As you come over a hill an officer jumps out in front of your motorbike. Traffic whizzes past in the fast lane and you're forced onto the shoulder. Before you've even stopped, the officer has pulled the keys out of your motorbike. This was the situation I found myself in in India's tropical getaway of Goa. I had anticipated getting pulled over and partitioned my money into three different pockets before I left. In most Asian countries the cops will just take whatever money you've got on you, and if you turn out your pocket and you've only got a little, you can get off easy. But for some reason I just didn't feel like giving them anything.
Cop: You need to pay 1,300 rupees
Cop: What then?
Me: I stay here with you. We'll be friends.
Cop: Ok, 600. Lowest I can let you off.
Cop: How much then?
Me: I call the tourist police.
Cop: Smart boy
I took out my phone and called the local police office and asked for the number of the tourist police. They gave it to me and I took out some paper and pencil and looked menacingly back at the police truck, as if I was taking down their info. The officer waved me over. I shook my head and stayed on the phone. He waved me over again. Still I refused. He waved me over once more. I hung up and walked over. "OK, we're going to let you off with a warning. Talk to the Sargent, she wants to explain some things to you." He handed the keys to the Sargent and I walked around the vehicle to speak with the lounging woman. Her tone was very different than the young officer who I was dealing with. She was angry that I had tried to fight back. "We can keep your motorbike" she told me. She offered to write down all her information and give it to me and I could walk away. I changed my approach. "I'm sorry officer. I really appreciate this break you want to give me. Yes, of course I'll have a Class A license next time. Yes, I understand you're in charge. Thank you ma'am."
On the way back home the same thing happened. Just as the officer was going to pull out the keys he took one look at me and then said: "America. Go!" To quote Athos from Disney's The Three Musketeers: "Only a fool would try and arrest [me] twice in one day." I guess the locals are used to it though. On my way back from Kashmir, the driver got pulled over three times in a row, and each time I saw him exchange money for a bullshit form and then get back in the jeep, slightly angrier than before. He got the same form every time and I saw him try to show a previous one to the new cop once, but it didn't matter. He hadn't bribed that cop yet. I could see he was upset by it all, but he never tried to make a stand.
A little bit of baksheesh goes a long way in Asia. On my bus from Mumbai to Goa, the conductor tried to charge me a little somethin' extra for my bag. I was about 30 minutes into refusing his requests when four Indian doctors joined me in the back of the bus. The conductor left me alone and my new companions invited me to join them in a drink. The conductor came back to tell them that we couldn't drink on the bus. The doctor's first response? They offered him some money. He wouldn't take it. They offered more. Still he refused. Finally they offered him enough and he left us alone for the rest of the ride. That was the first time I had even come close to being tipsy in over two months. In fact, I've only drunk alcohol twice since I've been in India. The doctors had felt obliged to invite me to join them, and I had felt obliged to accept the offer. In India they have a saying "Atithi Devo Bhav" which means "Guest is God", and members of the higher class seem very quick to honor the tradition. A very nice local guy I met in an eatery in Mumbai had bought me a basket of chocolates which I was able to share with my new doctor friends.
Goa is made up of a series of beaches, each with it's own crowd and ambiance. I had gotten off the bus just before the doctors, and wasn't very happy with the beach I had chosen. I had rented a motorbike so I could look for a better place to stay and explore a bit of the surrounding area. On the way to the first beach I wanted to check out, I picked up a local guy who stuck out his thumb at the last minute. It felt good to be on the other end of the hitchhiking exchange, and I dropped the man at his door. The doctors had sent me a couple messages asking if I would come to their beach, so eventually I did. When I first arrived at their beach, a local guy tried to get a little baksheesh from me so I could park my bike in a public area. I moved my bike and carried on. The doctor's beach, like all the others, wasn't my cup of tea.
I found all the beaches in Goa a bit too busy to be relaxing but not crowded enough to have fun. Most of Goa was just a series of stalls and vendors and Russian people. I've noticed on this trip that there's certain places where Russian people flock to for their holidays, and when you get to one of those places everything and everyone is Russian. Signs are in Russian, the locals speak Russian. Being lonely in a group of Russians is like being thirsty in an ocean.
Vendor: Skol'ko eto stoit? (Russian for "How much?")
Russian: [Unintelligible Russian]
Vendor: [Unintelligible Hindi]
Russian: Give good price then.
I decided it was best for me to just move on. I'd been looking for a nice place to relax and kill some time, but Goa just wasn't doing it for me. Even though I "won" each experience where someone tried to extort money out of me, they had taken their toll and left me feeling exhausted and alone in a sea of people I couldn't talk to. When traveling you need to pick your battles and learn when to move on. In some countries you should set aside some money for bribes as a necessary cost of travel. I carry a pack of cigarrets and I don't even smoke, 'cuase they tend to make instant friends, especially with officials. It's usually best to play by all the local rules, but this time I was lucky: I fought the law and I won.Soundtrack: Summer In The City (The Lovin Spoonful)