Yvan Rodrigues' problogue

(like a blog, but with less effort)

Disconnected ramblings about software development, iOS, FreeBSD, anti-social networking, kittens, drosophilidae, small business, Android, web services, finches, Windows, electrical engineering, XML, rental cars, rye, or ... FIVE dollars??!... something something beer.

Day 22: Last Day in Goa

Last day with the bike

Today I needed to return my bike, or rent it for more days. Still wanting to see other parts of India, I decided to make this my last day in Goa.

After tea, Ulrike and I rode scooter and bike to Candolim beach for breakfast, and a last look at the Indian Ocean. We debated the obsession of the largest of the Brits to come to Goa to lie in the sun and turn a painful shade of red; and places we wouldn't travel, based on reputation or hearsay.

We took the ferry to Panjim, dropped the bike off, and stopped for a cold coffee in the air conditioning, during the hottest part of the day.

Ulrike took the scooter back to the house. We weren't sure if it was able to take us both up the long hill to Porvorim, so I took the bus.

Ulrike watched Downton Abbey, as I studied the rail schedules and booked the next day's journey.

India has one of, if not the foremost, rail systems in the world. On this trip I wanted to see at least a couple of its particularly cool parts.

When I visited India with my parents in 1981, steam trains were still widely used throughout the system, and indeed our trip from Goa to Bombay was by steam train. Today, steam has been eliminated from the system, with the exception of one tourist train that runs every other Saturday. I would have liked to have experienced it nonetheless, but unfortunately I would be back in Canada during the next expedition.

While most of the system has standardized on broad gauge track, there are still some lines that use metre gauge (one metre between tracks), or narrow gauge (as little as two feet between tracks). These were constructed particularly in mountainous and hilly regions to accommodate the small radii required for winding mountain paths.

The highest concentration of these metre and narrow gauge lines are to the North, in the Himalayas. The famous Darjeeling line in Sikkim was crucial to the East India Tea Company's delivery of tea and spices from the mountains.

Another line, from Kalka to Shimli in Himachal Pradesh was built for the Viceroy to transport him from India's heat to his cool summer home in the mountains. This line, more than 2000km from Goa, is where I was headed.

Day 21: The 1000 Rupee Train Schedule

Train schedule scavenger hunt
Aldona Bridge
Quarry (camera doesn't capture its iridescent glow)
Trucks loaded on train
Trucker cooking lunch
Mining road intersection
Naroa station?
No road here!
Boats at the ferry docks

In General Aviation, there is a term called the one hundred dollar hamburger. It's what recreational pilots call a short flight to a nearby airport, to fly for no reason other than the love of flying. The hamburger at the airport café is as good a reason as any to leave the ground.

Indian Railways publishes a book called Trains at a Glance, that includes not only every schedule for every train, but all kinds of information about the booking process, menus, and more. It is a priceless tool for planning a trip. Although much of this information is available online, it is fragmented over hundreds of webpages, and the actual schedules can be searched, but not just downloaded en masse for browsing. The publication costs just 45 rupees (less than a dollar) and is about the size and thickness of a phone book for a small city.

Today I would buy one. I planned a route that would take me past four train stations. Hopefully I would get lost along the way. The words, I wonder where that road goes... always make Sarah nervous.

My first leg was to Thivim, the closest railway station, about 19km away, Northeast of Mapusa. As I turned off the highway at Mapusa, I saw a beautiful windy road with very little traffic, so I diverted. Some random left and right turns later, I found myself riding through Nashinola, a stunning village, full of hills and flowers; also the location of my grandmother's homestead.

Following another interesting-looking road, I rode through a quarry. Goa has hundreds of mining roads, each consisting of no more than a lane of Goa's signature red soil. These are uncharted in Google maps, but are detailed fairly accurately in Bing maps.

What amazed me is how I could follow a dirt path for long distances on mining roads without seeing anyone for 20 minutes, thinking I need to give up and turn around, only to stumble into a little village of 50 people, complete with a general store, following by another 20 minutes of nothing. As this happened over and over, I realized that I was seeing Goa's agricultural heritage. Villages like Nashinola, no doubt started as the crossing of two dirt roads long ago. As I studied my maps in detail, I realized what a huge fraction of Goa's population is invisible; unseen and unknown to the vast majority, accessible only by axle-breaking mining roads, their citizens living their lives traditionally in small communities.

Thivim station didn't have any copies of the book. There was however an example of something Ulrike was telling me she read about the previous day.

To save fuel and tires, freight trucks actually load their trucks onto flatbed rail cars for long trips. The drivers stay in their cabs for the extended journey, where they sleep and cook meals. About 100 trucks were on board at Thivim, and the train was leaving the station as I arrived. Think of all of the pollution, carbon, tires, accidents, deaths, and traffic that is being averted.

My next stop was Naroa Station. I went via mining roads. A photo shows an "intersection" of two such roads. A few missed turns led me to a dry dock on the North shore of the Mandovi river, where I met Sunil. Currently unemployed, Sunil and his friends gather for chat and games in the early afternoon. Impressed by is English, I listened as he told me about working in Dubai, fishing for mud, how to heal a cut, and the dream of working in Canada, only attainable if he can save 40,000 rupees for the work placement.

