Dolphins, saris and Speedos: A typical day on Palolem Beach

There are many ways to amuse oneself on Palolem Beach – swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and dolphin watching.   The beach is lined with boats ready to take tourists out for an hour-long ride – dolphins, eagel (sic) sightings and Honeymoon Bay. All this for $10 – how could we refuse? The captain of our boat assured us we would see dolphins if we showed up early in the day and he delivered. We set out on the 8:00 am boat and passed an atmospheric old fishing vessel on our way out.

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Kathryn, ready for her dolphin adventure.

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And then, true to our captain’s word,  there they were – a small school of dolphins.  We stayed in the area for about 15 minutes or so – long enough to see several swim up quite close to the boat. As with many dolphin or whale sightings, unless you snap one of them spinning in the air, photographs don’t tend to capture the excitement.

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After the dolphins, we were deposited on Honeymoon Bay and left wondering what exactly was expected of us. One of the sailors mimicked holding a camera, so we dutifully took photos.  The young Russian couple who shared our boat smoked cigarettes  and took selfies. Eventually we were allowed back on the boat and resumed our tour. We did see an eagle (or big bird of some sort) and one of the sailors, in the interest of making us feel we were getting our money’s worth, pointed out a rather listless monkey.

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All in all, a somewhat lacklustre boat trip, but it is always enjoyable to be out on the water and gain a different perspective of land.

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Back to the beach, where a broad mix of cultures meet with their accompanying ideas of appropriate swimwear. Palolem is a huge draw for Brits, Germans, Israelis and Russians, and modesty does not seem to register with any of those groups. The Russian men in particular are fond of tiny Speedos – a costume that is flattering to so very few. That, combined with butt cheek shorts and  minuscule bikinis  strapped onto every imaginable body type and it does make me wonder what the locals must think of us all. Watching Indian families on the beach gives us some idea of their preferred attire. These two ladies were out for a stroll, but if they decided to go for a swim, they would simply enter the water fully dressed. Their men, on the other hand, favour form-fitting boxer briefs.

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Every afternoon, we watch the boats being brought back up to shore, well off the tide line. This video shows how this has probably been done for generations.


I dropped off our laundry this morning, and ran the gauntlet past three ladies gossiping by the entrance. “Nice dress,” said one, grabbing hold of my (knee-length) dress after she had given me a good once-over. “Where are you from?”  I have no idea if I passed muster, but I had a pleasant chat with them and then they all had a good laugh as I was butted by a cow on my way out.

We can’t stop taking cow photos – they are still such a novelty.

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And water buffalo – they are less likely to be roaming the streets, as they tend to hang out in the marshy area just outside of town, but we happened to see them heading home.

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The two main streets of Palolem are lined with small shops and restaurants. They are fun and colourful, but we are resisting buying anything so early in our trip.

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Steve did buy a couple of light cotton shirts to help cope with the heat. He asked if I thought he looked like a tourist – I’ll leave that to you to decide. #notalocal

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This was taken a couple of nights ago on the beach. We sat in front of a bonfire, listened to the waves, and enjoyed cold beer and chicken tikka. A memorable night.

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India’s national beer is Kingfisher – not burdened with flavour, but light and cold and a good accompaniment to many of the dishes. We had an interesting experience the other night – Kathryn, Stephen and I were coming back from dinner, and decided to buy a bottle of white wine and drink it on our front deck. I struggled to twist open the screw top, and then it became apparent it had been tampered with – it had already been opened! Back to the store we indignantly marched and the young man seemed entirely unfazed – he returned our money and put the bottle back in the fridge, to be sold to the next unsuspecting tourist.

It is a common scam to fill plastic water bottles with tap water and sell them – it falls to the consumer to make sure the lid has not been broken. We wonder what the scam was with this wine bottle – watered-down wine or the shop-owner’s home-brew? Many parts of India are dry and alcohol will not be available, so this will hopefully be a one-time issue.

Now the food – that is another thing. Look at this gorgeous display of fresh seafood – caught off the Goan waters. That long beak-y fish is a barracuda – I felt those sharp little teeth –  and those are the biggest prawns I have ever seen.

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There is a good-sized Israeli population in India, and a number of them live in Goa, and in particular in Palolem. I asked one of our favourite restaurant owners about this sign (with what looked like a rabbi), and he pointed us down the opposite street. “Many Israelis live down there.”

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Sure enough, after about 10 minutes, we came upon a Jewish open-air congregation – more like  a community hall. We kept walking and the street provided a whole other glimpse into residential Palolem life – neat, homey and inviting.

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Some homes were barely shacks.

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Others appeared prosperous enough to warrant protection.

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And then we came across this home, with the Swastika symbol – which is an important Hindu symbol and in Sanskrit means “conducive to well-being”.  It is hard not to associate this peaceful symbol with the co-opted Nazi symbol, turned on its side.

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We’ve talked to a number of people from different countries who have moved to India, either full or part-time. It is warm, extremely cheap to live, the food is great and the people are wonderful.  Religious tolerance would be another draw – Goa is home to a number of religious and spiritual practices.

