THE TOURIST IS RESTLESS

Trip Start Jan 15, 2011
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Trip End Mar 19, 2011


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Where I stayed
Osran Heights Beach Resort

Flag of India  , Goa,
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MY GOA TOUR 2/23/11

                Today I toured the Catholic churches of Goa and went to the world-famous Anjuna Flea Market. 

                Every Wednesday the masses storm the beach town of Anjuna for the weekly flea market.  My guide for this day only was a delightful lady named Robin.  She thought it advisable to visit the market in the morning because the afternoon sun can be treacherous. This is a behemoth of a marketplace and seemingly rambles on forever alongside the beach.  In fact, the word "flea" doesn't apply.  You can find everything from t-shirts to incense burners to handicrafts, wood carvings, spices, artwork, beautiful wall hangings, scarves, saris, all sorts of trinkets, bedspreads, musical instruments, silver, bronze, jewelry, handbags, Goa Trance CDs, ornaments, t-shirts and on and on.  Most of the vendors come down from Tibet, Kashmir and Gujarat.  

                A holdover from the hippie days, young foreigners (hippies) were attracted to the beaches, party atmosphere and spirituality of Goa.  When they decided they wanted to stay and find enlightenment, they eventually began to run out of money.  So, they started selling their meager belongings bit by bit, and that launched the humble dawn of the flea market.  The flavor of the bazaar still bears the vivid colors and feel of its bohemian, hippie roots from the free-spirited 60’s, but much of the enterprise has since gone more commercial.  

                Please, if you go to Goa, don’t let that touristy aspect deter you from this popular attraction.  It’s a must-do and everyone ends up here by the thousands on Wednesdays, from left-over hippies (I think they all moved here) to tourists and families.  There was a little old lady selling samosas (a favorite of mine, kind of like India’s version of a knish), but I'd had breakfast so we opted instead to have coffee at the covered outdoor café by the beach.  If you eavesdrop or know who to ask, you can find out just about anything here, illicit or otherwise.  And it's a good place to find out where the trance parties are, for which Goa is famous

You must remember when buying to BARGAIN, BARGAIN, BARGAIN AND HAGGLE TILL YOU DROP!  Jim, who was a master haggler and was always my secret weapon in these places, would have had a field day.  (A fond anecdote recollects him at a Connecticut estate sale, dickering over an unopened box of two Tiffany demitasse marked at $20, until the defeated vendor finally surrendered, "Take it.  Just take it!")  Some of the merchants start as high as a 300% mark-up, so don't be afraid to counter with something just as ridiculously low and proceed from there.  I needed a t-shirt, but once Robin knew what I was looking for, she thought we should go into the city of Panjim (the capital of Goa) to buy it at a “proper” shop off the beaten tourist trail where I could get a better deal with higher quality.  I did buy a baseball cap and a new pair of sunglasses.  I decided India had benefitted generously by my shopping obsession, and therefore no longer was I seeking souvenirs. I'd already bought everything!

                Goa is a tiny state 579 kilometers (11-1/2 hr. drive) south of Mumbai, or a 1-hr. flight. If I haven’t dropped enough hints, it’s a liberal part of India where just about anything goes and is still a major party hub.  

                It was settled by Portuguese and has maintained a Catholic following of about 23%, 80% Hindu and only a few Muslims.  Despite this mix, there has never been a clash.  In fact, most Catholic converts maintain at least some semblance of their Hindu roots.  There are still several magnificent Catholic churches in the area.

                The architecture is considerably Pourtuguese.  Coasting along a country lane lushly flanked by coconut palms, bougainvillea and other tropical flora, the colorful little homes and guesthouses, eclectic in shape and size, remain free from the Hindu and Muslim architecture dominating the northern cities.  Navigating these hills, we passed small, thatched makeshift stands tempting passersby with coconut water straight from the shell and groups of migrant workers from Kashmir digging ditches. A few of the laborers were female, who are paid even less of a pittance than their male coworkers. 

