What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?
We hesitantly left the yoga village to find a taxi to take us North before flying back to Delhi, I figured traveling around Goa a few days would ease us into the rest of our travels through India.
We told our taxi driver we wanted to visit Agonda, Cola Beach, Cabo De Rama Fort, Vagator, Panjim, Old Goa and be dropped off in Anjuna so we negotiated a price, loaded up the car and drove North towards Agonda Beach.
Agonda, a small village with a long white sandy beach and virtually no one on it apart from a few holiday- makers, was beautiful. We didn’t have much time, so we ordered iced chocolates at a beach café and then made our way back to the taxi as we never liked to make our drivers wait too long.
When we returned our driver told us he had to leave because of a family emergency, transportation is never guaranteed in India, so we transferred our packs to another taxi that was already waiting and drove towards Cola Beach.
It was stifling hot that day, the temperature was around 37 degrees and the drive was rough and uncomfortable. After 10 minutes or so, the bumpy dirt road split off into two directions and our driver took the downhill road while a jeep filled with tourists passed us on the upper road.
We parked outside a house and our driver pointed us towards a path that led us down to the beach but once I got there I realised it wasn’t where I wanted to go. I had read all about Cola Beach and although this beach was beautiful, it looked nothing like the pictures I’d seen and it didn’t have a lagoon.
We managed to find a local who told us that Cola Beach was the next beach around via the upper road and I realised that the difficulties in communication with our driver meant we ended up there.
We walked back up the path and I managed to explain to our non English speaking driver that we wanted to go to the next beach around and somehow he understood, but he warned us that we may have to walk part of the way because the road was very bad.
We agreed and sure enough the road was worse than I expected. Huge pot-holes nearly got us stuck a few times and when we could drive no further we pulled to the side and had to walk the rest of the way.
I had read so much about this beautiful beach and I was determined to see it, so I convinced Yana to come with mum and I, she was either going to love me or hate me for it.
We walked along a dry dirt road in the rip-roaring heat with no hats, sunscreen or water, until we finally reached what appeared to be a parking bay with a few motorbikes.
We found a track that led us down the side of a steep hill and once we reached the edge I could see the sea and a lagoon through the palm trees.
We walked along the shore, which dropped steeply down to the Arabian Sea, towards the lagoon and I ripped off my clothes, desperate to cool down, but to my disappointment the water was warm which didn’t give any relief from the sweltering heat.
After half-an-hour we decided to make our way back to the taxi as we felt sorry for our driver who we had left parked on the side of the road with no water.
The uphill walk was much harder going back and it seemed to be getting hotter as the day went on. I had to use all my will power to not let the heat over come me and I arrived at the taxi dripping with sweat and dizzy with exhaustion.
As we drove off I was half expecting the fresh air to cool me down but even the breeze through the window was hot. I had never experienced such heat, it was like being in a sauna with no escape.
Not far from Cola Beach was Cabo De Rama Fort, the oldest and Southern most fort in Goa. Perched high up on a ridge, the crumbling old Portuguese ruins provided spectacular views of the coastline. Still hot and sticky, we walked towards a gleaming white church that stood out amongst the blackened colours of the ruins and meandered along a path that led us towards the Western side of the fortress, where I was blown away by the panoramic views from the cliff edge.
After taking in the spectacular views, we set off to see some colonial Portuguese architecture in Old Goa. The towering churches, convents and cathedrals dated back to the 15th Century when the city served as capital of Portuguese India until it was abandoned by plague in the 18th century. What remains today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, rich in culture and history.
After strolling through the town and admiring the old buildings which stood tall and proud we headed towards Panjim where a picturesque white washed church sat watch over the bustling Portuguese influenced city.
A few pictures later and it was time to be dropped off at our final destination.
I had read a lot about Anjuna and I was looking forward to checking out the hippy, trance scene that it was so famous for.
After circling around lost in the taxi, trying to find a hotel that my guidebook recommended, I decided to run into the closest, most decent hotel I could see from the roadside. Lucky for us the hotel was nice and a room was available in our budget.
The room was clean and spacious, it had 3 beds, an en suite bathroom and it was set just back from the beach. So we decided to stay 2 nights.
We didn’t have long before dark so we walked along the beach to see as much as we could before nightfall but for some reason I felt sad. It wasn’t Patnem beach and I was slightly disappointed. My experience at Kranti’s had set such a high standard, all my food was catered for, I had everything I needed and I was well taken care of but now I was having to fend for myself.
The sadness continued to surface and I wondered what was really triggering it. Deep down I had felt welcomed, accepted, safe, stable and settled in the yoga village, things that I hadn’t felt since moving out of my house and the subsequent fallout with my family.
We continued walking until we found a quirky tree-hut style restaurant with tables up high, each on their own platform overlooking the beach. We climbed up a ladder to a low wooden table and waited to be served. I had never seen anything like it before and I wondered how they would get the food up.
After waiting awhile no one came so we decided to climb down and order downstairs. The food was delicious and worth the wait but it was the first time eating outside of Patnem and I was anxious about getting sick.
From here on in eating in India would be a gamble and all I could do was cross my fingers and hope the food I ate was safe.
After trying to ascertain if the rose water used in our gulab jaman desert was from the tap, we walked along the beach towards the sounds of psychedelic trance and danced until we were too tired to dance anymore.
I crashed out on my hard as a rock Indian mattress and woke up to a yummy fresh fruit breakfast in the open-air beachfront restaurant of our hotel. Anjuna had warmed on me and I was now loving the hippy, laid back vibe of the place until mum received a phone call that would leave us all in a sombre mood.
My grandfather in New Zealand had passed away.
I was devastated for my mum, who didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to him, so we decided to buy lanterns at the local markets and have our own beach send off for him.
