Monday, November 28, 2011

Fort Kochi, Kerala India

I am sitting in a Tea Shop, which is filled with the the owner's many-hundred collection of old tea pots. I can hear the combined sounds of a children's school across the road and modern jazz playing throughout the shop, children laughing and talking waft through the mellow rhythm of jazz, and then there an added under beat of drums for a parade of some kind. It is the music of Kerala, new and old rhythms. Last night I went to a sitar concert. Today I am planning to submit my application for the writing fellowship at Stanford. I had almost talked myself out of it; it seems like such a long commitment (two years), and I can't imagine what I want to do when I finish this trip. But then, again, I had made a promise to myself to at least apply. What happens after that is out of my hands. If I do, by some miracle, get accepted I'm sure it will be a great possibility; and two years in California would not be all bad. (Update: application submitted--will know in April 2012, which is when I am scheduled to return to Maui).

Just a note on the teapots, because it is an exceptional collection. There are many sizes of old metal teapots (bronze maybe) with scrolled designs, along with plain metal ones. They sit on wood cabinets, in glass-covered cases, and hang from hooks down from the ceiling which has rectangles of open sky showing through. The light falls into the shop in misty layers on this strange and wonderful gathering of pots. There are hand-painted English teapots, from the very tiny one cup pots to large pots for full settings, and they are all hand decorated vines, flowers, colorful garden scenes, and even a few sprites for good luck. Then there are novelty pots, like the one my friends Sue and Lilia would love; a huge pot shaped exactly like a big fat black and white tabby cat with sparkling green eyes. It is the most amazing collection of tea pots I've ever seen.

The mind is a strange recollector also and so I had a memory surface, in this shop, of how Kent loved to collect specific things and how beautiful they seemed to him even though he lost the ability to display them the way, I think, he would have liked. Then my thoughts when to how torn I am between wanting to get rid of all possessions, having seen in the past few years filled with the deaths of family, how really no one wants your old stuff except you and maybe one dear loved one. Then desiring, on the other hand, to create a lovely space for all my memories and stuff, a wish to surround myself with all the stuff I have to remind me of the life I've had. I'm not sure which direction I will go. Either to get rid of everything, and live a simple life (be here now), or surround myself in a cocoon of lovely remembrances. My thoughts also strayed to how it is some relief to be out here on the road during the holidays (teapots-homey-home-holidays). When you share eighteen years worth of holidays with someone who is no longer there, it can feel better to be somewhere where there are no holidays, than to be surrounded by others. Close family and friends do make the hole seem larger, and although I'm very grateful I had friends and family to spend holidays with the past two years, spending this time out in the world is a kind of relief.

I have been in Fort Kochi for about eight days now, and will probably be here another week. I am staying in a Home Stay referred by Matthew from the Yoga Retreat. It is a lovely house where I have a sitting room, bedroom, air conditioning (which I only use at night), a small fridge for water and stuff, hot water, and even HBO (depending on reception). I have clean sheets and towels daily, and am surrounded by a home filled with plants, a beautiful fish tank, and very friendly owners. It is safe, comfortable, and a great place to hang out for a bit. All for about $30.00 a night. I am doing my best to conserve money for a bit, as I really went over my budget in the first part of my trip. I can eat great food for less than $20.00 a day, and I can walk almost everywhere I want to go. I can rent a bicycle for $6.00 a day, or a scooter for $12.00. There are a million little shops, restaurants, teashops, bookstores, churches, and sights. There is a park in the middle of town, a wharf with Chinese fishing boats, and a unique ferry system to Ernakulum (Cochin). It's a near perfect place, although it is very hot and humid; the place is starting to fill up with European tourists for the holidays.

I just want to add a note on the general snobbishness toward "Americans" that I've encountered during my travels, especially from Northern Europeans. Thankfully I've not experienced any "hate" vibes anywhere, but there is a general snootiness. I've noticed it all over Europe, in Turkey a bit, Dubai definitely, and in India mostly from foreign travelers. I actually expected it to be worse in Paris, but it was friendlier there than I had expected. The only real exception was Holland, where everyone was generally friendly and welcoming.
I can't read people's minds, so I'm not sure what it's based on, if people are aware they are doing it, or if it is just a reflex reaction. I would even consider that I was imaging this, except that I've experienced it before when traveling, and had time to review the incidents enough to be fairly sure my instincts were correct. It's hard to put a finger on the specific behavior, and it displays differently in different situations; it's just an overall expressed disdain, mistrust, or condescension. I detach myself from it, and generally go about my business without responding to it. There have been times when I knew fun was being made of my "Americanism" that I even went so far as to ignore people's behavior as if I didn't "get" that they were poking fun. I am not a nationalist, but I have a fondness for my county and it's people. I also think divisions based on religion, nationalism, gender, race, or sexual preference are superficial and ridiculous. I'm not interested in any of that nonsense. I want to know what we are going to do about all the people on this planet; how were are going to feed, cloth, house, and care for them. I want to know if we are going to go out and explore the universe we live in. I want to know if we are going to find inner peace, all of us. I want to know who the next great scientist, artist, poet,musician, writer will be. I want to know what is the next great discovery. I don't give a fuck about people's daily silliness, including my own! But, as a writer, I do feel obliged to document what I perceive.

Another thing I've noticed here in Fort Kochin is that everyone is traveling in pairs. It seems as if everyone is
in couples; young and old. Even women and men traveling together are in pairs. I've seen very few people traveling on their own. I had kind of expected that I would meet up with people to travel with, which happened when I was here before, but that was forty years ago. I've had to accept that it is much easier to meet up with people when you are twenty than when you are sixty! I am okay with being on my own most of the time, and am well aware that being on my own has definite advantages. At times I wish I had someone to share all this with, but that implies a real "someone", not just a stranger on the way. Those feelings are to be expected, and don't cause me as much pain as in the past few years. I think, gradually, I am healing healing healing...

My day starts usually about 7:30a or 8:00a, with a pot of coffee, then Yoga/meditation, then I go to town and do errands, shop, find new places to explore. In the afternoons I go back to my place and hang out in the heat. At 4:00p I do Yoga again, and then go back to town for dinner and a stroll. It's a very simple, easy life for the most part. I also go to the Internet place, the post office, the bank, the goods store for supplies,
watch some TV, read some books, write, think (not too much), and keep myself clean. That, in itself requires consistent effort. Everywhere is dusty and dirty, along with the heat which means constant sweating. So everyday, at least several times a day, you need to wash yourself off and clean your feet. It is a must, really, although at times it is tempting not to do it. It is hard to wash your feet when you know you will walk out the door and they will be dirty and dusty in two seconds! But staying clean is essential for good health in Asia, and I am vigilant about my health here.

I thought about taking some more tours, and maybe later I will regret that I haven't, but honestly I just needed to sit still for a bit and have a time of regular daily life with no travels and no new adventures. Although, everyday here there are some little adventures that happen just being in India and every once in a while, like at the sitar concert last night, I could pinch myself and say, " are in India listening to a sitar concert!" It is pretty amazing that I and whatever spirits or powers that may or may not be have let this happen for me (again!). I have also had time to look at my life and see that, in so many ways, I have had a remarkable time here, and have been blessed to experienced both the highest and lowest of what life
has to offer. That, in itself, is a gift that is not opened by everyone.

