Paradise Found ~
September 9 through September 17, 2000
$1 U.S. = 45 Indian Rupees
(Remember to click on the thumbnails for
enlargements of the photos)
Vagator Beach, Goa,
September 9 through September 17, 2000
(ccl) We had planned on going to the
Goa region of India at some point during our time there, but during the two
weeks we had been in Bombay and Aurangabad, the monsoon was still in full swing,
so we planned to postpone our trip there until the rains quit. But when it
became apparent that the computer repairs were going to take longer than we
expected, we decided to just head down there are take our chances. After
all, if it rained, at least we would be at the beach, and far from the madding
crowds of Bombay.
Goa is unlike any other place
in India, and all Indians will quickly tell you that. As it was
a Portuguese colony up until 1971, Goa is a largely Christian area, and
it has an incredibly laid-back feel to it. The state of Goa is a
thin strip of land running down the western coast of India from south
of Bombay almost to the tip of the country. The countryside is awash
with various shades of green, from the dark, leafy foliage of the thousands
of gently slanting coconut palms, to the spring green of the rice paddies,
to the jade of the grass, closely cropped by grazing cows and water buffalos.
Speeding along the country roads of the area on a rented scooter, the
sun shining above in a flawless blue sky, is one of the most complete
feelings of freedom we've had on the trip.
We shared a sleeper compartment
(they're called "compartments", but on our train we had no door, only
a curtain) with Pete and Ann Marie from London. Pete is an accountant, and
Ann Marie restores textiles in one of the palaces of the British royal
family. They were traveling
through India for four weeks, and, like us, had decided to save their sanity
and try out Goa for a week. It turns out that we were all in luck.
Of the week that we were there, it only rained briefly for one day. Every
other day was picture perfect, as it appeared that monsoon season was over for
another year. We had come to Goa in the off-season, so many hotels and
restaurants weren't even open yet.
The train left Bombay at 10:30 P.M.
and was set to arrive at the end of the line in Margao about twelve hours
later. Once we all woke up in the morning, we began consulting the Indian
traveler's bible, Lonely Planet, to figure out which of the many beachside
hamlets in Goa we would spend time in. Every town seems to have its own
characteristics. Some are laid-back and populated by ex-hippies, others
are filled with package tourists and large, expensive hotels. We wanted to
go somewhere quiet, so we picked the little town of Vagator Beach. Pete
and Ann Marie settled on Baga Beach, so we said goodbye and hopped in an
auto-rickshaw for the ride to Vagator.
We had picked a hotel out of Lonely
Planet called the Sterling Vagator Beach Resort. The name sounded pretty
up-market, and the book said it was the nicest place in town, but when we drove
in, the grounds looked a bit shabby, and we were a little disappointed.
The room boy (that's what they call the guys who carry bags and deliver room
service in India) showed us to a cottage right on the beach, and then we were
hooked. We were forty yards or so from the water, with our own very nice
private cottage, and a great back porch where we could listen to the coconuts
fall from the trees and watch the waves roll in onto the long, sandy beach, and
which had a perfect view of sunset. Directly above us was a 400 year old Portuguese
fort, In short: paradise found.
We quickly found that beach-going in
India is a little different that other places in the world. Indian women,
who are quite modest, don't wear bathing suits. Some of them go into the
water in their saris and others wear shorts and t-shirts, while the men, who do wear swimming trunks, don't go in past
their knees. I'm not sure if most of them could swim, which I guess makes
some sense, because we haven't seen any public pools since we've been
here. I quickly found out that wearing a bikini on the beach causes quite
a stir. We had just walked out onto the beach and settled down with
several of the local stray dogs, when Wiley headed out into the water to do some
body surfing. I was reading a book, and I soon noticed that it appeared
that a busload of teenagers, predominantly male, had alighted on the
beach. They were running around in the water, tackling each other (in
their clothes), and engaging in other general horseplay. Out of the corner
of my eye, I could see that my picture was being taken, discreetly, by a couple
of guys. This has happened to us quite a bit in India, and from talking to
other western tourists, it happens to everyone. Indians, for some reason,
want their pictures made with foreigners. I can't imagine what they tell
their friends when they show off the pictures of their vacations: "Oh,
here's me with an American couple. And here's another one of me with a
German guy.". We can't quite figure it out. But people are very
polite, and you can't help but be honored that they want your picture, so you
pose and smile and shake hands.
Even after having been photographed
by strangers standing in front of virtually every monument we had visited, I was
totally unprepared for what happened on the beach that first day. First
one brave soul, then another, began coming up to me, asking to have his picture
made with me. Eventually, entire groups of giggling guys were taking turns posing
with me, and then shooting pictures of their buddies. I began to feel
incredibly exposed, and not a little embarrassed when Wiley finally noticed what
was going on from the water. The area around me had begun to look like the
press room at the White House. He came in out of the water, plopped down
on the blanket, and asked it they'd like his picture, too. The crowd
quickly dissipated. When we ran into Pete and Ann Marie a couple of nights
later, and had dinner with them, she said that the same thing had happened to
her, and she was wearing a one-piece bathing suit and running shorts! In a
world where "Baywatch" is the most popular TV show, it's surprising
that there are places left where you get this kind of reaction.
Eating in the restaurants and
frequenting the bars of Goa, you continually see people who appear as though
they have "checked out": left the hectic pace of the real world for
permanent bliss in this Indian beach heaven. You can understand why, as a
huge, delicious meal of fresh king prawns with a couple of cold beers costs less
than $2, and you can find long-term lodging for as little as $4 per night.
