Going Troppo

Arambol beach, an hour’s ride north of Anjuna. A beach shack with ambient trance in the background. The sea is shining, the sun dipping towards the horizon. Having brought backpack with sunblock, bug repellent, hand sanitizer and notebook, I realised I had forgotten my pen. I borrowed one from the waiter for a while but then remembered my phone; I had installed the Pages app before leaving London, so am sitting here word processing, like any office worker who happens to be on a tropical beach. This is mainly a Russian shack, with a few Germans thrown in: beautiful, lissom girls and heavyset scowling men with chains around bull necks. One couple however could only be English; they are prawn pink from the sun and look uncomfortably hot.

I got lost coming and ended up on a single track through a village. Dogs lay snoring in the middle of the road, and men stood round a tree talking about whatever they talk about. I stopped outside an enormous temple and checked the map, which seemed an exercise in optimism as it bore no relation to the roads on the ground. Thunking through the village in first gear a few incurious eyes turned towards me but they are used to goras on bikes here. Eventually reaching Arambol I went down increasingly narrow lanes lined with ethnic clothing shops, past long haired westerners clad only in shorts and the occasional stunner in a bikini. Despite the Enfield not being exactly a quiet bike – in fact it has an impressive roar to it – it was amazing the number of people who failed to get out of the way. All of them tourists. The Indians seem to have a better sense of self-preservation, although you wouldn’t guess it from the driving. In fact it’s all about the next life here – pull out without looking to see if anyone is coming, because if it’s your time it won’t make a difference one way or the other.

A hot, still night of howling dogs, crazing moonlight and a low booming from a trance soundtrack somewhere. I am sweating in the heat – it’s 30 degrees and humid, at 11pm. In fact the day begins mercifully cool for about half an hour, lying in bed – or rather on bed – with a crosswind through the windows. I can hear the thwack of wet cloth against stone as the lady opposite does her laundry. Then the heat grows. By 10am the balcony is too hot to walk on in bare feet. I have bought a pair of local flipflops branded ‘Step Care’. This has rather odd connotations, bringing to mind both step-parents and the British euphemism of institutional care for children. By midday the sky has turned an opalescent white and even the crows are subdued, through hawks still lazily circle high above. 2pm and the sun is sweating beads of gold from the stones of the buildings. A solitary ant makes its way up a pillar. It has consciousness, knows where it is going, as a microcosm of some larger whole – the intelligence of the swarm. The tin roof cracks in the heat on the next house. Two backpackers trudge out of the house, and mounting a scooter, buzz away into the glare. The town snoozes.

At 4pm things start to stir again – shutters are opened, people emerge slowly. The crows begin to caw and cackle one more. At 6.15pm night falls, dark in 10 minutes, and the trees are alive with shrieks and chirps. A bat the size of a seagull flies past. Something screams in the tree opposite, and then dozens of crows take off and sweep away into the night. 8pm, 10pm, midnight – you sweat, continuously, monotonously, incessantly. The fan spins but the breeze cannot relieve the heat. Everything is languid, slow and drawn out – and this is the cool season. In Africa they called October ‘suicide month’ – it just got so hot that people went mad, couldn’t take any more, blew their brains out. Going troppo, the Aussies call it, from ‘tropical’. Zapped on the local weed here, people’s synapses fire at random and everyone is drowning in treacle. We are covered in a sheen of sweat from dawn to dusk, the air contains too much moisture on some nights to breathe, your skin glows with heat, people look shiny and exhausted. Going troppo. I dream of ice fields, the high Himalaya, air so cold and pure that it hurts to breathe, the clarity of distant peaks, the crunch of snow underfoot and the chill of dawn. How fast we forget.