I chatted with Gowri who had come to fix the jet in our bathroom and asked her where I could buy the lemongrass scented floor cleaner that they used here as I put our clothes away. She gave me the names of a few stores. It was all so homey. What a different stay we’d had! I could not help think back to two years ago when we had come to Goa for my parents’ fortieth anniversary.
My parents, siblings and I had all come with our respective families to celebrate this momentous occasion. In keeping with the importance of the thing, we had booked cottages at the Taj Holiday Village. Everything was as perfect as it could have been. We stayed about 5 nights and hardly went out. Our children swam in the pool and had juice at the poolside bar. They made castles on a beach that was clean and deserted. Open only to a select few. The holiday village has a wonderful Thai restaurant on the property and the Fort Aguada hotel that is adjacent has a fabulous Italian place that we could eat at too if we felt like it. At every meal, the inhouse musicians serenaded us with Goan folk songs. In short, the entire property was landscaped, manicured and dressed to impress and every meal was a feast for the senses.
Just the one time, we stepped out of the hotel for a trip to North Goa and stopped at Britto’s. The kids were just as fed up as all the kids had been at St. Anthony’s this time. And really, we felt the same way. It was sad but it was true. There was nothing for us to do here. No reason we should even be here. And we wondered about the ennui.
My sister and I spoke about how as children, beach to us had meant Chennai’s Marina with it’s kadalai and maanga. It had been about getting our feet wet and the sinking of the sand and feeling the ground slip away beneath. And then the first time I visited Kovalam beach I was so thrilled by the deck chairs and the fact that they served mocktails and fruit on the beach. It was like an Archie comics world here in India and I could not get enough!
And now. We had everything and we were so jaded. I wish she’d been here on this trip.
I hope this does not sound silly and pretentious. I realize that staying at the Villa Alina is not exactly slumming it. But I wished she had walked around on the streets of Goa with me. There was a party here on the streets of Goa! Ok it wasn’t real, and maybe it was all in my head. But I felt it. I guess if you feel something, it is real enough. And I had not felt this unjaded for a long time.
As a mother of two small boys my cultural references are entirely from the movies. Scratch that. From animation movies. I can see Syndrome saying to Mr. Incredible ‘When everyone is Super, no one is.’ That man knew something!
The last day of our trip was a time for wrapping up. Going for one nice lunch, buying cashews to take back home and for office and a trip to the Mario Gallery. I had been gifted paintings from there by a friend and I had thought it was an actual gallery but turns out it is really a shop. And it was only about 800 metres from the Villa Alina. We dropped in on our way back from lunch.
I read up later and found that Mario Miranda had not in fact formally studied art at all. It makes his formidable talent all the more amazing and worthy of admiration. My older boy is really keen on drawing and is learning sketching techniques at school. I picked up a couple of postcards for him to copy and learn how hatching is done. But mostly, I enjoyed wandering through the aisles and looking at the paintings. They were an inside view into Goa. I don’t think as a casual visitor you can ever see that Goa. There were bits that were very familiar. We had some sad experiences with racism on an earlier trip when we stayed at the Leela. The deference, in fact obsequiousness that was dealt out to foreigners was a stark contrast to the treatment we got. Miranda poked gentle fun at this attitude in a cartoon showing the reaction to the changing of a street name from a Portugese to an Indian sounding one. There was another one about increasing rentals that I liked very much. We picked up some souvenirs. I highly recommend this place for souvenir shopping.
And now that I’m done with the partying maybe my next trip will involve more of discovering that Goa. The inside one.
The shopping and tiring lunch notwithstanding, we still had the party in the evening to think about. Besides, some of the older kids wanted to go parasailing again.
I walked down to the beach in the company of my older son and a friend. Both did not want to parasail. Neither had done it the first time. In my capacity of veteran parasailor I was giving them both the good advice. This was easier to do with my friend who is a mature grown up with nothing to prove to anyone. For my son who stood the risk of being teased by his friends for being chicken, it took courage and my best parenting judgement to assure him that he did not need to do something he didn’t want to just to fit in. He should decide what was best for himself and enjoy what he did. That was most important. If he thought he would enjoy parasailing and remember the experience, it made sense to face his fears and go for it. But that was the only good reason.
When we reached we were told that there would be no dips this time since there were jellyfish in the sea! Parenting judgement flew out the window so fast I barely had time to say goodbye. If my son went up, he would get the chance to see whole colonies of jellyfish! He has always loved marine life and could NOT be allowed to miss the chance! So my husband and I totally pushed him to go for it. I am not proud of this of course but he really enjoyed himself and counted 51 jellyfish!
