After 3 weeks of trekking and 5 weeks of learning and meditation, I was ready for a real vacation. It didn’t start out all rosy and relaxed however. In case you hadn’t heard, the Indian government decided to stop production of all 500 and 1000 rupee notes without notice. This has left businesses, locals, and tourists in a lurch as printing of the new notes can not keep up with demand. Bank and ATM lineups are long and there is a shortage of cash everywhere. I won’t go on but my friend Beth was meeting me in Goa and was super stressed about the situation – I tried to be chill, telling her it’ll all work out and not to stress until there is something to actually stress about. I then tried unsuccessfully to get money from the Delhi airport ATM’s and when I checked the one ATM in Agonda the morning after I arrived, it was also empty. Now I was allowed to stress, but I’ll get back to the money in a sec. I arrived to Agonda after midnight Other than nearly running over 3 cows on the highway, Goa was already feeling so much cleaner and more civilized than Kathmandu – I knew I was going to love it here.
Agonda beach was the perfect segue between monastery living and the craziness that is the rest of India. I was really happy that I left the monastery early to have 3 nights on the quiet beach of Goa before meeting Beth on Palolem beach. It was my compromise as Beth did not want to feel isolated and chose Palolem as her preferred Goan beach destination. I on the other hand loved loved loved Agonda. I had a raised bungalow with a balcony that overlooked the beach. Beach huts and restaurants lined the beach front with many cows and dogs calling this home. There were lots of tourists, but it didn’t feel busy. On the main road there were plenty of shops, more restaurants, and one ATM that got filled around 4pm daily, so even though you could only take 2000 INR ($40 CDN) at a time, I was no longer stressed about money. I got inspired by the other morning runners, and after my morning meditation, I ran along the beach all 3 days I was there – I even went for a post run swim on one of the days. But mostly I just relaxed and read my book; I suppose some would find this boring, but not me. The food was excellent, I enjoyed a live show on one night, and the people were all incredibly nice. I will definitely be back to Agonda.
I took an auto-rickshaw to Palolem via Canacona because I needed to mail a couple parcels home. Thank god my driver was so awesome. First off the post office closes at 11 – but we went in anyway. I was told to return the next day with my packages wrapped in white cloth – I thought they provided this service, but apparently not. My driver took me to a tailor and also picked up some fabric for me, so I was able to get things mostly packed before returning the next day to find a place to get copies of my passport and some tape to secure the dodgy sewing job. At a cost of $70, I have high hopes that my precious belongings arrive in Canada one day.
After checking into our hotel, I went to explore Palolem beach. My first impressions were not good. It was busy with happy hour boozy tourists; there were lots of children; there were no cows. In addition to hotels and restaurants, there were tons of stores (all pretty much selling the same things). I couldn’t walk 100 meters without someone trying to sell me something: cocktails, henna, massage, dolphin tours, and “come to my shop” “looking is free”. I wanted to go back to Agonda! Instead I went back to our quiet (albeit dark) hotel, away from the beach and with Pina Coladas in hand, awaited Beth’s arrival.
Since our hotel wasn’t directly on the beach, it meant sitting at (and spending money at) beach front restaurants and being bombarded by men selling raver lights for the upcoming parties that night. Thankfully each day brought about a different excursion away from Palolem. With Beth on the search for rupees and a SIM card and me needing to mail my parcels (as mentioned above), we went back to Canacona. Despite the bureaucracy, we were mostly successful (and even stumbled upon a bustling market) except that none of Beth’s cards would work in any of the ATM’s, which was very frustrating for her.
Later that day we succumbed to the harassing and agreed to have some “Ayurvedic” treatments. We both got “reflexology” and Beth got a head massage while I got a pedicure. I use quotes because it was false advertising and the woman selling the services was not actually the one providing them – though she did apply my nail polish. Her brothers did the massaging and her male boss sandpapered the dead skin off my feet (which were admittedly disgusting from my trek). Beth’s head massage was scratchy and not relaxing at all and my pedicure was nothing fancy either. I’m not sure they even know what reflexology is and most time was spent on my tickle-y calves. Whatever, it was $20 so it wasn’t an expensive failure at least.
