Somehow, I’ve always put infinite trust in the hands of the water sports operators expecting them to bring me to shore safely without any effort on my part. My experience sure threw that theory out of the window. Two little rafts are tied behind a motor boat propelling it to life onto the choppy ocean waves. It was a merry ride and got over a little too soon, or so I thought. Suddenly the rope was untied from the boat and it was left to an 8 or 10 year boy to bring me back to the shore by using his sheer strength and swimming abilities. He lunged for my rope a little too late and a big wave came crashing down on me. The raft overturned and threw me right under it. I saw visions of my baby waiting for me by the shore and somehow that gave me the push to hurl that raft off my head and get me to the shore. This seemed like eternity to me but must have been pretty short because my friend was still holding a camera in her hand hoping to take a beaming picture of me. So, when in Goa, think before you leap would definitely be my advice.
I do have to admit that I was quite taken in by the operator’s reaction. After managing to make it to the shore I bellowed at the operator who had put me through this ordeal about his irresponsible behavior in expecting a child to do his work. I was expecting the typical Indian shrug and demand for the money we owed him so he could go his way. Instead, he himself was so upset with my accusations that he refused to take the money and instead wanted to own up to his responsibility and take us for a free ride in the motor boat as a way to make amends. I have to say that it helped in calming my nerves and took away the sudden fear I had developed of the sea.
This is Goa. In fact, this is India. One minute you hate it and the next minute you don’t. I was ready for this close-up and personal, in-your-face experience.
Three of us thirty-something’s girls (or would that be women?) decided to reunite in Goa, located on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea. I say reunite because we came from the U.S., U.K. and Delhi and met at the airport in Goa. I had special luggage in tow, my 4 month old baby. And a babysitter to help in making this a more carefree experience for all of us.
We had spent quite some time planning this trip to find a budget hotel by Baga beach, one of the most popular beaches. We did want to be in the center of the hubbub rather than on a deserted strip somewhere, but were wary of that ending up being too trashy. January is the peak tourist season so that made things a little more difficult but we somehow got it done in time. When the uniformed driver opened the doors of an air-conditioned Tata Innova to pick us up from the airport, we were all pleased. Now our expectations for the hotel were higher. The drive was pleasant and the beautiful countryside with the tall, palm trees was just like we had imagined. On reaching Baga, a mish mash of little bargain shops, mom & pop restaurants, high rise hotels and one-off bars greeted us with the not so welcoming whirl of the generators. Between all this was the La Calypso Beach Resort. Once inside the hotel premises the sounds of the street started to disappear as we got closer to Baga beach and the sound of the waves seemed much more assuring. We had hit the spot, we couldn’t have gotten a closer access to the beach that this and the rooms were simple but clean. Sure it wasn’t like the oh-so-perfect Hawaii but that wasn’t what I was after.
Diaper change, sunscreen on baby, baby in carrier and we were all set for our cold glass of beer with rice and prawn curry lunch. Seafood, coconut milk, rice and paste are main ingredients of Goan delicacies. The spices and flavors are intense. Four hundred years of Portuguese colonialism has imbibed with the Hindu and Christian culture to give it a flavor distinct to this corner of the world. That applies not only to the food but the place in general. The state is famous for its rugged beaches, churches, and forts and many of the churches and houses bear a striking element of the Portuguese style of architecture.
There’s nothing like the feel of the promising start to our week long adventure in front of us, the soft sand beneath us and the ocean waves beside us. Baga beach is dotted with tiny shacks serving the freshest of seafood at really low costs. The liquor taxes are also pretty low in the state making alcohol an extremely tempting proposition. We spent all afternoon exploring what the beach had to offer. One could get a tattoo right at the beach, braid their hair with beads, get bracelets and anklets, rent a beach chair and sun bathe with a personal butler serving whatever your heart might desire, even fix you up for a massage right there without you having to move an inch. And of course we made mental notes of which water adventure we wanted to be a part of from banana boats to speed boats to rafts. In my mind the Goans are the most enterprising people and have been wrongly represented as the lazy ones. They were really milking the cow, so to say. But somehow, they were doing it in an unobtrusive manner. Well, as much as it can be in a country like India with its teeming population. We watched the sunset from the beautiful and colorful canopies that had been laid out at the beach by yet another enterprising shack owner and wound up the evening with a glass of Feni, the country liquor. It was the perfect and idyllic start to our vacation.
The next morning, consumed by the guilt of those empty calories that we had slurped up the night before, we decided to hit the swimming pool. I bet that was the high point of the trip for my baby. My single friends enjoyed her squeals of delight as she waded in the pool with me. A delicious breakfast later, we decided it was time for some water sports which had the disastrous outcome that I mentioned earlier.
We decided to check out the life after sundown that Goa is so famous for. One visualizes rave parties and aggressively drugged out “hippies” dancing the night away at these clubs. After trying to “dance trance” for a little while, we gave each other a look that spelled that this was for the twenty something’s or if one was completely doped out. We went back to the nice and bright club right across from our hotel that was belting out some good old 80’s music.
The rest of the trip followed a similar pattern of shopping, discovering new cafes and restaurants, exploring the other beaches around and gorging on all possible cuisines. A lot of time was spent in the room as well during the baby’s nap time, feed time and poop time. But that was okay since we were just happy being together in such incredible surroundings. I wish she had been older to enjoy the sun and sand as much as we did but I’m sure they’ll be another time for that.
Goa has a lot of different sides to it and it’s up to you what you would like to uncover. It has its French boutiques and hideaways amongst pristine and untouched beaches for the glamorous Indian urbanites, the best chefs in the country dishing up Italian, Thai or Mediterranean cuisine at seven star hotels, the finest mansions of the rich and famous like the beer baron of India, Vijay Mallya, and an opportunity to bump into big Hollywood or Bollywood names while strolling down the streets of this smallest state in the country. It also has the streets crammed with doe-eyed foreign tourists walking the tight rope through mismanaged traffic, the pushy salesman at shops that sell everything from t-shirts to gas for your car stored in Coke bottles and the beaches littered with signs of the revelry from the night before.
Though we didn’t land up pouring over the history of the place and visiting its many famous churches and historic sites, we submerged ourselves in the relaxed, easy going culture of the place. My experience wasn’t any different from many of the other tourists around but I hope someday I’ll get an opportunity to be one with the locals and truly understand their culture. That’s the best part of being in India. Each state is so different from the other that there’s so much to learn anywhere you go. However, we did manage to form an opinion about the people and place from our short interactions with them. The Goans are open, honest and broad minded people with a warm and welcoming smile that is so contagious. It’s a place one feels safe and tourists are not taken for a ride. That’s what makes it “the” destination in India and another reunion there won’t come too soon for me.