Day 98: Arambol
I scurry down the mostly deserted pre-dawn street towards the German Bakery to caffeinate my writing session. The German Bakery sits on a corner crossed by the main path to the beach and a back alley. Like most establishments in Goa, the two sides of the cafe that come to meet on the street corner are but a single large beam signifying the perpendicular point of the “walls”, which are rather unaccounted for, giving the restaurant a free flow from outside to inside. I step onto the elevated tiled floor, but there is no one behind the counter, not a single customer in line, and the lights are off. Empty beer bottles, bowls of stale fries and piles of soiled dishes teeter on the booze-stained, crumb-strewed tables. It’s closed! I move down the path to the beach, where workers are setting up tables and chairs at their respective restaurants. Nothing around here opens until 8 a.m., so I retrace my steps. To my right, dance music somersaults over a nightclub balcony two floors up, where red-eyed guests are having those epic, meaningless conversations that only chemicals and 7 a.m. can inspire. Whatever. I’ll just sit at one of the dirty Bakery tables until they open. I spin around and nearly crash into Yellow Shirt–that tall, muscly Indian guy who seems to be a prominent character around this area, and who’s bright shirt I could swear I saw on the balcony only a moment ago. His perfectly tousled hair falls against his cheeks as though he’d just been styled for some sultry Calvin Klein editorial. I met him the other morning at the Bakery when he started chatting to me over coffee.
“Hello!” he says. He just came from that nightclub (so I did see him up there) and is looking for breakfast. “I’m Vicky, by the way.”
He follows me back to the German Bakery, hinting that I should join him for food somewhere that’s actually open.
“I actually have a lot of writing to get done this morning.” I figure it’s a polite (and honest) excuse from having some inane conversation in which half the participants would be better off sleeping.
He doesn’t catch on. I set up my keyboard on one of the dank tables and he sits across from me, spinning into a cyclone of post-party babble. He’s a fashion model, a Bollywood actor, a fitness instructor and nice enough that I can’t fault him for much other than being boring. I tap away on my keyboard, tossing courtesy glances his way at fair intervals. Vicky marvels at my foldable travel keyboard.
“You carry that with you everywhere? Wow. I can’t believe that.”
His child-like wonder would have a better audience almost anywhere else. I’m being a terrible conversationalist, but his perception is conveniently naïve. He asks about my plans for the day, and I tell him I’m renting a motorcycle and riding out to the waterfalls with my sister.
“Oh. Well I’m going to Morjim Beach today. Would you like to join me?”
“Um, well no. I just told you I’m going to the waterfalls with my sister.”
“Oh, yeah. Are you really going to take a REAL motorbike? That’s dangerous. How far away are the waterfalls?”
“A hundred kilometres.”
Eyes closed, he shakes his head.
“No, no. Don’t go there. That’s too far. You’re on vacation, you need to relax and have fun.”
“That IS fun for us.”
Don’t tell me how to fucking party, man.
He’s not an easy one to shake off, and I’m not one to give up easily. Finally alone in the unlit restaurant, between the hardened grains of rice and croissant crumbs and beer stains of last nights fermented chaos, I get some words down. Then, somewhere amongst the and’s and the the’s and the of’s, a man walks in, a light flicks on, coffee starts brewing. Marnie arrives! We order breakfast, and by the time we are scraping the final eggy bite from our plates, it’s too late to drive all the way out to the waterfalls and make it back before dark. What now?
We have a word with the restaurant owner, who points down the alley, where we find a man who leads us up a back street to his house. A small fleet of motorcycles gleam like gas-hungry trophies in his driveway. A couple Royal Enfield’s bask in the sunlight, flashing like an imminent dream, but a sleek blue Bajaj Avenger, standing off to the side, a stolid stallion amongst obvious beauty, pulls me over. I slide onto the leather seat. This is the one.
“We’ll be back in half an hour.”
Marnie and I return to our room, pull on swimsuits and slather on cheap sunscreen that cakes our skin in dry SPF flakes. Hurrying back to the Avenger, I steer it out onto the street, Marnie hops on behind me, the bike revs and, like ripping off a bandaid, we peel the hell out of the town.
