Orson’s Travel Blog

Moto-travels

Posts Tagged ‘Beaches

Western Scotland & Northern Ireland

with one comment

A plan was hatched to do Scotland properly. I had been once before in 2003 when the Guzzi was in a friend’s barn in Shropshire. At that time, I only had a week and had only made it as far as the Isle of Skye before time ran out and I had to turn around and head south. Still, what I had seen was enough to whet my appetite for more.

A P.M. was fired off to a friend in Scotland, asking for a few route tips. Instead, he went far above the call of duty and provided Google maps and plenty of suggestions on where to stay. He even went as far as to arrange an oil change in Aberdeen for my Thruxton. I hafta doff my chapeau to him. I owe him the equivalent in return. Unfortunately, as I headed out the door to the airport, I left his maps and printed advice on the kitchen counter. D’oh!

After an overnight flight to the U.K., I arrived in Nottingham and loaded up the Thruxton. By 2 P.M., I was on the road and heading north along the A1. At Scotch Corner, I turned westward on the wonderful A864 across the Yorkshire Dales. It was at this point that the team orson photographer realized that he had forgotten the camera’s battery back in Nottingham. He tried to blame it on jet lag but, his actions were inexcusable

At around 6 P.M, it began to rain lightly (this would be a recurring theme) and decided on a nice inn near Hawes. The plan for the following day would be to make time on the M6 motorway in order to catch the final day of the 100th running of the legendary Scottish Six Days Trial held around Fort William. I got lost in Glasgow and ended up heading northeast instead of northwest. I finally realized my mistake when I reached Stirling but, it turned out to be a fortuitous mistake as, the A84 turned out to be a great ride. Ha! Let’s see yer GPS do that!

Back when I was but a wee lad, the Scottish Six Days Trial was a major motorcycling event, dutifully reported on by the U.S. bike rags along with the ISDT and the Motocross des Nations. Sadly, in this day of freestyle MX and stunt shows, the trial has lost it’s luster and like the Daytona 200, lives off its former glory. Still, I felt an urge to witness this unique event in which trials riders cover as much as 100 miles per day over 6 days.

From my hotel, I rode up towards Kinlochleven, not really sure what I was looking for. After riding through the town and seeing no signs of the event, I eventually came across many cars parked alongside the road. A short walk up a dirt road soon had me at one of the sections along a rocky creek bed. It was interesting to see how the different riders tackled the sections, from the apprehensive youngsters to the wiley gray beards. Although the skies threatened to rain, it stayed mostly dry.

I then rode a few more miles to reach the famous Pipeline Section. Since I didn’t have a camera. It’s difficult to convey how long and how steep it is. It’s so long, they separate it into four sections. It was amazing to watch the riders switch from unstoppable bulldozer mode to ballerina mode then back to bulldozer several times.

Later in the afternoon, I rode to Fort William for the awards ceremony and to walk around the pits. A couple of blasts from the past were there with the team Ossa truck as well as the newly reformed Greeves factory. I was hoping to score a 100th SSDT t-shirt but, they were sold out and I had to settle for a beanie.

The next day, I woke up to face of an ominous rainy weather forecast. I was to ride across the breadth of Scotland to meet up with my friend in Aberdeen on the east coast. Amazingly, I rode through bright sunshine all the way up until 2 P.M. when a brief shower finally lashed out at me. Upon reaching Aberdeen, directions from a friendly local soon had me my friend’s front door.

My friend lives in an amazing home, formerly a church. If you’ve ever watched a James Bond film where the protagonist is invited into Dr. No or Goldfinger’s lair, that’s what it was like. A vast open area with a couple Ducatis and a KTM motard overlooked by a huge stained glass window. I think having a Bond villain’s lair is everyone’s fantasy. Impressive!

Stained glass

Following his advice, we agreed to make the fishing port of Ullapool our base of operations on the west coast. We left Aberdeen the next morning headed towards, Edinburgh. As I was just following my friend rather than relying on a map, I had no idea where I was but, the sun was out and the traffic was light so, all was well in the world. The highlight of the day had to be the road on the north shore of Loch Ness. What a magnificent motorcycling road with fast, sweeping curves and lots of places to pass slower traffic.

Looking north from the south end of Loch Ness

Loch Ness

After a drenching rain, we finally reached Ullapool just after 7 P.M. A fish and chips dinner from the local chippie, a hot shower, a wee dram of scotch and it was off to never never land to sleep the sleep of the dead.

Sunset over Ullapool

Ullapool sunset
The next day we headed north, using the single track road that hugged the coast.

