Wednesday, February 15, 2012

20 years ago today - Days 349 to 362 - Vancouver

completion of my trip - epilogue

As I suspected, there are no comments after yesterday's blog, but every story deserves its conclusion and epilogue, even if it is not being read....

I spent the last two weeks of my time away from home (Toronto) in Vancouver. I kept no daily records but I still remember both some of the events and the delight of being back in Canada. I expected a shock, returning from India to the middle of a Canadian winter, but the difference was much smaller than I expected. February is one of Vancouver's wettest months but not today. This year it was mild, sunny and bright. Winter was clearly over. The crocuses and daffodils were just coming out, heralding in spring. Birds were singing and celebrating my arrival home. Although it was cooler than India, it was not that much cooler - a delightful surprise.

Bill made me breakfast the next morning and he took me out for a drive. Gawd, it felt good to be back in this city. The ships in the harbour, the snow on the mountains, the green lawns - it is wonderful place to be when the weather is fine, especially when the rest of the country is still under a blanket of snow. After lunch I pumped up my tires and rode downtown and back, then around Marine Drive to UBC and along Jericho Beach. The air was fresh and clean and scented with flowers. I don't remember Vancouver winter being this lovely but it certainly was this year.

Later, when I returned to Bill's, we headed out for the evening for the Wreck Beach Naked Swim, held at a local pool on the west side of Vancouver. There were about forty people at the swim, about half of them gay and the others straight with children. The women hung out in the whirlpool, the straight men talked sports in the sauna and the gay men played with the children, swinging on ropes to drop into the swimming pool or going down the water slide with them. Everyone seemed to know we were gay and no one minded. They left us with their children gratefully. I was swept up by the beauty of one handsome straight man, and although I tried to be discreet about it, he noticed and was amused. I was horribly embarrassed when he joked with his wife about me.

Over the next few days the weather remained fine. I went for a walk with Bill on Wreck Beach. It was too cool to sunbathe but it was excellent weather for a hike along the beach over fallen logs. I feinted a couple times, unexpectedly, dropping to the sand briefly. I had low blood pressure it seemed, but it turned out that I was anaemic. I found out that I had started and stopped my malaria medicine too often, causing my red blood cells to break down and die. It wasn't too serious. By the time I got home two weeks later the feinting had already stopped, although my blood tests showed that my red blood cells were still down to 75%. It must have been considerably lower when I arrived in Vancouver.

My sister and Bill took me to the Love Affair, a popular gay disco on Howe St, on the second night after my arrival. Linda said she is comfortable with me being gay, but she was not really used to it. One butch guy was rubbing his friend's crotch with his beer playfully. Maybe his beer is too warm, she joked. In reality, I think she found it disconcerting that so many handsome men had no interest in her. It had been months since I have been in a gay bar around so many gay men. They didn't show any interest in me either, in my emaciated shape. The Love Affair was having a fund-raiser, raising money for AIDS-related benefits but selling brush cuts for a cheap price. I had my head shaved close, finally getting rid of the dyed hair I have detested for the past four weeks.

I met my nephew Ritchie for the first time. He was a cute kid who, a two years old, had been only walking for a few months. He took a shine to me. My sister told me he looks a lot like me. He was my first and only nephew

I had a wonderful, playful, gentle time for the full two weeks I was in Vancouver. Even when it was cloudy and grey, it felt sunny. I loved this place, and still do. It was very clear that I should move back to Vancouver to live, but I had no transferable credentials from my current job as an uncertified library technician, no nest egg to live off of if I did quit and the value of my home was dropping annually as Toronto was going through a prolonged recession after the introduction of the GST and free trade with the US. I was going to be stuck in Toronto for some time to come.

I returned to Toronto on February 29, three days before I returned to work with the City of Toronto Planning Department. I was 128 lbs (58 kg) with a shaved head. I must have looked like I had just been released from a concentration camp. Some of my Toronto friends gasped when they saw me and said, "Oh my Gawd, not you too!", thinking that I was sick from AIDS. My doctor was quite upset with my state of 'malnutrition' and for my blood anemia. For some strange reason, I wasn't able to regain a single pound while in India or Vancouver, in spite of all I was eating, but once I was back in Toronto my body must have realized I was home and the traveling was over. I gained two pounds a week for the next three months and everyone was relieved.

