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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Of Mice and Woman


Goodbyes. I am tired of goodbyes. Actually, if I have to say goodbye to anybody one last time I might not make it. Already it was hard saying farewell to my Goan connections, and once again I found myself repeating history in Gokarna. No one said traveling would be easy, but they omitted to mention that the hardest part would be to part from those newly formed friendships and going your separate ways. But there are some that I would not miss: those beastly creatures of Gokarna that tested my equanimity almost daily.

The one hour train ride from Goa to Gokarna, situated in the province of Karnataka, was a perpetual panorama of mountains and sea and rice paddies and grazing cows and of luscious eye candy green forests. There are five main beaches in Gokarna: Gokarna, Kudle, Om, Half Moon, and Paradise beach. I ended up in Om beach. I liked the name. It sounded so chillaxing. When Ava and I, the 40 something German performing artist from Munich I had ridden the train with, reached Om beach we would soon find out that because it was a Sunday and because of India's imminent Republic Day holiday there was no more room in any guest huts that lined the beach. That first Sunday night, we ended up sharing a hut at the only place that had room left: Lee Om Rock. Lee Om Rock, like all the other places on the beach was a café/restaurant with guest huts situated behind the main eating area.

Lee Om Rock could be described as dingy and dark with huts that lacked personality. I had told myself that the following day I would migrate to some other hut in another place, but at Om beach one quickly develops a sense of loyalty to the place they are staying at and its proprietor. I ended up staying at Lee Om Rock for way longer than intended until I was practically forced out of my room by mini creatures. My loyalty was divided between the Dolphin and Lee Om Rock. I would have breakfast and sleep at Lee Om Rock, but I would constantly hang out with the same crew at the same table at the Dolphin.

From the very first day, the Dolphin became the meeting place to just shoot the shit with the same interesting people. Everyday, at any given time there would be at least a couple of people at our table just relaxing, or reading or engaging in some type of endless debate. I felt as if I was in a beach version of the show Cheers,“Where everybody knows your name.” There was Antonio the 50 something from Italy, spitting image of Roberto Benigni, Aalbert 30 something from Netherlands who survived on 7000 euros a year, Martin the 30 something from the States who told everybody he was from Argentina, Benjamin the 26 yrs old who on his birthday kept on repeating “It’s my birthday. I’m allowed anything.” There was Drago the very opinionated 30 something from Slovenia, Paul the 40 something from UK that not only looked like Mr. Bean, but also exhibited some of his mannerisms. Most importantly there was Sunny, the 26 yrs old that almost immediately became my BFF FAW (my best friend forever for a week). Sunny was energetic, highly intelligent and caring. She reminded me a lot of myself. Our friendship was instant and strong.

At Om beach it was quite easy to fall into the same habitual patterns. Most mornings I would wake up, brush my teeth and sit at the same table overlooking the ocean, order either banana pancakes and tea or a banana shake and toast and read the Deccan Herald, Karnataka's main newspaper. I would pay special attention to the world news section, and after reading the paper I would indulge in that day's crossword puzzle. A few days after I arrived, on the morning of Tuesday Jan 26th, while I was reading my Deccan Herald, 3 feet away, Betsy, the blue horned cow was staring at me inquiringly with huge black eyes. Encountering cows in Gokarna was inevitable. They were everywhere, either chilling on the beach, eying tourists with food, or in this case Betsy made her way unto the ramp leading up to the café where I was. Feeling pressured by her begging eyes, I gave her a piece of toast, thinking she would be grateful and satisfied with my act of generosity. I turned my attention back to my paper only to have it snatched violently away from me an instant later. Betsy had started to chew on my newspaper. I jumped quickly unto my feet to face Betsy and we started to play tug-of-war with the paper. All the time I kept on saying, “I swear Betsy, if you destroy the world news section I am going to be mad pissed!” I managed to save the paper from the grasp of her jaws only to notice that Betsy was still chewing and contently chomping down on what turned out to be the world news section.

“Thanks for nothing, dumb cow,” I said, a tad bitterly.

Most of my beach days consisted of hammock napping, ocean swimming, book reading, bonfire socializing. Those were the days Sunny and I had nothing planned because we were too lazy to plan anything. But there were those other days we would be adventurous and take day trips to the neighboring beaches, or to the actual town of Gokarna. The town of Gokarna is like every other small town, narrow roads, small shops that lined the streets and smaller colonial style and brightly painted buildings. Venturing to Kudle beach in the North or Half Moon and Paradise beach to the South was quite the trek. Each beach is about a 30-minute walk from each other. We had to make our way through small trails cutting through the mountain side, push our way through shrubs and bushes, and climb huge boulders already hot from the morning sun before receiving the reward of yet another beautiful beach to enjoy. We would usually return to Om beach right before sunset and decide what restaurant/café we wanted to try that particular night.

