Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Poley and Herc ride again

You've read the title, and it is indeed true. Not a week elapsed since we fled Palolem, hoping to forever put behind us the insane alternative identities of Napoleon and Hercules Salas. But life is often not so simple...

It all started when last night, being a Saturday night, we decided we should go out. Near to Baga, where we are currently staying, are two 'Saturday night Bazaar' places. Think Camden Market, with more old English tourists, Indians, beer and a terrible terrible "entertainment" stage featuring a cack jazz band, an odd guy doing tai chi, and an old cockney hippie woman as the worst compere in the world. On the plus side, there are less rubbish "legal high" stalls. But no decent clothes or records shops, either - it was all hippie beads and trance. Basically, if you want an Om or Che Guevara T-Shirt, or any item of ethnic tat, this is your place. The food was the same as Camden Market food too - overpriced slightly tasteless MSG-rammed noodles in card trays with plastic forks. Yummy. In case you hadn't yet guessed I wasn't overly enamoured with the Ingo's experience.

However, Ingo's did have the advantage of being within walking distance of the area's top club, "nightclub in the sky" Club Cubana. And for all the pedants out there, no, it was on top of a big hill. At Club Cubana there is a swimming pool, a jacuzzi, a dancefloor that looks like a laser quest, and the policy that you pay 500 Rupees to get it (that's pretty much what I'd normally spend in a day - about six quid fifty to you) but after that drinks are free all night. That's right, I said free. And all night. As you can imagine, it's brilliant. And as you can probably also imagine, due to the gratis nature of the refreshments, we got pretty, er, refreshed during the evening.

Our main shock, however, came relatively early on, when I was tapped on the shoulder at the bar, turned around and came face to face with an english guy we'd met in Palolem. "Poley and Herc, isn't it!". No, we didn't tell him the truth - we just nodded and smiled and spent the rest of the evening avoiding him and the gaggle of Scandinavian girls out with him. I think they were Swedish as well. Curses - foiled by our own stupidity. Will I never be rid of this Albatross-like alter-ego?

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Great Charade and Bones of a Saint

You left me in Palolem some days ago, feeling slightly burnt but otherwise on top of the world. What a difference a few days make.

The very evening of my last post was the beginning of the fun, and eventually the trouble. On said night, myself and Trev headed out for dinner and beer, though we figured we wouldn't bother to go for spirits after the over-exertions of the first night in Palolem. So we headed to a few bars, eventually winding up in the badly-titled Cafe del Mar at midnight, at which point it was pretty darn busy. Soon enough we were spoken to by a loud Aussie (are there any other types?), and so began an evening of roundly mocking him and his country, and speaking to a wide variety of amusing characters. There were some Englishmen, a Scotsman (tried to get involved in the England v Australia debate on the Antipodean's side and was shouted down with repeated cries of "Andy Goram"), a crazy spiritual German, an absolutely wasted Indian, some Swedish girls and some more Englishmen (Mancs, to be precise), to name the main characters. Here is where our genius/insanity kicked in, though. You see, in a moment of inspiration/stupidity we up and introduced ourselves to all of the above people as the brothers Napoleon (that's me) and Hercules (that's Trev) Salas. And of course, they all loved our names, and said how memorable we were etc. And a hilarious night was had, as we were there until about half four, with them all unaware just how hilarious it was for us.

This formula was continued, with restaurant and bars followed by del Mar until very late (or early depending on how you look at it) for the next two nights, with us regularly bumping into those we'd met out in the evening during the day as well. The trouble, though, when you lie about something like that, is that it begins to take over your whole life. No longer could we sit having dinner in a restaurant and casually talk about our respective families - we're brothers, remember? No longer when in the sea could one of us shout to the other by their actual name. You have to remember all the time. And that's where the drinking really causes problems. Waking up in the morning and thinking "With what other details were the Salas family life embellished last night?". You start to feel generally vaguely edgy...

On the third night, we left del Mar early (at four am instead of five) and went to have a night swim. The swim itself was great, but after we got back to our hut, we couldn't sleep, so we lay awake talking. At the end of the evening we'd been introduced to yet another Scando broad by an English friend of ours who'd said "Their names are difficult to believe", or words to that effect. We thought it was a suspicious comment at the time, though with hindsight it seems fairly innocuous. Anyway, during our bedtime chat, this was one of the things we discussed.