                We toured a couple of the grander churches, such as the holy Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa, which houses the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier and is a famous worldwide Catholic pilgrimage.  Continuing through the wilderness along the marshy banks of the majestic Mandori River, a movie filming roadside on location revealed one of India’s brightest Bollywood stars standing right in front of us on the roadside set...

Robin:  I can't even think of his name but he's one of our most respected actors.  Not like one of those action stars.  They're kind of a joke, don't you think?  But this one, he started on the stage!  (She stole my heart on that one!) 

                We continued along the river where a cruise was in progress.  So many Indians live in arid climates and relish their brief times on these riverboats.  

                Lunch was at a reputable establishment and as I scanned the menu, I was elated.  In Goa now, where the different religious beliefs, including Christianity, are more generously distributed throughout, beef isn’t such an issue.  You can eat red meat here and not offend anyone.  There was a hamburger on offer, which had been sadly absent from my diet for well over a fortnight, and biting into that first mouthful of juicy, red meat was like crossing borders; it sent my tastebuds soaring into transcendental ecstasy.  

                Back at my cabin, I rested a bit and tried to work on my blog when I heard a knock at my door.  It was the same eager Johnny-on-the-spot-with-the-door-key attendant - I wish I could recall his name.  A young man from Delhi, he works most of the year at a havelli owned by the same people who recently opened this establishment.  He is working in Goa for the summer helping them open this resort.  He's upbeat and always helpful, and would stay until he was absolutely certain you were completely taken care of. In fact, he’d stand there waiting for me to dismiss him.  But this time he came to ask for the one USB cable shared by all the guests and management alike.  The German from next door wanted to borrow it.  It would’ve been one thing if I’d kept it overnight, but this was after only twenty minutes of use.  Barely enough time for me to turn the computer on and check my e-mail, let alone write a blog.  I wasn’t the only guest put off by this inconvenience - another issue which the management of this new resort needed to address.

                With nothing else much to do, the tiny idyllic strip of beach at Vagator became my paradise in the afternoon well into the early evening hours, when around sunset I would retreat to one of the beachside bars, sip on diet coke and smoke Marlboros while watching what had to be the most spectacular sunsets in the eastern hemisphere – or maybe any hemisphere.  At six every evening, the subtle beat of soft trance would begin to pulse from Bar 9 and could be heard throughout the area (you could hear it clear to my cabin) until ten o’clock, when it would abruptly stop. Bar 9 was the heavy duty nerve center of the trance scene in the mid-'90's but I’m told is now but a mere shell of its old self.  I began to appreciate Goan trance music during my stay here while relaxing on my porch well into the night. Hence, I enjoyed the trance parties in absentia and avoided feeling like some ancient party crasher. It was almost meditative from a distance, especially while sitting on my porch gazing out at the glimmering night sea and a starlit sky.  So used to smoggy cities, I relished these awestruck opportuities to marvel at the celestial eternity before me.  This was spirituality. 

THE TOURIST IS RESTLESS

                As restful as this was, I can only take so much serenity.  Stir crazy and itching to escape from this pastoral enclave, around 10PM I announced to the desk clerk and his brethren that I wanted to go into a town.  Confident of the information I gleaned from the internet and heresay, I asserted that I was well aware Calangute was the popular party destination, and I wished to go there.  The people at the front desk, in questioning disbelief, roared with laughter.  “Calangute!???”

                “Yes,” I replied, maintaining my best authoritative air against their know-it-all attitudes.  I'd show them who knew what!  “That’s where all the bars and clubs are.”

                “You want Baga,” they corrected.

                “No, I want Calangute.” 

                They shook their heads, shrugged at my stubborn insistence and called a taxi.  The young 20-something desk clerk gave me explicit instructions on how to deal with the taxis, to be very careful and not to stay out late.  I felt like I was asking permission to go out on my first date, and finally trumpeted, “THIS IS ABSURD!  YOU DO KNOW I’M OLD ENOUGH TO BE YOUR FATHER!?” 

