Mumbai to Goa, days 4–8
We arrived in Goa on Monday, March 31, 2003 (day 4), and the vacation began. The scenery got greener as we crawled through Goa and somewhere along the way we picked up Les, a friend of Kara’s.
He’d been traveling across India for the past month or so and had just left a job serving food at an ashram run by a paraplegic man. He needed the beaches, he said.
After we exited the train station in Margoa we took an endless number of buses (it was four, actually) before we finally got to our first destination, Anjuna, known for its open-air market as well as its open-air parties; however, strict police have diluted the party scene greatly and the slump in tourism has made the vendors at the Anjuna market unpleasantly aggressive.
So why did we go there? I didn’t argue—I just wanted to get somewhere soon as I was tired of traveling. I was ready to be finished with crowds, taxi drivers, public transportation, and chai wallahs.
I was ready to be idle. I wanted to sit in a whitewashed chair and drink fluorescent-colored drinks with small umbrellas. I wanted beautiful beaches during the day and hip discos at night. What I wanted, it turned out, was not Anjuna.
I should clarify by saying that I didn’t dislike Anjuna. I was content for a couple days adjusting to the salty waters of the Arabian Sea and the acidic but sugary Bacardi Breezers in Anjuna.
I rented a motorcycle and took Laurel to a couple Portuguese forts to the north and south of Anjuna. We killed a few hours at a beach just north of Anjuna called Vagator. While stunningly beautiful, Vagator’s rocky beach makes it unsuitable for swimming.
On Thursday, April 3, we decided that we’d check out the only surviving disco left in Anjuna. The catch was that it closed at 10:00 p.m. sharp because the disco needed to have a certain permit to play music late.
Baksheesh, the guys at the hotel told us,
is the only permit you will need.
The club was interesting enough though. It was a change from discos of Kathmandu or even what I’d seen in the US. This place in Anjuna was purely a trance club.
It seemed that everyone was stoned, drunk, or just delusionally trapped in a second childhood. People didn’t dance together, but swayed unrhythmically with their backs to the DJ and facing the two monolith speakers.
And at 10:00 p.m. sharp, the music ended and everyone was ushered out. The weathered hippie that had been using his telescope to sell other weathered hippies ten-rupee views of Saturn was packing up his telescope. The hippie parents were gathering their hippie children.
The Russian we’d been sitting with us that night looked at us, picked up some of the dark red dirt that covers Vagator and let it sift through his hands, saying,
I love this black country, he speech affected as much by alcohol as by accent,
I love these black people.
Well, Anjuna was interesting enough, but it was decided that after the mandated trip to the disco was finished that we should seek out a nicer beach in Goa. We had heard tales of white sand and clear water in Palolem.
It was worth suffering another couple bus rides. So on Friday, April 4, 2003 (day 8), we stepped out of a taxi about 50 feet from one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen.
Not much happened the week in Palolem. We swam. We ate. We played volleyball a couple times. That’s about it. The beach just to the north of Palolem is one of my most beautiful places I’ve ever been to in my life.
One day while I was wandering around on my motorcycle, I happened on a nameless beach.
I parked my bike and walked from the road onto the beach. There were a maybe two areas comprised of four huts. That was it for development. The rest of the beach was pristine and there wasn’t another person present.
We’d arrived just at the end of the high season and so the guest houses were closed. I swam out and saw in the distance a young girl, maybe ten, chasing her herd of water buffaloes along the beach.
The days were filled with nothing much. If we felt daring then we’d venture outside of the hotel to get food. When it got too hot to swim, I checked my email.
This was the idleness that I was hoping for: day after day of doing nothing interesting. Well, there was this one boat ride that might be worth mentioning. It wouldn’t be a vacation if there wasn’t a boat involved.
Since we’d arrived in Palolem, the proprietor of the neighboring restaurant was trying to convince us to take a dolphin viewing boat ride, lasting a couple of hours.
It cost something like Rs. 100 per person. No one was really gung-ho enough to organize it so we left the guy hanging every day.
One morning after a particularly harrowing night of drinking (yes, it’s true) the guy came by. Apparently the night before someone had confirmed with him that we’d be going the next day.
Drunken negotiating is hazardous for this very reason. I was the first one up and feeling well. Andrew woke up a bit later and was followed by Tony. The three of us were the only ones up. It was 7:00 a.m.
Everyone was roused and people slowly moved towards the beach and towards the wooden boat where the crew was prepping to push off. Suddenly the guy stopped the eight of us and said,
Only seven can go. What to do?
I opted out figuring that coupling my mild hangover with the mix of being in a small boat in a rough sea and under the sun for at least a couple hours might be hazardous.
Just as I got my morning cup of coffee, two Scottish women I’d met the night before passed me. They looked and saw my friends waiving at me as they pushed off.
One of them, Merell, said,
What? Your friends left you behind?
When I explained the situation, they insisted that I come along with them.
The sea’s waves were taking their toll on my pals. After spotting a dolphin or two, the captain asked if he should stop the boat so everyone could swim.
