Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Beaches of South Goa

Do I start this post with my raving review of the beaches of South Goa or do I go straight to the drama that has so splendidly struck our group this week?  Since drama tends to keep people reading, I will start with the juice.  First of all, Michelle has joined us for a short holiday and we all spent a whirlwind 24 hours in Mumbai, and are all getting along swimmingly.  She has been such a trooper powering through her jetlag and keeping up with our conjoined energy, which I like to call our “travel ADD”, where we run around a new city from sunrise to sundown often without sitting down once.  When Missy and I first got to India, we slept for a straight 16 hours without moving, so koodos to Michelle.  However, our little travel clan has been hit by a dose of “Indian stomach aliens”.  For the past week, Missy had not been feeling 100%.  Some days she could literally not keep any food down, and others she had no appetite.  Whatever was causing her suffering got a lot worse one evening and we awoke the next morning to a very pale, feverish, almost lifeless Missy.  After trying to flush her fever with hot tea, boiled rice water, cold rags, and other home remedies, we decided we should pay a visit to the local hospital.  I mean, the poor girl was lying in the pitch black of our beach hut, on a rock hard bed, underneath a mosquito net.  It was like being sick on Survivor.  Plus, we are in a foreign country, eating foreign food, and I have never seen Missy so completely miserable.  So, we all piled in an auto rickshaw and took a field trip down the road to our first Indian hospital.  The place looked like a dormitory and was completely empty aside from a few nurses, but it still took us about 45 minutes to check Missy in and get her to a room.  After they saw that she had a valid passport, traveler’s insurance, and a money belt full of rupees, the group of nurses disappeared for 30 minutes to “prepare her room”.  After 20 minutes we started to joke that they must be wallpapering it or putting on a fresh coat of paint.  For the love of god, the girl cannot even stand up by herself.  Despite the wait, the staff was very attentive and accommodating to our every need.  After seven different nurses checked Missy’s temperature, took her blood pressure, and asked her the same questions about her age and nationality, despite the fact that they had seen her passport, the doctor came in for his examination.  He decided it would be best if Missy stayed at the hospital for 24 hours, hooked up to an IV of fluids and antibiotics.  Now, before you grow concerned or go feeling sorry for Missy, please note that her hospital room was the nicest accommodations we have experienced in India, and she had a tv with over 80 channels, including HBO.  I was extremely close to asking the doctor to hook me up to an IV for the night as well.  

The next morning, Michelle and I walked to the hospital to pay our sick friend a visit.  We took with us what every sick girl in India would want; handpicked flowers from the resort next door, a t-shirt with a picture of Ghandi’s face on it, and a bright orange beach frisbee.  (I should go into business creating care packages).  Upon our arrival, we learned that Missy spent the evening sleeping, watching “Sex and the City”, hanging with “the girls” on the ward, and eating Ritz crackers.  LUCKY!!!  I was so happy to see she was back to her old self and that her Indian stomach alien had shed itself from her system.  They discharged her that afternoon, and we successfully crossed “visit an Indian hospital” off of our bucket list.  Welcome back Missy!

To celebrate Missy’s victorious return, we decided to rent ocean kayaks the next morning.  We made it about 15 minutes in our vessels before Michelle got seasick and had to turn around.  Five minutes later, dark storm clouds moved in on all sides of us, and Missy and I paddled like bats out of hell back to the shore.  So, needless to say, kayaks were an epic fail.  But, more importantly, Michelle never seemed to recover from her motion sickness.  She spent the entire rest of the day in bed or hugging our beach hut latrine.  NOT GOOD.  So, I made my second trip in 24 hours to the medical store, with new symptoms and a new sick person.  Good thing Indian drugs at the pharmacy cost less than a pack of gum.  My pharmacy friend skeptically gave me new pills and instructions and I was on my way.  After a stressful 48 hours, I am happy to report that everyone seems to have recovered quite nicely.  Both Missy and Michelle are healthy and happy, and I am crossing my fingers that I will manage to steer clear of any Indian stomach aliens.  I am extremely grateful that there were three of us traveling together this past week, and have no idea how solo travelers cope with falling ill abroad.  Here’s to hoping we remain healthy for our last 2.5 weeks in India!

Despite the setbacks mentioned above, we somehow had an excellent time in Southern Goa.  We stayed for four nights at Bhakti Khuri, a small beach camp and yoga retreat nestled in the woods of Palolem Beach.  Most of the guests at Bhakti Khuri were there for a six week yoga course to get their teaching certification.  In other words, there were about 15 girls running around in spandex, reading yoga books, eating rabbit food, and trading stories about their plans to open their very own yoga studios.  Eavesdropping on them provided us much entertainment, as it reminded me very much of sorority rush from college.  On a side note, I do realize that not every person that gets their yoga certification is a blonde bimbo.  I have much respect for the practice of yoga and those who have taken it as a hobby in their lives.  We were nice to the yoga girls, but we still ate our french fries and swore off spandex shorts.  A television network could make a small fortune filming a reality show at an Indian yoga certification course.  I would call it Yoga Wars.  

