As anyone who has travelled to India can probably attest, there seems to be very few rules that are actually followed in the country. The roads don’t have lanes (the few lanes that are painted on roads are regarded as suggestions), the price for everything is negotiable, and its common for the police to look the other way for a well placed bribe. It’s not lawless, it’s just India. Everyone relies upon each other to perform their role in society rather than rely upon enforcement from the authorities, and everything seems to work out OK in the end.
You might ask, if the police enforce the laws only when wallets are empty, what do safety regulations look like? Well, from what I can tell, they look like nothing. Nothing except for what you are comfortable with. You can fit 5 people on a motorcycle? Great! Make sure the baby on the handlebars holds on tight! Should you light the firework you bought from the guy walking the beach like an explosive ice cream man? Sure! Just don’t be too attached to your fingers.
I think of safety regulations in India as something in between the best joke you have ever heard and a four letter word.
I mention all of this because I decided it would be a good idea to go canyoning while in Goa. For those of you who don’t know what canyoning is, it consists of using ropes to rappel down waterfalls, hiking through canyons, and jumping off rocks into pools of water. To get there you have to drive about an hour into the jungle and hike down into the canyon – well away from any medical professionals whose help you might soon need.
If you decide, like I did, that this sounds like fun, here is what you can expect the next few hours of your life to be like:
After you hike though the jungle and into the canyon, you are given a harness to put on. As you suit up in your harness, you are given a brief explanation of how you are supposed to use the rope – to which you are now attached – to lower yourself to the bottom of the waterfall you are looking down. Don’t speak English very well? I hope you understand hand gestures, because there is only one way down the waterfall. Nervous? Don’t worry, you’re strapped in, and you won’t fall as long as you hold onto the rope. And look, the rope is anchored to this tree. (Don’t worry that it looks half dead). Down you go!
Once you reach the bottom of the waterfall, you shuffle over rocks and stand at the top of the next waterfall. Oh, and did I mention that the rocks are slippery with scum and dead leaves? Make sure not to slip, because if you do, you will fall over the waterfall you are now standing above.
Once everyone in the group repels down waterfall # 1 and successfully performs the pond-scum shuffle, you huddle together on the same rock, which is about the size of a picnic table. Now it’s time to get down waterfall #2. This time you jump down. Don’t worry, it’s only 3 meters (10 feet). Just make sure you don’t hit that dead tree sticking out of the water to your right, and don’t jump too far left, because there is a big rock right under the water that you can’t see. Oh, and one more thing: make sure you bend your legs because you are going to hit the bottom because the water isn’t very deep. Ready? On the count of three…
You will spend the next three to four hours repeating this process, progressing to jumps of 5 meters (16 feet), 8 meters (26 feet), 10 meters (33 feet), and finally, an optional jump of 13 meters (43 feet). And at one point you repel halfway down a waterfall, then let go of the rope and fall into the pool below.
It really is great fun. I would get nervous/anxious looking down from a rock into a pool of water which would immediately be followed with an adrenaline rush that ended with me yelling in excitement and exhilaration while splashing down in the water. It made me feel like a kid again.
After the last jump, it was time to hike out of the canyon, hop in the jeep, and leave the jungle. As I rode back to town in the jeep, smelling of sweat, dirt, and river water, it was hard to get the smile off my face. I was full of the happiness of exhaustion after a good adventure. And as the wind blew through my beard, I hardly noticed as the seat I was sitting on began rocking back and forth, as it had detached itself from the rest of the jeep. Was it safe? Probably not, but I’ve learned to be okay with that.
If you find yourself in Palolem, Goa and want to go canyoning, head to a restaurant called Casa Fiesta and ask for a guy named Manu. I know how this sounds, Bob’s your uncle and all that, but this is just the way it works in India.