India – Days 11 and 12
I am, as I expect is entirely apparent, neither a hippie nor a back-packer.
I did pack-back across the US once when I was a student. Staying in hostels and the like. My one and only foray. And I didn’t actually have a back-pack.
As such, Goa, by general reputation, would perhaps not seem a natural destination for me. However, it will hardly be surprising to hear, there’s a lot more to it than that.
I am also not a beach person. The odd stroll, certainly. A nice view, appreciated. But lying on the sand, diving in and out of the ocean. No thanks. Sand, sand, sand.
Goa, however, could make me a beach person.
Due to the aforementioned lack of hippiedom, the desire for a peaceful holiday, and the most perfunctory Google search, I am staying at a resort in the south of Goa. The back-packers and package holidayers, not to mention the beach-harassers, are apparently crowded into the north. As are most of the parties, in which I have even less interest. I gather the beaches there are beautiful, but down here they are both that, and peaceful.
My resort, apparently popular with the Russian set (one of the receptionists is Olga, and it’s the language I hear most around me, though there is also German, French, Spanish, and English from a number of origins, including a decent proportion from other parts of India. But the Russians are the loudest), is not on the beach, but a mere 6 minute walk (or 2 minute shuttle ride).
The beach itself is wide, the waters of the Arabian Sea are warm, the waves are decent but not overwhelming and the sand, once you get on to the beach proper, is clean. There’s also a lovely sea breeze, which also reaches you poolside back at the resort.
(So lovely that as I write this I’m still sitting poolside even though it’s after 8pm and completely dark aside from a few lights from the bar (lucky I can touch type) and the breeze is just so pleasant I cannot move. Me and the Russians.)
Plus, the Arabian Sea. It just sounds romantic in and of itself.
And there’s no need to sit or lie in that sand. The hotels, and many of the restaurants, put out lounges and umbrellas, so you can lie in comfort and with a little less sand. That said, I did make the mistake of taking my regular bag with me when I first when to check it out and I’ll still be cleaning sand out of the pockets three years from now.
The beach is then lined with shacks serving food and drinks. Sometimes stand alones, sometimes linked to restaurants back in the villages and towns, you can sit drinking beer and eating seafood away from the sun, watching the ocean, with your feet in the sand. The view from lunch:
Lunch, with view:
There are also these holes, big and small, all over the sand, into which these small, almost transparent crabs scurry. Not sure you can see him in this photo.
Not sure how big the guy that belongs to this hole is, or what time he comes out.
Seafood is, of course, big here. But so is the colonial Portuguese influence in the food, so there are a lot of spicy pork sausages and the like. Every time I’ve ordered something spicy here – be it the Goan sausages or the mushroom chilli
chilly fry (a fantastic mix of mushrooms, capsicums, whole green chillies and onions that were basically caramelised) I get a warning from the waiter that it’s spicy. A warning no doubt born of many a horrified tourist reaction. But really, unnecessary. I like spicy food, I grew up with it – my Grandmere was from Mauritius where the creole food is hugely influenced by Indian food – and I eat it regularly. More importantly, none of the food I’ve been warned about has been head-blowingly hot. Just enough to, combined with the not at all unpleasant 31 degree days, create a nice sheen of sweat on the upper lip.
At the well reviewed local place I went to for lunch yesterday, apparently made famous years ago because Sachin Tendulkar deemed their chilli crab his favourite, I suspect that the fantastic fried fish dish, topped with a mix of fried onions and baby shrimp, which I was bought as an extra from the chef may have been a reward for me happily polishing off the spicy (and really, mainly smoky, in a good way) starter of sausages.
With that, on top of the local prawn specialty I’d actually ordered, I really shouldn’t have had dinner. I did, of course.
The resort has three restaurants. A large 24-hour buffet place that does breakfast – vast but somewhat disappointing the morning I tried it, and with the rest of the good food, I really do not need breakfast here – lunch, dinner and everything in between (none of which I’ve sampled), the bar by the pool that does an odd mix of dishes from Indian to Thai to generic, and the high end restaurant specialising in the local cuisine. A couple of nights ago I tried that out, and discovered that for me who loves crab but is so, so bad at cracking them and gathering the flesh, doing so in an outdoor darkened restaurant is both a blessing and a curse. It’s rather hard to see what you’re doing, but also no one can see you plunging in with your fingers and covered in mess. Delightful tasting mess.
And the small fried fish (giant) starter crumbed in a mild spicy mix, were equally good, if not better.
When we were in Mumbai we commented many times that outside our conference-centric hotel, we saw hardly any western tourists. Many, many Indian tourists, but hardly any white people. The Sunday we did our tourist tour there was a cruise ship in town and we were asked many times if we were from the ship, and the retirees from that cruise were the only other western tourists we saw. And not many of them at that. I guess we just expected more, in the tourist heart of a major world city. But no. It was both pleasant and disappointing.
Down here there are more, although when I went into the city today – I’ll get to that in the next post – I still saw maybe only a dozen other white people in the whole day. So it does not, unlike what I noticed in Italy in particular, feel like Theme Park India. At all.
But in the restaurants in the villages around the hotel and the beach shacks, that there are more tourists from Europe and other places is evident in the menus. In addition to the Indian food, the Goan food and the Chinese food – which seems very common in India – the menus are peppered with incongruous English and American and Italian and other generic dishes. Sometimes all mixed in together in the same part of the menu. Listening to the English couple next to me in the café across the road from the hotel order pork chops and steamed vegetables was just depressing. They’d been there the night before and ordered the baked potatoes (not that I was eavesdropping or anything).
The Russian family across from me, the German couple next to me, the Indian family a bit further down ordered local food, thankfully. While I am not above the odd room service hamburger – and we all ordered them in the restaurant at our Mumbai hotel on the last night thanks to one of my colleague’s stories about trying to order a hamburger, which is clearly on the menu, the day before and winding up with three different variations on a ham and cheese sandwich, the last of which was ham and cheese on a hamburger bun – I really don’t understand coming to another country and only eating what you can get at home.
Certainly I may struggle tomorrow with facing one more prawn dish, but there are so many other interesting options. Plus, I’m pretty sure the Caesar salad isn’t going to be any good, and might actually be dangerous.