It was on Thursday night we could not agree on a place to go to. Sunny felt like just staying and eating at the Dolphin and since I was not the biggest fan of their food I decided to go to my home base, Lee Om Rock, and have dinner there. There was a young man sitting at the table that I always sit at. I had been bumping into him almost every day but weirdly enough we never talked and I had no idea who he was or where he came from, all I knew for sure was that he also stayed at Lee Om Rock. I invited myself to his table and finally got to learn about the mystery man. Stephen, a 27 yrs old painter from Germany turned out to be quite the interesting character. Half German, half Scottish with quarter roots from Kashmir, India. Selling several art pieces at an exhibition in Berlin made his trip financially possible. We spoke for hours about everything. What was really unique about Stephen was the way he spoke by using many gestures with his hands and synchronized sound effects. While his English was quite good, if he wasn’t too sure about something he would make the sound it makes to get his message across. I never knew when he was going to break into a “and it went fluuuuuuuuuuuuuuunp and I reacted like whoooooooooa it felt aaaaahhhhhhhhhhhgg.”

When we ran out of things to say, Stephen got his playing cards and Ongi, the 30 something proprietor of Lee Om Rock, originally from Karnataka, taught us a card game and we all played cards together until we got tired of the game. And then Stephen and I started playing a telepathy game where he would hold up a card in front of him and mentally communicate the number and I had to tune in telepathically and guess what card he was holding, and vice versa.

“Uhmmm, Ace?” I would guess. His face would light up as if I was some kind of phenomenal genius.

“Wow!” He would say, “Very close!” He would flip over the card and it would be a six, which wasn’t really close at all and I would laugh wholeheartedly. He would react the same way every time I guessed and I would crack up laughing because the joke never got old and every time I would think that I finally got one right, but every single time I guessed wrong. We both agreed that we needed to work on our telepathic connection.

The next night when I arrived at Lee Om Rock, after a fun filled day at Kudle beach with Sunny and Benjamin, Ongi ran up to me and started making pinching gestures with his two hands. “Take care. Many many little. Bite you, you know?” he said urgently and then pointed to the ground. I looked down but I did not see or understand what Ongi was saying.

Stephen, who was sitting on a chair in front of his hut, explained, “ants.” Ongi got a torch (the European way of saying flashlight) and shone the light downwards. The sandy ground was moving and I noticed thousands of ants running about and covering the ground. I quickly hopped into Stephen’s room.

“What the hell?” I asked.

“Ant invasion,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Well as long as they stick to the ground,” and with that comforting thought, I retired to my hut.

It must have been around two or three in the morning when a ticklish sensation on my neck woke me up. I captured the cause of the tickling under my finger nail, grabbed my torch and shone the light under my fingernail and saw the little ant. My immediate thought was, “No biggy. It’s just one ant.” I flashed my torch on the left side of my bed and there were two more ants crawling about. I thought, “Two ants. No biggy,” and I flicked them off of my bed. I then shone the light on the right side of my bed and there were about 30 ants running about going everywhere and nowhere all at once, and some began to climb unto my silk sleeping bag liner. I thought, “Too many ants! Too many ants! Abort. Abort. Abort!” I jumped off the bed, out of the mosquito net grabbed my day bag and hopped out of Lee Om Rock refusing to look down towards the moving ground. With the help of my torch I walked up the beach for 5 minutes to the Dolphin. The main entrance was already barricaded to keep the cows and intruders like myself out. I climbed the waist high bamboo fence and maneuvered my way to Sunny’s room.

“Sunny!” I whispered. She wasn't stirring.

“Sunny! It’s me Ronnie,” I whispered loudly. Extremely confused and dazed she opened the door.

“Can I sleep here tonight?” I asked. “There are ants in my bed.”

“Ants? That’s too bad. Sure…you can sleep here.” I climbed under the mosquito net to the part of the bed that was closest to the wall and immediately fell into a desperate slumber.

The next morning, on Saturday, back at Lee Om Rock, I packed my backpack and said to Ongi, “Ongi…I go.” With a hurt look in his face he asked, “Why?”

“Too many ants. Yesterday…many many ants in my bed. No good. No good!” I explained. “I go to Dolphin and sleep there.” I omitted to tell him there was also a mouse that paid me frequent visits in my hut. But the mouse, I wasn’t too worried about.