Naroa Station was not just a short ride away. I mean, it was a short ride away, but it wasn't there. It seems to have been abandoned long ago. Next.

Now in the middle of nowhere, the next stop was Karmali station. Inconveniently, the Mandovi river and Malar Island were between me and Karmali. As I was essentially following the rail line, this should not have posed a problem, except that the train had a bridge, and I didn't. How could my closest of friends, a map, lie to me? Thankfully, there was a ferry there, and after being accosted by a mentally-challenged person, I was aboard and on my way to Malar. I didn't check if there was a ferry on the other side of the island.

There was. The North/East half Naroa island was filled with dense communities of small houses and had the feeling of a European village, windy, intersecting roads at all angles, and often paved with stone. The South/West half was primary wetlands. At the end of the road I found the other ferry to Old Goa on the South shore of the Mandovi.

Karmali should have been easy to find. I had been there before. Twice. I had a map. I found it on my fifth attempt. They had a copy! Faced with success, I realized I had not brought my backpack, so I fashioned the book into a seat pad of sorts.

I checked with Ulrike to what she was up to, and met her at the Urban Café in Panjim.

It's harder to get lost with a GPS, but you can if you want to. 6 hours, 45 rupees for the book, petrol, and I assume I ate or drank something along the way. 1000 rupees well spent.

Day 20: Mapusa Market

Keep your ducks in a row, and your chickens... stoned?
NO handbags or purses (or whatever else they are).

I was awoken at 3:30 by a torrential downpour. Rain is quite rare in the winter in Goa, but it does happen occasionally. This is the first, and likely only, rain that I will see on my trip.

The rain and its humidity seemed to bring out more mosquitos. After an hour of killing them, and piling their corpses as a warning to the others, I gave up on getting back to sleep. I chatted with Sarah and then got up and made tea.

I was planning on going to the Goa Science Centre today, followed by SEQC quiz night, but the rain would have made the trip miserable by motorcycle, and impractical otherwise.

Ulrike and I took advantage of a brief pause in the rainy day to go to Mapusa market, an outdoor market for food, clothes, and household items. It got:

  • a leather wallet, INR 100
  • a leather belt, INR 100
  • cargo shorts, INR 60
  • 500g of cashews, INR 275
  • two things for wife-unit
  • a chiku milkshake, INR 30

The chickens in the photo were disturbing. They are alive, and no, chickens do not normally lie in neat rows.

Ulrike found a booth at which, I assume the movie studios, in an insightful new sales strategy (no doubt copying Apple's dollar-a-song iTunes model), were selling new releases such as Birdman and 50 Shades of Gray on DVD for 50 rupees.

Day 19: Quiz and Maracas, but not Together

Ulrike Rodrigues and Ralph Pinto at Maracas

I finished my taxes.

Ulrike and I had lunch at Maracas, where I introduced her to Ralph Pinto, the owner.

I attended SEQC quiz night in Madgaon. The topic was science. My team kicked butt.

Day 18: Taxes

Apartment building construction

Thats it.

Today I did Red Cell's corporate income taxes which are due tomorrow. I did them at the new public library. It doesn't have WiFi, had oppressive security, and a lady yelled in Konkani in the room next to me for 3 hours.

I stopped for a cold coffee with Ulrike and Jessica at the Crown Hotel before calling it a day.

The picture is from the hotel. I took it for Maren. I though she would appreciate the scaffolding. I think it is made of cane.

Day 17: Recovery

Yvan, Matt, and Becky

I worked during the day, primarily at the Urban Café.

Ulrike checked out Goaphoto 2015.

I had a nice beef tenderloin at Maracas, followed by their weekly quiz night. Look, I'm being social!

This was our quiz team, "The Foreigners", me, and Matt and Becky who are Brits who have lived here for 7 months, because Becky's company opened an office here. Becky's voice is delightfully like Hermione Granger's.

"Are you mad, Harry?"

Day 16: Nature. Check.

Trip map
Anjuna Dam
Lake Anjula
King cobra

Yesterday I used Google Earth to plan an amazing motorcycle trip. The loop took me along the northern edge of Goa, up the Western Ghat mountains, into the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, East through Maharashtra, South through Karnataka, and West back to Goa. The trek would begin about 50m above sea level and would peak at almost 1000m (3280ft).

I began the trip around 10:00, leaving to the North up NH17, and East at Mapusa toward Mhadai. Near the entrance to the park is Anjuna Lake, and the Anjuna Dam. Once in the park, I made a few stops.

The first was a path by a small stream. I entered the trail only about 50m to get away from the road to discover what I could hear and see. As I stood quietly, I realized I was surrounded by hundreds of monkeys. They climbed and swung from tree to tree. Although I got a few pictures, they were very difficult to photograph. They were in constant motion, and due to the canopy of the trees, light was insufficient for a fast shutter setting.

The next stop, much further up the mountain, was a lookout that faced Anjuna Lake. It is a beautiful view of the Western Ghats facing the West, Anjuna Dam in the distance.

