Friday, February 11, 2011

Trip of a Lifetime

This was a trip to Goa, India in December 2010 (25th – 1st Jan 2011). It may seem like, what’s so remarkable about a trip to Goa! I’ve already been there 3 times! But this time it was a bit different - somehow, in someway…actually in a lot of ways!

Before I proceed, I'd need to give a short introduction to what Couchsurfing(CS) is.
CS is a community for travelers which helps people to connect with people from different cultures, evokes intercultural exchange, sharing of experiences, eventually leading to a virtual dissolution of political boundaries. Locals can host travelers from outside and thus this also leads to a cheap mode of travel. But never the least, it always helps building a new connection, a new friend.

I was pretty new to CS in terms of hosting people but my best experience till now
was when I had hosted a guy from Germany. I’ll just call him MS here. He wanted to tour Asia and had arrived in Mumbai, India. I am from Pune, India and somehow he contacted me and I was ready to host him.

Actually we had planned to drive down to Goa, and he wanted to join us, looking for the cheapest way to Goa. There couldn't have been anything cheaper than sharing a ride with us. So we asked him to come down to Pune from Mumbai, hosted him for around a day and a half at my place and then 2 friends of mine, MS and myself embarked on our journey to Goa. This was a first for me – driving to Goa. Driving being my one of my favourite pastimes, I always wanted to do this. But we didn't know what was in store was us....I'll come back to that soon.
(My Ride)
We had planned this trip one year back and after a lot of difficulties in making ends meet - time constraints, friends' availability, etc, the time had finally arrived. We were just 12 hrs from embarking on this journey. And the main reason for this trip was to attend the 3 day Trance music festival - Sunburn, which is held in Goa once every year. And when I told MS about this festival, he immediately bought his tickets online. Now that's how I could show how India parties too. From then on we were counting the seconds till the start of our journey.

Finally, the time arrived - 25th Dec 0100 hrs. (Merry Christmas folks!) I started my car and off we went - MS, myself and 2 friends of mine.

The journey was supposed to take us maximum 10 hrs by road.
But it was already 6 am and we weren't even half way there. Where did we go wrong?
On the other hand, I was lucky to take MS on this trip as it allowed me to show the real beauty of India. The fields, the hills, all looked beautiful in the early morning.
Then suddenly we came up on bad roads which slowed down our progress to almost 30km/hr. And on top of that, being winter time, we were hit by fog. And man I had never seen such dense fog before. It wasn't possible to look beyond two arms' length. But we drove on. We were all mesmerized by the beauty of nature through a simple thing like fog.
(The Fog)

Unfortunately I came to know that I was the only one who could drive.
From 1 am till 8 am I continued, non stop. We had crossed the fog now and we were greeted by the most beautiful roads I had ever seen.
These were awesome roads and we were on top of some hills, and way down we could see the clouds. Scenes which cannot be depicted completely through a camera. A short stopover for taking photos and off we were again. It was 10 am; we were back on plain land and still driving. I was now starting to feel the effects of fatigue. No sleep the previous day and constant driving for such a long time. The passengers were still able to take short naps, but none for me.
 (Beautiful Roads)

At 11 am, I spotted a small motel, tucked away in the jungle beside the road. I had to take rest, or else it would've had become fatal. MS still couldn't believe how I was able to drive like this. Neither could I.
Fortunately, I took a nap for 1.5 hrs only and off we started again. Feeling slightly better, I started to enjoy the drive again. Crossing miles after miles, seeing how the pattern of land changed as we went further west towards the western coastline of India.

25th Dec 4 pm - I was still driving. A Police checkpost. Routine checking, MS thinking we have reached Goa. But no my friend, this is only the border or Goa. I drove on with determination to reach our destination (Vagator, Goa), and to party that night as previously planned.
25th Dec 5 pm - we were near our destination - crossed city traffic, and now I could feel the wind again - the smell of sea breeze. We were near! MS and my friends were coming back from the dead, but I was already a zombie, I guess.
25th Dec 6 pm - after a drive of 17hrs, we had made it!
Our car finally drove into our hotel.

Now here was the problem. MS had tried to get a few hosts in Goa for his stay here. But none were available somehow. We asked him not to worry, because in our presence we can't let our guests get into any problem. On top of that we had booked only one room in the hotel which would’ve had been shared by us 3 friends. No other rooms were available anywhere since this was the peak tourist season in Goa.
We went into negotiation mode. Me and my friends talked to the hotel management, and after some 15mins we were able to convince him to allow MS to share our room with us at a cheap price – just a few bucks extra.
All settled, MS gets a place to stay in Goa! Work done, time to play! But none of us had the energy that day to party as planned and I was dead enough not to be able to show him the nightlife of the party capital of India. Good Night then!

Next day, we hit the beach in the morning - Sun, Sand and begins! After some frolicking in the sea, and lots of fun, it was finally time for Sunburn.

27th Dec - We arrive at the 9th largest trance festival in the world - Sunburn 2010. We were overjoyed, drooling, thinking about the audio boost we were about to get.
And it begins, afternoon Sun, party on the Sand, music in the air, we couldn't have had a better party. This was worth the 17hr long drive.

For 3 days from 2 pm – 10 pm, we just forgot our worries and danced. I am thankful to MS for one more thing here. There was an alternative stage here at Sunburn which played Drum n Bass and Dubstep. I didn't listen to this genre much, but after MS asked me to hear a few of the tracks, I totally got the hang of it.
Voila, I had just widened my taste in music - advantages of being open minded!

So we partied on till 31st Dec - New Year's eve on Anjuna beach at a beach party.
I really enjoyed showing various parts of Goa to MS. In the process we came to know a lot of people whom we had met either at Sunburn or other places in Goa. Few were Germans like MS. We were also able to attend a Couchsurfers meet at Sunburn one day. Another German guy we had met had got into some problem. He was sharing a place in Goa with some other guys but he didn't have a mattress or sleeping bag to sleep on. We can't let the guests of our country have an uncomfortable sleep! So, even though it was 11pm and most of the shops would have been closed, we still found out a place for him, from where he could buy a mattress and thus he had a good night's sleep.

Our trip was coming to an end. 31st night, we had the last party. A party on the beach, right beside the surf – amazing music, amazing weather, sand beneath our feet, wind in our hair. What more can one ask for?
(Anjuna Beach)
1st Jan 2011 afternoon - it was time to say goodbyes.
But MS needed to stay on in Goa and move south. We then gave him directions how to move ahead to Palolem in South Goa.

Final goodbyes said, we started on our long journey back home to Pune. But this time it took us 12hrs. We came to know that we had taken a wrong diversion and had driven for an extra 100kms and thus it took us so long, plus the bad roads and fog, while going to Goa. So the actual distance should have been 460kms instead of 560kms.

But alas our trip comes to an end and the end of a CS experience too. What all did we get from this - trust, new taste in music, intercultural exchange, but most of all, a new friend and a life changing experience.