...Where the wildlife is a real hoot
04.02.2010 - 17.02.2010 33 °C
It’s official: This trip to India, which has always been completely different from our previous visit and corresponding expectations, looks set to end that way too. We travelled directly from Cochin, Kerala to Palolem, Goa by overnight train about 12 days ago—spending five days in Palolem before moving to a quieter beach nearby called Agonda—and have discovered that the living here in Goa is almost as easy as it was in Kerala. Since our trip will end in Goa (not counting three final days in Mumbai), it seems this is as hard as it gets.
In Palolem, we stayed at a small guesthouse run by some quirky people. There was a man who sat outside all evening long whose main assignment seemed to be to electrocute flies and mosquitoes with his tennis-racket-style bug zapper. I went to sleep every night listening to the sharp buzzing sounds of flying insects being put to untimely deaths, and every morning, I picked my way carefully among the hundreds of juicy fly corpses on the ground as I left the hotel for breakfast. There were another two men who slept on a mat underneath the stairs all afternoon—all you could see were their calves and feet sticking out as you climbed to the second floor. I was never able to ascertain what their actual jobs were. Every day, the manager would ask solicitously if I’d like my room cleaned, and every day, I would say yes, I would, and could I please have some clean towels? And every day, no room cleaning would take place and no clean towels ever arrived.
The beach at Palolem was long and clean by Goan standards, although not as clean as those in Kerala or here at Agonda. Unlike in Kerala, there were no lifeguards or tourist police on duty. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hard to catch people tossing empty plastic water bottles or ice cream cone wrappers onto the sand, either—locals and tourists alike. But it was the dogs that finally turned me off of swimming. There were dozens and dozens of them roaming the beach, making little nasty deposits all over the place. The tide sweeps in and collects it. Am I going to swim in that water? I would, if I had to save a drowning child, but other than that…Everyone else seemed to think it was fine—and yes, I do understand some of the science behind how the brine of the ocean naturally breaks these things down and keeps the water safe—but it’s a mind-over-matter issue and I remain unpersuaded.
There were some excellent restaurants in Palolem, which was convenient since we celebrated my birthday there. Although in the end we decided as a family that our favourite restaurant was Magic Italy, run by an Italian chef, there was no doubt that the place to be for my birthday dinner would be Ciaran’s—spelled exactly that way, and right on the beach, perfect for the several sunset margaritas I ordered.
I’m also pleased to report that we’ve finally seen cows. We’d been regaling the kids for months with stories of how, when they got to India, they’d finally get to see cows on the loose, wandering the streets together with the motorcycles, rickshaws, taxis and food vendors, eating the garbage, making their placid way around, seemingly oblivious to trivialities like roaring traffic. But we saw no such cows across most of Kerala—not until we reached Cochin, anyway. So we’re happy to report that there are indeed cows on the loose in Palolem and Agonda. They even visit the beach from time to time. The other morning we were eating at a restaurant when a cow ambled in and started licking the tandoori counter. He was able to get at least a full minute of passionate, deeply appreciative licking in before someone noticed and ushered him out. The kids are amused by this to no end.
Agonda is about as close as I imagine India comes to an idyllic beach. The sand is wide, long and clean—much cleaner than in Palolem—and the tourists are comparatively few. The town, if you can even call it that, is quiet, with just one dirt road running through it. We’re staying in a bamboo shack right on the sand. It is pretty spectacular (the scenery, that is; the shack, not so much). We do have some strange companions, though. My immediate next-door neighbour is an older woman whom the locals call “mama” ; she has settled in here for three months, seemingly with the purpose of drinking herself into oblivion a la Leaving Las Vegas. The cabin in front of mine contains a single, older, dour English woman who is extremely and persistently vocal about what she dislikes about the place, which seems to be virtually everything. One hut down from her is a couple in their mid-twenties who fight, yelling and swearing at each other loudly, every day.
It’s not difficult to avoid these people, however, since we’re often out at the beach or in a restaurant. We met an English family on our first day—a woman travelling on her own with two kids, a boy and a girl similar in age to Chloe and Ciaran—and we often hook up with them for some beach time and dinner. Agonda is really pretty fabulous, even though there are still dogs on the beach (in smaller numbers than at Palolem, thank goodness).
There won’t be many more blog entries. There were hill stations, wildlife sanctuaries, palaces and temples we thought of travelling to see, but in the end we elected to idle our last ten days away here in Agonda. An attitude has set in that I can only describe as, “We’ve come this far, let’s not die in a fiery bus crash two weeks before we’re due home.” So we’ve eschewed the dozens of hours on rail lines and highways that it would have taken to reach the places we regretfully struck from our list—such as Ooty, Mysore and Hampi—and are spending our last days playing in the surf instead.
With the trip nearing an end, there are hundreds of things that I will miss—too many to start listing just now. Among them would be the dozens of funny moments we experience every day, many of them having to do with animals. For example, just now as I was about to take a sip of my coffee, a large black pig covered in slick dark mud came barrelling into the restaurant full-tilt, and was chased out by the resident dogs. Only in India…
We have just a few more days here in Agonda before we head to Panjim and Old Goa for two days. We’ll then spend a night on a sleeper train travelling to Mumbai, and spend three days there before boarding our flight home to Canada. It’s unlikely that I’ll have time to add another update here about Mumbai until I’m home, and even then I may never get around to it, although I do eventually hope to post some sort of closing account of the best and worst moments of the trip and what we all got out of it. I hope the blog has been fun to read! Now, off to hit the beach one or two last times…