Heading towards Achiltibuie on the Coigach coast

Coigach coast

Go north

Continuing northwards

North

Encountering two other bikers heading south

Bikers

The coastline reminded me of Norway at times

Coast

Coastt

Despite the threatening rain, we remained dry as we approached the north coast.

Loch

Near the north coast, the Highland terrain opened up and offered vast vistas

Vast

Open

Lake

We reached Durness on the north coast at around 4 P.M. before deciding to return to Ullapool via the main highway.

Views heading south

South

Southh

Southhh

Southhhh

Dropping down into Ullapool from the north

Ullapool

In Ullapool, we managed to find a shop that sold cheap digital cameras so, apologies if the pictures aren’t up to snuff. We returned to our friendly hosts at our bed & breakfast just outside Ullapool for a hot shower and a nice steak dinner. After a good night’s sleep, we headed south from Ullapool, again following the coast.

Glen

Vista

Mountain

The Isle of Skye hoves into view off our starboard

Sea view

Belach na Ba kind of surprised me. Being so close to the coast, I wasn’t prepared for something that resembled an Alpine pass.

My friend heading downhill on his Ducati

Belach na Ba

Loch Carron. Somehow, dark and moody seems to fit this location better than bright sunshine

Loch Carron

By 5 P.M. we were still on the west coast and my friend had been hoping to make it to Aberdeen that night! At Locharron, we bade our farewells and went our separate ways, my friend back to Aberdeen while I headed back to Ullapool for one more night before catching my ferry to the Outer Hebrides.

Outer Hebrides

The following morning I woke up to more rain. I suited up and made the short ride into town to the ferry pier. Only three other bikes waiting to board. You must really want to go to get there.

Hebrides ferry

By the time the ferry reached Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis at midday, the weather had improved. The rugged Isle of Lewis and Harris contain some of the oldest rock formations in Europe. While the scenery might be stark and bleak, I’ve always been attracted to these “edge of the world” type places.

Desolate isolation on the Isle of Lewis

Lewis

The standing stones of Callanish whose meaning has been lost in the mists of time.

Callanish

From Callanish, I turn south along the rugged western coast of Lewis

Rugged

West

Westt

Westtt

I continued south until grass started growing out of the asphalt. A sure sign I was getting near the end and would have to turn around

Grass

I should note that these aren’t ideal sport touring roads or even motorcycling roads at all but, if you have an itch for remote places, the Outer Hebrides definitely scratches that itch.

Pointing north

West coast

I rejoin the main highway and head to the southern part of the island known as Harris which is even more rugged than Lewis

Harris

In the town of Tarbert, I find a cozy bed & breakfast run by an elderly woman who reminds me of my mother. I’m struck by the friendliness and warmth of the Hebridean people.

The next morning, I continue south to catch another ferry, this time to the Isle of North Uist. I make a quick detour to the small island of Scalpay where I again reach the end of the road and am forced to turn around.

Scalpay

Cross Harris

I’m surprised when the sun makes a rare appearance to reveal some pristine, sandy beaches on South Harris

Beach

Sandy

Sandyy

I reach the ferry port at Leverburgh to find that I am the only motorcyclist waiting in line. You must really, really want to get somewhere to be the only motorcyclist.

Leverburgh

The ferry ride to North Uist took about 50 minutes but, it was no simple crossing as the captain had to zig-zag his way amongst a veritable mine field of rocks and islets. He definitely earns his paycheck. Although not quite as rugged as Lewis & Harris, North Uist seems even less populated and remote

North Uist

Sunny

A lonely telephone box stands sentinel along a back road

Phone

North Uist is connected to the Isles of Benbecula and South Uist by a series of causeways. A local told me that during a bad, winter storm, a car and its occupants were swept off a causeway and out to sea by a rogue wave.

Another squall about to drench me blows in off the Atlantic. The wind was blowing the entire time I was on the Outer Hebrides. I can only imagine what the winter storms must be like

Squal

I made it as far south as the Isle of Eriskay off the southern end of South Uist before turning around and heading north. About 10 miles from my hotel, I was hit by yet another drenching squall. Suddenly, the Thruxton sputtered to a stop as if it had run out of fuel. Great! I was stranded in the middle of nowhere, with the rain pouring down. I peered into the gas tank and gave it a shake. I pushed the starter button again and, she fired right up! Hmmm. Maybe the carbs sucked in some rain or sumthin. I high tailed it to the hotel before she changed her mind again. That would be the only hiccup during the trip.