Although the temperature started to cool as I climbed the mountains, I decided to change out of my jeans, and in to my shorts. I wouldn't normally wear jeans, but I've had enough mosquito bites this week; and covered legs are recommended for snake encounters. However, noon approached, and the heat was increasingly uncomfortable.

Further along, my map showed a mountain road. It turned out to be a trail. I could see on the map that there was a waterfall nearby, so I hoped the trail would lead to a view of the falls. I got off the bike and started trekking. Had I read the sign at the entrance to the trail I would have realized that it was a 6km trail to the peak of Vagheri, the main direction being up.

Tigers have not been confirmed in Mhadai in about 8 years, but it is ideal habitat, and it is estimated that there could be up to 50 living in the 400km² Mhadei and Bhagwan parks. Tigers like jungle, water, trees, and paths, so who knows!

After about 30 minutes of walking, the path on my map had run out, yet the path ahead just kept going. I couldn't hear any sign of waterfalls, so I gave up and turned around. It was around noon by now, but even in the shade, such a steep climb is exhausting in 30C temperatures.

As I walked back down the path, the leaves crunching under my feet, I kept an open ear for any signs of mammalian life. Many lizards scattered as I walked, and possibly the odd mouse. It would have been cool to see a boar, deer, or monkey at least.

I heard rustling in the bushes ahead. Then I heard what sounded like a large mammal taking a pee. Holy shit, I thought; this could be a tiger. I stood dead still as the sounds moved in the bushes, my eyes focused on the location of the sound, looking for motion. It took a few seconds before I realized that the motion no longer coming from the bush, but it was crossing the path in front of me.

Let me clarify, that I am not afraid of snakes, as such. Back home, a walk in the tall wild grass will often stir up a few garden snakes. They are usually about 20cm to 40cm, are quite narrow, and kind of cute. I don't go picking them up, but they don't bother me. Last night, I was reading up on Indian snakes, just in case I encountered one. That's why I had worn the jeans (that I changed out of). Of course, India has venomous snakes, and although for the most part they try to ignore humans, some 40,000 people die of snake bites each year. It is obviously a populous country, and on a per-capita basis it would  be comparable to about 1100 Canadians, about the same as the number of deaths by accidental falls. Nonetheless, while death-by-tiger would be the ultimate honourable sacrifice for my favourite mammal, death-by-snake-bite would leave me humiliated for eternity.

I mention this because the snake that was crossing in front of me was about 250cm long, and 8cm in diameter. At this point I was about 6m from the creature. Remembering my previous night's reading, I slowly stepped backward and grabbed my camera. It stopped to check me out. Remembering that stomping on the ground would send the snake vibrations that a large scary predator was nearby, I gave it ago. Now, I didn't spend any time while learning about snakes to memorize all the patterns and colours, and which ones were venomous, I did recall that only the cobra does that thing where it lifts the front third of its body and makes that hood shape and flicks its tongue at what it perceives as a threat — like the snake in front of me was doing.

Adrenaline kicked in, and I don't remember what I did next, but it resulted in the snake slithering away and doing its thing. I confirmed that its noise was going well into the distance before proceeding.

The rest of the trip was beautiful and enjoyable. If you made a list of what motorcyclists love, it would include twisty roads, mountains, little traffic, and perfectly manicured asphault. That was exactly what I got; at least while in Goa and Maharashta. The roads in Karnatika were awful. I had to ride for several hours in first gear, dodging pot holes, some 3m in diameter and 15cm in depth.

Sister wasn't home yet when I returned, so I went to the local shops and had a beer with the local men at the "wine store". Ulrike arrived shortly after I returned. I fired up the computer, curious about what snake I found. It was a King Cobra. In fact it looked exactly like this one:

I think that was my last nature walk in India.

Day 15: Hot and Humid in the 'hood

Bannu feeds the neighbourhood dogs

Today was mainly a research and planning day.

I got the scoop on the Ali Salem Bird Sanctuary, the tigers waterfalls in the Mhadei Wildlife Reservation, some amazing roads to check out on the motorbike, and a train route that winds up the Western Ghats, through tropical rainforest. All are nearby.

For reference, pepper spray is available on Amazon.in, but anti-venom is not.

I went through the infuriating process of trying to get a (second) SIM card in India.

During a walk to the shops, Ulrike and I ran into Bannu, feeding the neighbourhood dogs. They all know to show up at 5:30 for chicken and rice.

Day 14: Shave and a haircut, 10000010 bits


Best value so far: INR 130 for shave, haircut, and head massage. I'm definitely a fan of the straight razor shave and massage; all told, about 45 minutes.

I got a button sewn onto my shorts while I wore them.

The neighbour really wanted to visit us. We weren't sure why, but thought it could be exciting. Weren't we disappointed when he tried to recruit us for Amway.

Day 13: Sunday at the Beach

Ulrike at Ozran Beach

Happy birthday, Mama!

Sunday was a "day off".

It was mostly spent at Ozran beach, a small beach south of Vagator.

We rode our bikes home, ate "Chinese food", and watched The Kings of Summer.


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