We rummaged through clothes, jewellery and handicrafts beneath the hot Goan sun until we finally found the lanterns and after being harassed by desperate market vendors eager to make a sale we made a beeline for an exit out of the market place but as we were about to leave, the sound of a mans voice and his guitar drew us into a little restaurant.
The longhaired man was singing with such soul and passion that I was left mesmerized. His songs reminded me of the music my father used to play on his record player and it got me thinking about him. My mother had just lost her dad without being able to say goodbye and I hadn’t spoken to my dad in months. Was I able to let go of the past and forgive him for siding with my sister?
When I left New Zealand I decided to not dwell on my family dramas so I put the thoughts of my father aside and a few lemonades later I was ready to leave, feeling uplifted by the music.
We checked out of our hotel and caught a taxi to Goa’s most popular beaches, Calungate and Baga.
Indian families and package tourists mainly of the Russian type crowded the beaches, it was like the Indian version of the Gold Coast.
The chaotic roads had somehow transcribed into the water as jet skies dodged swimmers and boats, restaurant touts lined the beaches trying to pull in customers and sun parched aging tourists sunbathed in the sand. We didn’t stick around for long, it was our last day in Goa so we decided to go to Arambol.
We found a taxi and got dropped off on a busy narrow street in the main shopping area, we stood there with our heavy packs and wondered where to go next.
We tried to not look lost to avoid attracting hotel touts but it was too late. Before I knew it, mum had given her bag to a man who was helping us down the hill towards a hotel that he wanted to show us, and I reluctantly followed. We walked for about 20 minutes in the hot sun along a winding path, which wound around the side of a cliff that looked out towards the sea and when I was nearly ready to give up and turn back we finally stopped beneath a steep flight of stairs.
I was hoping the room was going to be nice but when we got to the top it was anything but nice. It was dark and dirty and I didn’t want to stay there so I told the man who we had followed and he became angry because he had helped carry mum’s bag.
All I wanted was to get my heavy pack off my back and find a decent room, so we abruptly left to find somewhere better.
We had a look at two more grotty rooms along the path back towards the beach but they were all the same, dark and dirty so we continued on, tired and exhausted, until we found a café where we sat down for a rest.
So far we didn’t like Arambol much and we were beginning to regret leaving Anjuna. It felt dirty and there were limited options for quality rooms. Perhaps we had become accustomed to sleeping in places that we could no longer find? We were running out of options and I needed a decent meal so we decided to take our chances and stay in Mandrem. Surely that would be better.
So we left Anjuna only an hour and a half after we had arrived.
Mandrem was a lot more peaceful than Arambol but not as pretty as Anjuna. It had a wide sweeping beach that went for miles and a lot of European family vacationers.
My guide-book had recommended a holiday park with beach huts in our budget, everywhere else was too expensive, so we checked in but we were given a rather dull and underwhelming hut set back from the beach amongst a mosquito infested garden.
We went for a beach-walk to wind down from a stressful day but along the way, we all had a meltdown of some sorts.
Yana’s feet swelled up and she didn’t want to walk anymore, I was hungry from not eating because there was a lack of hygienic food places, and mum was battling with her own head pain and grief.
We suddenly realised how absurd we were for walking in the heat of the sun when all we needed was rest so we made our way back to the village to find food and a foot massage.
We came across a small massage shop and while Yana had her feet pampered to reduce her swelling I got talking to the owner, an Indian lady who was the same age as me called Shanti.
Shanti was so warm and friendly and her facial expressions and hand gestures told a remarkable story.
She had been brought up in the slums of Delhi by a harsh father who told her from a young age she was worthless and her life would amount to nothing. She explained to me that she wanted more from life than what she was raised in after having her first child at 14 so against all the odds she managed to create a business for herself, which is a rarity for woman in India to do, and she rose herself up and out of poverty.
I suddenly felt really grateful for the life I was born into and I admired this strong woman who was a stranger to me only 30 minutes ago. I was really glad we got to talk and my meltdown earlier and family dramas suddenly seemed so insignificant. With open hearts we hugged goodbye and I walked away thinking about the beggars and homeless people I had seen in India. Each, like Shanti, with their own story to tell.
They had all been born into poverty and a life of struggle but is it fair that they are left to starve and die on the streets because of a society that lacks empathy and values capitalism more?
The earth provides enough resources for everyone to thrive and all the needless suffering exists because people like them don’t have money. Why does our society value money more than human life?
India was confronting and it left me with questions that I may never find answers for, and I hadn’t even left Goa.
We walked back to our ‘mosquito’ hut and prepared to say goodbye to grandad.
As the day turned into night we walked down to the beach and watched the lanterns as they gently floated off up into the black night’s sky.
My dear grandfather, your ailing body is now free from suffering and your soul is one with the stars and the moon and everything else that makes the universe alive. Forever you will remain in our hearts.
After saying our eulogies, we returned to our hut and I tried to sleep despite the uncomfortable mattress and bloodthirsty mosquitos.
Yana and mum awoke with sick tummies from drinking warm coffees at our hotel in Anjuna and were dreading the day’s travel ahead but we had to press on regardless. We needed to get to the airport to catch our flight to Delhi so I organised a taxi and loaded it up with all of our luggage.
Poor mum became worse at the airport and she struggled to get through customs in between bouts of diarrhea, Yana on the other hand was suffering in silence. I hoped that whatever they had would pass quickly as we had a busy schedule ahead of us.
The flight attendants gave them seats to lie down on at the back of the plane and they both dozed in and out of a feverish sleep.
Three hours later we touched down in Delhi and as we were walking towards a taxi we stumbled upon a dead dog lying on a busy path outside the terminal. As crowds of people walked over the top of it without giving it a second look I was confronted by a culture that was so used to seeing death and disease.
I was now in the real India with a sick mum and daughter.