The next morning on the main road on North Uist (seriously, this is the main road), a herd of sheep blocks rush hour traffic. By the time they had been herded to their paddock, a four-car traffic jam had been created

Sheep

I made my way to Lochmaddy where the MV Hebrides would take me on the 2 hour crossing to the Isle of Skye.

MV Hebrides

Once again, I was the only motorcycle on the boat. I didn’t see any motorcycles that looked like they were ridden by locals on the Hebrides. The few bikes I saw were obviously touring. With their roads and their weather, you’d have to be serious to be a regular motorcyclist on the Hebrides.

Once on Skye, the weather let lose with a vengeance. The forecast called for two solid days of rain so, I did what every perfeshunal dilettante does and found a nice hotel to hole up in and get some laundry done.

Rain

Eventually, the rain let up a bit but, not enuff to give me blue skies. Portree is the main town on Skye

Portree

The Cuillin Hills in the distance on the Isle of Skye

Cuillin Hills

Ferry number 4 would take me from Skye back on to the mainland

Skye ferry

Argyll

The Morvern Peninsula is an isolated place of wonderfully stark scenery

Morvern

In the little town of Lochaline, I stumble upon the White House restaurant that serves locally sourced meals. It was here that I had one of the best meals of the trip. These unexpected gems that you happen upon by chance are part of the allure of travel for me.

Heading back north along Loch Linnhe with ever-present threatening skies

Loch Linnhe

Ferry Number 5 takes me across Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe ferry

Once again heading south, I make a detour thru Glen Coe. This is one of those places, like Yosemite, whose beauty stands out even in inclement weather

Glen Coe1

Glen Coe2

Glen Coe3

I continue south through the port city of Oban which kind of reminds me of small version of San Francisco. A western port with a slightly seedy underbelly. I make it as far south as Lochgilphead before a bit of rain followed by a strong, cold wind makes me stop for the night.

The next morning I head south along the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula on the A83. With a good view of the ocean and a salty sea air, it stirs memories of my days in Northern California

Kintyre1

Kintyre2

Kintyre3

At Campbeltown, I fill up with fuel and turn north following the single track lane up the eastern side of the peninsula

Kintyre4

At Claonaig, I await ferry number 6 to take me across as the Isle of Arran looms in the distance

Arran1

Arran2

Impressive mountains of Arran

Arran3

I head east across the middle of the island and get a view of the Firth of Clyde with the Scottish mainland in the distance

Firth of Clyde

A one hour ferry ride takes me back to the mainland at Androssan where I make a quick hop south to get a hotel in Troon in preparation for tomorrow’s ferry to Northern Ireland.

I wake up bright and early on Friday and make my way to the ferry terminal. This is the day before the North West 200 race in Northern Ireland and this time, I surely won’t be the only motorcyclist on the boat. I’m one of the first bikes in line and get to watch the bikes accumulate

Ferry queue

I soon begin to notice a trend. Most of the race fans are in their 50s or close to their 50s. I see a few riders who might be in their mid-30s and none in their twenties. I’m wondering if high insurance rates are the cause of the lack of youth or maybe it coincides with the birth of the internet some twenty years ago.

Soon the signal is given and the horde of bikes is herded on board. I figure there must be between 200 and 300 motorcycles

Bikes

Northern Ireland

I arrive in the port of Larne at about midday and am met by fellow Guzzisti, BelfastGuzzi from the V11lemans web site and his friend, both on Guzzis, who have kindly offered to provide me a tour of the northern coast

Guzzi

The North Antrim coast road doesn’t seem to get much press but, it’s a fantastic ride. Much too tight and lined with stone walls for any kind of serious sport riding but, the scenery more than makes up for that

Antrim1

BelfastGuzzi takes me on a road less traveled that hugs the coast and offers spectacular views of Torr Head

Antrim2

The picture doesn’t adequately convey the steepness of the single track lane descending the hillside

Antrim3

Antrim4

Antrim5

Antrim6

Antrim7

Unfortunately, race day dawns with a windy rain. I walk from my hotel down to the grassy viewing area at the Metropole and by the time I find a place to sit, the rain is diminishing

Metropole

By the 11:00 starting time of the North West 200 race, the rain has stopped although the track remains wet. The 600 Supersport class leads off and Aussie Cameron Donald engages local lad Alastair Seeley in a ding-dong back and forth battle. Donald’s Honda seems to have the ponies but, Seeley’s Suzuki gets him under braking and manages to hold on for the win.

Unfortunately, during the Superbike race, a bike spews its oil on the racing line as it begins to rain again. Cleaning up the track and a bomb threat to the paddock throw a wrench into the works and, by 4 P.M. the organizers decide to call the event in the name of safety. I can’t say I blame them. following a mist of spray at 190 mph is no place to be.