It's several days later, and I've had to change my flight from Chennai to Bangkok because my visa runs out December 16th. The only flight I could get using my old ticket is December 8th, which is fine because I'm ready to move on, except I still have not received any of my mail! I'm very frustrated with the India Post Office, and the way things are done here in general Which brings up a funny story. I was talking with someone here about how I've traveled all over the world, but haven't been across the United States. His response was, "why would you want to travel the States? There is nothing interesting there. They have no
culture." Then he went on to compare the thousands of years of Asian culture with the nothingness of
America (in his view). Now, I am far from being a flag waving zealot, but I felt a bit offended by his ignorance. My response was, "there is a culture in America, it is just a younger culture." I went on t describe pockets of distinctly American history and culture, but he was unimpressed. His response was that it was just a hodgepodge of borrowed cultures from other places. At that point I realized that pointing out to him that all human endeavor was "borrowed" from somewhere else would be futile, and it wasn't a conversation I was even interested in.

So today, when I was in the post office dealing with the impossibility of receiving a package sent two weeks ago, and received three different answers about where that package was currently according to one tracking number, and saw the chaos that is the India postal system, and added to that my experience of the bad roads, terrible buses, trashy streets, along with the common sight of well-dressed men casually taking a piss anywhere they please in public; some wellspring of no-culture American seething in two hundred years of genetic heritage from the back hills of West Virginia and the coal mines of Harlan County, Kentucky and the badlands of Hollywood and the beauteous land of Hawaii spued out of me, and I thought to myself, "if this is the result of thousands of years of culture, they can bloody have it!" I am, after all, a member of the human

So in this entry, you've got the good, the bad, and the ugly which is a fair example of what it is like to travel in India. Some days are magic, and some days are pissing in the wind. I think, even with meditation daily, this is a fair indication that it is time to move on from India, which I will be doing in another week or so.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yoga Retreat - Matthew- Mundax

I spent one night in Fort Kochin, and arranged with my travel agent friend that he would drive me to the Yoga Retreat. It was another four hour drive. It's strange how much I am trusting my own judgement and the universe. I found this retreat online, and then reviewed it on TripAdvisor. I knew nothing about where it was, or how it really was. It was a big risk but I was determined that I needed a retreat.

Also, the tour agent was a friend of the lady travel agent I met in Goa; and because of spending time with his driver, I trusted him. I am just very fortunate that I have been guided to wonderful people on this trip so far.

Amir and his brother picked me up in an air-conditioned sedan (a treat), and we left early in the morning. They didn't just drive me, but spent the whole trip telling me about the rubber tree farms, the local flora and fauna, life in Kerala, and about their family. Amir's brother is in the Merchant Marines, and his wife designs materials for saris.She was in Chennai planning a showing of her saris for Christmas. We went to their
beautiful home for lunch with his aunt, uncle, younger nephew, and his mother. His father died only four
months ago, and he was worried because his mother didn't want to see anyone or go out.The family was taking turns staying with her. I spent some time holding her hand, and assuring her she would eventually feel better. It was a very touching moment, talking with another widow in another land, and understanding each other perfectly in not perfect language. It seemed as if I was being asked to share my experience with another family who was grieving,and I did my best to do so.

Amir's family were rubber plantation owners previously, and he took me to their family home which was built, I believe, in the 1800's. It was so beautiful, as was his father's home. All the ceilings were carved cedar, with some rosewood (which is now protected), and everywhere there were carvings in wood and icons (Christian) and beautiful hand-made house items. There was a huge rice bowl at least 4 feet across, carved of some old wood, and made to feed the whole family in the times when they all lived on one compound. Both the homes were furnished for comfort with fine couches, and lovely rooms filled with tapestries. There was a upstairs sundeck in the father's house, and many bedrooms for all the family.

We also visited the shrine and tomb of Sister Alphonsa, who is the first Indian woman saint. She was a nun in Kerala, and performed healing miracles which were confirmed by the Vatican. There were a large crowd of Indian woman at this site, and I went in with them to kneel by the tomb. I was the only European who actually went in and knelt by the shrine,but I am baptised and confirmed Catholic, so I felt I was allowed. I placed my handson the tomb, and prayed for Amir's mother, my family, my friends, and Kent.Tears rolled down my face as I felt something I can't begin to describe. A gentle lightness and warmth of being. The women and I filed out of the tomb close together. I keep running into Christian saints here in India, but I think it is also because Kerala is very Christian; whereas Bombay is Hindu and Muslim, and Goa is a mix of Hindu and heathen. And it could be because (if I must find meaning to every event) I have an affinity for saints, and Kent who proclaimed for years to be atheist or agnostic, in the end sought comfort in all types of
religious symbols including pictures of saints. The specter of the end does have a way of converting or at least inspiring even the most cynical, when faced with the ultimate and inevitable vast unknown.

We finally made our way slowly up the mountain until we came to a very small rustic village. We had been calling and receiving calls from Matthew regarding our ETA, and Amir thought he knew Mathew's family which turned out to be the case. That was reassuring, that someone knew where and with who I would be staying. When we turned into the gated drive toward Matthew's, we saw a huge, beautiful white stone house; and Amir said, "that's probably not the place." I believe he was thinking, yoga retreat--hippies--mud hut, or something. Well, we pulled up to this beautiful house, and a very nice tall Indian man came out and welcomed us.He toured us to my room, which was a spacious, beautiful room with a door to a red tile
porch which had a view of mountainside garden from Eden. This room was my home for the next five days, and it was as comfortable a home as I've had in a very long time. I loved my room at the IstanbulInn, and I loved my room at the Yoga Retreat. It was cool enough in the mountains that I hardly ever used the ceiling fans, I had hot water, and the only negative was a very hard yoga master bed, which I did eventually get used to.

We had tea with Matthew while he introduced himself, and him and Amir agreed that they had friends in common in Kochin. He advised me that I would be the only person staying. He had two rooms in his HomeStay, and he took only a maximum of five people at one time. Of course, here I was in the middle of Kerala mountains miles from anywhere going to stay for five nights in a house with a complete stranger; so, yes, I did have some moments of "look what you've got us into now, Ollie!" Matthew was, I'm sure, very sensitive to my feelings and did everything he could to reassure me right away that I was in a safe, caring
place. It took me about half of the next day and a couple Yoga sessions, to feel completely secure
and by that time, I had "turned it over".

My routine was up at 7:30am with coffee on the upstairs lanai overlooking the mountains. Yoga at 8:00am. First a session of quiet to connect with my energy/center. Then a series of standing exercises. Then a rest lying flat on my back. Then 10-20 minutes of meditation.We would then have breakfast of eggs, roti, fruit, yogurt, honey...all fresh local foods.There was a shy little man who cooked, and all the food was prepared deliciously. We began at the first meal talking. Matthew encouraged me to share anything that was on my mind, and he shared about his journey to this place in the mountains. We had some very personal and helpful talks during meals. At first it was a bit awkward opening up to this new person, but I had made a deal with myself to be completely open to this experience, and to gain all I could from where my journey had brought me, which I knew was no coincidence.