A wad of traffic gridlocks us to a full stop at a three way intersection that only moves at the capricious whims of the drivers themselves. Slowly, slowly, the bike wades through, we’re riding through peanut butter, I swear, and then . . .
The open road! The bike rumbles with the deep guttural sounds of a burping dragon and the energy hums through my fingers and buzzes into my bones and my knuckles are gripping the handlebars and the palm trees marshal the road like tropical soldiers (at ease, boys), but they fall away faster, and faster, to the soundtrack of the engine. Marnie, riding bitch, is on vocals, singing and cracking jokes that make me laugh as though I were trying to catch passing bugs for lunch. The road to Ashvem Beach is tangled amongst the hills and foliage. It’s disorienting and we both have the navigational skills of a quadriplegic goat, but it doesn’t matter because the wind is whipping our hair into cotton candy and there is no such thing as the wrong beach. Turning west we enter another little town that barely differs from Arambol; little shops with bright tops and long dresses line the streets; beachside cafes fringe the shore. I pull the bike into one of these, and grab a front row seat to the ocean on some bright cushions perched above the stretch of sand.
After rice and curry, Marnie and I skip out over the beach; the tide is out and we jump into the whitecaps but the current yanks us sideways and it’s a struggle to deposit ourselves back on dry land. I decorate Marnie’s back with a rather fickle hermit crab, and young locals laden with homemade jewellery hound us to buy their goods.
Back at the bike, it’s Marnie’s turn. She’s ridden a motorcycle once, back in Hampi, but it was small and this is not. After stalling a few times, the bike fires up and shoots forward, sideswiping the hostess stand just outside the restaurant entrance.
“What do I do how do I turn it off Dayna DAYNA what do I DO!?”
Her cool coagulates into panic, although she is without a scratch and the stand is still upright. Any heroic attempts to help her are postponed by the gale of laughter that has seized me.
With me back in shotgun position, we take off to Morjim Beach, which holds our attention for a fleeting time, then head further south until taking a hint from the sinking sun that now is a good time to turn back. This sounds simple in theory, but with the useless sense of direction burdened on us both, we end up on an arbitrary dirt road that cuts directly through a large farm field where cows loll about in the grass, and a lone man on a rusty bicycle stops and stares. We rumble through the mud. Where are we now? He waves us forward. The path narrows and the bike hardly squeezes through a bottleneck that morphs into a tiled walkway through a tiny shoebox neighbourhood. The Avenger wobbles as we inch through. Then, as if by magic, it dumps us onto a real road. It even looks familiar! Arambol is within reach in no time. Just before town, we spot a barber shop and pull over. A badass Russian chick with a haircut to match who I saw at the beach yesterday inspired a change in my own long mop.
It’s a tiny shop with a young guy and an old man who don’t speak any English. Using hand gestures and buzzing noises, we convince the barber to lend us his electric razor. I sit in the chair, he whips an apron around me and combs a section of mane out by my temple, around my ear and to the nape of my neck. Although he passes the razor to Marnie, he’s anxious to oversee every severed hair. Halfway through shaving the side of my head, Marnie is gently shoved aside and the barber takes over, doing a rather mediocre job. Close enough, I guess.
Getting out of the chair, I hand him some rupee notes and Marnie wraps her arms around him.
I go in for a hug and, embarrassed by the unorthodox gratitude, he shoves me away before an arm so much as reaches shoulder.
We return the Avenger, go home to shower, and pop back to the ol’ German Bakery for a post-biker brew. It’s buzzing in here! It’s the vibrations of a promising night. People drinking and chatting, eating dinner, smoking weed, reminiscing about the ridiculous antics of last night. JP from France sucks on a cigar-sized spliff and keeps us company as we sip our bottled beer. Vicky the Muscly Chatterbox sits at the table over with a group of friends.
“You should come to Pasha with us later. It’s reggae night and it’s not far, just down the beach.”
