Archive | November, 2007

The sad state of restaurants on Palolem Beach

26 Nov

After having some markedly awful meals on Palolem Beach including a nasty Caesar salad with very little lettuce, tomatoes that tasted like fish, and lots of mayonnaise at the San Francisco Beach Cafe and other inedible delicacies at other places on the beach, Astrid and I finally found Moksha Lounge, a place that serves good food at decent prices.

We happened to meet Jane, the English co-owner of this cafe while she was playing with her son Jack and dog Kuti in the water. We got to talking, and she told us that she and a local Goan man, Julio, just opened the cafe eight days ago. She was very cool so we decided to give it a try.

I’m glad we did. The menu was still “multi-cuisine” but the difference here is that everything is good and they take pride in serving quality food. We’ve been back a few times and everything we’ve had from kebabs to pasta dishes to tapas have been spot on. Jane even makes real English sausages from her own recipe and won’t tell anyone else about it- so you won’t see them being replicated anywhere else on the beach. They also have the newest sun beds on the beach with clean towels and everything!

Anyway, Moksha Lounge is right between the San Francisco Beach Cafe (GAG) and Inn Joy Seafood Restaurant halfway between the main entrance and the south end of the beach.

If you go, enjoy and say hello from Anthony!

Cheers!

Palolem, Goa

22 Nov

Hey all, just a quick note to let you all know we haven’t dropped off the face of the earth! We moved down south to Palolem Beach on Monday and it is like a slice of heaven. Sure, there’s as many taxis, shops, and dolphin watching boat trips as you want to take…and as many touts trying to get their commission as soon as the whities step off the bus, but AHHHH…it really is paradise. I can imagine what it must have been like twenty or thirty years ago when the hippies happened upon the beach for the first time. Pristine jungle with swaying coconut palms, huge green mountains in the background, blue-green sea and blue skies that go on forever.

It is really beautiful here, the water and the beach is cleaner, there is more wildlife- like the hermit crab pictured to the left, and if you don’t want to, you never have to step foot in a polluting vehicle, everything is right there on the beach for you…as long as you want the ubiquitous “multi-cuisine” restaurants, (which we don’t) because while they may do multi-cuisine, they hardly ever do any of them well. Me, I much prefer a good curry and rice or for a real treat here in Palolem, walk off the beach and into the main part of town to go to either of the two health food restaurants there. Both Brown Bread and Blue Planet serve up tasty salads and GASP, tofu dishes like tofu with mushroom sauce, mashed potatos with grilled onions, carrot orange salad, and bread with cashew butter for $120 Rs., a totally fair price! Now I never thought I would say this, but give me a good grilled tofu with brown rice, steamed vegetables and peanut sauce any day of the week.

We are staying in a beach-front shack toward the north end of Palolem Beach called Brendon’s, it’s pretty good although a little over priced for what you get. I mean, it really is a shack, plywood walls, sloping floors, it rattles and creaks when you walk in it, but hey, look where you are, it’s freakin’ beautiful! If you stay out of the room all day as we do and close your eyes when you do come in, then everything is alright. Besides, the staff are the best bunch of guys we have met anywhere. Bobby, Kumar, and John are our favorites, but everyone is very nice. To the right is a view from our front porch watching the sunset over Green Island and the Arabian Sea.

We’ll be here until Thursday and then off to Chennai and Tamil Nadu.

Cheers!

You know you’re getting used to India when…

22 Nov

You know you’re getting used to India when…

  • …you’re in a shop and you laugh out loud at the first price a hawker gives you for their crap.
  • …you understand why people wear sweaters and woolen hats when it is 26.5°C (80°F.)
  • …there’s a huge explosion nearby and you roll over and go back to sleep.
  • …you no longer say to yourself, “What’s that smell?”
  • …you’re perfectly fine with the shopkeeper giving you four wrapped candies as change.
  • …shouts of, “Hello friend, yes sir, taxi, maybe tomorrow…” are just background noise.
  • …your sense of “personal space” gets tossed out the window. Now you’re just happy if there is enough room for you on the bus and the guy next to you doesn’t stank of body odor.
  • …the layer of dust and grime on EVERYTHING (including yourself) doesn’t make you cringe anymore.

