Day 103: Arambol to Palolem
I sleep terribly, and, in an attempt to wake up slowly, bring my keyboard next to my pillow. Writing in an exhausted state in a laying down position is incredibly pointless, however, so I look at my belongings that abstractly decorate the floor. The kind of chaos only few can appreciate. How did I accumulate this much stuff with a 46 litre backpack? Somehow I have another bag? It’s full, too. I sort them–one bag becomes a canvas omelette of road trip essentials that will transport me from chilly mountains to humid beaches and whatever the in-between spots might offer with a henna-printed hand. The other bag is a leftover scramble.
At 10:30am I go down to reception with one bag on my back. I leave the other one with them.
“See you in two weeks,” I say.
I go down to German Bakery and order iced coffee and a real, eggy omelette. Vicky, the model boy from Delhi, can be spotted a mile away, his inky black locks catching the sun just so, his shirt just taut enough to show off a buff torso and biceps like an oxen’s ass. A large white cow saunters up the road, and the moment Vicky catches sight of it, throws himself across the street until he is hugging the storefronts, his face convoluted into something that looks a lot like Ultimate Terror. I imagine an animated blade of grass to have a similar reaction upon spotting a cow. I recall Vicky telling me that he doesn’t like touching animals or being around them; he’s afraid of them.
He enters the restaurant and beelines it for me, hovering as I giggle into my eggs, then flits from one table to the next, staring at people’s meals and whining about how he can’t eat. He lights a cigarette, puffs on it, and blots it out immediately.
My omelette has vanished. My tummy is full. I look at the clock. I’m waiting for one o’clock to spin around, when my motorcycle will be ready for me at the shop, the bike I’m taking on an 1800km trip through the wonders of South India. The mechanic has some touch ups to make on it before it’s fit for the road. It’s noon now. Maybe they’ll have finished it early?
I walk out of the shop and instantly run into Aviel on his massive Royal Enfield. He’s one of my bike gang members (as of yesterday), an Israeli guy who happened to have a similar plan with his friends and their bikes, and didn’t seem to mind me latching on.
“Hey!” I say. “I’m just heading to the shop to check on my bike.”
“You wanna take this?”
He swings his legs off the beefy steed of a motorbike. I give it a once over nervously. This is the biggest bike I’ll attempt to ride in my entire two month long motorcycling career. The streets are small and congested. I did, however, sign up for a road trip with these guys, and I don’t want them to think I can’t handle a bit of a hefty motorbike. Awkwardly, I manage to swing my leg over and rev it up. Wiggling up the road, I’m grateful to be out of eyesight, and make it to the shop without flipping myself into a ditch. My bike, the mechanic says, is not ready. One more hour. I rip Aviel’s bike back to the German Bakery and park it down a needle-thin lane, then find a spot next to Vicky at a table. His conversation transports me to a square room with blank walls and no door. It smells of fresh paint. The walls glisten with a brand new grey coat. I realize I’m watching it dry. Shaking my head and landing myself back in the Bakery, I slip away from the insipid conversation and over to where Aviel sits. He is listening to a tall, lanky guy who is passionately educating him on the proper way to take drugs.
“You don’t do one gram of mushrooms. Okay?”
Aviel nods. He continues.
“You do five. You have to really feel them. I tell you what, I know my soul now.”
He rambles, but not without intent. Somehow, probably edgewise, I tell Avi that I’m off to get the bike and will meet him back here.
I walk up to Lucky Enfield Bike Shop. The bike which the mechanic, Vijay, had pointed out to me, is still sitting forlornly in the corner outside. It’s untouched, looking like it got on the wrong side of a parked car. There are no plates on it and the mirrors are still missing. This is the state it was in earlier, and it’s past one ‘o’ clock now. I’m too angry to say anything to Vijay, so I walk out. He yells after me.
“Half hour! Your bike will be ready in half hour!”
Back at the German Bakery, everyone is still there. Vicky fidgets at one table. Avi says another half hour is no problem.
“Just go,” I say. “I don’t want to hold you guys up. I’ll meet you in Palolem!”
They will wait. I follow him through the little lane to his bike. Nofar, a young Israeli woman and Shay, a tall Israeli guy around my age, are waiting for Aviel. I introduce myself to Nofar and say hello to Shay. Aviel’s English is nearly fluent, Nofar’s is pretty good, and Shay’s is parallel to a well spoken six-year-old. I, of course, speak only English. They all converse in Hebrew as they strap their luggage, all of it, onto Aviel’s bike. His bike rack stretches down both sides of the back wheel and has framework over the top of it. His massive pack gets strapped on one side, Shay’s huge backpack on the other, and Nofar’s is perched on top. Nofar will be riding on back. I am not sure how a first time rider like Aviel will manage with all this extra weight. He’s a strong guy, though. They strap on their helmets.
“Seriously guys, you should just go.” They won’t have it. “Okay, I’m going up there whether it’s ready or not.”
Avi says they’ll meet me at the shop. I go to the Bakery to say bye to the boys.
“I’ll walk you there,” Vicky says. Mark, the long-haired French Canadien comes along, talking about his intention to to master tantric sex, which is sex with or without penetration, and always without ejaculation.
“It’s an exchange of energy levels,” he says.
I wish him the best of luck with that.
My bike is ready. Mirrors, plates, bike rack.
“I have a feeling we’ll see each other again,” Vicky says.
We say goodbye.