Next morning I awoke at about 10 feeling pretty rough. Went to go to the public toilet in our beach hut village. On the way back, I was accosted by the English bloke who lived next door to our hut, with his Irish girlfriend.
"Can you keep the noise down at night, please?", he requested.
"Yeah, sorry", I blearily replied, thinking that we were pretty noisy walking back to our hut from the beach.
"Yeah, well, you woke us up last night talking to each other in your hut. We heard everything you said about us," he countered, extremely aggressively. Which was news to me, as I couldn't recall talking about the pair - they weren't acquaintances from del Mar, just our neighbours. But wait... everything we said? Suddenly I felt super edgy. I made more weak and bleary apologies, answered with a "you don't seem sorry", due presumably to my chemical imbalance detracting from my sincerity, and went back in to the hut.

We spent the rest of the day in an extremely nervous frame of mind. How much had we said about the couple? How rude had we been? Had we been rude? More worryingly, what had we said about our names? And who did the couple know that we knew? In the face of all these questions, we did what any pair of true men would: we ran and hid at the top (more deserted) end of the beach, edgily scanning the sands for anyone we knew.

Sure enough, that day everyone we knew was at the top end of the beach (thankfully except the couple from next door). Which meant a day of talking to people, every moment expecting an angry conversation along the lines of "Why did you lie about your names, you dicks?". Eventually, night fell. Having nervously checked my e-mails (no way I was writing all this while in Palolem!) and having dinner in an out-the-way restaurant, we skulked back home under cover of darkness, and scuttled to and from the communal showers and toilets getting ready for bed, all the time nervously casting glances at the balcony of the hut next door and praying not to see anyone sitting there.

After a troubled night's sleep, during which time every noise outside was sinister to my immensely tired (due to three very late nights in a row and an exhaustingly nervous day) and paranoid brain, we awoke at 7 in the morning and got the bloody hell out of Palolem.

The moral of the story is that what they say about truth being the best policy is actually truer than I'd thought. Needless to say, where we are now (Baga, in north Goa), we are back to being Sam and Trev again. I'd be surprised if Napoleon or Hercules were seen again for a very long time...

Baga is ok, we are in a lovely hotel room this time instead of a beach hut, and last night (our first) we had an early night so as to recharge the batteries. The area is a lot less backpacker-filled and a lot more like the Costa del Sol, which should be amusing, at least for a few days.

Today we went to Old Goa, formerly Goa's capital (now it's Panaji) for a long time during Portugal's rule of Goa (which only stopped in 1967, years after the rest of India had been liberated from the British), and said to once rival Lisbon for it's splendour. Now it's a collection of actually fairly underwhelming (though Lonely Planet disagrees with me there) old Catholic churches, cathedrals and convents. The kind of culture we needed to see after six days of beach (and lying-related madness). But this year, for ten days only, starting from the 21st November, there was an extra special reason to go: the chance to see the corpse of Goa's patron Saint, Francis Xavier.

St. Francis Xavier was a Spanish missionary sent by the Pope to Goa, in order to keep the faith of those natives that the Portuguese had converted, and of course convert more. His conversion rate (as I assume it's called) was apparently legendary, as was his ability to curb the supposedly-decadent and disgusting excesses of the Portuguese soldiers. He travelled all around Asia, but frequently returned to Goa, where he held several important high-ranking church positions. He eventually died on an island off the coast of China. He wished not to have his body return to Goa, or something (this part of the story is a tad vague) so his assistant poured quicklime on the body, attempting (as all Fight Club fans will know) to chemically burn it up. But the body remained untouched by decay, and so it was sealed up in a coffin and sent Goawards.

It took a couple of years to arrive, during which time it was buried briefly, and one of the toes was stolen, but when the corpse finally turned up at Old Goa it was still amazingly unravaged by the effects of time. Foul play was suspected, and so the Church got a doctor to inspect it. He reported that the corpse had been in no way embalmed or chemically altered. The lack of decay was declared to be a miracle.

Over the following years, various parts of the body were stolen by relic hunters, but throughout history doctors were brought in to examine in and all reported that it was incredibly well preserved. Only relatively recently, in the last hundred years or so (the body is 400-500 years old) has it decayed. These days, to protect it from more organ-pilfering, it is kept locked in an ornate tomb in the Se Cathedral in Old Goa, except for a ten day exposition, held once every ten years. And today, as part of said exposition, I saw it. A wizened, dessicated corpse not unlike those of the ancient Egyptian mummies in the British museum, but unliek them, according to every historical doctor's testimony, entirely untreated to prevent it's being more decayed. The toenails and things are still visible, as (to an extent) are the nose, mouth and ears. I don't know what a 500 year old body is supposed to look like, of course.