However, tolerance of Indians marrying outside of one’s own religion or race is still a huge problem in smaller centres. We spoke to two young men who both faced this dilemma. One of our favourite waiters at a beach restaurant was an exceedingly handsome and charming 26-year-old man from the north of India – in Manali. Luckily for him, although his marriage was arranged, it was also a love match. If he had chosen to marry outside, not only would he be cast out of his village, but so would his family. He works in Goa for the winter and returns to Manali  to work in the summer and be with his wife and family. He is personally happy, but does not like the fact that his culture still operates in the old ways.

Our guesthouse host faces a significant challenge. His girlfriend is Russian and if they married, he would not be able to continue living in Palolem. He is 38-years-old and they have been together for five years, but he shows no signs of wanting to leave his home, family, his friends and his business.  So for now, they remain in limbo, with impossible choices that will may bring an end to their relationship, no matter what decision he makes. He seems sad but resigned and says it is not like this in the big cities – just in the small towns. But he tried living outside of Palolem and was not happy.

The younger generation wants change, but it could take many decades. As an outsider, it is easy to be critical of harsh and outdated beliefs, but we need look no further than the glacial pace of societal change in North America to realize we cannot judge.

We plan to eat a lot of vegetarian and vegan food while in India – both for better health and to improve our chances of not eating tainted food and getting really sick. Palolem has a number of good veg/vegan options and Little World became one of our favourites – great coffees, wonderful breakfasts and interesting and colourful clean food options.

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We became almost daily customers, stopping in for at least a coffee, and we got to know the folks in there quite well, with Shanu dancing to “Uptown Funk” and Ruby serenely working the room, and Nitin lending a spiritual presence. They invited us to come for dinner as their guests and tonight we gratefully accepted their hospitality.  It was a lovely evening with delicious food. This photo does not include Shanu – he was temporarily distracted by two beautiful blonde women who dropped by for long hugs and then needed a motorcycle drive home.

Nitin, Ruby and us.

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Our time in Palolem is coming to an end. Last year, while travelling in Vietnam, we came across a couple from Scotland who were kite-surfing instructors, of all things, and who had been travelling the world. They offered advice that we have taken to heart – Don’t try and pack too much in. Get a feel of the place. Stay there until you are a bit bored, then move on.

We’re there – we’ve had a memorable start to our trip, but now we’re a bit bored and ready to go. We’ll take a day-long train to Hampi and stay there for a few days. See you in a bit.

 

20 thoughts on “Dolphins, saris and Speedos: A typical day on Palolem Beach

  1. Sheila and Jim January 17, 2018 / 9:33 am

    Wonderful, we love your humour. This post has set us up for another wet and windy dayon Gabriola. We think that Steve definitely looks like a local in that shirt.
    Hugs

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 17, 2018 / 6:20 pm

      He kind of blends in here, although this may fall into the category of wearing elephant pants back in Canada.

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  2. Vikki January 17, 2018 / 12:02 pm

    Love your suntan Steven ! I love all the cows in the streets … “ holy cow “ .looks like a great place ! To holiday with such wonderful beaches … lol

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 17, 2018 / 6:23 pm

      It is a wonderful place for a holiday – plus there are numerous day trips to be taken from here. I loved the swimming – water comfortable but not too warm, sandy bottom, gentle waves. It was an absolute tonic.

      The cows continue to amuse us, although we did see one give a rather vigorous shove to a little boy who was unhurt, but scared. For some reason, that made me laugh – I could imagine one of our own boys when they were little going through a similar experience.

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  3. Bluethner Fine Art January 17, 2018 / 12:06 pm

    I look forward to the next adventure! I’m enjoying this very much. And Steve… your shirt fits you very nicely… Hugs

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 17, 2018 / 6:26 pm

      Thanks Elsa. Steve says that to go with the tourist shirt, I took a typical tourist photo – body cut off at the middle, plunked in the middle of a scene, without thought to framing or focus. Like an old photo from our childhood.

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  4. Joan Fisher January 17, 2018 / 12:43 pm

    In answer to your question, Steven, yes, you look just like a tourist. Lol. In a good way! Looked for pics of you in your speedo but was sadly disappointed. Another wonderful story.

    Enjoy!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 17, 2018 / 6:32 pm

      Lorne, we head to Hampi next, to be staying in an area called “Little Jerusalum” at the Mowgli Guest House, owned by Israelis. After that, we’ll be in Mysore, where one of the big attractions is India’s oldest synagogue – 400 years old. I had no idea of this history of Jews in India, and as well, of Indians in Israel. Christianity is also big in Goa.

      And yes, he does look like one big rupee walking down the beach – comically joined with a number of other big rupees who have bought souvenir shirts to bring back home.

