I arrive at 4:30am at Panaji, totally exhausted from a night-bus ride from Pune, and it was completely dark around us. Not a single building light in view. Going down from the local bus, all the Rickshaw folks quickly headed my way. “We take you best best beach, only 500 rupee” they start bargaining between themselves on which beach they should take me to and how much I should pay for that. I just took my things and followed the local bunch into the darkness.
After a 5 minutes walk, a few lights emerged and the local bunch stopped at a local Chai tea-shop. I got myself a hot drink and observed my surroundings. I was left alone for a few minutes till a guy who was sitting next to me on a scooter made the approach. I was sure he was a hotel agent or rickshaw driver of somesort, but I needed some information and his English seemed okay. He told me he’s an engineer living in Panaji who likes to wake up early in the morning to get tea next to the bus station (:P). He asked me what my plans were, and I said I’d be happy to head down to town, wherever that was, get some breakfast and settle down in my hotel. He chitchatted a little more and, insisting he’s not an agent and offering me his ID, he then offered to take me on his bike into town to the one place that offers very early breakfasts.
I went along with it. Panaji was a 5 minutes drive away, and we ended up in what seemed like a 4 star hotel coffee shop that was indeed open. He dropped me there and told me that I should be careful, because if he was a tout he would ask me for 500 rupees for that ride, but – ofcourse – he wasn’t. He asked me again and again if I would be okay, and so finally I figured that I might as well invite him for morning coffee. We headed in the hotel together and it was quite clear that he was extremely familiar with everyone there. It was a great little coffee place, although quite expensive in local terms. We chitchatted about his life, ho difficult it is to make a living in India, his girlfriend, and the foreigners in India. When I asked him what he thought, he told me that in general most of them are okay, but – thinking I’m American – there’s this one group that he thinks are really bad – the Israelis. I was curious, and so he explained – the Israelis keep to themselves, they have their own food, their own strange religious habits, their own places with guards in the entrance to keep others away, and they have a reputation for throwing wild illegal parties and making a mess of wherever they go. He finalized his point by saying that he never met a friendly Israeli, and he doesn’t believe he ever will.
Hmm… he has a point. Israeli stereotype in India is horrible, and even the Israelis laugh about it. Here’s a scene from an Israeli comedy show called “Wonderful country” (Eretz Nehederet) about Israelis in India. Although some is in Hebrew, I imagine you’ll get the point of the local clever Indians tired of the average Israeli backpacker:
Anyways, back to story. I was waiting to find the catch on the whole thing with this guy, and was somewhat relieved when he finally said that he sometimes helps his friends with accommodations around Panaji. I indicated that I’m fine for that night, and so he offered that he show me around town. I kindly rejected. I then asked for the joint bill, said my thank-yous and was prepared to pay the posh bill when he suddenly said that he will take care of it. I tried to insist that I invited him, but he wouldn’t hear of it – “no one has ever paid for me in my city”, he argued. The waiter kept looking at us with half a smile. He paid and asked me where he should take me next, but I said I’m going to stay there for a while and plan my day. He offered again, I rejected again, then once more, so he left me his phone number and said that although he starts work in a few hours, he’ll come check up on me. I replied with an “aha”. I wasn’t interested in his company but I found that whole situation interesting. When he finally left, and that took a while, I sat down at that nice lobby and read a bit about Panaji. I was in a prime location in the middle of Panaji, having had a free expensive breakfast and some good rest in a decent hotel after a long night ride. What was this guy all about? Odd as that encounter may be, it made for a pretty good start of the day.