Now after so many years visiting Agonda it’s hard to find a subject we haven’t already touched on. I dream about this beach when we’re back in Boston – and so far returning hasn’t let me down. The sea and long stretch of silky sand are just as alluring. At night I go to sleep to the sound of the crashing waves and in the early morning, the symphony of tropical birds is as enchanting as ever (until the raucous crowd of crows compete).
And there’s our routine – my early morning walk down the beach to get curd and samosas, followed by tea at our seaside café, a friendly chat with other long termers, and then into the waves. Lunch is eaten outside our room to the selected sounds from Gerard’s collection of jazz and world music. In the afternoon we continue to work on the story begun here a year ago in this very room; and before sunset a final stroll down the beach. (Gerard has become so involved that he is now more co-writer than just editor of both this story and the blog)
But each year records more changes that threaten to disrupt the rhythm of our life here. Along the road bordering the beach there is still more commerce – ice cream parlors, beauty salons, a surf shop selling boards and lessons. Among the palm trees lining the beach the huts have multiplied like mushrooms overnight – some looking barely habitable, others elaborate with glass windows and chaise lounges on the porch. All will be torn down at the end of the season, material piled under tarpaulins and bamboo fronds to protect against the monsoon, and then reassembled for the next season.
Everything and especially food is more expensive. You can’t blame the restaurants for a reasonable increase – but doubling the price of steamed rice since last year is unacceptable. The weakening Euro means there are fewer Europeans… and the collapse of the ruble even fewer Russians. Only the merchants lament the absence of the rowdy drinkers; fortunately it seems to be the peaceful yoga-loving ones that have enough rubles to still come, including our good friend Tatiana. While tourism is down this year, more Indians are coming to the beach. In fact last year was the first we really noticed their presence in Agonda at all. Families with children, bringing elderly grandmothers who from their scowls look like they’d be much happier left at home; young honeymooners, single men playing cricket on the beach in the evening, partying into the night. They’re treading further into the water – and all taking selfies.
And there are those who’ve left for good – “Boom”, the Italian professional photographer who loved everyone and everything, including morning rum and coke, finally succumbed to liver cancer.
The rich Punjabi, who lived in the large house on the hill overlooking the street with his coconut palm grove stretching down to the beach, is gone, cremated in front of his house. And then the banana lady’s father died – for two days the bananas remained locked inside her stall, until with sad face, she was back in business again.
Our ears are assaulted by the ever increasing noise mostly from motorbike horns. Throughout India there are more and more motorbikes – and Goa is no exception. Agonda may be quiet relative to the other Goan beach towns, but even here, naïve and reckless tourists on rented bikes speed up and down the narrow road already crowded with cows, dogs, pedestrians and other speeding vehicles. Yesterday we saw two accidents – not fatal but still injurious. Returning from nearby Chaudi on the bus, we noticed two young tourists limping out of the hospital their bodies adorned with large white plasters, one with ugly road burns spreading up his arm. And in the evening, two Indians on bikes collided with a dog and landed bruised on the verge of the road. An astute traveler in Ahmedabad commented that the new music of India is the piercing horns of motorbikes. Everyone is diligent in following the quest for HORN PLEASE.
But the biggest change we see is trash. Agonda has become a dirty place – except on the beach that is swept clean daily. There is trash everywhere – plastic containers, tin foil wrappers from crisps, chips, cookies, chocolate; the night air is polluted with the toxic smoke and fumes of fires attempting to burn what shouldn’t be burnt. At least more of the plastic bottles are collected and recycled but the endless stream of plastic in other forms continues to mount along the roadside.
For eons Indians have dumped their trash wherever they felt like it and it posed little problem – but in the past 50 years with the arrival of plastic it’s now become a serious issue. Trash thrown into the bushes only a couple of meters behind the guesthouse has grown into mounds of plastic and an off-shore breeze picks it up and blows it on to the street and, further, toward the beach. This year we notice construction debris – broken pieces of concrete and tile thrown carelessly along the roadside. It is true that local and state governments have no conception of how to deal with the increasing amount of trash the tourist industry is creating here.
Gerard had a brief conversation with our landlady. He told her, “As accommodation prices rise so will the expectations of tourists. Soon it will no longer be acceptable to continue disposing your trash in the same old way.” At first Rita replied, “Well, yes…that man across the street…” He interrupted her, “No, it’s not just the man across the street, it’s the whole village, and the State. Unlike the rest of India, Goa is highly dependent on the tourist industry, making the problem more urgent here.” Rita listened with a blank expression. She really had no idea what he was talking about.
Obviously this is an issue that concerns not just Goa, but the whole subcontinent. Dry and dusty, that’s always been India. But now it’s dry, dusty and with an added layer of fragmented plastic. A recent article in the Goan Times discussed that because local authorities are incapable of dealing with this crisis, they are considering bringing in private contractors. But what will be the consequence of this? While there’s a scarcity of land protection policies in Goa, there are a few enforcements – segments of beach cordoned off for the hatching of turtle; how close you can build to the beach and what has to be dismantled at the end of the season. Will these restrictions survive privatization or will it be a capitalistic free for all?
But today, we’re still enjoying Agonda. Good friends from England are with us for the seventh time. The four of us take a two-hour hike through the jungle, a path they’ve discovered to Butterfly Beach – an isolated cove that suddenly appears out of the undergrowth as we descend toward the sea. The American couple we met in Varanasi last year and then saw again in Agonda, have turned up unexpectedly. We learned that they’d preceded us in Gujurat, in both Ahmedabad and Diu, by only a few days. And when we mentioned how wonderful Nawalgarth in Rajasthan was, they said, “Oh yes, we visited it only a few years ago” – even staying in the same guesthouse! They have encouraged us to try Thailand. We’re concerned about vegetarian diet there but they’ve assured us it can be done. But all of this is a story for another time.