December 30, 2016

getting around Goa

there are a couple of options for moving around the Goa area.  the taxis [which i hate everywhere in the world], the indian version of the rickshaw [less expensive and more uncomfortable], a scooter [pretty dangerous] or walking [very dangerous].  in the larger cities like Mumbai uber is an option [no cash needed!]
i'm pretty good on a scooter so i get one from the resort to explore around the area and i go to park at the city center where the streets are lined with hundreds of motorbikes that ALL LOOK THE SAME TO ME.  fortunately, i have experience in this area.  first i take a picture of the bike with identifying numbers.  then i take a picture of the shop in front of which i have parked.  in this way i have always been able to successfully navigate back to my bike while i watch other travels wandering aimlessly down a street in despair.

Goa, as i mentioned is a hot spot for westerners seeking a cheap place to live or vacation, so along with that comes the chefs to cater to them.  there are really lovely western style restaurants around and so when ready to get off the street and take a break from indian food [which i love] there are many options.  
by western standards, drivers in India would be considered reckless and vehicular deaths are in their vedic tradition considered the karmic cost of the pollution created by cars.  weekly, if not daily, there are posts on the local fb page of a wrecked motorbike and a note looking to identify the driver who has been now carted off to a hospital.

December 28, 2016

indian rupees - you are screwed

the week AFTER i booked my ticket from Tanzania to India the crazy government in India did something shocking.  they demonitized [withdrew from circulation] the two largest bank notes.  they provided a window of a few weeks for citizens to turn in old notes but weren't able to provide new notes.  this failed effort to combat corruption came with a few catastrophic results.  basically it was a disruption of a cash based economy.  hours long lines for new notes.  hours long lines to turn in the maximum number of old notes.  atm were not prefitted to accommodate the new larger notes so any withdrawal became a guessing game - requiring you to find an atm with cash and then make multiple requests for different amounts.  

India is a cash based society and that's not going to change anytime soon.  so the locals are used to finding workarounds for stupid things the government does.  the taxi drivers were a great source of information here.  they knew which atms had cash and in what denominations you could get cash.  they knew which shops would take old notes, where to use credit cards, etc.

the problem for travelers is that a coconut or a rickshaw ride might cost 10 rupees and all you had in your wallet was 500 or 1000 rupee notes and a street vendor couldn't make change.  

India was still in the throes of this failed transition while i was there and it was a minor inconvenience for me but a very tangible income hit for the locals.

December 27, 2016

Goa beaches + sacred cows

the beaches i visit are most appreciated in the early morning hours for sunrise mediation or an early swim.  anytime after 10AM they are swarmed with circus acts and hawkers and i can't believe the number of people [ both westerners and locals ] on the beach during the day and into sunset.  indian culture is very conservative and since Goa is considered very western it's a place where Indians can swim in a bathing costume or [GASP] bare their shoulders in public.  it's their version of vegas.

the sanitation systems in India are questionable.  so the beaches themselves aren't clean by western standards and swimming in the water is potentially a health risk.  i'm current on things like typhoid and hepatitis so i'm willing to take the chance when i need to cool off.  
the hawkers get really annoying after a while and you have to keep reminding yourself that they are just sisters trying to make some money in a culture that doesn't educate or respect them as equals.  it's hard to say no the grandma wielding a machete and offering a fresh coconut for less than an american dollar.  

there are a lot of children begging with 'tourist english' but whenever i ask why they don't go to school they quickly shy away or defiantly say 'no school today!'.  my beach experience is spoiled by my travels to so many more pristine and secluded places.  

it goes without saying that cows are one of the major obstacles to be dodging whenever you are outside in India.  they don't dart around quickly like dogs or pigs on the streets of Thailand but because of their size it's intimidating when you are walking or riding a motorbike around them.  they do have pointy horns you know. 

they seem to enjoy a sunset on the beach as much as humans and can often be found congregating in groups then.  cows are sacred [not worshiped] here and it's a fascinating aspect of the indian culture.

