Absurdly luxurious resorts and overtanned, leathery teenagers drunkenly wandering the street of a third-world country at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, oblivious to the impoverished women begging for money less than a yard away from them.
For our final extended break this semester here in India, about 12 of us from my program decided to bus it to Goa, a beautiful former Portuguese colony state on the West coast of India. Goa is tiny compared to the other Indian states, clocking in at just barely larger than Rhode Island. We booked our hotel over a month and a half ago – as our break was occurring over the Diwali holidays, Goa was packed and it was hard to make reservations that were still at a reasonable price. We easily spent more money in Goa than any other place in India, with our hotel (4 to a room with 2 twins – we pushed them together and slept horizontally across them so everyone could have a bed) costing almost $10 USD per person/per night, the price it usually costs us per room. Anyway, you do get what you paid for and we got AC, a joy we hadn’t yet encountered in our travels. The room was super clean too which is surprisingly, unfortunately rare.
Bardez itself and more accurately, Calangute Beach, where we were staying, was absurd, a beach town full of trashy “Western-inspired” fake Indian beachwear (nearly invisible thong bikinis with mehndi designs, tie-on cotton sarongs emblazoned with elephants and huge fake Chanel sunglasses, all absurdities literally ANYWHERE else in India), cheap grilled street seafood, and dozens of hotel signs/restaurant menus in Russian. Apparently, Diwali holidays in Goa is the Russian equivalent of the American College Spring Break in Cancun. Absurdly luxurious resorts and overtanned, leathery teenagers drunkenly wandering the street of a third-world country at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, oblivious to the impoverished women begging for money less than a yard away from them. It’s a bizarre paradox – yet, what were we doing but the very same thing? I found it incredibly amusing when the servers would ask our ethnicity and the relief would wash over their face as we said “American”. “THANK GOD. Someone that speaks English too!” There was an Indian Canadian we ran into as well, vacationing on his own with his mother, who looked so happy he could cry when he came over and found out we weren’t Russian. I have a feeling that this is similar to the relief felt by workers in Cancun who find out the tourists staying at their resort are from Spain instead of the U.S. The lack of language barrier has a surprisingly fast impact on bonding.
The events during our Goa trip were rather simplistic – we laid out and swam at the beach all day, stayed up late and slept in equally late, occasionally waking up for the hotel’s “continental breakfast” which literally consisted of 3 pieces of toast with margarine and jam and an Indian sized (read, minuscule) cup of coffee or chai. Our evenings were spent watching movies in our hotel room or going out and dancing at one of the dozen nightclubs lining the beach, nearly all of which let in women for free AND offer them free drinks so as to attract a more supposedly “cosmopolitan” atmosphere. It’s a absurd occurrence in the U.S. but is completely normal here in India where much of the time, even in Bangalore, bars and nightclubs pay big bucks to formulate a certain kind of atmosphere – exotic and “world-famous” (i.e. foreigners actually GO there).
The best thing about Goa was how much free time we had – to relax, talk, do nothing. Since we didn’t really have much else to see besides the ocean, we stayed in virtually the same area for 6 days, becoming regulars at “Jerome’s” (where we would have 2nd breakfast every morning, hobbit-style), an adorable beach cafe on a side street near out hotel that served phenomenal banana crepes and big mugs of coffee and at a “Taste of Tibet”, a phenomenal Tibetan restaurant on the way to the beach run by 4 or 5 mid-20’s guys from Tibet who were super sweet and served the most delicious momo’s (a kind of Tibetan/Nepali dumpling) I’ve ever had. We had a heartbreaking experience on one of our last nights after going there for dinner every night for the whole week, where one of our new friends, Tenzin, told us that his friend (one of the other servers) had just found out his mother had died back in Tibet. It had been 8 years since they had all been home in Tibet and he wasn’t going to be able to go back for her funeral because of the restrictions placed upon the area by the Chinese government. They closed down the next day in memorial and we very sadly found a new place to eat our final dinner in Goa.
Like virtually anything in India, nothing goes as planned and out of my entire list of things we could do while there, we did …. 0 of them. We did however, go parasailing, a delightful (and cheap, at 300 rupees/$6) experience just as the sun was setting over the Arabian Sea. So beautiful and definitely one of the singular, defining moments of my time in India.
We arrived back home on Thursday and are now in the home stretch of this academic semester. India has been a sadly disappointing experience academically but has enriched my life so thoroughly that everything about this journey seems worthwhile. Except, of course, that presentation I have to do tomorrow…