If you have any others, feel free to add them to the comment section!

Cheers!

No news is good news

18 Nov

Hey all, we’re just taking a small hiatus from our travels on some of Goa’s fine beaches soaking up some sun, trying to find a decent Indian restaurant, and exploring the north coast of Goa on our scooter.

We’ve been checking out Arambol, Vagator, and Anjuna as well as tooling around Baga, Calangute and Candolim.  We’ll be heading down south tomorrow…see you there.

We have a couple of posts brewing right now…they should be up soon.

Cheers!

I think I might love India…

12 Nov

I really noticed how used to India we had become when we landed in Mumbai on our way to Goa.

Many of the people who come to Goa are Euro-trash tourists, Liverpool blue collars and Israelis looking for fun and sun. We however, were on a mission to take a break, to spend some time near the beach and cruise on scooters having fun. We decided to come to Baga and spend a week swimming, sunning and scootering…then travel the rest of Goa before heading back to Puducherry.

We had a layover in Mumbai, before we ended up in Panjim, Goa. This is where I realized we were used to India…and well, we had won our right of passage. The people, the madness, the confusion, the late planes, the endless waiting…it just didn’t phase us. This is how it just is…this is India. But the contrast- between our acceptance and ability to look the other way, and the new comers was very tangible.

The tourists were impatient, they ACTUALLY waited in lines or at least thought there were lines (and when, of course, Indians *and two white tourists* cut in front of them…they threatened to complain!) I remember we were like that way, way, way back (sigh…) but no more. We know there are no lines, when you want something just push to the front and step on the toes of the person next to you to make it. We know that NO plane (ours was 2 hours late) or bus (a 2 hour ride really means closer to 4 1/2 hours) or train (only had 1 on time in all these months- “the inconvenience is most regretted”) will be on time in India- there is no such thing as time in India, and there will never be. We know that they will scan, search and struggle with Anthony at every airport and securtiy check in India, but let me walk through everything (I am the one carrying everything illegal ;)- less they frisk and harass (hand over mouth here) a woman. Just being in India is a struggle, but we…we have made it through initiation- and won!!

I am a Salwar wearing, chaos loving, Dosa eating, water drinking tourist and I love it. Give me a 100% pure-veg thali any day!!! Lime soda please, sweet with a little salt. Watch the back of my salwar as I ghetto scooter it out of here sister- honking to make the cow move just avoiding your pan spit. This is India.

So we are in this little beach town, (called the freak zone because it is nothing like anything else in India. If you never went anywhere else but here, you would have no idea what India is really like) settled into a great place called Alidia Beach Cottages, cruising on our ghetto scooter (it doesn’t have side mirrors like all the others, but it has brakes- that’s not bad!!) just feeling groovy. Then I gasp… there are whities everywhere!!!

They are waddling down the road, wearing next to nothing (I would rather they didn’t…I just don’t need to see that- it’s never the good looking ones you know, just the old and fat) and badly sunburned. They look confused, dazed and otherwise annoyed. Sure! Of course! It’s 38C and 98% humidity and it’s dusty, dirty and crazy- why in the world are you walking in the sun during the middle of the day? The old English Raj saying “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the middle of the day” really fits. We are out, but that is because we have a deluxe ghetto bike and we are free. Besides, we are heading either to shade or the water- it’s crazy to be in the sun in the middle of the day!

