One of the biggest challenges I have come across during my time in Goa has been forcing myself to learn to ride a scooter. I know, I’m a huge wimp, but the idea of being in control of a moving vehicle on the slightly intimidating roads of Goa pretty much scares the life out of me. As well as the fact that I’m a massive baby, I’ve never driven at home, have trouble with riding a bicycle and occasionally have days when I even struggle to walk in a straight line. So bearing all of this in mind, I spent a long time putting off learning and spent plenty of time making excuses and relying on the good nature of others to get from A to B. It turns out that my laziness soon overcame my fear and I realised that I would have to walk a lot less and spend far less time being hot, sweaty and grumpy on public transport if I could drive, so I manned up and forced myself to to get my act together.
I am very lucky to work with some very patient and encouraging guys, who were more than willing to help me out, whilst having a very warranted laugh at my expense. Once you learn the basics (i.e. how to start the bloody thing) you just need to spend some time getting the feel of the scooter, figuring out how powerful it is, how effective the brakes are and how not to fall off. Now, I know this sounds pretty stupid, but it genuinely didn’t cross my mind for a second that you would have to balance in the same way as you do when riding a bicycle (I know, I know, duh!) so this was a bit of a surprise and just added to the general unpleasantness of the whole ordeal. The logic goes, the faster you go, the easier it is to balance, which is all well and good in theory but is pretty scary when you’re actually trying to balance, accelerate, steer and just generally not kill yourself. So, after a few short trips up and down the road with a group of men staring and pointing at me (nothing new there) I began to get the feel of the thing and felt a little more confident. It turns out that confidence is perhaps the main barrier between you being totally useless and being vaguely competent. Then it was time to hit the road, all the while silently hoping that I didn’t literally hit the road, and as I kind of got the hang of turning (I still find it hard to deal with corners if I think about it too much) I felt pretty good.
One of the main things I was worried about was the other cars and bikes on the road, as, I’m sure that you’re aware, Indian traffic can be the stuff of nightmares. But it turns out that there is some kind of method in the madness, I still don’t know what this is, but everyone else seemed to, which is the important thing. Goans are so used to tourists coming here and being terrible and nervous drivers that they barely bat an eyelid when you get in their way or stop in the middle of the road (not recommended but occasionally unavoidable). In fact, everyone was really nice and supportive, I even got a few words of encouragement from a group of men outside a local bar, I’m pretty sure that it was sarcasm, but I will take whatever I can get at the moment.
Anyway, enough about me, just take it nice and slowly, don’t rush and remember that practise makes perfect. Make sure that you don’t feel pressured to go faster than you’d like to and don’t be embarrassed about learning, everybody has to at some point, and there will be plenty of people around to help you out and offer words of wisdom and encouragement so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Here’s a very basic guide to help you learn, good luck, I’m pretty sure that if I can do it, you can too.
1: Get on the scooter, now this may not sound particularly difficult, but like doing anything that makes you nervous, you have to psych yourself up a little bit first. You can do this, it’s only a scooter…
2: Start the engine by turning the key to start, hold the brake and press the starter button (yeah, I have no idea what it’s actually called but I’m sure you know what I mean).
3: Kick up the stand from the floor, pretty easy to forget but essential if you want to move anywhere with ease.
4: Accelerate gently by turning the right hand handle whilst keeping your feet on the ground for a little balance.
5: Remove your feet from the ground whilst keeping your body nice and steady and try not to panic.
6: Use your brakes as and when you feel comfortable but don’t do anything too suddenly as this normally ends with you going arse over tits somehow.
7: Take corners slowly, if you feel the need to put your foot on the ground to help a little bit then do it, this will get easier with time.
8: If you feel like you’re losing control of the scooter then just go easy on the accelerator, for some reason when I panic I accelerate harder and then just end up in a complete pickle.
9: Watch out for speed bumps, pot holes, cows, dogs and generally all of the common obstacles on the roads of Goa.
10: Be wary of the police, they do pull tourists over regularly to try and make some extra pocket money. Make sure that you always carry your driver’s licence and wear a helmet on the highway to avoid getting fined. If they do try to ask you for money for a reason that they’ve probably made up on the spot then always ask for a receipt to ensure that it’s legitimate. And ladies, remember that male police are not legally allowed to search you. They mostly tend to be pretty friendly, so keep your cool, smile and remember that there’s nothing in India that can’t be negotiated.
11: Enjoy your new found freedom, soon you’ll forget what the big deal was and find yourself zipping all over the place with ease and maybe even elegance (I am yet to reach this point!).