What is Goa? It's a small state on the west coast of the Indian peninsula, which was (until invaded and annexed by India in December 1961) a Portuguese colony and is now a tourist enclave. It's not the first time I've been there - I'd put up a post with many photos of my previous trip in October 2012, but they were all eaten by the Great Google Photo Crash which hit my blog in April of 2014. In any case, on that occasion I'd gone to Goa with someone who said she'd love me "forever and a day" - and then I discovered that "forever and a day" didn't exactly mean what it said, so it's just as well that those old pictures are gone.
I only spent three days and two nights in Goa, which is about half the time I'd spent there on the previous visit, so I didn't do much compared to what I'd done before. I didn't go exploring the far interior of the state, riding a rented motorcycle along back routes with the then Significant Other yelling in my ear relaying routes from her Google Maps. You do realise that one can't keep consulting Google Maps while operating a motorbike at the same time? So I exclusively stuck to the main routes this time, where there was always someone I could ask the way in case the (excellent) Goan road signposting failed me.
Most people would call what I had in Goa a "vacation", but I wouldn't call it that. It was a break I needed desperately, to purge my mind of the anguish that has been consuming me for a year now, an anguish related to the ending of "forever and a day" well short of eternity. It was what, if I believed in a spirit or a soul, I'd call a "spiritual break" that I needed.
So, this is what I did. I rented a room in a fairly good but low-cost hotel in the little town of Candolim, which has a long but very tranquil beach (unlike most Goan beaches which are either taken over by fishermen or tourists). I've been to Candolim before, and I prefer its quiet and very long beach to the noisy, crowded, beaches on either side with their restaurants in shacks on the shore playing ear splitting music and boat owners pestering you to try out the water sports they're offering. In Candolim even the water sportsters don't try to shanghai you.
I rented a truly awful motorcycle and rode along the wide Goan highways at speeds probably approaching a hundred kilometres an hour, feeling the wind roar in my ears. Probably approaching, I say, because this motorcycle didn't have a functioning speedometer. It also lacked a functioning odometer, engine kill switch, fuel gauge or usable left rear view mirror. There was an invisible fuel leak somewhere - the thing stank constantly of petrol. The ignition key, which is normally just inside the rider's right knee in this model, was somehow under the left front edge of the fuel tank, where it was all but impossible to remove after a ride without burning one's fingers on the engine block. And there were two different but identical looking keys, one for the ignition and fuel tank and another for the lock. Why? Don't ask. I don't know. The fuel tank cap, in fact, was quite difficult to lock properly since the key would come out even if the cap wasn't secured.
At least the horn worked, and so did the headlight and indicators (after a fashion; when one decelerated the headlight dimmed to the point where it would give a firefly serious competition). And to add insult to injury, the renter demanded a security deposit in case I damaged his precious hunk of overheated, rusting metal, and when I gave it back he went over it looking for fresh damage. Charming.
Well, at least the damned thing didn't break down, and, rather remarkably, didn't get a flat either.
I don't mean to say all rental bikes are that bad. The one I had last time was superb, except for a minor gearbox oil leak.
One of the things I did in Goa was give a lift to a random guy looking for a town called Parra of which I have never heard, near which was some place called Emerald Lawns. We spent half an afternoon looking for these Emerald Lawns - which he'd visited once, ten years in the past - before a very cute little girl gave us precise directions. Emerald Lawns turned out to be something resembling a cross between a church, a museum and a high class hotel. I don't know what it actually was, but there were many vehicles parked out front. My passenger - obviously angling for a lift back forty kilometres to where I'd picked him up, a place already well out of my way - invited me to go in with him. I politely declined.
He was a trusting sort, though, because I doubt anyone would want to take a ride with this:
That, by the way, is a replacement helmet I demanded and got. The rental guy at first gave me one which lifted away from its lining at the slightest speed and settled on the back of my head - when it wasn't threatening to slip right off entirely, and strangle me with the chinstrap besides.
Here are a few things I saw when on the bike:
Dolphin Circle, Calangute:
Calangute is a town north of Candolim, and has a beach which I didn't visit this time. I'd visited it last time and found it too commercial for my tastes. But outside Calangute is a major traffic intersection where the panchayat (town council) has put up this lovely sculpture. I remember it from the last visit but didn't take photos then.