No, the group grumbled,
Take us back. Now.
As I was told (I wasn’t there, remember), not much was said—until Liz began vomiting into the Arabian Sea. Andrew was quick on his feet and started taking photographs. Liz hung over the side while Laurel reprimanded Andrew. And the ride was finished.
I spent my boat ride talking with some nice Scottish women. They had just finished up secondary school and were traveling across the subcontinent while they waited out their college paperwork.
After spending all of my time with Peace Corps folks, it was refreshing to get out of the circle and meet some new people who didn’t belch, eat with their hands, pick their noses, or have other ‘uncivilized’ customs that we’d all adapted.
So while Liz was puking into the sea and Andrew was taking photos and Laurel was hassling him, I was swimming in a cove collecting starfish with dolphins jumping somewhere nearby. What a morning.
Dave’s Adventures in India
Dave had gone to an optometrist in Maupse, just outside of Anjuna. After making arrangements Dave came back from town hopeful that in two day he’d be able to see again.
He was handling things really well. I would have gotten really irritable. Instead Dave was chill, only occasionally asking Tony,
So, is that girl hot?
When the day came for Dave to pickup his glasses we were also headed to Palolem. I had just gotten a haircut and shave and was stopping by the optometrist’s office to check on Dave before I went over to the train station and arranged for our taxi.
When I walked into the office Dave was sitting with his arms crossed opposite from the optometrists, grimacing, blind.
I asked him what was going on. Suddenly a stream of obscenities flew out of his mouth—something about confusion concerning when the glasses would be ready.
Dave had gotten a pair of sunglasses made, too, and those would take an extra day. Somehow things had been confused and Dave had left thinking the glasses were going to be ready a day early, the optometrist thinking the exact opposite.
Dave and the optometrist went back and forth a few times. I was really impressed by the optometrist’s ability to defend himself in English with a New Yorker who was quite pissed.
The optometrist agreed to personally send the glasses down to Palolem the next day. He told Dave he’d be coming around 10:30 a.m. He’d said,
I’ll find you there.
The next day came. Dave, still blind, waited at the main intersection in Palolem for the guy to show up. Well, 10:30 a.m. came and went, and guy didn’t arrive.
Dave, still blind, went insane. He was leaving. He hated the optometrist in Maupse. He hated having to haggle for a taxi. He hated India and enough was enough.
Sometime around noon the optometrist showed up and found Trey. Trey took him back to the hotel and Dave wasn’t anywhere to be found. No one had seen him since he was ranting at the Palolem intersection about people trying to steal his shoes.
So Trey fronted the money and thanked the guy for his trouble.
You know, the optometrist told Trey,
that man just doesn’t speak proper English.
We started to get concerned when evening came and still no sign of Dave. As we all congregated to make dinner plans, Dave appeared. He’d gone to Margoa and bought his return ticket as far as Delhi, where a friend was keeping a laptop brought from the US for Dave.
Trey asked Dave if he’d gotten his glasses.
No, man, that $&*@#!! ripped me off!
Trey smiled as he handed Dave his glasses.
Dave yelped, without pausing,
Oh, there they are. Cool.
Dragging Our Feet
Finally it came time to leave. I had bought our return tickets from Margoa to Gorakhpur, which was a Kafkaesque nightmare. Kafka must have been at least half Indian. Our train was departing on Wednesday, April 9, 2003 (day 10).
Kara and Les had left a few days early so they could catch the Rolling Stones in Bombay. Kara reported back to us:
Arrived in Bombay, bought the tickets, saw the Stones. Ruled, mon. It was sweltering hot, which made the dance-fest a sweaty mess of flailing limbs. It was awesome. Here?s what I remember: Brown Sugar, Angie, Can’t Always Get What You Want, It’s Only Rock and Roll, Midnight Rambler, Gimmie Shelter, Monkey Man, and some other oldies.
With a Jumpin’ Jack Flash encore the sky filled with brightly lit confetti. Awesome.
Mick, Keith and Les and I went out for a few cocktails post show.
Hope you’re catching waves and rays.
Trey and Ashley were planning on catching a flight back to Kathmandu from Bombay. They had arranged to take a tourist bus from Margoa to Bombay as they’d had enough of the trains.
And Dave was going his own way since he had to go to Delhi to pick up his laptop that had been brought for him from the US by a friend.
So we were five: Andrew, Tony, Laurel, Liz, and I. We were tired after a week of full-time relaxing: eating shellfish for breakfast, body surfing for hours, going shoeless for days.
It was going to be work adjusting the rigors of work back in Nepal. We slouched and ended up getting an AC cabin back to Gorakhpur.
It felt strange saying our goodbyes when Wednesday came around since most of us would be meeting again in Kathmandu on either Sunday or Monday; however, thinking of how long and tiresome the trip was ahead of us it seemed like we’d never ‘get there.’
And we left, one foot in front of another, with four or so days of traveling still ahead of us