Day 107: Palolem to Om Beach
My eyes flip open at 7:30am. We’re supposed to stop by the mechanic at 9, where my new motorbike should be ready and awaiting the open roads of south India. It would seem that after Nofar and I left the bar at a reasonable hour last night, Shay and Aviel saw to the bottom of a few more bottles. Thus, a 9am road call is looking rather bleak. I pack my bags and lather sunscreen on my body, then lay on my bed with the door propped open as I write. Whatever. We’ll go when we go. India time, isn’t it?
Sooner than expected, Shay is up, eyes puffy, picking boxers off the clothesline outside his room.
It’s only a matter of moments before Aviel is awake.
Next door, I buy a can of cold coffee and sit on the steps to the beach, watching the early risers walk by; the ocean roll lazily onto the shore. When I go back to the room Nofar is sitting in the hammock wearing a baggy Metallica shirt. I give her a hug and say goodbye. She will go home soon, to Israel. The rest of the bike crew– Shay, Aviel and myself– pull on heavy packs. It’s time to go. We walk towards the front of the guesthouse and thank Gunu, the owner.
“I’ll see you in a couple weeks,” I say, handing him a bag of stuff I won’t need for the trip, or probably ever, if I’m honest. I’ll be back in time for my flight in a few weeks, while the boys will continue their journey north. We walk to the bikes parked out back, I hop on behind Aviel and the three of us head over to Kahn’s mechanic shop. It’s 10am. My brand new Royal Enfield Bullet 500cc awaits me like a shining stallion at the gate. She’s beautiful; she’s ready. I strap my pack on the bike rack and hand Kahn a wad of rupees and my passport.
“Drive carefully. It’s my friend’s bike,” he reminds me.
I need fuel. We hit the petrol station, Shay lends me gas money and then we manage to find an ATM that actually works. For some reason, I can only extract 2000 rupees from it, enough to last me a day, a day and a half if I’m lucky.
It’s not long before we reach, then surpass, the Goan border into Karnataka.
“Bye for now, Goa!” I scream to the state.
After an hour, we pull over at a roadside cafe and slide into a booth; our three huge helmets taking up most of one side. I don’t understand a thing on the menu.
I ask for juice. They don’t have. Eggs? Our server speaks no English. Three questions later, as I point to an indecipherable phrase on the dog-eared menu, he snaps.
“Good good!! Is breakfast!”
“Okay, okay, okay, I’ll get that!” I reply in a panic, shoving the menu at the server, wondering what the hell “breakfast” is as Shay and Aviel watch silently from across the table.
Samosas appear for the boys, who ordered ten minutes before me. Puri kurma, it turns out, is exploded bread– dough all puffed out with two types of sauce– orange and white. It’s delicious.
Back on the bikes, the road is as hot as the home of Hades and windy as a desert storm. It cuts through blasted mountain and masses of palms and through all the reddest dirt the south has ever seen. Some sort of large insect whips into the space between my face and my helmet and buzzes against my head until I pull over and set it free. Aviel and Shay have to stop to wait for me about every twenty minutes. I thought I was being brave in this the-only-rule-is-don’t-crash traffic, but my fellow bikers aren’t brave; they’re ballsy. And fast. We stop for a break.
“So much fun!” Aviel is grinning.
Shay removes his helmet, revealing a sweaty forehead and fat smile plastered to his face.
The map shows that we already passed the turnoff. It’s only 2pm. Whoa. We ripped through that 100km in comparison to the treacherous five hour long ride of the same distance we rode the other day from Arambol to Palolem. Driving through the mazes of big cities is a time thief.
We double back, turn off towards Gokarna and follow the signs to Om Beach. This 6km road is wildly blustery as it ascends to the ridge of a mountain and through course jungle. Then, around a bed, Valhalla appears. I’ve seen it more times in the past four months than I can count.
The ocean comes into view far down below where the mountain slopes as if paralleling the curve of a woman’s torso from her waist to her hip, stopping where the sea meets her belly button. A treasure trove of sparkling sand collects around her midriff like a diamond belly chain. We pull the bikes over. A bunch of cows are mooing around, then sniffing the toolbox on the back of Aviel’s bike.
“I’ve got strawberries in there,” he says.
