After two-and-a-half months of constant travel on my way around the world, Ive left my backpacking chums to roost for 12 days on the Indian Ocean as a respite from being constantly on the move.
The village of Calangute in the state of Goa is hardly the paradise its cracked up to be. I half expected to find 20 miles of high-rise hotels, similar to Cancun, but instead its much the same squalor and anarchy as the rest of India, with hotels, restaurants and shops (and hundreds of hustlers) packed into narrow lanes paralleling the beach.
Instead of pretty topless girls in string bikinis, the human scenery here is mostly paunchy Russians and Brits on package tours who look like walking conch shells, stuffed into skimpy thongs that only a stripper would wear back home. I think the Europeans owe Americans a sincere apology for claiming that were fat. Some of these guys have beer guts so big, it looks like theyre ready to give birth to twins.
But the locals are mellow and friendly, and since I tend to leave a big American tip of 15-20% (unlike the stingy Euros and Aussies), I am greeted with fond smiles and treated like royalty whenever I return to a restaurant.
And the beaches are a glory. You can wander for miles, watching the fishermen haul in their catch from 30-foot wooden rowboats and filling bushel baskets with flopping fish. Young Indian women splash in the waves, fully-dressed in their saris. Young men walk hand-in-hand, sometimes three abreast, without a clue that this looks gay to Western eyes. Brits play cricket on the beach with Indian teenagers, and cows ramble up and down the shore.
Just offshore is the wreck of an old Russian freighter that has run aground and is rusting away in the tropical sun. A sea eagle glides past the word MOCKBA (Moscow) painted on its bridge, while swimmers splash in its shadow.
And when it comes to spectacles,
you can keep your Taj Mahal. My choice is the Wednesday Flea Market at
Back in the 70s, an international group of hippies founded a colony near the village of Anjuna, living naked,
doing heavy drugs and bopping a different partner or three every day. It was the ultimate free love dopetopia. Many are still going at it in the sames spirit, with new young recruits from all over Europe and Australia.
But there are no handouts in India, and even hippies need to eat. Solution? They launched a flea market on the beach, making their own homemade crafts. It has since become world-famous, drawing vendors from all over Asia.
Talk about your Magical Mystery Tour: Its like driving into a big rock festival, down a long dusty road lined with three-wheeled tuk-tuks and motor scooters. Then you come to hundreds of tents and stalls, filled with all the treasures of India, China, Tibet and Southeast Asia.
You see leathery Tibetan women dressed in the colors of circus clowns with their faces dangling with at least a pound of metal jewelry. Also, little workshops along the way where custom clothing, textiles and jewelry are being hand-crafted by members of the last hippie tribe. Cows wander through the throng, which pulses with the techno and trance music that Goan raves are famous for.
And talk about characters. My own hair is rather on the long side, yet I look as conservative as a lawyer in a three-piece suit compared to the groovy cats drifting through the market. They are as picket-fence-thin as the Indians, covered with freaky Asian tattoos, and have matted dreadlocks that fall to the waist. And of course, shirtless with dozens of bangles, piercings and who-knows-whats-who-knows-where.
Yes, Goa is a bit of a trip, but this lonely traveler wouldnt mind bumping into a few Americans, who are as rare as snowflakes in India. On the beach, I see the flags of Israel, Denmark, France and those of other countries fluttering proudly in the breeze, and it makes me wish the Stars & Stripes were here as well.
On the other hand, I guess if I wanted to see Americans, I wouldnt be on the far side of the world, now would I?
Overall, this is a place of good, good, good, good vibrations that the Beach Boys were looking for, but even so, too much lounging on the beach gets old after awhile, not to mention cooking like an egg in the 90 degree heat. Ill be happy to move on in a few days -- say to the jungles of northern Thailand. See you there.
P.S. You know youve finally reached paradise when a friendly cow with 10-inch horns wanders into the open-air restaurant where youre having dinner and stands in the doorway for an hour, watching the chefs prepare the meals.
No one shooed it away -- apparently, this friendly beast drops by each evening to welcome guests to the restaurant.
And then -- another one walks in! Its just one of the many sublime sights at the heaven on earth called Palolem Beach in southern Goa, where Im wrapping up my last days in India...