Relaxing by the Arabian Sea

Trip Start Jan 24, 2011
Trip End Mar 09, 2011

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Where I stayed
Palolem Beach Resort Canacona
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of India  , Goa,
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Debbie's research paid off once again when negotiating Goa's airport just after sundown.  She knew to avoid the obvious official pre-paid taxi stand and negotiate a ride outside the terminal building.  This was the same advice we'd received years earlier in Bangkok.  We secured a ride for 500 Rupees.

Our cabbie was a pleasant fellow who agreed to help us find suitable lodgings 40 km. down the coast in Colva.  The first stop was the lovely Soul Resort, but they wanted four times what we had been paying.  Exhausted, we took the next place, the Star Beach Resort for only double.  I did get the “deluxe” room with A/C and our first bathtub/shower in India.  Given our physical condition, the temperature and humidity, and the fact that it was Valentine's Day, it was a no-brainer.  You find out that “Deluxe” is a very relative term in India.  Nevertheless, it did the job and after sleeping for over 10 hours, we arose in much better shape.

Whether to stay a second night or push on farther south would have to be decided before the 12pm checkout.  The long walk to a very disappointing beach decided that.  Cab drivers outside the hotel were asking 1500 rupees for the next 40 km leg to Palolem Beach.  We knew rates in South Goa were high, but this was robbery.  Near the beach, another taxi offered his services for 900, and we were off. 

This proved to be the right move.  Our driver took us to the Palolem Beach Resort in error (maybe) – we were looking for the Palolem Guest House, both in the south tip of Goa State near Cancona.  When we saw the beachfront location with acceptable room, hot shower and free wifi at a decent price (1200 rupees payable w/ Visa) we dropped the bags.  The half-moon beach is post-card picturesque, and the area does not tax alcohol like the rest of India.  We immediately booked two nights with possible extensions in mind.

Palolem Beach, we read, is a recent tourist destination – the last ten years or so.  Most of the beachfront structures are broken down and removed for a portion of each year.  While they aren't brick or concrete construction, many seem substantial enough to make this annual bug-out a formidable undertaking

There is a high concentration of little businesses packed along the access roads and lining the beachfront to cater to the vacationers: bars & restaurants, clothing, souvenirs, convenience shops, snack  stalls, hair dressers, massage spas, travel offices and internet cafes dominate, with a few specialty spots like a musical instrument shop.  A number of beach vendors pester the tourists with jewelry, scarves, CD's and the only thing we might consider, fresh fruit.  Many of them come south from Rajistan for the few peak tourist months to ply their trade.  A few of the women almost seemed the Indian version of gypsies, engaging in long, pleasant conversations and slowly working into hard-luck pitches that are tough to resist - at least the first time.

Piled up along the broad stretch of fine sand are dozens of wooden outriggers anxious to take tourists out into the gentle waters of this sheltered crescent cove.  There are a few small, dugout fishing craft, the odd jet ski, and some kayak rentals.  Numerous dogs have their little fiefs staked out, patrolling for interlopers or sleeping in the warm sand.  Oddly, only a few seek the cooler spots under resort umbrellas and lounges or beside the boats.  The few cows often share the back half of the beach umbrellas with the lounging tourists.  Their deposits are one of the few hazards strollers must navigate.

Regrettably, Nescafe is the predominant definition of coffee in Goa.  Their marketing departments must be saluted since most establishments believe this the preferred coffee, and pay a premium to provide it rather than the real thing.   A group of Norwegian university students came to our rescue with directions to a hidden gem back of the north end beach that offered french press as an option, along with interesting food creations of excellent quality.  Next morning we set out for the Lotus Lounge.  It really became a quest to locate the sheltered path entrance from the beach, then navigate a surprisingly long trail through several tourist cabin operations, but we pressed on.  Finally the path opened to a tranquil riverside oasis.

Their praises were justified, and before leaving, the aspiring Scandinavian social workers arrived for their last breakfast and we got to thank them.  So many fine international examples of this generation have crossed our path that I'm beginning to think our world may have some hope for the future.

Returning for dinner, we relaxed with the restaurant manager who had lived for years in Toronto and still owns the condo in the Queen's Quay area.  His Palolem Beach venture is in it's first year. We tried to brainstorm his main challenges -  access and marketing.  So far, word of mouth has yielded a small, dedicated following that now included us. 