“Ok. Ok.” He seemed dejected and I felt a tinge of guiltiness that I was going over to his competition, so I added, “But I come back to eat here. I don’t sleep here, but I come back to eat here.” And I kept my promise and always had my breakfast at Lee Om Rock, and Stephen often joined me for breakfast.

I said farewell to Stephen, the only remaining guest at Lee Om Rock. We made plans to sup together later that night at the Dragon, a Nepalese restaurant renowned for its amazing food and a 2 hour wait to get served that amazing food. I made my way to the Dolphin, and the first order of business was to do laundry. Equipped with a water bucket and a detergent bar I proceeded to laboriously scrub my dirty laundry clean. While I did that Max, a 23 yrs old junior electrician from Vienna, Austria kept me company.

He told me how earlier that morning there was a gigantic cockroach staring at him from inside a corner of his mosquito net. He captured the cockroach with a water bottle with the top cut off and let the roach out of his hut. “Actually,” he said,“It ran right into your hut.”

“Great,” I said. “Why did you have to tell me?”

Later that evening as I was getting ready for dinner with Stephen I noticed a small baby cockroach on my mosquito net. I immediately remembered Max’s story and decided to check inside the net. Lo and behold, from one of the corners in the net there was a huge cockroach smiling at me. I went looking for Max.

“You need to come with me. I think we have a problem,” I said sternly. He followed me to my hut, I lifted the mosquito net and pointed to my new friend and said, “Is that your newly freed cockroach in my bed?”

“No. Didn’t I tell you my cockroach was gigantic? This is just a baby.” I thought Max was nuts, because my smiling cockroach was enormous.

“Anyway, you have to help me get rid of it since you are the expert.” He obliged and captured the roach in a cut off water bottle, set it free outside of my hut, and the cockroach happily ran into the hut beside mine.

Dinner with Stephen was absolutely fab, never a dull moment with Stephen who was highly intelligent, kind and attentive. After dinner we hung out by the bonfire where I bumped into my friend Ava, who had moved to Paradise beach, and I met Eun Sun who like Stephen was also from Berlin. Eun Sun, born and raised in Germany, and of Korean descent, was beautiful in every way, and always had something positive to say about everybody. I took an instant liking to her. On Sunday when I told Eun Sun that I was planning on leaving Om for the city of Hampi she asked if she could tag along. I readily agreed for us to be travel companions.

Sunday night I had to say yet another sad goodbye to my BFF FAW, Sunny, who was leaving to teach sports and arts at a private girl’s school in Calcutta for a couple of months. Another amazing person that I would miss very much.

That night, another bonfire, Stephen supplied wicked beats on a blue plastic water bin, and I supplied the bonfire entertainment through lively stories and encouraged audience participation with sound effects. The group eagerly participated, we reveled in song and laughter, and as usual the cows came to hang out with us and lie by the fire inside the circle, or stood outside of our circle and enjoyed the beats and the warmth from a distance.

When I arrived in my hut after a great time chilling with the others by the fire, there was an enormous tarantula-like spider in the corner of my hut. I said to the spider, “Listen…I’m really tired. You stay in your corner, and I’ll stay in mine. You don’t bother me and I won’t bother you.” The spider, the size of my palm, nodded and I climbed under my mosquito net satisfied with our agreement.

Eun Sun and I had intended to leave very early Tuesday morning, but we were too late and thought it wiser to take the 11pm sleeper bus to Hampi instead. Eun Sun felt bad about not waking up on time, and I explained to her that we weren’t on the morning bus not because she woke up late but because we weren’t meant to be on that bus. And so Eun Sun and I got to enjoy one last beautiful day at Om beach, we watched the shades of dawn subtly change as the sun rose. And we got the opportunity to spend a bit more time with our friends from the beach, and I got to say a proper goodbye to Stephen, who had become such an amazing friend to me.

What a week. It was a week of scenic beauty, lethargic self-indulgence, and meeting of great minds. Once again, I dreaded and hated saying goodbye to my new friends and once again it was inevitable. And despite my beastly woes with mice, ants, cows, roaches and spiders, I thanked those creatures for providing me with the opportunity to practice a calm state of mind among beasts as well as among friends.

Song of the week: Cheers Theme Song

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Next week on Veronica’s India: Mosquitoes and Monkeys in Hampi.

1 comment:

  1. Ok...the ants i could tolerate....the cockroach, i'm getting nervous a bit...but the spider???? I'm back to Montreal lol