Arise with the sunrise, as per usual, and leave the so-and-so hotel in so-and-so town. in just one or two days we would be in panji in goa. if we were to meet the alscasians, we would have to hurry. we made good time in the morning, cover about 30km in two hours. we managed to convine one of the three-wheeled truck wallas to give us a ride in the bed of his vehicle and covered about 15km before being dropped in the historic city of Savantvadi. ithe beautiful town is situated around a lake with many shops, fine bridges and old fortifications. if you have the time, stop over. worth a tourist photo or two.
from there, the weather had heated up, so the ride got much tougher. fortunately we hit a big hill and after some rugged climbing, hit the top and began the cruise down. zipping through the narrow bends of the downhill pass brought a welcome breeze to our sun-scorched bodies and we spent several minutes relishing the feeling as we dodged fully-laden trucks, motorcycles, potholes and monkeys on the road. seriously, folks: if you have the means, you must come bike the western ghats. the insane up hills are worth it for the equally insane downhills. do as i say, not as i do - wear a helmet.
unfortunately, the other side of the hill was even hotter. as we battled ever-rising heat with ever decreasing shade, we pumped the pedals to blow through a series of small towns before enthusiatic holi participants could get their toxin-stained little mits on us. we cross the border into goa about 13:00. no shade, few trees and a searing 95 degree heat meant we were in for a tough ride, slow going and potentially dangerous camping. being a tent with unguarded bikes in a snady expanse is a good way to attract snakes, bugs and bandits - a term i had never heard used seriously or literally until i came here.
fortunately, we flagged downa goods carrier truck. a couple of young guys let us stow the bikes above the cab, as we rode inside with the bags. they took us the remaining 40km to panaji, but not before we were stopped at a police check point and your old pal drew was called in to talk to the cops. i spent a tense 10 seconds staring at an indian police customs agent- nototriously corrupt dudes - hastily answering questions before he asked the truckers for 50Rs in "baksheesh" (bribe) before letting us go. whew.
in the end, the truckers were nice guys but their one long nail, gaunt looks and insistence that we pay them more than the ride was worth left us feeling a bit uneasy. to be honest, they are probably only slightly crooked, like much of the infastructure of the country. we arrived safely and reminded ourselves that even though things were fine and safe, in teh future we should barter more and discuss pricing and stuff up front. back-ending your transactions is a good way to get overcharged. there was never any fear that these guys would harm us or steal outright from us - that sort of thing is extremely rare here. but still, be careful. again, do as i say, not as i do - i trust myself and i trust eliot so i know that in a scrap, we'll deal and be fine. but in your travels, exercise caution when doing dumb gringo stuff like taking a ride with strangers.
a new lesson learned, we loaded up and headed into panaji. the former protuguese stronghold feels just like a tiny european town, complete with tiles rooftop cafes, winding streets and a heavily trafficed waterfront. finding a great room (Rs.600 for two nights! safe, secure, great windows, good beds - tourism definetly drives prices down!), we spent the night visiting a book store, watching a thousand-person street festival and then heading back to the room for a kingfisher, a little BBC world service (such a a treat!) and a good rest. i nod off to the breeze billowing our curtain, the sounds of the city dying under the police curfew and the knowledge that tomorrow, for the first time the trip started, i can sleep in ...