David, my housemate and business partner who co-owned my home, was on best behaviour towards me for the months that followed. He eventually decided to move to Trinidad to be with a 19-year-old lover from there who ran up a phone bill of $900/mo until then. He made a good chunk of money off selling his half to me, but squandered it in the attempted move to Trinidad, moving all his belongings there and then back again three months later after learning that local officials rejected his residency application and could not be bribed. We never spoke again after he left.

I did renew my friendship with Mike Silk, the man I cycled the first three months with from Portugal to Amsterdam. He doesn't use Facebook or e-mail much but we spent a day together in August 2004 when I last visited Toronto.

Coen and Vincent, my cycling partners from Istanbul to Rawalpindi, Pakistan, kept in touch for a short while, in part because I needed to share photos and such, but they too proved to be unreliable pen pals. Frank Markus, my cycling partner from Rawalpindi to Goa, came to Toronto to visit me in 1995 with his girlfriend Petra. He was greatly relieved that I had regained my weight and kept commenting on how much better I looked. Shortly after returning to Germany, he accepted a medical internship in Australia and I lost touch with him.

Jochen, who cycled with me through the Austrian and Italian Alps, sent me photos of our time together that he and Matthias had taken. We exchanged a few letters and then he stopped writing sometime in 1992.

Philippe and Marcel in Cotignac, France, kept in touch for about five years. Gerard and Thierry of Roches-sur-Foron, in the Haute Savoie, France, came to visit me in 1993. They had a terrible experience in Quebec because the Quebecois they met resented that they did not understanding their accent and they were treated with contempt. Jean-Marie and Patrick of Dijon kept in touch for a couple years. Pierre Lamy in Paris came to visit me in 1995 and we kept in touch for a few more years as we were both members of Lesbian & Gay Hospitality Exchange International (LGHEI).

I did not keep in touch with anyone from the Lowlands, but Wai Sing Li, the Chinese-Canadian from Montreal who was on crutches in Lille when I met him is still a friend and is my web master for my stained glass art website. He is now married and living in Singapore.

JP, the 19 year old American I met in Heidelberg, Germany, is now an educator in Illinois. The only person I met in Berlin who kept in touch with me was Andres Seifart, who came to visit me in 1994. He was unimpressed with Canada, except for seeing a refrigerator that produced ice cubes. I suppose he thought we chipped them out of the lake when we needed them.

Kersten, the kind gay man in Copenhagen who put me up twice, went to India in the winter of 1992, as he had done for several years. He fell ill in southern India and caught a train back to Delhi where he knew a western doctor. He survived the train ride and caught a rickshaw taxi to the hospital where he died an hour and a half later, according to his brother.

Leif Villars-Dahl is still a lawyer in Oslo. We only stayed in touch for a year after the trip.

I did not hear from Frenk, Irena or Bojan for a full year after our time together in Split during the outbreak of the war in Croatia. Bojan eventually wrote to me to tell me that they all made back to Slovenia safely. Here I had been worries sick all this time, fearing that they had been killed or something worse.

I have learned recently that Charles Trico is still operating Charles' Hole In The Wall in Gibraltar, but neither he nor anyone else in my blog not mentioned above contacted me after I wrote to them.

In 1995, my position in the City of Toronto was deemed redundant in a downsizing and I was offered a generous severance. I left Toronto in July 1996 to move back to Vancouver, where I have lived ever since. I learned in late1997, after being diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in June of the same year, that the disease took off during my year of travel n bicycle. It may have been caused by the prolonged exertion, launched that year earlier than it might have otherwise started or it began that year by pure coincidence. I guess I will never find out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

20 years ago today – Day 348

Friday, February 14th – Mumbai, Hong Kong, Taipei ….Vancouver

NOTE: Out of curiosity, I would like to know if anyone is following my blog at this point. If you are reading this, please leave me a message below. The purpose of the blog was to help me develop a habit of writing daily, to help me return to completing a novel I have been working on for years, but I would be interested in getting feedback if you have been reading it. Thanks.