Once he came down he began preaching to my friend to go for it too. Everyone else was pushing her as well but she remembered my sermons and stood her ground. Even as the harness was being strapped around her, she calmly and patiently explained why she thought it was not a good idea to be in a situation where panicking and losing her head might do her harm and how she was really not that comfortable. Everyone listened to her quietly and with full attention and said, ‘ok sit down’. As she sat down and began with her thanks, they pressed the button. I think she completed her speech mid air.
My sartorial misfortunes are by now familiar to all. I was still in my swishy dress which while appropriate for shopping is definitely not the thing to wear when planning to get into harness and float up in air for all to see. Everyone told me I’d missed a good thing and sailing in the pleasant evening breeze was way more fun than the same thing in the hot afternoon sun. With memories of seeing Raima Sen on the big screen however, I firmly refused.
The flip side of watersports in the evening soon became obvious to us though. The sea turned choppy and the waters fierce. We still needed to take two turns to return. The boat operators overloaded boat one, and the water came in. They had to drain the boat with buckets before they could take us so we sat in the big boat being tossed about, holding on to the children waiting for our turn to go back. It was a little scary but a lot exciting. When we finally got the boat back, the waves were really quite big and even after we had docked at the beach, continued to pound us, rocking the little boat alarmingly. My youngest was carried off as soon as boat hit beach. I felt instinctively that it was for his safety besides our friends from trip one were right there on the beach and it was still crowded but my husband was worried and raced after him. I came in after with the older one. There was more drama to follow since the younger one refused to leave the beach till every last piece of his newly purchased sand toy set had been traced and recovered from the boat docking site where he had left it. I think I have spoken before of the possessiveness of younger children?
So all in all it was one more drenching and nothing to wear in the evening. I needed tea to ponder over this and everyone needed tea anyway so we all walked down to Milonies in our drenched glory. The kids made one more sand castle and we had hot adrak chai and dried off in the setting Goan sun.
Back in the villa, it was the moment of truth for me. I had one last good dress left – for the nice, non shack, non dal-chawal meal we had planed for our last day. And one travel outfit. So it would have to be the hot shorts. The husband and kids had nice things to wear. Making a mental note to switch out of Nirupa Roy mode next time while packing I reluctantly got ready for the party.
Emerging on the scene I observed my former college roomie MCing the proceedings with much gusto. As she pulled me in to dance I whispered urgently in her ear that she might not have noticed but I couldn’t dance as I was wearing the hot shorts! She laughed merrily pushing me into the center of the melee. Having no choice I quickly identified the best dancer and began copying the moves to the best of my ability.
This was followed by the little ones putting up a sort of variety entertainment consisting of singing, dancing and a skit where sleeping beauty wakes up to reveal herself as a zombie. It was all creative, entertaining and remarkably original.
The kids were in bed and fast asleep long before the cake was cut and we wound the whole thing up by sitting around the pool singing old Hindi movie songs. I think some of us were a little tipsy, most of us felt sentimental and we were all very happy.
I gushed about laundry in my last post but what with the mugginess and the dunking in the sea, I was starting to get worried about my clothes situation. I have had occasion to speak before about the luggage issue with the car and I always overpack for the kids but as a corollary, always pack just exactly what I might need for myself. And like I said, I was starting to worry.
So it came as a relief to hear the girls chatting at breakfast about how it might be fun to go shopping that day. The plan was to leave the kids with the dads to play in the pool and go out all by ourselves. That was exactly as tempting as it sounds and I rushed to get ready in my brand new liva material, soft, jade green day dress. As a concession to the Goa feeling, I also braided the front of my hair in two tiny pigtails. As I swished about in front of my husband, he looked up from his kindle long enough to inform me that I looked like Asterix.
What does he know?
The girls and I got a drop off from one of the dads and got off at the Candolim (Calangute?) market and started checking things out. I am by now a wary holiday shopper. After a couple of vacations coming home to find your fabulous bargains look like what was I thinking in the cold light of day, one wises up. I did not look twice at the anglo-indian style goan dresses or the costume jewellery. What I was looking for was sand toys – the set I’d got from home was sadly depleted, a Mario Miranda tile, and something reasonable for me to wear.
The first shop we hit was selling floral tiaras. Everyone decided impromptu that we’d by for all the girls – mom and kiddos alike – and wear that evening. It was the birthday of one of our friends and we were planning to celebrate. At about 50 bucks, it was no stretch. I did see the tiles I was looking for but decided not to buy from the first shop I went to. I was looking for shorts of a decent length but they were clearly not available. The hot pants that were available were not what I wanted at all. We popped in and out of a number of stores after that and negotiated with shopkeepers, bullying and being bullied in turn. We worried over shady trial rooms, were far from reassured when informed that the stores had cctv cameras and laughed a lot. I think I’d forgotten how much fun it is to go shopping with girls! Finally, we decided we needed some liquid refreshment and stopped at Tito’s. Then over woefully underfilled glasses we started reminiscing about how we’d met our husbands. When you’ve been friends with people more than half your lives it is easy to believe them when they tell you they knew what was in the air long before you remember knowing yourself. It is so much fun to hear about arranged marriage meetings and what bowled who over. Like I said, we laughed a lot. Right after that we made our big mistake.