It’s fun to cruise and laugh, playing with the traffic just like everyone else, honking like mad. We understand how traffic works and we play with them. But we notice something, something that is not playing and definitely not laughing…the whities! They are signaling to turn and no one is responding the right way!! Ha, Ha!! Honking is a national past-time in India. But it really means pass me in India, not a signal to indicate rudeness. So what else is there to do, but pass? So we zip by, others zip by and the whities get mad!! So they honk (to say hey, that’s not nice)…but you know…that means pass me!! So everyone does and we all honk back which means thank you, and they become more impatient and angry. Silly! You know “Horn OK Please” or “Sound Horn OK Please” means let me know you are there, pass me and then honk when you do pass. Well India IS Horn Please in every way. So people pass, when the whities honk and then the whites want to turn! They stop in the road (honk!) turn on the turn signal (pass me) and wait. No one stops everyone passes and the whities honk. Of course! Put your arm out and just go if you want to turn. No, don’t stop in the road- just go. “But there is a car coming!!” Go faster! Flustered whities everywhere and not knowing what to do!!!! Funnier than hell. Which leads me to another topic- whities on the beach.

Now, I am no prude. I love to be naked and I do it all I can but I also respect culture and have to live here and be a white woman in India. Yes, I am wearing a “bathing costume” in India, on the beach. I know that is not totally respectable, but it is a fairly modest costume and I am going to specified beach areas for tourists, and there are other Indian families vacationing in various forms of similar dress, so I figure it’s just fine. No issues, this IS a beach resort. Sure, there are plenty of Salwars walking around, but not in the 1K or so radius of beach in our area. But that’s not the issue- here’s my issue- please don’t go topless.

Come on ladies, how freaking stupid can you be? You are in a 3rd world country, dominated by religion and social modesty, where you won’t even get frisked at an airport for fear of immodesty and you are going topless? Shit. See here’s the issue- you show up here 2 weeks a year, do your thing and then go home. You don’t care what happens to other women nor about the ramifications of your actions towards other women, especially western women. I do. I am the one (and other fellow traveling women) who want to immerse themselves in culture, who want to learn, who want to show respect. We are the ones (because we are white) the conservative Indian men see as the breast bearing whores (trust me, they have cousins all over the country who will hear and see on their phones pictures and stories about your ta ta’s and tell others etc.), which is the exact thing they expect from an MTV or Eurotrash gal. Why? Why do you do it? Here’s the thing… I just can’t cry a tear for you.

When the Indian men circle your chaise lounge, walk by you at least 20 times, laugh and point, bring other men to stare at you and make life hell- you get annoyed. Oh boo-hoo! How dare they harass your toplessness and not just leave you alone, how RUDE! You live in this isolated non-India (trust me, Baga is NOT India) for a week or two and go home, and that’s the extent of your understanding of India. You know- this isn’t the West and this isn’t home. Things are different, no matter how similar they seem (Goa tourism has worked hard at that- making you think you were in Ibiza.) I would love to take you any day to any city or village and show you what it is really like in India. What it is like to just be a white woman, and discuss the attitudes and viewpoints of conservative Indian men. Then, when you ask me “where does this come from?” I will point to you and say “girlfriend, it’s you.” Take your top off all you want- I do- but not on the beaches in India. Show some respect for the other women, both Western and Eastern- who have to tolerate the ramifications.

More to come on the list I have of idiosyncrasies of Indian life…like leaving the sticker on all mirrors and bathroom fixtures. No matter the class of hotel, inn, guest house etc. there is always a sticker. Why? We take them off…are we breaking the law?

Stay Tuned!!

Goa, it isn’t just beaches anymore.

11 Nov

Panaji is one of those places that people tend to overlook when they travel in Goa. It is far from the airport, crowded, semi-expensive, and hey, let’s face it, people just want to get to the beach. However, it is a mistake to miss Panaji- it isn’t much, but seeing the Portuguese influences on architecture- not your typical Indian concrete bomb shelters, and city layout- beautiful squares, parks, and fountains that actually work, and restaurants that serve something besides the expected masalas that you find everywhere else, you begin to realize you have stepped into a place that is totally different from other places in India.