                He smiled half apologetically, half smugly, “Yes, but we are responsible for you.”

                “DO I HAVE TEN YEARS OLD WRITTEN ON MY FOREHEAD!?”

                A slight smirk, then calmly, “No, but you are very important person.”  

                I figured Peirce and Leslie was behind this sudden rash of overprotectiveness.  They would hold the hotel responsible.  I didn't care; enough is enough!  Moments like this make me wish I hadn't given up booze.  Meanwhile, I wasn’t finished unleashing my vitriol toward my would-be chapperone half my age.  

                “You wanna come hold my hand while I cross the streets?  I LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY FOR #$#()#$@%ing SAKE!”

                He knew he’d offended me, smiled his best “Asian-I’ve-seen-it-all-heard-it-all-I’m-still-your-best-friend smile” and politely reiterated, “We are responsible for your safety.  Have fun and be careful.”  I think he was enjoying his inner-calmness.  I wasn't.

                As the taxi wove through the dark, sparsely lit streets of the charming village of Calangute, I was wondering where the nightlife began.  This all looked pretty residential to me.  The taxi driver pulled up to a small, sorry-looking café with three customers.  In fact, it looked like it was closing.  I'm certain my tone was edgy as the remnants of my tantrum hadn't completely subsided.

                “What’s this place?”

                “You said you wanted to eat first.  This is the only place that’s open.”

                “Then just take me to a bar.”

                “This is a bar also.”

                  I wasn't sure I believed that.  It didn't look like a bar.  Anyway, this wouldn't do.  “Then take me to the part of town where all the other bars are.”

                “This is it.”

                “Huh?”

                I was in ambush mode and argued, but he cut off my diatribe mid-sentence.

                “Sir, I cannot make up a part of the town that does not exist.  I would be rich man, no driving of taxi.”

                “So…what do I do?”

                “You can do what all peoples (sic) suggested.  Go to Baga.”

                “What’s this Baga you all talk about?”  I know I was sounding like a nasty tourist, but I didn’t care.

                “It is another town.  It is, I believe, where you are happy to be.”

                I sighed, “Take me there.”

                He drove a couple of kilometers.  Soon a couple of motor scooters overtook us.  Then a couple more.  Pretty soon, we were surrounded by a cavalcade of motorbikes, all parading and revving past us from both sides. We were the only car on this otherwise dark road lit by hundreds of headlights.  Then…he swerved onto a street and it was like "Viva Las Vegas, baby!"  Neon signs.  Motorbikes so thick I thought I was a Hell’s Angel.  Club after club with drunken college students, tourists and backpackers spilling out onto the sidewalk, restaurants of all kinds, shapes and sizes galore.  I could smell the briny sea, which I figured was on the other side of the buildings.  We drove past some of the chaos and I decided one corner was as good as any to get out.  

                I liked Baga!  Why didn’t the agency book me in this place when I said I wanted a “party town.”  Where did I get the idea Calangute was the in-crowd place?  Well, I do know – I’d read in one of my guides there was a gay bar by the beach in Calangute.  Oh well, it was obviously too late for me to go back and look for that.  

                After poking around and soaking up the midway-like atmosphere, I finally chose a place for my late evening Baga dining experience, which was dried-out chicken.  After dinner, a few minutes over a coke in a bar populated by a bunch of drunken college students clued me that this wasn’t my crowd.  I soon noticed the places were beginning to shutter.  The motorcycles were exiting the town the same way they came in. For such a busy place this town sure closes early.  Shaking off visions of being trapped overnight in a ghost town, it was time to leave; I feared difficulty securing  a ride and the distance I had to travel in the pitch black of a Goan night was no hop-skip-jump.   So much for my big night out in Baga and back to tranquility and slumber.
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