Part 3: The Train

Trip Start Jan 16, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

As I said, Sandeep let us off at the train station 2 hours before the train left, see ya. We met a couple from NZ who had just come from where we were going to. We tried to glean as much information as possible off them. We will need the help. He shows me how to reach the train board. There are trains coming in every couple of minutes and I never know if it is ours. I ask around, but I get an answer that I cant understand and then, the head bobble. There is one line on the board and it shows the incoming number of the train, and then quickly flashes what car the particular sign is in front of. That, plus now being able to read my ticket will really help in the future. So right at 6pm we are off to our 28 hour train ride. The ticket number matches the one on the flashing sign and we get in sleeper number 7. We are shocked again. I don't really know what I expected, but here it is. In each train car there are nine berths. Each berth is about 6 feet long, 10 feet wide (the width of the train car), and 8 feet high. There is, of course the aisle running through that space, up and down the length of the car. There are also 2 bathrooms on each end of the car. Each berth has 3 rows of sleepers on one wall and 3 rows of sleepers on the other wall. There are also 2 sleepers across the aisle. That's 8 to a berth and 72 to a car. Cars and full cars, as far as the eye can see. We are off. We have the top berths on the car and we are thankful. Away from the craziness down below. We throw our bags on one side and get up in the other. Cowering together would be more like it. Read, make small talk, plan what we are going to eat when we get home, anything to pass the time. We start feeling comfortable after a little while and start rearranging our bags. All of my stuff on one bunk and Amy's on another. We have the big bag clipped to the bed frame, with the zippers facing inwards. The small bag with the really important stuff under that, with the zippers clipped together, and facing inwards, and then clipped to the big bag. Pillow on top of that, and me on top of the pillow. Should be harder to steal from me now. We have been told by numerous sources that the trains here are rife with theft. As we are arranging our bags, we go through them a bit. I have had a pair of sunglasses in a small pocket on Amy's bag since we have left and now they are gone. Sandeep and his gang must have pilfered them. Everything else seems in order and we are glad to have gotten away from him so lightly. We eye everybody suspicously, and they do the same to us. Again, we are the only tourists on board. This car anyway. The top berth is not without its positives or negatives. Positives are: Away from the bother on the floor, safer, and no one ever will sit on your seat. There is always a place for you to sit, by yourself. Negatives are: You can't see out the window, the fans are right next to your head and are noisy, the fans don't actually blow on you, and heat rises. We ride on, swaying side to side. The train stops frequently, but not for very long. Some stops are less than 2 minutes and a couple last for about a half-hour. We make it throught the first day eating the bread and jam, potato chips, and crackers we brought. Wash all of that down with some nice cool 100 degree water. I get down and stand by the door some for the fresh air and to strech myself every now and again. Amy spends her time up in the berth, only getting down to go to the bathroom. She now, upon the advice of the Kiwi we met in the station, wears a scarf around her shoulders and neck when she goes to the bathroom. It seems like that has lessened the staring somewhat. Somewhat. The toilet is quite a sight. They are squat toilets, right on the floor. For those not familiar squat toilets are a hole in the floor, with a toilet like basin, and a place to put your feet. You squat. It in some ways is nicer, as you wouldn't sit on an Indian toilet to save your life anyway. There are 2 on each end and they have a lever behind the bowl to "flush" the contraption. All of the swaying of the train makes it such that almost no one is even getting it all, or even mostly, inside the large basin on the floor. Plus, the water from the flusher doesn't even go all around the bowl to "clean" it. Soon it is dark for our first night. We nestle up with our new inflatible pillows and settle in for the night. No blanket needed here. Not too bad of a sleep for this cattle car. The car wakes up, and the cries of the food boys is a constant companion. We listened to them hawking thier food for 2 hours, yesterday, before we realized that they were speaking English. Chai Tea, coffee, masala tea, red omlette(?), tomato soup, and other things. I eat just about everythig that comes by. Samosas (fried dough triangles filled with lentils and potatoes), Chai Tea, and ice cream. Plus, every station we stop at has the local specialty. I just follow the locals out at the station and see what they pay, have the correct amount out when I get to the front of the line, and take the food back to the train to enjoy. It is a dodgy proposition since the train is only stopped for a bit at some stations. I am never more than 10 feet from the train, but sometimes I have to walk a ways up and down the rails from my car. Once, I turned around to get on the train and it was already rolling away. I didn't tell Amy that part until we were safely off of the train the following day. One of the stops had puffed rice with onions and spices, that I order through the window of the train so as not to run the risk of missing it. The rice is served on a piece of newspaper with a small square of cardboard for a spoon. It is pretty good until I reach something hard. It almost cracks my tooth open. I reach in and get it out. It is a rock. Must come free of charge with my dish. I stupidly continue eating until I encounter another, smaller rock. Then I am done. I throw it down the toilet hole as we have now figured out that they run right down to the tracks. The sign in the bathroom says please don't use the toilet when you are at the stations. I guess having feces on the tracks in the station is bad form. I don't know why I even bother to throw it away in the bathroom, as everyone eles throws all of their garbage out the window. All of it, everywhere. Bottles (glass or otherwise), paper, plastic, you name it out the window it goes. Without even a second thought. I had my head out of the door earlier in the day, to get some fresh air, (don't worry Mom, I'm hanging on tight), and a guy was brushing his teeth in the car in front of me. When he was done he just lets loose with all of his spit and tooth paste juice. What didn't make it in the windows between me and