Day 96: Arambol
The wrath of the fresh vegetables I indulged in yesterday wreak havoc on my digestive system throughout the night and by the first bird chirp, I’m hangrier than a starved wolf. Marnie and I skip our morning run and dart over to the German Bakery for breakfast instead. Today, we decide, through mouthfuls of omelette, we venture to see what lays beyond the rocky outcropping on the north end of Arambol Beach.
With swimsuits peeking beneath our shirts and skin painted with chalky streaks of sunscreen, we spin through the sand and scamper over the mineral rubble at the end of Arambol Beach, where hides a large, dead snake, wound tightly around a stick and set across a couple pokey pieces of rock.
Around the bend, we crawl back up the passage that slithers through a tunnel of vendors and shops and past restaurants terraced over the crashing periwinkle waves. The path then yawns to expose another beach, slighter than Arambol, and much quieter, more relaxed.
The strip of sand is cradled on the east side by the sparkling turquoise sea, and westerly, a shallow crop of swaying palm trees barely conceal a tiny lake, bordered by a river on its south end. Marnie and I traverse to the fresh waters edge, beneath the shade of a palm, and mix beer shandies in plastic cups. We wade into the lake, then dive forth, paddle over to the sharp rocks that rise from its middle and gaze at the river, wondering where it leads. The not-so-far-fetched idea of lagoon creatures dilute our bravery, and we swim back to shore.
Craving waves, we run across the sandbar to the bottomless saline stew of sea and swim far and deep, focussing westward so that the craggy cliffs on one side and the green hills on the other disappear from our peripherals, and we pretend we’re stranded at sea, stuck in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by nothing but the deep blue.
Once safe on shore, we navigate to a shady table overlooking the tropical waters and eat lunch, then return to the little lake and discover on its left a small pathway disappearing into the jungle. Marnie and I follow it into the thicket of brush and along the river. In the quiet, a group of young Indian men sit together on the forest floor, eating curry and rice. Past that, a lone man squats in the low riverbed, his entire body caked in strange white paint. Hearing a rustle, he turns to face us, holding out a chunk of earth in our direction.
“Clay?” he offers.
We smile but move on, curious. Farther up, the river bed has dried completely and the trail crosscuts it, then winds straight up over large rocks. A group of people appear, both Indian and foreign, sitting in a dilapidated circle beneath two massive trees. The conversation comes to a halt, and several pairs of eyes look up, unblinking.
A little farther on is a spot with long lines of rope tied eight feet up in the trees, and hanging from them, huge, vibrant beach blankets like an expanse of curtains protecting a private area. A slight breeze parts the fabric just enough to expose a little camp. A small tribe of young foreigners are seen, their blonde hair tousled and ragged. They look like they’ve been there a while. There are four or five smaller camp spots set up not far from that, and the trail cuts through them. Marnie and I tiptoe past a sleeping couple, whose cookware sits in a corner, backpacks hang from a tree, and the charred remnants of a campfire are apparent in a circle of rocks. Camping in the Goan jungle!
“Why didn’t we do this?” Marnie and I whisper to each other. We hop from boulder to boulder in the dry riverbed and see a regal banyan tree encircling yet another group of people sitting crosslegged beneath the foliage, in deep discussion with an old, white-bearded Indian man whose shock of frosted hair and minimal dress give him the appearance of a glowing entity, his effulgence reeking of divinity.
What the hell is everyone doing out here, anyways? All these hodgepodge gatherings in the middle of the jungle . . . The path climbs steeply, directly up until the lush foliage falls away and the protective trees shading us from the midday sun peter out in a severe abruptness, hatching an expanse of barren land, its hot, dry surface choking on the barrage of heat. Black and red rocks dominate the tangle of yellow brush that scrape the earths rind in claw-like clusters, yet some brave greenery holds its ground amongst it all.
Rocks are arranged into words and symbols all over the tarry flat areas. It appears we arrived shortly after Hell burnt over, leaving charred, satanic remnants of evil shrines to bake in the harsh sun and impish weeds to take root. We hide in the pathetic shade of a scrubby bush. Then, ambiguously, we move forth, across the tar-coloured land, Marnie’s sunburnt skin lit up like a devilish glow worm, our lazy feet dragging our flip-flops through the dirt. The path has disappeared, and the expanse before us provides no bearings.
Two dogs of Hades (where’s your other third, Cerberus?) appear from the nothingness, and their eyes bore into us as we walk to the end of the Earth, which is the only place we can intelligently suppose this leads to. But this theory is abolished at the sight of a banyan tree, which balances at an edge, yes, but looking over, it appears the world continues on below, the jungle returning from its arid desertion and spreading down, morphing into a small town and then a sandy beach along the sea, which stretches so vastly soas to make us wonder if that is the true edge of the Earth. Unless, unless . . . The beach that borders the “sea” IS the edge, and the “sea” is just sky, and if we walk there we might just fall into it.
