As I sit this Christmas eve morning waiting on John to come back from his 8am yoga session with Ruban (it’s far too early for me!), we are packed again, ready to head to Mandrem beach in North Goa. We jump in a taxi with Alex our taxi driver who brings his wife and 4-year-old son Cudson along for the 3-hour drive.
We have been in Palolem for 8 days and have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. There’s been no packing and unpacking, or searching for things in our bags, setting our alarms for early morning starts or buses and trains to catch. Instead, our days have been lazy, filled with lying on the beach, swimming in the amazingly warm Arabian sea, walking along the coconut fringed golden sands and watching the sun set of an evening. This has been our chill out time and chill out Goa has delivered.
Goa feels different from the rest of India. Time has reset itself, were in a slow gear. It’s less frenetic and assertive and much more laid back. Where other resorts around the world have grown and become more commercialised, Goa seems to have remained the same. There’s no big hotels or tacky restaurants and shops. Instead colourful beach huts and restaurants are dotted along the shore front and there is nothing that rises more than a storey high. Goa was previously under Portuguese rule and joined the rest of India in 1987, much later than any other state. Perhaps the laid-back Portuguese vibe along with the positive, cheerful Indian persona has influenced its culture and values. There are more Western visitors, but lots of Indian tourists also spend time here, especially over Christmas and New Year, which is the main Indian wedding season. Large Indian family groups congregate on the beach, whooping and screeching as they jump the surf and cover themselves in mud…. all fully clothed of course! And there is also the beach cows and dogs. The cows stick together and usually wander off to find shade as the heat of the day starts to build. But the dogs stick together in packs and patrol their territories with fierce determination throughout day and night.
Its Christmas morning and we wake under our mosquito net, in a rattan and bamboo beach hut set about 30m from the beach. There’s no aircon, tv or fridge. John booked our last apartment in Palolem. I’ve always wanted to sleep in a beech hut, so when he wasn’t looking, I booked it! We’ve never had a Christmas without family and it’s a strange feeling being so far away. We are 5 and a half hours in front, so we will wait to speak to them later. After breakfast we take a walk to another beach, but on the way, we ford two rivers, wading up to our waists. Half way across the second I’m struggling; the current is extremely strong and the rocks on the river bed are sharp. I’m helped by an older Russian lady (she must be in the know!). I sat thank you and wish her a Merry Christmas.
As we arrive back at our beach hut and sit on our balcony watching the pink Indian sun dip below the horizon. There are no presents to open, no family to visit and no turkey dinner. We spend the next few hours phoning our family and texting friends. Its lovely to hear their voices and feel that they are close to us this day. It’s been difficult not being with them this year, and this Christmas day will be a day to remember, a day that we will recall with our children and grandchildren in years to come.