Friday, 14 March 2014

The not so Great Indian Circus

Lying on the beach with the Aussies on their last night, who were soaking up the last of the Indian sunrays and more importantly inhaling their last servings of cheesy garlic naan and garlic prawns, we were all buzzing with excitement. The circus had come to town. All week as we had driven on the way to the slums we had watched with giggly anticipation as the stripy colourful tents popped up adorned with malfunctioning fairy lights and swarming with grubby, peculiar looking people. Of all the ways to spend their last night in India what better than a spectacular extravaganza of allure, mystery and wonder in those magical parachute tents glowing with talented performers. We were certainly in for a surprise.

After ordering far too much yummy indian food on the beach (plus bucketloads of mango juice) we were running late for the show and so when we finally arrived, just in time, we were skipping and running through the doors, the fairy lights glowing in our eyes.

Immediately we were highly amused at our prior worries that “what if there’s no seats left?!”… there was about 40 spectators, with about 15 of that number being us from the camp…

Spread out sparsely on the numerous, unnecessary plastic chairs in a large circle around the circus ring, we were perfectly positioned to stare at the audience members’ underwhelmed faces as the show commenced. With no glitz, pomp or even an announcement, a line of undernourished teenagers in tight, discoloured leotards reluctantly dragged themselves into the ring and proceeded to swing around unenthusiastically, performing some pretty impressive tricks but accompanying them with grimaces and shrugged shoulders like a moody teenager being told to do their homework.  Then presumably for comedic value a dwarf dressed in a hideous Lycra ensemble joined in, but OH he can’t reach the swing because his limbs are too small HAHAHA now he’s going to fall! Such comedy. To accompany this hilarious skit, which they repeated about 10 times, out comes a woman, but OH she’s so FAT! HAHAHAH she’s fat and she’s wearing a tight leotard, I see where this ones going! YUP there she goes, falling 50 feet onto the ‘safety’ net (fixed in place by skinny men pulling the ropes taut, with difficulty).

Believe it or not, the show went downhill from this point.

Between each ‘act’, a long line of young girls marched out with the most tragic faces I’ve ever seen, wearing far too tight silver hot pants and crop tops, carrying flags or ribbons yet barely carrying themselves. Whilst stood in the circus ring they would suddenly start whispering to each other or just drop what they were holding, clearly dying to get out of the burning spotlights.

Every now and then a ‘performer’ would come out, hula hooping or lassoing or trying to balance on a barrel, and quite often they would give it a few attempts before giving up defeated and doing a halfhearted bow at the nonexistent audience.

There was also, to add to the terrific lineup, a group of little men in clown outfits whose job it was to hurt each other in various ways, though they spent a majority of their time stood at the side of the circus ring taking pictures of Hanna, the gorgeous blonde Swedish girl, on their Nokias.  

The most spectacular sight in a stomach churning, disturbing way, was their group of elephants which came marching out and on command walked on their hind feet and sat down on chairs like people and various other disconcerting acts that remind me of those nightmares you have where things are so disjointed and unnatural that your stomach sinks and you need to escape.

Confused, bemused and ashamed to have given these people my money, we sat eager for this freak show to end. Expecting some sort of grand finale or at least some confirmation that we were allowed to leave we were suddenly very taken aback when suddenly all the Indian families just got up and left, apparently the show had ended, on an incredible anticlimax, which was probably a very fitting end in its’ ambiguity, disjointedness and general crap-ness.

My first ever trip to the circus was certainly an experience, an experience never ever to be repeated.

A few days ago Petter, who is still in India, contacted us all to casually inform us that the owner of the circus was now being charged with human trafficking, so we can probably let the performers off for being so miserable and unenthusiastic…

In this circumstance, the show most definitely must not go on.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

What happens in Palolem...

So I am currently typing this sat at a massive computer screen in the law faculty library of Sydney University, doing my best to look intelligent and studious, not helped by the fact I just dyed my hair blonde.

Evidently, a lot has occurred since my last long-forgotten blog post.

SO, as I travel back in time in my mind through a whirring vortex of brunch, smoothies, chai lattes and copious amounts of alcohol, I arrive back to my last full weekend in India. Palolem.

I like the word Palolem, it reminds me of the word Heffalump, and so I called it Palolump and did the cute little lip pop on the 'p' at the end. It's dead sweet and innocent. Palolem on the other hand however, is not.