A couple of us had decided they’d bought enough and were wondering how to go back home, when my phone rang and my husband called to ask what we’d planned for lunch. Since we were planning to split the shopping contingent anyway we invited boys and kids alike over to join us if they were done. I don’t think Tito’s could ever have witnessed the sort of wholesale, eardrum-shattering shrieking that happened when a bunch of kids who had spent the whole morning without throwing a tantrum finally met their moms. Suffice to say our lovely chatty, giggly, reminiscy high crash landed and never made it up again.
We ate and drank lots and on the way home, I gave in and let the store fellow sell me a pair of ‘hot shorts’. I was glum faced all the way home and my hubby asked me what I was complaining about – it wasn’t everyone who could make such transitions and accomplish so much in a single day. When I asked him what he was going on about, he said well you did go out as Asterix and manage to come home as Julius Caesar!
Long long ago when we didn’t have 157 channels and 24 by 7 TV, we recorded our favourite shows and watched them on a loop till we could recite them back in our sleep. I remember repeatedly watching this disney animated feature on insomnia and sleep analysis which began with “Research shows that people do not sleep like logs”. Our first night in Goa and I’d have challenged that bit of research in a boxing ring.
I slept lights out, like a log or the grateful dead. I had no idea I was that tired! I woke up too late for the walk along the beach which is how I typically began most mornings on my previous visits to Goa.
While we had to fend for ourselves as far as lunch and dinner went, the good folks at the Villa Alina did put up a healthy, though not very hearty (no eggs!!!), breakfast for their guests. We had fruits, juices, coffee, toast, cereal and the warm, crusty and flavorful Goan poee bread. My husband, the kids and I loved it but everyone else was a bit iffy. I guess it was not everyone’s cup of tea.
Speaking of tea – is there anywhere in India you do not find the amazing and enterprising cooks of Bihar? I found them on the Goan beach serving the most wonderful adrak chai! The place is called Milonies and we headed there most days and those were visits that served us well.
Post breakfast, we gathered up our stuff and walked down to the beach. While the smaller children busied themselves with sand castles, the older ones wanted to try out parasailing. There are a number of people running the water sports and you don’t even need to find them – they’ll find you. Only tip, ensure everyone is in life jackets before you get on the boat. The jackets seem to be in short supply, especially in children’s sizes, and they will try and trick you into getting on the smaller boat which drops you off at the bigger boat where the launch actually happens. They will tell you that there are extra jackets on the bigger boat but this is not true – don’t fall for it. We wasted some time under the hot sun waiting for them to arrange lifejackets for all of us and went in two trips but once there, it was wonderful.
The sea breeze was cool and lovely and we saw dolphins! They actually have a separate paid dolphin viewing trip but the dolphins obliged us by coming over to visit instead! One by one we got into the harness and were shot off into the sky like some tribal coming of age ritual. I insisted to my husband that I had come of age some years back running behind a jeep on the outskirts of Bangalore but he was merciless. Once actually up in the air though, it wasn’t frightening at all! The boat was much scarier in the choppy waters. Up there, it was smooth – just me, my thoughts and the vast expanse of ocean. After a while it seemed to me that my friends and family on the boat were trying to say something to me. I called out ‘What?’ without really feeling much panic – floating in the air does that to you. I was too sanguine. The rope came down and instead of landing gracefully on the boat in the manner of the triumphant heroine I felt like, I found myself dumped unceremoniously into the water like a teabag! Soaked and sputtering I finally landed and asked them WHAT that was all about. My shameless friends simply said ‘We thought you said ‘yes’ when we asked if you wanted the dip’! I am pretty sure a person saying ‘What’ does not look at all like a person saying ‘Yes’ and I suspect they lied.
Back on sand, the older ones went on the jetski and then it was time for lunch. The hot sun, the boat ride, the water had combined to make us all ravenous. We headed for a beach shack and ordered simple Indian food. Now the good thing about beach shacks is that they aren’t a bit pretentious! You cannot tell the chef at a fancy restaurant how to cook his meals, but here we let them know exactly how our kids liked their dal chawal and my younger one had four helpings! This being so unprecedented that the rest of my family almost forgot to eat at all! He wanted a fifth helping but worried about tummy aches later, I said a firm ‘no’! The food was simple and delicious besides being light on the pocket. And then it was back to the villa for a shower and sleep.
