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Shantesh Patil

Game Designer, Writer, Traveller

The Journey of the Olive Ridley

Every year Olive Ridley turtles make the journey to beaches around the world to nest. I had the opportunity to witness what happens after the little ones are born.
Countless times on nature channels I had watched footage of Olive Ridley turtles emerging from their nest and making their way to the sea. This was a long time ago and somehow I assumed that this occurred in a country other India. So when a friend called me and mentioned that there was a weekend excursion to watch this very phenomenon I signed up for it with little deliberation. I needed to get a break from the city life in any case.

A midnight departure and a bus journey of around 6 hrs was supposed to to get us in time to watch the morning session for the hatch lings. Unfortunately the bus took a wrong turn somewhere and recovering from that mistake costs us enough time to miss the morning session. We did spend some time at the Velas beach before returning to our home-stay for breakfast and a little rest. The nice thing about the beach is that it is explicitly allowed only for turtle watching. No other water activities occur there and the waves are not recommended for wading into. This is why the beach continues to remain clean and beautiful.

Other than the hyacinth the beach is thankfully free of trash. One of the other reasons for keeping humans off the beach during the nesting season is the nature of the mother Olive Ridley. Once she digs a nest, lays her eggs and covers it up her responsibility as a mother ends. So she does the best to lay her eggs on the beach she perceives as the safest and gives her babies the best possible chances of survival. These facts we learnt on short visit to the local forest official’s house where we were shown a very interesting documentary on the turtles. He was an earnest guy who we could see was genuinely motivated and wanted to make people understand the importance of conservation.

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The Olive Ridleys have many threats both natural and man made. This has made it necessary for conservationists to build an enclosure on thehe beach that you can see above. The sticks placed in the sands indicate the location of a nest. The ones with a cane tokri and jute sack cover indicate eggs which are almost at the end of their nesting period.

Since we missed the morning session we would have to wait until the evening for a chance to spot the turtles again. So we killed time by walking up to a small fort nearby called Bankot. It offered up some gorgeous views of the ocean and since it wasn’t too crowded with tourists also made sitting there a relaxing peaceful experience. The interesting thing about the fort is that a lot of it’s actual history is shrouded in mystery. So even though it was discovered in the 1700s it’s actual date of origin continues to remain undetermined.

One of the nicest things about getting away from the city and visiting a village are the variety of rustic houses that you get to see. Sloping roofs are the most common aspect of the houses and are a real treat to the eyes

When we went back to Velas Beach for the evening session uncovering the nests showed us no hatchlings had emerged. So we just spent some time enjoying the sunset and the beautiful sand.

When we went back to the beach the next morning we got lucky as 3 baby turtles had emerged from the sand. The thing to understand was that for some people who had come there expecting hundreds of baby turtles emerging from their nests and making their way to the sea it would turn out to be a disappointment. It was sad to hear some people muttering that since only 3 turtles were seen it wasn’t their money’s worth. It was a sad line of thinking that really annoyed me. It is important to understand that this wasn’t some kind of a show or spectacle that you paid an entry ticket to. The presence of only 3 turtles actually indicated a very sad state of affairs and truly showed how much the turtle population had gone down over the years. That aside the watching these tiny creatures flip and flap their way towards the sea is a wonderful sight. When one them finally makes their way into the waters there it evokes several emotions in the mind. The feeling of triumph knowing that the baby turtle has completed it’s first and most important journey of it’s life. The fact that only 1 in a 1000 baby turtles makes it’s way to adulthood makes one wonder, pray and hope that the baby has a bright future in store.

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The Price of Travel

Puno was the last part of my trip to Peru and was the perhaps the place where I had my longest conversations with people. It’s was an hour or so long boat ride to the island and I overheard someone saying that the group of people on that boat ride were from 11 different nationalities which was pretty cool.

On the walk up to the island I got talking to 2 British girls who I noticed had brought their own packed lunch even when food was offered as part of the tour. I got to know that one of them was lactose and gluten intolerant and her friend was just keeping her company. It also turned out that were actually students who had taken a year off so that they could go on a super long vacation of 3 -4 months to several places over the world. They were planning to go to to New Zealand and other places quite a distance away after they were done here. I asked them how they were managing things planning wise and financially.

