Goa & Hampi

Nick and I spent 4 days and 3 nights in Goa. Our guidebook described the beaches we visited; Palolem, Agonda and Patnem as hippie backpacker chill outs with cheap bungalows, drugs, and silent (headphone) dance parties. That is the definition of what Nick and I try to avoid, however everyone talks about Goa and we figured we should go.

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Agonda, Goa

We arrived in April and to our pleasant surprise it was dead. Visiting during off-season we enjoyed abandoned towns, quiet beaches and spending time doing absolutely nothing. We hadn’t realized it had been months since we just stopped and relaxed, and it was needed. We met up with our friends form Angola and spent our time eating mediocre tourist food, playing Uno, setting off fireworks, swimming in the ocean and just hanging out.

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After taking a sleeper bus to Hampi it reaffirmed our love for India’s rail transit. In the 2 months we’ve spent in India we will have spent 6 overnights on trains. The system is cheap (subsidized), efficient, and comfortable. We’ve met so many wonderful people on the trains and at the stations. Nick and I have a blast arriving to a city and figuring out the train, tuktuk, Uber, plane and bus systems.

Visiting India during the off-season has been wonderful, however the heat was hard. It’s been on average 105-110 degrees and we haven’t had ac in 3 weeks. We wake up in the middle of night sweating; try taking a cold shower, only to find that the water is turned off. It feels like my clothes are consistently damp, however the perks of the off-season outweigh the heat by a hundred fold.

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Hampi

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We spent time in Hampi exploring the ancient ruins dating from the 11th – 13th century. In the 16th century, this now World Heritage Site was once a thriving capital home to 500,000 individuals. My favorite artifact was a large granite Ganesh, while nick liked the elephant stables in the Zenana Enclosure. We saw many young females with shaved heads and learned that it’s common when traveling to Hampi to offer your hair to the temples. The town was quant, empty, meatless and alcohols free. Every morning locals painted the street in front of their home with cow feces and water to welcome guests. We were told that Hindus believe cows resemble their mothers as their provide nourishment to their fields, thus cow fertilizer is sacred.

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Stone Chariot

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Elephant Stables
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“Take my family’s photo.”

 

The ruins were thought provoking but what I thought made Hampi magical was its landscape. A sea of round granite boulders with beautiful cracks engulfed yellow planes with palm trees. It resembled a scene from Jurassic park. Nick and I spent 2 days bouldering, as it is world famous for its problems. However, since we seem to have lost most of our climbing strength and the blistering sun made it difficult, we didn’t spend too much time on the rocks. It is obvious why travelers (climbers specifically) could spend months in Hampi.

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Bouldering in Hampi
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Crashing on crash pads

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We met our friends from Angola again and it had been nice seeing familiar faces throughout India. We rented bicycles and were told to bike 3 km along the river to spend the afternoon swimming in waterfalls. Needless to say, the next few hours we wandered around banana plantations, got lost in the desert, cooled off in a lagoon (thankfully no crocodiles were spotted) and we reached the falls only to find rocks. It seemed like the bike rental shop and all of the locals along the way forgot to mention the water dries up during the spring. After flipping over the handlebars of my bike and scrapping up my hands we ended the evening with some Uno before taking a sleeper train to Bangaluru.

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Goan Eats:

The Cafe – set veg breakfast, amazing.

New world – expensive organic/veg restaurant, we enjoyed a delectable paneer steak

Little world – cheap tourist food

Feni (cashew liquor) – try the local cashew nuts, cachew fruit or alcohol made from the fruit

Hospet (Hosapete) Eats:

Udupi Sri Krishna Bhavan (across from the bus stand) – impeccable. The set dosa cost 45 R (70 cents) or try some idlis (spongy round fermented rice cake) and vada (fried dough) for breakfast.

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Breakfast Idly and Vada
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Breakfast Puri
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Half eaten set dosa with coriander coconut chutney

Hampi Eats:

Mango Tree – the special thali is huge (130 R)

Laughing Buddha – great hangout overlooking the river

The Coast

Mirissa

After enjoying the tea hills of Sri Lanka, Nick, Dan and I headed south towards the coast. We spent a few days enjoying the prestigious beaches in Mirissa. Although touristed, the sun, sand and breeze were magnificent. The ocean was especially lovely in the morning when there were less people. I found myself hypnotized watching the clear turquoise waves form as tan sand overtook the blue color, then curling and eventually crashing into white froth.

We spent a day exploring nearby, Galle, pronounced, ‘Gawl’. This was a historic fort built by the Dutch in 1663 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The colonial buildings gave it a similar feel to Hoi An, Vietnam, however less developed and still had a thriving local community. The 36 hectare fort was surrounded by ocean on 3 sides. We walked along the colonial bastion observing old light houses, churches, and mosques. On our way back to Mirissa, we passed a cricket stadium and watched fishermen floating above the waves on wooden stilts.

