A “hostel” Goan cycling adventure
Magic strikes again and – if you’ve trained your eyes to look for it – it’s hard to miss. This time, it appeared as a tented military installation. I nearly cycled past it but something about its odd location in Panjim’s community Sports Complex made me stop and take a closer look.
Rows of green canvas tents formed a barrack community, but there were no soldiers. To the contrary, a young couple staffing a registration tent at the entrance beckoned me to step in. I looked around and read a nearby poster: “YHAI National Trekking-Biking Expedition – Youth Hostel Association of India.”
“This is a trekking expedition?” I asked the woman. She nodded and, seeing my bicycle, pointed to the cycling portion of the trip on the poster.
“It’s also a cycling trip around Goa,” she explained. “Hostel members from all over India are meeting here to cycle to Dudhsagar Falls in the Western Ghats, and back.”
It was a trip of 225 kilometres spread out over five days. The lucky cyclists would ride south along the Salcete beaches to Assolna, then eastwards through Goa’s agricultural backroads. They’d see temples, mines, waterfalls, wildlife sanctuarys; stay in tents, cabins and lodges; and then loop back through the World Heritage Site of Old Goa. The Goa branch of Hostelling International would provide brand-new American-made mountain bikes, backpacks, food, lodging and trip support. 1800 rupees ($39 CAD) covered costs for the entire trip.
“Wow,” I said to her wistfully, “It sounds like it would have been an amazing trip – I wish I’d heard about it sooner as I would have signed up.”
“There’s space for you, if you’re a Hostelling International member” she said pushing a registration form towards me. “They’ve only got sixteen riders, and only one girl – it would be great to have you along – do you ride a cycle?” I pointed to my one-speed bicycle.
She beckoned for a camp volunteer to give me a tour of the camp which ended with a hot lunch at the canteen. I sat in the burlap-walled tent with the cook staff, ate dahl and chapatis with my hands, and tried to imagine what it would be like being the only foreigner in a group of predominantly male Indians for a full-immersion five-day bike-camp trip.
I couldn’t imagine it, which is why I washed my hands and walked back to the registration tent. “Sign me up! When do you leave?”
“Tomorrow morning,” replied the same woman, “But it would be best if you sleep here in the compound tonight to get an early start – do you think you can do that?”
I thought about how quickly I could pedal back home, pack five days’ worth of stuff into a backpack and bus back to spend a night in the “military installment.” Yes, I told her, I think I could do that.