Turned out they worked jobs full time for a few months before this vacation to be able to pay for everything with no financial help from their parents. One, I was instantly jealous that they were going to be on such a long vacation and secondly it was both fascinating and and a revelation that at their age, just working for a few months could earn them enough money to go on such a long a vacation. I was on vacation for just 8 days in a single country and it took a sizable chunk of my savings. I probably would not have been able to extend my stay any longer due to financial reasons. It really gave me perspective of how the economics of life are so different in countries.

Oscars 2016 Nominees : The one’s I’ve seen

I’ve always loved watching the Oscar awards. From the moment the nominations are announced up until the final show it’s undeniably an exciting and fun time for movie buffs. It’s a good feeling to have watched some of the stuff on the list. It’s also a chance to catch up on stuff you may have missed during the year. That being said in most cases Oscar worthy films don’t always have blockbuster appeal but you can be assured that all of them do possess a certain degree of quality. Most people go to the movies for different reasons. For some, it’s a great way to pass time and they care little about the entertainment value. For some like me we do take our movie watching experience rather seriously.

Talking during a movie will not be tolerated.

Despite my hope I didn’t have the time and resources to watch many of nominated movies. These are ones that I did get to see.

Bridge of Spies

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This was one of those, what should we do on a Sunday afternoon, let’s go watch a movie thing. I knew little of the movie going in. All we did was check out what’s was playing nearby and book the tickets. Bridge of Spies is about the cold war and spies but it’s not an action movie per se. It still manages to keep you on the edge of the seat throughout. It’s more emotional and resonant than you might think with another star turn by Tom Hanks. By the end of the movie you are left with what can best be described as a warm feeling inside. The revelation for me as the credits began to roll was that the movie was directed by Steven Spielberg, proving once again that he still remains one of Hollywood’s best directors.

The Martian

Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.

The Martian is the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars and about the efforts of both his crew and the people back on earth attempting to save him. It’s a familiar tale with strong echoes of the movie Gravity. Something of a return to form for director Ridley Scott it’s a movie that rests squarely on the performance of the central character played by Matt Damon. Thankfully he does a remarkable job playing a character who is both smart, funny and emotional in equal ways. The comparisons with Gravity will be there just because it’s a space movie. But at the end even though I thought Gravity was stronger on a purely technical level The Martian is still an incredible journey into space and back.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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I had never watched a single Mad Max movie before this one. All I really knew was Mel Gibson was the star of the previous movies and the setting was a post apocalyptic desert wasteland. I went for this one only because I saw the race reviews it was getting from the critics. When the movie starts out it’s a little hard to figure out what’s happening and why, especially if your not familiar with the world of Mad Max. Once the movie starts firing on all cylinders, all that really remains to comprehend is that the entire movie is an extended vehicular, combat chase and escape sequence. The movie contains without doubt some of the most exhilarating, inventive and incredibly shot action sequences I have ever witnessed. Combined with music that blends so well everything you are witnessing on screen I was on the edge of my seat throughout. A rush that stayed with me long after the credits rolled.

Inside Out

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This was the year Pixar released 2 movies in a year. The Good Dinosaur wasn’t the worst movie to come from the studio but it was rather forgettable in comparison to Inside Out.
Inside Out, Pixar’s latest was a brilliantly imaginative movie about the working of the human mind. The one thing they have proven time and again is how good they are at using the power of animation to explore extremely heady concepts that continue to remain relevant and entertaining for years to come. Representing human emotions as characters with their own personalities is an amazing concept to begin with. What Pixar managed to do with that will go down in history as one of the most imaginative and original movies of all time. When the credits rolled I was in awe of how they had managed to pull all this off. Without spoiling too much Inside Out is best described as a journey of a child growing up and dealing with all the complex emotions that it brings to fore. The twist is that majority of the journey is experienced from inside the mind rather than the outside.

