It is so completely different from everywhere else we’ve been, including Sri Lanka and especially back home in Canada. There does seem to be a bit of a time warp over here – different gravity? Or Indian hashish? Or both?
A single night layover in Chennai shocked our systems with the incredible population density, ridiculous traffic (the horn is the preferred safety caution over signal lights or mirrors…or lanes…) and the love of dairy products here: At a small tea shop Sam and I ordered black tea, then received milk tea, after some protest it was taken back and replaced with milk chai, upon further protest, the reply to “black tea please” was “no have.”. Ha! Oh well. I enjoyed the chai alone and Sam grumbled cheerfully. We also procured a satisfying lunch for 50 rupees ($1!!) a price that would set us up for disappointment later on in our travels.
We flew that evening to Goa, a small state that was colonized by the Portuguese until around 400 years ago. It is also a costal state with countless incredible beaches, so a lot of tourists, including Indians from other states. Still, no fewer examples of culture shock here, such as the cows and goats loitering about the streets – many of whom were named by Sam, A goat loitering at a bus station – Timmy-John, and a rough-looking young street cow in Palolem – Jatinder Joe.
“Uncles” is a term that we would later learn for middle aged Indian men, usually equipped with a moustache and pot belly, on vacation in Goa. Our first stop in Goa, before Yoga Teacher Training, was Palolem beach. A hut just off the beach was our reward for a long (3hrs) and crowded bus ride. From our little hut, Sam heard some giggling and shrieking. Children at play? Nay, Uncles! Playing in shallow water, in their underpants were 3 Indian men in a state of childlike exuberance! Posing for selfies, splashing water, trying to lift a pal cheerleader-style out of the water and failing miserably, effortlessly making friends with any other Uncles who came into the water. At one point we witnessed one Uncle seize another from behind in a Full-Nelson pro wrestling hold, and then push him face first into inches-deep water with a powerful pelvic thrust! As the abused Uncle began to get up, his tormentor threw a glob of wet sand at his behind, proclaiming: “He pooped his pants! He pooped his pants!”
Yoga-Teacher training was a truly great experience. 25 days and 200 hours of study left us both filled with concentrated vigour for our future careers. A few excerpts from our time in the course: Head instructor Rama Krishna: “you must Google-search your leg into position!”, “With prolonged practice, yogis have been known to attain special powers… But, Terms and Conditions may apply!” On a class field trip to the beach, I asked out assistant teacher Arbind what beach we were going to. He stared at me blankly for a moment, then replied “The beach… With the waves.. and the swimming… That beach!” His response perhaps a mixture of translation issues and a common theme of pride that prevents Indians from admitting that they do not know an answer to a particular question. During a guided meditation (yoga nidra) for the students and staff, a loud snoring began early and lasted throughout, competing with the teachers low and steady meditative instruction for our sole sensory input. After the meditation concluded, it was revealed that our Ayurvedic Doctor had been the culprit! Perhaps Ayurvedic medicine has not yet developed cures for septum blockages or narcolepsy. We completed our 200 hour yoga teacher training, as well as some supplementary courses (Sam for pre-natal yoga, Ian for yoga therapy), and then went back to volunteering.
We first volunteered at a hostel called Wonderland in a lively town called Anjuna. The place consisted of dorm cabins and private tree houses and was just a 2 minute walk to the beach! Our duties were mostly making up beds, sweeping and checking guests in, but also, teaching yoga almost every morning! A really great experience, especially just coming from school. Our yoga “studio” was in actuality a farmers field behind the hostel. One morning, we started class while a man took a hose bath in a garden. Another day, class was interrupted by an unannounced crew of workers showing up to fix a retaining wall. No shade from the burning Goan sun meant that classes had to begin at 8am to avoid the heat, but even an hour long class was scorching by the end. Not as bothered by extreme temperatures as most, my favourite activity was going out in the midday heat (high 30’s) for a solo hot yoga practice, then quickly making way to the ocean for a swim in the powerful waves – what an incredible feeling of life!