him, was headed right for me. I ducked back in just in time to see the disgusting wad of spit hurtle past me. But the stations, let's get back to the stations. At each one a whole fleet of beggars, performers, and food sellers come on to the train. Sometimes leaving before the train pulls away and sometimes staying until the next stop. People play drums and children do back flips down the aisle, people play the flute, and ice cream rolls by. One particular scene that is unreal is, the total out and out beggar, who is usually cripple and wearing sandles on his hands (because he has no legs or they don't work), coming down the aisle sweeping out the garbage from under the seats looking for something to eat, or a tip for cleaning the berth. I used to get up top to avoid them and get back in my top bunk, but that got to be too much work. Now, I am staying down at the bottom and toughing it out. They, the beggars and performers, only ask the Indians once for something, but they won't leave me alone. Tap on the leg, tap the arm, grab the arm now. I keep ignoring and continue reading. Finally, one guy grabs what I am reading to make me acknowledge him. NO! I have given before, and it usually is a pain in the butt. What you have given is never enough, and now they won't go away and want more. Some food, something for my friend, or water. Every station the cast of characters changes. Old beggars out, new beggars on. The old ones go back the way they came and the new ones are on for the next hour or so. It has been about 24 hours now and we think we are getting close. I have been jumping out at each stop and trying to find out what station we are at. I run along the platform until I see the same word written 3 times. Then I assume that is the name of the station. I jump back in to the train, which might now be pulling away, and cross reference the name of the station in my travel book. It unfortunatly becomes apparent that, although we are on the way to Goa, we are still a long, long way away. It won't be 28 hours, it will be more like 36. A guy keeps seeing me check the station signs and he says, "We will be in Goa at 6:00 in the morning", (insert head bobble). We resign ourselves to another night on the train. There are no announcements of where the train is stopping or anything. I thought there might be an announcement over the speakers of what station we are pulling in at. But, nothing. You just have to know it is time to get off. So, it is a light night of sleep. Everytime the train stops, I climb down out of the bed and go check the signs. Try to estimate how long I can sleep, and then start the process over. The train is supposed to stop at a different station in Goa than the one we want to get off on. When it hits that stop at, sure enough, 6am we get off. It couldn't be fast enough. The train stinks of a sweaty mass of humanity and the bathrooms are despicable. The water in there isn't washing anything down. As a matter of fact I think the water is gone. We are totally wrecked from spending 36 hours in there. Amy has eaten very little and we have drank all of the warm water we can handle. An Indian guy has befriended me and is explaining how to get the bus to where we want to go. It sounds like we are an hour away from Palolem, the beach we are trying to get to. The bus is 12 rupees and only comes once an hour. I find the taxi stand and book a car for the beach. It is 600 rupees. We don't care. We don't have the patience for any more public transport right now. Must get away before we have a breakdown. Then it happens. I ask Amy if she has the toilet paper with her. She says yes. I growl at her to give it to me. Amy not eating much for the last 36 hours now seems like it would have been a good idea to me, now. In a flash of recognition she hands it over as I waddle away as fast as my scrunched up butt will take me. I am having trouble finding the bathrooms, so I ask directions a couple of times. All that I get are some pointing and the bobble. I finally find the bathroom and breeze past the guy taking money to use it. Apparently, the "I need to GO!" look, translates. I am second in line. I say to the guy in front of me that I need to GO!, and ask if I can go next. He smiles and bobbles his head as he goes in the stall that just came available. Disaster is narrowly averted, it is the first of many times that day. Amy feels fine as she didn't eat all of the train station food, smart girl that Amy. I don't feel so good. Off in the cab with our driver, Bappy. He doesn't talk to us, and for that, I double his tip. I see a restaurant just off of the beach and tell him to drop us there. We have a quick breakfast and I set off to find a room. Up one end of the beach and down another. Full or crappy rooms. We need something good again. It is extremes for us here in India. Two bad nights in ND, two good in Agra. Then two bad on the train and now, hopefully, some good on the beach. Most of the lodging here is beach shacks stuck between palm trees. The emphasis should be on shacks. Mostly thin plywood or sand floors, plywood siding with a hole sawed in it for a window, rattan roofs covered with a FEMA blue tarp and held down with twine and stones. I check a half dozen before I find it. It had a sign on the door reading, "Super Delux". I go up and check it out. I think it is the best that we are going to do. Right facing the beach, no more than 75 feet from the water, with a bathroom! The guy wants 700 rupees and I get him down to 550. I am still getting jobbed, but just want to get a place. I tell him I need to go get lady and I will be back in 15 minutes. He bobbles, and I bobble back. They really look at you funny when you bobble to them. It is as if they are insulted that you are stealing their gesture. I walk back down to the beach road, hail a cab, and tell him to take me to the restaurant to pick up Amy. I greet her and tell her we have a place. She asks how it is. I respond that it is a "Super Delux", and she seems excited. So as not to get her hopes up too much, I qualify that by mentioning it is an Indian Super Delux. She seems to recognize what that means. We make it to the room and colapse on the bed under the burlap bags that make up our ceiling. So we have made it. So far so good and we think we might stay in Goa for a while. After 5 days or so we might head to a more northern beach we have heard of, also here in Goa. Glad to be away from the crazines of the cities and on the beach, even if it is 105 degrees. Believe me, we are checking into flights to head back to the north. I have asked Amy more than once how she let me talk her into this. She isn't sure how that happened. In the end though we are well. Frazzeled, to be sure, but otherwise ok.

A n D (bobble)
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