There is a back entrance into the villa which is really convenient – you can wash your feet and leave your shoes by the pool and not make a mess inside when you go to your room. I got in first with the kids and had them showered and clean by the time my husband came back. If you’re a parent who has ever been on holiday, you’ll agree that gift is worth ten gucci shades!
I soaked our family’s clothes in shampoo water after dusting off the sand in the garden – and I know I am completely betraying the extent of my boring domesticity here – but after I’d rinsed and hung them out to dry in the bright goan sun they came back cleaner than our expensive washing machine can ever manage back in Bangalore! I know it is extremely uncool to be gushing about laundry in a post about Goa but heck – I’m a mom – what do I know about cool anyway?
While everyone else siesta’d I spent my time roaming the villa grounds and discovered two open wells. They had been covered with shadenets for safety but were full of water and quite lovely! I have a thing for wells. My grandfather was a passionate champion of open wells, temple tanks and old fashioned rainwater harvesting. I can see what he meant. The wells were charming, beautiful and most importantly functional!
I was also pleasantly surprised to see wet and dry bins in the kitchen. I chatted with Rani who works there and discovered that unfortunately, the staff were not particular, or informed, about what goes where but at least Goa seems to have made a start. I also saw a dry waste collection center later during my trip so yaay Goa!
At night we decided to dress up and do the whole fun thing. We landed up at St. Anthony’s which was wildly unsuitable really. It was hot and stuffy inside. The younger ones were miserable. Mine fell asleep without dinner which was ok given his massive lunch but his friends had a hard time of it. My friends though were intent on making it memorable. Me and my girls, we went up and karaoked The Friends theme by the rembrandts. It was noisy and we couldn’t hear ourselves and the sound system was bad but hey! We went up there in front of a huuge crowd of unknown people and sang! Could we BE any wilder??
We have of course motored down to Goa before – in the rickety old Paulo Travels buses – but this was the first time we drove ourselves down. My husband has a good sense of direction in general but till we were actually almost there, he insisted he had never been in that part of Goa before. Me, I saw much to enjoy. And to make me reminisce. I love Goa. It has character and personality. The first time I visited, I never wanted to leave. I have stayed since in different parts of Goa. Ridden pillion all the way from south to north and seen all the little villages. Drank in the green till I thought my eyes would hurt! Loved the decrepit old mossy-bearded buildings, some ruined, some abandoned halfway through construction seemingly with hair of grass growing upwards in spikes. Did I say this already? Goa has personality!
Anyway, Google had almost decided we were there and my husband was still worrying about exactly where when we turned the lane and found ourselves in the delectable Villa Alina.
They welcomed us with garlands which is de rigueur by now for such places and then kindly left us to our own devices. Coming from Bangalore, I couldn’t really call the rooms cool but they were inviting. The ceilings were high and the rooms nice and airy. The furniture was chosen to fit in with the general character of the place and there wasn’t too much of it.
They had thoughtfully placed boardgames in the cupboard and I think there were books but in a hotellish fashion. By which I mean, the books were probably bought off someplace wholesale. There was no evidence of a personality there which was fine. It would probably have been very uncomfortable living in a sort of ghost house that very obviously belonged to someone else!
We quickly ordered food and freshened up and sat down to eat. The dining area had a view of the pool which is a new addition to the place. The kids couldn’t wait to jump in! After forcing them to wait till the food had settled down a bit – jump in we did! Pool fun is welcome wherever, whenever! One of the kids did not have bodysuit type swimwear and my younger one shared his second suit that we had got along just in case. I mention this only because it is the sort of good deed I don’t ordinarily associate with him. My older one would and has given away brand new toys to children he thought were more in need, and without a second thought! But this one is more materialistic. Younger children usually are I have noticed and who can blame them? From the get go they have to deal with sharing and hand me downs. Their very parents are hand me downs! There must be a seed of insecurity always there because I have repeatedly observed the difference between calm, serene older kids and restless, grasping younger ones. I’m a younger child myself so I should know!
We went for a walk later in the evening and came upon “The Palm Tree Bar and Restaurant” where they had karaoke going. We stopped though we had absolutely no intention of eating there. I think we had in our minds a ‘nicer’ place than that. While we munched on our snacks and listened, every single member of the family at the other table – from grandparents to little ones – came up and sang. Were they in tune? Who cares? Certainly not them. None of us came forward though, I am sorry to report. I can easily excuse us however. We had only just arrived that afternoon and the magic of Goa had not made it’s way insidiously under our skin and loosened up our bones. That was going to happen of course although we did not know it then!