29 Sep 2009
“Goa in the rains” has been this concept in my mind and Ashok’s for over a year. Finally made it this year, at the tail-end of the monsoon – 4 days at the end of September. With Rohit, Akash, Aditi, and Ashok. It did rain on the first afternoon that we reached.. and I’m glad it did not rain more than that, especially as we had to walk at least 10 mins for every meal!
We arrive on an overcast afternoon, a pleasant 45 min drive from the airport. Enroute we spot an extraordinarily large number of purple colored houses. Here a purple, there a purple, everywhere a purple, purple… I wonder if someone went around with a can of purple paint and picked houses at random and had a go at them… Anyway, onto the studio apartments where we’re going to be staying. Costa’s Montage – a friend’s friend’s place rented out to visitors. We see it from the Benaulim Beach access road, a bunch of colorful buildings to the right. It is a gated community, with heavy black wrought iron gates and 24-hour security guards. Inside, built on several acres are pretty colored houses: some studios, some 1- and 2-bedroom apartments. Manicured and elaborate gardens, a lovely pool and paddy fields occupy the grounds. Our studio apartments are next to each other facing the pool. My first note to self is to be alert about the beasties – not to let them drown due to my inebriated carelessness.
We head for the beach via a shortcut from the back of the apartment complex – through large green corrugated doors, and then a small but excessively heavy wrought iron gate. Johncy’s is the first restaurant we come by after a 10 min walk (because of the littles – otherwise a 5 min walk). Gleefully Rohit and Ashok order several types of Goan fish dishes and pork vindalu, and I, a tame veg xacuti. And of course feni – coconut feni.
The entire trip is a blur of coconut feni and wet swim suits and sand on damp skin. Johncy’s becomes a regular haunt for the next 3 days.
The first day, the shallows are full of creatures washing ashore – grey and white starfish about the size of Aditi’s palm, a couple of dead jellys without their tentacles, looking like transparent glass domes, crabs of different sizes and colors, and lots and lots of conical shelled creatures (fish?). I touch everything except the crabs, and the kids are totally delighted with all of it. But on subsequent dips in the sea we don’t see the starfish again – not sure why that afternoon was a starfish special.
Cleaning up after a sea bath is always an unpleasant chore, and more so with two cranky and hungry kids. I would have loved to order room service and put my feet up… but alas, we have to trek to dinner – or whatever meal was next. One of the evenings Francis (our landlord) shows up, and graciously offers to drop us off at the restaurant. Other than that the walks to and from meals are a series of whines of varying volume and intensity. I bet we left drag marks on the beach and the tar road to Benaulim town.
Fiplee’s is a restaurant recommended by a local – it’s a good find, and I think if I lived here, it would be a frequent haunt. Ashok and I do what is called “people watching” in polite circles 😉 Both nights we go there (Thursday and Saturday) there are live bands playing. As we go early both times, we get one of the best tables, not too close, not too far from the music. The Thursday band is excellent – drum, a keyboard, two guitars, a saxophone, and a vocal. The vocalist is wearing a black felt hat, and has a droopy moushtache – looks like he’s stepped out of a Mexican small town. But his voice is.. just okay.. not something to die for. The jazzy/latino atmosphere is enhanced by props like a sombrero on the wall and a smoke machine blowing out smoke around the “stage” (which is just a small raised corner, and a strip of floor with no chairs). A few couples get up and dance. One particular girl is especially good – it’s a treat to watch her and her partner. We finish a bottle of coconut feni among the three of us. On the hazy walk back to the rooms the whining sounds tolerably distant.
Rohit and Ashok bravely undertake the task of cooking scrambled eggs for breakfast one of the mornings.. while I take the kids to the pool. The water is oh, so beautifully warm! Akash seems to be on a mission to learn to swim – he pesters us at every chance to get into the pool – which we do more often than we bathe in the sea – and at the end of the trip he has indeed learnt to swim – after a fashion! That pool in conjunction with the tropical weather has a dream-like quality to it. We find that there is no tea-strainer in either apartment. Funny people these Goans – there are two bottle openers, but no tea-strainers 🙂 For my part, I wash up the vessels.
Beach again! Mostly we wade in the shallows and venture a bit further, the kids too have a great time. Akash being confident and happy to play on his own. The days are very hot and bright and sunny and humid, the sea water is just perfect temperature. We are all beached out, sun-burnt, and peeling by the end of the four days.