Still, I’m glad I went as I got a good feel for the event and enjoyed the atmosphere. Excuse the crappy hand held photos

Entering the Metropole Section after a 160 mph straightaway

Metropole entry

The famous railroad bridge

Bridge

which leads up a slight rise into a blind right hand kink

Kink

I walked further down the coast to get a shot at the top of Black Hill

Black Hill

As luck would have it, the day before and the day after the race were rather nice. I mount up and head west towards Donegal in Ireland

NI

You can hardly tell when you cross the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. If there were any signs, I missed them. I make my way to Glenveagh National Park against a considerable head wind. I’m surprised by the sparse vegetation, almost looking a bit like New Mexico. Not what I expected of Ireland.

Glenveagh

After about 4 hours, I reach the west coast of Ireland

Rosses

I turn back towards the east and what was once a headwind, now became a tail wind…woo hoo!

A sectarian mural in Northern Ireland. Bobby Sands and Che

Sectarian

I continue eastward on the scenic Barnes Gap scenic route thru bucolic countryside

Barnes Gap

I had planned to go see the Joey Dunlop memorial in Ballymoney the following day but the weather once again foiled my plans. High winds with gusts up to 70 mph created havoc across Northern Ireland toppling trees and making it generally unsafe to try and ride a motorcycle. The high winds also forced the cancelation of my 5 P.M. ferry so, I had to book for the following day.

The next morning, the winds had subsided and I made my way back to the ferry port in Larne.

I don’t know which is more impressive…this guy riding an Aprilia 125cc two-stroke from Scotland

Aprilia

or this guy who rode a BSA Lightning from Switzerland

BSA

I arrive back on the Scottish mainland at Cairnyan and begin to make my way towards England across the Scottish Borders district

Scottish Borders

After spending the night in Carlisle, I begin my last day on the road with my last bit of two-lane across the scenic Northern Pennines

Pennines1

Pennines2

At Scotch Corner, I grab lunch then hit the M1 Motorway and make the final blast down to Nottingham. Despite all that rain in the forecast, I really only had about four bouts of riding in solid rain. The rest of the times I was dodging rain showers or riding in a drizzle which wasn’t hardly like rain at all and, even had a few spells of sunshine. I had previously rated the Kiwis as the friendliest people I had encountered but, after this trip, I think the Scots and the Irish are on par with the Kiwis. Outstanding hospitality.

Trip stats:

Mileage: 3000 miles
Travel days: 18
Rest days: 3 (due to rain & winds)
Ferry crossings: 9
Police encounters: 2
Police interaction: 0
Midge attacks: 1

Route Maps:

Scotland

NI Map

South Wales

with 91 comments

During my recent visit to the U.K., they were experiencing unseasonably warm weather for this time of year. In the U.S., they would call it an Indian Summer. I dunno what they would call it in Wales. A Druid Summer?

I arrived in Nottingham and reunited with my Triumph Thruxton after a two year absence. The Trumpet fired right up as if it were only yesterday. We set off towards Wales under cement gray skies but, with an improving forecast. When I say cement gray skies, I don’t mean cement-colored but that, it actually looks like the sky is filled with cement. A thick pea soup mixture that dulls everything it touches. The grayness persisted for the entire first day of the trip so, not many pictures.

After overnighting in Brecon, Wales, day two dawned under similarly gray skies but, the weatherman was calling for patches of sun as I headed south across the Black Mountains. As I crossed over the top of the mountains, the fog was so thick that, I had to slow down considerably and had to allow a car towing a caravan (camper) to pass 😮

By 10:30 A.M., I was beginning to detect some brightness through the mist

Mist

Fall colours

Fall

Welsh backroads tend to be a tad narrow, down to one lane wide in places with pullouts to allow other traffic to get by

Backroad

By noon, the sun was out in full force as I approached Swansea on the south coast

Sun

After getting through Swansea (a lovely looking city), I made my way to the Gower Peninsula. I stopped at the seaside village of Port Eynon for a lunch of fish & chips. I talked to a couple of local riders, one on a Harley and the other on a beautifully maintained, 30 year old Kawasaki Z900. I continued on to the town of Rhossili where, I found lodgings at a hotel overlooking Worm’s Head

Worm

Looking north from Worm’s Head to the wide expanse of beach. The little black specks in the water are surfers. Yes, surfers in Wales…in October

Surf

Sunset over Worm’s Head

Sunset

The next morning, I was so taken by the beauty of the locale that I had to snap a few more pictures

