Friday, January 20, 2006

When the Ship hit the Fan

This is a long, but I hope entertaining, story.

Renting a motorcycle or Scooter seems to be THE way to get around north Goa. Every hotel or guest house has them or can get them, and there are a lot of beaches to explore in north Goa. We had rented one from the guest house in Anjuna where we were staying, and taken a ride to the beach pictured above (Candolim), which has this large ship run aground right in the middle of it. It would be quite easy to swim to.

Candolim also has some of the better waves in Goa. The Arabian sea doesn't have the kind of waves in Goa that surfers enjoy on the Pacific coast of the United States, but in Candolim we found some 5 footers, perhaps, that were consistent. I'd been bodysurfing at several beaches in Goa, but some of the best was here. I got brazen, though, and was opening my eyes as I was carried on the crest of the wave, enjoying the view as I was coming into the beach with no board.

That was my big mistake. One of the waves slapped me up a little as I was coming in and whisked the contact lens out of my right eye. I'm a -8.50 or so which translates to not being able to see the clock radio by the bedside when I'm in bed, and of course I didn't bring any extra contacts! I had rented a geared motorcycle because I prefer them to a scooter, but Tiffany doesn't have experience with the shifting, brakes,~> read more

and clutch on a motorcycle. So, I took my contact out right on the beach and switched it to my right, more dominant eye, being careful not to drop it in the sand and therefore have no contacts at all!

The sun was just getting ready to set so we decided to hop on the motorcyle and head back ASAP. we had about a 30 minute ride ahead of us over exciting roads! let's just say that driving on the left side of the road is the least of your problems, even with both contacts! We started on our way just as the twilight was dwindling. Then, things really started go get ugly. Our headlight was totally non-operable, in high beams, low beams, anything. we couldn't even turn on a blinker. Major electrical issues, we were lucky the bike was still running!

It's hard to explain the kind of traffic you see in India without the experience itself, but, for example, taxis just honk at pedestrians and don't slow down at all, just weave around them. Furthermore, there are just about no traffic lights and right-turners just push right in and force the opposing drivers to slam on their brakes. In short, a headlight is a really nice thing to have when it's dark out. I quickly figured out that following a scooter, motorcycle, or taxi (that had headlights, of course) fairly close behind was the safest thing to do, so that other drivers would avoid that vehicle, but when my protector turned off the road, I had to regroup and find a new one! Meanwhile Tiffany is on the back of this little bike hanging on to me and being very patient with our situation!

We made it home ok after 35 or 40 minutes, and I promptly informed the about 20 year old son of the family who runs the guest house we were staying at that there was a major problem! He was very apologetic and attended to the problem immediately. I think he took it to the motorcycle workshop, and had it fixed up within under an hour.

So, despite our frightful ride, we hopped right back on to go out to dinner, but not without a couple of extra contacts and a bright headlamp "just in case!" Little did we know, the night's stories weren't over yet! We went out to dinner at a nice restaurant near some of the higher end resorts, then headed to a 24-hour internet cafe to call some family 12.5 hours away, late at night is the best time. We started heading home just after midnight.

Our map showed a direct route home that involved a parking-lot type area at the end of a fairly minor road, then a dotted line, which we assumed was a dirt road, to a bridge back to a minor road. We meandered down empty streets to this parking lot area, which was mostly deserted and not well lit at all. It wasn't very apparent where this alleged dirt road was so I stopped facing back the way we came. Another bike with what looked like two Indian guys on it pulled up almost immediately, but there are tons of motorcyles in goa with at least two Indian guys on them so I didn't think twice about it until they pulled up close to us and started saying "excuse me sir". We are pretty well trained to ignore people that talk to us in tourist areas, but I was having problems getting the motorcycle started again. Just as I got it started the guys (in their early 20s, dressed in respectable clothes but not uniforms) said "stop, you must stop!" The guy on the back got off and was carrying a 2.5 foot long stick, he started walking around the bike and rapping it against his other hand. While these guys had a law enforcement tone about them, and in fact the police do carry sticks of that description, I decided it was probably time to leave and managed to throw the bike in gear and take off. I didn't waste any time zipping quickly through the empty streets, but we were not pursued that we could see. Perhaps they decided it wasn't worth it since one guy was off their bike.

