General Impressions:
Goa, along the southwestern coast, is known for its beaches, its European hippies, and its acid-house rave parties. Anyone who has traveled even the tiniest bit will tell you that it is not “the real India.” Many European tourists fly to Goa for the beaches and the parties and leave one month later, without having ever seen anything of the rest of India.

We knew we had arrived when we saw a lot of white tourists dressed in beach clothing on motorbikes. Although we passed local villages, it was true that Goa was definitely different. The Portuguese had left a profound influence on the culture, the architecture, the religion, and the lifestyle. Houses with Portuguese architecture and names such as “Villa Santa Ana” or “Villa D’Souza” bordered some of the roads, crosses were carved into houses and stood as statues in the center of gardens, and many churches occupied the villages and towns. Many men wore Western-style shorts, while some women wore Western-style knee-length dresses or skirts, or even jeans or shorts. The Christians wore wedding rings (the Hindus and Muslims do not). People had names like Maria D’Souza and Fernando Hernandez. We had only seen one pet dog during the previous four months that we spent in India, and in Goa, there were many. Sports were different, too. Aside from the volleyball game with the King of the Village, we had only ever seen cricket in India. In Goa, boys and men played volleyball and soccer. We watched a beach soccer tournament between tourists and local Indian teams (the Indians won each game!).

Goa definitely catered to tourists. There were innumerable restaurants, hotels, guesthouses, Internet cafes, travel agencies, rental scooters, tourist knick-knacks, and beach huts/bars. It seemed like “little Europe.” The majority of the tourists in Arambol (the town where we stayed) were German, followed by the French, and then the Russians, English, and Spanish. It seemed a bit strange after 4 ½ months in India to be suddenly surrounded by tourists. Most of the Germans had long, blond dreadlocks, and their kids did, as well.

Arambol was one of the first beach towns that we arrived in, and because we liked it, that was where we planted our roots for a couple of weeks. It is known to be peaceful and quiet, but with still enough going on to make it interesting. We did explore a few other towns and beaches by scooter, such as Old Goa, the one-time capital of the Portuguese colony in India. It is a World Heritage UNESCO site, which you can read more about by clicking on the “UNESCO sites” section under the Indian flag.

We rented two rooms in Arambol. The first was a room let out by an old couple who lived next door to us. Our landlord – a thin, frail old man in a holey white T-shirt – always wore a large, gapped-tooth smile. We were on the fringes of town, which meant that our portion of the beach was relatively quiet and isolated. The traditional activities of village life continued alongside the activities of the tourists. Our landlord’s wife ground the spices for masala fish curry in a big stone bowl each morning – an activity that took up to two hours. Women braided dried palm leaves for their thatched rooves, while men climbed to the tops of the tall palm trees to pick coconuts. Mango and cashew season had begun, and the gathering had started. The local villagers, especially the children, were friendly, and often greeted us with a smile and a “hello.”

From our porch, where we ate our usual breakfast of yogurt, bananas, pineapple, and banana bread, we looked upon a sandy stretch populated with coconut palms, pigs, crows, and roosters. Locals passed by occasionally with basketfuls of bread or fruit to sell. One day, the still of the afternoon was suddenly shattered by the sound of furiously barking dogs. The barking spread and seemed to cover the entire state of Goa. I watched as a fat pig ran a few yards in front of me, squealing like anything, a few dogs in hot pursuit. Then came the sound of yelling men, running behind the dogs, some of which were on leashes. The barking continued until the shrill squeal of the pig rose above it. The cry lasted much longer than I had thought it would, and I suddenly felt ill and queasy.

Though the beaches and water in Arambol were clean and pretty, it was not conducive to lying out in the sun, because it was just too hot. We enjoyed swimming, though, and the water was always warm, no matter what time of day you went in. In the early morning and late afternoon, tourists would come to the beach to practice yoga or raike individually or in group classes. Some of them did strange dances or exercises in their thongs, and you could see the Indians walking by, staring at them.

Sometimes Stephane would cook fish that we bought from the fish market or from the fishermen on the beach, and other times we would walk along the beach into the town to order a curry or one of Filini’s world-famous pizzas. We spent most of our time with Emanuelle and Cindy, two French girls who lived near us, and Martini, a tall German with long blond dreds.

The town spread along the beach, and a row of shops and restaurants selling fresh fruit juice, seafood curries, and grilled tandoori fish continued along the cliff towards the Sweet Lake. It was on top of this cliff that we rented our second room. The season was winding down when we were there and there was a sort of exodus away from Goa. That meant that we could rent a room with a fabulous view over the cliffs for the same price as our room in the village. We had a view of the boulders, the coconut trees, the sea, and the sunset. The sea breeze helped to keep us cool, and it seemed as if we were all alone – along with Martini – with the sound of the crashing waves.