Morning

Exploring the narrow roads along the coast. In the U.S. this would either be a bicycle or golf cart path. It’s hard to make out due to the brightness of the sun but, that’s the Bristol Channel on the horizon

Path

On my third day, I left the Gower Peninsula and made my way around the Loughor Estuary, following the coast towards the Pembrokeshire National Seashore. The rugged Pembokeshire coast near the town of Bosherston

Bosherston

Continuing westward, there were many other people out enjoying the fine autumn weather

Westward

Looking back eastward along the narrow, coastal road

Eastward

I spent the third night in Haverfordwest before continuing the next day towards St. Brides Head in far Western Wales

St Bridehead

The village of St. Brides is as peaceful and idylic as they come. Location, location, location

St Brides

Nearby, two fishermen were setting their pots

Fishing

I continued north along the coast, trying to stay as close to the shore as possible by following the narrow, one-lane roads. Less sport and more touring really. Looking back south along the coast

Coast

Approaching the town of Broad Haven

Broadhaven

Coastal farms were in abundance

Farm

A solitary stroller enjoying the fine day along one of the broad, Welsh beaches near the town of Newgale

Beach

Time was beginning to run out and I had to begin to make my way northeast towards Nottingham. The mysterious Preseli Hills from which the bluestones of Stonehenge eminate, hove into view

Preseli

I rejoin the coast at Cardigan and follow the coastal road northwards past retirement and vacation homes. Near Aberystwyth, I find a nice country hotel with a splendid view and a fine restaurant. I enjoy a nice meal with accompanying adult beverages for my last night on the road. Wales is the closest place I’ve found that matches the beauty of Northern California. Sonoma County or Wales?

Wales

The next morning dawns bright and shiney and after a full Welsh Breakfast, I point the bike eastwards back towards England but, not before getting a few final pictures of the stunning Welsh countryside

Welsh

Welshh

Valley

The roads open up as the terrain begins to change. The Triumph falls into a relaxed pace as if trying to delay the journey’s end. It seems happiest when just puttering along at 65 to 70 mph on a lazily sweeping two-laned roads. A steady, unhurried beat like a Miles Davis composition 🙂

Home

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for better weather. To expect 4 days of continuous sunshine in October is to be tempting fate but, somehow it was as if I flew through the eye of a needle. I get the feeling I may have to pay on a later journey.

Route map:

Map

Trip stats:

Riding Days: 5
Rest Days: 0
Mileage: 800
Police encounters: 0
Deer encounters: 0
Sheep encounters: 1,000,019
Bee stings: 0

Goa, India

leave a comment »

March ’05

With the sunny beaches of Goa just across the Arabian Sea, I made this my target for a quickie visit. I arranged for the rental of a bike via the internet and upon my arrival in Goa, my hosts were waiting for me at the airport. A one hour trip through a maze of Goan roads led us to the home base. A sort of biker’s country club for Europeans visiting Goa.

Now, mind you, while in Goa, there’s a wide variety of two wheelers you can choose from. there’s the modern Honda Hero single cylinder as well as a Yamaha single cylinder bike. A plethora of scooters or mopeds to choose from. But, if you’re going to maintain your biker credo in Goa, anyone who is anyone at all will choose the Royal Enfield Bullet (pictured below). Yes, the mighty Bombay Busa…the Bangalore Bandit…the Goan Gixer…the…well, you get the picture. This is the two wheeled weapon of choice in the Indian sub-continent. With 24 raw, earth pawing horsepower at its disposal, other two wheelers quiver in fear in its presence. Nothing else even comes close for maintaining that all important cache of cool amongst the rabble. Its exhaust note alone announces to other two wheelers to move aside, here comes a *real* bike.

Unfortunately, its fearsome influence ends with the two wheeled set…for in India…might makes right. The bigger you are, the bigger the chunk of pavement you’re entitled to. Where in the states and Europe, ultra powerful sportbikes dice and slice through traffic, here, the roles are reversed. Trucks and buses rule the asphalt with a heavy hand, often times occupying the center of the road leaving cars, bikes and rikshaws to scurry for the shoulders for whatever morsel of road remains. The big rigs aren’t shy about taking what they assume to be rightfully theirs. As such, you ride extremely defensively. As soon as you see a lumbering juggernaut bearing down on you, you immediately assume the submissive “paws in the air” posture by diving for the 6 inches of asphalt left for you on the shoulder. As the behemoth roars by you whisper a silent,”thank you Mr. truck driver for not impaling me on you front grill”, then you continue on your journey

My first day was just a half day so, I spent it learning some of the main streets around Goa then, I headed to the beach! The temperature was a balmy 80 degrees and humid. The water temperature was perfect! Not to warm not too cold. Just right. While lying on a lounge chair, gazing askance at topless European women, I found I had too easily succumbed to Goa’s relaxed charms.