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On our last full day, we went whale watching. We joined 20 other foreigners on a double decker boat. As we watched the dark horizon, we saw white towers of water shoot up from the surface (up to 30 feet tall). Finally we spotted our first whale which glided to the surface 50 feet from our boat. In total, we saw about 4-5 blue whales over a dozen of times. We watched as they shot water, slowly moved their bodies, then flip up their tale and dove 1,000 feet, eating krill and shrimp. On average, blue whales are 109 ft long, weigh 180 tonnes, and live 80-90 years. They are the largest living mammals in the world and larger than any historic dinosaur. Did you know that when whaling ended in the 1970s only 5,000 whales or 1% of the population just 200 years before were left? There’s a LonelyPlanet guidebook fact for you!

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Colombo

Before heading back to India, we spent some time exploring the capital, Colombo. Our favorite activity was wondering around the Pettah Markets. The people were friendly and the colorful fruits and vegetables filled the market.

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Tonsai & Railay

What a strange place.

Let me begin by trying to paint a picture. Tonsai is a beach on a peninsula of southern Thailand and it’s more affluent neighbor is Railay. Tonsai can only be reached by boat as no roads have been developed. On one hand it is picture perfect. I wrote the majority of this blog laying on the beach under a shady tree. The waves were crashing, the sun was shining and climbers passed me by. The emerald clear water was salty and warm. Rock faces lined the beach and glowed as the sun set. Nick and I watched monkeys swinging from tree to tree, saw spiders the size of an adult hand and spotted a 4-foot long Monitor Lizard.

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low tide & a setting sun over Tonsai Beach

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One of the many rock faces that dominates Railay Beach

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Sure, you could pay hundreds of dollars to have as slightly more luxurious Thailand experience on Railay beach, however the rest of the budget travels stay in 250 bhat ($6.99) bungalows in Tonsai. The majority of the beach front in Tonsai is owned by some entity that instead of building, has walled off everything but the beach to the outside. This has resulted in a perfect beach with a rapidly expanding bohemian village into the jungle. Avoiding electric wiring, watching sewage pumped into the ocean and cement walls that blocks ocean views are common.

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Sunset on Railay Beach
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The cement wall that separates the beach from Tonsai “village”

Electricity was only available from 6 pm – 2 am, when the town’s diesel generator was operating. Most people stay here for multiple weeks to months and this becomes their reality. Climbers stay here to train and festival hippies come here to relax and slackline. Everyday the routes get more polished and people get sick. Climbers are warned to properly treat wounds as seawater and gray water is contaminated. Infections are common as well as “Tonsai Tummy” which is either an unknown bacteria or virus that gets almost every traveler sick. Unfortunately, Nick wasn’t lucky enough to avoid this phenomenon. There is no law enforcement in Tonsai. In Thailand, drug offenders can be sentenced to death, however in Tonsai, mushroom shakes are sold, marijuana is smoked and there seems to be no order. Frankly, it’s a strange place. Oh, and did I mention the hundreds of stray cats?

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A common virus or bacteria that gets most travelers sick

The majority of our time in Tonsai we spent climbing. Although Nick did most of the climbing as my ankle was still healing, he said the majority of the routes were hard, and polished. Monkey poop littered some walls, but once on top the views were phenomenal. It’s been difficult for Nick and I because climbers train everyday then come Asia for holiday and crush. Whereas, we aren’t able to train and find getting use to new areas, grading and maintaining our strength more difficult than expected. Nonetheless, Nick had a blast on a multi-pitch Humanality (6b+) pictured below.

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View from Humanality 6b+
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Nick working a 6c+ on Tonsai Beach
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Introducing Nick’s pony tail to the world!
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Climbing with our new friend, Ryan

Average days included waking up in our bungalow and sitting on our porch. We would wander our way to town and enjoy a pot of coffee and muesli bowl. Then we would either climb or on rest days head to Railay beach and swim. We enjoyed delicious Thai food, met new people and saw familiar faces. It seems the traveling climbing community is relatively small as we see faces from previous areas and countries. In the evening, Nick and I would enjoy a delicious Thai curry and relax at the Viking Bar (1 of 3 Rasta bars in town) where we played with wooden puzzles and watched slackliners. Although an odd scene, it was relaxing staying in one place and enjoying the beach before heading to Malaysia.

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Bungalow View – 650 bhat ($7)
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Put your hands in the air if you have hairy pits & just don’t care!

Favorite Local Eats:

Thai Food Restaurant – cheapest REAL coffee in town, 1 pot for 60 bhat

The Green Restaurant – best wifi and highest quality food in town (BBQ offered at night)

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Breakfast rice with milk and fresh fruit
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Breakfast muesli bowl

The Viking Bar – fun staff and funny scene, don’t forget to check out the burger cart outside in the evenings.

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Nick’s favorite chicken burger

Australian wraps & shakes (Riley) – try the banana passionfruit smoothie with NO sugar and the Thai chicken wrap