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Published: February 23rd 2020
It was already 1am when I was confronted by an event I had never experienced before. I was completely alone in India. I was in Panaji, Goa standing under a dim streetlight. A few moments earlier I had motioned for the taxi driver to drive away. I wanted to figure this situation out on my own. Solitary, I stood there in the empty streets of the old Latin Quarter in front of the vivid green building. I pounded on the gigantic wooden colonial door with great solid thuds. Eventually, the door creaked open and I was beckoned inside. I was definitely not in Uttar Pradesh anymore.
I had spent the previous day in and out of airplanes and airports. A flight from Varanasi, a connection in Mumbai, and a landing in Goa. Actually, the bulk of my time was spent in the Mumbai airport. An already long layover was prolonged deep into the night with numerous delays. So I made the terminal my home for a while. After a week of being a vegetarian in Varanasi I was ravenous. I am afraid the Burger King in Mumbai Airport might never be the same after the carnage I inflicted. It was
quite the messy scene. The KFC took it on the chin as well.
There was also a triumphant successful use of a squat toilet, as all the western style toilets were constantly in use. I don’t mind admitting that I felt as proud as a newly potty-trained toddler. Take that India. As night fell, I found a secluded area surrounded by potted plants and just chilled out. When my flight to Goa was finally called I saw that the flight was almost half westerners. Many tourists escaping the chaos of India for some hoped for tranquility.
Once in Goa, even the taxi ride to the hotel felt different. Driving along grass covered lanes and the feeling of quiet as dark seas loomed in the distance. It felt like I was on a late night drive back to my summer house after a trip to the movies deep in July. After getting checked in, I sunk down into the comfortable king sized bed of my boutique hotel. Ahhhh. I needed this.
After a very restful sleep and a delightful culinary breakfast, Goan sausage included, I was out the door and exploring. I was staying in the Goan capital
of Panaji. The city felt so different from the India I knew. I guess that makes sense given the fact that the state of Goa was technically Portuguese until 1961. Unlike with the British and the rest of India, Portugal had to be “persuaded” to vacate by the full force of the Indian army. I wouldn’t have left Goa voluntarily if I was the Portuguese either. This place was gorgeous.
I was staying in Fontainhas, the old Latin quarter. All the buildings were old colonial buildings built with a Portuguese flavor. Unlike dusty old Varanasi I found myself surrounded by bright green flora which paired well with the eclecticly colored Portuguese buildings. I didn’t have any specific plans besides sauntering around seeing the old architecture and taking in life in the capital. Just around the corner was the St. Sebastian chapel. It had a charming white washed exterior. Inside however was a mess with timbers on the floor. There was a donation box at the center of the chapel to help pay for the battle against the termites who were eating the old wooden roof. I took it for a sign of the fading of Catholicism’s influence in the
My next destination was the gorgeous and imposing Church of the Immaculate Conception in the town center. It was built in 1541. It hovered above the city like a bright white relic of the past. I made my way up its grand multi-direction staircase, but unfortunately found it temporarily locked. No matter, I found a nice nearby park with an attractive fountain in the middle. I felt a bit like I was back in South America, except with Indian people wandering about. But not many of them, in fact there was none of the stopping and staring found in other parts of India.
I chose a park bench, put on some mellow tunes, and breathed a sigh of relieved contentment. Soon a group of seven schoolboys wandered in and gathered around the fountain. They were about 13 or 14 years old. I noticed a couple of them looking my way. Eventually, one them walked over and sat next to me on the bench but said nothing. He just grinned. It was a grin that screamed to his friends, “Look. How brave I am to sit next to this gigantic foreigner!”
I said hello. This encouraged another
boy to come over who unlike the first boy was quite talkative. Soon enough all seven boys gathered around. It turns out it was this was their lunch hour from a nearby school. I told them I was a teacher. We discussed a wide range of subjects from school and language to singing and sport. Surprisingly, the best cricket batsmen among them declared that the Aussies were superior cricketers to the Indians. They were big fans of IPL cricket. They told me that next week there would be a huge carnival parade nearby and that I should definitely go. I must have of carried on talking with the group for at least twenty minutes.
All good things must come to an end though and I informed them it was time for me to go. As I left the park I passed a bus full of school girls. There was a great deal of ooohs and titters coming from inside the vehicle. I just smiled and did a theatrical showing of jazz hands, which was met with cheers and laughter. A local celebrity for a day was I.
A short time later I wound up at a local pizzeria
for lunch. The people inside were just normal teenagers having a bite to eat. It simply was a delightfully mellow town. I was back. Back in civilization. Once again I had access to supermarkets, meat, and ATMs. There was a secure safe in my room. It was all there for me to relax and enjoy.
On my way back to the hotel I came across a sign advertising for a local Indian doctor. Apparently he dealt with sexual issues. He listed some examples of things he could help with: lack of erections, infertility, herpes, syphilis, loss of penis. Loss of Penis?! Just what is it that people get up to around here?
I ate dinner at the recommended Anandashram restaurant under a crazy powerful fan. It was definitely spartan, but in a way it had a tremendous power of place. It was a real working man’s eatery. I think a lot of India’s local restaurants are like that. No frills, just a bunch of tables and bountiful amounts of cheap food. The special thali I ordered came super-fast. It consisted of a fish fry, special clams and Bombay Duck. Bombay Duck is actually a kind of local lizardfish
which was given its colorful nickname by Colonial Brits. Anyway, I scarfed it all down in what I found to be the perfect environment for the solo traveler.
Darkness had fallen in Panaji. On the way back I wandered through the streets of the languid tropical town. There were families gathering on the hill, where the Church of the Immaculate Conception sat bathed in bright white lights. In the shadows sat couples whispering in each other’s ears. The magic was in the swaying of the Gulmohar trees.
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