Dealing with a new set of traffic rules was just part of it. The Enfield sports right foot shifting and left foot braking. On top of that, the shifting pattern is one up, three down. Just like the latest GP bikes then :biggrin Now, imagine trying to learn this new shifting and braking system while in a foreign land. I’m not the most prolific writer when it comes to painting a picture with words to describe something. The only thing that I can imagine that would come close to describing the experience is that, it was like trying to ride a bike on Pluto while wearing full scuba gear. It felt that awkward. Many times I would stab at the rear brake only to discover, to my horror, that I had just shifted up two gears rather than slow myself down. Other times, I would be pawing at the shiftlever, trying to find neutral, only to look down and see my foot uselessly trying to toe up the brake lever :rolleye What was euphimistically termed the front brake was actually a front deccelerator. It didn’t actually stop your forward progress, it merely slowed you down before impact with whatever you were slowing down for. You soon found out that the rear drum brake was your lifeline. If only I could remember to stop stomping on the gear shifter in panic stops.

Oh, yah. Then remember you gotta drive on the left. Mercifully, with the poor road conditions and the harried traffic situation described above, I never got going too fast. A sense of pride & accomplishment overcame me whenever I reached 3rd gear. Selecting 4th gear teleported you into an unchartered dimension. A realm where angels feared to tread…inhabited by mad dogs and even madder Englishmen waiting to accost any unassuming newbie biker brave enough to enter their domain.

While all this bike and traffic learning was going on, I was also travelling. On the second day, I rode to far northern Goa to see Fort Tiracol. Originally built by a local ruler, it was taken over by the Portuguese when they colonized this coast in the 16th century. The beaches in northern Goa are less crowded than in south Goa making things a whole lot more pleasant. All the roads in Goa were single lane width asphalt. Center stripe? Hah! Shirley you jest!

Here is a pic from Fort Tiracol.

Coming back from Fort Tiracol, I stopped to take a picture of local fishermen fishing in the Tiracol River. The shadowy figure in the foreground is a street urchin who tried to strong arm me into giving up a few Rupees.

Waiting for the ferry to cross the Tiracol river. As the ferry approached the landing, the captain made a stab at the landing but, the river current dragged the boat on by, nescessitating a second attempt 🙂 I don’t know why I was laughing. I was about to put my life in his hands. We boarded and prepared for the journey but, the boat crew walked off to the nearby snack kiosk for a break. So much for a schedule. When they came back on board, I noticed that one crewman took his position down below to resume bailing. Always comforting to know they have someone assigned to bailing duties. Thankfully, it was but a five minute journey to the other side.

A Hindu shrine/temple on the way back from Fort Tiracol. Goa is crawling with westerners on all manner of two wheeled conveyances so, I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb when I stopped to take pictures.

After a long hot day fighting my way thru Indian traffic, I found myself lured back to the beaches again for a swim and a late lunch. I didn’t have a bad meal the whole time I was there. Excellent seafood currys would burn the roof of my head off. Even the biryani rice set my head to smoldering. Good stuff.

The road along the Mandovi River. There were billions and billions of palm trees in Goa. They must have been invented here.

Approaching Candolim Beach. This is about the typical width of a Goan road. Even the main roads were this wide. Now imagine trucks, buses, cars, cows, rikshaws and a billion scooters.

Another Hindu mini shrine.

Goa is nestled between the Arabian Sea to the west and the western Ghats mountains to the east. Naturally, I assumed if there’s mountains, there must be curves so, off I went in search of some twisties. My destination was an “eco-resort” type place nestled up high in the mountains.

Here’s a picture from high in the western Ghats. When I say high, I mean they rise something like 2500′. The traffic lessened substantially as I left the coast, allowing me to enjoy myself in the curves. I still had to be on the lookout for the occassional pot hole while monkeys chastized me from the trees.

Looking down on a water reservoir during the climb into the Ghats.

The Ghats were a nice change but, the eco-resort was a little to tranquil for my liking. I soon found myself wishing I was back on the beach. After a day exploring the mountains, I headed back to the coast.

Here’s a river crossing coming down from the Ghats.

