Goa. It’s everything it’s cracked up to be. OK, it probably was cooler in the seventies, before the package tourists arrived, it’s now unashamedly a tourist destination, especially for the Russians and Brits; and things are a little dearer than here in A’bad, but its still amazingly and refreshingly good to see green trees and rice paddies, to feel a salty ocean breeze on your sun-drenched skin, and dunk yourself in the warm Arabian Sea!
A short (and very cheap) flight takes my friend and fellow Aussie volunteer Luci and I from the dryness and dustiness of Ahmedabad straight to heaven. Dabolim Airport is tiny yet ferocious – its an Air Force base as well so lots of security Indian style… and definitely no photos! Half an hour in a taxi, quick stop at a wine store, and we arrive in Benaulim Village. We’ve opted for South Goa, the quiet end of what is a tiny state with the capital, Panjim, and airport in the middle, and are staying at a small family run guesthouse about ten minutes walk from the village. Clean, welcoming, and oh my, a hot shower that runs whenever you want it to! I’m not sure if I have mentioned that the water only runs for about twenty minutes in the morning at home, and cold at that, so this is additional bliss for me, even more so for Luci who is staying in one of the volunteer houses where its a bucket bath or nothing!
Goa only gained independence from the Portuguese about fifty years ago and the influence remains strong. Mostly Catholic, many Portuguese names, lots of small roadside chapels and shrines. The houses are a riot of colour, built of large cubes of porous volcanic rock and plastered, with deep verandahs and flat terrace roofs.
There are dogs, chickens, pigs and buffaloes wandering around willy nilly, and the favoured mode of transport is by scooter or motorbike. Helmets are optional. I think I saw one person wearing one! Our host, Caetano, a skinny dude with a huge smile, arranges a scooter for me which arrives the next morning, and my first stop is for petrol.
First stop is breakfast at Palm Groov… yes, that is supposed to be Palm Grove, but its marked on the map as Groov so thats what it remained for us. Second stop, and we can hardly wait, is the beach! It’s about a kilometre from the village along a narrow road lined with the mornings catch drying in the hot sun on the tarmac, and impermanent looking fishermen’s huts close to the beach.
To the back of this picture you can see a pile of reddish volcanic blocks, this is the building material of choice in Goa. Neat.
Benaulim is the longest beach in Goa, twenty-five miles of wide flat sand with clusters of fishing boats dotted along it, and temporary bamboo and palm frond bars, restaurants, and shacks up under the palm trees edging it. It is beautiful… but once again, I have to say that living in SE Queensland simply ruins you in terms of appreciating a beach anywhere else, this is great, but Maroochydore Beach is better! Beats the hell out of Burnham beach though…We don’t really care, its a beach, the suns shining, and the water is delightfully warm- we practically run in and splash like kids, there’s no surf, but hey, this is the Arabian Sea, another new ocean I’ve got my feet into. I am VERY EXCITED.
We are at the quieter end of Benaulim, but there is a resort up behind the palms that appears to be a favourite with the Russians, we come to call this stretch Russian Beach. The youngsters are tattooed and almost naked, the oldie’s are almost all very fat, also almost naked (an unfortunate choice), and very very very sunburnt. Round red Russian women wearing headscarfs and bikini’s hike along the waters edge looking grim. Why do Russians always look so grim? The locals don’t like them much, Caetano told us that the worst thing is they drink far too much rum, can’t handle it, and fight all the time!
In the afternoon we make our way through the village and down to the beach again, finding a little piece of Paradise called Blue Corner thats been recommended to us. It’s as good as we were told, again a temporary structure built each year for the season because the monsoon tides and storms will wash everything away. Comfortable reclining seats under a palm thatch roof facing the ocean, truly delicious food cooked behind the bar, gin and tonic, watching the sun set into the ocean. There are six or seven shacks behind the bar for rent, and we both think it would be wonderful to stay there and sleep with the sound of the ocean… three times as expensive as our lovely Mango Grove but that still only means $30AUD a night. Next time. The sunset is magnificent, but the flying bugs aren’t riding back up through the village… keep your mouth closed!
We only have three days here, and decide to rent a car and driver to take us up to Anjuna flea markets and then back to Panjim the next day. Anjuna, in North Goa, was the original hippie hangout way back when, and the markets have developed into a massive Wednesday sprawl across a field behind the ocean. Lonely Planet, and I quote, says “you will never want to see another floaty Indian top, brass figurine, or wood carving again” and they are right… it’s acres of same same, thronged with more red and perspiring tourists and persistent vendors. We do find a few bargains though, ‘morning prices’, pays to get there early not only because of the heat, I come away with a Tibetan Singing Bowl of all things. We have shared our car with a child called Sophie. She’s staying at Mango Grove and to me, doesn’t look old enough to be out on her own in her native Berlin let alone India, but there are a lot of kids doing the back packer thing and she is very sweet.
We stop for lunch and a quick look at the Catholic Cathedral in Panjim on our way south again. I’m so disappointed with lunch – I had read really good reviews of a restaurant called The Upper House, and although the location was good, the AC was welcome, and it was spotless, the food was no better than we had been eating elsewhere for a quarter of the price. The Goan speciality is Fish Curry Rice and I’ve become rather fond of it in just two days, the seafood generally is exceptionally good. It’s good to get back to sleepy Benaulim and another lazy afternoon on the beach although this time we get involved with the lovely Teena. Teena is 25, has three kids, and is determined to sell us something. At least she has the sales knowledge to have a chat and make friends before beginning to spread her bundle of jewellery and sarongs over Luci’s leg! Pedicure for me. I’m sorry, I love having a pedicure, and the state your feet get into in Ahmedabad makes it more of a necessity than a luxury. (My feet get so dry and manky that most nights I refuse to let them get into bed with me till they have a scrub and a liberal dollop of the Body Shops finest butter, and are then encased in plastic bags. Eeugh.)
Glorious Goa. I will be Goan back.