Gonna Goda Goa (Going to go to Goa)

September 5, 2008 - Goa, India

So for this (long) entry I’m going to jump in the way back machine and describe my weekend trip to Goa, a seaside state on the west coast of India. If you are not familiar with my ‘memory,’ let’s just say that I make no accuracy claims about the content of this entry, but I do think you will enjoy reading and get the idea of what it felt like being there. I’m sorry to say, but the entry is quite long. Very lucky for those of you who seem to like my writing despite my best attempts, not as lucky for those of you who happen across this blog and don’t know who I am.

We snuck out of our ThoughtWorks University classes a little early on a Friday back in March. I say snuck, but it was with consent, one of our leaders came with us, and we had made up time the day before to make sure we got all our learnin’ in. It was my first time ever flying a domestic flight in another country. I know that sounds like not that big of a deal, but it seemed odd to me to have traveled so much and not flown within another country. I guess part of that is that I’ve spent time in wonderful countries like Israel and Ecuador… wonderful, but among the smaller countries in the world, so who needs to fly? Ecuador was also on the cheap, couldn’t afford fancy flights!

Goa was kind of a headache in planning the details with the travel agent. We weren’t fully planned out until waaay to late in the process. But eventually it was all set, with flights, shuttles to and from the airport, and an ‘all inclusive’ resort stay. I had never stayed in anything all inclusive before, and I was really excited about it! We’ll get to why it is in quotes later.

So we all (I think there were 14 of us) hopped in autos and made our way to the airport. We were all in very high spirits (no pun intended) as we breezed through check in and went to wait at the gate. I should explain why. Goa is known as… how shall we say… a party area? I guess you might describe it as Vegas without the gambling. Or maybe more like a Miami without the major city attached to it. It is basically a hot beach area where people hit the beach all day, party all night, and sleep when they get home after their visit. A popular tourist t-shirt people buy there reads ‘The grass is always greener in Goa.’

So the fun of the trip began with the anticipation of a sun and alcohol infused weekend of relaxation. It continued the moment we got on the plane. We flew Kingfisher Airlines. The name itself is interesting. The beer aficionados among you may recognize it as basically the national beer of India. I must admit that it is odd to fly on the equivalent of Budweiser Airlines.

But apart from the name, Kingfisher was a delight! I can’t even pinpoint it, but it just felt like they really truly appreciated our business, and treated us that way… Not just us, the ferenghis, but all the passengers. It felt like every seat was first class. And they do charge something of a premium, but I don’t think it is very much.

It was little things, like all the staff being very smiley and friendly, and giving us headphones with their logo and a little plastic carrying case, and giving us a pen with their logo (which I still carry and use). As soon as we got on, they brought us a small bottle of delicious fruit juice that I can’t remember the name of. Then, right after takeoff, on just an hour long flight, they provided a full meal service (‘veg or non-veg, sir?’). There were TVs at every seat. Also, they boarded and deplaned from both the front and the back… it went much quicker! Just an all around VIP pleasant experience. The only piece missing from the airline named after beer was, in fact, the beer. Apparently there is no alcohol allowed on any domestic flights in India.

Upon takeoff the thing I noticed most was the smog. It was thicker and heavier than I have ever seen it, even flying in and out of places like L.A. Woah. It made me glad to be giving my lungs a break for a weekend. It was truly sad and disgusting. See the picture. Then, not half an hour later, I saw windmills generating clean energy… that’s good, I guess, but I think they could use a few (thousand) more. I also took a picture of a bridge right before we landed that I was driving over half an hour later! I’m not sure why, but I found it cool.

Then we got there and, after getting our luggage, looked around for a guy who was to meet us and take us to our hotel (about 45 minutes away). At first we didn’t see him, then all of the sudden a guy shoves a sign right in my face with ‘Benjie’ written on it. Success! It was the first time I had had my name on a placard, and it was fun! It made me feel so special. I tell you, it really is the little things in life.

So we rode and made our way to the hotel. On the way I took a couple gorgeous pictures of the beautiful setting sun. I also saw the back-stage side of a makeshift theater, as well as a storefront called ‘Indiana Collections’ Hmmm… I’m guessing they’ve never been there.

