It was a relief to see Martin waiting for us at the airport in Goa, along with a car and driver. The drive back to Shiroda Beach was a disappointment. Expecting coastal scenic views, instead, we followed alongside the busy construction of a new highway for a long two and a half hours.
But finally, there was Martin’s house, hidden away from the road, a one-lane affair with just a little tar on it. His house, reachable only by a footpath that weaves through a neighbor’s front yard. The women smile as we walk through, invading their privacy. A little girl comes forward and shyly offers us sweet coconut balls.
‘Blackie’, the dog we adopted last year, greets us with a toothy smile. He remembers us from a year ago. I never knew dogs had such a long memory. Owned by neighbors, Blackie prefers Martin’s front yard and now we’re here he’s waiting at the bottom of the outside staircase for us to descend in the morning. Martin tells us how Blackie’s mother was killed by a leopard when he was born. The rest of the litter all died. Blackie’s owner kept him alive by feeding him milk from an eyedropper.
Once again, there are no other guests and we could pick our room. But there’s one big change. Bonnie, who cooked for us twice a day at a little restaurant across the road is in Mumbai, the restaurant sadly shut up. Instead, Martin will cook for us.
This is an almost perfect situation for me. We’re living in an island of tranquility on the edge of the jungle. Even the minuscule traffic from the road can’t be heard. The only sound coming through our window is the chorus of subtropical birds that entertain us all day long. There’s a pleasant irony that I can hear that bird calls but not the dogs barking at night. And you know, even in the jungle, there are barking dogs. Until any other guests arrive (which is unlikely because Martin does not advertise) we are pampered by our resident cook. There is no running hot water, but if it’s needed, he heats it in a cauldron on an open fire in the back yard. The roof is mine to hang our washing and lay out my yoga mat in the morning.
Martin is a man of few words which suits me fine. His English is very good and he and Gerard have a comfortable rapport. With me, he is less comfortable, but we can still communicate enough to suffice. He has no TV, radio or internet connection. Why would I want it? he says, preferring to sit on his porch in the late afternoon and evening, content with his surroundings. He is something of a natural healer creating potions from Indian spices. Everything to heal is in the kitchen, he says. He gives me a drink of black cumin and ginger in hot water to loosen the congestion in my chest. Each day, he rides his bike to the bazaar for vegetables and fruit to prepare simple tasty dishes. On Valentine’s Day, he surprised us with two chocolates served on a silver platter!
Gerard’s spending a lot of time working hard on his memoir, tapping away on the little PC he invested in for the purpose. I compose the blog. It feels good to be writing alongside each other, later taking turns in editing what we’ve both produced. For internet access, we have to take our computers to the little cafe on the beach. Open for business but without customers, it has WiFi but very erratic. It’s taken almost a week to post this blog.
There’s still plenty of time for swims in the morning and walks on the beach in the afternoon, with or without Gerard. B
Walking on the beach, a young Indian man eagerly bounds out of the water and tries to engage me in conversation. When I shrug his initial advance, he promptly tries harder. I point to both my ears and say, “Deaf!” It’s an immediate put-off. He says.”Wow!” shrugs and walks away. Another benefit of my hearing loss, I no longer have to deal with the persistent pestering – good natured or not – of Indian men.
I’m not missing Agonda as much as I expected. Holding on to the fantasy long after Gerard did, but the thought of all the buzz – street noise, crowded restaurants, loud music – is more than I could handle now. In Shiroda, peace and quiet is just what the doctor ordered! But I do miss the couple of good friends who have still gone back this year.
On the path from the beach to our guesthouse, I pass flowering bougainvilleas, butterflies almost the size of a small bird, pigs trotting and chickens pecking and I can’t help comparing this walk to the equivalent in Agonda, now through a maze of beach huts.
Over our morning chai, Gerard says, “In an ever-shrinking world isn’t it amazing that we can still find a place that suits our present needs. Five years ago this beach would have been way too quiet for us but now it couldn’t be better.”
For a week, I’ve tried to post this blog. Each morning, carrying the computer down to the one cafe on the beach, a green canvas shack with a couple of tables and a WiFi access point. We were duped into believing there was connectivity. One day early on, the signal was loud and clear and we posted the previous blog entry. It never happened again. Not a glimmer of connectivity. Eventually, we take a rickshaw to the local bazaar and find a cyber cafe but the girl at the counter refused to give the password to foreigners. Last resort, we walked out two miles to a cafe on the main road. Come in the evening they advised. Success! At 6 pm we were able to connect.