Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Laughing in the face of disappointment

Sunrise in Gokarna, India

It's 3am in the morning, pitch black and we've just been dropped off on a deserted beach after spending 9 hours travelling from Hampi, to Gokarna in Karnataka, on a sleeper bus.

I can't say I was ever looking forward to the sleeper buses in India, known to be notoriously late and impossible to sleep on. But, pleasantly surprised we were picked up just half an hour late (very good for Indian standards) and snuggled down into a reasonably sized double sleeper bed, that had a curtain for privacy and even a built-in pillow. I have to give it to the solo travellers in India getting around on the sleeper buses, as very often they will have to share a double with a complete stranger, and trust me there really isn't too much room in there to not be accidentally brushing against the other occupant (we heard many horror stories of people in similar scenarios involving large Russian men).

After 7 hours of on and off sleep (apparently I was taking up too much room, as usual) we got dropped off, and abandoned in a random service station in classic Indian style with the famous line; "do not worry, just wait here". Making ourselves comfy with a cup of chai, which is never too far to hand no matter the time of day, we waited, and we waited. Two hours later, we were pretty happy to see a minibus pulling up to take us to the town of Gokarna. We were already mentally prepared to ship out a large amount of cash for a rickshaw, who are also never too far away no matter the time of day. And even better, the driver agreed to take us to Om Beach for an extra charge of 100rupees per person (Indians are incredibly good at making a few extra bucks where they can).

With our phones for torches, we navigated our way down steep steps using the sound of the waves as our guide, desperately trying to avoid slipping in cow shit (some of us managed to be more light-footed than others). Throwing down our bags we settled in for the night on the sand and waited for sunrise, or for a cockroach to crawl on our faces.

Om Beach in India

Gokarna has five beaches, Gokarna main beach, Kudle, Om Beach, Half Moon, and Paradise Beach. We headed to Om Beach as we heard it was reasonably nice, had the most chilled out vibes and the best accommodation for backpackers. But waking up at the crack of dawn, even more tired than before, I was disappointed. The beach was nothing special with piles of rubbish here and there and even worse, it looked like there was a serious lack of beach huts to try and haggle a few rupees off the asking price for a couple of nights stay.

Out of the few options available, boy did we choose wrong. Dolphin Bay looked like a nice enough beach cafe for a few refreshing lassis mid-afternoon, but venture behind the counter and you'll find Shithole Bay. For only £3 a night we weren't expecting much and on first glance, the place looked reasonable - we'd certainly stayed in shadier looking places. We quickly agreed to stay four nights to bag ourselves an even cheaper deal, but after closer inspection, my skin started to crawl. The pillows looked like they'd just come out of the toilet from 'Trainspotting' and the local cows' toilet habits sure gave the place a unique smell. I later lost all hope of the other Dolphin Bay residents making our stay any better. Imagine try-hard hippies mixed with "gap yahhh" kids, mixed with Kevin and Perry Go Large. Yeah, it was looking pretty dire and I only thought it could get better... until I saw a mouse darting between beach huts. The exotic wildlife didn't end there, one morning I woke up to find a huge nest crawling with thousands and thousands of flies literally inches from my head. Which by the way, my loving boyfriend later admitted to seeing days before, but cleverly decided to keep it quiet until we'd got our butts out of there.

So, first impressions weren't the best and we'd messed up on the accommodation. It was safe to say I was silently dreading that we'd agreed to stay at Om Beach for more than two nights. Luckily, we'd heard Paradise Beach was only a soft 40 minutes walk along the coast...

"They said it was a walk, not mountain climbing!", said for the millionth time that morning whilst we both sweated buckets trying to find the best footholds up a small cliff. Thankfully, destination p a r a d i s e was just around the corner and from a distance, it really did look like Paradise. From a distance. After fighting our way past the goats and squirming at a Spanish guy living in the trees trying to start up a conversation with his man piece hanging out the bottom of his loincloth, we rounded the final corner to paradise. And again, we both ran head first into the wall of disappointed (and a heap of trash).

I wasn't expecting too much from the beaches in India but, c'mon. We were promised white sands, not piles of everyone else's litter and spliff butts. We were promised a deserted bay, not a hippie commune with stoners asleep in hammocks. We were promised a relaxing afternoon, not having to spend the short time we were there chasing away goats who wanted our beach towel for breakfast. Basically, it was not worth the 40-minute slog across the cliffs at any measure. The best bit was the graffiti across the abandoned and demolished concrete huts; "save the whales, do not litter". Hippies really do know how to be ironic.

We declined the extortionately priced boat ride back to Om Beach from a guy we'd seen earlier that day taking a dump in the ocean, and headed home to Shithole Bay with our tails between our legs.

You're probably thinking man, that must have been a shit week. Wrong. It has been one of my favourite weeks in India. Not just because looking back Spencer and I have had a lot to joke about, but because we met a great bunch of people. We played beach cricket with the locals (yes, I managed to hit the ball... And then fell flat on my face), we enjoyed our hiking and exploring (minus the goats), and we've learnt that travelling is about the people you meet, just as much as it is about the places you visit.

Most importantly, I've learnt to laugh in the face of disappointment and forget about any paradise beaches until we're across the Bay of Bengal!

How have you learnt to deal with disappointment?
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