Who would have thought our desire to spend more time in one place and not travel around all the time would be fulfilled so soon … ? ;-)
Halfway 2019, after 2,5 years of travelling, we had been thinking and talking about slowing down, maybe stop travelling for some time, find a nice place to stay and maybe try to find fun people to work with in 2020. In Raja Ampat we came up with an idea to help someone out with his tourism business but then at the end of 2019 we were approached by another person with the question: “would you be interested to work in Maldives and manage a guesthouse?”
These were all very preliminary ideas and first we would end 2019 and start 2020 in the Philippines with a fun holiday with friends. In the Philippines we heard about the new Corona virus for the first time but we flew to India without any problem and then to the Maldives to meet with Habeeb, a successful tourism business owner in Maldives, who showed us around at a few of the paradise islands and with whom we concluded on a positive note expecting to be able
to work for him some time in 2020. During our two weeks in Maldives already news about COVID-19 became more prominent and there were even already worrying messages about the negative impact this new virus could have on the tourism industry in Maldives. We flew back to India and found that at that moment travellers coming from some Asian countries were temperature checked and we ourselves had to fill in some kind of form with our travel history and stating that we were healthy. It was all a bit weird …
We spent two beautiful worry free weeks in Varkala (Kerala, South India) and then Judith started the Yoga Teacher Training Course. After almost three years of travelling and being together every single day and night, we thought it would be best if Merijn would not be at the same place so that Judith could focus on the YTTC. So Merijn decided to just find something to do for a few weeks and left to Goa. On the train station of Trivandrum he was picked out of the crowd and temperature checked. This felt a bit weird as it was clearly only foreigners they were testing but his temperature
was fine and there was no problem.
Judith spent three amazing weeks in a small place called Kappil beach, close to Varkala, at a yoga shala with sea view and sometimes dolphins showing themselves in the waves in front of the beach during the course. It was blood, sweat and tears and Judith really loved the course and her classmates from all over the world became special friends. It was very intense and interesting, beautiful and emotional and she left as a happy certified Yoga teacher.
Merijn in the meanwhile spent three weeks helping a Dutch couple, Anouk and Lenny, building a bar/restaurant in the jungle of Agonda in South Goa. This was a great and fun experience during which Merijn worked with his hands, helped build a bar and constructed bamboo furniture from scratch with no previous experience nor knowledge and only a picture downloaded as an example. It was great to live in Goa for a few weeks, to go out with Anouk and Lenny to restaurants and bars where Lenny sometimes played music and to get to know a lot of people.
Goa, being one of our favourite places in the world, was where
we reunited. We first spent a week or two in Agonda. Then we moved to Palolem of which we had fond memories. In Palolem we reconnected with Danny and Deni, a British couple we had met the year before at Tioman in Malaysia. It was great to meet them again, we go out, drink and dance, eat sushi, drink some more, have a sunday roast and we quickly got to talk about the possibility for Judith to start teaching a few yoga classes at the resort they were running. This was truly wonderful and easily decided.
During these weeks more and more it became clear that COVID-19 was creeping everywhere and taking over the world, and most probably it was already infecting people also in India. Tourists were cancelling flights to come to Goa and bookings were cancelled or people just did not show up. After a good start with teaching yoga classes, at a certain point there were just not enough people attending and the classes were put on hold. The resort was getting empty and we moved into the resort for the remaining possible time of the season so that we could help Danny and Deni with
their business, marketing, strategy and whatever we could think of.
Quite suddenly things happened in a quicker sequence. The people remaining in Goa were becoming more and more nervous … do we stay or do we go? There was some talking about the possibility of flights that would be halted and possibly even borders would be sealed. Danny and Deni decided to leave, for several reasons they could not risk being stuck for a long time in India. We decided to stay and wait it out. Danny and Deni booked one of the last possible flights and left the next day.