By the time we got to the hotel and checked in, it was getting dark. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it always feels like it gets dark a lot quicker the closer you are too the equator. I’ll have to check in to that. Dinner wasn’t for a while, so we headed to the beach to say ‘hello’ to a new ocean first. I have always been drawn to wind and water. Lately it is the closest I get to spiritual moments.

‘All Inclusive’ Lesson #1: ‘right near the beach’ doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. I’m pretty sure the travel agent said 50 meters, but I’m now also certain that he’s never been there. It wasn’t a bad walk, but it was probably closer to a kilometer. And of course, we were in India, so there was no such thing as a silly sidewalk.

So when we got down to the beach, it was already quite dark. What we found there was a whole herd of cows. Just laying there asleep on the beach. I guess it is misleading to call them a herd, because that implies that someone herded them there, but really that is just where they wanted to be. I guess it was more of a gathering of cows. Maybe a convention.

After taking a couple pictures that I hope didn’t startle them too much, we went down to the water’s edge. Things like oceans and wind and waves are about as close as I get to spirituality these days, so I really enjoyed exploring a new body of water. There’s something extremely calming to me about the gentle pressure of the wind, and the organized randomness of the waves crashing on the shore.

So we stood there for a while, just soaking it all in, took some pictures, some people put their feet in, and then we headed back for dinner. Dinner was yummy. Good local fare. Best of all were the fruity drinks with umbrellas. To me, nothing says ‘you’re on vacation’ like fruity drinks with umbrellas. Yum! Manly, I know…

Also at dinner I was surprised by the tables. They consisted of a decorative cloth sealed under glass. They were bright designs, and the glass was permanently glued in place sealing out dirt. They were very pretty. But that wasn’t the funny part. The funny part was the one table that was a little different. It still had the brightly colored cloth sealed under glass, but this one had words, too. Not just any words, and not just any design. The words were ‘Grassroot Party Minnesota’ and the picture was of a gigantic pot leaf! Well, it’s always nice to be reminded of home, even if it is in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. So, of course, I took my picture with the table!

Then we headed back to the beach to seek out the nightlife! Sort of. This is the point in the story where the group split up. Some people stayed at the hotel to relax, the rest of us went back to the beach. We figured we would start with some beachside beers and then make our way to the louder variety of nightlife. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, all the beachside restaurants had stopped serving. Fortunately, the prospect of selling 6 large bottles of beer convinced one shop owner to break what seemed to be some sort of local agreement, and sold us the beers as long as we didn’t sit in the restaurant. This was fine with us, as we wanted to sit on the beach anyway. So we sat and drank and listened to the waves and talked about philosophy, psychology, religion, politics, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… you know, the kinds of things you talk about with a beer in your hand, waves at your feet, wind in your hair, and sand under your bum. We talked and talked. Eventually, some people went off in search of the elusive perfect party scene. I stayed on the beach with a couple people and we just talked and sat for a long time. It was wonderful.

Or at least it was wonderful, until I realized that my roommate had gone off clubbing, leaving me keyless when I went back to the hotel. I ended up sleeping on a couch that night. By which I mean an extended chair. By which I mean ouch. Oh well, so much for luxury.

I found out the next day that the clubbers were up till the wee hours of the morning. They did end up finding their perfect party, and afterwards, in their drunken not-so-clear-thinking, went skinny-dipping in the ocean. Now I am a strong supporter of the activity, but not-so-much when everyone is drunk, at night, in unfamiliar ocean waters. When I pointed this out they went ‘oh… yeah, that wasn’t such a good idea…’ Oops. They had a lot of fun though, and if they got a little carried away, at least it was in the good way, and not the bad way… by the ocean. They rolled in at about 4 AM.

Breakfast the next day (which they all made it to, I might add!), brings us ‘All Inclusive’ Lesson #2: ‘breakfast included’ doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Oh, sure, they had a full breakfast menu, but what was included was toast (and butter!), coffee, and tea. The coffee was much appreciated by the clubbing folk, but I was less than impressed with the toast. So we sucked it up, ordered yummy omelets, and paid the extra dollar. I know, I know, don’t be cheap… but they said all inclusive! Oh well.

Saturday, as part of our all inclusive package, we had a driver and shuttle at our disposal. So we packed up and headed to a nearby old church that I don’t really remember much about, except that it was pretty and there was some saint that resided there permanently. I always feel very curious and awkward at churches. It was extremely hot that day, so we were moving pretty slowly. Next we went across the way to a museum of some sort. I didn’t go in because I was talking to Rachel while seeking out the waning shade outside.

