Goa: the shimmering jewel of the Arabian Sea

Swimming in the Sea of Arabia – doesn’t that sound romantic? It is exactly that – and so much more.  Palolem Beach, in south Goa, is our very soft landing.

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We picked Palolem Beach because Lonely Planet told us it was one of Goa’s most postcard-perfect beaches. Palolem is a small town on a wide crescent beach, with rocky outcrops separating it from other, smaller beaches to the south – all of them accessible on foot.

Goa’s beaches are divided into north and south, with the northern beaches being famous for trance parties and drug-fuelled all-nighters. The southern beaches (including Palolem) are quieter and more family-oriented. They still have beach parties, but incredibly, they are silent: participants wear headsets and groove in their own little bubble, without bringing down the neighbourhood.  It works well – they get to party, we get to sleep.

We are staying at a small guesthouse called Alba Rooms – just five rooms set back from the road and buffered by loads of plants, so it is quiet at night, yet 100 metres to the beach. Each room is large, tiled, spotlessly clean and best of all, they have private patios out front. Our hosts, brothers Sanjay and Tutu are simply the best. They speak perfect English and are so hospitable and welcoming and helpful.

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Originally we were to stay here for just one week, but we’ve extended our stay for another several days – it is too relaxing to leave. As well, our friend Kathryn has arrived in India, and is also staying here at Alba Rooms. She has been travelling the world since June and it is starting to catch up with her. Time to hang out and do little.

Life on the beach is constantly changing, depending upon the time of day. Four or five o’clock in the evening is our favourite – the water is calm, the light is soft and the heat is lessening its grip.  In a town filled with yoga centres and studios, beach yoga is a natural.

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So are boys kicking a ball around.

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There are scenes of quiet contemplation.

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There are many, many boats. Some are fishing boats but many are for the tourists – boat rides out to see dolphins and outlying islands.

These men have developed an ingenious method of moving their boats out of the water and up onto the beach. They lay out long wooden poles on the beach, and then roll the outrigger boats up along them; move the wooden poles and keep rolling until the boats are in place for the night.

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Naturally, there are the requisite stray dogs, but seeing cows on the beach was a new thing for us. They wander about, but since there is a dearth of food on the beach, they tend to congregate and just chill like the rest of us.

Interestingly, the cow patties are few and far between and they’re easy to spot and avoid. Surprisingly to us, the beach is very clean.

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Cows are one of India’s iconic images. Depending on the survey, there are between 200 and 300 million of them, wandering the streets, stepping out in front of cars and on airport runways, and adding greatly to environmental challenges. However they are considered sacred in most of India’s states, so their numbers are not likely to go down any time soon. Here in Goa, (where they do eat beef), cows plod along the streets and on the beaches, and some shop owners throw out food for them. We walked by these two, feasting on cauliflower leaves.

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The first day we were in Palolem, this steer walked right into the restaurant. If this is not an incongruous sight, I don’t know what is. (Cow walks into a bar…) The cows tend to be docile and just stare blankly at you, which can be disconcerting. The owner had a soft spot for this one, and gave him a piece of bread. Later, when another cow tried to enter, he chased her away – telling us she was too aggressive. Apparently, it is not uncommon for cows to head-butt people without any provocation, so we tend to give them a wide berth.

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The town of Palolem runs along one main road, with a number of smaller roads leading off, either to the beach or into residential areas. The main road can be crazy, with pedestrian, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, rickshaw, car, bus and truck traffic all vying for space on a road that barely qualifies as two lanes. Right of way is yielded to whomever is bigger or bolder, and survival as a pedestrian depends upon being fleet of foot, quick of wit, and having eyes in the back of your head. In the midst of this madness are calls from every vendor to,”have a look inside, madam. Good prices.” 

This morning, we headed to the next small town to access the ATM machine, and grabbed a three-wheeled rickshaw for the 3-km. ride. Our driver was telling Stephen that tourism has been down this year, and since he only has three months to make his money driving rickshaw, it is a bit worrisome. We can only imagine the same is true for the dozens and dozens of small shops selling virtually identical stuff – your heart goes out to them all.

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This is the little psychedelic bus we drove in on from Panaji; complete with natural air-con and a rattly sound system. It’s great fun for an hour or less.

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The town is filled with all kinds of wonderment, including this colour-coordinated assortment of oddities, advertising Coca-Cola and laundry services (presumably without a washing machine – that is usually stated.)
By “wonderment”, I mean just that – we frequently find ourselves saying, “I wonder why?” or “I wonder what?” Questions that have no answers.

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Another question unanswered. Today as we were sailing by in our rickshaw, we saw this gentleman leading a cow wrapped in a saffron embroidered cloth. I missed the cow, but caught the man. At some point, we will discover the significance.