The health situation in Goa was very hopeful from the beginning. There were not a lot of cases and Goa is a rather small state with relatively a small number of citizens. It is also a rather modern and liberal state because of its history, with some Portuguese heritage including great fresh bread and a good mix of religions. Goans are used to foreigners because the state depends for a great deal on tourism. But Goa does not have the best healthcare infrastructure so that was one of the risks we had to take when deciding where
to sit out the Corona crisis. The state government has been extremely active and aggressive in the fight with the virus.
We directly started housesitting for Danny and Deni (#lockeddown #stayhome for us) and moved into the apartment in Patnem, one of our favourite places in India, and did some shopping because now we had a kitchen and there were strong rumours restaurants would possibly be shut down and there would be a so called lockdown of one day. Well the one-day national lockdown was announced and happened the following day. It was a real curfew, nobody was allowed outside and everything was closed. At the end of the one-day lockdown it was announced to continue for two more days. While the first day it was rather easy to comply for almost everybody, the now extended lockdown immediately had some practical consequences for some people, for example people who had no kitchen, no fridge and no food. Then the government announced the lockdown to continue with a 21-day-long national lockdown. All international borders were closed, no flights were allowed to depart or land. The country of 1,3 billion people came to a standstill.
Although it did feel a
bit unreal, we had accepted our situation and made the best of it. We had moved to the apartment in time and had done our shopping wisely. We had plenty of food, the necessary staples, canned vegetables and tuna and a water filter for unlimited amounts of water to drink. We enjoy sitting at one of two balconies so we don’t feel like living inside the whole time. The first 21 days were a bit difficult in the beginning because the state government had decided to close the state borders and there was no supply of food from other states possible even after the essential stores were opened. We were allowed to go outside for a few hours to buy the essentials that were sold in a select number of stores that were allowed to open. All other stores were to remain closed, markets were closed, there was no fishing allowed, there was no transport of meat or vegetables from other states, meaning there was literally nothing left after only a few days.
The food shortage rapidly became a bigger problem in the state of Goa than the virus itself. Goa from the beginning had only a few cases
but now people had no food. The hardest hit were the migrant workers, who work in Goa for example in tourism or construction, and who come from their home towns, mainly from the poorer states on the other side of the country. It was heartbreaking to see they were not allowed to work, and immediately ran out of food and money and they were not allowed to travel to their homes and families. Both government and private initiatives immediately worked hard to help them which was great to see.
After 21 days of lockdown the government announced Lockdown 2.0. Although it was clearly acknowledged that there were huge economic costs and suffering of people due to the lockdown, it was also clear that India was at big risk and the only right path and the country had to do everything it could to avoid the horror seen unfolding in many countries. With such a huge number of people living in some of the biggest metropolitans everybody got really scared. With all the people in slums or poor rural areas and hardly sufficient health care for a normal situation, what would happen if India would get hit as hard as
many other countries? We really felt the government took the right decisions, although it was not always communicated well nor timely.
It was an interesting time to learn how different types of governments deal with a crisis like this and how the citizens of these different countries react. Where we could see how most of the people in the national and state government of India were working hard to prevent a disaster, we could also see how both national and foreign citizens were trying to blame the same government or their own governments in the case of foreigners, for not helping them enough. For us it’s a bit strange to experience that some people are so privileged and feel so entitled to all sorts of things and freedom to do whatever they want, while other people are suffering and everybody just tries to avoid a horror situation. We really felt totally safe and locals in Goa have not at all reacted hostile to us foreigners. But we also learned that during a time of crisis many people do react xenophobic and now more than ever we are the foreigners and we have to comply with the rules and norms
of our hosts.
