Tag Archives: Arabian Sea

22 – Feel Good Lost

I’ve been back in the UK for a good few months now. I had half-planned a slow summer visiting friends, doing some writing, giving myself a little time to get used to being back and figure out what to do next. Instead, I landed myself with a job almost as soon as I got back, and immediately I was back in the fray or London life, sleeping on the spare beds and sofa cushions of friends until last week, when I finally moved into something a little more long term. It’s been hectic, and I’ve not been in the mood to write, and India feels like something lived by someone else, a long long time ago. I keep coming back to Gokarna, where I left off. I keep coming back and then writing nothing.

I don’t really know what to say about the week or so I spent on Kudle Beach. Up to this point there has been a story to tell, or at least some kind of point I can tease out from my experiences of a place and time. From Gokarna it’s just a tissue of scattered recollections.

p1010388

I had a room to myself with a bathroom (home to the occasional cockroach) and a bed which was too big for my mosquito net, which just had to hang there, limply. Better than nothing, but in the heat of the night I would stretch out and then wake to find that mosquitoes had been feasting on my limbs. One morning I counted fourteen bites on my right hand alone. That was the worst thing I had to deal with, though. Everything else was gravy. The days rolled by uncontested. Leisurely breakfasts at Shangrila, sitting on plastic chairs looking out at the sea; writing my journal and drinking bad coffee; making decisions about what to do with the day, which was usually nothing. Maybe there would be some thought of a volleyball game in the afternoon, or an acro-yoga class in the shade of the coconuts; or maybe between waking and sleep, the whole day would just drift by in a pleasant, sun-bleached haze.

p1010394

I had good friends in Gokarna.

Jack, Jess, Eve and Mike were lovely company. A lot of the people I met and spent time with on my little journey were a good fifteen years younger than me and came from every country under the sun, and while that hardly ever made a difference, and endless quoting doesn’t make for good conversation (probably), there is something nice about being able to drop an Alan Partridge reference without receiving a blank stare. I spent a lot of time with them before they skipped town to go on their various ways. Jack and Jess back to Brighton, Mike and Eve to Kerala and then on to southeast Asia.

p1010273

Jess befriending a cow

My taxi-buddies Miriela, Fede, Katherine and Laura moved into another room at Shangrila.

Laura the desert-cool waitress from Vegas, with her appraising half smile and her guitar. She had an atmosphere of calm seriousness, though the story I think about was a goofy one she told me about how in Hampi one day she was riding a bicycle along one of the narrow paths through the rice and the bouldering mat on her back made her lose her balance and she fell head over heels backwards into the field. It always makes me laugh to think of it.

p1010334

Katherine the marine-chemist was long of limb and sensitive to the sun (though she was adept at protecting herself from it by building impressive shelters on the beach. Polite and well-mannered in a way I often find in Americans, she was another rock-climber and, like Mike and Eve, was heading soon to SE Asia. Her facebook profile states ‘I like to have adventures. I am not afraid to pursue them solo.’. I couldn’t have imagined having the guts to travel alone as Katherine has done at age 20.

Miriela left Venezuela years ago, living in New York and London for more than a decade before hitting the road a year or so ago. From the outset she was my confidante, meeting my endless stream of near-midlife angst with a mixture of encouragement and gentle mockery which usually did the trick. Miri would talk endlessly with the constant stream of kids selling trickets and always bought something.  We had a running joke that she was everyone’s momma, myself excluded on account of my advanced years.

p1010319p1010306

For my part, I was honorary father to Fede, but it was a difficult relationship – he resented my absenteeism (‘I hate you, Daaaad’) and for my part , I was constantly disappointed by my Chilean son’s wayward nature (‘Why can’t you be more like your sisters?’). Fede had a tattoo on the side of this chest of a heartbeat monitor ending in a football, and the skills to match. A Chilean dynamo with an eye for the ladies and the glint of mischief always in his eyes.

p1010322

A Canadian kid called Charlie showed up and made camp on the beach, hanging a mosquito net from a coconut tree. He had been with the others in Hampi, along with a Dane named Silas, who also arrived after a while. We found Sigrid, too, and Rehan, another Indian from the festival in Arambol, who smoked black, masala cigarettes and wore a dashing trilby. Then halfway through the week Zuza appeared out of the blue. After Arambol she had gone south to the Sivananda ashram near Trivandrum (my current eventual destination). The endless rules and strictures of the ashram were not much to her liking, however, so she was returning to Goa, and had decided to stop in here on the way.