I can't really sleep in a moving vehicle, be it a train, a car or a plane. The Swiss Air flight only goes as far as Hong Kong. The staff are nice and efficient. They serve us breakfast in flight and a light lunch before we land in Hong Kong. I have to change flights here to Canadian Pacific Airlines and that flight doesn't leave for 12 hours. I collect my luggage and go to the waiting lounge to kill time until my flight.

Through the floor to ceiling windows, Hong Kong glistens in silver across the water to the airport, its massive bank towers set against the backdrop of its green mountains. I have never been here before, and I can see clearly why Vancouver is often referred to as Hongcouver. They look quite similar. It is maybe 20 kilometres away, far enough that I cannot see any of the images I have gleaned from television over the years: the crowded streets in the shadows of the state of the art bank towers, the pushy shoppers, the glittering signs, the corruption and faux democracy, the long escalators that carry servants up and down the hills to and from their shopping and the homes of the rich on top of the hills.

It is a grey day but it isn't raining. I have enough time to leave the airport, spend several hours in the city and return to the airport in time for my CP Air flight, but I have no money for shopping. I don't even have enough money to pay the airport entrance fee on return. I will be able to take an extract on my Visa card once I am in Vancouver, but until them I have ten dollars to my name. So I sit in the lounge and observe the city and the boats in the harbour from afar. There are no single travelers to talk to, no one who looks like they want to talk. I decide not to waste any money on another airport paperback novel, which are either formula spy or romance stories, most of which are quite tedious. So I sit here and wait as the hours pass.

We leave late in the evening for Taiwan. Three hours later, we are sitting on the tarmac in Taipei. This time we are not allowed to disembark, though the plane sits here for more than two hours. More passengers board and the plane is refueled for crossing the Pacific. There is enough commotion to prevent me from sleeping.

This is the longest continuous time I have spent in the air on a flight in my life. Eventually I manage to drift off but sleeping on a seat is difficult and I wake up with a kink in my neck. I am seated by the window, having booked so far in advance, but the chill from the window and the vibration from the jet makes leaning against the outer wall a bad choice if I want to sleep. Darkness is replaced by daylight soon enough, but there is nothing to see but water. We cross the International Date Line and February 15 becomes February 14 again. The TV monitor shows our position over the Pacific, but without any land references it never seems to change. In my tired stupor, it all feels surreal.

We arrive at Vancouver International Airport in the evening of February 14. All in all, by the time I collect my luggage and bike and leave the terminal, I have spend 42 consecutive hours in airports and on planes. I started and ended on February 14.

My sister Linda and my best friend in Vancouver, Bill, are waiting for me when I arrive. They don't know each other but somehow they ended up standing beside each other while waiting, and they got to talking and realized they were both waiting for me. I had written to both of them, telling them about my emaciated condition and my strange hair colour. They react as though there is nothing unusual when they see me, but weeks later I learn that they suppressed their shock. They help carry my bags back to Linda's car. Bill is hosting me so I stay with her to guide her back to his house in Kerrisdale. Then the three of us go out for dinner with Bill's boyfriend Lee so they can grill me about my trip. Should be more tired than I am but the excitement of being back in Canada, in my former home, and seeing Linda, Bill and Lee has me running on adrenalin.

After dinner, when I have returned to Bill and Lee's, I start to fade. Linda says goodbye and returns to her home in Surrey to relieve her babysitter - she has a 2 year old son I have never seen. She will meet me again in a couple days. I stay up with Bill and Lee and talk for another couple hours, playing with Bill's dog Mila (named after PM Brian Mulroney's wife). Their guest bed is so welcome when I get to it, but I find it hard to get to sleep. Everything has been changing so fast and for so long. I am happy that I will be here for two weeks before returning to my home in Toronto.

Monday, February 13, 2012

20 years ago today – Day 347

Thursday, February 13th – Mumbai airport

Sam and I are woken in our slum quarters by the noise of Mrs. Khalsa’s family getting ready for school and work. Sam wastes no time in leaving to look for a better place to stay tonight, even before he considers breakfast. I pack up too, but tonight I am flying out of Mumbai International Airport at midnight. I don’t want to get there before the end of the day. I ask Mrs. Khalsa if I can stay until noon or late morning, or if I can at least leave my loaded bike at her place until she come home at three so I don’t have to leave for the airport too early. She will have none of that. She wants me out the door before I can even shower or finish using the bathroom. She isn’t even a bit polite about it. There is no offer of coffee or anything. She has my money, which is all she wanted. Now she wants me to get the fuck out.