The first time I ventured to the white, sandy beaches of this laid-back, hippy haven was a long, long time ago, back when I had only known the Australians for two weeks and we decided to bond over beach huts and Bacardi.

All along the beach there are little settlements of 'beach huts' which are these peculiar little shacks built of ply wood and consisting of a double bed and then a toilet positioned behind a seemingly cardboard wall. Rustic.

We rocked up with nowhere to stay and strolled down the beach, embracing the ability to wear shorts and bikinis without being judged, heaving our luggage and randomly a guitar that someone deemed an essential to bring to the beach. What followed was an agonizing game of bargaining with various hut owners who would trick you into their lair by making you see the huts before telling you the price, obviously waiting for someone to be so fed-up and tired that they crack and pay something crazy like 10pounds a night. Even though every single beach hut was exactly the same in its lack of any facilities, we still managed to argue about which four walls of thin wood to choose and in a tired paddy Cainan flopped to the sand and started strumming the guitar, devising a whiny song on choosing beach huts. Guess the guitar was an essential after all otherwise how else would we have heard this masterpiece?!

Eventually we settled for these lovely little ones that actually looked more like Wendy houses than shanty shacks and even had little hammocks out front and a fridge full of drinks running on a trust system. At 4pounds a night I think we did pretty well.

We washed away the frustration that had been heating up our insides with rounds of colourful, strong and untrustworthy cocktails that are 2-4-1 in 'happy hour' (midday to midnight) and watched the sun set as sandblasted hippies and your occasional malnourished cow strolled along the edge of the sea.

As the empty cocktail glasses started monopolizing the table and a few shots of fenny were forced down out throats, our plans of taking it easy on the first night were obliterated, probably incinerated by the burning fenny, and we headed back to our huts to get ready for the Jaguar Party, or Leopard Party, some big cat party...

A short taxi ride away from the beach we arrived at what looked just like the set in the first Scooby-Doo Movie when they're on that island with all the tiki and voodoo stuff. The guy on the door was from London so of course all the Aussies were hilarrrrious and started asking if we could all get in free because 'Oh my god she's from Britain too, that's so cool, she gets in free yeh?!'. Of course the sober, cockney guy just looked incredibly unamused and charged us all full price... if not more, I think I would've charged us more...

As I predicted from my experience of these kind of events in Thailand, it was absolutely dead, but luckily we there was 11 of us and we were all seeing double so it felt like 22. That's an acceptable amount right?

At 1am, just as it started getting busy and good, I was dragged away from the dance floor where I had spent a good two hours just dancing presumably on my own and someone (to this day we're still not sure who) herded us all into a taxi as it was suddenly essential we went back to the beach.

Then things got weird.

Fortunately, I had worn my bikini under my clothes so I decided to go in the ocean for a quick dip with the girls. Unfortunately, I decided to go in the ocean for a quick dip with the girls. Rule number 1, no nighttime swimming! So, so stupid and I don't know how I keep getting away with making these stupid decisions but I really need to stop because one day I'm not going to get away with it!

As I crawled back up the beach (yes, literally crawled on my hands and knees) I heard some yelling and suddenly there was blood everywhere and Cainan was karate kicking the air and flipping out like Scrappy Doo style. So here's what apparently happened...

In his usual jokey, teasing way, Cainan thought it would be hilarious to sneak up on Callum, in the dark, on the beach, in India. Cainan reminds me of some children's tv show character, like a Care Bear or a My Little Pony or Dora the Explorer, basically something you can imagine vomiting rainbows. He's like super peaceful and trusting, bordering on naïve but in an endearing way. He likes hugs and deep meaningful conversations. Callum likes to say the F word a lot. Callum is big and doesn't know his own strength and talks about drowning cats (still don't think you were joking Callum).

Callum turned around and smacked Cainan so hard right in the face that he split his forehead open.

Blood was everywhere.

Then like a flick switching Cainan suddenly flipped out and was an uncontainable ball of kicking limbs and wild shouting. Callum, despite his size and strength, was of course terrified and started running around the beach like a big frightened turkey and hid in one of the girls' hut.

So just a quiet first night in Palolem then yep.

The next morning we all singularly arrived at the café next door on the beach and ate disappointing breakfast before falling back in bed. I woke up around 1 in the afternoon and no one else was to be seen so I sat on my porch reading about Piers Plowman and his preachy, pious ways while my head was banging and there was still empty beer bottles lying around.