It was a good group. All these people so different, with such different lives and stories, all now hanging out in the endless Indian sunshine.

I was sitting with eating dinner everyone in one of the beachfront places in the evening, when, unannounced, a scrawny and heavily pregnant cat appeared on my lap and lay down in a little ball. She had some nasty scratches on her head and she was clearly exhausted. I gave her something to eat and she fell asleep for about two hours, nestled against my belly like a furry hot water bottle. The heat was uncomfortable, but I didn’t move for a long time. Giving that small creature sanctuary for a little while made me feel somewhat justified in being there; it gave me a small moment, if not of purpose, then at least of usefulness.

I saw a few lean, lizard-hunting cats on that beach. Tolerated rather than indulged, they lived amongst the people but they were no-one’s pet. It’s the same with the beach dogs, who roamed Gokarna in little packs, as they did on the beaches of Goa, or amongst the rocks in Hampi, or the the streets of Udaipur. The scrawny, mongrel hounds of India are ubiquitous. They tend towards friendly curiosity during the day, and at night they get down to the serious business of battling for territory and making as much noise as is caninely possible. From sunset though, and long into the evening, if you sit for long on the beach (better still if you light a fire), they will come along and dig out a little hole next to you to lie in. They like the company. I got annoyed with two Japanese boys one night who were amusing themselves by burying a dog up to its neck in sand as he slept. Looking back I don’t really think they were doing any harm; I just think it seemed disrespectful. I feel that if an animal trusts you enough to lie down and go to sleep in your vicinity, then you should take that seriously and not mock them or abuse that trust in any way. Anyway I reprimanded them in no uncertain terms, and I would do it again, I daresay.

Maybe it was just nice to be annoyed about something. Before I left England I wrote in my first entry on this blog about how I didn’t have a purpose, but from Delhi to Hampi I had always found something. Gokarna was the first time I really felt that lack. And it was uncomfortable, and it’s hard to write about – all of a sudden it feels unworthy. I’m writing this whole entry with the suspicion that I am wasting the time of anyone who troubles to read it, and in fact that after this one you will most likely stop reading it. Because it serves no purpose. It’s just someone chatting about a beach holiday they had, where a good time was had but nothing much really happened.

p1010404

And maybe that’s the thing. Perhaps there was a point to my time there, which was to expose me to an underlying truth, or at least remind me of one. That I was not on a quest or a mission. I had no reason to be there, no clear thing to learn, nothing to accomplish. And that was ok. When I had my chances to learn some acro-yoga, I chose to rest my back against the trunk of a coconut tree with Miriela and just watch the others do it. I didn’t go to Om Beach, or Paradise Beach, and I didn’t spend much time in Gokarna town. I stayed on Kudle and I mooched around, and I frolicked in the gorgeous ocean. That’s it.

But for all of that lack of drive, Gokarna did give me some time.  Not time to do anything really; not even time to think.  Just time.  And I suppose I needed that.

One other thing.  One day, bobbing in the sea around sunset, I was telling Zuza about all the serendipitous things that had happened in India, and how it had been the same walking the Camino in Spain back in 2014.  She said of course, like it was nothing.  Of course, because it is all an illusion.  It is what we make it.  I remember my dear pilgrim companion Kim saying much the same. Seek and ye shall find, you might say if you were so inclined.  And it felt right, then, floating in the Arabian Sea or walking across the endless wheatfields of the Meseta.  It felt wholly true.

And it is easy to believe that you are the glowing little centre of your own private universe when you are travelling.  But real life is not that.  Not really.  When there is work stress and money worries and family troubles and political strife.

Still, there is something there.  Maybe it’s just the power of a positive attitude, maybe it’s about being in the flow.  Something anyway. Who knows?