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I’m also curious about this tiny corner store. Christianity is prevalent in Goa, but this is the first time I’ve seen the Baby Jesus aligned with mercantile endeavours. And what is the significance of Frosty the Snowman?

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One of the hardest things to resist here are the spice stores. Beautiful bowls neatly heaped with the most fragrant spices – such a treat for all the senses. These are not for us to buy this time around – they simply wouldn’t last the trip for the next three months. I asked this young woman for a photo and noted that her sari matched her spices.

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And of course – on to the food. We have eaten really fresh and delicious food in Goa. Our challenge is to avoid loading up on samosas and pakoras and naan, and try to find cleaner, lighter food. One restaurant we’ve been going to a lot is called Zest – a vegetarian and vegan restaurant that has imaginative and beautifully prepared dishes.

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It will be very easy to eat mainly vegetarian food while we are in India. Our intention once we leave Goa is to avoid meat, to mitigate our chances of  contracting the dreaded “Delhi Belly”.

This plate – pakoras, raita, coriander chutney, chapati, brown rice, tomato salad, and vegetable curry – incredibly flavourful, and so reasonably priced – about $7.

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In this same restaurant there are several very striking photographs, done by local photographer Francisco de Souza  – http://www.francisco-desouza.com

Stephen took this shot of one of his photos of a young girl on a train, nicely juxtaposed with a  young woman on a computer.

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Minor annoyances so far?  All restaurants are required by the police to post No Smoking signs – an edict that is ignored by most restaurant owners and patrons. There is little to be done – it is a cultural norm that is not even close to changing. The fine is 200 rupees – about $4 – not much of a deterrent. Last night we found ourselves surrounded by smokers, literally encased in smoke. Remembering our mantra, “Just surrender”!

The other challenge so far has been the beggars – admittedly not a fraction of what we will encounter in much of India.

We have poverty in Canada and it is no less heartbreaking to see homeless people on the streets there. We give money both directly to people and to food banks and agencies – we give what we can.

In India, the scale of poverty is a whole other thing. Millions of people are doomed by birth to remain dirt poor and hungry, with little in place to help them.

It is wrenching to see a woman crouched in a ditch with her hands out. This is nothing but pure poverty and desperation and hunger and fear.

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We’ve been told so many times during our travels in Mexico and SE Asia not to hand out money, especially to children, as there are agencies who are trying to break the cycle through education. That is all good, but it doesn’t change the fact that people are suffering. It is also impossible to hand out money to everyone, so the dilemma remains. We give where we can.

There is a flip side to this.  Yesterday I watched as a tiny woman in a pink sari deliberately bumped into Kathryn.   Since Kathryn had her hand firmly on her bag, that effort went unrewarded, but it was a good reminder that we need to pay attention.

The other good reminder is not to be angry or fearful. If I was that poor, I would likely steal as well.

I’ll wrap up with a photo that has no special significance, other than I like it. This was taken on our walk from Palolem Beach along the coastline.  Still lots to explore and report back on, and so many impressions to talk about. See you again in a few days.

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30 thoughts on “Goa: the shimmering jewel of the Arabian Sea

  1. Annie January 11, 2018 / 5:59 am

    What an amazing adventure I enjoy following your world trek, thanks for sharing.

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  2. Joan Fisher January 11, 2018 / 7:14 am

    Your pictures and commentaries are wonderful, Ginny. The poverty gets to us as well when travelling. We are supposed to be in HK awaiting grandbaby no. 2 next week, but I’m sick and plans are aborted. As you might imagine, I’m beyond sad. Enjoy the rest of your stay. The beach town looks wonderful. Hello to Steve.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 12, 2018 / 8:20 pm

      Oh no, Joan – are your plans delayed or called off entirely? I hope you are not seriously sick.

      I’ll send you an email.

      Take care, xo

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  3. shelley-anne January 11, 2018 / 9:29 am

    Hello Ginny and Stephen, I am excited to read about your never ending adventures. Ginny, I really appreciate your comments and pictures, as I don’t think I will ever get to India. Take care Happy Safe travels.
    Shelley-Anne

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 12, 2018 / 8:21 pm

      Hi Shelley-Anne – so good to hear from you. So many people have said the same thing – about not going to India! We haven’t been put to the test yet, but I have a feeling when our trip is over, we will be hungry for more.
      We’ll be safe.
      xo

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  4. Danielle January 11, 2018 / 10:04 am

    I am following your new adventures with a lot of interest!!
    Thanks for sharing this fascinating stories with us on Gabriola!! Happy travelling!!
    All the best
    Danielle

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  5. Sheila January 11, 2018 / 11:21 am

    So enjoyable to read this blog about this beautiful place, it warms my heart. I sit looking at the rain and grey water on Gabriola. I wish I could be there with you! Hugs Sheila

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 12, 2018 / 8:23 pm

      That would be incredible, Sheila – to be in India with you. I’m guessing you and jim are off again soon?