Water buffalo and egrets:
Possibly derelict launches tied up on a waterway quite far from the open sea:
This is the one place I'd visited earlier that I revisited: Fort Aguada, on a headland between the beaches at Candolim and Sinquerim. One reason I revisited it is my passion for old military architecture. I love ancient forts. The other? I had time I needed to kill.
I even found the same vendor from whom I'd bought a T shirt in October 2012. She, of course, didn't remember me, but I could tell her that said T shirt was at that moment in my bag in the hotel.
Last time when I - we - came here, they were shooting a film at the base of that tower and an actor in a Homburg was repeatedly throwing it away and going into a break dance. I assume that was the hero. I don't know what film it was and I don't want to know.
Then I went to the lighthouse next door. That's the modern lighthouse. The old one was on top of the tower in the fort. There's no way to get a good picture of the lighthouse, due to tree branches, but I did my best:
And, because I like you people so much, I took a picture of the Arabian Sea for you.
See that ship there off the coast? Wikipedia says it's called the River Princess and has been stuck there since 2009. I got a mite curious after I'd noticed it hadn't moved a metre in three days.
What else did I do?
I ate beef steak and squid, prawn xacuti (a dish I'd never heard of earlier) and pork sausages. Here's one new place I found, one which I liked a lot; it's called Blistering Barnacles and is only four months old. The name and the inventive menu card will only be comprehensible to those familiar with the works of Georges Remi, alias Hergé.
I browsed bookshops, vainly seeking a book on the 1961 Indian invasion. You'd think at least one writer would've thought fit to write a book on the one occasion India defeated a European country in war, wouldn't you? You'd think so, but you'd be wrong.
I walked barefoot on the beach for hours, feeling the wet sand drain away my pain through the soles of my feet. Mornings I went down at sunrise to the sea, lay in the water and let the waves wash over me, bearing me up like a bird on the wind. I sat out on the beach at night with wine, as the ocean crashed on the shore and splattered my toes with brine. Did I mention I love being barefoot on the beach? Well, consider it mentioned.
Pity footsteps on the sands of time are washed away instantly by the tide.
Now, I know what you all want, as soon as you hear "Goa": the beaches. I'm sorry to say I visited only three this time and came close to a fourth - near Vasco Da Gama - but found it unfit to tread on, dirty and desolate. I don't even recall the name: Sada, maybe.
So here are the three, all in North Goa.
1. Baga Beach:
This is the northernmost of the three - north of Calangute - and a "happening" place, lined with beach-shack restaurants and crammed with tourists. I did not like it much. Still, here are photos for you, in which I tried to avoid photographing the tourists as much as possible, and a nice sunset:
2. Sinquerim Beach:
This is quite a small beach, not far from Fort Aguada, just south of Candolim. The beach has a few shacks and some hotels just above the sands, but the main feature is this old fortification. It's not particularly large, so I have little idea what practical function it might have ever served.
Sinquerim Beach is pretty, certainly. Very pretty in fact:
However, I spent only about twenty minutes on the beach, and in that time I was approached by no less than four representatives of the boat crews in the middle picture above insisting I try their water sports. That was one of the reasons I only spent twenty minutes on that beach.
3. Candolim Beach:
Ah, Candolim Beach, how do I love thee? Let me picture the ways.
That red flag over there in the distance marks a "no-swimming" zone.
Fort Aguada is somewhere on the other side of this headland marking the southern end of Candolim Beach. At night you can see the beam of the lighthouse coming over that hill:
There's that ship again! The non-Flying non-Dutchman.
Goan beaches are full of friendly dogs. This one took a real shine to me.
And the waters wash the shore...
Sunset on Candolim Beach:
So there was I in Goa.
And, little by little, I began to improve. My stress levels reduced, my mind became calmer, and I began to think a little of the future instead of exclusively of the past. I slept naked (and alone) and during those few days had none of the insecurity dreams which normally shred my nights. Not once did I dream I was facing an examination or that I was on a journey with no ending. Nothing tried to drag me into dark threatening shadows where things much worse than death waited, gibbering.
Though it happened again as soon as I came back...
Yes, I paid for it, and I don't mean just financially. I paid for it with a deep wrench at having to leave, and a decision to return as soon as possible. I also paid for it with a terrible sunburn which turned my face, neck and arms boiled sunset red. They hurt terribly for a couple of days and then suddenly began to improve.
I'll be going to Goa again, someday fairly soon, for a longer time. I'll put up more photos then, I hope.
Assuming anyone is interested, that is.