Since it was Valentine’s Day, Tony, Jen, Gerard and I decided to go to Blue Planet, a renowned health food organic/vegan restaurant. To get there from the beach involved an hour long trek through the jungle of coconut palms and cashew trees all choked with a mass of flowering vines and undergrowth – butterflies fluttering by. The restaurant sat in an opening in the woods. The hike was well worth the effort – it was the best food we’ve had in recent memory, in India or elsewhere. It rivaled Greens of San Francisco. We savored the food for three hours before setting off. My relationship with Jen is one that develops slowly, and improves over time, as the British reserve fades. A good thing, since we’ve extended our stay to three weeks. I can’t believe it….three weeks at the beach!
Another day, the four of us walked across the headland over rocks and steep inclines to small coves with names like Honeymoon Cove, and Butterfly Beach – too rocky for swimming, but pleasant spots for a picnic.
Saturday is Market Day in nearby Chowdi. A little bus took us along with another 50 odd passengers (the bus capacity is 31+1) through the country lanes. On the way to the tailor (to pick up a shirt being made for Gerard) I notice a sign for an Aurevedic doctor. It took some persuading but I managed to get Gerard to take his place with a handful of other people waiting to see the doctor in what, with some stretch of imagination, could be called a waiting room, open to the street. After three-quarters of an hour, the doctor finally rolled in and began to dispense his diagnoses and patients at lightening speed. “When my turn came”, Gerard told me, “I entered a tiny office cluttered with papers and half opened pill boxes. The rafters were covered with thick cobwebs and brown dust. I thought I’d just reentered the 18th century. An elderly man wearing bifocals motioned me to sit down. I quickly realized he could speak little English. I showed him the red welts in various stages of irritation and with no hesitation he exclaimed, “Yes, rash!” I thought to myself I didn’t need to wait three quarters of an hour to hear that….I knew it was a rash.”
The doctor wrote out a prescription of a lotion and three different pills (no connection to the ones prescribed last year – and which had had no success this year). Somewhat relieved to depart the Dickensian chamber, we were back on the street filling the prescription, buying fruit and vegetables at the market, and left town.
A few days later, we finally managed to extricate ourselves from Fatima’s and the constant yoga crowd, to a small guesthouse at the end of the beach. A change of scene is welcome. It’s a peaceful spot, with birdsongs in the morning, not drowned out by the crows. Breakfast is served graciously in the ‘garden’, by Dominique and Rita, the owners of the guesthouse and who live downstairs. Best of all, Gerard’s spots have cleared up – maybe it wasn’t a rash after all, and some creature at Fatima’s was biting him.
This guesthouse has its regulars: a French couple who live in the mountains near Avignon, and have come here every winter for eight years; an Italian woman who stays long enough to decorate her doorway with seashells, a German couple in their mid 70s who travel in India every year and were once attacked in the North East Kingdom and have the scares to show for it. And then, Johnny arrives, an ex Buddhist monk from England and our friend from last year. We’ll be lucky if we can get a booking here next year.
As we were waiting for our room to be cleaned, a Russian couple was just leaving. Up until now, we’ve met few, if any, Russians. Some people draw the conclusion that they’re not friendly. To the contrary, this couple was very friendly and polite. He stood up and shook Gerard’s hand! From Samara, 1,000 km east of Moscow, they are traveling around Goa on a motorbike. During our conversation. Gerard quizzed them on why there is such an interest in yoga in Russia (his wife is a yoga teacher. He replied that since things had opened up there, there is a pent up interest in pursuits beyond the mundane.
Because this is a holiday destination, people here are not in a hurry – it’s easy to make contact. Among the numerous characters are “Brown John” a retired fireman from Lancashire who has a large Buddha tattooed on his tanned back and an even larger drinking problem; the English couple who look like the oldest hippies in Agonda; the man who bicycles back and forth on the road with a huge inner tube around his waist; the blonde who walks the beach daily wearing a pink bikini, a bottle of water balanced perfectly on the top of her head….and then there’s the local Goans..the breadman who delivers Portuguese loaves and rolls, blowing his rubber bicycle horn to announce his arrival; the little old man who hobbles down to Anita’s teashop every morning for his plate of beans…he’s been doing it long before the tourists came. His limited sight assisted by large coke bottle glasses, but not good enough to prevent him walking off in Jane’s flip flops instead of his own…and so on.
Lulled by the sun and surf, I’m entering a new phase (for me) of relaxation. My morning hike down the beach has slowed to a stroll; I’m more disposed to indulge in conversation over meals…perhaps I’m finally experiencing a little of living in the moment, resisting my habitual urge to project into the future – to visualize the next destination. A futile exercise since it always misses the mark.
Unknowingly, Jen and I chose an eventful Sunday to go to church in Agonda – a communal baptism of six babies and almost twenty boys and girls taking their first communion. The little girls in their white bridal dresses and veils; the boys in crisp white shirts and some with garlands of white flowers on their heads.
The Catholic Church is quite plain in its whiteness – a huge carved wood crucifix hangs above the altar, with Christ’s suffering body looking down on us. Along the sides of the church are pictures of the Stations of the Cross. Hanging plastic baskets of trailing flowers in multi pastel colors are strung across the ceiling.
At nine o’clock the church suddenly filled – everyone in their Sunday finery – a mix of Goan dresses – floral cotton or iridescent satin, Indian saris, black suits and peacock colored shirts. The service was highly interactive – the priest invited members of the congregation to come up and read prayers, the congregation responded in song. When he talked to the first communicants, the priest posed question to a small child the children and held the microphone to their lips for the answer. An electric keyboard accompanied the enthusiastic singing, sometimes with organ and trumpet, sometimes with piano. It sounded more like Portuguese dance music than the stately British hymns of my childhood.
A sweet Goan lady sat next to me and pointed to the page in the hymn book and then followed the words with her finger so I could sing along. With all the ceremonies the service went on and on….we crept out during communion. It was nice to see the local villagers getting on with their lives regardless of the tourists. They may serve us in the restaurants and shops but on Sunday they go to church.
In the evening there was a concert in celebration of the children confirmed that day, in the churchyard, a stage with a painted background and crooning singers. It was like any band concert on a Sunday evening at the beach in the summer. Ending with a rousing version of “We are the World” that we could hear all the way down the road towards our hotel at the other end of town.
Even after three weeks, it will be hard to leave Agonda. We have made so many friends here – both the local Goans, and tourists who like us are here each year, some who’ve been coming ten or more years.