Wonderland was run by an artist named Sandeep, who lived in a treehouse, slept for most of the day, and, in his waking hours (always equipped with a joint and coffee in hand), would randomly burst out in song with random Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen lyrics. Sandeep also had many dogs, much to Sam’s delight! Her favourite being a puppy named “Roach”. All the dogs had ticks though and de-ticking Roach became a daily task. Sam truly has a Mothers love for puppies. Some other friends we met there were Pam – the Goa party veteran and obsessive joint roller with a distaste for all Uncles, Fedor – the Ukrainian former boxer on vacation (Fedor barely spoke any English, but ended up becoming our best Yoga student! We also became good friends, and had fun conversations using sign language and Google-Translate.), Pascal (The Rascal) – the Swiss hippy, always making jokes and being a charming smartass; he was touring through India and Asia on his Ural motorcycle and sidecar. Working there was also a young man named Basu who spoke very little English and who may or may not have exploited my stash of chocolate bars hidden in the freezer. The ensuing confrontation about the missing chocolate bar went as follows:
Ian: “Basu! Did you eat my chocolate bar?”
Basu: “Oh! That was yours?”
Ian: “Yes! Did you eat it?!”
“Are you sure?”
“I just put it in my mouth a little..”
“So, you ate it?”
“No? You didn’t eat it?”
“No. I just… a little… (motioning his hand to his mouth)”
“(Sigh), OK Basu..”
We stayed at Wonderland for a whole month, getting good teaching experience in, exploring the beach and hillside areas, going to a Beach Party or two, eating at many cool beachside restaurants, saying goodbye to friends and meeting new ones and feeling at home.
We couldn’t stay there forever however so, on to our next volunteer placement, an Eco-Stay Mud Hut Village/Cafe/Art Gallery called Saraya. We helped build a mud wall (part of a dorm structure), worked in the garden, and also worked in the cafe, serving incredible wood fired pizza and sweating profusely. Some of the friends we met there were Dee: The mad architect owner, who was responsible for the beauty of the buildings and layout. Siddhat: Dee’s son who spent most of his time playing guitar and pontificating about music. Our friend Nish: a pure hearted and enthusiastic architect working under Dee. And our good friends Clarke (from Brazil) and Madeline (from Germany), a beautiful couple traveling India. Likeminded with us, our paths would cross again.
After almost three weeks of hard work,delicious home cooked food, we decided to go to a beach to just relax, a beautiful place called Arambol beach. We procured a beach hut for a good price and lived the days away with morning coffee/tea on the beach, yoga, playing in the ocean waves and eating. If one were to swim out too far at this beach, swift justice would be delivered by lifeguards with a whistle and megaphone. “(Unintelligible Hindi), Hello My Friend! (More Hindi) Come in immediately! (More Hindi) My friend!!” This speech was commonly followed by a thumbs up from me and a dejected acquittal by the lifeguards (who never once were witnessed daring to step foot in the water). Since we came in the off season (the “season” being September-April), most of the shops were closed, but we still managed to find a great local place that sold Thali plates for 100 rps (a dish with rice, naan/roti bread, a salad, a pickled vegetable, and a few different veggie dishes, often heavily spiced and very delicious.) 50 rupees here is about a dollar Canadian, so for two dollars our bellies were full and happy. Our friends Clarke and Madeline from Saraya came to visit us while we were staying in Arambol, after a swim and lunch, we all ended up driving over an hour to the capital city, Panjim, to see a film at the Goan film festival. The film was called “K Cera Cera”, and it was absolutely terrible, the opening sub-title was: “Do We Live Life? Or Does Life Live Us?”. Indians really like to lay on the drama into everything, and this film was no exception. The acting was not good, the story line completely ridiculous (though perhaps more relatable to someone from India), overall it was like a two hour soap opera. The bright side is we’ve acquired a lot of funny one liners that were said in the movie, that are always guaranteed laugh between us.
The scooter ride back home from that night provided one of our funniest stories. During our time in Anjuna, we learned that Goa police set up roadside stops to pullover tourists on scooters and try to extort bribes from them. The catch being, the police are on foot and don’t have a way to pursue if you happen to “not see them”. We avoided a few stops in this manner. Also in Anjuna, Sam learned that the best way to dismiss an aggressive merchant was to quickly wave your hand back and forth and say “NoNoNoNoNoNoNo!”. We had avoided a few stops on our way home that evening but there was one close call. As the roadside policeman extended his hand to come within inches of my shoulder, I kept my gaze forward (“not seeing him”), and hit the throttle. Sam, in a moment of slight panic, vigorously waved her hand at him and shouted “NoNoNoNoNoNoNo!”.
After relaxing at the beach for 10 days, we got tired of spending money and were missing the friends we made at Saraya, so we went back to volunteer for a few days before taking a 22 hour train ride to the other side of the country, a city called Chennai. Then onto Pondicherry and Auroville in the province of Tamil Nadu!