I do without a fight, only because I find her despicable. She asked me if I was a good Christian before asking me to stay with her. I should have asked her the same, though I am beginning to think that combinations of words is an oxymoron. I stew about her meanness, deceit (stealing business from her Christian workplace) and greed for a couple hours after I leave. I even contemplate reporting her actions to her workplace, but that would require me making a scene since she is the receptionist. I am best to distance myself from her and her Christian pettiness.

There are no places I can enter with a loaded bike and I need to stay right with it to avoid having things stolen from it. I pick up breakfast at an outdoor café, but in this city one wants to avoid patios because of the filth and noise, and the ever-present beggars. I wheel my bike over to the Gateway of India and try to hang out there, but today there are too many people trying to crowd in around my bike to get their hands of something so I have to move on. I return to the Prince of Wales Museum for a reprieve from the hassles of the city street life.

I am too restless to remain, and decide that I want out of this city. It would have been better to have found a place last night where I could leave my bike for a few hours today, but that’s a mute point now. I throw my leg over my bike for the last time in Asia and make my way across the peninsula to Back Bay. I follow its shore north and west to the top of the bay, then head north past the Long Distance Bus Depot and continue on towards to the airport.

Less than half an hour north of the bus depot, I pass through Dharavi, the worst urban slum I have encountered anywhere on my trip. It is a slimy, stinky wasteland of pollution and overcrowding. It holds me spellbound while I crawl by it, keeping one eye on it and the other on the traffic congestion. Pools of contaminated with sewage and other human-related waste lie between the flimsy buildings. At one point a pass a young boy, nine or ten years old, squatting with his pants down not more than six metres from the road. He is in the process of passing a large tape worm, a metre of which is hanging out of his asshole. I am not feeling too well.

I keep going. The airport is only 5 km further. It is larger than Lisbon’s but almost as accessible. It is definitely smaller and less congested than Toronto’s Lester B Pearson International Airport. I welcome its comparative order and cleanliness, after surviving the traffic and the slums. It is even less congested and at least here I am left alone with my bike as I sit with my back to the wall off to the side.

It is only 2 pm when I arrive, a full ten hours before my flight. It is a waste of time but at least I am here and in easy range of my transportation back home. I remind myself there are worse places to be while I try to read and keep myself awake. I know it will be a long haul to get home, perhaps the longest of my life in airports and on planes in one go, but I know I can endure it this once. It can’t be worse than that train ride from Quetta to Rawalpindi, and at least for this trip I am in good health. Frank should be arriving in Mumbai today and Kersten, my host in Copenhagen, will have arrived in India three weeks ago. I have no way of contacting either.

The rest of the afternoon eventually passes and at 10 pm I prepare my bike for the trip by removing the pedals and reattaching them inside the pedal arms, half-deflating the tires, taping the pump to the frame with duct tape, turning the handlebars sideways and curling them under and removing the odometer, water bottle and any unnecessary add-ons. I have brought with a new duffel bag I bought yesterday and I load all my bags into it except for one pannier, half-emptied, into which I stuff my handlebar bag. I check my duffel bag and take the bike to the special baggage counter. By 11:45pm I am seated on my Swiss Air jet bound for Hong Kong. At 12:15 am, Valentine’s Day, the flight coasts down the runway on time and takes off.

PHOTO: Dharavi slums

Sunday, February 12, 2012

20 years ago today – Day 346

Wednesday, February 12th – arriving in Mumbai, 17,394 km

The bus rolls into the Long Distance Bus Terminal at 7 am. It has been a rough night, as rough as the ride to Panaji, only two hours longer. The morning is grey and uncertain. I just want to get to bed but I have no place to sleep yet. I collect my bike and bags, make my way south to Back Bay and I follow the boulevard around to Colaba Causeway. The Carlton Hotel Frank I used two weeks ago has no rooms available. I walk my bike along the street until I get to the Salvation Army Hostel, which says it has space available.

