Goa andt the Malabar Coast
Trip Start May 20, 2005
18Trip End Jun 10, 2006
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Listening to: Cesaria Evora, Best of
By now, the good old Lama is hunkered down in his cave, the Greek driver is watching 'emerging cable', Victor Son-of-a-Bitch wraps a second sail around him in some nonsensical but singular quest and snows fall in Sary-Chalek, Kabul, London and the US.
So, my chilly friends, please forgive me as I head south to cheat another winter.
I've made warm Christmas/ New Year's a bit of a habit for the past few years (sorry mom)
I met up with David, an old partner in crime from high school, in Goa. Dave and
I lost touch after we went to different schools and he tracked me down a few years ago. I gasped when he told me he spent time with the C.I.A. I was happy to learn that he meant the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York. After selling a successful business, he hit the road as a traveler-cum-chef. Its actually a great way to get around- think about a summer on a sailboat in the Dalmatian coast cooking for the obscenely rich.
I pondered that and surveyed Dave's next migratory stop. On the far south end
of Goa, Palolem was the last (or the latest) beach in the former Portuguese state
of India. While the great hippie beaches of Goa, Bali, Essouira and others are, for the most part, built up and played out, there are still a few corners accommodating the long-term traveler on a budget. Palolem sported a handful of frightful 2-story concrete things but, by in large, as I was to soon learn, the resorts are built at the beginning of the season (early Nov)
Needless to say, the 'Green Park Resort' (6 thatch huts and a kitchen) was nowhere near completion. The place sported a sported a funny cast of characters which will keep Dave entertained for at least 6 months:
Shanty (translates as 'Peace')- No older than 25 but with an infant daughter. A native of the old beach community, he has right to a block on the beach and a bit of capital. A grown-up boy with a lost-doe look who takes things slow and easy. Worried that the venture is not running yet and he's bitten off more than he can chew.
Sonny- A smooth-talking Goan from an inland village. Shanty's friend since forever and a day. He's not married but was dating a massage therapist (no small feat in India). Trying to general manage the beach operation and relax Shanty- who was likely given a reality check between seasons with the arrival of his daughter.
Sanju (A.K.A. 'Mr. Hands')- A cook who claims to make everything from fried rice to unpronounceable Julia Child recipes- all on a gas burner. He has a good sense of the tourist trade and spends the other 6 months of the year in the northern hill country
His hello is no less than a hug and oft a struggle to get out of. Needless to say, he looks up to Dave, the master chef, and communicates this through elaborate hugs which Dave must wiggle out of.
The Nepali Three- Working the same circuit as Sanju but as waiters; they are in
Goa to make money during the Himalayan off-season. They are great guys but, in matters of business or cards, they are stern and even smug. The Nepalese run a tight ship that's usually courteous, clean and profitable and Green Park is looking like a bit of a disaster to them. Watching the Nepali Three, having complained already that the menu was late, pick out mistakes and debate the mistic virtues of a Pinocolada price a great insight to how these resorts work. Very professional and quick witted.
Jugdeesh- The young cousin of Shanty. He's probably worked a season and knows
he'll get every crap job the Nepali Three refuse and is below the dignity of his
two uncles-managers. Faced with a summer of tortuous labor and hardship, he
still had no electricity wired). Not terribly efficient but free slave labor.
Dave- Exists outside of the caste system, he met Shanty and Sunny at the end of last season and agreed to bartend and offer business advice for room and board. Very calm and collected, he watches the place come together with a skeptical eye. He has no worries as this is a long stay in his 2 year work-vacation and he can move on if Green Park sinks (good chefs can get jobs almost anywhere, anytime).
I spent about a week with Dave in that environment. We'd wake up, eat breakfast
at a nearby resort- Green Park did not work yet and the Nepali Three vouched for their
previous employer- probably wondering why they did not stay do the season there. We'd return to Green Park, survey the limited accomplishments from the previous day and guess what today's industry would deliver. Jugdeesh would be yelled at and given more work.
We'd accompany Shanty and Sonny to town in a circa 1950s beast of a car to perform tasks and obtain necessary building materials in an eternally frustrating and linear manner. In the evenings, we would sit around after dinner, talk about the last 10 years of our lives and get the occasional glimpse of Jugdeesh doing the Bombay boogie as he cleaned dishes in the kitchen. 'We'll open the day after tomorrow' is now a phrase that holds less water than 'Peace in our time.'
A high point was watching Sonny buy a new flash motorbike with a loan from cash-strapped, and not so shanty, Shanty. It was only made worse when, in celebration of Desi with a local Halloween twist, the countryside sprouted papier-mâché warriors and goblins 2 meters (6 feet) tall. On our way back to the beach from town, we were waylaid multiple times by kids demanding money, drinks and sweets and young men in super-hero Hindi costumes. Shanty had to pay each time.
From the last report (Nov 23), the kitchen is open, as are 3 of 6 huts. Jugdeesh continues to suffer.
The last one was long; so, I'll make this short
After Goa, I headed to Kerela. The province has a great deal of history, a highly educated population and a thriving Communist Party. More proof of my theory that Communist movements can exist (if not thrive) only in tropical climes where food grows on trees.
Kochi (Cochin) is referenced by the great sea story writers and was a key port of call for Omani, Portuguese, Dutch and English traders. Think of a mix of Singapore, Hong Kong, New Orleans and Rotterdam in their heyday. Communities of Orthodox Christians and Jews (originally from Spain, but most have left) mix with Moslem, Hindu and every possible sect of Christianity. Kerela has got God in a bad way an missionaries from all stripes prowl.
Leaving Cochin, I headed to Kottayam the first town in Kerela to reach 100% literacy and the home of Arundhati Roy (God of Small Things). The town is also an entry point to the backwaters- a large area of wetlands supporting interesting twists on terrestrial living.
As you'll see, the place is incredible. From a small and very local ferry, I watched a sunset which, because of the Monsoon clouds, lasted for over 3 hours. Our destination was due west so all I had to do was sit back and enjoy.