So, was this a genuine miracle? That, boys and girls, is the question I leave you with today. Oh, and this: "Does lying about your identity until you go crazy mean your own body is unlikely to be singled out for similar special treatment by any God(s) when the time comes?" Answers to the usual address, please...

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Life: A beach?

Q: How can you tell an Englishman on a beach abroad?
A: He'll be bright pink and probably drunk.

Yes, hello from beach paradise Palolem in Goa, where it's all kinds of hot and sunny, the seafood is awesome, and the sea is warm and clear. Jealous? You should be. And, as the above introduction suggests, we've been flying the flag appropriately, getting sunburnt and drinking too much on our first day here. Quality.

We arrived in Palolem at 5 in the morning, having gotten the night bus from Badami. Our first experience of the beach was sitting on it waiting for the sun to come up. Once it had, though, we wandered around for a while and soon got ourselves accomodation: a bamboo shack on stilts some 40m from the sea. Before long we hit the beach, and got in a good morning's skinfrying.

In the evening we had dinner, and drank a bottle of local firewater Feni, which is not too bad. Felt utterly terrible the next day, though (yesterday), but then we did go to a fair few bars and drink a noxious mix of spirits - rum, vodka, etc etc. Still, all in all it was a great great day - for the first time in ages I saw the sea, drank too much and, thanks to the Kingfish I had for dinner, I had a meal containing something that had died for my food.

We'll probably mooch about here in south Goa until Thursday or so, and then we'll head up to north Goa, which is the real party scene.

Anyone who wants to tell me how jealous they are, or what the weather is like in England, e-mail me at the usual address!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A week is a long time politics, so they say, and also in India, it seems - the events described in my last post seem like they happened a long time ago. Since then I've been to Bijapur, Badami and now Hampi. So I'd best be brief, and offer a quick roundup. But first, the Ajanta caves.

These caves are older than the Ellora caves described below, and are solely a Buddhist affair. They are famous for their cave paintings rather than for their sculpture or architecture. Said paintings are very nice, and our understanding and appreciation of them was much increased by the guided tour which (in an extremely rare move, for us) we embarked upon. The art depicts a varied set of scenes from Buddhism, mainly taken from the Buddhas previous lives before he was Buddha. They are done in colours, the source of which was desrcibed again and again by our guide. In fact, his general style of guidance was to repeat certain facts over and over again. Though to be fair to him, many of the rest of our tour group seemed remedial at best, so it was perhaps a wise choice of way of imparting information. Overall I would say that while the average cave at Ajanta is probably marginally more impressive than that at Ellora, the Kailash temple at Ellora means those are Sam's Caves Of Choice.

Bijapur is a smallish (300,000 population) town in south India. We got there on Thursday, and were so amazingly impressed by the laid back atmosphere and lack of hassle that we elected to stay an extra night. Bijapur has two main sites, both mausoleums for dead Muslim kings who used the town as their capital back in the day. Both buildings (the Ibrahim Rouza and the Golgumbaz) are good - the Ibrahim Rouza is architecturally beautiful, while the Golgumbaz is just massive, featuring the world's second largest dome at 38m in diameter, behind St Peter's in the Vatican (which I've also seen, so there).

Friday night in Bijapur was Deepawali, the big wombassa of the Hindu holy month of Diwali. So we went out expecting there to be drinking in the streets and much assorted revelry. We were somewhat disappointed, then, when there were more people than normal milling about and lots of kids setting off fireworks. Boy am I glad we're not in India for New Year! (Note: We'll be in Southeast Asia somewhere, where the chances are they won't actually celebrate the same New Year as us, but rather will celebrate the Chinese one instead).

And so to Badami. This is a much smaller village (population: 25,000 or so) featuring more (slightly lame in comparison) caves and near to some other villages (Pattadakal and the hilariously named Aihole, unfortunately pronounced Ioli) which have some ok but a bit dull old ruined Hindu temples. All of which would probably be better had I not been cave-and-templed out of existence at Ellora and Ajanta. However, there was an amusing episode in Badami (Animal rights protesters look away now).

As we were walking to the entrance for the caves in Badami, I was holding a plastic bag containing our lunch in my left hand. Suddenly a monkey (of which there are many in India) came bounding towards me, lept, and tried to snatch the bag from me. Fight or flight responses in my brain caused me to jerk the bag away from the diminuitive simian, but it's claws were hooked into the bag, and I simply lifted it off the ground, clinging on to my lunch, shrieking at me in an attempt to get me to panic and drop my food, as presumably other tourists have done before. But this furry fiend picked the wrong honkey to attack. I swung a right boot at it's hairless pink arse, connecting with a meaty slap, and swearing profusely at the little git. With a final shout, it dropped off and retreated. My lunch wasn't going to to line the stomach of anything at a lower evolutionary level...