The woman at the reception desk is a mousey little middle-aged woman. She asks me to wait when I ask about a room. She looks around nervously, waiting for others to leave the reception area. She turns to me, speaking in a whisper, asking if I am a good Christian. I avoid a direct answer by saying I was born a Christian. That seems to satisfy her. She smiles at me warmly and tells me, still in a whisper, that she rents rooms in her building for half the price. If I can wait until she is off at 3 pm she would take me there. It is four blocks away. The prices at this hostel are considerably higher than the Carlton's, which is probably why there are available rooms. I am sure Sally Ann is using the extra monies to campaign against human rights for gay people around the world. Sure, I tell her, I will come back at three.

There aren't many places I can go to pass the time. I sit for a while in the mull of peoples stirring around the Gateway of India, but my fatigue makes dealing with commotion more difficult. I remember the beautiful gardens in front of the Prince of Wales Museum two blocks away and I relocate. Here there is no one to bother me and the cool shaded grass is refreshing. The distant sounds of horns and traffic seem to melt away while I lie with my head on one of my bike bags.

Three o'clock finally arrives and I return to the Salvation Army to meet Mrs. Khalsa, the receptionist. She wears a guilty, triumphant smile as she leads me to her building. She doesn't speak to me when we walk and is not receptive to my polite questions. My 'room' turns out to be a cordoned off area of her family's living space with four mattresses tossed in the corners and no other furniture. The living space has 12 foot high ceilings but the walls of the rental room are only eight feet high. The space is grungy and there are no windows, only the light that comes over the top of the walls, along with the noises from her family on the other side. No licensing office would ever approve this space but it is cheap and I am almost out of money. I am dead tired too. I just hope I don't get fleas or bed bug bites.

I wake two hours later. There is another man in the room, another traveler who nods at me when I sit up. His name is Sam. He's an American. We are whispering so not to disturb the family that is in their kitchen a few feet away. He asks if I want to go for dinner somewhere and we slip out the door and down to the street. He has just arrived in Mumbai and has found that most hotels in the area, except for the more expensive ones, are full. It's best to look first thing in the morning, I tell him. He says he will, as he is not comfortable in this slum-like accommodation. I agree. I'd never stay here a second night.

We grab sandwiches from a street kiosk and hang around the mall inside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel until it closes. We return to our room and retire to our sleeping bags and mattresses, since there is no lamp in the room.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

20 years ago today – Day 345

Tuesday, February 11th – leaving Panaji for Mumbai (bus), 17,389 km

It's a sunny day, pleasant and warm again. I am packed and dressed for my trip to Mumbai. From now until I leave it is a time of limbo, a waiting time, a time of anticipation. I have breakfast in the hotel restaurant for the last time. I chat with a couple in a neighbouring table, two British guys. They are cute and friendly but I am not much interested in making new friends at this point, just before I leave. I feel like being on my own, because I suppose I am in a different space than others I talk to.

The rest of the town is in a state of anticipation too, but for a different reason. They are waiting for President Soares's visit, but I will be gone before he arrives. I am waiting for another horrendous bus trip, my last here fortunately. I enjoy the day as best I can. I leave my bags at the hotel and ride to the beach three kilometres away where I relax for a couple hours. I don't want to do anything strenuous since I won't be sleeping tonight. I return to Panaji for lunch and stroll along the promenade by the river before collecting my bags and going to the bus depot.

The bus I am on is a modern one with comfortable seats - by Indian standards - but grit my teeth for the long ride and try to play stoic. The bus is packed and stale with the smells of warm crowds. It may be an ordeal, but it is better than the train ride from Quetta to Rawalpindi in Pakistan last December. I will survive it. It is dark three hours after we leave Panaji and the bus still hits the speed bumps at full speed.

Somewhere around 10 pm (I don't know for sure because I have lost my watch) the bus stops across from a local attraction, for lack of a better word. Everyone seems excited to get off and visit the site. We are in front a gaudy, over-lit Hindu establishment that seems to be a cross between a temple, adorned with statues of Ganesh, Shiva and other Hindu gods, a dance hall and a casino. It looks and sounds like a nightmare come to life.

