These last two weeks have been filled with surprises; new friends, new sites and new bowels movements to name a few. As I sit on the beach, watching the rain pour from the sky (very uncommon this time of year) here’s a snippet of my festive holiday!
After a light Christmas Eve dinner with my host in Pune, I boarded a 12 hour sleeper bus to Hampi—dreamy Hampi. There’s a reason why it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. The land is scattered with breathless ruins, temples, royal structures, monkeys (more to come on that) and rich history of the Hindu empire. I woke up early Christmas morning next to a lovely woman en route to see her family for the holidays. After exchanging a heartfelt Christmas greeting, I opened the thick red velvet curtains revealing a world of wonder—acres of red boulders lined the terrain. In the distance, giant rocks balanced on thin pedestals while lush green rice fields stretched along the river. After settling into my little family-run hostel, I was ready for a thrilling day of site seeing! The hostel owner organized a guided rickshaw tour for me and a woman from America named Kim. We hit it off from get-go and had a fabulous Christmas exploring the ancient land together! The day ended with a slobbering trunk-blessing from the temple elephant Lakshmi and traditional Japanese food by a local Japanese immigrant.
Having enjoyed each other’s company, the next morning Kim and I decided to continue our adventures together. We crossed the river, rented a scooter, and explored the Anegundi back lands; our first stop on the list, monkey temple. We climbed several flights of stairs to reach the top, and after wiping the sweat from our foreheads what lay before us was a beautiful stretch of rocky land; behind us, a small Hindu temple and around us, monkeys! While most monkeys kept to themselves, one in particular stood out. The locals advised us to keep away since he was an angry monkey; as such, we did as instructed and meandered in the opposite direction. Once away from the crowd, I decided to take advantage of the sacred place and take a holy-whizz. Kim kept a look-out while I squatted behind a rock, but moments later she uttered “uh, the evil monkey is coming your way, but don’t worry, he’s pretty far.” Before I could answer ‘how far’ he started to dash toward me and my manmade squat-spot. Seconds later Kim yelled “Yo, he’s right there” and not wanting to fall victim of a monkey bite, I shot up mid-pee and ran up the side of the mountain! The monkey sat by my squat-spot hissing—wrought with anger. I guess peeing on a holy mountain wasn’t my best move; especially when the Gods left a devil-monkey as the gate-keeper.
The rest of the afternoon was spent driving through small villages, searching for a non-existent waterfall and soaking up the rich view. At one point, I managed to knock both Kim and I off the scooter and onto the ground. My zero experience in scooter driving somehow left us injury free (minus a few bruises) but we had to pay a few extra bucks for the bike damages. That night we said goodbye to quiet Hampi and boarded a 10 hour sleeper bus to crazy Goa!
Goa is the tropical paradise of India—best known for its Casino’s, beaches and nightlife. We arrived during peak season and between Christmas, New Years, the public viewing of St. Xavier’s body (an event that occurs only once every 10 years), and multiple electronic music festivals the place was busy! Prices were steep, traffic was high and overall the state was flooded with both residents and foreigners looking to spend their time, and money, on the beach.
While the change of scenery was nice, I seriously had to ask myself why I came to Goa. I don’t gamble, I don’t party, I don’t rave, and while I like the beach, Hawaii isn’t easy to top. In any case, I was ready to see what this thriving state had to offer!
After a treacherous bus ride, Kim and I arrived in Panjim exhausted and reeking of bus-quarantine (whatever that smells like). Thankfully, we were greeted by another one of my amazing couch surfing hosts named Pri. Pri led us to his massive house where we showered, ate and changed for the beach. His house was centrally located which meant we needed to take transport to get almost anywhere. Neither one of us felt comfortable renting and driving a scooter in the busy streets of Goa, so we opted to rely on taxis. Luckily, we managed to hitch our first ride by hopping in the back of a jeep with a bunch of Indian guys. They dropped us off in the heart of Goa where the streets were packed with people and roaring with music. We walked for some time before we found a beach restaurant away from the commotion. After lounging for a few hours we decided to head further north. We paid the over-priced taxi fee and ended up in a lovely area called Anjuna. Although swarming with hippies it was much cleaner and more peaceful. There we enjoyed the sunset, a fabulous fresh seafood dinner and agreed no matter how comfortable one might get in India, never will we be the tourists who walk the streets barefoot! If the locals are wearing shoes, then you better believe I’m wearing shoes. While I’m all for ‘going with the flow’, my flow includes footwear when not at the beach. God bless your ‘soles’ hippie travellers.
The next day I decided to explore Old Goa—the principal city of the Portuguese eastern empire. The city is also a UNESCO world heritage site as it houses the remains of the old city which included Portuguese style Cathedrals and churches. The place was overflowing with Christians—some waiting in line for up to 7 hours to get a glimpse of St. Xavier’s decaying body. While everyone stood in line, I took advantage of the subsidized government tours which, to my surprise, had no lines. For less than 2$ I got a new air conditioned Jeep, driver and private English speaking tour guide for an hour tour of the grounds. Talk about a deal! The crowds were exhausting so I was happy to leave after a few hours of roaming and spent my evening with local couch surfers I had been in contact with. I then made my way back to Pri’s house and that’s when the real ‘fun’ began…
I’ve spent just over month in this foreign land and what better way to recognize a milestone than with a nice case of food poisoning!!!