The rest of the day I spent reading, writing, reflecting, doing chores, napping, taking walks, and sitting on the lanai. I had no Internet the first few days, no TV, no distractionsreally. Just me and yoga.We had lunch at 1:00pm, with more conversations and sometimes just a quiet meal together. At 4:00pm another Yoga session exactly like the one in the morning, with dinner following. Dinner was Kerala rice, different kinds of roti's including a special Kerala one made of rice flour that I really love, fresh green beans with coconut, okra with coconut, cabbage with coconut, vegetable curries, vegetable masalas, and apple bananas. It was the best
vegetarian food I have ever had, and was never boring or unappetizing. I did not miss meat,
chicken, or fish while I was there.

It doesn't sound like a very exciting way to spend five days, but it was one of the fullest times in my travels, and was exactly the time and space I needed to catch up to some intense feelings of grief I was still having. I also think I was just over-whelmed with all the people, places, events, and traveling I have done in the past few months. It has been a lot of changes, and it was time to stop for a bit and catch up to myself. The first few days I had several times when I started crying. I was so grateful when Matthew was completely at ease with my feelings, and shared some of his own personal experiences with health issues, and loss. In one Yoga session I actually started sobbing during the meditation with memories that came back from the past.

Slowly and patiently, every session he repeated, "be here now, pay attention to your breath, let go of the past, let go of the future, just experience this moment." And by the third day when he asked me how I felt, I could answer that I felt lighter, freer, and the knot of sorrow in my chest was lifted. I feel as if pockets of sadness that had settled in the nooks of my body were released. The rest of the days I spent feeling more and more centered and whole. So much more happened during this time, but it was all very internal and very personal. I have not made any promises to myself about continuing the routine, but so far since I have returned to Fort Kochin, I have done the same routine every day at 8am and 4pm. Matthew helped me copy the exact body movements in words on my computer, so I can remember them, and I have been doing them. I feel better, and am able to "go with the flow", which is a must in India and for the rest of my trip in Asia. I also feel this centering has allowed me to let go a little bit more of my past, and move a bit more into my own present.

One of the things I loved most about the time I spent with Matthew was that he was not in any way pretentious or striving to be "spiritual". Be where and what you are, gently move yourself in new directions. I was very impressed by this approach, which did was not a doctrine or self-righteous rant. I never once felt like I was a lesser being, or that I was being "taught". My views, needs, and limitations were completely honored and valued. One of the things I noticed is that my sadness causes me to be irritated. It's a general
type of irritation that comes out or flares up randomly and equally at people I love and strangers. I had noticed this before, all during Kent's illness and after when I was grieving, but no matter how much writing I did, or letting go of specific resentments...this general irritation continued. It was very clear to me during these days of reflection that I was irritated because I was sad. I hated being sad, and that irritated my spirit. Then it was like a hot coal only waiting for a slight wind to flare into fire.

Another epiphany I had was that I still felt some guilt over two incidents that happened during Kent's illness. They were both very minor incidents, but ones which I couldn't let go of. I was finally able to repeat what happened and again, forgive myself for being human and remind myself that I had done all I could lovingly to be of service. It'samazing how hard I am on myself, and how little credit I give myself for the good I do. It
is also amazing how determined some thoughts are to stay stuck in our consciousness, and it is usually the most damaging thoughts that are the hardest to release.

A lot of time was spent talking about the mind, and how thoughts are not reality. There is more to reality than what we think in our minds. Learning how to discipline our thoughts, which I've already spent many years doing, is one of the most valuable tools we have in order to have clear, peaceful, and real communion with ourselves and the world.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rollin' on the River...riverboat ride, Kerala.

Benny and I rode for about five hours down from the peacefulness of Munnar back into
the hustle of main street, Kerala. We were on our way for me to board my riverboat for
a night's stay on the waterways of Kerala, which is referred to as the, "Venice of the East".
Finally, we went over a long bridge and I could see the interconnecting wide inlets of
waters. We pulled up to the docking area, and Benny introduced me to my boatman. I asked Benny
to keep my luggage in the truck, so I could just take my small bag on the boat.

The boat was, honestly, like something out of a very old Hollywood movie. The entire
boat was shaped like a large canoe with a house covered in palm fronds in the center. When
I stepped on board, there were cane chairs with footstools set up in the front behind the
boatman where I sat watching the river roll. There was a full dining table with a plate of
fresh fruit. My luggage was placed in a private, enclosed bedroom with it's own bath. And,
in the back of the boat, was the kitchen area where my meals were prepared. There was
the boatman, his young assistant who spoke moderate English, and the cook who I never saw.

Once I'd settled in, changed into my comfortable dress, and bare feet (I forgot to bring my
flip flops!)...the boat motor started up, I settled into the cane chair, and we headed down
the river. I can hardly describe how beautiful this area of Kerala is, and much like Munnar
every view is spectacular. I remembered Kent and I watching the movie, "African Queen" with
Bogart and Hepburn; and I felt as if I was in that movie, only I had to imagine Kent there.
The inlets widen like big rivers, and then narrow. I saw a man kneeling in a small ketch as herded
hundreds of ducks in the water. Women with long black hair and colorful saris pounded wash
on rocks by the water..thonk, thonk, thonk...the sound of the wash echoing up and down
the waterway.

I was served a delicious lunch of vegetable curry, very fresh river fish, hand made chapati.
When they asked if I wanted an Ayurveda massage, at first I said no because I had had one the
day before; then I decided, when would I get this chance again. Honestly, I love the massage,
and I even like the oil on my body, but I am not all that fond of having oil poured all over
my head and face. It's just not my favorite type of massage. But the place was a tiny house
on the river, and the lady was very intense. We went in the room, once again I stripped down,
and she gave me a very thorough rubbing. It was a little hard on my still sore shoulder.
At this point, I had had some many different experiences and people in a very short time,
and I was beginning to have traveler's overload. I rinsed off with the hot water she brought
and was glad to relax back on the boat. I had some weird vibes from her that I didn't
tip her enough, and that set me off on this worry about how much to tip the boatmen, and
along with being tired and lonely, was not a good combo for my brain.

