Any long term traveler knows that if you have been on the road for any length of time, standards shift. Standards in hotel rooms, safety concerns and, well, it has to be said, personal hygiene. While we have never been particularly fussy regarding our accommodations, by the time we arrived in Goa, India, we were simply thrilled to have a beachfront room, even if it was of questionable design.
Palolem Beach, one of the “it” beach towns of Goa, is absolutely touristy, but certainly comes by it’s popularity fairly. Set on a long, cresent shaped bay, Palolem is a somewhat sleepy town with all of the action centered within a few blocks of it’s glorious sand beach. Bars, restaurants and beachfront shacks vie for the all mighty tourist dollar.
Arriving without reservations after traveling up the length of India for three straight days, we happened upon a beachfront room just becoming available at the Cafe del Mar. Room might be a slight exaggeration… granted there were four walls and even a bathroom, but shack is a more accurate description. It wasn’t unique, many of the beachfront hotels consist of bamboo sheets lashed together into rooms during tourist season, all to be disassembled and stored away during the monsoons, when all that remains are the cement slabs that make up the floor.
In spite of it’s somewhat shabby construction, we were in travelers heaven. After 6 months on the road, the last two traversing India, we were travel weary and in need of some serious R&R, a vacation from traveling. Palolem granted us sun, sand, and bath-water warm seas, coupled with great restaurants (Italian and Mexican, oh my!), fast internet, and a variety of activities available. We planned of staying three nights, and finally drug ourselves away nearly two weeks later, fully understanding why so many have come to visit and never left.
India, above all else, is a mad intermingling of idiosyncrasies. The western mind often has a hard time coping with the sheer lunacy that makes it all so magical. Magic Italy, a favorite dinner spot after two months of curries, was like being transported back to Italy. Homemade pastas, fresh bread and a good Chianti satisfied our stomachs and senses and yet, when the random stray cow rambled past our table on it’s way through the restaurant, we never batted an eye and barely paused in the conversation. That is what India does to you. It changes you so far down to the core of your being, that after having spent over forty years assuming a cow would NOT be passing through the restaurant whilst dining out, it becomes not just un-incredulous, but quite commonplace and barely worth a mention.
The day we were advised we must hurry to vacate our beach chairs was a similar experience. What would have caused outrage at any beach anywhere else in the world, was a mere cause for mild interest as we moved to sip our cocktail from our front porch. Watching while each hotel down the beach scurried about, removing the non-regulated beach items, the local police slowly strolled the beach, accepting their expected bribes as they went.
Our life in Goa was simplicity squared. Our stay was just the tonic needed to refresh our travel dreams. Our days took on an appealing routine of long walks on the beach, leisurely meals, an afternoon swim, and long conversations about nothing. The true joy was simply remaining still and watching the fascinating daily parade that is India.
Inevitably, we did leave, but that moment in time remains ever-present in our memories. We will return to Palolem someday, hoping it hasn’t changed too much, but knowing that some change is unavoidable. For now, we dream of our time there in technicolor because, after all, isn’t that what India is all about? An sensory attack on all of the senses that causes you to know that THIS is what life is really all about. A place so incredible that THIS bathroom was part of our dream.