It was one of those places that charges more admission to foreigners than to residents, and I am a HUGE fan of such places. The national parks in Ecuador are the same way. Why should local people, who pay taxes, have to pay a lot to visit their own national parks? At the same time, people who have crossed borders on a vacation can afford a one-time expense of $20 US to visit an amazing park and help keep it that way.

Then it was back to our home beach for a late lunch in one of the beachside shacks. All I can say is YUM! It was some of the best food I had in India. And it was one of those times where I was pretty tired, ate some good food, had a beer (Kingfisher, of course!), and I sat there and just stared at the waves and half listened to the conversation at the table, half zoned out to the meditative crash on the beach. One of the things we ordered was a king fish. It came out whole (and large) cooked up in one fell swoop. It was delicious.

After a late leisurely lunch, we strolled down to the beach to get our swim on… Quickly. It was really nothing more than a dip, because we had reservations on a sunset cruise at 5:30, and it was 45 minutes away.

‘All Inclusive’ Lesson #3: ‘sunset cruise’ doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Now I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but what would you picture? We got on the boat, and it had the look and feel of a ferry. The plastic porch-type chairs were squashed on deck so tightly that once you sat down there was no getting up. And it was still very hot, so you had to get up to get something refreshing to drink (thank goodness there was a bar!)

In another culture, I think it would have been a booze-cruise. But I wasn’t drinking anything fun, and I don’t think many other people were either.

So what was the entertainment? Really really really bad musicians. Really bad. Tragically bad. I guess it is the kind of musicians you would expect to find on a second-rate sunset cruise-ferry boat in a touristy area of India.

And the keyboardist looked like he thought he was SO cool in his shades.

Then, fortunately, came the comic relief. Not a comedian. Those same musicians went off stage one at a time, changed into huge animal costumes, and came back to dance for (and eventually with) the children. All I know is if I were a little kid I would have been TERRIFIED! As it is, it was just hilariously weird and creepy.

By the way: kids on a rickety-old-large boat with non-kid preventative railing? Yeah, just roaming around.

I spent most of the time on the lower deck where it was a little quieter, and where I could actually appreciate the setting sun. In the end, the sun didn’t so much set as phase out of existence. The closer it got to the horizon, the redder and dimmer it got, but it didn’t reach before it was no longer visible. I got some really great photos down there.

Oh, and we weren’t on the super-special sunset cruise. There were probably 8 or 10 sunset cruises we were basically traveling in line with. Then, a little before the sun actually set, we turned around and headed back.

After the cruise, we went back to the hotel for our included dinner, and then people went to freshen up. After that we all went out. Or most of us, I think, I don’t really remember. And not because I was so drunk, just that I have a bad memory. We just strolled to a bar and had a good time just chilling and having a few drinks. Then I think most of us called it a night, and maybe some stayed out a little later.

The next day we planned to spend at a nice secluded beach. But by the time everyone had breakfast and agreed on where to go, there wasn’t really time to get to one and back. So we just went back to our local beach and had a very fun and relaxing day playing and eating on the beach.

One of the highlights for me was the body surfing, which is always quite a rush when you get a good wave just right. We also played some football, and were joined by some random people.

Then for a while we were just soaking in the ocean, and someone, I’m not sure if it was me or one of the Brits, started singing a song from ‘HMS Pinafore.’ Others joined in, and before you knew it, there was a rousing rendition of a musical being sung while we floated in the Indian Ocean. Random but fun, as it had probably been since I was in the play in high school since I had sung it!

Then we had another great lunch and were sitting on the beach. A group began to gather in the water, and we really weren’t sure what was going on. Then they started climbing on each other, and we realized they were making a human tower! It took them a few times, but finally they got it, and it was quite a site to see for the one second before it came tumbling down. Check out the video for a firsthand look.

All in all, despite the difficulty getting going that day, a great day on the beach!

An interesting thing happened at the hotel. I had snagged a couple extra towels for going to the beach, and put them in my (I’m positive) zipped up backpack locked in my room. I put them in there because I figured they wouldn’t want me taking their towels to the beach. When I got back to the room later that day, they were gone, which means someone had gone through my stuff. That’s not so fascinating. What is amazing is that nothing else was taken from my bag. And there was some semi-valuable stuff in there (at least compared to towels), like an MP3 player and other assorted stuff.

