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Published: January 26th 2012
WE TOOK THE TRAIN SOUTH TO PANIJI, the capital of Goa, and spent the night there since we arrived late at night. We didn’t have a hotel booked but luckily we made a friend on the train who was willing to drive us around to a couple of places until we found one. Paniji is exactly the type of town Gabriel Garcia Marquez would write about - full of crumbling Portuguese mansions and thick palm groves. In the morning after a lunch of fresh fish and white rice we took a local bus to the hippie beach town of Arambol. As soon as we climbed off the bus we realized we were in a very different India. Tanned bodies blitzed by on motorbikes and the scent of patchouli punctuated the air. Cafes, bars, and stores selling silk harem pants and cheap beachwear lined the orange dirt road. The beach itself was wide and flat extending for several miles. Dotted along the beach were dozens of restaurants. Young 20 somethings with sunburnt skin and half baked eyes laid sprawled out everywhere.It was hippie heaven.
We spent a fairly uneventful 5 days in Arambol eating seafood with our toes in the sand,
soaking up the sun and swimming in the perfectly curled waves. On our second day there we found a hidden little beach in a cove around the bend from the main beach (called Lakeside beach) which became our stomping ground. We were on our way there one day when an Indian man approached us and stopped to talk to us. We paused and smiled just long enough to not be rude. It was a bad decision - in one swift motion the man took a small metal stick out of his pocket, stuck it deep into Travis’ ear, and scraped it around in a small circle. He pulled out the stick and proudly displayed the wax that he had accumulated on it. His friend shoved a piece of paper in my hand that read, “professional ear cleaner.” He was already going back in for a second helping when I realized what was happening and warned Travis just in time.
Hawkers are numerous and aggressive in India. No matter where you are or what you are doing there is always someone trying to sell you something. It may be a large ceramic vase when you’re stuck in traffic in the
back of a tuk tuk or leather belt at the train station. It could be fruit through the window of a bus or a massage while walking down the street with a 14 kilo pack on your back. Arambol is no exception. One afternoon we were lazily soaking up the sun and talking to our new friend Jutta at Lakeside Beach when some local women came over to try and sell us scarves. We declined repeatedly, in every way we knew how but the women were persistent. Finally, Jutta struck a deal with them - she wasn’t going to buy a scarf herself, but she would attempt to sell one to someone else. She picked up the stack of scarves and strutted over to her chosen victims, a group of young Indian guys, and proceeded to give them the hard sell using each and every line we have heard over and over again since arriving in India. “I give you good price…you are my first customer of the day…I give you Indian price, really…Buy one - for good luck… Just one small sale… Good for me, good for you...” Just then another hawker walked up trying to sell us some
jewelry. Jutta turned on the unsuspecting saleswoman delivering all the same lines. At first she looked confused but then she broke into a wide, cheerful smile. By this time a small crowd had gathered around us and everyone was doubled over in laughter. After that day the hawkers on that beach rarely bothered us except to come over and say hello.
One afternoon we decided to walk over to another, more serene beach called Mandrem. We had lunch at a beach side place and then explored an abandoned building nearby. Afterwards we laid on the beach drinking pina coladas. Walking back that afternoon I began to feel sick. By the time we had reached the hotel I knew I was in for it. The dreaded Delhi Belly had struck. The next 7 hours were a blur of hallucinatory hot flashes, puke, and other unmentionable things. It was bad. Although the episode only lasted one night I was completely wiped out the following few days and in no mood to be in the sun. We decided to stay in Arambol a few days longer until I recovered.
When I was finally feeling up to par again we took a
van south to a much smaller and less frequented beach called Agonda, which is where we spent our Christmas. Agonda consisted of nothing more than a single red dirt road lined with hole in the wall restaurants, each proudly displaying their fresh catches of the day. The beach was similar to that of Arambol but with a much higher cow to person ratio. The people that were here were of a different variety as well, older and relaxed, which I was glad for. Here we resumed what we had taken a break from in Arambol – drinking cheap Kingfisher beers and reading books in the sun. One afternoon we rented a motorbike and drove down the coast to see what we could find. The Goan countryside was incredibly lush – there were thick forests of palm trees, green terraced fields, and large crumbling mansions with wide verandahs. As we passed by kids ran up to the road smiling and waving. Towards late afternoon we discovered a stunning stretch of empty beach called Galgibah, which was completely empty save for one small restaurant in the sand (endorsed by Gordon Ramsey according to the sign). We stopped for a Kingfisher and a
lime soda and then splashed around in the water. It was really fun to spend the afternoon there completely alone with the roaring waves and golden sand.
According to the schedule we had made we were supposed to take a train at midnight on Christmas eve to continue South to the state of Kerala. We waited around all day and then left for the train station right as most of the town was headed to midnight mass at the local church. Something we had not realized before arriving was that a sizeable percentage of South Indians are Christian, so this was a very busy time for them. Many Indian families have a month off around Christmas and New Years and choose to spend it in the tropical southern half of their country. Given this, we went all the way to the train station only to find that the train was full. Although disappointed at first this ended up working out well. Now we were able to relax on Christmas day and celebrate in some manner other than sitting on a train. We slept in late, lounged in the sun, ate a delicious seafood dinner and then met my family
on Skype to watch the Christmas morning chaos unfold. We even got to watch as they unwrapped the gifts that we had bought them from all over Asia and explain where/how we had acquired them. A couple hours later we repeated this again with Travis’ family. It was really cool that we were able to participate in this important family tradition in southern Wisconsin and then minutes later sip a glass of red wine while listening to the waves of the Arabian Sea crash on the beach. I was a little sad to not be with my family, but all in all, it was not a bad way to spend Christmas day.
To see more pics from this area see: http://www.flickr.com/thejarvisproject
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