Scooters, peppercorns, and elephants

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Jul 15, 2010

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Tropical Spice Plantation

Flag of India  , Goa,
Friday, May 14, 2010

Posted by Genevieve.
Kian and I were feeling decidedly too relaxed, which led us to the somewhat rash decision to  rent scooters for the day and drive out to a spice plantation.  
I have driven scooters many times in Canada.  They are easy to maneuver, cheap on gas, and  generally handy.  I have not, however, driven a scooter in Asia before.  
Kian taught me some basic rules of the road, developed during his time in Taiwan, before we  left. 
1.  Always use your blockers.  In other words, if there is a big truck parallel to you  pulling out to cross the street, pull out next to it.  If something hits it, it will protect  you.  You will be safe. 
2.  Don't hesitate.  If you hesitate, chances are, the person behind you won't know that you  are hesitating, and that could be devastating.  (Kian calls this rule "hesitation is  devastation")
3.  Only worry about what is in front of you.  As long as you are paying attention to what  you can see ahead of you, you will be fine - the people behind you are doing the same.   There is no need to waste attention on checking your rear view mirrors.  You are going  forward - why on earth would you look backwards?!
4.  Right-of-way is conceded according to vehicle size.   
5.  There is no such thing as being "almost hit".  If you aren't hit, you're fine.  No point  in worrying about something that didn't happen.  
Bearing all that in mind, we prepared to leave Panjim for the day.  I wasn't concerned about  the driving generally, just about leaving the city - although it is small, it is typically  congested, especially around the main intersections leaving town.  However, with a quietly  whispered prayer and a healthy dose of road rage, we made it safely to the open road.  
After that it was a surprisingly lovely drive on a straight road, through Old Goa towards  the inland town of Ponda.   (There were times when inhaling was treacherous, as we passed  ancient trucks belching blue exhaust, but other than that, it was smooth sailing!)  The  countryside here is lush and green, and full of hidden surprises: just a few moments off the  main road and we found ourselves resting outside a serene Hindu temple tucked into thick  jungle.  After paying our respects with strands of marigolds, we headed back out to the  road.  
The spice plantation was incredible.  Our guide taught us about the plethora of plant life  grown in the region through amusing stories.  For example, when explaining how a certain  plant is fermented to make a drink through two processes, he described the first stage,  which yields a drink with a relatively low alcohol content, as a "lady's drink", whereas the  second stage, with its 50% alcohol content, is "clearly a man's drink".  He also talked  about a plant used locally as a herbal "viagra," that, once taken, the user must sit and  wait for a few days for the "miracle to happen."  We saw peppercorn plants, cardamom,  cinnamon, indian basil, piri piri chili peppers, and a number of things that I have never  heard of before.  Additionally the plantation was covered in fruit trees - mangoes,  bananas, pineapple, and jack fruit, to name a few.  At the end of the tour, a man  demonstrated how the betlenut is harvested.  Betlenut is a mild narcotic chewed and spat  (mostly by men) after meals to aid digestion. Some people chew it so much that their mouths  are stained red from the juices.  To harvest the plant from the tops of the trees, a man  shimmies (very quickly!) up the trunk to the top.  From there, he swings from one tree to  the next.  When he is done, he slides (also very quickly!) down the tree to the ground.  It  was all very impressive.  
Before we left the plantation, we indulged in an activity that we definitely can't do  regularly in Canada - we rode on an elephant.  Our guides walked it over to a huge platform  with stairs.  We removed our shoes and climbed on behind the "driver", bareback against the  animal's bristly-haired back.  Slowly, slowly, slowly, we plodded away from the platform.   It was uncomfortable, mildly frightening, and fun in a cheesy kind of way.  Although our  guide insisted that ours was a small elephant, we felt like we were soaring amongst the  treetops - especially when we ambled past a parked bus and found ourselves looking down on  it. 
Biking back to Panjim, we took the long way back, along a winding back road that afforded us  breathtaking views of the countryside.  Every corner seemed to open up a jungle-filled  horizon stretching endlessly below us.  As we neared a small town halfway to our  destination, we came across a group of women walking along the dusty road.  A grandmother  and her teenage granddaughter stopped us and asked Kian if we could drive them into town.   With Grandma on the back of Kian's scooter, sitting side-saddle in her sari, and the  teen aged girl on the back of mine, we made our way into town, wondering what people would  think when they saw us.  It turned out to be a long way to the town - I felt good that we  had helped to cut their long walk short!   
Back in Panjim, hot and sweaty and unbelievably dirty from our journey, we treated  ourselves to a well-deserved chilly kingfisher in our hotel room - a relaxing end to a long  but rewarding day out!  
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Di on

Nice, betel nut! Did you guys chew some? Ah, reminds me of long scooter trips in Taiwan. Nothing better for that road trip buzz than a little b-nut!

Angie Perc ival on

Cool pictures of the spice plantation, and of you two on the elephant. It is always nice to help out when you can as long as it is on your way to where you are going, you two must have had an excellent evening after that:) Pass it forward always starts good positive things happening around you.

Kristi on

Wow, you guys are courageous for riding mopeds there! Sounds like a great day though and I love the elephant photo...he he.

Tara on

You know, when I was in Morocco they were selling some kind of local dried herb that was labelled "Viagra marocain." I'm beginning to think that most countries have their own local variety of it.

Meanwhile, great photos! It all looks so colourful and lush. I especially like the one of the white and blue church with the bright orange foliage in the foreground.

Lyle on

Well you both continue to enjoy your new adventures and memories together

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