Luckily, the best was yet to come...and I was headed for a five day yoga retreat, which would center me and give me the tools I would need to continue on the next four months of my journey. Whoopee!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Mountains of Munnar-“God’s Country”…Kerala, India

Well, here’s how it happened. I was walking down the street in Goa thinking to myself, “I must leave Goa.” I had already taken a long bus ride to the capital of Goa and gone to a travel agent there, who said he would call or email me with plans for trip to Kerala and then never did, but at the time I was walking I didn’t know he wouldn’t contact me. I just saw this sign for a travel agent on my walk, and went into this nice little office with two women. I explained to them what I was doing, my trip; and what I wanted to do – go to Kerala. They were so nice and helpful, in the next few days they had booked my airfare, hotel, and driver for 5 days in Kerala. They made the suggestions, and I told them what I could afford, and we worked together.
We have a saying, my friends and I, “don’t quit before the miracle.” There have been several times during this trip where I have considered going home. The first time was in Budapest, Hungary where I felt very alone and in a not friendly place, and then again in Goa because I felt like what the f**k am I doing here. Each time, I made a decision to move on, and each time I moved on I encountered a new and wonderful experience.
I flew from Goa to Chennai to Kochi on India Air. Sad that Kingfisher Airlines is in money trouble, because they are a much nicer airlines than India Air. One of the nicest things about booking a tour is having someone waiting at the airport, holding a sign with your name on it, and ready to drive you to your destination. This is when I met my driver, Bennie. We then went on a four hour drive from Kochi to Munnar. Munnar is in the mountains of Kerala, and is one of the most beautiful, special places I been to in my life. As we were driving up the mountains and I saw the waterfalls and lush forests which so reminded me of Hawaii, I knew I had made the right choice and come to the right place. Benny lives in a small town in Munnar, so he knew all the special places there to show me on the way. I met his wife who works in a fabric shop, and on my way back to Fort Kochi, we stopped so I could meet his very young son who was going to school. Benny and I became friends during our four day trip. The people in Kerala are so different from anywhere else I’ve been. They are friendly, and funny, and very kind; at least the ones I’ve met so far.
Let me go back to my first impressions of Kerala. After Goa, I could not believe how clean, modern, efficient, and organized Kerala is. The roads are better, the food is delicious, the towns are cleaner; and everything seems to work well here. There are hardly any foreigners here, and the ones that are here seem to be mostly young trekkers, and older European couples.  In short, I have decided for now to spend the rest of my time in India here, at least as a home base. They have places here called “home stays” where you can stay in a home with meals for a very cheap price. Kerala is a bit more expensive overall than Goa, but it is absolutely worth it. Everything I have done here has been amazing and wonderful.
We arrived at my hilltop resort at the very top of the Munnar Mountains at about 5pm. The resort was small duplex bungalows in the midst of lush greenery, with trails and water flowing throughout the property. I had a nice room with bath, and an incredible view of the forest.  The dining room where I had a buffet of Keralan dishes (some very hot and spicy) was this cozy, warm candlelit room with a glass dome. I could sit at my table and look up through the glass to see the tall green trees surrounding the roof. It reminded me of the special dinner Kent and I had at Volcano House for Valentine’s Day one year. An especially romantic place, and except for one bohemian lady with her two noisy children, all the rest of the guests were couples. I had a few tearful moments there, but overall it was calm and peaceful and the food was delicious.
I had a long day, leaving Goa at 4am for the long taxi ride to the main airport; and then to Chennai to change planes after going through customs twice, then one to Kerala and the five hour drive up the mountain, so I went right to sleep and slept very well. I felt so much better, safer, more at peace since I reached Kerala than any of the time I spent in Goa. The energy in Goa is not for me. It reminded me a lot of the end of the Haight, or the last wonderful days in Amsterdam, and Kabul before the Russians, or even in some ways, Maui now for me…places that were wonderful until they became corrupted, either by outside influences or by my own personal experiences.
The next day in Munnar, Benny had a full day planned for me. I told him I really wanted to go on an elephant ride, and he was able to include that in the day. In one day we drove by a monkey sitting in a tree, visited a special bee reserve that is protected by the Kerala Forestry Department. There are five or six bee hives on each tree, and the hives are as large as a regular desktop. Long, hanging combs with thousands of bees hanging from them which I stayed well away from as I was taking pictures because I am deadly allergic to bees. We went to the main dam for Munnar Mountains, which is a popular site for Indian tourists. There are very few foreign tourists up here right now, which is actually pretty nice. Then we went to the Elephant riding place which was filled with families and excited children. It was really a fun experience, even though it wasn’t like a real “elephant riding through the jungle” trip. I had fun talking with the Indian women, and it seeing the children ride the elephants. The ride itself was pretty awesome. You only think you know how big an elephant is. You have no idea how big an elephant is until you have actually sat on one. Also, we went down a small slope, and that was the only time I had a small twinge of fear, going downhill on the top of that huge animal.
After the elephant ride, Benny took me to a small place in a small, dusty village for a traditional Ayurveda massage. It was a bit weird at first. I had to strip off all my clothes in this dusty, cluttered room and the young girl put only a little cotton strip over my privates. First I sat on a stool while she poured warm oil on my head, and massaged my head and neck. My shoulder is still sore from my scooter fiasco in Goa, so she paid some special attention to that area. Then I lay on a long carved wooden table and for one hour I had warm oil massaged all over my body, and I mean over every nook and cranny of my body…this is serious massage, and they rub and oil every part of you, including between your toes and in your ears.  I was told the massage included a steam treatment, but I was so surprised when that turned out to be a large wooden box which opened in the front. I sat on a wooden bar, and then the doors were closed with my head sticking out of a hole in the top of the cabinet. It was a tiny, individual sauna. The steam was coming from the bottom of the cabinet; from hot coals and herbs. I had been getting a bit chilled during the massage lying on the wood table, so the heat felt so good. After too short a time, the girl took me out and wiped me all over with a small cloth. My oily hair was tied up. She told me to wait a few hours, and then shower all the oil off. I went back to the Treetop and had a rest. Later, I showered, took a walk through the property, had another delicious meal, and went to bed thinking how glad I was that I had made the decision to continue my trip to Kerala!
I also visited a tea factory where I was shown the whole process of making black tea from tea leaves, and visited the museum of artifacts from the tea plantation in the early 1900’s. The British who lived up in these remote mountains have all left now, but there is much evidence of their stay in the local communities.
I only had two nights in Munnar, and then we had to get an early start for another four hour drive back to the river so I could board my riverboat for a ride through the “Venice of the east” waterways. On our way down the mountain, Benny took me to a spice farm and I had a tour with the fastest talking Indian ever who knew absolutely everything about every plan on that farm. Of course, my video had run out of battery, so I was unable to film him but I did get some good pictures. He told me stories about the origins of tea, ginger, cardamom, pepper…did you know there are three types of pepper (black, white, and green) that all come from the same plant. The plant is just processed differently. Americans and Europeans use black pepper, Chinese use white pepper, and Arabs use green pepper. Indians use all three. It was an amazing tour. At the end I bought some spices to send to my friend, who has been such a good friend to me in the past few years. She is a cook, and she will love these fresh spices from India.
I was sad to leave Munnar, and I definitely would love to return. It was an eventful couple of days filled with such a variety of sights and experiences. I also loved the scenery, the people, and the food; but most of all how much it reminded me of home in Hawaii and how serene I felt being in such a beautiful place.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Goa...maybe not the place to goa anymore?

