Ah, Goa! If ever you encounter any intrepid traveler who has been to the mystical land of India, mention Goa, and they will no doubt tell you how nice it is, how it is so unlike the rest of India. Some will even go so far as to say how they avoided Goa because it was too ‘Western’, not ‘Indian’ or ‘authentic’ enough.
This can only make me wonder what it must be like in midst of the throngs and throes of India. Our brief stop in Kolkata (formerly known as ‘Calcutta’) and our night in Mumbai (Bombay) had been eye openers, seeing humanity at a new low of filth and poverty, but the ‘beautiful’ state of Goa still ranks as one of the filthiest, most crowded places I have ever been.
The main beaches have large groups of Indians who will follow you, trying to sell you things. Garbage litters the streets and beaches, there are piles of dirt and construction debris everywhere, and of course, everyone drives according to a chaotic rhythm, all over the road, using their horn as a means of saying ‘out of my way!’, much like the rest of India.
On our second day in Goa, we decided to find a long term residence to stay at. We had spent our first night in the Ayurvedic Natural Health Center, where Theresa was taking a course in Ayurvedic medicine. The center was nice, and provided simple but adequate meals of Indian food, but the children had to sleep in a separate room from us, which was daunting enough for an eleven-year boy, let alone for a four-year-old girl. This, combined with the lack of any space for them to play or do schoolwork led to our decision to stay elsewhere.
The center recommended a cab driver, which was the way to go, as they cost about 100 rupees per hour ($2.50) and are chock full of information and connections. We ended up with a nice fellow named Raj (which, next to Sanjay is the most common name in India.) After seeing several places that were either too small, too dirty, or both, we were getting a little discouraged. We found one place that we were willing to settle with, but it was going to be a far cry from even the simple comforts we had gotten used to in Thailand.
Somewhat discouraged, and deciding we needed time to process our decision, we decided a trip to the beach was in our best interest, to clear our heads and ground (or in this case, to water) into the place we were at. As we were only a block from the beach, it wasn’t too hard to accomplish. One thing we had noticed in our house hunting mission was how everything was either dirty, run down, or under construction. It seems that ‘tourist season’ in Goa is a very literal thing. Very few people visit during the monsoon season, which lasts until late September, so we had the pick of places to stay, but nobody was ready for us.
Our driver took us to a drop off spot a block from the beach, and after taking about 4 steps down the touristy thoroughfare, we were greeted by a friendly fellow who had lots of questions for us, and few answers. It didn’t take him long to produce some pull-tab cards, explaining that there were some prizes inside to be won from one of the resorts in Goa. Not taking no for an answer, he started to tear open the cards for us.
I won a bottle of wine. So did Cyrus. But Theresa won the grand prize. A motorcycle (or $2000), an iPod, a one week stay in a resort, or $400 cash. The excitement filled the air as the fellow proclaimed how lucky we were to have potentially come into such a windfall. All we had to do was scratch the little gray square to see what we had won. Theresa started to scratch, when the fellow stopped her, explaining that we had to scratch it in front of the resort management to claim the prize. At this point I was getting a little dubious. (Ok, I had been a little more than dubious all along.)
I said that we would get there soon, maybe in a couple of days, and he explained that we had to go there now, with him, and that a free buffet would be part of the deal. This way, he could claim his 1000-rupee reward ($25). And it would only take about an hour for the management to sort it out and give us our prize.
It was 11:30, and seeing as our children needed to eat, this seemed like it might be worthwhile, but my instincts were telling me that it was most likely a scam of some sort, although probably harmless. I glanced over to our driver, but he just looked away, not wanting to interfere with the local hustler’s guild.
I told our new friend that we had come to see the beach, and that was what we were going to do. He started a new spiel about how quick it would all be, and we stood firm. The beach it was. I told him we would talk when we came back. There is a certain pressure that hucksters put on, a certain guilty expression when refused, as though you have offended them somehow by not adhering to their wishes. In order to avoid hurting the poor fellow’s feelings, going to the beach seemed like the best thing to do.
I can’t say that the beach was all that much better. Between people trying to sell us temporary tattoos and cheap jewelry, there was hardly a moment to enjoy the scenery. After refusing to buy stuff, hawkers would quickly move onto the kids. This was when the she-wolf side of Theresa would come out, and the hawkers would quickly back away.
As we walked back to our van, we noticed our friend, engaged with a new tourist couple, and overheard the lucky news that they had one the grand prize, a motorcycle (or $2000), an iPod, a one week stay in the resort, or $400 cash, and that they needed to come with him right away to claim the prize. At this point, we knew without a doubt what to think of this fellow, and we walked back towards our van. Our driver saw us and quickly walked over and let us in.
As we drove away, I asked him what to make of the fellow, and that we thought it was a scam. He told us that he couldn’t say anything before, or the fellow would have tried to start a fight with him, but that is was just a ruse to get us to the resort, in the hopes that we would decide to stay there. I told him that I appreciated his honesty, and we drove away happy, and more trusting of Raj. By this point, he had figured out our tastes, and the fact that we were at least marginally savvy. He made some phone calls, coming up with the name of a place to check out.
Violet was asleep when we arrived, and we decided that I should check things out while Theresa stayed in the van with the kids. Words cannot describe how nice the place felt in contrast with the others we had looked at. Clean. Nice fresh paint. Spacious. A huge lawn. A two story villa style condo, furnished, for about $12 per day. $360 per month. Perhaps pricy by Indian standards, but to us, it seemed like a steal.
Theresa soon joined me with the kids, and from the second floor of the suite we liked, we could see the swimming pool. And the trail to the beach. Ok, so maybe Goa wasn’t so bad after all. We had the full run of the place as the only guests. Coming during the monsoon season had its perks after all.