As you walk through the narrow city streets you see buildings that look like they are straight out of Portugal. Brightly painted in beautiful turquoises, tranquil greens, canary yellows, fiery oranges, pastel pinks, and electric blues, the houses and buildings lend a character to the city that is unmatched elsewhere. Buildings here are very well taken care of and as Astrid and I strolled through the city, we noticed many structures were undergoing renovation. There are churches on every other block including the impressive Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception (below) which overlooks the Municipal Gardens near the Fontinhas area of Panaji. This church was originally consecrated in 1541 and was the first stop for sailors from Lisbon to give thanks for a safe ocean crossing before heading to Old Goa about 17 km away.

One thing you shouldn’t miss if you come to Panaji is the food. It is an excellent mix of traditional and Portuguese and the flavors are amazing. We went to a restaurant called Viva Panjim right around the corner from our guest house and was introduced to Goan/Portuguese cuisine from a fantastic woman that has been running this restaurant for the last four years. Although she is a baby in the industry, she has already received awards and accolades from her fellow chefs all over the world. Try the chicken xacutí which is a brown curry made with coconut milk and aromatic spices. It was divine!

We also had a meal at A Ferradura (Horseshoe) near the Old Pato Bridge and managed to offend two religions in one meal. We had the chouriços (a spicy pork sausage) with Goan bread for an appetizer and breaded steak served with salad and chips for our main meal. Our Hindu waiters cringed a little when we ordered it, but it was fantastic. For dessert I had the caramel custard and Astrid had the Bolo San Rival, a cashew cake that was absolutely incredible! Definitely our most expensive meal of the trip, but all told it came to $12 USD!

From here we head 15 km north to the beaches of Baga, Calangute, Candolim, and Anjuna for about a week. We’ll post more later.

Cheers!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to…

9 Nov

…Goa a couple of days ago and I wanted to share it with you.

We flew from the east coast of India to the west coast to avoid a 48-hour train ride before we begin to head south toward Puducherry and Auroville.  We flew SpiceJet, one of India’s new low-cost carriers. The seating was less than generous, but perfect for the average Indian flyer. As Astrid and I squeezed into our seats, I looked at the empty aisle seat next to me and hoped that no one would sit there so I could move over. Things were looking good until about five minutes before the plane was about to leave when a man as tall and as wide as me sat down next to me.

No one in our row was comfortable and the air conditioning system was not operating very well. The sun was coming in through the window with the shade drawn and heating up the interior of the plane. The man next to me fell asleep and kind of slumped toward me. After about a half hour, I became very uncomfortable and began squirming in my seat, trying to get some legroom or part of an armrest, which the man next to me was taking. Astrid asked me if I was okay and I told her that I was just hot and uncomfortable.

At that point the man turned to me and asked me if he had done something to offend me. I said, “No, did I do something to offend you?” He replied, “You know what you did.” But I actually didn’t know what I did. The man then said, ” I can ask the flight attendant to move me to another seat if you want.” I replied, “I don’t think that is necessary, but feel free to move if you want to.” We didn’t exchange another word during the rest of the flight.

45 minutes later, as we prepared for landing, the man turned to me again and apologized for acting the way that he did. He told me that he was tired, uncomfortable, and had been travelling all day.  He told me that he had nothing to say for himself and that he should not have treated me with disrespect. It was a rreally vulnerable thing for him to do and I accepted his apology with tears in my eyes. He said, “Enjoy your time in Goa.” I shook his hand and we disembarked the plane. I saw him once on the bus to the terminal and then we got our luggage and left for our hotel.

Fast forward to the next day, Astrid and I were walking around Panaji, looking at the Portuguese-inspired architecture, and remarking at the cleanliness. We walked across a very busy avenue, dodging cars and motorbikes the entire way to start walking along the riverfront promenade. As we got across the street, we both heard the sound of “It’s a Small World.” You know, the Disney song. Anyway, we walked about fifty meters and I heard a car honk at us. I turned, half expecting to see a taxi trying to get a fare, what I saw instead was a man in a small red car with his son. He was pointing at the building next to us and waving, so I looked at the building, which was nothing spectacular.  “Wierd,” I thought… I decided to ignore the man who was obviously crazy and we continued to walk. We got about 50 more meters when he pulled up next to us again and began to honk and wave at us. I looked closer and saw that he was the man from the airplane!