After I had already realized this, I was headed out to the beach. I certainly didn’t want to take my passport there where it could get lost, stolen, whatever. And I figured if someone has already been through my stuff, they are unlikely to go back through it. Also, if they didn’t take anything the first time, they must not be the thieving type.

So I left my passport in the bottom of my backpack under all my other stuff, zipped my backpack (I’m positive), and locked them in my room. When I got back, my backpack was open, my stuff had definitely been gone through, but again (thank goodness) nothing was missing! I described the situation to the others (I had the first time too, so they would know), and some of the Indians thought that the cleaning staff was probably just very curious about ferenghis and their lives. Woah. I wasn’t sure whether to be creeped-out or honored. So I settled on feeling lucky that they didn’t take my passport, giving me many headaches.

The final morning I had a moderate headache when they told us we needed to checkout. I had very clearly understood with the travel agent that we were checking out when we needed to leave for our flight, in the late afternoon. Then they wanted us to check out by noon. This wouldn’t have been a huge problem, we could have left our stuff with them, except that the whole point of leaving at the end of the day was so we could spend the day at the beach, and we all wanted, nay, needed showers before squishing into the shuttle and airplane with each other. We are all good friends, but there are limits.

So I called the travel agent and insisted that he call them and work his magic. Hah. In the end, despite all my best efforts, the best I could do for us was to get one room to keep our stuff and shower in. I tried desperately to get two rooms, going a guy / girl modesty thing that I thought had a good chance to work, but it was to no avail.

So after our day at the beach we got back to the room with exactly 1 hour and 12 people to shower. I didn’t think we could do it. In fact I was sure of it. And sadly, by the time I got to the room after dealing with the front desk, there was a list, and I was last on it. I am surprised, no, honored to say that all 12 of us, guys and girls, managed to get in and out of the shower (which was really more of a trickle), with no compromises of modesty or privacy, and were on the shuttle with all our stuff in EXACTLY 1 hour. When we started, I would have put money on us being late to leave, but we pulled it off, and when we were on the road I took a minute to tell them all how proud I was to be a part of such an efficient group. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was really amazed that it could be done. Usually, the larger the group, the later you are, this was truly amazing.

The flight back was not on Kingfisher airline, and the differences were… um… noticeable? Let’s just say, it was well worth the extra money, whatever it cost. Or maybe we were spoiled. I don’t know, but I’ll be flying Kingfisher Airlines for all my domestic Indian travel needs from now on! (Do you think they’ll send me a voucher for a free ticket? Or at least a t-shirt?)

Finally, to end what was a great weekend on a bit of a downer, was the news that I happily didn’t learn till after I got back. Sadly, about two weeks before we had been there, a 15 year old girl was found dead washed up on the beach. While that sounds tragic, and it truly is, that is not the whole story. She was a British girl who was traveling in India with her mom, brothers, and mom’s boyfriend. They had left her in Goa while they went to travel in other areas of India. She wasn’t too heartbroken about it, and had in fact been out drinking, doing drugs, and partying the night before she was found. Still very sad, but I find it disgusting that the mom has the chutzpah to be angry at the local police.

MINI-RANT - I’m going to go out on a moral limb here, but when you leave your 15 year old daughter alone in a foreign country in a region known for drinking, drugs, and partying, you lose just about all your rights to be angry or upset with anyone but yourself. - END MINI-RANT

Side note: I’ve just noticed two interesting things about Microsoft Office. First was that it recognizes (and corrects the spelling of) the word ‘chutzpah,’ and second is that it automatically capitalizes the word ‘Microsoft.’

What was interesting was that I heard about it the very day I got back, even though it had happened two weeks earlier.

Anyway, like I said, very sad for her and her family.

Very good and very busy weekend for us. My hectic schedule and the culture inspired me to coin a new phrase (so I think): ‘I’ll sleep during my next lifetime.’

If you’re interested, I’ve uploaded a bunch of pictures (in the album named Gonna Goda Goa) and videos of the scary dancing animals and the human tower, so check them out!

1 Comment

September 5, 2008
I enjoyed this entry Benjie. Goa has always fascinated me--I know it is a popular vacation stop for students in India, including Israelis traveling after army duty. Thanks for the desriptions.
Love Sarene
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