Master of None

Unlike a lot of people who may previously have watched Parks and Recreation I started watching Master of None with only the knowledge that Aziz Ansari who was one of the stars of that show also wrote this one. There was a decent bit of buzz around the quality of the show in addition to the fact that it was Netflix exclusive. Netflix finally launched in India last week and I immediately signed up for the free trial to find out what a streaming video subscription service is all about.

That is basically how I got around to watching Master of None. The first season consisting of 10 episodes was available to watch in it’s entirety so I finished the whole thing up over a span of 3–4 days. Now having never watched Parks and Recreation before I had no preconceived notions as to what sort of character would be played by Aziz Ansari. He plays a 30 something American of Indian descent. An upcoming actor trying to make his way in the world. Straight of the bat Aziz is a very likeable actor from the way he talks and portrays himself. Most importantly he seems very real and relatable. The same goes for the supporting cast that also includes his real life parents. They are extremely sweet and their voices posses and endearing quality to them. It doesn’t take more than an episode to feel like you’ve known Dev the character played by Aziz and his gang of friends for years.

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In 10 episodes the show covers a wide range of topics, from what it means to be a struggling actor, sexuality, relationships both with lovers and parents, feminism, racism, the intricate complexities of marriage, old age, death and everything in between. Everything is portrayed with exceptional wit, humor and an abundance of love. The situations in the show can make you smile, laugh or deliver a gut punch in equal measure. If you’re looking for something both funny and meaningful at the same time the show is a must watch.

 

San Francisco August 2015 Trip

I visited San Francisco again this year for a conference called Casual Connect. It was a 10 day trip that began with a flight from Pune to Delhi and from there to Hong Kong. The thing that struck me as the flight was landing into Hong Kong airport was, how beautiful it was because the landing strip is right beside water. The airport itself seems surrounded by mountains from one side.

Honk Kong Airport

Once the novelty had worn off I quickly remembered that I had an 18 hour layover here and would have to find every possible way to kill so much time. I am not the kind of person who can sleep anywhere, anytime and falling asleep at any place that doesn’t have a bed is tough.

Cathay Pacific Lounge

Luckily my boss had access to the Cathay Pacific Lounge and I was able to get some rest, shower and eat. The shower temple in the lounge was without doubt, the most luxurious one I have ever used in my life.

Casual Connect

The conference was held at The Hilton, Union Square. This was the view from the room window.

This was our table at the conference

One of the event sponsors had organized a party at City Hall. I had not been to this place on my last trip and I was quite impressed with this structure. It was a magnificent and imposing and entering the building made me feel like I was entering the kind of place that would host art shows or opera performances or something like that. In short anything but a party, that too a casino themed party.

A short visit to Google

Nasscom a governing body in India had organized a short visit to the Google Campus for all the Indian delegates. While I wasn’t sure which part of Google we would be visiting I was hoping to get a glimpse of the crazy awesome Google office that you have seen on the internet. Well it wasn’t quite that part but we did have lunch at one of their famous cafeterias.

This looked like one of their cars which does the Google Street Views

Inside the visitors building where we were issued our guest badges

A dino in the campus

One of the cafeterias where we had a nice lunch

Walking around the streets

On one of the days my boss was off for a meeting and I had some time to kill. So I spent my time walking around the streets of San Francisco with no general target in mind. While I was initially interested in visiting MOMA, it turned out that the museum is undergoing some major renovation and was months away from opening up to the public again.

I came across this church and didn’t plan on going in initially. When I went up to the entrance I thought it was closed because I didn’t see a single person go in or out for almost 5 mins. I finally decided to try the door and seeing it open I went in. There were only 2 -3 people inside and the moment I stepped inside the calm that enveloped me was instant. All the hustle and bustle of the street outside was gone. It was so quiet inside that when I switched on my camera to take a pic the sound made as the camera starts up also seemed way too loud.

Contemporary Jewish Museum

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to visit MOMA so I made up my to go visit something else after having come so far. The Contemporary Jewish Museum was right next to the church and looked inviting enough from the outside.

While I wasn’t able to take any pictures of the main museum sections there was an art installation on the ground floor, where photography was allowed.

