The guidebook mentioned nothing about the Nioda Caves on the edge of town. The locals referred to them as quarries, if at all. No one seems to know much about their origin. To us they appeared to be beautifully and deliberately designed shelters for a large community. One cave opened into another, and yet another. The morning sun shone through triangular-shaped entrances and rectangles cut into the ceilings, illuminating a magical space below.
Deep tanks presumably for water in the corner; one cave appeared to be a meetinghouse with a raised platform along one side. Steps cut into the side of the cave seemed to lead to nowhere. The atmosphere was serene. Who were these people? Why did they decide to settle just outside the city walls? Later we searched the Internet – the only description we could find was that they were Portuguese quarries. An English friend staying in our guesthouse, who had visited the caves at our encouragement, confirmed this theory. Rationally it might make sense…the wheel ruts above the “quarries” where the stone was carted away. But then why were the walls carved at an angle? And what were the strange pyramid shapes hanging off the ceiling? Who would make an entrance to a quarry in the shape of a triangle? Whatever their original purpose the caves were a wonderful place to spend the morning.
Ten people sitting around a large dining table; it’s the only place in town you can get a real cup of coffee one says – they all agree. It immediately strikes us we all have something in common: our age. We can all tell our stories without having to give the historical background. One way or other we were all there. Gathering together on Fernando and Alina’s front porch for breakfast is a morning ritual. Most have been coming to the island for years, finding it a suitable getaway from the winter gloom of Europe. By the time we’d finished our first cup of “special” cardamom chai another common thread emerged. All of them have travelled through India for decades but now in their sixties and seventies the crowds, dirt and noise have become too much. Yet India’s pull is still so great that they’ve sought out this hideaway – India with a European twist. There’s a beach but that’s not the reason they come here. So then what to do?
The Italian woman takes orders for pizza that she will make at the local bakery; the profit is spent on shoes for local poor children. Gerard asked her when she first came to India. “42 years ago!” The Japanese attends mass twice a day, and spends the rest of the time reading scriptures fingering her rosary beads. The Frenchman, his hat a spray of tall feathers spends the day, with his Asian wife, trying to catch a glimpse of pink flamingos in the salt marsh. Gerhardt from Austria tells a similar story- after thirty years of wandering through India looking for the Truth in a recognizable form is now content in his solitude to spend each day in the narrow streets of this old Portuguese town with a late afternoon jog on the beach.
They all seemed so familiar with each other, and to us as well. Through the year we’ve met so many people that could have been them. Different face, same story. As breakfast finished, each person got up and went their separate way. Sitting at the empty table we looked at each other, wondering.