The fellow who has been sitting beside me cannot understand why I don't want to get off and experience the party. "There are dancing girls, you know," he tries to entice me. It seems especially important to him for a Westerner like me to join in to validate his idea of fun. But it's just a lot of noise and lights, an annoying and unnecessary stop that will delay our arrival in Mumbai by two hours. Indians think a public kiss is a scandal so I can't imagine finding anything inside to be erotic. This is my only chance to catch a bit a shut eye tonight, even if the blaring, screechy music prevents me from sleeping.

I almost fall asleep, even with the noise outside, but it is hard to get comfortable curled up on a bus seat. Eventually, the other passengers return and pile inside, still chattering excitedly over seeing the bare arms and navels of dancing women. Whatever. I sit up and try to pretend I am thinking about something important while the man seated beside me tries to describe how much fun it was. I am not feeling very well, I tell him. That is not totally a lie. The rolls on through the darkness and the passengers descend into silence again.

Friday, February 10, 2012

20 years ago today – Day 344

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Monday, February 10th – Colva Beach to Panaji, 17,382 km

I feel rested and more relaxed this morning, my emotions more balanced after a good night's sleep, even though it took me an hour to fall asleep. Both Frank and I are carrying too many groceries so we make our breakfast in our room to use some of them up. I am dressed in my cycling gear but today he is in his street clothes. He comments on how weird it feels not to be dressed like me.

So I am leaving Margao now. This is the first time I have cycled a whole day on my own since October, when I was in central Turkey and the Dutch boys, Coen and Vincent, made a side trip to Ankara. It seems incredible that it could be that long! It is also the last full day of cycling before I return to Canada. So this is it. I enjoy it while I can.

I am riding north along Hwy 66, which runs along a coastal plain about three kilometres inland from the broad beach that Frank I cycled along for hours from Velsao Beach. I'd love to be cycling on it again but I am anxious to get to Panaji and to buy my bus ticket for Mumbai.

For the first hour it is flat, and then I climb through the low, rolling hills south of the Mandovi River. By the end of the second hour I am waiting at the ferry dock on the south shore of the river. Once over the river, I choose a new route, one that is more direct than the one Frank and I used to get here, to take me into Panaji. That takes slightly more than an hour.

I remember walking into Panaji two weeks ago from the bus depot. I am expecting and looking forward to the same look and feel, but the town has been tarted up for Portuguese President Soares's historic visit to Goa, the first visit by a Portuguese official in thirty years, since the Portuguese were driven out of India in 1961. Lamp standards have been draped from the street lights and brightly coloured banners have been stretched over the street in preparation for his visit tomorrow evening. I can see there is a lot of excitement about the visit amongst the Portuguese still living here, and for the local Indians who rarely have foreign dignitaries, let alone heads of state, visiting Goa.

I return to the Venite Hotel and take the same room Frank and I shared 10 days ago. I miss even more when I end up paying the full price of the room by myself. Once I am settled in, I walk to the bus depot and buy a ticket for tomorrow’s trip to Mumbai. It will leave at 3 pm, two hours before Soares is scheduled to tour through town. So again my year long trip is ending with a symmetry. Soares had just been re-elected before I arrived in Portugal 48 weeks ago and now I am just missing him as I leave Goa. Interesting.

I eat dinner in the restaurant downstairs in the hotel. I don’t recognize any of the residents from the time I was here before. They seem harder to meet this time, being in self-contained groups and couples. There is one handsome man in his late 20s sitting by himself two tables over. He looks around restlessly and I make eye contact with him once. He smiles. I am debating with myself whether or not to go over to introduce myself when a young woman comes in to join him.

After dinner I cruise down to the centre of town and check out some of the bars I visited previously. They are mostly dead. Monday night is the slowest night of the week, one bartender tells me. The bartender is cute enough but clearly not showing any interest, perhaps because I am a traveler but probably because I am a man. I move onto a couple other bars, having one drink in each before returning to the hotel room empty-handed. No one is hanging out in the lounge at the hotel either. My opportunity having a room to myself is wasted. I suppose this trip really is coming to an end.

PHOTO: goodbye Frank

Thursday, February 9, 2012

20 years ago today – Day 343

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Sunday, February 9th – Palolem Beach to Colva Beach, 17,337 km

Frank and I are up early, psyched for the ride ahead of us. We have our showers and head to the restaurant in our cycling gear with our loaded bikes to share our last breakfast with Jesse, Karen and a couple others from the campfire circle. We are the first to arrive. We order anyway, not being sure if and when they will show up. They arrive before our breakfast arrives.