We also enjoyed comparing notes with Martina, the German food consultant for  the Lotus Lounge.  We learned a few things about Indian chai.  She had experimented with various teas and discovered  the cheap, local teas produced the best flavour.  In her experience, the street vendor's offerings could not be topped.  She also confirmed their frequent use of disposable clay cups.  Our only encounter with them, on the road to Udaipur, had the vendor puzzled when we kept returning rather than pitching the vessels.

Before leaving, we chatted with a solitary customer who seemed to be a regular patron.  We learned he was a long time musician from the 60's British blues revival named Roy Harper, and in our brief encounter, he shared anecdotes of several of his contemporaries during that creative explosion in London.  I never realized that North Americans like Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell were part of that scene.  Fans will be pleased to know he is still creating, with emphasis on the lyrics.

Next morning, I checked Roy out on Wikipedia and here's an excerpt from their intro:

"As a musician, Harper is known for his distinctive fingerstyle playing and lengthy, complex compositions. He has released a large catalogue of albums as an artist, most of which are available on his own record label Science Friction.

His influence has been acknowledged by many musicians including Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Pete Townshend of The Who, Kate Bush, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd, as well as more recently by Californian harpist Joanna Newsom. Harper also sang guest lead vocals on Pink Floyd's song "Have a Cigar", and inspired the title of the Led Zeppelin song "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper".

In spite of these impressive credentials, he was very low-key, approachable and utterly charming and we were immediately at ease.  I am left with immense respect for the man as well as the artist.

Our second day at Palolem was very frustrating.  Early attempts at booking our next legs down the coast were unsuccessful, and we knew we wouldn't really enjoy our marvellous beach until it was assured we could make our Feb. 23 flight to Sri Lanka from Trivandrum – over 1000 km. south.  We found out at 10 am that the local travel agency was unsuccessful booking us on the 2nd Class train.  Immediately,  Debbie started on the netbook to find alternatives.  It took the whole day to convince us how screwed we were.  This is the most popular season in the most popular part of one of the most densely populated  countries.  Trains are booked months in advance. 

To compound our plight, internet access is unreliable here on a number of fronts.  The resort unplugs their router each night and usually needs prompting fire it up.  Electrical connections are often bare wires pushed into 220V outlet sockets and subject to shorts and disconnections.  Even with hardwired connections, the originating web link is often out of service.  When chasing the few precious tickets that are released 48 hours in advance, starting at 8am, a timely, functioning wifi connection is critical.  We just never have that here.  The travel agents and internet cafes don't open until 9.

Bright and early on day 3 we tried to log on to India Rail and could not connect.  Even identifying and solving various problems, it turned out the internet provider was down.  We roamed the streets for the first travel office to open, or a functioning internet connection and finally found.  After 90 minutes of dropped connections, we secured the best of a bad selection of routes.  It will involve backtracking, uncomfortable overnight bunks and a lot of wasted time, but at least we now had a little certainty.  That afternoon, we baked in the sun as if on holiday. 

No complaints about the weather.  Fears of wilting heat and humidity have vanished.  It is warm, but shade and the light breezes keep comfort within reach.  Overnight the temperature moderates to allow sleep with a ceiling fan.  While there are mosquitoes, they have not been a bother in the room and a little spray at night allows pleasant patio dining.

A few leads have come our way on long-term rentals in Goa.  As expected, near the shore, prices are steep.  A few kilometres inland and the Europeans we spoke with had found acceptable places for as little as $300 a month.  Car rentals do not seem outrageous, and though the traffic is invigorating, it's possible to get about on our own.  One couple from London had purchased a motorcycle upon arrival, done in a local friend's name, and were touring two-up over a wide range.  They planned to sell it after a couple of months.

 Our last day was spent lounging around the property.  The previous evening, Debbie had accompanied a sweet young lady named Shayla to her family home a few minutes stroll away.  Shayla works at the resort's restaurant,  but managed to get away late morning to take Debbie shopping where the locals go, and of all the stops, the grocery store was the highlight.  I decided to explore Feni – a cashew nut distillation reminiscent of Yugoslavian's legendary plum-juniper brandy,  Slivovitz.  Tried it straight but wimped out and added lemon soda to nurse me through the afternoon wait.

Our railroad odyssey begins at a station about an hour's cab ride north, boarding, Vishnu willing, at 7:35 pm.  We arrive in Kochi late tomorrow afternoon.  Can you imagine my excitement?
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My Review Of The Place I Stayed

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