Sweet Lake:
At the other end of Arambol, past the cliffs and the big boulders jutting out of the water, was the Sweet Lake, which was too crowded and too small for swimming for my liking. It lay just across a small stretch of sand from the sea, and too many tourists crowded into a small area, so that locals passed by every couple of minutes trying to sell jewellery, beads, juice, soda, pineapples, bananas, and coconuts. It was a nuisance, so we went only one time. The most interesting part was watching the whole scene. A lot of the women sat topless, talking to the young Indian men who sat next to them, trying to sell them something. Many of the men walked around in thongs, while one had a special leopard thong, and his friend paraded around nude. Each of the half dozen kids that were there had either dreadlocks or a mohawk. A group of Indians sat and watched the scene from above on the rocks.

A little path led from the Sweet Lake through a jungle area and to the famed Bundree tree, which is supposed to be holy (all Bundree trees are supposed to be holy). Shrines to the Hindu god Shiva were set up, garlands were hung, and incense burned. But it was the farthest thing from holy that you could imagine. The air was charged with negativity, and the couple of tourists that “live” in the tree for a couple of weeks imagine themselves to be superior beings and that they alone are entitled to walk in the “jungle” and breathe fresh air, yelling at all other tourists to stay away, although they themselves are tourists! I don’t remember having ever met such rude people. It is usually at this spot that tourists die each year from drug overdoses.

We happily left the Bundree tree and continued on to the Mango tree, where Martini has friends from Germany. They live in the jungle several weeks a year, playing Tarzan and Jane. Hair in dreads, he wore a sort of thong, while she wore a cloth “dress.” They had a little spot between some trees, a mosquito net and hammock, some pots and pans, water from a nearby spring, and a guitar decorated with images of Hindu gods. Sometimes they do their own cooking, and sometimes they ask a boy from the village to bring them rice and curry – “home delivery!”

Anjuna – the Flea Market and the Full Moon Party:
Anjuna is famous for its Wednesday’s flea market, which is supposed to be the most famous in the world. It started as a congregation of European hippies and has grown to include vendors from all over India, Tibet, and Nepal. One can find clothing, jewellery, handicrafts, food – but good prices are hard to come by, as it has become a tourist market. It is very vibrant and colorful, however.

Anjuna is also known as the “Freak Capital of the World,” and it has lived up to its name. Tourists paraded around in micro-mini skirts, plunging necklines, and bikinis, and with absolutely no sense of decency or respect for the locals or their feelings. One tall woman strutted by in heels, a thong, and an almost non-existent top. However, it was a middle-aged British couple who were the King and Queen of Freak. They sat opposite us at a fruit juice stand, and we just listened and watched on in amazement. He wore two large-brimmed hats, and his long, stringy hair was greasy and his stoned face ravaged by decades of drugs. She was even worse, with her scary eyes and baggy face, sitting stoned and silent. “I waffle, I waffle,” he kept repeating, speaking to no one in particular and to everyone all at once. Then he started in about how he liked everyone in Goa, but this bothered him, because he was used to people pissing him off. In England, he said, everyone pissed him off, and he didn’t know if he liked the fact that, in Goa, he liked everyone!

Anjuna is known for its Full Moon, or Acid House, Parties. It fell on the day of the Wednesday flea market, so we went after the market was over. The pre-party always starts at the Shore Bar, but we unfortunately missed it, because while we were eating, the police came and busted it up (A new government had come into power a couple of days previously and were hitting hard on the beach parties and the drugs. It’s said that they simply want more money. In fact, all parties on the beach are illegal, but the ones that take place happen only when the police are bribed. When we were there, we found out that the police of the old government had been bribed, but the change of government meant that the police wanted even more money. Sometimes, a couple of ravers would pay up to $450-500 to be allowed to throw a party!)

Though we missed the goings-on at the Shore Bar, we did make it to the Paradisio Nightclub, where the party continued. The upper level of the club was where the dancing took place (to Goan trance), and the lower level –all outdoors – was more chill. Woven mats were placed on the floor and people sat around talking. Little fires or lanterns were lit all around where Indians sold tea, coffee, fruit, candies, and cigarettes. Later on, during the early to mid-morning hours, the Indians slept in their blankets by their fires, waking only when someone wanted to buy something. Good ambiance.

Leaving Goa:
It seemed as if many of the Europeans that vacationed in Goa (because there were few tourists from other parts of the world) behaved recklessly and with little or no regard for the traditions and culture of the people whose country they had come to. If they had only thought to try to respect the feelings of the local people, they would notice, for example, that the men always wore shorts (as a minimum) and that the women (the few who did venture into the water) always went in fully clothed. Nudism wasn’t culturally accepted in India, and yet many tourists came with the idea that the people in whatever country they happened to be visiting should be “open” and “tolerant” and should accept their Western thinking and way of life. And if the Indians didn’t like their nudism or drinking or drugs or loud partying, too bad, they thought. They would continue anyway, because they had come to get tanned and have a good party, and they would behave exactly as if they were at home. Many people even expressed the wish that the Indians would stay away from the beaches and the bars, and leave the tourists all to themselves! “Why do the Indians have to come here?” complained some tourists, thinking it perfectly natural that the Indians should be excluded from their own land and villages and beaches!!

Goa was nice and its people friendly, and we had a relaxing, chill-out time – a nice way to wind down our time in India.