First, I want to say I got through the 2nd year anniversary of Kent’s death in Goa. Most of the day I didn’t even know it was the 31st, not because I was high on anything, but because nothing worked and I had no idea what day it was. I did have a few really sad, lonely, “I want to go home” moments the last few days of October, and I did spend some time just remembering us together. One thing I am grateful for is that Kent and I knew what we had, we knew it was special and a miracle for two people like us to have found each other, and we knew that we had to do our best to keep it special. Even in the face of horrible circumstances, I believe we managed to keep the love; and that in itself is something to cherish. I am doing my best to accept that I am now on my own again. It is not always easy, but at least on this trip I am convincing myself that I can do it without hiding out in my house, becoming a recluse, and spending the rest of my life rejecting life.  I have to embrace life on the road, because there is nowhere to hide out, really. I still have no idea what I want to do when this trip is over, but I did decide I don’t want to apply for the writing program at Stanford. Whenever I am at a loss on what to do with my life, I always go back to school, and this time I don’t want to do that. I want to do something different.
So, Goa. I have such mixed feelings about Goa, so I will give you my impressions as they come. I arrived, as I said before, in the middle of the Indian equivalent of Easter Break in Cancun. It was sheer madness in Calungute, but I got into the flow of it and decided to stay for a bit to see how things went. Once I got my money/card situation straightened out, I decided to move to a cheaper place. The internet here is impossible, so everything has to be done directly. I had originally planned to stay at this place I found near Vagator mainly because I loved the name, “Bean me up”. It was a vegetarian place, and the owner was very nice. But, it was very isolated and the room was really basic. I would have to have a scooter, and at that time, there was no fuel in Goa. To be honest, I chickened out, and decided I needed something more accessible and with more perks. Luckily, the waiter at the hotel directed me to a place in Candolim – five minute walk from a very nice beach. I now have a clean, safe, pretty nice apartment with hot water and air conditioning for a very reasonable rate.  There’s a pool I can actually swim in, and the beach nearby. I can walk to shops, taxis, buses, and other places.  I am comfortable here.
I saw my first elephant in India the other day on the ride to Vagator, and I’ve seen a couple since then. It is quite a sight to see elephants walking along the road. They do charge you to take pictures, and you can also ride them. I haven’t done that yet, but I will at some point. 
The scooter adventure: The first few days I was here, there was no way I would try to ride a scooter or motorcycle in the traffic. It was tot tally insane. I would vote Indian drivers as the worst drivers in the world. There are no lanes, no rules, no courtesies, no caution, no sense, and basically, it is a death race. You have bikes, scooters, motorcycles, cars, tour buses, old Goa buses, cows, elephants, and masses of people walking in the road to negotiate. Then you have to consider the roads, which are not roads, filled with huge potholes, mud, rocks, bumps, no curbs, drop offs, narrow roads with two way traffic, and mad drivers passing each other on blind curves. It took me days to finally talk myself into at least trying to ride a scooter here, so I rented a scooter from the guy at the hotel; and our communication got mixed up so he brought the scooter a day early and I was at the beach. I ended up paying for two days, and only riding for one. The next morning I got up early, went out, put on a helmet, put the key in, and took off on my scooter to go to the Wednesday Anjuna Flea Market, which is a big market they have on the beach in Anjuna. The traffic had improved a bit, or I was just telling myself that; but I made it there (about 7 kilometers).  I got there pretty early, so most of the stuff was still setting up; and although I saw some beautiful crafts and woven items, I didn’t want to buy stuff to carry around. It was interesting to see the local and ex-pats, some of whom looked like they had lived there for years. Another note about Goa, and I’m not sure how much of this is me and how much is Goa, but although most of the people are friendly, the ex-pats and tourists here are not very approachable. I’ve tried to connect with some of the people, and they are very guarded. More about that later. I ended up at the cafĂ© over the beach. Anjuna Beach is really beautiful with a long white stretch of sand and sea. There were just a few people walking the beach, and it was very peaceful. For some reason, although I had planned to stay the day at the Flea Market because they were supposed to have music later, I felt like I had to leave. I’m becoming very respectful of these feelings I have, and have learned to trust myself, so I headed back to Candolim. I had a time getting my scooter out of a tight spot because some idiot parked right behind me, and so I had to muscle the bike around in the dirt. I ended up wrenching my shoulder painfully, but I made it and had a nice ride back to the hotel. When I turned in my road, the taxi driver I’d made friends with started yelling at me and when I finally figured out what he was saying, it turned out I had taken the wrong bike…another guest’s bike…and they had been waiting for hours…and had threatened to call the police! The hotel had called the guy I rented my bike from, so he was there and he talked the guy out of calling the police. When I pulled into the hotel, there were a bunch of Indian men all yelling. It was so comical, but I knew it could get serious, so I smiled and explained that the key worked in the bike; and the night before when he gave me the bike, I was very tired and didn’t really notice which bike it was, and we were all talking and I was smiling, and the guy was young and upset, but finally I gave him the extra bottle of fuel I had bought and he said okay, and I said, “I’m so so sorry”….and everyone stopped yelling and was laughing, and I was laughing…it was really very funny that I took the wrong bike…and of course, I got a break either because I was a woman, or a foreigner, or old, or because I was smiling the whole time. Funny that every time I come to this part of the world, I get into some kind of trouble! And, of course the whole neighborhood knew the whole story, and I had to take the teasing of everyone in good stride and not be proud or embarrassed, which actually I never was, because it was just such a Laurel and Hardy event. Kent would have loved it, another original Rena moment which tickled him so much).
I few notes on the people in Goa, and then I need to get on with another day. I’m not sure what I will do today, but I may go to the wild life place, or I may just lay by the pool. There are hardly any Americans here that I have seen, but there are a few young Aussies. I imagine the best time of Goa for western travelers has past. I met a few English pensioners, coming here to drink cheap booze and stretch out their monthly checks. I met a Welsh lady who had been here over ten years, but was planning to sell her apartment and leave because she said it was dead and boring. The new tourists here are the Russians. The attitude about them is that they are loud and obnoxious, kind of like the old “ugly Americans”. I asked a Goan hippie where all the “real” people were, and he said they all went to Bangkok when the Russians came. I have a history of getting to places after they are hip; like I got to the Haight right before they buried it, and I got to Amsterdam in the middle of the end of an era in 1971, I got to Bali too soon in 1973, and I got to Maui way after it’s high time in 1987…so I’m kind of used to coming to places that used to be (or will be) and seeing the aftermath. It’s interesting to see the people who are left behind, and the ones who hang on to a place for whatever reason. I feel as if my own personal time with places is different than the hipsters who make places “happening”. I feel as if my own personal time on Maui, my era, has past; but I’m not sure if I’ll be ready to move on…and at this point, I haven’t seen any place I would move on to. I’ve seen places I’d visit again, but nowhere have I felt I’d want to live. More shall be revealed I’m sure.
Future plans:  I am working with a travel agent here to book a week tour to Kerala. (That is done, and I leave on Tuesday for 4 nights/5 days). Tours are nice because you have everything arranged for you, and doing it all on your own gets old, especially when the internet is so unreliable. I have changed my plans, I think, for the rest of this trip and decided I will go to Kerala, then maybe to Jaipur to a retreat, then to Chennai. My Indian visa expires December 16th, but my flight to Bangkok is not until December 26th. Now, I don’t want to spend Christmas in India and I don’t want to go to Bangkok. So, I think I’ll try and change my flight to early December from Chennai and fly direct to Chaing Mai. I know there is a large ex-pat/recovery community there, and maybe I can hang out for the holidays. I do not want to go to Calcutta. I just do not want to do another big Indian city, even to go to the convention there. So, I plan (which could all change) to go to Kerala for a week, then Jaipur-Mysore-Bangalore maybe, then Chennai, then Chaing Mai. I am still at a loss of where to have my mail forwarded, because I haven’t found anywhere I want to stay long enough to wait for the mail to get to me. It is really bad, because I have run out of my medications, and have important mail that I can’t access. Half my mail is waiting in the hotel in Istanbul, and the other half being stored at the Mail Services place. So, if anyone out there is going through Istanbul and ending up anywhere on my path, let me know if you can pick up my mail and deliver it to me! I may try and book a hotel in Chennai in advance, and have stuff sent there or to the American Embassy if I can. Except for the credit card security holds every few weeks, the mail forwarding has been the worst glitch of my trip.
The last thing I will say is that Goa is a lovely place that does have some kind of faded magic. I can certainly see the shadow of what it must have been like, and how special it was to the people who came here forty or fifty years ago. Now, it is a favorite place for Indians from Mumbai and other cities to come and party and get drunk and drive scooters and lay on the beach. They have some great food places, like Britto’s (spelling?) in Baca where I had more very good giant prawns, and the whole place is very lively; but underneath and in most of the hotels and restaurants there is a sad, worn, “not even trying anymore” feeling. Part of me feels like I would come back here just to check it out, and learn more about it. It is very cheap to live here, and once you got around and got use to it, you could live pretty well. I imagine if I rented an apartment or place here, I could stay here easily for a few months. Another part of me says, no way, this is not the place for me. So, as I said in the beginning, I have very mixed feelings about Goa.
After reading this, it sounded so serious, that I wanted to add a note that I really am enjoying myself. I get along pretty well here, and have made some friends and talked to lots of people. I have found probably the only place with a cappichino machine in Goa, and found a wonderful lady who is helping me with my travels; and most of my day is spent doing new things, and going new places. I am very excited to be doing what I am doing, and although some things are harder than I expect, most of it is pretty manageable for me.  Goa is very beautiful, and does remind me so much of Hawaii; and I get a big kick out of India; the culture and the people.  I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’ve always gotten along well in these exotic locations.  Having said all that, I’m not sure that I’ll stay the full two months in India unless I found a nice retreat. Otherwise, I may leave earlier and spend longer someplace else. Love to all my friends and family, and my apologies for the crappy internet contact lately. It seems to be ongoing….

