greetings from Vagator Beach in Goa, India!

29-Nov-2001.

Two days into my travels and already I had the runs. How that was possible in light of the reasonably extraordinary measures I had taken to eat safe, sane and sanitized food is beyond me. Maybe my Chicken Enchilada in Mexico the previous week did not sit well with my Four Treasure Balls in Soup in Hong Kong that morning. Who knows. I've never heard of the Mexicans against the Chinese before, dukeing it out, but in this new global economy who can really say? The Chinese, they are a clever bunch and I heard a timebomb ticking in my stomach early on. I awaited to see if the exotic spices of India could diffuse my folly, or add yet another unique explosion of their own.

Hong Kong was surprisingly clean, modern, busy and impressive. It gave me the feeling of - wow - this is what sort of engineering human beings are really capable of. The train from the airport was high speed and whisper quiet, and there were LCD screens at every seat showing news, weather, sports and a map of the subway for free. Many impressive buildings, all of them are tall and many are skyscrapers. You won't find a typical house anywhere in sight. Plus you'd hardly know that it was China, as it seemed more like Times Square in New York City everywhere with the signs and lights and fancy neon everywhere. It took me two flights and 15.5 hours to arrive there at the luxurious and accomidating Mirador Mansions Okay, so they were *hardly* mansions, but a reasonably cheap ($12 Cdn) and clean place to stay. Cool electronics, tiny cell phones, tiny subcompact laptops and digital cameras that haven't even been released on North America yet. Oy, I wish I was in the market...

I spent a few days in Bombay seeing some of the sights. Navigating from the airport and around town was surprisingly easy: arrive, change money, prepaid taxi and a $12 private room. Sounds simple, I know, but this is India and I was expecting far more touts and frustration and forms that I had to fill out twice in triplicate, or something. I even took the suburban trains for 4 Rupees (about 12 cents) to see Mahatma Ghandi's house, the last one he lived in before he was murdered, and then off to the illustrious Chowpatty Beach at sunset on a Sunday where thousands of Indians come to frolic in the wind in a carvival-like atmosphere. What a great time. I ate some bhelpuri (a Mumbai specialty, delicious, unusual, and otherwise I won't begin to describe it as I can't!), had some homemade 30 flavour ice-cream (yummy!), got a head massage (!), which is odd, I know, and had all sorts of kids and teenagers alike come up to find out where I was from, have their picture taken and just laugh and joke around. I may well have been the only caucasion among about ten thousand Indians on a beach that is a major tourist attractive. But you wouldn't want to swim or sunbathe here, eesh. And finally, in Bombay I went to see the impressive area where many dobi wallahs work, the 5000 or so laundry people who beat, thrash and generally pound thoroughly clean many thousands of pounds of laundry each day. What a sight. You'd never see something like this in North America, or Europe for that matter. And in going there, away from Colaba and tourist central I have seen the real Bombay, the one that never gets much press or pictures or is even spoken of much at all. The one that you'd read about in A Fine Balance, that great book by Canadian author Rohinton Mistry. Heart-wrentching, that's all I can say.

I am in Goa now, probably the least Indian part of India and you really notice it in the food. Lots of meat everywhere, due to the Portugese history of this place (it used to be a colony). I have done an enormous amount of walking thus far, starting with the short 5km or so from Vagator to the Anjuna Flea Market along a small road that cut through an open field and then up a big hill, the tallest hill around for quite a long ways to see what I could see. The view of the beaches was incredible, I took a few pictures and as I was rounding the top of the hill there was a hang-glider/parachuter literally suspended in the air above. I watched him for some thirty mintues and he never went down, just stayed floating in the air and going back and forth, forward and backwards, sometimes gaining some altitude and sometimes losing some. At times he was within about twenty feet from the top of the cliff, and at other times he has hundreds and hundreds of feet from the rocky beach below. How cool. It appears the updraft from the ocean hitting the hill gave him a great deal of lift and he was in complete control through a series of ropes attached to him arms. I watched him for about thirty minutes. And then the guy yelled out to me: want to try? Eek! I don't recall exactly what I said in return, or if I said anything at all but if I did it surely wasn't yes, unfortunately. I was chicken. But also I sooo wanted to do it! "10,000 Rupees to buy, plus about 2000-3000 Rupees for instruction" he calls out. That's about $350 for the parachute and $100 for instruction. Quite a bit of money in Indian terms but it would be fun. I wondered how much utility I'd get out of it after the first day, though, and thought maybe I'll get chance to just rent one for a few hours sometime this week. And I walked on.

