The ride to Goa was a 600+ kilometer extravaganza of grueling hills, beautiful secluded bays, and tiny villages. It was a breathtaking introduction to an India outside the metropolises.
For the last four days of the week-long ride, Chris and I stepped off the national highway onto a road called coastal highway 4, a path of unreliable width and quality. It took us deep into the foothills of the western Gats, and judging by the amazed stares that followed us through every village, tourists were not common.
Indeed, getting used to the stares was one of the first challenges that we faced on the ride. Every other car that drove by acknowledged our presence, not always amiably. Some were well meaning, but simply failed to understand that a truck horn blown four feet away from an ear was not a salute but an injury. Others would just stick their head out the window and yell at us in Marathi, and some would just laugh. But our favorites were the people on motorbikes or on rickshaws that would come along side us and adjust their speed to match ours. Then, blocking the lane, they would simply stare at us, not saying a word.
All this made our blood boil for a while. It felt like we were being treated as aliens from outerspace, people not to be talked to but simply observed. Each of us dealt with it in our way. Chris would start talking to them, which would make most of them drive off, given how shy they were. I would simply grin at them, then ignore their presence with the same dedication that they were observing ours.
When we got into the villages, the oogles increased tenfold. A thing to understand about Indian villages: they have an amazing capacity for these crowded bustling centers. A 10,000 person town in France of in Conneticut tends to be a sleepy place, with a few people ambling down the streets. A 10,000 person town in India is a square block of Mumbai. These centers would just appear out of nowhere. One minute jungle, the next minute you’re in a traffic jam of vegetable carts, rusty bicycles, and rickshaws. When we stopped in these settlements, groups of up to twenty would just stand in a circle and watch us, with this deep fascination. They would stop what they were doing and just stare until we left.
There was one great benefit to all this staring, though. Indians of this region seemed to be of mostly shy disposition, and nobody was shyer than the groups of school girls that would walk in herds down the road with their matching uniforms. As we passed, they would all be looking, and all trying their absolute hardest to make sure I couldn’t see they were looking. So when I got close, I would flash the most charming smile in my repository and make eye contact. These girls would freak. My smile would be met with small yelps, girls jumping to turn their back to me, and the covering of faces with hands. I could still hear echoes of nervous giggles as I left them behind. The game never got old; it was great kicks.
Chris and I did some staring of our own, too, mostly at the wonders of this country side. It was something magical. We come reeling down these hills and find ourselves in these plains of rice paddies surrounded by palm trees, with the herds of farm animals walking and grazing free, and sometimes huge families of monkeys running across the road. Then we’d cross a bridge over an inlet, looking down these rivers at the jungle hanging into the water, or to the palm trees the palm trees overlooking the hazy blue of the Indian ocean. The whole landscape would be dotted with fishing boats and huts that were painted the brightest colors imaginable, pinks and reds and oranges that seemed to explode out the water and sand. It looked like someone had put the world in photoshop and maxed out the saturation.
The only thing that wasn’t colorful was the sky, which was the persistent of grey of rains. The monsoons would shower us two or three times daily, dropping torrents of water that would soak us to our bones and turn parts of the road to sheer mud. But the storms were quick, and it was too hot to wear a raincoat anyway. Chris and I looked forward to the rains as a chance to cool off, when the sky cleared, it got so hot that I feel my skin sizzle under the intense sun. (Once, our solution to that heat was to throw ourselves in the Indian ocean, a brilliant event featured in the photo above.)
The only real bummer about the rains was that it forced us to stay in hotels, because nothing stayed dry enough to camp. This was not an economic problem- hotel rooms are about 10 dollars a night—but it was a logistics problem. At the beginning, lack of lodging forced us to cut several rides short. This left our last two rides brutally long- 120 and 150 clicks, respectively. On a road bike on well paved roads, this isn’t too bad, but on our i80 pound monsters, forcing our way up hill after hill and through minefields of potholes, this was a real endurance test.
About 20 kilometers before our couchsurfer’s apartment in Calangute, Goa, there was this monster hill, a 600 foot monstrosity. The worst part was that the road went straight up it, so there was no hope that the pain would end early. I simply forced to watch the clock, to tighten up the jello left in my legs, and to pull up on my handlebars so hard that I cut off the circulation in my fingers. I didn’t even hear the hecklers; it felt like mile 23 of a marathon.
We got up on top of the hill and I collapsed forward, laughing from exhaustion. It was a great feeling.