Lazy days in Arambol, Goa

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Time is relative here in Goa. Some people get stuck here, and that is not only understandable, it is contagious. Already set to stay 6 days, I have stretched my booking for 9. The beach is lined with bamboo hut bars and restaurants, people are relaxed and friendly, the sea is bathwater warm, and every night at exactly 6:30, the sun goes down in a spectacular display over the Arabian Sea.
The days are warm and sunny and the nights are cool. Perfect weather, though perhaps a little hot for my liking at midday.
A loose routine has formed around me. In the mornings, I wake up, wash, put my sandals on and go down to the beach to the Ave Maria hut restaurant for coffee, and perhaps some breakfast. William, Joseph, and Krishna make a fine team and take good care of their customers. I dally for a while watching people do their morning T'ai Chi class, yoga, or swimming, then I go back up to my hut (500 ft away), write, play a little guitar, see who is about, and then in the heat of noon, I walk the 1.5 km to Arambol proper. Perhaps I have a coke at the Morning Star cafe, or 21 coconuts, then come in to spend some internet time. After that I may head up to the north face of the hill on the beach to have a beer or some lunch at the Rice Bowl, whose food and atmosphere are fantastic.
When the sun weakens, I walk back through rows of coconut palms, laundry lines, open cisterns back to the Villa Elena.

Villa Elena is only one part of the complex, it is a sort of loose affiliation of businesses and residences along the beach. The hut I am staying in actually belongs to Leena, sister of William at the Ave Maria, and sometime cow chaser. Next door to me is the Surf Club, a bar and restaurant owned by a very strong Englishwoman named Maggie, who plays the guitar and sings the blues in a careworn whiskey voice, and Phil, her partner in business (and no-one knows if anything else). Next to that is an "ayurvedic" restaurant, that, though it serves delicious food, it is quite pricey. They serve all organic food, but that is no novelty, everything here is organic, they cannot afford chemical fertilizers or insecticides.
And finally, at the very end is the Villa Elena, with the gracious Prakash at the helm, loosely managing the rentals at the whole compound, only Maggie booking her rooms herself.

And so it was the Surf Club which I wandered to my first night, tired, slightly disoriented (though excited) and wanting a cold beer. Apparently there was a "carnival" party there the night before to celebrate the end of the season, so there were not too many people there at 9:30 in the evening. I joined a fellow at a table, and we struck up a conversation. This was Turtle from Kent, and this proved to be the start of a friendship. We talked well into the night, drinking fosters and smoking. When the time came to go to bed, I fell right asleep, exhausted. Of course, it was 4 in the am then, which proved to be a habitual bedtime for the next few nights. .

On my first day, I walked the beach to Arumbol, and had a mission. To find a guitar. . Came into one of the many internet places, this one also doubled as a taxi service, and travel agent, a multiplicity typical of creative Indian businesses. I told the man at the counter about my search, and he suggested that there was an outdoor flea market in Mapusa, and that (of course) he could get me a car there. I got him down to a fair price, 450 rupees for the driver to wait for me a couple of hours, and took the ride.
Indeed, a flea market it was. Stands and booths, selling all manner of things, clothing, masks, crystals, toys, sunglasses, cigarettes, and everything else. All except guitars. I ended up walking around with a picture I had drawn of a guitar, pointing to it and motioning a strumming motion to show what I wanted to find. Saw many sitars, tablas, even a trumpet or two, but it was becoming fast apparent that guitars were not the instrument of choice here, and in fact, I had seen really no-one playing anything at all, all the music was from cd players and blaring from the shopfronts.

After a couple of hours walking around, a tabla salesman that I had asked before came running over with a gig bag and something in it. "Guitar" he said. "Good." I unzipped the case and hauled out the "guitar." Apart from weighing as much as a similar sized block of concrete, it looked like a warped version of what someone in India might think a guitar should look like, made from a crooked line drawing. The neck was as big and square as a 2 x 4, and was carved from a single block of what looked like fruitwood, and the body was as thick as plywood.
Regardless, he had worked hard to find it, so I made a big show of trying to tune the damn thing, and chuckled a bit when he asked his price: 4000 rupees. Finally after Hurculean (perhaps more Sisyphean) effort, the hunk of wood was moderately approaching something like tuning. With the first chord struck, the twisted sound of something that should never have been allowed to exist in the first place filled the immediate area.
I cringed, knowing that this was not a bargain at any price, even as an ornament. The thing was not unplayable, it was a hideous mutant, a parody.
I handed the concrete guitar ( it could not be even called an "instrument") back to my tabla-hawking friend, and told him no way. All the while as I was struggling to tune it, the price kept coming down. " three thousand five hundred! ok three thousand!. . ok 2 thousand, no less. . ." Funny thing is, I had not said a word or even tried to haggle with him at that point. Sometimes you need say nothing, and they will just lower the price, thinking you are not interested, which by that point I was most certainly not interested. . .
When I handed it back, he finally saw the truth. "Twelve hundred!" He offered, with some enthusiasm. I just shook my head, told him "cannot play," and as I walked away, I heard numbers coming back: " Eight hundred!!. . .Six! . . .Five hundred, and no less!. . His voice faded into the din as I took my leave. My favorite saying to myself has always been: "So it is. . ." and nowhere else but in India is that so true. Back at the taxi, I was ready to go. . .

. . and came back to the surf club for dinner and a few beers. I had already learned not to drink foster's or kingfisher, they contain glycol as a preservative, which causes a headache for the indulgent. So the beer of choice around here is king's black label, which is brewed in Goa, which, though having slightly less alcohol, does not seem to contain glycol.
Ended the night also at 4 am staying up telling stories with Turtle and Ray, a blue-collar man's man from the London area. This little "men's club" would happen a few more nights that week. . .Three men, beer, and for Ray, brandy, and lots of war stories. .

Turtle had rented a van for the day after, and so invited me to go with him and split the cost on a sightseeing trip and to visit a spice plantation about 60 km south. I still was on a mission to find a guitar, so that would possibly play into the equation as well. Asleep at 4, up at 8. .
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