I strap on my helmet, looking over the Enfield.
“What’s this oil leaking?” I call over the mechanic.
Vijay crouches on the ground, squinting at the puddle of black stuff on the ground. Just chain oil, apparently. The other mechanics squint at it, too. Avi pulls up just then, with Nofar on the back and Shay in tow on a scooter (a rental from Palolem, today’s destination. It needs to be returned).
I hop on the saddle of my Royal Enfield Bullet, a beat up silver stallion, 500cc with a kickstart. It’s not shiny, but it’s a motorcycle. It’s leaky and old, but it’s mine.
The mechanic has strapped my pack to the bike rack. It’s cemented in. The kickstart takes a few tries, and my bike gang have already taken off, but I catch up to them at the next corner. Here we go!
I take up the end of our mini convoy for much of the ride. Once making it out of Arambol and hitting the main road, it’s smooth-ish rumbling along the highway. Aviel leads, his burly bike wobbling at each stop and every corner. Nofar barely makes a face from her perch on the backseat, but you can see the sweat dripping down Aviel’s nose as the weight of the load resists his every steer. Shay, his 6’5″ frame overshadowing his zippy little scooter, zooms along with the ease of a machete slicing a stick of butter. I take up the back, excited but nervous, building confidence with every intersection I make it through without stalling.
We reach Mapusa. The town is a tangle of odd one ways and confusing overpasses and weird roundabouts. Our electronic navigator is as lost as we. We pull over and raid a shop for juice and sugary snacks. Our helmets are siphoning litres of sweat into the inner foam cushioning and I can feel my arms and nose collecting freckles at such high density they will soon conglomerate into what may appear to be, to the untrained eye, a tan. I chug my juice, and look over my beautiful bike. Underneath, a pool of oil the size of my head has collected in the five minutes we’ve been parked.
“That’s not good.”
There’s no time to check it out now. Avi has been pointed in the right direction from the shop owner. On the road again, we escape the tangle, Avi’s rig wobbling nervously and Shay zipping through, cool as a box of chilled apple juice.
The road climbs up hills and down them, snakes left and right and diagonal. A bridge is up ahead, and we start over it. There is a car on the side of the road and a man waving at us. He’s in a khaki uniform. Avi pulls off ahead, then Shay. I park my bike next to theirs on the bridge.
“Shit,” we all say. The police.
One of the uniformed men walk over to us. Behind him, several other people are pulled over, most of them tourists on bikes, like us.
“Get off the bikes,” he orders. “I need your licenses.”
We follow him back to the vehicle, and Avi does most of the talking. The guy reminds me of one of those militant park rangers who act like being a pompous meatloaf is “just part o’ the job.” He says he has to charge us something to the equivalent of three hundred American dollars for not having Indian driver licenses. We also have white plates on our motorcycles, which are apparently not legal to rent. Upon realizing that Aviel actually bought his and thus owns it, the cop decides he should impound it until Avi can track down the real owner and bring him to the station. None of us are appealed by this course of action. Aviel nearly coaxes him out of that. I attempt to speak up, and am immediately shushed by the cop. He won’t even look at me.
“We’re poor backpackers. We don’t have much money. And I won’t be able to find that guy.” Aviel looks him in the eyes.
He tells us to combine all our money and give it to him.
“Give us a break, man.”
Copper doesn’t like that. He dials a number on his phone, the “impound guy”, apparently.
“Okay, okay, we’ll pay.”
We go back to the bikes and pool what we think is enough to get him off our backs. $120 later, we are back on our bikes, as tourists pile up on the side of the road behind us.
The sun sets. The road becomes a black, twisted, jungle-shrouded nightmare. Every curve in the pavement seems as tight as if wrapped ’round a toothpick. My mediocre eyesight leaves me squinting at things three metres away in broad daylight. At nighttime, on an unlit road as familiar as the back of a strangers hand, it’s absolutely dreadful. The muscles in my back ache from the tension as I concentrate on the road ahead and the glare of headlights from the opposite direction blind me. I’m a slower driver than Aviel and Shay. Earlier in the day, I stalled in the middle of an intersection for five minutes and had a more and more difficult time using my kickstart. One time, the exhaust popped, along with my eardrums, and I’ve felt my confidence diminish as oil leaked from my bike every time we stopped. The treacherous night ride has been going for, what? An hour? Two hours? This deathly, hyper-focussed, edge-of-the-seat drive shows no signs of an end until a glare of lights ahead is . . . HALLELUJAH! The lights of a town. Palolem!
Puttering down a street, we park in front of some guesthouses on the beach. A path leads through a restaurant and down to the sand. The four of us trudge along the strip of businesses until finally finding a guesthouse with three rooms available. We get our bags from the bikes and shell out cash for a couple nights. 100km. Five hours. That was exhausting.
A couple places over, we find a table in the sand and dig into curry and pad Thai and beer. The three Israelis converse mainly in Hebrew, and Aviel translates. After, we drift back to our guesthouse and Nofar and I sit lazily in the hammocks out front. Shay and Aviel have to return that scooter–they’d been in this town before Arambol–and then Shay is going to check out a motorcycle for sale. He needs his own set of wheels for this trip.
When I finally go into my room to write, exhaustion-rooted hallucinations shroud my cortex. I realize, in lucid moments, that everything I am writing down is a record of the hallucinations penetrating my reality.
This daily recording may not be entirely accurate.
I go to sleep.