that nice nor why you’d want to stay there. I turned south down a 3-4 kilometre spit to Mobor Beach where even fancier hotel resorts can be found but all the general public gets to see is fancy gates, colourful flowers and stylish looking guards.

The Holiday "Cathedral" Inn:

"All aboard!"

The expanse along Mobor Beach:

Heading north I drove near the coastline for about 25 kilometres, occasionally stopping in to check out a beach. I reached the peninsula where Dabolim, the only airport in Goa, is located. The dirty port city of Vasco da Gama is at the end but I didn’t venture that far. I had enough of the incredibly polluted industrial suburb area after five minutes or so and headed inland to the highway to travel across northern Goa.

I love the air pollution sign on the left (a bit difficult to see)...good idea but perhaps we should pick up all of the garbage on the ground first! The air pollution sign wasn't on anyways.

Yup, not the prettiest part of Goa:

After passing Panjim I decided to head towards Baga Beach. Yes, this may sound a bit sad but Baga has a Subway and I had a hankering for a sub (good sandwiches are tough to find in India). As I was enjoying my sub inside the restaurant, I couldn’t help but smile as I saw an elephant pass by on the road...oh India, you do have your charm.

In Subway, watching an elephant pass by (on the right):

I arrived back in Arambol around 5pm having just driven almost the entire length of the Goan coast on my scooter...what a great day of riding!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pam in Palolem

February 17th-19th, 2012

A friend of mine, Pam, from Victoria in Canada came to India for a 6 week backpacking trip with her partner Renee, Renee’s daughter Chase and a friend of theirs Marlene. They have journeyed from one of India to the other, from Delhi and visiting the Taj Mahal in the north to house boating in Kerala in the south and were now winding up their hectic schedule with some beach time in Goa.

They were staying at Palolem Beach in the south of Goa where I visited with Naomi back in October last year. It’s only about 85 kilometres away from Arambol and I contemplated taking the public buses but that would have entailed 4 different buses and probably would have taken 5 hours so at the last moment I decided to rent a scooter. A few sceptics like the pump jockey at the gas station thought I was a bit crazy to go that distance on a little bike but I didn’t see what the big deal was, although I did make sure to check the oil before heading off.

I took the direct route to get there, passing through Mapsa, skirting by the Goan capital Panjim and puttering through the industrial town of Margao. All in all it took me about 3 ½ hours of scootering and I arrived mid afternoon. The beach was much busier than back in October when it was the shoulder season and had a slightly different look thanks to the erection of many new huts and beach restaurants. Regardless I easily located the place where Pam and her travel companions were staying, a place called San Francisco Huts. It’s been a few years since I last saw Pam and she is the first friend from Canada that I have met up with since I starting Wandergliding. It was wonderful to see her again.




Sunset on the first night:

We spent the first evening just catching up while going out for a nice Italian meal. The following morning after breakfast we wandered down the beach. I mentioned to the ladies about the option to go on a small boat up the river to check out a large, precariously balanced rock that Naomi and I saw in October. They hadn’t heard about the option and were interested and by chance we ended up on the same boat as before: Mr. Big!

In Mr. Big:

Chase lounging in the boat:

It was a leisurely cruise around and we did see a variety of birds including the beautiful Kingfisher. At the half way point, when we were as far inland as we would go, we caught up to a couple of other boats on the same tour and they were pulling closer to one shore by a small dam as some monkeys were sitting in the trees. On the opposite side of the little lake were a couple of local men on the banks who looked to be fishing. With our attention focused on the primates, a small explosion ripped through the air causing the monkeys to flee instantaneously. We turned around to realize that it was part of the fishermen’s technique...chucking a stick of dynamite into the water to stun or kill fish. A couple of guys hopped in the water with masks on and began to search for their bounty. So much for the tranquil float in a boat! We didn’t mind watching the odd bird dive down to steal one of the fishes chucked up on shore by the fishermen...fair game no?

Paying Mr. Big after the ride:

We had lunch at a restaurant with a patio on the side of the lake, the only one. We should have had Mr. Big drop us off there as we had to wade about 50 meters back to it in knee high water but no big deal. We continued wandering around after eating and headed towards what some locals call (or at least I do) “Monkey Island”. It is a small island linked to the mainland by a narrow sandy strip that is underwater at high tide but our timing was fine. We eventually located the trail that crosses the island and true to its name, we did see some monkeys en route. Reaching the high point of the isle, we almost turned back before trying to reach the other side. I’m glad that we didn’t as the steep rocky cliffs did not disappoint.

Me on the other side of "Monkey Island":

The cliffs at the viewpoint:

Chase throwing sand for some reason:

Just in case we hadn’t had enough exercise yet for the day, Chase was insistent that we rent kayaks in the late afternoon. Unlike Arambol where you hardly see any sea kayaks, in Palolem they are a dime a dozen thanks to its sheltered crescent moon shaped shore with Monkey Island protecting it from the prevailing north westerly winds. For a mere 100 rupees ($2) per person per hour, we were outfitted with 3 singles and a double kayak. Chase and I were in the double but we both had a half broken blade on one side of our paddles. Nonetheless we were able to keep up with the others as we all dawdled around the bay just before sunset. A bit of a race broke out on the way back between Chase and me against Pam. It was pretty neck and neck right to the end but as we neared the shore Pam lost her focus, turned sideways to the waves and was promptly flipped over...I’d call that a win for us Chase!

That evening we dined in Dropadi, a beach restaurant specializing in Indian cuisine (yes, such a rarity in this country!). It was quite divine. Chase was ecstatic with her stuffed crab and everyone else fully enjoyed their meals too.

Pam with her dinner made with love:

Chase enjoying her crab:

The next morning I hit the ATM machine about a kilometre and a half away from the beach on my rented scooter from Arambol. I took a wrong turn on the way back but decided to do some exploring to the south of Palolem. I ended up on a small beach called Patnem, which seemed to be a smaller, quieter version of Palolem. Good to know for next time.

Patnem Beach:

When I returned I met up with the others for brunch and then we spent a lazy afternoon swimming in the sea, reading on sun beds and chatting. Pam, Renee and Chase left that evening to the Dabolim airport (Goa’s only airport) to fly to Mumbai but only after we had a final dinner together on the beach.

Sunbeds on the beach:


The last dinner:

It was wonderful to catch up with some friends from Canada here in India. Ladies, I’m glad you had a great time in India and see you back home sometime in the future!