December 26, 2016

colorful india

the big tourist market in Goa is chaotic and bright but mostly filled with trinkets and chotchkies that i don't have any interest in or the luggage space to lug back to Tanzania and ultimately home. 

while everyone says just ship it home they don't realize i 1] don't have a home address to ship to in the US and 2] shipping from undeveloped countries is not only difficult but is also unreliable.  the US has a well developed postal service in which for a small fee a person will hand deliver paper to your door.  this is not the case in countries outside the west.  

in most cases when someone sends a letter, card or [god forbid] a package to me it involves multiple trips and hours spent at varied government buildings where confused clerks will ask again and again the same questions and pretend to look in the computer and the back room before returning empty handed to tell you come back tomorrow.

meanwhile the sender is anxiously sending me emails every other day to ask if i've received it yet.  when you finally can track down a package it's likely that another government official will open every wrapped box and paw through your power bars and other items that while desirable to the west hold no value to them. 

December 25, 2016

happy christmas in India

in asia, christmas is largely ignored and not celebrated in any visible way.  Goa, being a hot spot of westerners, comfortably mixes christmas with the vedic traditions.  statutes of jesus and mary get garlands and there is a special procession with candles and lots of pomp and a lot of chanting in sanskrit which i don't understand at all.  it's nice they made an effort and they even present the guests with presents.  

December 23, 2016

ashram or resort?

i ended up staying at a 'resort' in Goa that called itself an ashram so that was a little weird but i didn't care because they didn't ask me to do any work.  the owners and management team were all locals but i wasn't buying the ashram part - except maybe they don't pay the workers?

anyway, it was comfortable enough and had daily yoga and meditation which is exactly what i was looking for.  they also had an aurvedic practitioner on site and i was able to get a better understanding of the practices around prevention of disease that is common in the yoga tradition.

there was a set schedule [completely optional] that started with a 6AM meditation - sometimes at the beach during sunrise, sometimes in a mosquito infested forest or in the shala where it's protected from mosquito and the only potential danger is the odd scorpion.  the mosquito pretty much appear consistently at sunrise and sunset [the times considered most sacred for meditation] and given my natural fear of dengue and malaria i keep myself encased in a cloud of citronella and eucalyptus most of the time.

December 22, 2016

holidays in india

last year I had such a fantastic time in Thailand over the holidays i decided to to do the yoga/beach holiday again this year.

so off I went to Goa, India. the 2:30AM pickup by my driver was a little rough but all my flights were on time and drama free so I made it all the way to Goa in one day. two stops, Nairobi and Mumbai.

the airport in Mumbai, being my first impression of the country was really positive. It's really nice. better than most airports in the US. they have separate security lines at the airport for men and women - not so common and of course the women's lines are twice as long as the men....
domestic flights are unpredictable and as i often do i wonder to myself - how is it that planes in these undeveloped countries stay in the air? certainly the carry on rules are different. if it doesn't fit overhead just put it on your lap. seriously.

i have always wanted to visit India and am so glad to have this chance now.

December 9, 2016

take away

in the US they say to-go but everywhere else they say take away so i had to search my mind [which yes, is turning to mush from lack of using any real brain power] for the word to-go.

anyways, cooking here is so much nicer at my new house but i still get take away sometimes from some restaurants.  take away here is different than to go elsewhere and it's environmentally better than what we do in the west because of the packaging waste but it creates a process.

here, they don't have containers to put your food if you are not eating at the restaurant.  you have to bring your own.  so if you want food delivered this is what happens:
  1. you call the restaurant and place and order and get the cost
  2. you call your motorcycle guy who runs these kinds of errands for you.  these guys, even though they are also your boda driver are called picki pickis because they are picking something up for you.
  3. your picki picki then comes by your house and collects the cash and the containers and takes them to the restaurant
  4. the restaurant then fills your order and the picki picki brings back to your house.
usually the order will be wrong but it's food and you didn't have to cook right?  

think about that next time you spoiled westerners order a food delivery.

December 6, 2016

thank you god for uber

challenging weekend in Dar el Salaam.  i know its not profitable and will probably collapse after a few years but its been fantastic for me when i am traveling. i know there are people who have philosophical differences with the model but i give in to uber wherever it's available.

i do not need to know where i am.  i only need to know where i want to go.

i do not have to speak a foreign language.

i do not have to have small currencies of foreign money in wallet.

it is usually 25% -50% less than what i'd be able to negotiate with a taxi.

so thank you god for the people who thought this up, continue to fund and push it out to countries i visit.  it's not available where i live but in the capital Dar and in Nairobi i can use.