Scooters, peppercorns, and elephants
Trip Start May 01, 2010
23Trip End Jul 15, 2010
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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
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
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
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!