This morning Marnie ran into Frank, a German guy we met a few nights ago, and he’d also said to meet him at Pasha.
“Yeah,” I say. “Maybe we’ll see you there later.”
Wandering to the inner part of the town, there is a restaurant nestled back from the street. The tables are all swathed in the same bright green cloth that makes it look like a billiards hall. Sitting down at one, we order a couple mojitos.
Please, please don’t be disgusting. Cocktails are a major gamble in India, but we couldn’t drink another beer right now. They turn out to be shockingly delicious and, after dinner, whether it’s the rum or the je ne said quoi in the air, Marnie and I both feel energized. We’ve averaged a nightly bedtime fit for a five-year-old since we’ve been here, but tonight we shall act our age.
We hit the beach with rum-blood and party pants. Down the strip, Coco Loco roars with dance music. We walk in. The first half of the space is in the sand, with lounge areas created by long, low tables, sandbag back rests and lots of cushions. The second half of the space is a large dance floor, with poles set up throughout. A bar stretches along the left wall. At the front of the room, on stage, a DJ spins electronic tunes for the small crowd gyrating on the floor, saucer-pupils and dreadlocks dominating like an invasive species. Marnie and I take post on a pile of sandbags in the beachy area, puffing on cigarettes as we size up the scene. We make fun of the party people who dance like no one is watching, and of course, nothing is better to observe. Then, fixated on out-flailing them, we hit the floor with the built-up party reserve we’ve been donating to all week. With the inhibitions of a Mexican jumping bean, we throw our body to the whims of the beat; our arms wiggle and necks swivel and hips dive and legs kick, and there isn’t a doubt that nobody looks more ridiculous than we do.
Taking a break from the dance floor, we move to the lounge area where scores of people are hanging out in the sand. One guy has been here, in Arambol, for three months.
“Sleep, eat, swim, drink, party. Repeat. That’s my life here.” He smiles dopily.
A beautiful Russian girl is traveling India for six months, and flying to Mumbai in a couple days. At a lavish party in Jaipur, she met a couple who invited her to their wedding of 1400 people. They are flying all the guests to Mumbai for two days, and then to Delhi, where the festivities continue.
I get stuck in conversation with a young Indian guy whose spiritual babble inspires me to leave. Marnie and I hit the beach on the quest for reggae. Then, we spot Pasha. It’s bumpin’! The whole dance floor is in the sand, and a guy spews beats from a mic up front. Speakers are stacked around the dance floor like musical towers and somewhere in the crowd we spot Frank, and see Vicky off to the side. Marnie and I stick together and throw down some dance moves in the middle of the sand, squashing our inhibitions with each foot stomp.
Franks catches my eye. I wave, and he comes over.
“Ah, I saw you guys dancing but it looked like something I shouldn’t interrupt.”
He gets five points for perception.
We hang with him and his friend for a while, then mosey back to the floor where a tall Jamaican man with huge hair moves in far too closely, obnoxiously introducing himself as “famous”.
“I’m a reggae artist! Everybody knows me here in Goa.”
I push his hands away from my body and ask him to stop yelling in my face. Marnie and I walk over to the bar and he follows, somehow oblivious to our incredible annoyance with his pick-up tactics. He wraps his arms around me almost as quickly as I shove them off and the bartender shouts something at him in another language. He backs away.
On our way out of the club later, we say goodbye to Frank and his friend. Upon turning around, the Jamaican guy appears, a giant smile plastered across his face and his afro obscuring my view of the door.
After a few choice words, Marnie and I flee the scene and start walking down the dark beach, towards home. A few minutes later, a sound makes us turn around. The silhouette of a man is blotted against the nightclub lights in the background. He speeds up, matching our stride but staying just behind us. We stop. He stops.
“What the fuck dude?” Marnie calls back.
He mocks her. We continue walking, and again he follows until we spot a couple guys up ahead.
“Some creepy guy is following us.” We beeline for them.
They stop and wait. “Walk with us.”
We do. And we go home, and go to sleep far past any five-year-old’s bedtime.