So it feels like we’ve cheated. Slipped off the wagon. Turned to the tourist dark side, and started doing things the easy way. The throw money at the problem way. The way where you arrive by way of slightly battered taxi rather than absolutely knackered public bus, earmarking you immediately as a likely quick quid. As if our milky white complexions weren’t enough.
Clichéd as it may sound, I think there’s a tangible difference between approaching foreign travel as a ‘tourist’ and as a ‘traveller’, and I’m not referring to the ratio of bongs hit, dreadlocks matted, or chakras unblocked. For us it’s much more about trying (as much as possible) not to stand out as a tourist, to try to meet local people on their terms; travel how they travel, eat where they eat, drink chai from dubiously clean metal cups, sat on filthy plastic seats to the side of the road. In so doing we’re far more likely to the have those chance encounters with gap-toothed strangers, with mime the only common language, the memory of which will endure far longer than that time you flashed a thousand Rupee note and got whisked straight to the front of the taxi queue.
That said, as the 06.30 from Hospet Junction rolled into Goa’s Margao station at four in the afternoon, with sundown 2 hours away, 45km’s to cover to reach Palolem, and a room still to find for that night, a rickshaw-bus-rickshaw-walk combo for some reason just didn’t appeal…taxi!! Fuck it were on holiday, don’t you judge us!
From an open train door we chugged west to leave Karnataka state, and got our first taste of Goa’s luscious green hills, winding rivers, cascading waterfalls, and vistas out to where the green met blue, the sea appearing to stretch infinitely upwards as it merged into a cloudless sky. Apart from the transition from Hampi’s orange hues to Goa’s greens, what stood out most as our taxi drove, showing as ever only the loosest of affiliations to the left hand side of the road, was the return of alcohol to the scene. In a big way. In fact, judging from the painted sides of almost every building, wall, or billboard we passed, there are but three products to buy in Goa: Kingfisher Beer, Antiquity Whisky, and (not for drinking) Alcon Cement.
Palolem is a three street village strung along a wide curving beach, 40 or so kilometres from Goa’s southern boarder with Karnataka. I’m not going to dress it up, we went there for three days of ‘beach’, and that’s exactly what we got. No cultural exploration, no greater insight into India gleaned, just 3 days of waking up, eating, reading, swimming, and trying our damnedest to avoid turning our milky complexions the colour of the fresh shellfish barbecued nightly up and down the beach.
Palolem’s long, palm fringed beach is without doubt, lovely. There are a couple of islands just off the shore to give the horizon a bit of interest, the pale golden sand is super fine, the local fishing / dolphin spotting boats are brightly painted, and strung between the palm trees at the top of the beach are tasteful huts and restaurants serving cold Kingfishers, hot curry, and (attempting) the usual gamut of western food styles. But none of these really set Palolem’s beach apart from the many others we’ve seen around the World, which arguably have better views, finer, whiter sand, clearer water, or fewer tourists. What we did get at Palolem beach (and what makes it distinct from any other beach we’ve visited) is our first taste of Indian beach life…
Stepping over a cowpat to get a closer look at several long-horned cows reclining on the sand was our first clue (were one were needed) that this was a different breed of beach to those we’ve seen before. Animals here are as welcome as anyone else, and a fair number of cows and dogs would I’m sure class themselves as semi-permanent residents. People-watching of locals and holidaying Indians was a definite highlight for us…men strolling the sand in black leather shoes, trousers (slightly flared) and large collared shirts would pause to survey the scene, before stripping down to some seriously old school pants in which they’d go for a swim. Ladies in sari’s stroll too, parallel to the water at first, before wading in fully clothed to bob around in the gentle swell. One lunchtime the local school emptied on the beach, the whole class hurling themselves clothed once again into the waves before retreating back up the sand, presumably back into afternoon lessons. On a turning tide one afternoon we saw a handful of guys leaning heavily against a rope running down into the sea, straining for well over an hour until finally the large net placed way out in the bay earlier that day, finally approached the shore. With it grew a crowd of locals and tourists, there to help land, sort, and divide up the haul while kites wheeled above making darting dives to pick up any loose fish. Where else can you see all this, while cricket is played up and down the beach?
And should all of the above get boring,there’s always going for a stroll yourself, see how many times you get directly (or covertly) ‘papped’ by locals keen to have a snap. The mind boggles as to how many photos of us there must be on Indian phones and compact cameras. For extra points it’s always fun to see if you can covertly ‘pap back’…
Palolem’s a cool place to while away a few days. It’s tourist (and traveller) friendly, the boat and taxi touts are only half-heartedly persistent, pealing away from you with a smile once you’ve said “no thanks” a couple of times, and with all the Indiana to observe, there’s plenty to entertain should you have picked a duff book. Recommended.
Now off (by taxi, naturally) to board the train south, heading to our third Indian State in as many days, Kerala…