We opted to give the silent raves a miss – due to regulations, parties now had to be quiet after 10pm, so instead, partiers wear headphones and dance to a choice of 3 different DJ’s, which is just weird. I’m sure 20-year old me would have loved it, but 40-year old me preferred to attend the outdoor cinema that was screening the Jungle Book that night. We were in the right place, surrounded by other older woman who turned the movie into a singalong (no, Beth and I did not join in).
On the second day we decided to go inland and visit Tanshikar Spice Farm. This is a 40-year-old working organic farm that grows vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, betel nuts, bananas, coconuts, cashew nuts, Birdseye peppers, pepper, and cacao. We were welcomed with tea and cashew nuts, had a tour of the farm, their 250 year old mud house, bubble lake (Beth tried the fish pedicure here, but they weren’t interested in nibbling her feet) and finished with an organic vegetarian lunch. It was a pricey day, but so incredibly worth it.
That night we enjoyed the BEST foodgasmic meal ever: eggplant masala, malai kofta (aka creamy balls), rice, and yummy garlic naan. We watched the sunset, tried the local coconut fenny, watched a group of local men push a boat up shore in tiny little speedos, and were serenaded by Christmas carolers and creepy tiny-masked Santa. En-route home, we passed a young boy walking across a tightrope above flames in the dark with sunglasses and then flip flops – considering the amount of very young children without helmets on the backs of motorcycles/scooters, I guess having your child tightrope above fire is low on the spectrum of “preventable activities that may kill your child.”
On the 3rd day I convinced Beth to not eat the free breakfast our hotel provided and instead go to the #1 rated restaurant (on tripadvisor) in Palolem, Little World. With real coffee (most places serve instant) and yummy looking hippified (yes I know that’s not a word) breakfasts, I was excited! It did not disappoint. I had overnight oats with fruit and chocolate avocado mousse and Beth had a banana pancake with ice-cream, fruit, and Nutella. Omg – yum! We then tried to check out monkey island but the tide was quickly coming in, which meant we had a high probability of getting stranded. Instead, on the advice and promise of monkeys from a local, we hiked up the hill before the crossing. We did not find monkeys but we did find used condoms, bushwhacked through thorny bushes, and I got bit by a fire ant. Same same … but different.
We spent a little time in the shops – I spent $5 on a tank top and Beth got capris for $4. We both really wanted to try the sweet paan and found a local stall – it’s a betel leaf filled with all sorts of things including betel nut, which apparently turns your mouth and saliva red, which is also why you find blood red splashes all over the streets of India. Good to know! We paid our 50 rupees and watched him make it. First step, rinse leaf in dirty, God knows where this came from, water. We took our leaves and stopped off at a local, non-tourist eatery. Beth, being much more paranoid than me, immediately said she wouldn’t try it because of the rinsing in the skeptical looking water. I was still game but then she reminded me of our 8-hour journey the following morning. Righty-O. I agreed that she was clearly much smarter than me, proceeded to drink my lassi made with suspect ice anyway and then gave our paan as a tip to our server. I still want to try it, but maybe when we don’t have a long journey ahead of us.
We then packed up and headed to Patnem Beach, a little further south, for a swim and a cold beverage. Patnem beach is busier and smaller than Agonda but way less busy than Palolem. It was quite nice and we didn’t get harassed. We found a shady spot for Beth and a sunny spot for me. We enjoyed a swim and a beer and then headed back to Palolem for one last dinner at the same restaurant as the night before (D’Costa). It wasn’t quite as mind-blowing, but it was still good.
Our final day started at 5AM as we had an hour long drive to the train, which would take us to Hampi. We arrived early, which was good as this was a first for both of us. We looked a little bewildered as we tried to figure out what to do. We found our name on the passenger sheet and figured out which car we were supposed to be in. Watching the mad rush to the ‘sleeper class’ when the train arrived made us super grateful to be in A/C 3rd class. Beth prematurely high-fived me and then the ticket agent informed us that our tickets did not match what they had in their system or the 2nd class seats we were currently sitting in. It got sorted out and we got to keep our higher classed seats – Beth just may have accidentally booked us twice. Either way, the trip was really relaxing. We had constant offerings of food and masala, we had 4 seats all to ourselves and the toilets weren’t nearly as bad as some people described.