California’s Great America

One of the things that I miss back home in India is good amusement parks. I had a Sunday free so I looked out for the nearest and least expensive amusement park that I could go to. Though I would have preferred to go to Six Flags I eventually decided against it as it was too far from where I was staying.

This was a performance they had put up celebrating I think 40 years of the park’s existence

The good thing about going there alone was sometimes there was a much shorter wait for single riders

The water section of the park that I mostly avoided because I didn’t have any extra clothes

I hadn’t heard of this stadium before but I assume it’s famous and could be seen just outside the park

Overall it was a good day spent at the park. It had some great rides and it wasn’t so big and crowded that I spent too much time waiting in lines. I also got to ride the ones I really liked multiple times.

Mountainview

After I left Great America I went to Mountainview where I was supposed to meetup with my boss to have dinner before we headed back home. I took the VTA light train to get there.

The station itself was rather neat and after all the chaos and excitement of the park it felt quite relaxing there.

The train felt rather nice as compared to the bigger more crowded Caltrain ones. They even had free Wifi on board the train.

I spent a little time lounging around in a garden that was just behind the City Hall.

You can understand how creative I had to get to kill time from this beauty shot of my phone

Our Airbnb in Redwood City

While we stayed at Hilton Hotel itself during the conference we stayed at this lovely home booked via Airbnb for the remainder of our stay. It was quite beautiful and compared to our hotel felt completely relaxing and almost like home.

The dining area with a nice view of the backyard

The backyard complete with a barbeque

The Driveway

I could easily settle down in a house like this

Other random sightings

Seabiscuit

AT&T Park

Towards Machu Picchu

The road upto Machu Picchu from the town below happens on a fairly dangerous looking bus ride that always made me feel like a driver error would send me plummeting downwards. I got talking to an old lady in the seat next to me and it turned out it was her 8th time to Machu Picchu. While she initially visited as a tourist she now brought groups of people there. I was lucky enough to make it just once.

I went up to Machu Picchu a couple of times and on the first day I was part of a guided tour. While I took the train to the town below Machu Pichu some people prefer to take the 4 day Inca trail. I got talking to a guy in the group who was supposed to do the trail but ended up missing the trek group when they set off.

I talked to him quite a bit about it during the tour. When the guided tour ended we all went our separate ways. As part of my tour package I had a coupon to have lunch at a restaurant at the top itself. So I went and sat myself down to lunch there. A little while later the same guy came up to my table and shook hands with me and said goodbye. Turned out he was about to leave Machu Picchu and he happened to spot me in the restaurant while passing by and thought he should just shake to our travel friendship before he left.

On my 2nd day in Machu Picchu I just didn’t wish to get away from it. I spent almost 3 hrs at a vantage point from where I could look down below upon that magnificent city. While sitting there, I noticed a Japanese girl who was also sitting nearby for a very long time. At that moment I could only imagine that as a traveler she must have been experiencing the very same thing that I felt there at that moment. Machu Picchu overwhelms you in that way. She didn’t speak English but she was very eager to get a picture of herself and it was only after me clicking 3 -4 times and being satisfied with it that she finally let it go. Since we were the only 2 people sitting there I got her to click a few pics for me too and in my opinion it I got one of the best pictures from my trip.

Dreamfall Chapters

The Longest Journey

The Longest Journey was originally released back in 1999 when adventure games of this scope and quality were a rarity. I still have fond memories of the game. It had incredible production values, a captivating story and some of the best writing you could find in a video game. A sequel to the game was released in the year 2006. It took some steps forward by moving to a 3D engine and continuing in the steps of predecessor by retaining its level of writing and storytelling. In some areas it took some steps backward by introducing some superflous gameplay elements and ended up not quite achieving the coherence between it’s gameplay and plot like it should have. Both games were made at Funcom by the game director Ragnar Tornquist with his team there. In the years since Funcom focused work on MMOs like Conan and The Secret World. There didn’t seem any hope that Funcom would return to the world they had built. A world that still had many unanswered questions at the end of 2 games.