India; memories, culture shock, and longing for a special place…

Note: I want to make a special apology to my friends in Mumbai, who wonderful to meet. I know that you probably love the place you live, and it is your home. I also know how I used to feel in Hawaii when people would come to visit, and complain about my home. It is impossible to know a place in four days, weeks, or even months; and I wanted to let you know that the following are only my very limited impressions. Having said all that…
I arrived in Mumbai at 4am on Sunday October 23rd from Dubai, and was so happy when I came out of the airport to see that the driver from the hotel was there to meet me. It was the second time (Dubai) that I arrived at an airport and there was a sign with my name, and believe me it is a welcome sight. The ride through Bombay in the dark after the bright new cleanliness of Dubai was shockingly India. Everything was very old, and the city looked like the landscape of a Brueghel painting; if not a scene from hell, then at least a minor continent. The drive itself was harrowing, and if you have never driven through the streets of India in a taxi, you have not experienced true powerlessness. My first view, especially coming from Dubai, was such a contrast of new and old; light and dark. When I got to the hotel it was just lighting to dawn, and I could begin to see where I was. My first reaction was that I didn’t want to be in this place. The air smelled indescribably bad, the streets were littered with piles of refuse, and everything was a mad chaos of sound with the movement of what seemed like millions of cars and people. I just kept telling myself that I was very tired, it was just culture shock, and I would be okay.
The hotel seemed an oasis at check in, but when I got to my room it was dingy, and did not feel clean. The shower had a large window that was blocked by a brick wall, but which I could see through to the street one story down. I doubt that anyone could see me, but I could see the people in the street, and believe me when I say this is not a place you want to go strutting about taking naked showers.  I just couldn’t take a shower feeling so exposed, so I washed off as best I could in the sink, and then was so tired, and overwhelmed with the whole experience that I went to bed. When I woke up around 11am, I forced myself to go to the front desk and ask them to move my room. I told them the safe didn’t work, and the main point that convinced them was when I explained about the shower, and feeling exposed. That worked, and they moved me to a much nicer room with a closed in shower that was much cleaner than the previous room. The safe worked, which is must for me because I don’t like carrying all my stuff around or leaving it in the hotels. I then had breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, which was actually very nice with big windows looking out onto the streets of Columba, with a nice line of palm plants screening the view. This hotel has been here since the 1800’s, with major renovations in recent years, and has a very old English feel to it. I found the regular staff was wonderful and very helpful. The front desk staff were less helpful, and I because I had a vague memory of how things work here, I had to keep going back over and over with the same requests until finally I would get a response. The one thing I did remember, and which is still the case is that everything is always “impossible”, no matter what you ask, then it becomes “maybe possible”, then “hopeful”, then “possibly likely”; and then there are the very rare occasions when someone says, “no problem”.
The big mistake on my part is that I arrived here in the middle of Diwali Festival, the festival of lights, which is like Indian New Year; and is a very big holiday season for three weeks. A lot of firecrackers and people packing the streets to celebrate was the extent of my experience. In all my research, I don’t know how I didn’t know that I would be here then, or maybe I knew and thought it would be something interesting.  I did not really have time in Turkey or Dubai to check up on India, and really was unprepared. Therefore, when I got to Bombay, planning to take the train to Goa in a few days, I was told that it would be impossible to get a train to Goa during this week. I was also told that I might not want to go to Goa during this busy time because that is when all of the Indian locals went there for holidays. So, I spent the first day trying to figure out what to do. Although, the hotel website said they would help you book trains, all they did was direct me to window 52 at the train station, which was an experience I will cherish as long as I don’t have to repeat it. I walked to the train station, which is a huge gothic monstrosity obviously designed and built by someone who had read and loved “Confessions of an English Opium Eater”. After sleeping and making me get up, out, and about, something from my previous life in Asia must have kicked in, because I was able to walk the streets of Bombay on my own and feel like I could handle the noisy, busy, chaotic, crowded, weird madness of it all. Until I got to the train station, which is when I truly realized that I was in a very foreign land.
The main thing I can say about India is that no one really cares if you are okay, and they have no sense of your personal space or being at all. My niece gave me an armband that says, “I am somebody”. That is a foreign concept here, especially if you are a woman, and most especially if you are a woman on her own. In Dubai I had a conversation with a cab driver who felt it was his right to ask me where my husband was, why I didn’t have any children, which he asked me four time because he could not understand or conceive of a childless woman, and other equally personal questions until I finally had to tell him in a very diplomatic way (because I did not want to get another cab late at night far from my hotel), that I was uncomfortable with his conversation. You will constantly have men who feel like they have every right to intrude on what you are doing, tell you what to do or not to do, comment on your situation, try to direct you, and think they have every right to ask you very personal questions because they are curious, and most of the time they are just trying to help you because, of course, you must need their help. I noticed this starting to happen in Istanbul, where it was done mostly in a very friendly and gentle way; then in Dubai where it was less noticeable because most of the men there basically ignore you. In India, at first it was mildly amusing, but rapidly it became very annoying; and eventually I had to tell myself that I was in a culture where women were thought of in a way that was a throwback to how it was when I grew up in America. It hasn’t been all that long ago that the underlying attitudes about women were the same in my home as they are here, but it has been long enough for me that it is shocking. When I am home, I only see how far we have to go to have real gender equality, but here I am made really aware of how much things have changed for women in America in my lifetime, although I realize that even in my own country those changes have not happened everywhere for every woman. I find it hard to write about this because it is so hard to describe, but most women know what I am talking about, I’m sure. Too be out in the world conducting your affairs and have men constantly butt in line in front of you, ignore you when you are talking to them, and have strangers tell you to stand up, sit down, move over there, and take their advice with regards to your affairs. To have men looking at what you are wearing with no regard for your personal privacy, and to be constantly talked to as if you were completely incapable of understanding even the basics of what is being explained, not because you are a foreigner, but because you are a woman. Believe me, before I made these assumptions, I watched closely how other foreign men and couples were treated while I’ve been on the road to make sure that I wasn’t mistaken, and that this was not about me being a woman alone.  But it is, and it is most apparent here in India.