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      • Lorne Katz January 18, 2018 / 3:08 am

        Some believe that one of the “Lost Tribes” ended up in India.
        Take care. We leave for israel next Sunday for 5 weeks

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  5. Shelley and Tom January 17, 2018 / 2:44 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your trip, with your irrepressible enthusiasm, discerning eye and wonderful powers of observation. We just got home yesterday from 9 great weeks in Oaxaca and this makes me want to get up and go already! Especially after waking up this morning to a real west coast downpour! But despite the constant sunny sky there, we can’t deny it’s good to be back in clean, fresh air – something Oaxaca and Mexico City are in desperate need of. Good advice from the Scotsman. We tend to stay for relatively long periods in one place but sometimes I think we could use a bit more of your energy to get “out and about” more. One anecdote about Goa: Tom was there in the early 90’s and used to regularly see a young fruit vender on the beach. There were many Finns there in the winter. The boy had probably only had a couple of years of primary school, but he had invested in a Finnish-English dictionnary and was learning one new Finnish word a day. That speaks volumes about how resilient and enterprising people in poorer countries often are (and how we entitled westerners compare!).

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 17, 2018 / 6:38 pm

      What a wonderful story about that young boy learning Finnish – a lot of people here know words in Russian, French and German – “enough for business”, as our captain told us. Luckily for us, English is widely spoken, of course.

      We long for clean, fresh air – even here in Goa, the sky is never bright – there is always a bit of a haze. The garbage is burned, so every morning there is an acrid smell of smoke.

      I can’t imagine how well you must be speaking Spanish by now – after 9 weeks in Oaxaca. I really look forward to hearing all your stories when we’re back there in the spring.

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  6. Linda Whitely January 18, 2018 / 1:29 pm

    Another great post! The guesthouse sounded wonderful. Yes , the Speedos were quite a sight! Because we were at a larger resort type accomodation we got to experience those same people very intoxicated and very rude to the Indian people at dinner and breakfast. There was a constant argument about paying for the multi drinks that they had no recollection drinking! Not a pretty sight.

    We also saw the women just wade into the ocean in their full clothing. In some parts of India that was very frowned on because the wet clothing would cling and show body outline…a no no.

    We visited the synagogue you are talking about. I was wondering why there was razor wire on top of the walls surrounding it. Our friend told us because there was a lot of prejudice and threats against them. Wonder if that is still the case?

    Keep posting, living through you. Big Hugs.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 21, 2018 / 9:54 pm

      Saw more obnoxious tourist behaviour here in Hampi. We have to take a small boat across the river to the guesthouse area – it takes about 4 minutes to cross and costs 20 rupees, plus 10 rupees for luggage – for a total of about 60 cents. Three young, snotty and entitled backpackers were refusing to pay – they wanted to haggle, and pay just 50 rupees. Naturally, the Indians were furious and refused to let them off the boat. Much yelling and insulting racial epithets ensued. I confess I added to the ruckus by yelling at the tourists because they were holding up everyone and embarrassing themselves for the sake of saving 10 cents each.

      While it is common and appropriate to bargain politely at markets and with rickshaws, I think we all need to remember to behave well when we travel. Myself included.

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  7. jon snipper January 18, 2018 / 2:46 pm

    Another interesting post and fun photos. Steve did look like the worldly TOURIST he is. The place sounds like the perfect spot to start your Indian immersion, combining both pleasurable and irritating things, but not in overwhelming measures. Very much looking forward to your future adventures once you hit the “real” India. Incidentally, one of the famous Indian Jewish exports is Zubin Metha, the world renowned orchestral conductor (whom I think broke the music taboo of playing Wagner with Jewish orchestras, but might be wrong there). When you go south to Kerala, you’ll find more evidence of this rather incongruous cultural mix. We just got back from a week in Nicaragua at the Mariposa Spanish School and Ecolodge. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas and it shows but I can’t imagine it holds a candle to what your are going to find there by way of poverty. But some great birdwatching, forest hiking, and wonderful lakes in volcanic craters. Fortunately, return to Montreal was in a mild spell, so missed the -25 stuff of which there has been too much this winter. Keep well and lots of fond wishes for your continued pleasure in your so interesting travels.

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 21, 2018 / 9:57 pm

      Jon, I look forward to hearing about your Nicaragua adventures – it is a country I’d love to go to.
      Not missing the -25 temps – I have to remind myself of that when I start complaining about the heat.

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  8. Heather Scott January 18, 2018 / 3:14 pm

    I’ve enjoyed the sites of Goa and Palolem Beach very much, but I think the advice you’ve been given is good to bear in mind, so I look forward, as always, to your next stop. By the way, Stephen looks like one of the locals to me, save for the color of his skin perhaps!

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    • leavingourselvesbehind January 21, 2018 / 10:00 pm

      Stephen has just bought another Indian shirt – this one is a bit more subdued, but perfect for this climate. I’m beginning to understand the concept of wearing long, loose light cotton layers – they protect the skin from sun and they are cooler – they don’t stick to the skin.
      And yes, we’re keeping our travel slow and easy.

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  9. Keith Miller April 5, 2018 / 5:23 pm

    donlyn@telus.net

    On Wed, Jan 17, 2018 at 11:54 AM, Leaving Ourselves Behind wrote:

    > leavingourselvesbehind posted: “There are many ways to amuse oneself on > Palolem Beach – swimming, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, and dolphin > watching. The beach is lined with boats ready to take tourists out for an > hour-long ride – dolphins, eagel (sic) sightings and Honeymoon Ba” >

    Like

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