From Bhakti Khuri, it was a five minute walk to Palolem Beach.  The three of us were so thrilled the first time we set foot on Palolem.  It is a short stretch of beautiful beach in a cove of the Arabian Sea, covered in bright colored beach huts.  What gives Palolem the most character are the thousands of palm trees that cluster on its shore and lean at a 45 degree angle towards the ocean.  The place is the perfect setting for a Dr. Suess book.  Restaurants and beach bars line the strip, and they all compete to attract visitors to their beach chairs and umbrellas.  One can get hour long massages anywhere for $8, have fresh fruit sliced and served to you by “the fruit man” without having to move, and pedicures right from your beach chair.  HEAVEN!  The one potential drawback (depends on how you see it) of this beach are the dozens of Indian women who parade up and down the beaches with jewelry, scarves, and other trinkets for sale.  These ladies are business savvy!  On our first day at the beach, they could see the bliss on our faces and smell our naivety.  I also think they look for the palest people to prey on as they are probably the newest to the beach, and the three of us were so pale that we had light reflecting off of our skin.  These women swarmed us like flies to a dirty cow.  “Hello friends…you look my shop?  Bracelets good price!”  One woman sat down with us for 15 minutes telling us how her family makes all the bracelets by hand and that all the money she makes goes to her four children.  Naturally, I bought a bangle from her to do my part, only to see the same bracelet in 150 store fronts in town the next day.  Either she was yanking my chain or her family that supposedly creates these bracelets is 1,000 people large.  We were extremely duped.  Unfortunately or fortunately, again it depends on how you see it; these ladies are part of the charm of Palolem Beach.  Whether their work is honest or not, they work from sun up to well past sun down trying to support their families by selling cheap crap that tourists purchase because they are on vacation and just want to buy shiny things.  I cannot understand how these women bare the heat.  I could not be on the beach from 12pm to 3pm without being in the ocean because otherwise, the sun would quite literally scorch my skin off my body.  But, these ladies were dressed in female Indian garb from head to toe, relentlessly approaching the same tourists up and down the beach all day long.  I do admit that it could be exasperating at times, but we did our best to humor them.  One young woman told us that she has been working this beach for five years, but has never actually been in the ocean.  She said that every day that they work, they long to take a dip in the Arabian Sea because of the heat, but they are not allowed.  They cannot wear their sarees in the ocean, and they cannot wear anything besides a saree on the beach.  It is a vicious cycle.  Please note that she was telling us this story as we were wearing bikinis, getting pedicures, and sipping pina coladas.  It felt wrong at times.  Oh to be an Indian woman…

One of the highlights of our stay in Palolem, was an Indian cooking class Michelle and I decided to take one fine evening.  No other tourists showed up, so we had the entire three hours (and all the food) to ourselves.  We learned how to make Goan Curry, Paneer Masala, handmade chapattis, and lentils.  I think our teacher, Rahul, was more entertained than anyone.  The poor guy tried so hard to be professional, but we just were not cooperating.  At one point, I whipped out my Bollywood movie dance impersonation, which apparently is more humorous than ridden with talent.  Afterwards, at several points throughout the evening, Rahul would start laughing randomly and then would say, “Sorry, I was just thinking of your dance…”.  He gave us our own notebooks so that we could write down all the recipes and recreate our masterpieces again at home.  My friends in Washington DC are so lucky to have me move there after this excursion!  Our chapatis were constructed so wonderfully, that Rahul called us the Chapati Masters; and the Paneer Masala Michelle made was so scrumptious that he actually ate with us at the end of the class.  I doubt he does that with any of his other students.

Our time in Southern Goa was blissful, and Palolem is an extremely beautiful beach.  However, everywhere we turned, there were beach huts being constructed to make room for more visitors.  Sadly, I have a feeling if we went back in five years, the place just wouldn’t we the same.  So, if you need a vacation, go now!  We landed yesterday in Anjuna, in Northern Goa, to experience the infamous “Wednesday Flea Market”.  I am currently writing this post outside of our room at our guesthouse, while talking jibberish to the three year old British kid in the room next door.  We somehow understand each other.  I will end this post by saying: Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends and family!  We are off to find comfort food…

1 comment:

  1. Alysa- sounds like you're really having quite the adventure. Word to the wise: those "Indian stomach alien" things you've come across- visit all those who come to India. It's more of a rite of passage, embrace it :) Oh and stay away from the sour yogurt milk.. it's a doozy.

    Can't wait to read more! Glad you're having such a good time.