Since my arrival, every foreigner I’ve met has asked me “have you been India sick yet” and up until a few days ago the answer was no. They of course replied, “don’t worry, you will”. My case took effect that night. Back and forth fever and chills followed closely by the violent stomach upsets. Your greatest fear is not that you’re going to explode, that’s inevitable, the real fear is you don’t know from which end! Every time your stomach turns one can only pray you picked the right position to deal with the upcoming natural disaster!
The next morning I woke up feeling better and somehow convinced myself fresh air would be good. I also convinced myself that taking a 2 hour bus ride to a beach far north would be helpful. Uh ya, don’t ask me what I was thinking since the moment I got on the bus and said good bye to solid ground for God knows how many hours, my stomach started to act up! I must have sweat most of the up-set out on the ride up because I arrived in Arambol soaking wet, though it hadn’t rained. I hurried down to the beach, found a lounger and instantly assumed the fetal position. Of course, there were no public bathrooms on this beach and the only possible squat-spot within proximity was the kids’ sandcastle next to me. One word: DOOMED!
After spending the worst most unpleasant day on the beach in a bikini, there seemed to be a small window of opportunity. My stomach had calmed and I thought, “let’s make a run for it”. I quickly gathered my belongings and dashed to the taxi lot where I tried to hire a taxi to take me home. Sadly, no one wanted to drive that far— even with my generous bribes. Instead, I was shoved onto an overcrowded local bus—“here we go again”, I thought.
A man near the front of the bus must have noticed that I looked like St. Xavier in the flesh since after catching my attention he told me to squeeze my way to the front. He then opened the door next to the driver and pushed me into the spacious compartment where I had room to sit and breath. When I managed to raise my head from between my legs, I sat face to face with the Hindu God Ganesh—the elephant headed deity which sat on the driver’s dash. Our eyes locked, and while no spoken words were exchanged my strong gaze highlighted the following “Ganesh, I did not come all the way to India to shit my pants on a bus. You’re getting me home in one piece”! Two and a half hours later I made it home—sweaty, but fully in tacked. I fell into bed wanting nothing more than the day to be over. Perhaps the elephant blessing in Hampi really did mean something…
I spent the following day in bed and on the sofa. Pri was very kind and empathetic to my pathetic state. Thanks to his hospitability, and isolating myself for nearly 30 hours, I woke up New Years Eve day smiling. That morning, I said good bye to Pri and his lovely girlfriend and headed south to the remote area of Palolem. Here I was greeted by another couchsurfer George, and his friends. Although it was a long week, the trip to Palolem seemed to be the light at the end of the tunnel. The beach was empty, quiet, clean and calm. Although the place crawled with Scandinavian and British foreigners, everyone was very chill. No loud music. No one asking for your photo. No one hassling you to buy useless trinkets. Just good food, a clean beach and silence. I of course took pleasure spending my days writing in the beach restaurants. On New Year’s Eve, I did my best to stay up until midnight, but my 90 year old inner self doesn’t do well with late nights. My 9pm nap, which was supposed to help me get through the night, ended up lasting much longer. I instead woke up at midnight from the extremely loud firework show. I sat on my balcony and watched for some time before I crawled back into bed excited to celebrate the New Day the following morning. Instead, January 1st included another upset stomach thanks to a bad fish, AND I found myself surrounded by a pack of wild beach dogs. Once again, I sent a prayer to holy Ganesh begging that my New Year wouldn’t begin with rabies and a shit-storm.
Needless to say I was very happy when my overnight train arrived in Pune early this morning. My host picked me up for the station and we took a lovely 4am drive outside the city to watch the sunrise.
Tomorrow, Sunday, I will begin a 10 meditation course called Vipassana. Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. The technique is taught at 10-day residential courses which happen all over the world. During this time, participants follow a prescribed Code of Discipline, learn the basics of the method, and practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results. It’s basically mental training. There are strict rules one must follow for 10 days which include, no physical exercise, separation of men and women, no music, books, pens, cell phones, contact with others and one must respect the noble of silence. Yes no talking, except with your teacher, for 10 days. Basically from when you wake up at 4am to when you sleep at 9:30pm, your day is spent meditating. It is open to anyone, anywhere in the world from any walk of life. You’re not praying too or worshiping anyone. It is simply about taking the time to cleanse the brain and simply be. Some call it devotion. Some call it meditation. Some call it quiet time. Doesn’t matter what it’s called, the intent is to achieve one’s highest level of happiness. And who wouldn’t want that?
So you won’t hear from me until after January 16th; unless of course I continue to practice the noble of silence ;).
I want to take this moment to wish everyone a very Happy New Year! I am very blessed to have all of you in my life and I want to thank all those who have sent me messages, emails, texts, tweets, whatever while I’ve been away finding ‘a’ way. I truly appreciate your supportive, loving words.
“Remember, there is something special about you. Yes, YOU! There was something you were born to be and do that not one of the other seven billion of us was. There is a life you are meant to live; there is a journey you are meant to take. Go out there and fulfill your mission and literally change the world!”
Thanks to Kim for sharing some of her awesome photos!