We hear that the rave scene cranks up to full volume in November, December, and
January, but our week was quiet and relaxing.
As we walked around Vagator the first
couple of days, we were continually asked if we'd like to rent a scooter.
How much, we asked? 125 rupees per day, less than $3. It's an
incredibly informal arrangement, and one that could incite fear in the heart of
an insurance agent's daughter: a guy drives up on his scooter, gets off, hands
you the key, takes your money, and says he'll see you in a couple of days.
No insurance, no license check, no nothing. But it's a great way to get
around the country roads of the area, and if you want to do any exploring, it's
definitely the best way.
On about our fourth night in Goa, we were walking into the resort complex, after
having parked the scooter for the night, when we heard a meow. We looked
around and saw a beautiful, white and brown fluffy cat. She came right up
to us, accepted as much caressing as we would give, and then proceeded to follow
us as we walked on towards our room. Keep in mind that you don't see that
many cats in India - I don't know why, and I don't want to speculate - and the
ones that you do see are mangy, underfed strays. But this cat was
absolutely beautiful, and wasn't the least bit scared of us. She came into
the cottage with us, accepted whatever food we had to give, and proceeded to
live with us for the next several days. We named her Sita, after the wife
of the god Krishna, and she won our hearts, and allowed us to lavish as much
affection as we wanted on her. It made me happy and sad at the same time -
happy to have a loving cat around again, but sad, because it reminded me of how
much I miss ours. On Sunday when we left, she sat on our back porch, and
watched as we walked off, as she had done everyday. But this time it
seemed that she knew that we wouldn't be back. I hope the next guests that
stay in cottage 421 at Sterling Vagator Beach are cat lovers as well.
On Wednesday we visited the Anjuna
Flea Market, which is a well-known place to buy beautiful Indian handicrafts at
dirt cheap prices. Again, not many tourists were in town yet, so the ones
that were there were mobbed. As we approached from the beach, children ran
up to us, pulling on our arms and begging us to "Look my shop!".
We made the rounds, and bought some beautiful things, including embroidered wall
hangings and pillow covers. There was so much to buy, and it was all so
cheap. It made us want to start an import business. Later that day
we happened upon a store in Baga Beach called Discover India.. Prakash, the
owner, spends three months out of every year visiting various tribal peoples
throughout India, and purchases their artwork. He told us that 10% of
Indians practice some form of tribal religion - that's a lot of people in
a country with a population of 1 billion. We bought an incredibly cool
bench made from an ox cart, and several other interesting pieces from him, which
he is shipping home for us. Sometimes I think about all of the stuff we
have bought and shipped home, and I can't wait to get there and open it all up!
If Bombay is hell, then Goa is surely heaven. Each day, we did little more
than sleep late, eat delicious, fresh food, read books, write on the computer,
talk, and watch the waves roll in. The scooter allowed us to get around to
some of the other towns, but we decided that we had picked the best spot,
although Baga Beach was also a very cool place. One day, I had been
sitting out back under the coconut trees, writing on the computer, when we
decided to take a lunch break. We got on the scooter and cruised up the
road, turned off on a dirt road, and found a secluded, hidden beach with several
shacks that housed seafood restaurants. The few tourists tanned, while the
locals hawked their wares in a low-key, friendly sort of way. We sat and
ate prawns and drank cold beer, and watch the waves hit the rocks. I don't
know when I've been to a more beautiful area. I would compare it to
Hawaii, in many ways, only there's no Ritz Carltons, and no high prices.
On our last night in Goa, we
revisited a restaurant that we had eaten at a couple of other times, Tin
Tin. Tin Tin is run by a Brit who became an Indian citizen, who is a
fabulous chef, and who strives to, it appears, put a little fun into his
place. It was Mexican night, and all of the waiters were dressed in
kerchiefs and sombreros (Indians can do a pretty passable impression of
Mexicans). Specials on margaritas, and Mexican items prominently featured
on the menu. We settled in and watched some local guys, who turned out to
be pretty good, sing along with the karaoke machine. The climax of the
evening came when an Indian guy, dressed to kill in sombrero and flashing bow
tie, called a game of Bingo. He had rhymes or cute sayings for every
number he called, like "83, mother and child, eight-three", and
"Every man gets naughty at 40, four-oh". The first prize was a
bottle of Honeybee Brandy, and the crowd roared when he would announce in a
high-pitched voice, designed, no doubt, to build anticipation, "Is anybody
sweating for Honeybee bottle???". Of course, Wiley and I filled a
card first, and won the "Honeybee bottle". A perfect end to our
perfect week in paradise.
As I write this, I sit in a hotel room, back in the noisy city of Bombay.
We came back by the train on Sunday, and spent yesterday and today writing for
the web site, and picking up our package from Nilesh. It turns out that
Mac sent all of our stuff, so I was able to restore our ACT! files and all of
Wiley's old files from his Macintosh, but not before hosing some drivers and
having to re-install the operating system. Nilesh responded calmly to my desperate
call, and worked to fix things while his wife waited at the movie theater for
him. He even gave us a ride back to the hotel, before speeding away to see
the latest Hindi cinematic sensation. Tomorrow night we head north for the
state of Rajasthan, known as the "Land of Kings". We have three
weeks left here, and can't wait to see what this incredibly diverse, remarkable
country has left up its sleeve.
here to continue in India with "Palaces, Fortresses, and a Temple for Rats"