Day 102: Arambol
For the ninth day in a row I wake up in Arambol. I haven’t been this stationary since leaving home months ago. This place now feels like some oddly utopian neighbourhood I’ve been living in for too long. The restaurant down the lane knows my order and familiar faces in the street wave hello to me and everybody is in a perpetual good mood. I feel out of place.
Gathering a few things, I head to the north part of the beach where it’s quieter. At a restaurant nestled on a craggy outcropping overlooking the ocean, I order the Israeli breakfast and gaze into the vortex of my phone screen. Today’s to do list: choose tomorrow’s destination, figure out a way to get there, and decide how to tie together the end of this trip. There is a flight from Bangkok to Canada leaving in twenty-three days, and I’m supposed to be on it.
Blatant Clarity appears on my map of India as I pore over it, almost as if it were a destination itself, situated between here and Gokarna, a coastal pinpoint 200km south of Arambol. The clarity is in it’s route. Relishing this expanse of road from the window of a cramped bus with a broken toilet is a thought my mind rejects instantaneously. Clearly, this squiggly little line on the map would be much more appreciated from the seat of a motorcycle.
I connect some more squiggly lines into an 1800km loop that would send me from my current location to the beaches of Gokarna, up to the chilly hill station of Ooty, then to the magical backwaters of Kerala, and back up to Goa. Why not? My flight to Canada is more than three weeks away. I can’t just bum around here the whole time. Pop-up pictures of me wiping out, alone, along an expanse of Indian highway; of being attacked in the jungle by rabid tribes while I sleep, challenge the notion of freedom this adventure promises. I push them away. Adventure is no good without a bit of danger. That’s what vacations are for.
So that’s it. I’ll rent a bike, ride it in a giant irregular circle through south India for half a month, spend my last week bumming on the beach and then fly to Bangkok to make my connecting flight home. Home.
Of course, my travel funds are in that classic near-the-end-of-travels state. After doing a little math (bike rental + fuel x fourteenish days), it’s clear that something’s gotta give.
I talk to the restaurant servers, show them my intended bike loop.
“Is it safe to sleep on the beaches and in the jungle?” I ask.
“It’s safe,” my server wiggles his head. “But you’re a girl alone. You have to be careful.”
Ask a stupid question . . .
I pay my bill and saunter up the street, purpose punctuating my perky patter. Upon returning to the man’s house whom my sister Marnie and I rented a bike from last week, his wife answers the door. He’s not home, she says, but what do I need?
“A motorcycle. I’ll be going to Ooty and Kerala.”
She points to the yellow license plates on the bikes parked in the driveway. Yellow means it cannot leave the state of Goa.
“You need white licence plate,” she says.
Back at my hotel, the staff are loitering on the staircase out front, a stream of humans cascading over a stony zig zag. They greet me.
“You staying another night?” They ask.
“One more,” I say, then inform them of my motorcycle hunt.
“Ah! Wait.” They call over a guy who stands with his arms folded on the side of the street.
“This man has a bike to rent.”
I jump on the back of ‘this mans’ scooter and five minutes later, we pull over between two small buildings where a sleek, shiny black bike bakes in the sun. It’s a brand new Royal Enfield Bullet 500. He quotes me a steep daily price, but is not much for negotiations.
“I’ll think about it,” I say.
Back in town, I hit the streets. I need superglue to fix my dilapidated shoes, and some sort of sleeping bag to carry me through the imminent nights of ‘camping’. Toilet paper. And a motorcycle. I need a motorcycle.
I wander up the road. Lucky Enfield Bullet Shop, a big shack-like garage, stands alone on the roadside, a slew of 500cc’s spilling out the front.
“I want to rent a bike for a couple of weeks. How much?”
Three mechanics, hunched over different projects, oil and sweat painting their skin like tarry watercolour, turn to look up at me. Two of them can’t be older than twenty. The third guy must be in his forties. He speaks.
“Five hundred rupees a day. I have a bike for you, but it won’t be back until tonight.”
We plan to meet at 8PM. On the way home I purchase a giant bag and huge fleece blanket. The bag is for carrying the blanket. The blanket is for the impending beach and jungle overnighters.
It’s Vicky, the silky-haired model from Delhi. A sweet guy with the clinging tactics of a leech and the mental peripherals of a hedgehog burrowing into his den for a nap.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I dunno. Well, getting ready, I guess. I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“What? Tomorrow? Where are you going?”
“I’m renting a motorcycle. My first stop is Palolem.”
“No. Why would you do that? Are you going alone?”
I feel his eyes scanning my hair, which is long, but pinned up on top to show the freshly shaved sides.
“Dayna, you looked so amazing when I first met you. But now you look less amazing with this haircut.”
My disappointing appearance doesn’t derail his persistence.
“What are you doing now? Do you want to have a beer with me?”
For some reason, I’ve always felt a certain obligation, in certain situations, to reward persistence, even despite sub-standard context. Persistence is an important tactic. It can also be annoying and problematic. I decide to toss him a friggin’ bone.
“Okay. Give me twenty. I’ll meet you at the German Bakery.”
Vicky ambles off and I stop at a tailor, who I ask to sew my fleece blanket together so it’s a tube open only at one end–the poor man’s sleeping bag.
