Buttercup is a newborn and we are taking her on a 5000 KM journey from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari
The Palolem Microcosm
To the beach.. to the beach.. ( chant with me) .. to the beach.. to the beach. The next three days was what I was looking forward to most in our entire vacation, my favourite beach in south Goa, warm waters, sand between my toes and afternoons with cold cold kings beer. I could barely sit still on buttercup, on the ride from Aldona, I wanted to jump up and down in excitement. But I refrained so we reach in one piece.
But boy has Goa changed. The last time the Other and I were here, we stayed at Palolem but hired bikes and spent a few days exploring the beaches and forts of central and north Goa. We remembered a winding single lane road, with no traffic. There were no smart phones then, we navigated without GPS, we explored without the million sites telling us where to go, advisors, comments and ratings. Seems like a different life time altogether.
The road from Palolem to Panjim was a winding tree lined road, the whole of Goa had one traffic signal which we never found. We would often stop to ask for directions and the answer would always be the same… go to straight, and then go to straight some more and then if you go straight from there you will arrive at your destination.
Wish I could have frozen the Goa of then. The Goa of now is still amazing but has a 4 lane highway connecting north to south. It was still pleasant, and some of it was on the ghats, but there is a certain clinical impersonality that comes with modernisation and infrastructure planned for the future, the charm is lost on the way. Collateral damage in the name of development I suppose.
We stopped for tea in 2.5 hours just outside of Palolem, and I was hopping from one foot to the other, it was time to get into the water. There is apparently a name for someone who loves the sea as much as me.. thalassophile.. that’s what I am. Thalassophile and proud.
I tried to visually motivate the other to drink his tea faster, but he sipped, stretched and decided to look at a newspapaer.. aaargh… But the boy rides, the boy needs his rest. I can’t complain, I am being chauffeured along the length of the country, for 6500 KMs.
A few excruciating minutes later we were off, and I could begin to feel the sea. The wind changed, there was salt in the air. And just a few kilometres later we turned off the higway onto a into a smaller road, towards the beach.
This road was a road of the old, narrow, winding and tree lined, but Palolem had also changed, the road to the beach was lined with shops selling colourful clothes (sarongs, dresses and other outfits only foreigners wear on Indian beaches, clothes nobody wears outside of the beaches), cafes selling health juices and smoothies, yoga and massage places and a even a Fab India. I was amused and surprised by this, a tiny airconditioned tinned roof structure, fab India the shack version, closely followed by coffee day the shack version.
The entrance of the beach is marked witch a concrete arch, around which there are a few shops selling the essentials like soap, water, medicines and vendors selling corn and cotton candy. This is also where you park your bike if you are here for a day trip and where you can rent bikes for the day. Palolem is one place where we couldn’t fill our water bottles with filtered water and were forced to buy bottled water. This is something we had avoided as much as we could through the trip as we would have left a very permanent plastic trail in our wake, one which would have outlasted us.
The entrance is a good place to buy a 10 litre can of water to last you for a few days. Despite that, we left a considerable pile of bottles when we left. If the government made potable water for all a norm, we could cut down on so much plastic.
The entrance is a busy place of business. The minute we rode up on buttercup with our luggage we were surrounded by 5 local boys promising us the best shack at the best rate. One guy stood out from the others, he was a smooth talker and told us that his beach shack had parking and buttercup would be safe. This was the Other’s biggest worry in staying on the beach, that we would wake up one day and not have Buttercup, and for that very reason we picked the smooth talker and decided to stay at the shack he recommended – Dcosta Cottages. As the other waited with the bike and bags I went with him to check out the shack. He spoke English with an accent, as he would have learnt it from the tourists, and new what exactly to sell to us, clean towels madam, good wifi madam….
Once you enter the beach, the beautiful crescent shaped bay, there are shacks that line its edges on both sides of the entrance, which is sort of the centre. Dcosta was on the right of the entrance, with a great semi open restaurant that overlooked the sea. The shacks were basic, clean and the toilets functioned. They say they have wi-fi but it really doesn’t work. There is also no cleaning service, you might have to ask for it the longer you stay as it is inevitable that the shack will get filled with sand, by the time we left our shack was more beach and less floor. If you can also carry your own sheets. On the plus point each shack comes with a nice sit out from where you can enjoy the beach when you are not on it. All that being said it is a great deal for 1000rs a night, you get to fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the waves.
The Other brought buttercup around the back, and we were unpacked, in our beachwear and in the water before you could say hey. I haven’t been to that many beaches, but of the few that I have been to this one remains my favourite. The shape of the bay ensures that the water is very very calm this time of the year. The temperature is perfect and it is not too deep, it is around 6 feet for quite a while, and they also have a life guard who will blow his whistle if you swim too far out. The curved beach is lined with palm trees and colourful shacks.
Each shack has its own restaurant and at night they set up candle lit tables on the beaches. It is nothing short of paradise.
The other and I were in our own world, it was us and the ocean, but that is also because Palolem is its own world.
Goa has always been an international destination, but Palolem in particular attracts a lot of foreigners and hardly any Indians. Both the times I had come before we were the only Indian tourists who stayed there. There are a few who came/come on day trips to enjoy the ocean, but I don’t think a beach shack vacation is one that the average Indian likes. Perhaps its the lack of hotels which deters certain types of tourists.