Kickstarter

If you dream the right dream, it becomes reality

Fast forward to 2013 and Kickstarter had become all the rage among many veteran game developers. I had been following Ragnar on twitter for a while with the hope that he would mention something about a new game in the series. Fans like me were delighted to know that Ragnar was going to leave Funcom and found his own studio, Red Thread Games. The first game to come out would be Dreamfall Chapters. A proper sequel by the original creator and his team. I didn’t even think twice before forking over the $20 for the privilege of supporting them and getting access to the full game on release. While I patiently waited for the game’s release and got a chance to attend GDC in 2013. From Ragnar’s twitter stream I realised that they had a booth there and I went to visit. I managed to get a photo with Ragnar and a chance to tell the team that I backed them on kickstarter and wish them good luck with the game.

Book 3

It’s 2015 and it’s time to talk about Dreamfall again. Dreamfall Chapters despite what was conveyed by the title was originally supposed to be released as one large game. Somewhere down the line the development team decided that releasing the game in episodes would work better. While I did enjoy the first 2 episodes I was still looking for the magic that I felt when I played The Longest Journey. With the release of Book 3 everything seems to be coming together. The cast of characters are now more firmly established. Major story revelations are starting to come through. Choices I made are beginning to reveal their consequences. Everything else that made the previous games continues to shine. Top notch voice acting, storytelling, writing and dialogs that stand out even among other forms of entertainment today. My favourite adventure games of all time has a bright future. If you have never played adventure games before. Dreamfall is a good place to start.

“You shape your own fate, not the other way around.”

You can listen to the amazing music from the game right here

https://rd.io/i/QUxq2iIKgJs/

Sharukh Khan at Aguas Calientes

When I had gone to visit Machu Pichu I stayed at the base town of Aguas Calientes for a day. One night I was walking around trying to settle on which restaurant I wanted to go have dinner at. Most restaurants usually seemed to have a guy standing at the entrance trying to convince tourists to come eat at their place. One of them recognizing that I was Indian tried to lure me into eating at his place by telling me that Sharukh Khan ate there. For any non-indians who may happen to read this he is one of India’s most famous film actors. I found it rather amusing that he would try this approach given that in today’s times his popularity with the younger generation is quite debatable. Or I’m probably not representative of this generation at all.

Interestingly there was another restaurant bearing the name of another Bollywood actor called Govinda. Unfortunately it was shut.

Fields

On my way to Kolhapur I stopped at the Kamat restaurant to grab a quick bite before heading on. It’s was an open structured place and I was awed by the sight of this beautiful field behind it

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Inca Cola

On my first day in Cusco we had a small museum tour of the city. I got to talking to a British lady for a bit who was in same tour group. After the tour we were dropped off to spend the rest of the day ourselves. They had informed us that there was a traditional prayer ceremony that took place in the evening and we could go and watch if we were so inclined. While I started walking away by myself towards the city center I dropped into local shop to exchange dollars for some local currency. When I came out I saw the same lady outside waiting for me with her daughter. She said I saw that you were alone and we thought we’d give you company if you were on your way to see the prayer ceremony. It was a very sweet and totally unexpected gesture.

I asked her about her family back home. Turned out she had 2 other kids but they couldn’t come together because it would have been too expensive for everyone to make it. Another question that I frequently encountered not just from her but several people I would come to meet was just how come I could speak English so well. It was quite surprising because I always imagined that Indians were pretty much everywhere in the world by now. Come dinner time, they invited me to join them but I politely declined and said my goodbye. I can’t remember her name but I think it was Penny.

While I had stopped at a local marketplace an old gentleman and his wife told me to try a local dish Papas a la huanciana that I tried and enjoyed on my last day in Peru.

On the way to a visit our tour group had stopped at this very lovely restaurant. I happened to share my table with a British guy who ordered a locally branded drink called Inca Cola. When I asked him about it he described it as something unique with a bubble gum kind of flavour to it. He kindly offered me a taste and I was addicted to it instantly. It was my go to drink on every single day thereafter I spent in Peru. It was perfectly fitting that the last drink I ended up having as I was leaving Peru at the airport was Inca Cola