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.
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.
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.