Today we arrived in Hampi. First impressions of Hampi are that it is basically Pushkar 2, except with more mosquitos. Now we're in the tropics, the ravenous little blighters are a serious concern. Good job I've got malaria tablets, really. If only they also had some kind of effect on the number of god damn filthy stinking crusty hippies...

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Cakes and caves

Our overnight bus journey to Aurangabad was far more comfortable than the previous one had been. This time we were in lovely reclining comfortable seats, and I was thus able to snatch brief minutes of sleep between the moments when the bus hit huge ruts in the road and launched me airborne. Being jolted awake with your arse 6 inches above the seat is not a particularly relaxing experience.

Still, we arrived in Aurangabad safe and sound. Spent that first day relaxing, and (during a moment of genius or insanity due to exhaustion, depending on opinion) came up with new names with which to introduce ourselves. From now on, I shall be known as Napoleon Tolstoy Salas, and Trev as Hercules Caesar Salas, my younger brother. Our father is a philosophy lecturer and our mother a not-doing-very-well writer, in case you're interested. The thought of introducing myself to fellow travellers under this assumed name amuses me greatly, as I'm sure you can guess.

The names were properly christened that very evening, when, again through genius or insanity, we purchased a kilogram of chocolate birthday cake from the restaurant in which we were having dinner (much to their astonishment) and requested that 'Happy Birthday Napoleon' be written on it. We then proceeded to eat said cake in one sitting. I was wished a happy birthday by most of the staff.

Don't worry, those of you who aren't fans of insanity, I have since slept well, and am aware that these actions could be construed as 'strange'.

On an unrelated note, the next day (duly rested) we went to the local Ellora caves. These are a series of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monasteries and temples intricately hand carved into the face of a cliff between AD600 and AD900. There are 35 caves, ranging from the bare to the ostentatious. The best Buddhist one has a ceiling carved to resemble wooden beams, as well as the obligatory massive statue of Buddha.

The best cave of the lot, though, is not really a cave. It's the Hindu temple of Kailasa. This is a huge temple carved out of the stone cliff. It is an awesome sight and I am amazed that I had never heard of it before. It is the second best thing I've seen in India, after the pretty much unbeatable Taj Mahal.

Kailasa is supposed to represent the mountain in the Himalayas on which Hindu god Shiva (or at least one of his aspects) is supposed to live, mythologically speaking. It is covered with carvings of Hindu mythological scenes, taken from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as well as from Vedic texts and other sources. The place is fantastic.

Tomorrow we go to the even-older Ajanta caves, a series of Buddhist caves with wall paintings from a few hundred years before the Ellora ones. It remains to be seen which set of caves will be the better of the two.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Travelling without moving

Well, that's what much of the Indian bus 'service' is. I haven't posted in a while, what with one thing and another, so I'll try to quickly update where I've been.

From Udaipur we headed off on an overnight bus to Indore. We were travelling 'sleeper' class, which is an amusing, and I assume ironic, title. What it basically means is that the two of us got an overhead luggage rack about the size of a small single mattress to live and sleep in for the duration of a ten hour journey. Given that Trev gets travel sick and we were on what seem to be rutted farm track most of the way, and the fact that the windows in our box were not correctly fitting meaning a freezing draft most of the time, not a lot of sleeping was done.

We saw Indore at 6 the following morning, immediately getting on a bus and heading for Mandu. This is a tiny village (pop: 8,500 or so) which is notable for having been a large capital city of a mid-Indian muslim kingdom during the 14th-17th centuries. It was eventually splatted by the Mughals from Delhi, but there are still ruins, which are great. What wasn't great was the lack of fireworks for sale, with which to celebrate bonfire night, and the lack of basic hygiene in our room. Squat toilets and rats... nice. But there was an 'English wine shop', so gin and whisky could be bought and drunk.

Having finished with the sticks, we headed back to Indore, again via rattletrap deathbus. Safe as houses. Indore at first glance at a bleary eyed 6 in the morning had seemed like a hole. It's not too bad, but there's absolutely nowt to see or do here. We're leaving tonight, having spent last night watching an atrocious Tim Allen/Rene Russo film called 'Big Trouble' or something on telly. One to avoid. Next stop: Aurangabad. But we're getting there on an overnight bus... darn.