Rocinante gets to gallop

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Flag of India  ,
Thursday, April 6, 2006

So I finally did the Enfield trip the 100 km down to the beach everyone talks about, Palolem. It is quite beautiful, I must admit, but even better, the "vibe" here is much more "shanti" than Arambol was becoming.

Had all my gear packed the night before, and loaded up Rocinante with my guitar sticking up on the sissy bar, bungee corded and chained up.
Driving in India is not for the faint of heart. Though the Enfield is one of the fastest things on the road, there are so many hazards one must really watch one's ass when driving a motorbike. By the time I got off it was noon, the hottest part of the day, and also much busier than the dawn hours, which I had hoped would be my time of departure. . Nothing runs on schedule here in India, all bets are off, all things are subject to change, and so one learns an easy spirit way that lets you accept these changes, and not to get worked up about it too much. I can see why the Buddha is popular here, it is accept, or die..

So, speaking of dying, and near-death experiences, now it is back to the drive. . I had been on most of the roads of the coast of North Goa now for a couple of weeks, getting my papers in order, getting used to the ways of the road, and yet the prospect of navigating the insanity of a proper Indian highway still gives me the willies a little. .
Many people warned me against the "traffic police" the only ones in blue who have a reputation for demanding "baksheesh" and who hang around the huge highway roundabouts in Panaji, at which the only road bridge connecting the NH17 to south Goa is. So of course, I was getting all kinds of visions of being pulled over, hassled, and baksheeshed. . ("baksheeshed?!?!?")
No problems at all, and I did not even see a traffic cop on the way at all. I am learning to read the Indian road signs and markers pretty well, one has to be hyper-alert at all times for such signs, and one needs to know the names of the towns in between where you are and where you are going. The signs generally tell you the next town, and have a kind of arrow, but none of the towns beyond that. . Panaji, however was fairly well marked once I got past Anjuna.
Coming on to the NH17, the "main" highway is an experience in itself. Crossing four lanes of tarmac, then getting over to the far side to build enough speed to keep up with the manaical flow of traffic is not for ameteurs, believe me. The trucks and buses keep coming at you, of course, they have no intention of actually splattering you like a bug on the grill, but also they calculate to the millimeter where you will be, so do not slow or speed up, or you are taking your life into your hands. They see you, for the most part, and expect you to maintain your course,and if you do, you pass each other by inches. If you change, flinch, or panic in any way, you will be in more danger than you are already. (which of course is a considerable amount . . )
Roconante performed beautifully, outpacing and overtaking many trucks, buses, and of course, the cars, which seem to be either speeding like hell, or crawling. No in between.
The NH17 through panaji was really no problem, the highway is fairly clearly marked, and though there are these (who's grand idea was this one?!?!) huge roundabouts in the middle of the highway, which no-one who drives in India seems to know how to handle. There is no yield to traffic in the roundabout, there is no yield to through traffic, there is no. . well, generally there is no yield at all. The roundabouts are a sort of driving free-for-all, and if one is on a motorcycle it is perhaps best to position yourself on the side of a car or maruti van as you enter, so at least that way you know they will get creamed first. Do not use a truck or a bus for the same purpose, or you will not be seen, and these beasts are wholly unpredictable, they can turn, stop, swerve, or any imaginable other feat without notice. The drivers are generally all "fenney-ed" up and seem to recognize no rules of the road. Not that there are truly rules of the road here anyway. .

So after passing through Panaji without major incident, or at least mostly unscathed, the road opened up a little wider, and there were many straight stretches on which I could put Rocinante through her paces a little bit. For a 350, she will do about 120 km/hr, which is quite fast enough, thank you very much. The roads don't go straight to maintain that kind of speed, if you are lucky, you can average about 50 kph with all the speeding and slowing through town and country.
After going through Margao, scene of the previous day's Indian Cricket Victory over England, and a slight break to have a nice chat with two young men outside a Domino's Pizza (yes, you heard it right, they are here as well. . ) I began to see more and more mountainous terrain, and drove through many forests. .

Mountain roads are to be taken with incredible caution. The underpowered and overloaded trucks with the intoxicated drivers go up at a fraction of a kph, and the roads are so curvy, one has to be ready to get the hell off the road and into the gravel in the case of one of these tortises overtaking another coming up around a corner. I guess they figure that they are not really going to be hurt in an accident anyway, and even if they were, well, they have enough anaesthetic (Fenney) in their blood stream to kill the pain. Forget about the fuel tank exploding, if one of these guys bleeds near an open flame, there could be an explosion.

So on the curves and such one must take it very easy, proceed with caution, and not much speed if you cannot see around the corner. I have heard tales, before and since, of many near-death experiences on these roads.
At one curve, a motorist, obvoiusly in a hurry and wanting to risk his life passing on a curve came up behind. I pulled over a bit to the left, as is the custom, and motioned him to go around. Of a sudden I felt the back of my bike shift a little. He had actually nicked me, and had I been on a lesser piece of steel than the Enfield, I would probably been vulture meat. I shot him a look as he passed, and he gave me that old Indian gesture, a sort of wobbling of the head, which means either yes or no, or both, or hello, or something comepletely other. .
Got out of that one alive at least. This is a typical experience on a typical day on a typical Indian road. Don't worry, all, I do wear a crash helmet, picked up at a motorcycle mechanics' on the Arumbol road, and strangely enough, barely worn and a good fit. . .

At long last I reached Palolem. Stopped in for a Limca at a small hole-in-the wall, and asked a couple (of the seemingly ever-present brits in Goa) about rooms. They said there was loads, and just to go down to the end of the street, and there would be men hawking them.
None of these men agreed to my price: 80 Rupees per night! Final Price I tell them. One man tells me he can get 100 for me, and tells me to pull into the nearby parking lot and he will show me the room.. . .Of course, as I pull in, a boy with a ticket book comes over and says "10 rupees to park. . " I see the scam, and told all the touts I was going down the beach where I could get 80 rups, and pulling out Rocinante I drove down to the end of he main drag here in Palolem. As I stopped at the junction, a young boy with an honest face ( you can many times tell the honest ones) tells me to follow, and he has my room for me, coconut hut, simple. Good, I think, all I need.
So after following the boy at dangerously high speeds on his scooter, I found a place to land, finally. A nice bamboo hut up on stilts and simple, shared bath, and on the beach. Also parking for Rocinante 50 feet from my door.

That is the story of how I came to get here to Palolem, I will tell about Palolem in the next installment, as it is now time for dinner here. . .

I tell him I made Arumbol to Palolem in 2.5 hours, and that must be some kind of land speed record, even the taxis say it will take 4. . . . .

But more later, dear reader, and soon... .
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