Day 94: Arambol (Goa)
Across the gasoline stained lot we drag our contorted bodies away from the hellish bus, that cramped, shaky cubicle that left no room to stretch out and even less for sleep; yet somehow an unwelcome pair of wandering hands found space between the curtains and onto body parts considered ‘inappropriate’ in any country. No touching, mister. Didn’t your mama tell you to keep your hands outta the cookie jar?
Marnie and I stumble towards the road, lumbered down by our packs, heave ourselves over a cement wall and through another lot. The Arambol city bus is just pulling out beneath the growing glow of a promising Goan dawn, and we wedge our bodies and our luggage onto a couple of plastic seats. The guy next to Marnie says it’s a seven minute bus ride to Arambol. It is to be noted, however, that Indian minutes have an extensive range of length and consistency.
Palm trees shoot up like an invasive species and the road is ambushed by burgeoning foliage; dilapidated houses neighbour luxurious accomodations in yellow, purple, blue and green. It’s a strangely quaint concoction of the primitive and the polished.
Forty-five minutes later the bus stops on a forked dirt road and we topple out with a slew of other foreigners. It’s not quite 8 a.m. The two of us wander down the wrong road for a while before asking a man which way to Chilli’s hostel. It’s a long walk, and the thirteen hour journey from Hampi has left me in a sensitive mood in contrast to Marnie’s easygoing temperament, which only aggravates me further, of course, and I attempt to keep my mouth shut as much as possible during the walk since it only seems to be good for the occasional passive aggressive comment or snippy bark.
In the distance, a blue strip, pulsing, painted with streaks of white that fizz and foam, waves in our direction, and a mutual invigorating calm washes over us. The ocean! We saw it last in Mumbai, but its absence has seemed endless. No amount of excited mental build-up so much as taints the magic of seeing it again. It sparkles like a blue beacon of boundless bliss.
Down the dirt road, shops begin to flank the streets, clustered together with barely space for a man to stand between. They are all closed now; Goa sleeps in. Strange alleys sprout from the main drag, off to other shops and who knows what. Old, bulbous eyed men traipse the streets, heavily shrouded by LSD clouds that glaze their pupils with a bottomless frenzy, the remnants of last nights grandeur caked in their laugh lines and staining their teeth, an alcoholic stench oozing from their pores. They resemble a box of glitter missing its sparkle, an empty cocaine flap scuttling along the ground. Goa: the party capital of India, the state of indulgence, and we’re arriving at that tender moment between last night and the next morning, the party and the hangover, the sin and the guilt, the final acid drop and the first cuppa chai. We move past the stragglers still desperately searching for whatever it is that last night’s ventures left them yearning for, and the sun shows face, a warmer welcome than the forlorn walk-of-shamers. Chilli’s hostel finally appears tucked off to the side of a long path, and a young worker shows us to a room with a balcony, fridge and shower with hot water for a humbler price than we had in mind. We drop our bags to the floor.
“We’ll take it.”
We wash the bus grime from our faces and put on swimsuits. The beach is two minute’s walk down the road.
The path disappears into the sand like an old shirt in a laundry pile, and the beach stretches to the left and right, flanked on either side by rocky outcroppings that carve the blue sky with a steely knife edge.
Between the two crags, rows of lounge chairs and beach umbrellas strive for geometric symmetry in front of their respective oceanfront restaurants, each one with it’s own colour to suit it’s corresponding culinary parent. I squint hard. In the distance, they look like those little brollies that decorate tropical cocktails. We’re on the north end, looking southward to the haphazard package beach holiday, and a pang of fear knocks on my spine. What kind of booze-soaked, chemical-laced trouble taps it’s fingers together as it watches us stand all pale and vulnerable on the beach? After a month spent in more conservative areas of the country, diving into a wild state of rave culture is an overwhelming thought. I face west, to the ocean. Marnie and I sprint forward and let the waves of the Arabian Sea erode our discomfort one salty wave at a time.