21 – Karma Police

So back to the seaside, then. We loaded our bags on the roof of a beaten-up SUV and waved goodbye to Hampi. There were seven of us in the car.  Besides Fede and Laura who I knew already, there was Katherine from the USA, Roey from Israel and Miriela from Venezuela.  Then there was the driver, of course; a man in his 40s with red-raw eyes and a never-ending supply of paan, which he would spit out of the window in great red gobbets as he drove with the reckless abandon of the extremely tired or the dangerously unhinged. We made it to the coast in six hours, give or take. The bus takes twelve, but I think for hour saved the terror of the journey probably knocked a good day or so off my life expectancy. We all had a go at him to slow down after he hit a speed bump at about 80km/h, but he was heedless, continuing to overtake on every blind corner, mile after mile. Eventually I stopped worrying about it and concentrated on talking to the other passengers.  I chatted a lot to Miriela, who was sitting next to me. She cut through the small-talk with a barrage of personal questions, and since I found myself giving honest, personal answers, we were friends before we reached the coast.  She’d been in India for a few months already, and Nepal before that.  She used to work in high level corporate jobs in New York and London, but she’d been travelling the world for a couple of years, now.  She was quick to laugh and she had a wonderful Latina accent like Gloria from Modern Family.  I liked her a lot.  In fact I liked everyone in that car except for the driver.  I suppose it was the sharing of so many near-death experiences in such a short time, but the journey was a strong bonding experience for all of us.

20160218_150313

Stopped for thali in Hubli. This is the only picture I took.

We got stopped by a police roadblock on the way into Gokarna, and were ordered out of the car by two tubby cops with moustaches. They hustled us into a little hut by the road and searched us comprehensively, giving me special attention, no doubt on account of my beard and my Goan hippy clothes. I wasn’t too bothered, accept that for the last ten minutes or so I had had an insistent rumbling in my gut that spelled trouble, and now, as a man with a gun jiggled my private parts looking for contraband, it became clear that I would absolutely have to go within the next couple of minutes. This didn’t help my cause, because I started looking all sweaty and nervous. I managed to keep control through that ordeal, but then as the others climbed back into the taxi, I knew the moment of crisis had arrived. The road was lined with market stalls selling fruit and vegetables, but no bars or anywhere that looked like it might have a toilet. I turned back to the cops, but they just shrugged and shook their heads.

I scampered gingerly down a nearby alleyway and round the back of an Ayurvedic clinic where there was a little no-mans land of thorny bushes and broken bottles. It wasn’t perfect, but I was running out of time. I got myself as out of sight as possible, hunkered down and let nature take its violent course. One of my golden rules in India is never to go anywhere without toilet roll and anti-bacterial handwash, and I’ve never been so glad of it as I was then.

Feeling tremendously relieved, I returned to the taxi and we drove the last couple of miles to Kudle Beach, a crescent shaped stretch of sand about a kilometre long, closed in on either side by high rocky crags. I’d been in touch with Jess, Jack, Eve and Mike. They’d reserved me a room in their guesthouse, Shangrila, but I didn’t know if there would be room for all six of us, so we split up to reconnoitre, with the others checking the places close to the beach entrance, and me sweating my way along the sand with my bags and guitar as the sun started to sink towards the horizon. I was nearly at the far end when I heard someone calling my name, and turning, I saw my English friends bobbing around in the sea. They waded ashore and gave me damp hugs and took me off to show me my room. I was excited to be reunited with them, but I wanted to see how the others were getting on with finding a place to stay, so I soon set off back down the beach in search of my deathcab buddies.

P1010315

They too had decided to go for a swim and for the second time in half an hour I found myself being called out to from the waves. I stripped down to my undies and waded out to them.

Miri, Fede, Laura and Katherine had found a small room with mattresses on the floor for a mere 150rs each in the back of another of the beach bars, while Roey was staying at Shangrila with his friend Effie. The sun had set by now, but the sky was a dusty purple, and the sea was warm and glimmering like an infinitely faceted jewel of every colour that exists. Standing there in the water, being lifted by the gentle waves, I wondered how could I have harboured any doubts about returning to the Arabian sea. It was glorious.

P1010292