We’d had brief conversations with people in both Gokarna and Guljibagha that forewarned us of what’s happened in Agonda. Each year we’ve watched it lose its original charm. This it sounded really bad.
Urick and Joana accompanied us on the bus ride to Chaudi (our good luck because Gerard had put his back out and we needed help with the ‘small cases’). Then a short rickshaw ride to the guesthouse where we’ve been staying for at least six years, primarily because it’s all the way at the southern end of the beach where it’s much less developed. But what we hadn’t foreseen was that the open space was prime for building. More beach huts, more restaurants, more souvenir shops…and now great Heineken and Kingfisher banners flapping in the sea breeze.
Our guesthouse owners, Rita and Dominic, were very pleased to see us, hugs and kisses all around. Tatiana, our friend from Russia, was the only familiar guest. Then we asked how much for our usual room. They quoted a 25% increase. Gerard grabbed his heart and said, “Rita, what are you trying to do to us?” Of course, their response was, “Oh, we can get so much more. And you’re only staying two weeks.” “Rita, please what can you do for us?” “Ok…Ok…” and she dropped the increase down to 12%.” Now, after being here for a week and learning about the exorbitant prices of the glorified beach huts, we realize that maybe the price is not so bad after all.
Walking up the street, our first evening, we saw maybe 15 people we casually knew from years past. That didn’t include all of the shopkeepers who greeted us with a smile and “welcome back.” But Gerard lamented that our close friends, Frederick, Jonny, Michael, Richard and Jane were not here this year. OMG, does this mean less conversation, more beach?? The next shock came when we got to the restaurant and saw the menu prices. A good thing, we only eat out in the evening.
Walking up the street, our first evening, we saw maybe 15 people we casually knew from years past. That didn’t include all of the shopkeepers who greeted us with a smile and “welcome back.” But Gerard lamented that our close friends, Frederick, Jonny, Michael, and Jane were not here this year. OMG, does this mean less conversation, more beach?? The next shock came when we got to the restaurant and saw the menu prices. A good thing, we only eat out in the evening.
We resumed our usual routine –breakfast and lunch on the balcony; swimming in between; the birds still sing sweetly in the trees — all of this hasn’t changed. It’s that the town has become one of the most sought after beaches in Goa. Not helped by the reference to Agonda as ‘the best beach in India” on Trip Advisor and a write up in Conde Naste. We do our best to ignore the ongoing construction of every possible square inch of this little strip of land beside the sea, and enjoy the warm water, friendly chats over chai and good baingen dahiwalla cooked by Babu at Little Plantain.
Our friends Russ and Caroline from Wells, England had “very good news.” After a series of family tragedies they decided to take up early retirement and hit the road. Once they’d made the decision, everything miraculously fell into place. An ad for the large American RV they wanted appeared, Russ got a notice in the mail allowing him to cash in a pension fund early, then he managed to sell his window cleaning business enabling him to pay off his mortgage and buy the RV. Renting their house will provide enough income for them to take to the road and travel indefinitely through Europe and perhaps beyond.
Besides Russ and Caroline and Tatiana there’s a dearth of interesting characters in Agonda this year. Then Gerard met a family on the beach from Moscow who had decided not to go back because it was too depressing. “No one in Moscow smiles.” This matched Tatiana’s remark of last year that everyone’s depressed because it’s always raining. “The only day the sun comes out is when there’s a national parade. The weather’s controlled by the government,” she concluded.
And that evening we had planned to meet for dinner six meter Peter, the violinist from Switzerland. Much to our surprise Krystyna and her mother from Poland had just arrived. They’ve all been coming for as long as we have. Mother has Alzheimer’s but each year she seems to get a little better from the sunshine and swimming in the sea. Krystyna lives in Prague and makes Czech documentaries on political issues that she translates into Polish. This year she’s accompanied by a Czech man the same age as Gerard. Karel had left what was then Czechoslovakia in 1968, just before the Soviet occupation, the same year Gerard left the U.S. With the assassinations of MLK and RJK, the last straw was the democratic convention in Chicago. Even Gerard’s mother encouraged leaving the country. A pivotal year in both Gerard and Karel’s lives. They had a lot in common. Karel stayed away for 20 years, only returning and seeing his family again after the Communist Regime collapsed. Gerard was only gone for 5 years; being in foreign cultures, especially North Africa, had an indelible impact on him. Returning during Watergate hearings was perfect timing. His wife to be witnessed the undoing of a President. Not grasping the full gravity of the situation, her allegiance was with the beleaguered Nixon!
Both us needed more dental work. Gerard had to go back to redo a crown, made a year ago, that never fit. Obviously he was not excited at the prospect of having them in his mouth again. On the other hand, I had a good experience last year, and had no qualms in returning. You might have guessed. Gerard goes back a week later to have the new crown put on, and that wasn’t made properly either. The dentist said come back in a week. I told him we wouldn’t be here that long. So he suggested going to his main practice, next to the lab, in north Goa two hours away. And how much will the taxi cost? Gerard asked. “Oh, 2 or 3,000 Rs.” “That’s not acceptable.” After much discussion between all parties involved, the specialist agreed to send his car and driver to pick him up. A much better solution but still a waste of one of our last days in Agonda. And it was a successful trip.
It’s harder for me to say goodbye to Agonda than Gerard. I loved this town from our first visit. There was little between the sea and me and I felt a freedom I don’t have for the most part traveling in India. But on the other hand there’s very little adventure or sense of discovery here. Each year, toward fall, we’d start planning our next India trip and foremost in my thoughts was returning to Agonda. On each visit the town became more familiar, more comfortable and we’d pick up with friends again. I understand others who say, it’s like coming home. I was in denial of the advance of commercialism, the inability to deal with trash, noise, and too many motor scooters roaring up and down the street. But this year, even I have to admit it’s gone too far. The seduction of sea and sand is no longer enough. So I come to this conclusion with a heavy heart (as LBJ would say), I say goodbye to Agonda for the last time. We’ve talked to a number of people in the same mindset and already have an idea for next year north of Goa in Maharastra.