Little did we know, this wasn't the last not-quite-law-enforcement experience of the night. Once we got back on the main road (the "long way home" but we had done it earlier that day with no headlight!) after a while we came to a place with metal gates partway across the road. You see cows, dogs, pedestrians, rickshaws, bicyles, and more on the streets of India and the normal thing to do is honk, so that's what I did. It turned out, however, that this was a Police checkpoint, and perhaps honking wasn't the smartest thing! This presented a problem, because although I have a motorcyle driver's license in Colorado, I technically should have an international driver's license to be driving in India, and anyway I didn't have my passport, colorado driver's license, or any other ID on me. Our guidebook had mentioned that license enforcement was "quite lax".

I imagined this was a drunk driving checkpoint, which is what it would be in the US. We each had a single drink with dinner but it had been several hours so I wasn't worried about my fitness for riding. We were directed over in front of one of the barricades and three policemen approached the bike. They nonchalantly asked me for the Indian equivalent of "License, registration, and proof of Insurance." I explained that I had none of this at hand, and of course I had no idea where the motorcycle registration document might be. I did say, however, that my license was back at our guest house, which was perhaps 15 minutes away. This didn't seem to impress the Policemen at all. They informed us repeatedly that the "proper" fine for riding without your license is 1000 rupees. While that's only a little over $20 US, 1000 rupees is a lot of money in India. We were only going to be in Goa for a couple more days, so clearly we weren't going to stick around to go to court.

I wanted to show my passport and Colorado Motorcycle license to straighten this all out, but these guys didn't seem interested in running us around. One of the officers was waving his finger at me and lecturing me about if I caused an accident, I could hurt someone and I would be responsible! Tiffany said "Our documents are at the guest house, do you have a motorcyle or car, you can take him there and I can stay here!" This wasn't going over very well either.

One of the police then changed tactics. He said "We have reports someone is carrying illegal things. Are you carrying illegal things? If you have illegal things tell us now." I'll put this in context by saying that there are more than a few foreigners rotting away on drug related charges in a prison just south of the beach where the picture with the ship was taken. We had nothing illegal, but it is not unheard of for officers to plant items in exchange for a big bribe. This tactic was designed to make us want to pay the 1000 rupees and leave, I'm sure, but it worked!

The problem was, our restaurant had been quite a bit more expensive than we had thought, and an average restaurant dinner for 2 is around 300, so we just weren't carrying much money, nowhere near 1000. We kept offering to go back to our guest house (with them or without, whatever) and get the 1000 rupees, license, passport, or some combination thereof. Finally we explained that we didn't have 1000 when it became apparent that the license documents didn't really matter. Eventually one of the officers asked how much we had. I said "not much, maybe 200" and pulled out the cash from one of my pockets. I probably had 100 in another pocket and tiffany had another 200 or so but I wanted to see what would happen. The first pocket actually had 250 in it and as I peeled this off the officer said "That's fine, 250 is enough." We were not amused at the time but laughed about this blatant bribe (called "baksheesh") situation later on that night and the following day.

We mentioned it to Marta, the mother of the family who runs the guest house we stayed at, because I wanted to have the registration document with us (along with the headlamp and extra contacts). She said, "There is no document! They just want baksheesh! How much did they want, 300?" She just laughed and laughed when we told her 1000. We said we didn't have it and gave them 250 and she said "fine, just fine" laughing along. She also said "Even if everything is in order, then they just get gruff and say 'Fine, give me a cigarette!' " Marta also related a story that was in their newspaper about a Russian who had been stopped in Anjuna, paid 500 baksheesh, then stopped at another barricade in Calangute, paid another 500 despite his insistence that he had already paid the fine, and then he was stopped a third time in Candolim for another bribe. The big Russian's temper got the better of him and he picked up the Goan policeman and held him entirely above his head like a weightlifter! He said "DON'T ASK ME AGAIN, I'VE AREADY PAID TWICE TONIGHT!" Apparently the other police ran off and the lifted man followed as soon as he was set down.

We're not going to be anywhere else in India where we will rent a motorcycle, and we're OK with that :)


Blogger jskalet said...

andy, i had been missing your writing!!!

12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't believe your story and that the just wanted bribe money. You were smart to just give them a little bit!!
Love, Wendy

1:42 PM  

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