The famous Anjuna Flea Market on Wednesday is a crazy place, the craziest market I have ever been to. Many hundreds of vendors hawking their wares of everything from a plethora of cool gypsy clothes and sarongs and silver jewelery of every type to Enfield motorcycles and toothpaste. The problem is, everyone Indian in even remote proximity to this place will only ever talk to you to sell you something, so after they realize that it's futile I can actually strike up a good conversation with them. "No good business!" they say. Because of Afghanistan, they say. Even the boy I met while swimming in the ocean, who waved to me as he was swimming too went into the pitch about his shop not more than ten seconds after our coordial greeting. Ugh. Even halfway around the world, it's all about money and the reduced tourism has hit here as well, like everywhere else around the world. We saw this in Mexico a few weeks ago too. But once you're past that, the hawking and always selling you something, the people here are so friendly, such a different culture from home...

Thus far I have met many interesting travelers. There is the guy from Manchester who has made it all the way from Goa on his motorbike, with many tales to tell. He went through Europe and then Turkey and Iran over several months before having to divert his path following September 11th. Then there's the guy from Holland, whom I have coined the Cheapest Man in the World (he's Dutch, after all), who is about seven months through his travels in Nepal and India, and still has a couple of years to go in Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Laos, China and Russia. "I'm a budget traveler. Budget traveler!!" he says to the locals, the taxi drivers, the hotel owners, to the point of frustrating each and every one of them until they are visibly agitated. Eeesh, it's guys like this who give traveler's a bad name. In my opinion there is no use squabbling over what amounts to about 5 Rupees (15 cents) but whatever. I just want to enjoy my travels, and the relative exchange here (30 Rupees for one Canadian dollar) means that for very litle money we can live like kings, if we want. Or just a simple life near the beach, which is more my style.

Goa is where I wanted to be. At least it will be for the first month or so, in a relatively secluded place where I could spend many hours writing and otherwise doin' not too much. Eating coconut and spicy Indian dishes, sitting on the beach and going for walks to see what there is to see. Maybe I'll rent a motorbike soon. Before I head south, through the states of Karnataka and Kerala I'll see how much writing and nothingness I can get done up until Christmas or so. It's amazingly beautiful here. It's hot, HOT, every day, all day, all morning and afternoon and evening and night. But I can swim in the ocean and go for walks along the beach and chat with other travelers. My buget is $15 Cdn a day, quite luxurious by Indian standards. I could get by on $10 a day if I wanted but that's being a bit elcheapo, I think. I'd have to be like the Dutch guy above, who surely has enough frustration for me and ten other people. And likely I'll be closer to $20 a day, renting scooters and eating well and not squabbling too much over a few Rupees. I want to stay safe and enjoy my time away.

What about world events, the terrorist attacks and how that might affect India? Well, Goa at least is in a bubble of sorts and not much seems to permeate through. In Bombay at least I could keep up with the news through the papers. Here, life just goes on as if nothing has ever really changed. I suspect it will be much the same in the south.

So, finally, at long last and long wind you might be wondering to yourself: (if you've made it this far without skimming, congratulations, I owe you a hero cookie!) what is the point of an email such as this? Well. You are the poor, sad, pathetic soul who has requested to be on my rather periodic mailing list about my travelers. There are about 37 of you, I think. And so instead of giving you daily, or maybe even hourly updates as to my whereabouts and wherewhatalls, I'll send you a lonig email every once and a while. Feel free to write back should you feel so inclined.

That's it for now, over and out. I'm signing out... k



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