I remember a few years ago, I was at kudle beach, at Gokarna, and had called my mom to tell her we had survived a treacherous bus journey and reached safely. She very sweetly asked me how the resort was. I realised then that she had no idea what a shack was or what these beaches were like. I went back and explained the whole experience of staying on the beach, under the trees in temporary structures to her. I was excited and wanted her to see how amazing it was, she was polite. I have no idea what she really thought, I wonder if I could bring my parents here, no room service and sketchy plumbing,.. hmmmm 🙂
Over the years, with a large number of international visitors, Palolem has now developed into a separate universe of it own. You don’t feel like you are in Goa, or India when you are there. You don’t feel like you are any country, there are just so many different people, different colours, sizes, tattoos, piercings, dreadlocks, hippies, families, investment bankers on a sabbatical, a young couple on their honeymoon (that’s us), a privileged yet confused kid trying to figure out life in a self destructive manner, students on holiday, and a lot of well wed dogs and cows… Every demographic was covered. This was a great amalgamation of many cultures to create a homogenous one, not belonging anywhere.
There were many microcultures too, solo travellers who had formed groups, yoga enthusiasts, hippies, and what I like to call the lost children. These were mainly youngsters, between 18 – 23 who lacked life experience and were thoroughly confused, had no pies to put their fingers into, were anti – establishment, actually they were pretty much anti – everything.
I was discussing the lost children with a very intelligent Lebanese girl we met in the next leg of our trip, she had also just come from Goa, and she had hated it. She was stuck with the inward looking confused lot, and was upset with their sense of entitlement. She described them in a nutshell…
” They all wake up, do some yoga.. say Namaste Namaste… drink a avocado smoothie, and in the evenings they chillllllllllll” And then do this the next day, and everyday after that.
By chill, she meant pot. I could not stop laughing, this is the most succinct description I have ever head.
The microcosm also meant that there was no goan flavour to the food. All the shacks served very similar food – a mix of israeli ( hummous, pita ), pizzas, burgers, indo -chinese, and Indian. D’Costa had great food, especially the momos and thupka as it was run by Nepalis so we didn’t experiment much with the others. We were happy to eat here most of the time.
One of my favourites was a dish called chips chilly – which is refried French fries with some sort of brown sauce/ Manchurian sauce, some veggies and lots and lots of chillies. Unhealthy but so much yumminess in one plate.
We mostly stayed close to our shack, except for our last night when we ventured to the western end of the beach to eat Thai food, in the same restuarant we had eaten in 9 years ago. This restaurant is really just a few tables under a banyan tree and is named after the tree too.
The one draw back in this microcosm is that there is a very weird racism. The other and I were the Indian couple, and the service we got at D’Costa was very different from the americans and europeans. While they would be greeted with a good morning Jessica / Brian.. how was your yoga today, we would get a curt nod and slow service. A fellow traveller we met at Dholavira told us that talking with a British accent got him great service in Goa. The colonial days are not over I guess.
We spent three magical days soaking in the sun and sea and drinking way too much beer.. this was our typical day in pictures.
wake up to the sound of the waves, head to the restaurant for brekkie
Swim for a couple of hours
get out and chill with some cold beer and lunch
take a bit of a nap
swim again, watch the sunset from the water or the beach
Kayak or take a long walk
sit on the beach under the stars and enjoy a long dinner and fall asleep to the sound of the waves
The shape of the bay is what keeps the water calm and swimmable, but also allows for the water to retreat at low tide, allowing you to walk across to the island at the edge of the beach. The beach at this time is bathed with the after light of the sun that has just disappeared and it glows.
This is also when the crabs come out. thousands of them, I don’t know where they hide during the day, but the evening is theirs and they make wonderful patterns on the beach.
On one of the days we were there, we took a kayak out to watch the sunset from the water. as we paddled further and further from shore, we heard nothing but the splash of our paddles and I looked down to see a giant pink jelly fish. These were not the cute white ones we saw at mandvi ( read post – https://aninsightfulnut.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/the-beach-is-calling-a-piece-of-paradise/) these were almost 2 feet long and looked lethal. We moved forward and soon realised that there were many of them. Falling in would be very very painful. In a bout of overconfidence we had also not taken the life jackets. We were good swimmers after all. Stupid stupid stupid… We rowed further and I looked back, there was no way I could swim back from here, made me overwhelmed. I was so tiny in this world, so insignificant in nature’s scheme of things. We idled the kayak for a while and admired the view while waiting for the sun to dip down and paint the water myriad colours. I was lost in a reverie when I heard something and I jumped with a start. There was a dolphin 20 feet from us, followed by abother and then another. We were in the middle of a school, and they were moving away.. making noise, twirling in the air and putting on a show. It was magical, I was transfixed. We watched the last one jump up a few feet out of the water, do a little piroutte and disappear. We didn’t see or hear them after that.
Wow… thats all I could say. My heart was hammering, nothing prepared me for this experience, we didnt have our cameras in the water, it is just a mental picture but a memory to last a lifetime.
The sunset though magnificent, paled in comparision to our experience with the dolphins. Once the orange ball dipped out of site, we turned the kayak around and made our way back to land stopping now and then as an etheral pink jelly fish swam under us. I had been getting stung every now and then in the water closer to the shore and wondered if it was jelly fish. Google revelaed that climate change was attracting jelly fish closer and closer to the shores in Goa, and there were increased reports of swimmers getting stung. I hope the beaches dont get unswimmable, I hope we set things right.
Our last night in Palolem was ruined by a terrible set of neighbours. When we first moved in, we had some quiet east Europeans, who would smoke up all day and lie on the beach and were very very quiet. They were followed by a young german couple with a guitar. That boy could not strum or sing to save his life, infact him being on the guitar was a danger to everyone elses’ sanity. He began to bray at midnight and it was as if he was singing from inside our shack. We tried covering our ears with pillows, but nothing worked. After much tossing and turning the other stormed out and glared at them. They very sweetly asked if they were loud , and with a curt yes he walked back in. Phew… there was quiet after that and we could sleep. There is nothing as sweet as the sleep that comes after a bit of a struggle…
Goodbye Palolem and Goa.. it is time now to go to the next state – Karnataka, which is offcourse my next post.