The least we can do is find out.
Past the banyan tree, the mountain descends to the world of the living, thus begins the foliage and the trees and the green – we’ve gone through Hell and made it out the other side! We step down from the desolate sands of the Underworld and continue to Valhalla on a rough, red path that switchbacks down the mountain. Marnie is burnt, tired and grumpy. She tramples down the path in her platform sandals, her limbs loose and swinging like she just finished a bottle of rum and I cannot help but follow her in gales of laughter, my own limbs swinging just as languidly. How silly she looks and how ridiculous I must look and how exhausted we both are!
The trail levels out and becomes flanked by an Indian village, then buds into a narrow road which hosts the odd foreigner zooming by on their Royal Enfield, and we walk and walk in the direction of the sea (or The Edge).
Beach! A row of palms, swaying like dancing silhouettes, meet us first, then a line up of beach huts boasting pina coladas and cold beer. A temple rises on our left, but straight ahead, we find an answer. It is the ocean, and we shall search for the edge of the Earth another day.
Dropping bags and clothes in the sand, Marnie and I race into the water and are welcomed with salty refreshment. We play in the waves for a long, long time, Marnie doing impressions from movies and me laughing until my limbs are limp and I’m nearly too incapacitated to keep myself afloat, leaving the waves to direct my whereabouts better than my own will.
Somehow, we extract ourselves from the ocean and flop onto a couple chaises amongst the toned bodies and beautiful faces of beachgoers. We each order a beer from one of the servers wandering the shore, and ask him how we can get back to Arambol without having to retrace our steps over the mountain.
“You can walk back along the coast,” he says. “Just follow the rocks around. It will only take you thirty minutes.”
Oh. Well, that sounds rather easy. We forge ahead, along the beach. A volleyball tournament is being filmed. Over the rocks, a tiny, beautiful littoral is nestled, and a woman in a white dress and a man in his grooms wear pose for pictures on a rock. The beach is enclosed, and we must climb over a craggy boulder to get to the other side, before realizing a natural tunnel is carved in the coastal rock. Along more sand, then more rocks, a visible route appears, tracking up the side of a tall ridge until it is an artery running two thirds of the way up the grassy mountainside. Far below, the waves smack the shore as if to provoke the sand; in the distance, the sun sags like a bloated orange over the ocean, and our mountain-goat’s-eye view of the beach ahead makes the umbrellas and chairs look like tiny toys.
Then down, down, to the beach with the magical lake and along the path through the tunnel of vendors and past the dead snake and straight to our hostel room.
Shower. Change. Relax. The tangerine sun has dropped below the horizon and a plum stained sky broadcasts the constellations above. Marnie and I mosey beneath the stars to the last restaurant before the beach, and sidle in to a table with a good view of the stage. Looking around, we realize the demographic is fifty-year-old white guys with long hair and black t-shirts.
A particularly intense looking group sit at a table across the restaurant, and we imagine them to be a bike gang or posse of escaped convicts. One of them, a broad, muscular guy in a sleeveless shirt, with cropped, platinum hair and eyes the colour of anti-freeze, flashes his gaze at us. I turn my eyes away. Then back. He’s still staring. Marnie notices too.
“That dude keeps looking over at us.”
“He looks like he wants to either ask us out or murder us.”
An Indian cover band croon Bob Marley and Davie Bowie tunes as we devour our curry. Two guys sit at the table next to us, both with hoods up over their heads, covering their eyes. They smoke hash joints in a procession that gives the impression they’ve been paid to smoke the entire bag before the last verse of Another Brick In The Wall.
“Hey,” I say to the one nearest me. “Do you know of anything going on tonight?”
He looks at me, his square jaw and blonde hair poking out from under the hood. He must be in his mid-twenties.
“Coco Loco is the only thing open tonight,” he says in a thick German accent.
“On a Saturday night? Why?”
Anjuna Beach is having their weekly Night Market, which is where everyone in Goa parties on Saturday. Aha. So Marnie and I finish our beer, and in terrible party animal fashion, decide to go home. We say goodbye to the hooded Germans and walk towards the street, right past the table of middle-aged, rough-looking guys, who we’ve labeled as some sort of sub rosa crooks . . .
“Hey!” It’s the guy with icy blue eyes and short platinum hair.
“Where are you two from?”
The group breaks out in laughter. “Aw, haha! We were betting Australia!”
He’s got an accent that neither of us can place. They invite us to stay for a drink, but all we can think about is an early bedtime. We say goodbye and head home, crawling into bed at eleven ‘o’ clock.
Actually, it’s way past our bedtime.
And we sleep.