Merry Christmas from the beaches of paradise

22-Dec-2001

Yeah, you heard right. Paradise. That's where I'm at right now, where I'm callin' from. Twenty minutes south of the little village of Arambol along the far northern coastline of Goa, India. Palm trees all around as Christmas crawls up upon me. The beach is beautiful and almost deserted here, yay!

I was sitting at a beach restaurant the other night when a large group of children came walking up the beach, singing funny-sounding Indian christmas carols in their local language and carrying a few green tree props to show they were in the festive spirit. And then there was the brownest, thinnest looking Santa Claus that I've ever seen, smiling big and wearing a full-body red Santa Claus suit. He must have been sweating, man, like there was no tomorrow. Santa Clause on a beach in the tropics! Santa Claus was the minster, who came around, up to every single table, shook hands with every person, smiled big and wished everyone a, "Happy Christmas." It was great! As they left towards the next restaurant along the beach I couldn't help but hum a little song to myself, "it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas... in everywhere you go..." as I sip my pineapple milkshake and watch the waves crash onto the beach

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas? Ain't that so incredibly far from the truth. I have spent the last two weeks living in the coolest beach hut in the world, constructed entirely of bamboo and woven palm tree leaves and suspended up in the air, above a restaurant. Sea Paradise, the guesthouse is called. It's on Mandrem Beach, closer to the village of Mandrem than Arambol. And it has the most amazing view of the ocean, I am literally right on the beach. I have walked the 25 minutes or so along the sand to the nearby village of Arambol several times and have convinced myself that I have absolutely the best view on this entire stretch of coastline. It's amazing. The waves, they are crashing, crashing, swelling, rolling CRASHING and I find I can't sleep without them already, it's such a good sound to take one to dreamland with me.

My hut has a big comfy double bed, a mosquito net, colorful bamboo mats covering the floor, and again the most amazing view of the ocean from my very large window, which is the width of the whole big room. It's paradise. Off in the distance, walking up to it slowly over sand like you're coming 'round the top of the earth is one lonely restaurant with a big sign that reads The End of the World Restaurant. Yeah, this is a cool place to be for Christmas. My hut doesn't even have a door, instead there's a steep ladder to climb up every day, and at 200 Rupees a night (about $6.50 Cdn) it's much more expensive than the last place I stayed in, at 75 Rupees a night (about $2.35 Cdn). But it's worth it. I am eating well, lots of traditional Indian food but also some seafood, Chinese fried rice and yummy lassis, basically yoghurt milkshakes with your choice of fruit. Everything is cheap cheap cheap and the food is delicious.

Plus, the parties here are amazing. My first foray was with the famous Goan Full Moon party, about three weeks ago. Arriving at around midnight, I was disappointed to find it not very busy at all. There were no people! Well, that's because it doesn't even get going until the wee hours of the morning, and the music stops sometime in the afternoon of the next day. By then you've danced for hours, drank lots of Chai, fraternized with other travelers and some locals, and maybe even slept on a pile of leaves somewhere. Eesh, I wonder what kind of leaves those where...

The parties themselves are often illegal, but someone bribes the police every month and the parties continue. Every day now, and for the next week or two at least there are parties. It really messes up my sleep schedule, seeing daylight only as it rises in the morning, having been up all night. I've taken to only going to the parties once a week now. Plus it's about an hour's drive from where I'm staying, maybe that's a good thing? Oh, wait...

Pounding Goan Trance Music. Huge "dance floor" in the middle of the forest, trees painted with florescent colors around the perimeter. People everywhere, wearing their best rave clothes, showing off their bodies. And bamboo mats with Chai ladies everywhere, who'll look after your bag if you buy some Chai and stay a little bit. It's always much fun, especially watching the sun come up as hundreds of people dance in the craziest ways that they know how.

Oh, and the fact is there are ###### CENSORED... sorry ##############

I am partied out. I seem to have written this email over several days. Fortunately, on some days I spend much of the day writing, my record thus far being about 26 single-spaced, handwritten pages of small print in one day. Took me over six hours to write that much. So the book I'm writing is progressing quite well, I am very pleased to say. I re-read all my previous writing that I brought with me and decided it wasn't exactly, umm, congruent enough with how the story is evolving; what I brought with me now seems sort of like little stories and situations that didn't always fit togehter and so I have put that at the end and have started writing the book in reverse, focusing on character development. My writing weakness. But it's getting good, and I'm learning fast about these characters. It is fun to see it develop, as I don't know where it's heading either. Most of you already knew that that was a big part of my need to travel, to write and be free, but in case you didn't you know now. So there.

All I know is that I will be heading south soon, my little vacation holiday in Goa will be over and the real traveling will begin. I'm going to head into the state of Karnataka just after Christmas, maybe on the 26th, and start in Hampi just to see what I can see. Hampi was once the center of the Hindu empire, at least in the south, but that was a long time ago and now it's a village of barely a thousand people. From there, who knows? I'll keep you posted. I plan to spend about a month in Karnataka, the silk-making capital of India, so if anyone has requests for fabric, sarees and sarongs send them now and I'll shop around for you.

Hope everyone has a great Christmas, and do think of me when you eat your lustrious, deliciously tempting turkey dinner. One of my favorite meals in the world. I've become veg since being in India, making an exception for only one meal (chicken) and yet I have eaten well and really enjoyed the food thus far. I've gone vegetarian partly out of necessity and partly out of choice -- it is so common here to be veg that eating meat is sometimes not safe. Safer in Goa, sure, but why bother? And you can only get chicken and lamb anyway, as cows are sacred to Hindus and pigs are sacred to Muslims. They have some bacon and such in Goa but I shudder to think about how it was handled. But I must say (shh!), oh what I wouldn't do for a hunk of beef jerky right at this moment! Arrgh! Yeah, I know it's sacred for about 800 million people here in India, and so rarely have I craved meat, but oh, man. Man. Give me some beef jerky!!

Oh yeah, before I go. Here are some of Kelly's tips for safe travel in India. I am building this list so it will grow over time. It is kind of in almost-English language I find I must speak here, to be understand and I can get by.

1. eat no meat, less chance of sick.
2. swim in the ocean every day. EVERY day. Don't drink *that* water either.
3. when someone motions you to stop while you're driving and points and says, "road close" and you turn your motorcycle around and they say "go straight, then left." and you say, "how far do I go straight?" and they say, "yes." and you say again, "go straight for how far?" and they say, "left." and you say, "okay, thank-you!", and you just start driving again and hope everything works out. Well, you would do well do drive a little ways and ask someone else too. Eventually, through a series of hand gestures, smiles and deductive reasoning, using my weighted-average reasoning from numerous different sources, I figure it out. It can even be quite fun to get so lost, sometimes.
4. when a local tells you that the German Bakery you're looking for is "next to church" and you start walking and now you've already passed four churches with big crosses in front of them, keep walking. You'll come across it eventually. There is no sense of either distance or time here. Fortunately I am learning to dig that and just go with the flow.
5. drink lots, pee lots, and take as many shits as you can. Kelly's special recipe for not getting sick for too long.

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

k



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