We had heard that the big thing to do on Saturday nights is to go to the Silent Disco at the far end of the beach but we were all so hung-over and weak that instead we sat on the beach and were super cute and lit Chinese lanterns and they filled the sky just like in Tangled.

Sunday morning a few of us arranged to get up super early to go kayaking and watch the sun rise from the ocean. After some frustrating waiting around as Cainan did his usual routine of like 20 outfit changes ("do you think we'll get wet?") we finally go in our little kayaks and ventured out into the flat, static ocean, waiting for the sun to arrive and bring everything to life. For the total of about 20 minutes we rowed/paddled (I don't know kayak terminology) and it felt great to do some exercise... then we all sat still side by side in our boats and talk about the meaning of life, and then The Life of Pi and then Frozen, watching the sun morph from a hazy orange to a glowing yellow.

Lessons learnt from Palolem trip one:

1. Fenny is a bad idea, just don't do it. Ever.
2. No where gets good until about 1 in the morning, so don't decide to leave at one in the morning.
3. Go in the ocean it's gorgeous, just not at night yeh.

OK, so skip forwards two weeks, a trip to Mumbai, and a complete changeover of people staying at camp, and once again here I am, kicking up the warm Palolump sand and watching the same cows strut down the beach.

Despite previous experience, once again we dithered from one wooden shoebox to another in indecisiveness of which wooden box offered us the most nothing. However this time I was with a bunch of Scandinavians rather than Australians, who were much more blunt and upfront about their boredom and frustration and so we settled on somewhere much quicker.

This time, I was determined to make it to the Silent Disco on Saturday night, so Friday evening we decided to have a nice quiet night sitting around a table with good food and my pack of cards. Then someone suggested teaching the Europeans how to play Ring of Fire. Before we know it we were being kicked out the restaurant and Petter's voice had gone ridiculously high-pitched and I was building sandcastles and I just don't know what happened because it had all started off so sweet and sober.

The next day was spent feeling horrifically ill. I've got this awful cough and sore throat and have had it for like 4 weeks now and it all started just before this weekend. The hospital had told me to take antibiotics and try to relax. I took vodka and tried to dance...

After spending all evening insisting that I would not be convinced to go to the Silent Disco, I was compromised to at least have a couple of drinks. Some fenny shots later and surprise surprise the Silent Disco suddenly seemed like a magical prospect of fun and frolics and that awful pain in my throat and chest? No that was simply my heart begging me to follow its' wishes and attend the party...

Everyone had on big headphones and there was three DJ's on three different channels competing for your audial attention. Each set of headphones had a little light on them so you could see what channel people were listening to and I was very disappointed in the music taste of the majority of people there. Hannah and I seemed to be the only people listening to the Green channel which was like old-school hip-hop/reggae/not horrific repetitive trance music like what the other ones were playing. So in our own little world we danced the night away on this like raised area where there was a big screen and a cool lighting effects things that made you into a giant silhouette that everyone could see dancing. We had an epiphany moment where we realized we were in fact most definitely Beyoncé and Shakira and proceeded to dance in an embarrassing manner for all to see...

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur... My next main memory is at like midday the next day when I decided to go for a swim. I thought it would help me get over my hangover, but as I was swimming I noticed that I didn't actually have a hangover, in fact I felt great, I couldn't stop giggling, and I was saying all this out loud, to my self... it was at this point it occurred to me I did not have a hang over because I was in fact still drunk. Panicking, I decided to turn around and swim back, and then was in another massive fit of giggling when I realized that I had swam way too far and all the people on the beach looked like little Sims and then I was thinking about Father Ted and the 'Small...Far away' thing and it was all very funny and I couldn't tread water and laugh at the same time. Bit of a dilemma really... I tried to swim towards them, but they just refused to get closer. Luckily, Sarah came swimming out wondering who on earth had decided to swim so far out and spoke to me in a logical calming way enabling my limbs to actually start working again.

Lessons learnt from Palolem trip two:

1. Fenny is still a bad idea, weren't you listening the first time!?
2. Things do get good at 1 in the morning, but not until 7 in the morning, 7 in the morning you make stupid decisions, go home at 1, you clearly can't hack this.
3. The ocean is gorgeous, but just don't go in it, like ever. You're rubbish.

Palolump, I think you will always be my guilty love and I will miss you greatly, but it is time to move on, it's not you, it's me.