The worst thing about travelling? Having to deal with the colossal morons that are other travellers. Rafiq Copeland plays the one-up travel game.
One of the things about living overseas (particularly if you move between countries fairly often) is that you tend to travel alot and therefore meet a lot of other travellers. And in a lot of ways socializing with like minded nomads can be quite rewarding. Intense, short term friendships can be formed.
More importantly, information can be exchanged. Like ants along a trail waving their antenna and discharging pheromones, other travellers can be the best way to find out what is going on further down the path. The benefits of this enforced mingling with other travellers are clear, but the pitfalls can be a little more complicated. Essentially it boils down to this: the people you meet whilst travelling are often colossal fuckwits. Continue reading “Gentlemen of Leisure: How many countries have you visited?”
Earlier this week in Panaji, Spykey and I hit a restaurant that had been written up in Lonely Planet as “a compulsory pit stop”. Now, granted, it’s been nearly three years since our edition of the book was published, and a lot can change in that time, but the restaurant was anything but “a compulsory pit stop”; it wasn’t shit, it was just solidly average. Probably thanks to its guide book recommendation the place was packed with Western tourists, the stereo was pumping covers of ’80s and disco hits, and the waiters were wearing over-the-top uniforms comprising bow ties and check shirts that were completely out of sync with the budget-ish prices on the menu. Basically, the place was unashamedly a tourist sink. But, you know, whatever.
So we’re sitting there about to attack the food that’s been placed on our table when a middle-aged German man (complete with baseball cap and massive camera bag) throws a tanty because his main course comes out before his starter. Frustrating, yes, but not at all unusual in lower-priced Indian restaurants. And while the German man was probably justified in pointing out the discrepancy and requesting his starter first, he instead launches into a furious tirade, loudly and publicly shaming the waiter, sarcastically putting him down, and patronisingly lecturing him on how to do his job. After the waiter went back inside, looking like he felt like five kinds of shit, the German man followed him and gave some guy who looked like the owner a serve about how other tables who ordered later than him were eating their correct dishes while he was not. This, mind you, in a restaurant where this guy’s entire meal with his wife, with booze, was going to cost him less than five euros.
A couple of weeks back I wrote:
Across the road from the museum was an ATM so we withdraw some money, receiving Rs. 9,000 of our Rs. 10,000 in Rs. 1,000 notes. As other travellers to India would no doubt know, one of the eternal battles here is managing the notes in your wallet. Some vendors will basically refuse outright to give you more than a few rupees change, and proffering a Rs. 100 note for any payment less than about Rs. 80 earns you The Stare. Don’t even think about trying to pay with a Rs. 500 note unless it’s a supermarket, higher quality restaurant, or hotel. Every time we’ve withdrawn cash from an ATM it’s been in Rs. 500 notes so we’ve been working hard to break them whenever possible, maximising our stash of hundreds and tens. But this is the first time we’ve been slugged with Rs. 1,000 notes and we both groaned simultaneously as we started mentally planning how we were going to convert them into usable currency.
Since then I’ve worked out that it’s mainly laziness driving the exact change culture. If you don’t offer the correct money the vendor is forced to go through the gruelling process of opening their cash drawer, taking clips off money, counting it, and handing it back to you, which is about four steps more in the transaction than they would prefer. Once I was at an insanely busy restaurant in Hampi with a huge turnover of money and I had the audacity to pay my Rs. 130 bill with a hundred and a fifty. The waiter’s response was almost outright hostility because he had to walk ten metres to the cash desk and find Rs. 20 change.
You can see the value of having a good selection of notes in your wallet to avoid these situations, then.
So, last week in Arambol we withdrew another Rs. 10,000 from the ATM, again getting stuck with a pile of Rs. 500 notes of which to dispose. But unlike the non-touristy parts of India, it’s a breeze to kill those higher denomination notes in shops and restaurants geared towards tourism. For the next few days we paid for everything with Rs. 500 notes, cramming our wallets full of sweet, sweet change. By the end of the week I had a couple of thousand rupees in hundreds and a couple of hundred rupees in tens. After weeks spent trying to manage the contents of my wallet, guarding the lower denomination notes jealously, this state of affairs had me feeling like the King of Change. No shop keeper is going to give me The Stare in the near future, I tells ya.
Ladies and gentlemen, in collaboration with Crikey‘s First Dog on the Moon, and especially his excellent Christopher Pyne: Because somewhere a unicorn is dying t-shit, I am proud to present Christopher Pyne’s Unicorn Hunt, in which Christopher and I travel the world looking for unicorns in danger for Christopher to save.
Our first stop is Palolem beach, Goa, India.
On the news menu today we have a selection of highlights from the Goa Herald, 25 January, 2010, chosen because they are interesting for various reasons.
These three letters appeared in the paper’s weekly “Civic Forum” column which asks readers, “Do you have a complaint against some authority or service? Are there any violations of the law that you would like to bring to the notice of the public? Do you have any suggestions for improvement and/or redressal of services?”