It is interesting to compare what we learn about our home country, what measures are taken, how people react to these measures with what we see here in India and with the Indians. Some things are clearly not possible back home, like the lathi charging (use of bamboo sticks) of police against offenders of the lockdown rules but then we read about the difficulty the police has to argue with offenders in Europe and we think they should just get themselves some bamboo sticks and give these people a friendly lashing on the bum. Where in India an app was introduced on one day and the next day millions of people had already installed the app because this might help track the virus, in the Netherlands a beautiful democratic process was started involving the public, resulting in lots of debates and there is still no working app. In India the communication was extremely late and immediately measures were implemented, like closing all stores and state borders, closing all airports and shutting down all public transport (all 13,500 passenger trains have been halted) which had a lot of impact and resulting in way to many people not
to be able to even go home, but also preventing the same people from spreading the virus from the big cities to their villages and families. We see other countries struggling because they are maybe more free and democratic but we cannot but ask ourselves what is better in this extreme situation …
With curfews and lockdowns it’s also good to see how people become creative and especially here we saw a lot of people coming with good innovative ideas to provide people with food or shelter or to start a commercial food takeaway or delivery service. People and organisations started to make nose and mouth covering facemarks and even started things like a nationwide facemask design competition. And of course people become creative in making the impossible possible and where things are forbidden there is always a way to procure these things, like wine and gin ;-) via a backdoor and mobile market stalls outside the village where now fresh fish is sold whilst the market is still closed.
Being locked down completely for us is of course weird but has not been difficult nor unpleasant. It feels a bit strange to say but we really enjoy
being at home, cooking our own meals, doing our shopping on foot at local stores, reading our books during the day, watching movies and series at night. We spend our money as locally as possible and get to know the owners of the general stores in Patnem, the small vegetable shop next door and the wine store owner a bit further away. We love it that the local bread man now knows us and almost every day we buy fresh bread. We actually feel this is part of the normal life we left behind when we started travelling. We now sleep better than the past years when we were moving accommodation and changing bed almost every week.
We feel with cooking our own food it’s much easier to eat a bit more healthy than before when we had our breakfast, lunch and dinner outside, in the hotel, guesthouse or in a restaurant. We buy only what’s available and this means seasonal vegetables. Judith bakes some cakes, Merijn makes chapati, we learn to make curries, we appreciate the many spices, paneer and even try things like moong dahl (and we love it). We sometimes order food for delivery so that
even during this lockdown we can enjoy a proper South Indian thali. Judith practices yoga almost every day and she even recorded some classes for friends back home.
In the beginning it was not possible to go outside at all but more and more we can now go for a walk and we really enjoy this daily walk, through quiet and beautiful Goa. We take huge detours when we go for our walks, making it the most inefficient shopping trips ever, and we love it. At the start of the first lockdown we had to hand in our rental scooter and since then we are only walking, and now we stick to the walking, don’t want to rent a scooter, because we don’t have anything to do anyway and it’s beautiful to spend time walking. We walk the emptiest beaches, totally deserted, no tourist, only dogs.
Since four days we are now officially in Lockdown 3.0. India has now tagged districts and regions as coloured zones. Goa is a green zone because there are no active COVID-19 cases. There have also been no COVID related deaths at all in Goa which we feel makes it one of the
safest places on earth. With the newest Lockdown 3.0 there are less restrictions and all essential and non-essential stores are allowed to open, even liquor stores have opened, and all stores are supplied well, now even mangoes are coming :-)
Public transport is coming back within the state while state borders remain closed. People can go to work in the fields and offices. In Goa we are now going to the so called new normal, not knowing what it looks like, but experimenting while it just happens. In a country where crowding is unavoidable, elbowing and jostling is the norm, 5 people riding one motorcycle is perfectly fine and spitting everywhere is common, the new normal already looks different. Almost everybody on the streets wears a mask, spitting is fined, people are stopped by the police if with more than two on a motorcycle, white circles or squares are drawn on the floor to indicate social distancing and most of the people just comply with all this. Of course some of the people only comply because they are scared of the lathi (bamboo stick) but we also really believe that there is a collective intelligence at work here, people
do understand why these measures are necessary, people don’t want to get sick or infect others.
We have been allowed to extend our visa, free of charge, every time the lockdown got extended. It is impossible for us to travel with both state and national borders closed, both domestic and international flights grounded and we believe the coming weeks or months this will not change. We are staying put and wait for the monsoon to arrive in Goa next month. As long as there are no international flights allowed, we will be allowed to stay, this will again give us new insight what it is like to live in India, in Goa, during monsoon and we will make the best of it.
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