Another aspect of riding in India was all the animals. Cows and oxen were left to roam freely, many snoozing along the roadside, oblivious to the roaring traffic or even on some beaches right in amongst the sunbathing tourists. Also dogs, pigs and occasional monkeys…all with an innate sense of how traffic operates. I never saw one road kill the whole time I was there. They seemed well versed in the ways of traffic. I took a bit of pride that I managed to motivate one sleepy dog to his feet with my Enfield backfiring under decceleration. The monkeys were camera shy. Never hanging around if I tried to stop and take a picture. Prolly cuz they’re hunted for food? Dunno. The monkeys had limbs out of proportion with their bodies. If you stood on their toes and held their hands overhead, they’d prolly measure close to 6 feet!

I forgot to mention the tea! I’ve read that the thing Indians living in the west miss the most about India is being able to enjoy real tea. Now, I’m a huge coffee lover. Grew up drinking the stuff…the darker & stronger, the better it is. However, I could quit coffee cold turkey if I could have the tea they drink in India. They had this variety called masala tea that they brewed with ground ginger in it. Mmmmm It was dark and strong like a cup of coffee and the ginger gave it a spiciness that tingled and cooled your throat as it went down. Absolutely tasty stuff

The bike I rented was a 2004 model Enfield Bullet. Surprisingly, it lacked a front disk brake that I jealously observed on some other Enfields. I saw all different types of modified Enfields. Bobbed, chopped, even a home made enduro Enfield. I didn’t see any cafe racer Enfields though. Probably due to the fact that the state of the roads doesn’t really allow enough speed for the aerodynamics to kick in

Here is a bobbed version I saw on the side of the road.

The Enfield, though not very fast, was a blast to ride. It reeks 1950’s bike credo. As I mentioned before, the brakes weren’t GP caliber. Oh, sure…if you squeezed the brake lever long enough, eventually, you’d come to a stop. Pouring on the coals by grabbing a handful of throttle elicited an “inna minute” response. It took it’s time getting up to speed. It seemed happiest chugging along at about 55 / 60 mph. The exhaust note was old school..a very cool sounding thump thump. I can see why they called them “one lungers”. There’s an ethereal human-like quality to a single cylinder bike. Maybe it’s because the steady thumping exhaust note so closely mimics the beating of a human heart. Laboring up a hill made it seem even more like a living being. As I said, considering the road & traffic conditions, it was probably a good thing I couldn’t go very fast.

the people were super friendly and eager to please. In fact, sometimes a bit TOO eager. Sometimes, I’d stop to ask directions and even before I could ask where it is I wanted to go, they would already be pointing somewhere. I soon developed a system where I’d ask 3 times. If 2 of the 3 responses matched, that’s the way I’d go 🙂

After one last dip in the sea, it was time to turn the bike back in and head for the airport. One week was much too short. I can see why the hippies found this place to their liking. It’s so laid back and the natives are so friendly, it’s easy to see why so many have stayed. I saw many Willie Nelson aged hippies who must have come here 30 years ago and just never went home. A charming place that’s just like, totally groovy. I can see myself going back. I met a Dutch couple who had just finished a 6 week tour of southern India on an Enfield. The German I rented the bike from, moves up to northern India during the monsoon season and runs tours of the Himalayas. Sounds tempting 🙂

One last shot of another Hindu temple.

Zanzibar

leave a comment »

Once again I managed to escape the yoke of the grindstone and head off to sunny shores, this time to the ancient trading post of Zanzibar off the east coast of Africa.

Zanzibar is an island of contrasts. It is one of the poorest places I’ve visited, yet it also has one of the richest cultures I’ve experienced, with influences from cultures all across the Indian Ocean. After a short flight from Dar Es Salaam, I landed at Zanzibar’s airport. It was a bit disconcerting as I descended the stairs to a tarmac that was almost in total darkness. I thought to myself, this must be what it was like during the raid on Entebe. I smelled the scent of wood fires burning. I liked this place.

A quick taxi ride got me to my hotel in the old quarter of the city named Stone Town, a World Heritage site. Stone Town displays Zanzibar’s Arabic influence in its exotic architecture.

Stone Town alley

As an ancient trading post, Zanzibar was subjected to influences from Arabia, India, Malaysia and even China. While the Roman Empire was covering the Mediterranean with trading outposts, Indian Ocean cultures were doing the same all around its shores. Most notable was the Arabic influence, as Zanzibar came to be ruled by the Sultan of Oman.

Arabic influences seen in the elaborately carved doorways

Freddie Mercury was born in Stone Town and lived there until the revolution of 1964 overthrew the Sultanate and chased his family to England. After the revolution, the new government chased out most of the Arabic merchant community and allowed the poor to take over the lavish homes in Stone Town. Unfortunately, the poor didn’t have the funds to maintain the buildings which led to overwhelming decay. Steps are currently being taken to salvage Stone Town but the country is poor and restoration is lagging. Stone Town’s alleyways are too narrow for cars limiting them to pedestrian and moped traffic.