Premises for cobblers
Pravin U Sadessai, Ponda
The cobbler community plays a vital role in our society. Slippers, shoes, and worn-out bags, which would have otherwise been disposed off (sic), are stitched for necessary re-use.
It is disturbing to note that cobblers at various locations do not have suitable premises, as most of them occupy the footpath for acquiring more customers. The concerned authorities should take into consideration the difficulties they encounter during the summer and monsoons, and provide them suitable premises with necessary shed for protection, so that they can continue their work comfortably.
I must admit that the only cobblers I’ve seen in Goa have been on the street, although maybe I haven’t seen any in shops because I haven’t been looking. Also, almost all of them seem to be constantly busy.
Last week I wrote a piece on rubbish disposal but deliberately kept plastic waste to deal with separately. Lisa and I have calculated that during our three to four months in India we will purchase and empty 200 to 300 plastic water bottles. In a country where official, systematic recycling is almost unheard of, where rubbish disposal is so problematic, and where the plastic pollution problem is already so acute, we’re a little troubled by our 200 to 300 bottles figure.
About three days’ worth of our water bottles
A man in his early- to mid-twenties, walking through the street wearing a t-shirt bearing the following design:
H. T. M. L.
(How To Meet Ladies)
In his defence, he was walking side-by-side with a similarly-aged woman of stunning attractiveness, so at least he’s not telling porkies.
A few days ago while checking out the dense shopping strips of Arambol village, store after store selling exactly the same stuff from exactly the same suppliers, Spykey and I came across a vendor with pieces of art very similar to that we excitedly purchased a week or so back. On display were many book pages with similar styles of drawings and similar waves of Urdu text, offered at a price quite a bit lower than that we paid. Initially we thought we’d been had, but a closer inspection of the pieces showed that they were of a pretty low quality and had all the hallmarks of having been mass produced. Most tellingly, these pieces were completely free of imperfections, their paper showing no signs of aging or of having ever been used. Unlike the piece we bought, these ones had no crease lines, no tiny insect holes, and no variations in the browning of the paper. Walking away from the shop talking about the differences, Lisa and I quickly agreed that often it’s the imperfections that help make something perfect.
So far this trip I’d only become aware of a couple of things I forgot to pack. One of them was quite important: a surge protector for charging the netbook, mobile phone etc. that is currently waiting at the Panaji poste restante office along with a certain t-shirt of which you will soon become very familiar; and one of them was not very important at all: a stuffed toy in the shape of a pretzel man that I habitually take photos of in exotic locations around the world. Don’t ask.
However, on the way to Arambol beach I became aware of one very important item I left in a box in Melbourne: my board shorts. So, immediately upon arrival I headed out to the markets to try not to get ripped off buying a new pair. In one particular shop I was trying on various designs of various hideousness when I noticed that each design had been poorly hand-painted with the name of a country. I was currently wearing the South Africa shorts so I asked the owner if I could see the Australia shorts. He gave them to me, they fit okay, the price was right-ish, and the little Australia badge was too good to pass up.
I bought them. Check ’em out:
I’ve often wondered what’s going on in Spykey’s mind when her eyes go a bit distant and she gets lost in her own thoughts. Now I know.
One morning, I woke up to the sound of birds chirping and the waves of the ocean crashing on the sand. We’ve been at Arambol beach in Goa for five days. These birds have been there every morning, but this particular morning, I actually listened to them. Each bird had it’s own rhythm and pitch. I didn’t know which birds belonged to each sound (I’m not an Ornithologist) but it didn’t matter — I let my imagination do the work. One bird had a one-note low squawk – probably a bigger bird. I imagined a little, colourful bird making the higher-pitched melody I could hear. The musical nerd within could see the melody (in relative pitch only). The bird sang: a triplet (E, D, C) quavers (A, B), crotchet (D) and then had a rest (usually a crotchet worth). Yes, I’m a big nerd. What made it interesting to listen to was the interplay between the two birds. They started pretty much waiting for their turns to do their call to each other- like a conversation, and doing so in 4/4 time. Then the little bird started taking longer pauses in between, and the time was no longer regular. Changing again, they started overlapping their calls. It intensified (Beethoven would be proud) with the calls quickening in tempo and a big crescendo and then… They got tired and a few new birds on the scene decided to play the same game. I wondered what the calls meant — a friendly conversation, the bird defending their territory or tree, or the birds just having a musical ‘jam’. Who knows.
Being able to isolate and identify all that is pretty amazing, but.
Spykey and I are laying on beach chairs, our feet stretched out towards the large, round sun that floats low upon the horizon, burning red/orange through a thick layer of pollution. To our left a game of cricket between two teams of local boys is in full swing, with their efforts in bowling and batting matching the intensity of any international ODI, and to our right a middle-aged, topless, long-haired tourist in Speedos practises his juggling, demonstrating an intermediate level of skill to an indifferent crowd. Sitting at the benches nearest to us are two Russian girls; one of them is changing from her swimming costume into clothes, a towel draped over the top of her for modesty, and the other is surgically applying make up with a small handheld mirror.