We walked up to the car and he asked us how our time in Goa was and told us that he still felt upset about treating me so poorly on the plane the day before. He introduced himself as Adolfo and asked us if he could take us out for a cappuccino that evening. We agreed and he said that he would pick us up at our guesthouse at eight p.m. As he drove away, Astrid and I both remarked that we had heard the song “It’s a Small World,” and when Astrid heard it, she thought to herself, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we saw the man from the plane right when this song was playing?”

A little after eight o’clock, the man showed up and whisked us off to the café where we talked about our lives and learned that he was a Presbyterian reverend from Brazil and  has lived in Goa for the last ten years with his wife and son. We began talking about his son and his son’s problems in school, his teachers call the family at least once a week and call the boy a dreamer and say that he has mental problems- even though he has been seen by a specialist. Astrid asked if he was artistic. Adolfo said, “Yes, in fact he carries a drawing book with him wherever he goes.” This boy’s school life was so close to my own, his teachers were trying to stifle his creativity and imagination and turn him into a smaller version of themselves. I told Adolfo as much and said that I too was an artist.  I told him that what mattered most was that he let his son know that he could do anything and be anything.

Adolfo must have agreed with what I was saying, because he quickly asked if we would come to the auditorium nearby where his wife and son were so I could meet them. I thought about it for a second and agreed to go with him. We arrived at the auditorium to find that his wife and son were attending a Christian revival meeting, complete with a preacher, prayers to the Baby Jesus, hand waving, miracle healings and everything. Adolfo told us that he didn’t agree with this, but as a respected reverend in Goa, that he was there as support for the churches. It was so surreal to see Indian people praying in the Christian way and waving their arms and yelling “Amen.” It was surreal for me as well, as I haven’t stepped foot inside a church for a service in decades.

After the service ended, Adolfo introduced us to his family, his son David, and his wife (whose name escapes me at the moment.) We exited the auditorium and went to find a seat outside to talk. David would barely shake my hand let alone look at me until Adolfo told him that I was an artist too. When he heard this, David asked if I could draw anything. I said, “Yes” and he asked me if I had any paper with me. I didn’t have any materials with me so he went to play with his friends. I told Adolfo and his wife about how strange it was that we met again and the way that “It’s a Small World” was playing when we saw him earlier that morning. His parents and friends were all going out for pizza and asked us to come along as their guests. We agreed.

We ended up at Domino’s, the only pizza place in town and ate pizza, talked, and David somehow found me some paper and a pen and asked me to draw something for him. I asked what he wanted me to draw. He said, “A cat.” I drew a lion. He asked me to draw Spiderman, I drew a cartoon version of the superhero, he asked me to draw a dragon and I asked him what a dragon looked like. As he told me, I drew what he was imagining. There was something very powerful there for me and the boy, and David responded by completely lighting up. I began to realize that the altercation that happened on the plane had nothing to do with his father and me, but had everything to do with me meeting this boy.  Adolfo could see how much his son lit up when engaged in art and had an idea for me to visit a school for homeless and poor children and draw with them for a couple of hours. I agreed, but we’ll see if anything comes of it.

We left the restaurant at 11:30 ready to be taken home and go to bed. As we backed out of the parking space, we heard the song again… “It’s a Small World” was coming from his car- it was his back up indicator! Astrid and I yelled in unison, “THIS IS THE SONG!” Adolfo had no idea that the backup indicator song was the song we were talking about earlier!

Instead of going straight back to the hotel, we drove around Panaji for another hour looking at all of the Narakasur (demon) statues that were being set up to be burned for Diwali later that evening/ morning. We got to take a short tour of the city and see Hindus out partying it up to fight the darkness. 

We found new friends in Goa- not Goans, but Brazilians!

Cheers!