At the German Bakery fifteen minutes later, I spot Aviel at a table with some friends. He’s an Israeli guy I’ve met here several times, just shorter than me in height, fit, with curly brown hair and striking green eyes.
“How’s it goin’ Aviel?”
“Awesome! I just bought a bike today. I’m heading to Palolem tomorrow with some friends.”
“Seriously? That’s where I’m going! Do you think I could join you guys?”
“Um. I think so. We’ll have to see how much room we have on the back of the bikes though, once we get our bags loaded on.”
“Oh. No, I have my own bike. Well, I’m getting one tonight.”
“Oh! Your own? Well yeah, then. Of course!”
I pardon myself from the group as I spot Vicky across the restaurant and sidle into a chair across from him. We chat for a bit, then he insists–as in, tells me–to join him for dinner. Instead, I excuse myself to eat alone at a quiet restaurant and plan my trip over Greek salad densely populated with huge chunks of paneer.
Then, I pick up my new sleeping bag from the tailor and head over to Lucky Enfield Bullet to test ride motorcycles.
“Ah, your bike has not been returned yet,” the mechanic says. “But you can try this one.”
It’s a smaller model, in good condition. I zoom it up the street and back. It’s smooth, zippy. He has another motorcycle available to rent, too. It’s old, with a gas tank that could fuel an eighteen wheeler and gears on the wrong side. Well, the wrong side for what I’m used to. Wiping a quilt of dust from the seat, the mechanic pulls it into the street and rests it on the kickstand.
“Careful,” he says. He shoves down on the seat and it flips up, showing that it’s almost completely unattached to the bike. Jesus.
Balancing on the rather nomadic saddle, I look at the gears on the right side of the bike (this is common of older bikes, especially British models, but new to me) and focus. Hard. Gears on right. Brake on left. I so got this. The mechanic has to kickstart the bike for me, and my confidence drags on the ground behind as I take off. Reaching an intersection, I shakily turn left and the bike sputters and dies in the middle of the road. Shit. I stalled it, I guess. I haul it onto the shoulder, then shove down on the foot lever with all my weight, over and over. The engine whinnies half-heartedly until the guys working in the restaurant across the street take pity and come to rescue my beastly bike. One of them, half my size, kicks down on the foot lever. The bike rumbles to life, then dies again.
“No gas,” he says. That’s about all the English he speaks, I gather quickly. My wallet and bag are back at the mechanic. Communication is difficult, but he has me get on the back of his scooter so we can go back to the shop. Unfortunately, I have trouble guiding him to Lucky’s, and he unfortunately is a fatalistic adrenaline junky. My fingers tingle as I grasp onto the backseat rim like I’m on a broken fucking rollercoaster. This guy is a maniac. I get the feeling part of this suicide mission is to coax me into wrapping my petrified grip around his body with my arms, but no amount of a death threat will talk me into spooning this stranger on the back of a scooter.
When we finally screech into the mechanic shop, the guys look surprised to see me.
The bike the mechanic promised me still hasn’t been returned. He has a bike in the mid-stages of repair, however, that he can have ready for me by tomorrow. With a bit of questioning, it comes out that he is not in possession of the proper papers for the bike. Tales of tourists being pulled over by police without correct insurance papers and having their bikes impounded and wallets emptied are abundant.
“Ah,” I say. “Well that’s a problem. I can only give you 400 rupees a day for it, then.”
He doesn’t even argue. “It will be ready by 1PM tomorrow.”
Once out of eyesight, I dance down the street to the German Bakery. I have a bike! Aviel is right where I left him.
“I have a bike now!” He gives me a high five. Vicky is there too, at another table. I go give him a hug, but favour my new biker buddy and his friends. We spend a couple hours sloshing brews and discussing our trip. He’s never ridden a motorcycle before, it turns out. He just bought a huge Enfield today and is going to travel the country until he gets sick of it, or . . .
“The worst thing that can happen is I’ll die.”
I laugh. There is no one else I’d rather be motorcycling India with.
The beers and the excitement have stoked a warmth in me and the balmy nighttime breeze does nothing to refresh it.
“Can you watch my bag, guys?” It’s midnight. My cheeks are burning.
I run down the path, past the restaurants in the sand, toward that infinite inky blackness. Running into the water, I can feel my cheeks start to cool, the salt sting my eyes. I look up at the stars. They seem to wink at me, cheekily grinning like they know something I don’t. My eyelashes are just crystallizing with seasalt when I return to the table.
“Alright. It’s bedtime for me. Goodnight guys. Aviel, I’ll meet you here tomorrow!”
Vicky appears, upset and feeling ignored.
“We don’t leave til one tomorrow!” I assure him. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
I look over. Aviel is pointing to a guy next to him who has obviously just arrived.
“This is Shay! He’s coming with us tomorrow.”
Shay is Isreali also, very tall, and has dark hair, you can tell, although his head is shaved. Those healthy eyebrows give it all away.
“Nice to meet you.”
Shay is shy.
Back at my hotel room, I crawl under my blanket with sodium-rich lashes, and fall asleep. Tomorrow I leave Arambol. Finally.