Hunting Paradise

Day 108: Om Beach
I awake in my weeny room on a mattress that makes me wonder why the guesthouse reception didn’t just hand me a blanket and tell me to sleep on the floor. I’m starving. I move to a table in the restaurant under a big leafy tree and watch the water lap at the shore. Over breakfast, I write alone for an hour or two. Aviel doesn’t see me as he walks through the restaurant and onto the beach for his morning run. A komodo dragon falls from the tree above my table and climbs over the rock wall, then scoots down the big pile of dirt that workers are scooping into shallow bowls and hauling around the corner on their heads. 


The lizard snatches a big centipede in his mouth and releases it, chewing a piece. The insect wriggles pathetically every so often, too amputated to escape his imminent fate. The workers below notice the spectacle, first watching, then poking the dragon with a shovel. It scoops the writhing arthropod into its mouth, scampers back up the wall and perches on top, still chewing. 

Who’s taller?

“What kind of tree is this?” I ask a man standing under it.

“Almond.”

He reaches up and grabs a big fruit from a low branch. My server takes it away, then returns with it broken in half, exposing a young almond nut.

Aviel joins me then, fresh from a run and a swim, and soon after Shay materializes. We eat breakfast and they ask again if I will join them on their ride to KodaiKanal. Maybe, I say, once again. I’m still stuck on the idea of doing a solo motorcycle trip to Ooty; I must have something to prove to myself. But these two have grown on me, and their descriptions of KodaiKanal are not uninviting. It’s known as the City in the Clouds. Even if I do want some independent adventures, I will have 840 kilometres of it when I ride back to Palolem while they continue on to Hampi. 

After breakfast, Aviel and I dive into the ocean and swim to the huge rock island 100 metres off shore. The current sweeps us up onto it’s spiky surface and we climb up and over, then sit on the crag that has created a drop off straight down to the water where a hallway of sea swooshes through. Crabs scuttle away from our approaching bodies as we descend the little island and jump into the water, the current rising and falling, seesawing us back and forth between the little rocky islands. We wade over to Shay on the beach to discuss our plans for the day. 


There is a trail at the far end of the bay that slinks up the rock face and disappears at the crest. Apparently, it leads to a place called Paradise Beach which, by the sounds of it, cannot be a waste of time. We walk to the end of the seaside and follow the path up until it really does disappear on top of the rocky outcrop, then rediscover it trailing into the leafy jungle. 


It teeters along the steep side of the mountain, through thick greenery which dies away to red earth, soiled with burnt remnants and leaving the pathway naked on either side. The ocean crashes around below until we reach a peninsula surrounded by nothing but churning water and a lone palm standing tall at the point. 


The trail continues up and down steep rocks, then down, down, to Half Moon Bay. It’s a tiny beach, and snuggled into the cove is a covered area of sand with a kitchen and a stage built of dried mud, draped with guitars and amps and drumsets and mic’s. 


We run into the water, play in the waves, practice jiu jitsu and cartwheels. We sit in the shaded area drinking beer and playing drums. I swim out to the rocks on the side and climb up and over them until I’m so far that I don’t feel like climbing back and instead jump into the crashing waves, timing my dive soas not to be smashed into the rocks. By the time I return to my friends, I’m exhausted, and apparently so is Shay. He heads back to Om Beach, leaving Aviel and I to continue on our own.

The boys have made a new friend of the Israeli persuasion here at the beach. In India, Israelis are almost as common as chai. It’s a popular spot for them to travel after serving the mandatory two years of military time, thus creating a community of Israelites that permeates the entire country. Awkwardness seems to have skipped their culture; whenever Aviel and Shay meet another Israeli, I ask afterwards if they knew each other from before. They never do, but chat as though they’ve been friends since elementary school. This new friend they’ve made is also called Aviel– the Other Avi. 

He joins Aviel and I as we continue our adventure. The three of us walk over the rocks, up the rocks, around the rocks. Sweat pours down my face and legs and arms. My scarf is pulled over my head and shoulders so I don’t burn from the hellish sun. Hand over foot we climb to the top of an outcrop and look down, finally, upon Paradise Beach. 

Spoiler alert: this is what Paradise looks like.

It’s full of craggy black stone and the mountainside is cut with tiered levels, like camping platforms. Small camps are scattered in the trees and along the mountain, hammocks hang between branches and giant summer blankets swing from them, creating shade. By the looks of it, some people have been here for weeks, months maybe. We scamper down, swinging intermittently on vines as quick transportation. 

I bump into Ayal, who my sister Marnie and I met back in Hampi. He’s leaving now after camping out for a night with friends, drinking and cooking over an open fire. There are no restaurants here. No shops. Just foreigners taking a stab at living a secluded life in the Indian nature. People walk about in minimal clothing; one girl sits on the rocks painting; a group gathers firewood along the mountain pathways. Some swim, play frisbee on the beach, or sit around their camp areas. What even is this place? 

Again, we swim. The water here is wild and bumpy. I emerge from the sea on a slanted stone exerting itself from the middle of the beach, and spot a man selling coconuts and cold drinks at a tiny stand. I walk down to Avi and the Other Avi.

“You want a coconut? We’ve got pineapple on the way.” Avi says.

A skinny Indian man brings over a bag of freshly chopped pineapple and a couple coconuts. The Other Avi draws anime cartoons in the sand. Something bobs in the water. It’s a raft, crafted with bamboo roped together and a massive netting of empty water bottles strapped on the underside. A boy and a girl sit on it, facing each other. They paddle in to shore using a roughly carved oar and one made of a Y-shaped stick, the V part wrapped tightly in plastic bags and held in place by tape and rope. The girl is beautiful and petite with skin so brown it could make chocolate jealous. The dude has long dreaded blonde hair tied back and both of them wear tiny sarongs, his tied just so at the front so that his manhood wiggles to the world as he straddles the narrow raft. They pull into the beach and haul the scrubby vessel onto shore. In their little rocky enclave set in the trees along the beach, the guy stands naked in the opening, glowering down at the less exhibiting Paradise dwellers. 


Avi and Avi scuffle in the sand; practicing jiu jitsu. I haven’t moved from my perch on a big stone, spreading layers of finely tuned rock ground to the size of plankton onto my body. I’m feeling like I can grasp this– the okayness of nothingness. Of just living and playing and maybe writing and drawing and building. 

Aviel and I decide that tomorrow morning, him, Shay and I will go to town and stock up on food and hammocks, then come back here to camp for a night. When the next boat comes in, we clambour on along with a few other Paradisers and motor back to Om Beach, where we are dumped into the cleavage of the double bay.

Om Beach

After showering, Shay, Aviel and I meet in the guesthouse restaurant. By seven, we have a full table of new Israeli friends. I sit mostly in silence as they all converse in Hebrew. I don’t mind, as it gives me the space to work on some writing. When the table has dwindled to the final few, Aviel challenges me to another game of chess. After losing last night’s game and, subsequently, a bet which labeled me his servant for today, I accept the game without hesitation. The only thing he had me do as his “bitch” was walk to the store to buy him a popsicle. Lame. I win this round, and thus, secure myself a bitch for tomorrow. 

We stroll over to Om Shree Ganesh and go upstairs where all the cool people sit, playing chess until we have hardly the strength to scoot a pawn to an offending square.

On the way home, we decide on a classic Israeli menu for tomorrow’s Paradisical adventure: baba ganoush, shakshuka, hummus. Back at our guesthouse, Shay shows me pictures of his brother and a video of his father riding a bicycle backwards, then photos of his army mates who died in the Gaza Strip. That night I fall asleep with the light on and my fingers on the keyboard.


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