Mumbai Pink Eye
In India, getting sick is like stepping in cow shit: inevitable. The only uncertainty is when it will strike. For me, it happened just as I was leaving Mumbai. I started to feel something like a cold coming on, but didn’t think much of it. The worst of it struck, as Murphy’s Law would have it, on the train on the way to Goa. I woke after a very pleasant night of being rocked like a baby in the second class car to find that both of my eyes had swollen shut. I could barely see, and looked monstrous with red eyes and a lumpy, misshapen face. Not the most convenient situation to be in whilst trying to figure out the right stop to get off at and how to get to the hostel.
But I’ve gotten off light (so far; knock wood). I met a German guy who, within three days of being in India, fell ill with an infection, went to the hospital and got it treated. The next day he felt better, so he went out for breakfast. He walked to the end of the lane and was promptly bitten by a dog. Talk about terrible luck!
And that’s all it is: luck. You can be as careful as humanly possible, but one dirty cup or a cook who forgets to wash his hands, or petting a passing cow and absent-mindedly touching your face, and bam! you’re delirious and feverish for three days.
As a wise person once said, “Acceptance is the key to happiness”. Nowhere is this more true than in India. When you accept that bad things are going to happen, it’s much easier to cope, and even to have a sense of humour about it. Like I always say, the bad stuff makes for the best stories.
A small state along the Western coast of south India, Goa feels like an island, separate from the rest of the world. I’ve never seen so many palm trees in the same place. Skinny roads wind through the jungle, buildings peek from behind palms; everything man-made feels like it might be subsumed by nature at any moment. When night falls, it’s like pulling a thick comforter over your head.
Goa was colonized by the Portuguese, so the food has a bit of a Portuguese flair — lots of coconut, and fish is considered vegetarian food — and Christian churches abound. In the 60’s and 70’s, the golden days of the hippy movement, Goa was a haven for trance music, all-night beach parties and copious amounts of hallucinogenic substances. Its heyday has passed — the government passed laws to curb the open air beach raves — but Goa is still a party place. Rules are circumvented by baksheesh (bribes); south Goa is controlled by the mafia. Beer is cheap, drugs are everywhere (when I checked into my hostel, one of the first things the receptionist asked me was whether I wanted any weed), and electronic music pulses all night long.
I was there in off season, at the tail end of the monsoons, so most things were closed and the parties hadn’t really begun yet. The season begins October 1st and runs till March. Off season is great; there were still some bars to go have a dance at, but it was quieter. Well, quiet for India: horns honk and dogs bark and kids shriek and firecrackers are set off at all hours of the day and night just like everywhere else. But the monsoon of inebriated tourists hadn’t yet begun.
I spent my birthday in Ajuna, North Goa, with a collection of backpackers looking for the same chilled out atmosphere as me. We rented scooters and explored the beaches in South Goa (postcard perfection, and even more chilled out than the Northern part of the state), ate a lot of curry, and swapped travel horror stories under the stars. Not a bad way to spend my thirtieth birthday. I left Goa with sand in my hair, a bit of a hangover and a smile on my face.