So, back to the train station. I stood in line for an hour until I realized that I was in the wrong line, then I made my way through what seemed like masses of every person on the planet walking, running, hauling huge bundles of goods on their heads, dragging hordes of children, and people lying or sleeping on the floors. In the midst of all this madness, trains were coming in and out of the station with no signs I could read, or any idea where I should go. I tried asking a few people (men) for directions, and was either totally ignored or politely ignored. I finally made my way, through some miracle, to an office filled with men who looked at me like I had arrived from another planet, and up to a desk on the second floor where I again stood in line, and while I was in that line I had at least four men who came up to the window in front of me until I finally pushed my way to the window and started talking to the agent, who then told me that there was no space on the tourist quota (they have a quota for how many tourists can ride the trains) for first class to Goa until November 11th. I could buy a 2nd class ticket, but I would be in compartment of four men and women. I had already done that on the train from Paris to Budapest in a tiny bed in a tiny compartment with three men and two women, and I was not going to repeat the experience on an Indian train for 13 hours.
The rest of the few days I spent in Mumbai, I did get used to walking around the neighborhood, which turned out to be very safe and the people were, for the most part, very friendly and nice. I had a few good meals at some local restaurants, but overall I am not a fan of the food here because it is too spicy and hot for my liver, and because this just isn’t a town that I feel like eating in. I was walking back to my hotel one evening, and a huge rat ran right in front of me. I didn’t freak out, because we have rats on Maui, and I’ve had problems with rats in my own house on the beach; but for some reason dealing with rats in my own house was bad, but seeing a rat on the streets in Mumbai made me feel really horrible. This is an old city in an old county with 20 million plus people in one very small peninsula, and as sad as it is to say, this is the future of the world as we know it if we don’t make some pretty drastic changes to how all of us are today, and what we want the future to be.  There are 20 million people in Istanbul, and 20 million plus people in Bombay, and the world population is set to exceed 10 billion people in the next few years, and there is no sign that anyone is doing anything about any of the problems that all of these people are going to amass in a very short time. And the rats are the least of it.
I also took a five hour tour of the city booked by the hotel with the most negative tour guide I imagine has ever toured anyone anywhere. He took me all over the city, and was completely uninterested in anything he was showing me. He ended up telling me horror stories about going to Goa and how it was run by the Russian mafia and the cab drivers would take you to a hotel and later men would come in and rob you and how Goa was filled with bad people, and I should be very careful, and the main theme of his whole rant was that I had no business traveling alone anywhere, and even if I was a very smart  western women (said with slight sarcasm), I had no idea about India and I should be very careful and no good would come of it and it would all end in tears. I listened to most of it, zoned out looking at the city through a great deal of it, and told myself that all information was useful. But really, he was just a very negative man. I finally told him, again diplomatically, that I didn’t want to hear any more bad stories about traveling to Goa. He then explained to me for 15 minutes about all the tourists over the years that had come to him for help because of all the bad things that had happened to them. I have to say it was the worst tour ride I have taken so far on my trip, but he gave me his card in case I ever need his help. My impressions of Bombay at the end of the tour were exactly the same as the impression I had on the taxi ride from the airport. It was big, dirty, old, crowded, and it smelled very bad. It is amazing, because when you look at the ads in magazines or on the internet, Bombay is portrayed as this vibrate, wonderful, modern city where all these new exciting things are happening. That is not the Bombay I visited. Maybe that is all happening in Bollywood, but I didn’t go there. I had the impression that there was another Bombay, but you had to be very rich and/or very famous to go there, and since I am neither I got the plain old 20 million people crammed into a Volkswagen version.
I did get sick in Mumbai, but I was very lucky because I had one night where I woke up with pain in my stomach and bad diarrhea. I drank tons of bottled water, and the next morning I called the front desk and let them know I was sick. I had them bring me 7up, tea, and toast and stayed in bed all day watching movies. Luckily, I was in a hotel with TV and almost internet. The fridge didn’t work, but the bed was comfortable and the hotel staff was nice. I continued to drink tons of fluids, and felt much better by the end of the day; but not well enough to face the outside world. I ended up getting tandoori chicken for dinner from the hotel restaurant, which I couldn’t eat because it was too spicy. Thanks to advice on Facebook, the next day I started taking cipro. I also went and bought some other stuff from the local pharmacy.
I had booked a waitlist train ticket online for Sunday, and kept checking to see if I got a confirmed seat. While I was sick I decided that if I didn’t get confirmed the next day, I would fly to Goa on Friday, which was they day I had originally planned on leaving Bombay, and that’s what I did.
I flew to Goa because I had planned to go to Goa and most everyone except my day tour guide in Bombay said Goa was a wonderful place and when I got off the plane and smelled the air and it smelled a lot like Maui and not anything like Bombay and I was so happy; but that was the end of happy for me that day. Everyone online told me to just go to Goa; there are hotels and places to stay everywhere. Everyone in Mumbai told me not to go to Goa because there were no hotels available. So just to be safe I booked a hotel online, the only one I found that had rooms. I got a cab at the airport, and we drove and drove and drove. It reminded me a lot of combinations of the road to Hana, parts of the Big Island near Hilo, and parts of the North Shore on Oahu; only with more people, more scooters, and more mobs of traffic in places. It seemed a thousand times nicer than Bombay though, until I got to the hotel. It was miles from the beach in a residential area out in the middle of nowhere with nothing around. I took one look at the place, and said I can’t stay here without transportation by myself. I ended up in a big struggle with the staff about cancelling my stay, and they refused to not bill me for one night. By that time I didn’t care because I didn’t want to stay there anyway. The taxi driver agreed to help me find another place, and talked me into going to the main beach on the North side. I was seriously remembering all the horror tales from my tour guide friend in Mumbai, while the sun was setting over Goa and I had no place to stay, and I was letting a taxi driver help me.  We went to hotel after hotel until he finally took me to this dump (and I do mean a real dump) where they offered me the only room they had which looked a lot like the cell I was in when I got busted in the ‘70’s in Karachi, Pakistan. I refused to stay there, and I could tell the taxi driver was getting worried, but he was very nice and kept assuring me we would find a place. I was sitting in the back of the cab almost in tears wondering what the fuck I had got myself into, and feeling completely unable to do anything about any of it except to keep going on in the direction I was going and hope to hell I made it somewhere safe and nice. I said more than a few prayers, and told myself it would be okay, but I didn’t believe it; and mostly I was thinking that maybe India was not the place for me. For those of you who have read my short story which is loosely based on my adventures in Delhi, you know that my past history with India has not been pleasant, so I started thinking of things that happened to me before, and thinking that maybe India was just not my place, but there was not much I could do about that unless I wanted to fly home or fly to Southeast Asia…which I knew would not be any easier.