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  6. Linda Whitely January 11, 2018 / 11:31 am

    Loving, loving the adventure! 💕So happy you’ve found such a cute place to stay on the beach. Yes, agree with you about the poverty… always a dilemma. Of course we are all so soft hearted and would love to be able to give to all but it is just so neverending. Especially when you are there for months not just a couple of weeks. It does make you heavy hearted some days.
    Looking forward to your next story. Safe travels dear adventurors.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 12, 2018 / 8:26 pm

      It helps to remember that we can’t change the world. We can’t change poverty, we can’t change injustice and we can’t change the fact that Trump is President.

      So we keep our own corner tidy and kind and open-hearted.

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  7. Bridget Montgomery January 11, 2018 / 12:09 pm

    Wonderful reading and great photographs, Gini. So exciting to know that you have met up with Kathryn. Give her a big, long hug and a kiss and then, after, tell her it is from me. xo. Safe travels on this next leg of your journey.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 12, 2018 / 8:27 pm

      Thanks Bridget – glad you’re with us. Delivered the hug and kiss!

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  8. bonnie blacklock January 11, 2018 / 2:27 pm

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos and stories of your adventures ❣️so lovely to read on this very dreary, wet, dark day. Safe travels to you and Steve.😊 Bonnie and Gord.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 12, 2018 / 8:32 pm

      Thanks Bonn – it is honestly hard for us to remember the wet dark days now, since it is so hot here. (not rubbing it in, it is just the case)!

      Never mind, in a few short weeks, you’ll be doing the blossom count in Victoria.

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  9. Roy Phillips January 12, 2018 / 9:20 am

    Housebound, your journal makes this Irish Gipsy so happy.

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  10. Heather Scott January 12, 2018 / 1:33 pm

    Wow, what a great post! So many interesting pics to look at and things to read about! As you know, I’m always curious as to what you are eating; so, I for one, am happy to hear about that aspect of your travels! I love the last photo you included (by the way, is it just me or is that a pretty big cat?)

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 12, 2018 / 8:42 pm

      It is a big cat for here. Many of the kitties we’ve seen so far are feral and scrawny. Steve actually said the other day, “Good thing Alanna is not here to see them.”

      As for the food, we’ve been eating really well. Not all Indian food photographs well, so I’ve deleted a few photos that look beige, brown and pre-digested.

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  11. Alex January 12, 2018 / 3:23 pm

    A soft landing indeed! Happy to hear you folks are adjusting so well. I’m more than a bit jealous – I think I actually biked straight through a rain cloud this morning. Love Alex

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 12, 2018 / 8:48 pm

      Oh, we could see you and Alanna here very easily. Once you get settled in, the days and evenings just wash over – we’ve found our favourite restaurants and cafes and have our spot on the beach.

      Because so many people speak English in this part of India, we have had many surprisingly open conversations with young people who love their country, their religion and their families, but are stuck in conflicting beliefs – more on that in the next blog. It is fascinating and heartbreaking.

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  12. Patti January 13, 2018 / 5:52 am

    Great post Ginny. You and Steve are brave and courageous adventurers.we can all learn from you. Thanks

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 15, 2018 / 2:30 am

      Thanks Patti, but honestly, a trip to India requires just a little research and preparation – there is no bravery involved. Other than taking a chance on getting sick, our risks here are small.
      I wonder if my days for truly intrepid travel are over – where there is wifi, there is comfort.

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  13. Kris McDonald January 14, 2018 / 9:29 am

    Got connected to our first wifi in a week. What a treat to see your blog. We were having a bit of an off day in Kenya, and getting drawn into your adventure perked us up and made us grateful to be able to be wanderers too.
    The post & pics have made me even more determined to follow in your footsteps to India, but Gord still needs some convincing so keep it coming!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 15, 2018 / 2:33 am

      Kris – great to hear from you – we were wondering how your trip was going. I think this is the easy part, from everything we’ve been told – we may not end up convincing Gord by the time we’re done. Although I would think that travel in Africa might be great preparation.

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  14. Garry Davey January 14, 2018 / 11:46 am

    Another fascinating post, thanks Ginny, I think you’re wise to follow your instinct and rest up in Goa before tackling the possibly more difficult challenges that may lie ahead as you move further afield. The poverty is heartbreaking, I remember feeling the same when in Indonesia 20 years ago. Thanks for reminding us to keep our own corner tidy, compassionate, and open-hearted. Take care you two! Garry & Donna

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 15, 2018 / 2:36 am

      Hi Garry & Donna! We just got back from the beach – the most heavenly swimming you can imagine, and with just three days left here at Palolem, we are almost ready to dive in to the “real” India, as everyone insists on calling it.

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