Off the beaten track - South Goa
Following our month in Sri Lanka, the next stop was India. Friends of ours suggested we follow them to Goa and settle in for a month. We flew in from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, to Bangalore and then a domestic flight to Goa. From here our destination, or home for a month was Patnem, a small village near the larger more touristic area of Palolem in South Goa.
We found a place to rent for the month, which on arrival seemed like a bit of a strangely located skeletal offering, but as we got accustomed to our new surroundings, realising we could walk everywhere (three minutes to the beach and village) and came to understand that no long term rentals offer crockery or a cup to drink from, we managed to turn it into a home. For holiday purposes there are plenty of beachfront resorts to stay in here but if you’re looking for upscale or luxury, the choices are limited. Most accommodation is relatively basic, but you can find some really cute, affordable apartments literally on the beach next to all the restaurants, bars and shops. Everything works on the season here, quite literally when we arrived the beachfront properties, being mainly wooden constructs, were not yet finished as they are taken down and reconstructed every year for the main season.
This area doesn’t offer the party scene that usually resonates with mentions of Goa, here you can guarantee a peaceful night’s sleep and plenty of early risers. In fact I think they banned loud music and partying in this region of Goa to prevent that scene developing. One place found a way around this by introducing the ‘Headphone Party’ that goes on every Saturday at the Silent Noise Club at Neptune Point between Colomb and Palolem. If you haven't tried one of these parties it’s part ridiculous and part hilarious and then actually pretty fun. You each get a set of decent headphones and make your way to the dance floor gilded by three DJ’s playing different types of music which you can flit between by switching the input on your headset. Everyone knows which DJ you’re listening to by the colour of the light on your headphones. So everyone is dancing three ways, singing out loud to no sound; if you walked in without any awareness of the concept you may run away worrying for the mental health of the people attending.
Life in South Goa is generally soft and simple. The sun shines daily, the food has depth, the aromas are heady and there’s a delicate freedom in the air. Renting a moped (or go up a level an opt for a Royal Enfield) is the way to travel. Rules are relaxed and only the driver is required to wear a helmet. This law varies from town to town so make sure you have yours with you if you’re choosing not to wear it as the local police occasionally dish out the odd fine to a foreigner. I think the maximum number of people we saw on one moped was seven!
We chose to put the children in a little outdoor international school here for a few weeks where they learned some Indian traditions, art and dance. They went on nature walks, did sports at the beach, played cricket, ate homemade food, and read books in trees. To be barefoot was compulsory and we all made some great friends in the little community; let’s just say we all cried when we had to leave.
Mornings on Patnem beach are somewhat sacred with cows resting on the cool sand, dogs alike, and the smattering of yoga centres in full flow as visitors balance their chakras and get in touch with the energy of India. I often took a morning run, followed by an ocean swim to cool off and a moment on a rock to meditate and prepare for the day. Then off to the bakery to sit and get some work done while feasting on local delicacies; fruit, banana bread and chai!
Nearby Palolem is the more well-known area which is further advanced in tourism. There’s a long stretch of roadside shops, selling the local wares, leading to the beach which is a beautiful sweeping bay but quite overrun with restaurants, bars and people. This is more the younger couples type destination whereas Patnem feeds the family crowd, especially those staying longer term. If you head a little further south you’ll find some practically untouched beaches, where development’s claws have not yet managed to pierce. Rajbaga, Talpona, are Balgibag beaches are quiet and undeveloped, though a highway is creeping its way along and soon a bridge will connect this currently unspoilt corner of Goa to the rest of India! Just north of Palolem you’ll find Agonda, a hip spot to hang where you may occasionally find some surf, but nothing to write home about. The beach is beautiful,and the boutique shops and cafes are raising the game for the area.
Cows, being sacred, are free to walk the streets, or lie right in the middle of the road, the beach, wherever they want; we must simply swerve them and leave them to do their thing. They can startle you on your way home when you forgot your torch; amazing how you can miss noticing a huge cow standing in your path, not fun walking right into it!
Our days always involved time at the beach, making its purpose known as our back garden, playground and meeting place. The post-school gatherings, the temperature and sun strength, the lazy sunlight of the afternoon often all gave way to staying on at one of the beach restaurants for drinks and food with whoever we had happened to run into that day. These meals were an extravagance, being on a travellers budget rather than on vacation, so we tried to keep this to a minimum but it was hard to refuse watching yet another sunset and lounging on a bean bag with a cold Kingfisher beer! Still far cheaper than eating out in Spain, but to compare, one of the local eateries could feed our family of five for less than ten euros and this would set us back up to 30!
Local people are friendly and warm yet looking to make a dollar or two. It’s haggle culture here, and there’s a lot of interaction when you’re walking around in an attempt to lure you into their shop “come look my shop madam” being a frequent heckle. There’s no aggression whatsoever, just gentle manipulations to try to get you to put your hand in your pocket.
I’ll never forget the smell of Goa, in a good way! Snaking through the roads to go exploring on the moped while the kids were in school, feeling the soft, warm wind and noting the natural earthy aromas was a soothing and peaceful moment in the day. It makes me feel almost sleepy and warm just thinking about it. Stopping at little local roadside places to try their vegetable thali of the day (a tray of varied individual dishes generally including rice, dal, vegetables, roti, papad, dahi, chutney, pickle and something sweet, all for about 2€ a head) was the best thing since sliced bread.
The expat community here is strong, there are all sorts of folk making this place their home for a few months a year, some more permanently. I was asked frequently whether I was there “for the season” as is common practice for many. It would be easy to slip into a life here, though for us it wasn't what we were looking for at this moment, plus if the surf isn’t epic, then life isn't worth living apparently!
There are excursions and things to do here as well as soaking up the beach life. We took an evening boat ride with a local fisherman, through a friend of a friend, to ride out and see the phosphorescence. Gliding through the pitch black was a little daunting but relaxing at the same time as you realised this man does this every single night to go and check on his nets and haul in the catches of the day. We reached an area where we could see nothing but the nearby rocks and stopped to jump off the boat and watch the glowing algae fizz all around us. My son was the first one in and it really was quite an amazing sight to see him surrounded by ocean glitter.
You can also go dolphin watching which consists of two guys taking you out in their boat one spotting, the other driving, shouting out when they see one, bombing it over to the potential sighting and hanging quietly in the hope to see it. It worked though, we saw quite a few oddly hanging out individually. One of the best parts of this trip was being by a local fishing boat while about eight men were standing in the boat facing us while they hauled in their net, singing merrily while they worked. It was almost a chant, and it was enchanting as the sun was setting, and the birds were circling, while they quite literally sang for their supper.
If you’re in this region you’ve got to head to the Saturday food market in Chowdi. It’s a crazy experience that will leave you exhausted, sweaty and wondering what on earth you just did and bought and why, but you’ll be glad you did it. If you do it again you’ll get the hang of it!
Aside from this we were happy just to explore locally and waltz right into the easy rhythm of Goa until our month was up and it was time to head south to enrich our historical senses in Kerala.
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