School girls trade secrets in a Stone Town alley

An old man exits another exquisitely carved doorway

After sleeping the sleep of the dead, I got up the next morning and located a place that rented motorbikes. The guy showed up at the hotel on a Vespa and asked me if I wanted a scooter or a “boom boom”. I said boom boom 😀 He left for a bit and returned with a Yamaha dirt bike of some sort which I deemed worthy. I then asked him to take me to an ATM so I could pay him, so he hopped on and I hopped on behind him. What followed was one of the scariest thrill rides I’ve ever been on. I’ve ridden the Isle of Man on Mad Sunday and I’ve ridden in Italian city traffic….neither comes close to the experience of riding bitch behind a Zanzibarian local, flailing the bike through narrow alleyways, shooing pedestrians aside with a relentless beep-beep-beeping of his horn 🙂

Yes…we rode through this…

We somehow reached an ATM without taking out any pedestrians. After paying him his money, he offered me some last minute instructions. “Very important…the horn button”, pressing it for emphasis, BEEP BEEP. “Very important”, he reiterated. I nodded my understanding. “And use the back brake. The front brake may make you lose the front end”. Uhmmm….hokeyyy 🙂 :thumbsup: With those last words, I headed out into traffic. Zanzibar is one of those silly places that insist that driving on the wrong side of the road is a perfectly natural thing to do, so I dutifully fell in with the rest of traffic.

One of the wider roads in Stone Town

My first experience was trying to find gas. I pulled into a service station where the attendant said “No petrol”. What do you mean no petrol?? Finally I noticed the signs over the pumps. They all read DIESEL. I had pulled into a diesel station…not a gas station…D’oh! I asked for directions to a gas station, but when I got there, the attendant said,”No petrol. Maybe this afternoon”. D’oh! A little further down the road, I found another station with a line forming. Aha! A line means gas. There were 2 lines on each side of the pump. Mopeds taking the inside lane, with cars and trucks taking the outside lane. After about 30 minutes, I had reached the front of the line and received my allotment.

Lining up for petrol. The tanker truck in the background had just discharged its load.

Heading towards the north end of the island, I stopped to take a picture of this government building. I’m not sure what it was but, I liked its design. I hadn’t noticed the beaming local until after I had taken the picture. Just about all of the locals were friendly with ready smiles.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a road map, so I would have to rely on the memory of a Zanzibar map I had seen on the internet a few days earlier. Like Sir Shackleton making his way to South Georgia Island, I would have to rely on dead reckoning. I headed north, trying to keep the west coast to my left hand side. Most of the roads on the island were flat and straight, so they weren’t the best for curve strafing.

Zanzibar seemed to have an inordinate amount of police check points. It was an hour and a half trip to the north end of the island, and I must have gone through 4 check points, each one wanting to see some identification and a driver’s liscence, asking where I was going, etc. Some were pleasant, others were less than pleasant. In the end, they all let me go on my merry way.

I turned off the main road in a vein attempt to find the beach but alas, it dead ended

I must have taken a wrong turn because I ended up going in a circle and coming through the same check point I had been through an hour earlier. So much for my dead reckoning talent. The policeman just shook his head and laughed. I eventually made it to the north end of the island.

Fishing boats stranded at low tide

I found a seaside restaurant and enjoyed a fresh seafood meal. Octopus with a coconut sauce and mango chutney with sweet yams and Arabic bread

I made my way back to my hotel in Stone town in time for cocktail hour. The hotel had a nice veranda bar on the roof that offered a nice view of the old quarter.

The following morning, I repeated the gas ritual and then made my way to the eastern side of the island.

Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island as it produces most of its income from growing cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. the center of the island is where most of the plantations are. The island seems to have a fairly high rate of unemployment, as everywhere I went, I saw large groups of men sitting around in an idle mode. No one seemed to be starving though. Most people seemed to walk or ride bicycles. A few had mopeds or motorcycles, and even fewer had cars. Traffic away from population centers was minimal.

Returning to Stone Town, I took some time to explore some more. Where did western culture go wrong? When it comes to architecture, the organic beauty of Islamic architecture leaves the west in its dust.

The view from my hotel window.

The hotel roof

More intricately carved door ways

Fishing boats along the Stone Town beachfront.

A heckuva ferry ramp…although there aren’t any tire tracks in the sand, so maybe they were just picking up foot passengers.

The sun setting on my last day in Zanzibar. Many fishingmen used these small, fast sailing boats to haul in their catches.