We choose a beachside shack to eat breakfast. It is discernible from the other restaurants by next to nothing, and we fill our tummies with fresh vegetables (the farther south we go, so does our fear of fresh produce). Only two other tables are occupied, both with eastern Europeans. This is a massive tourist spot for Russians especially, and even this early in the morning, the majority of the small beach crowd gathering are very tanned, heavily made up, and in very little clothing, that of which is often lurid in colour or bejewelled in some way.
A couple Russian ladies sitting behind us ask for a cigarette. We turn around, immediately noticing the wall of liquor decorating the back of the restaurant. I look at Marnie.
“Well, we made it to Goa!”
The server brings us a cheeky rum and pineapple juice, and we clink our glasses together – to the beach. It smooths out any ‘party anxiety’ the saltwater may have missed, and, just to be sure, we take turns running back into the sea. An odd, unfamiliar notion washes over us; is this what a vacation feels like?
On land, Marnie and I peruse the shops on the way back to the room, where we leave everything important behind and hit the beach with a book and pocket change. We nuzzle between the sand grains and rum coolers and spend hours body surfing in water as warm as the air and salty as soy sauce.
With the sun on full blast, the beach now crawls with tourists. The Russians, who make up most of the beachgoers, are all fit and beautiful to look at, no matter their age. The harsh accents and tiny clothing contrast the demure dress and bumbling dialect that most of India has offered thus far. In fact, this feels like a different country.
Indian boys skim the shoreline with their cameras, slyly capturing the boundless butts and boobs. Scores of dreadlocks swing by. Speedos make a brave comeback. Marnie and I sit back in our chaises, sunglasses on, books propped up just so, heads unmoving but eyes a-scanning–a couple content creepers in the crux of a colourful clambake.
A few young Indian girls, their vibrant salwar kameez flowing in the breeze, approach us.
“Ma’am how are you!”
“Ma’am, you want massage? I do massage for you. And pedicure. Yes?”
After a few minutes we agree to leg massages. They start poking at our calves but a moment later, they jump up and sprint away from the water.
“We’ll be back,” the girl called Silpa calls over her shoulder. “The Polish man is coming!”
They run up the beach, where more Indian girls in their flowy dress merge with them, and the band of chromatic runners disappear from sight.
“He must be a popular guy.”
Fifteen minutes later, Silpa and her friend return. We ask about the Polish man.
“Oh, he is coming, and so we go. I don’t like. Not a good man.”
I ask her why.
“He touch me, and it’s not good.”
She’s fifteen, and the other girls are close in age. She doesn’t say much else.
As the two girls knead our feet, a hefty Indian woman strolls up with her friend.
“Are the massages good? ‘Cause we’re thinking about getting one.”
We nod, giving praise, and she returns later on after the girls have gone. Again, she asks how it was. Later, the girls come back. Do I want pedicure now? She scrubs my rough heels. The big lady appears once more, speaks to the girl in Hindi, then leaves.
Silpa lays her stuff down.
“I’ll be right back.” She disappears.
“Do you think that lady is her pimp?” Marnie asks.
When Silpa comes back, Marnie questions her.
“Do you know that lady? From where?”
“Mumbai. No. No, I mean Hampi.”
She finishes scrubbing my feet and I pay her.
“Dhanyavaad, Silpa. Namaste!”
She waves, and runs off down the beach.
Now, the sun is low and this weird Indian sunscreen is drying with the salt in strange white streaks all over our bodies and our eyes are stinging from the water. At the room we wash the sand from our pores and put on ‘something nice for dinner.’
The power goes off in the building, so we follow the trail of candles to outside where, it turns out, the whole town is in blackness. At the beach, candles sit aglow at every dinner table as far as the eye can see and we follow them to a wooden hut and order avocado salad and fish curry. Everything is perfect, exquisite, delicious. We walk back in the direction of home. Displays of fresh snapper and shark and crab are set up in front of every restaurant; people pass by swathed in neon, swigging boozy drinks in the streets, readying for another Goan party night.
Our heads find solace on a couple pillows on our bed, and we are asleep by 9:30 p.m., the sounds of the party people on the street below not waking us once.