We went to another hotel, and they referred us to another place and finally they had a room for one night only…I would have to find another place, but I didn’t care by that time. It was late and I just wanted to eat and rest. Then they went to charge my credit card and my cards declined! Of course, when I went to call the bank, my phone was out of charge, and later when I got to the room I couldn’t find the right adapter. It was only by luck that I had enough money in rupees to cover the room and pay my cab driver, who had waited all this time for me to be settled. I refuse to be jaded about everyone, and will say that I think this cab driver was a very nice man who loved Goa. He told me wonderful things about Goa on our ride, and said that it was a beautiful place. He also said this was not the best time to come, and that it would get even busier after November 1st when the tour charters started coming!
I was so worried about running out of money, I walked through the town, (which was another walk through masses and masses of traffic and people much like Mumbai, but only more rustic and smaller), and to find an ATM that worked with my card where I was able to withdraw enough funds for another night’s stay and food.  Being stranded in Goa or India or Asia with no funds was definitely not on my agenda.
The room was $100 a night including breakfast which I thought was expensive, but evidently not for Goa in high season unless you want to stay in a dump; which I don’t.  It’s very Balinese with a huge bed, new bathroom, and air conditioning. Everything works, including the safe and fridge, except for the TV. There is a beautiful outdoor restaurant where I had dinner because I understood that before I did anything else, I needed to eat. I had a wonderful dinner with the biggest, best prawns I’ve tasted in years, and fresh Indian nan with couscous. Everyone at the hotel was being very nice, because I think they could see I was exhausted and had had a rough trip. The big downside is a large pool where the women are swimming with all their clothes on. There are no swimsuits here, and most of the women do not even get in the pool. Mind you, it is 100+ degrees out, and the humidity is about 110 degrees, so while the men are cavorting around in the pool, swimming and refreshing themselves, the women are sitting in the sun fully dressed and a few of them will sit on the side of the pool and kick their feet. So, I won’t swim here only because I don’t want to deal with the fallout.
I finally was able to reach the bank, and once again they had put a security hold on my cards. They keep doing this, and no matter how many times I have called and advised them by email that I am traveling, they keep shutting down my cards for security. The lady said she was sorry for the inconvenience, so I told her in brief about my travels and explained to her that having my card decline at 8pm in Goa was more than an inconvenience! She was not impressed, probably due to her not ever having traveled outside of New Jersey; but I was very descriptive so I think she got some idea. Right at the end of our call, my phone died, so I won’t know for sure if cards are clear until tomorrow.
The end of the evening, they had a musician by the pool singing old 80’s songs by Phil Collins, and when he sang some old love song I can’t remember the name of, I started to cry. On October 31st it will be two years since Kent died, and I have missed him so much the past few days. The day I was sick in Bombay, I lay in bed with his picture in front of me, and thought about him being gone. I’ve written so much about losing Kent that it doesn’t make any sense to write anymore; no one who hasn’t felt such a loss can really understand, and no one who has wants to be reminded.  It doesn’t go away. It is a constant pain that eases and then returns at the most inconvenient times. I started crying on the plane to Goa because I felt so disconnected and in such a hostile place, and then in Goa sitting by myself in the dining room the love song really brought it up again. I know it is partially because it is an anniversary of some sorts, and last night before I went to sleep I started to think about those last horrible days he was alive in the hospital; but then I made myself remember good times from the first time we meet, and we did have so many good times together. As soon as I started to flash all the good times through my brain, I felt better and I know that Kent’s spirit felt better. I don’t know what I believe anymore. I could honestly say I don’t really believe anything. My faith in everything has been stripped down to the bones, and I have not yet re-clothed anything that could be called a belief. I pray sometimes, I say I believe sometimes, I talk to something sometimes, but in my heart I only believe in life. And that is as good a place as I can be in right now.
I am not in India to find myself or to be enlightened. To be honest, there is nothing about India that inclines me to believe that they know what I want or need to know about enlightenment.  I will try to be open-minded and maybe I will be surprised, but I am cynical about any religion, government, system, or sect that has ideas that do not include equal treatment for all genders, beliefs, races, and orientations; for all humans.  I think humans need to look forward for the answers to our future. I do not think the past of any culture holds the key to what will make this a better world for all of us tomorrow.  That is just my not so humble opinion.
I have to add an update regarding my Facebook freak-out. I have not had too many real disasters on this trip, but spending half a day in Goa down to my last rupees with only enough money to pay one night at the hotel, and no other places available over holiday, and not being able to contact anyone by phone because minutes had to be added and cards would not work; and having internet only in one place sometimes available, sometimes not; and not being able to get my bank to understand that I didn’t need them to keep turning my cards off because they questioned a charge in a foreign country, and wondering what the hell I would do if I couldn’t get all of this straightened out was a really big freaky time for me. Luckily, except for asking everyone on Facebook for help, I mostly kept my cool and just kept trying stuff. I was finally able to get one card working, and found out my other cards were fine; it was just they wouldn’t work in this hotel or these ATM’s. Also was able to get bank to work with me, and I’ll know tomorrow if they fixed everything. I also got in touch with friends in Mumbai, and one of them lives in Goa. I am waiting to hear back from him, as he works at another resort. The funniest part of the whole thing was when my friends on Facebook thought it was all a hoax, and that I’d been hacked. They even said it didn’t sound like me, which I explained was probably because I was freaking out!
So, is all of this leading me to enlightment? Only in the sense that I will make sure I have cash wherever I go from now on, I will probably buy a new phone when I get to the next duty free stop, and I will not post requests for help on Facebook and freak out all my friends and family; although, because I couldn’t rely on the internet or the phone, it was the fastest way to reach the most people.
Even though all this; with a torrential rain storm today that muddied up everything, and the hordes of people, and how many beaches there are and how inaccessible it all is, there is something I’m loving about Goa. The people are really friendly, the beaches are like the more rugged parts of Hawaii, everyone seems to be having a pretty good time here, and the food is much better than Mumbai. It’s also very interesting, in a weird “the hippies were here” way, that still charms me when I’m just passing through. I feel like, if I could just get a handle on this place, I would discover some really interesting people and places. I saw two of the motorcycles (British) my friend told me about today. I don’t know that I will try to ride because the traffic is insane right now, but if I do stay and it quiets down I might try it out. Honestly, I don’t know what is going to happen in India. It is definitely an adventure, although at times, not one in Disneyland.