In the ten metres between us and the ocean are a group of Indian men drying off after a swim, two dogs, and a cow. The two dogs are facing off, teeth bared and saliva dripping, both frozen to the spot and daring the other to attack first. The cow seems to be staring out to sea, drinking in, just like us, those few perfect moments of the day just before the sun disappears into the ocean. By chance, one of the Indian men, while drying himself with a towel, is standing with his head positioned perfectly between me and the sun, giving him, to my eyes, a temporary halo.
Suddenly, one of halo man’s friends comes running out of nowhere and perpetrates the internationally-recognised crime of dacking, strangely appropriate on any beach in any country of the world. Shocked, halo man finds his board shorts around his ankles with only his briefs saving him from terrible humiliation on a crowded beach. All the guys in their group have a good laugh and eventually halo man joins in.
At this moment the dogs, each reacting to some exchange of signals invisible to humans, launch at each other and begin rolling around in the sand growling and snapping. Nobody takes any notice. The cow, meanwhile, has lifted its tail and is depositing a long stream of shit onto the beach.
Just another awesome minute of sunset on Arambol Beach.
Living overseas and travelling overseas are two similar but actually completely different things. Your understanding of a place changes completely once you stay there, rent a place, find a job, make local friends. The series Gentlemen of Leisure — nope we’re not being sexist, simply referencing Norman Lindsay’s iconic Magic Pudding — is stories of Australians living overseas. First up, that most Aussie of experiences, the UK working visa…
Rafiq Copeland writes: For the last few months I have been in England on what is rather optimistically called a working holiday visa. I don’t mean to split hairs, it’s just that when I imagine a holiday it usually involves more sun swept beaches and drinks with umbrellas in them. When I imagine a holiday it almost never involves spending large amounts of time driving a truck around Leeds (Although you never know, maybe there is a niche market for that kind of thing). Continue reading “A Gentleman of Leisure: Working Holiday”
Oh, dear. This is starting to resemble a cricket test between Australia and Bangladesh.
At 6:00pm a few nights ago the Intertubes went down across the whole town of Arambol. According to several Internet cafe owners this is a frequent occurrence due to power blackouts and various Tube provider problems in Arambol itself or (more usually) the territory of Goa generally. A bit disappointed that we couldn’t get our near-daily fix of the Net, Spykey and I gave up and decided to try the next day. However, there was still no connectivity anywhere in town by midday the next day and the rising tensions of Internet-deprived tourists were visible. All over the village were laptop-wielding Westerners going from cafe to cafe looking for any chance to connect to the world, expressing increasingly vocal disappointment and disbelief that they could be denied for so long.
Late in the morning I planted myself in one cafe for a while writing on my laptop, harbouring a vague hope that the Internet might turn back on while I was there. As I sat there a steady stream of others walked in and out with their own laptops, asking the owner if there was any news on the Great Internet Failure of Arambol, 2010. It was as if the town had run out of heroin and every junkie was doing the rounds trying to source the last remaining hit from a dealer.
Yesterday Lisa and I were riding in an autorickshaw when it entered a typically chaotic Indian intersection and promptly got rammed up the arse by a tourist’s motorbike. Our driver cut the engine, climbed out angrily, ripped the tourist’s keys out of his motorbike to prevent him from doing a runner, and went to inspect the damage. For a minute or so the two men argued about the presence or otherwise of damage until the rickshaw driver stubbornly demanded Rs. 100 in compensation. The tourist refused for a bit but eventually saw the futility of the situation: he had hit another vehicle, the other guy had his keys, and the other guy was demanding cash for their return. The only possible recourse for the tourist was to call the cops, but even if they eventually arrived who was the police constable going to side with – a local rickshaw driver or a topless, sunburnt Russian on a moped?
Welcome to Slide Night at Back in a Bit. Sit back, relax and get ready to travel far away from your desk and your sore computer eyes as we share our favourite travel snaps and the quirky stories behind them.
Kicking off this new series is Sally Johnson, direct marketing manager at Intrepid Travel, who, along with her photographer husband, runs Melbourne-based photography business Dally Street.
Shot using: Canon EOS 1 , Fuji Velvia 100ASA Transparency film
Sally writes: On my first ever trip to India in my early 20s I was at times overwhelmed by the colour and chaos of the streets. I have a clear memory of eventually finding some personal peace with all that I was witnessing, on an early morning boat trip on the Ganges in Varanasi. Continue reading “Slide Night: Bathing in holy water”
Two days ago Spykey and I arrived in Goa and headed for the tourist explosion that is Arambol beach. Upon arrival we realised that it was four weeks and two days since either of us had last consumed an alcoholic drink. It’s not that we were counting or being deliberately abstinent or anything, it’s just that when we thought about it we realised it was one of the longest dry periods in both of our adult lives. Having done the maths and chewed on the matter for a bit, we promptly headed down to the beach and ordered lunch complete with a longneck of Kingfisher between us to wash it down. When in Goa, etc.