One of the lunches outside at Jonhcy’s, we have at the adjacent table, four bikini clad babes and two chaps (all german?) playing cards – lots of skin, long legs and brawn respectively. Akash throws a cranky fit, subsequently falls asleep across two plastic chairs, and is shat upon on his back several times by crows (we’re sitting under the coconut trees). Evil mom-lady thinks serves him right for the tantrums.
One dinner is at Funny’s – another beach-side restaurant beyond the lifeguard tower. Sad thin crust pizza (ordered supposedly for the kids) drowning in cheese, and the rest of the food being sad to lesser degrees. The beach is lovely at night, a half moon, some clouds, a few people walking along the water’s edge. Aditi and I go closer to the waves. It’s low tide now, and the water seem too far away. We settle on a log some 20 feet from the water, and watch the distant lights from presumably fishing trawlers. Sounds of boats coming in with their catches – and a hugely labor-intensive operation of hauling the boats up the beach. A stocky woman in shorts seems to be in-charge, directing the boys, then punching furiously into her cell phone (calculating fish price?). The catch seems quite small – perhaps about 200 fish in all? We do our calculations – say Rs.30 per fish, which means about Rs.6,000 per evening’s fishing – at best Rs.12,000 per day’s fishing. It’s such a hard life to earn so little – not only the men who go out fishing, but all the helpers and middlemen have to split the boot…
“Drunken Darryl”, a fat ugly beast in nothing but a pair of low-slung shorts – English I think – with tanned skin that is shining with sweat, and a horrid belly is being teased by the local boys, and there is promise of a scene… but nothing erupts until we leave. Amidst loud wails of protests we drag the sleepy children back.
Having decided that cooking breakfast is not the best way to spend the morning, we head out towards town, and find an unassuming little restaurant named Maria Café. Here we breakfast for the next two days. Omelettes, vast quantities of toast, butter, marmalade, yummy honey pancakes, and masala chai. The owner whistles up a chap who can drive us to Panjim and back today. We pile into a red Chevy Spark and set off at about 10 am to see Old Goa and the sights.
Our driver Alex seems to be a BJP supporter – he cribs to us non-stop about the corruption in the congress government, and how the BJP were much better. Ashok’s non-committal grunts seem to successfully put a stop to the rant. Stopping for a few wild flowers (me) and nausea (Akash – though he didn’t actually throw up), we go to St. Francis Xavier’s church. Impressive old building. Very hot outside. Children wilting. Quite crowded, but cool inside the high ceiling church, where I sit on a pew for a few minutes with Akash and make childish jokes about fans on the (high) ceiling – which amazingly restores Akash’s mood. We walk around and find a little art gallery in the attached building. So-so photographs by a local photographer and statues of saints. Akash: What are saints, mama? I find an explanation that accentuates the martyrdom and killing of saints – just to keep the baby’s good spirits 😉
Panjim city center for lunch. Everywhere Akash is manically reading menus and things written on walls. Rohit has been drooling over memories of a restaurant called Lobo’s, but sadly it turnes out, is too far (Calangute) to go now. Ritz Classic suggested by our driver is off the main street, up two flights of stairs. Good food but too crowded – not the most enjoyable meal of the trip. We hunt around for a cake shop and find a local Monginis– (read minus minus). Back to the car to Miramar and Dona Paula, where we could see if there are any family-type boat rides (Alex is sure there are jet-skis…) Both jet-ski rides (3 mins) and family boat rides (10 mins) are ridiculously priced. We just walk up to a sort of viewing gallery, gaze at the sun-drenched ocean and head back. Beautiful breeze alleviates the heat and humidity a bit.
Back home in the early evening, more pool time, and a short dip in the sea as well. Golden orange evening light over the water reminds me of a scene from Finding Nemo… especially when viewed at eye-level with the water’s surface. Nice sunset. Lifeguards kick us out of the water and we go back and clean up.
Last day – train to catch at 3 pm. Breakfast at Maria Café, pool, beach, Johncy’s for lunch, then off to Madgaon station. Station is decorated with large murals by Mario Miranda. They are all lovely, I go beserk taking pictures. Uneventful journey back, and home to a sulky, complaining, but otherwise well-cared-for cat who seems to have missed us quite a bit.