The cow nods.
We moo-ve on. Shay stays with the parked bikes while Aviel and I descend the stairs to Om beach. It’s paradise. It’s made up of two small beaches, curved in together like the outline of a rather voluptuous bosom. Black, sharp-looking rocks rise up in all the perfect spots, as though John Muir had taken to coastal postcard painting. It’s all tall palms and low, leafy almond trees shading the jungle’s edge on the left.
At the bottom of the stairs is a large, open cafe. I follow Aviel inside and we ask if they have vacancy. In the back, the rooms are in dorm-like buildings set in amongst the trees. They have rooms available, but we stroll the first boob of the beach to check the accomodation options. Resting in the sandy cleavage is a handful of bamboo huts. We continue on to explore the second part. This stretch is livelier, the population popping from perhaps fifty on the first half to a robust one hundred on the second. It’s the popular breast, and every guesthouse is occupied. Aviel and I walk back, then up the stairs to collect Shay and back down to check in at the first spot we went to.
“I’ll meet you guys at the water.”
I dump my pack in my room and put on my swimsuit. Hours of sweat has collected in unknown areas and the heat is taking a collective toll on my comfort level. I go straight to the ocean and fix all those things in one fell swoosh. The boys are sitting on the patio when I’m back. I join them for watermelon juice.
Avi starts to read my blog on his phone.
“Can I leave mean comments? Or do I have to ‘follow’ you to do that?”
We decide to drive into Gokarna city. Riding that windy road in nothing but a tank top and shorts, free of heavy bags and the confines of a helmet, my face is stretched to it’s limits in a foolish grin. The air is pungent with freedom.
The city lets us rest our bikes on it’s streets while we explore. The shops sell the same stuff as everywhere else, but the aura of this town belongs to the north. It’s a quieter, more beautiful and traditional place than the Goa we’ve experienced. Men are parading the street in long white sheaths, smacking drums and dancing with their hands up. A wheelless cart draped with fruit and flowers is carried on the shoulders of four men. They remove the fruit and put it in bags and yell in jubilant celebration. Aviel scours the shops for a backgammon set and Shay photographs the busy streets. We eat deep fried peppers and potato balls from a man who dips it in a chickpea batter, then rolls it with his three stubby half-fingers. A tiny, depthless cafe serves up some chai for us in a little metal cup with a deep saucer. We watch, then mimick the others in the shop as they pour the chai back and forth between dishes, cooling the burning liquid. We walk and talk and wander and whatnot until we lose interest. That turn-heavy way back to Om Beach is exciting in the dark, and my new bike hugs the curves in a way that makes me feel like I’m part of the road, rather than simply on it. I trust it more than the old bike, although I miss that vintage beat-up machine in a funny way. The kickstart it had was gratifying to use once I got the hang of it, and getting it from point A to B after exerting so much effort just to get it going always gave me a bit of an ego boost. Plus, the engine emitted a deep, gutteral growl whenever I revved the gas. The new bike doesn’t have that organic grumble. But, it is shiny, dent-free, and far less likely to cop out on me halfway up a mountain.
We reach our guesthouse, I change out of my still-wet bathing suit and the three of us make our way over to Om Shree Ganesh. I drag my feet through the water until I step on something that wiggles ferociously beneath my foot and am on dry land like I had never strayed.
Aviel, Shay and I discuss our road trip plans. We’re supposed to spend two or three days here together, then they’ll make their way to Hampi, where I’ve already been, and I’ll go on to Ooty, in the mountains, alone. But they’ve changed their itinerary suddenly.
“Fuck Ooty,” Aviel says. “Come with us to KodaiKonal.”
KodaiKonal is another hill station, and popular with Israelites.
“Hmmm.” That’s my response.
We sit at a table in Om Shree Ganesh and play chess. Aviel wins the first game, so we put a price on the second: tomorrow, loser has to play servant to the winner. Shay chills out next to us, engrossed in the wonders of his smartphone, while Avi and I sit in near silence, sipping beer, until he puts me in checkmate in record time. My fate for tomorrow is sealed.
The electricity on Om Beach goes out as we exit the restaurant and our walk home is guided by the moon. We bid goodnight to each other and head to our respective rooms.