We leave half an hour later, so we can have the day behind us by mid-afternoon. There are hugs all around. The goodbyes that have become complacent for me in recent weeks seem particularly sad today, in part because I know I am also saying goodbye to this incredible and incredibly long trip.

We cycle out of Palolem to the main coast road and south half of a kilometre to Hwy 66, a larger route that runs further inland. It is known locally as the Kanyakumari-Panavel Road. It is busier but more direct. The hills that comprise the Western Ghats run in east-west ridges. There is a higher ridge inland from Agonda that Hwy 66 skirts the western end of. The climb is only 170 m and from that point out route is flatter and straighter. It follows a valley that is east of the hills that include the Cabo de Rama. This is a rural area without any significant towns, though there are farms and small villages near the highway. Because the route is over rolling terrain, it is scenic and green, but fewer palm trees than on the coast. It is warm day with broken cloud cover. I am sweating from the humidity.

As we get beyond the Cabo de Rama ridge of hills, we pass the Shree Shantadurga Hindu Temple. Its pink colour stands out dramatically from the green fields and hillsides around it. We pause to stretch and eat our sandwiches we prepared for lunch this morning.

It is shortly after 2 pm as we enter Margao. We stop to check our guide book map of the town to look for places to stay. We push off to cross the road. Frank's foot
slips off his pedal and he loses momentum. An approaching motorcycle with a driver and passenger has not anticipated Frank's pause and, as typical here, is driving with no room for error. It broadsides him, slamming into his rear wheel and knocking him on the street. The driver and his passenger are uninjured, but they are mad that Frank paused. The driver takes no responsibility for leaving no room for error. Frank has been knocked over onto the street. His helmet protected his head but there is a serious cut beneath his eye that will need stitches. His bike's rear wheel is bent and his bike is unridable.

I leave him at the side of the road with a handkerchief on his cut while I find the directions to a local medical clinic in Margao. It is less than a kilometre away. I flag down a cab and tie his bike to the rear, then ride my bike to the clinic behind the cab. It is a small clinic with just one doctor. We wait in the waiting room for several minutes. I wait while he is stitched up.

When Frank emerges he is quite upset. The clinic has no proper sutures and has used a thick black thread that Frank fears will leave a permanent scar. They also do not have any soap so the doctor did not clean the wound before stitching it up. Frank is a medical student himself so he is furious at the service. One can see poverty and accept it as the normal life in this part of the world, but it is harder to accept the consequences of poverty when they become personal. I hope he doesn't scar, but I am relieved it wasn't too serious of an injury and it happened near a clinic. Also, his bike being broken isn't that serious because it is the end of the trip. He was planning to ride with me to Panaji and catch the bus back to Mumbai with me, but he can catch a train from Margao instead.

His bike still rolls though there is a serious wobble in the back wheel. He will work on it tomorrow to see if he can straighten it himself, but he can push it as we walk along, looking for a place to stay for tonight. We find a small hotel only a block from the clinic and quite near the market we visited a week ago. It is quite reasonable.

I feel especially close to him after the accident, which is heightened by the fact that this is our last night together. In spite of being straight and 15 years younger than me, he has been the best cycle touring partner I have ever had. If he was more seriously injured I would be really distraught over needing to leave him at this point in time. I insist on us going out for dinner together. We find a local restaurant that looks quite nice but the food is mediocre. I order wine for the both of us but he doesn't want me to treat him.

I wanted us to have a great dinner but it is the company that matters most. He tells me I me that I am the best touring partner he has had. Given that he has such a long-standing best friendship with his childhood buddy Eric who has toured with him much longer, this is a real compliment. I know it is not very butch, but I blushed and my eyes watered a bit. He sees that but he seems OK with that.

Tonight I lie in bed in a whirl of conflicted emotions about the past, present and future - feelings of love, loss, gratitude, fear and anticipation. If I had my druthers I'd be lying in the same bed as Frank and cuddling with him. Why can't men do this when no sex is involved?

PHOTO 1: temple at Shree Shantadurga
PHOTO 2: Frank and I entering Margao