After visiting the Ellora caves we didn’t stay long in Aurangabad. There was more we could have seen, but we were anxious to head to our long awaited next destination: the beaches of Goa! We’d been waiting a long time to get some beach time in, so we were pretty excited. Goa is a small state in India, unique in many ways compared to the rest of the country. It was actually a Portuguese colony until 1961, and it’s primarily Christian rather than Hindu or Muslim. Back in the 60′s and 70′s it was a major destination on the hippie trail, and over time much of the state’s coastline has developed into quite a mainstream tourist destination. Many of the various towns draw in a crowd of package tourists and travelers looking for the techno raves that the area is known for, although authorities have apparently been cracking down and the party scene is dying. Even though many (most?) Americans have never heard of the place, Goa is a well-known hotspot for Europeans, sort of like Cancun is for Americans. If you’ve seen the movie The Bourne Supremacy, Goa is also where Jason Bourne’s girlfriend was killed.
Anyway, we weren’t interested in going to any packaged tourism spots or techno parties, so we headed to Arambol in the far north of Goa, which are guidebook said was a laid-back place with an enduring hippie vibe. It sounded good, so from Aurangabad we caught a night sleeper bus to Mapusa, Goa, and from there took an absurdly crowded local bus on to Arambol. That local bus reminded us of a contradiction of physics that often occurs in India, in which spaces are filled to capacity- and then far beyond. We were standing in the aisle with so many other people that it seemed impossible to pick up anyone else, yet the bus kept stopping and people just kept shoving their way in, until nobody could move at all. It’s no exaggeration to say that without seeing it him or herself, anyone in the US would not believe how many people can crowd onto an Indian bus.
Looking out the windows we kept seeing white skinned tourists zipping around on motorcycles and scooters, and tourists walking along the road. A lot of them were pretty skimpily clothed, and it felt strange to see all this fair skin and be back in a place that was touristy enough for women to walk around in a bikini top and not be mobbed by local men. Eventually the bus driver yelled that we’d reached our destination, and we elbowed our way off the bus. We asked directions toward the beach, and after a short walk down another road we found ourselves on the main street of Arambol. It was a fairly long road packed on both sides with restaurants and shops, most of them selling clothing. Lots of tourists were walking around, and there were a lot of dreadlocks and people dressed in hippy backpacker clothes. We still hadn’t made it to the beach, and all of the motorcycles and crowds were starting to get to us, so as soon as we could we took a turn off and walked straight down to the ocean.
Standing ankle deep in the warm water, with our backpacks still on, we both breathed a sigh of relief. We’d made it. After almost six months of sometimes chaotic and stressful traveling around India and Nepal, we felt that we’d earned some lazy beach time. It doesn’t tend to be too culturally meaningful, but doing nothing on a beautiful warm beach for a while can be absolutely wonderful. We’d given ourselves over a month in Goa to soak in the sun and relaxation, and give ourselves a break from long journeys and hard traveling. First, though, we had to find a place to stay. We checked out a variety of charming looking thatch huts at the edge of the beach, but they all seemed a little too expensive (most of you reading this would probably still consider them dirt cheap; it’s all relative) so after a while we went inland a bit and found a decent and inexpensive hotel room. On the beach it’s also nice to have a concrete structure with barred windows and a secure door, because we wouldn’t be carrying our passports and money belts with us while we were swimming.
Arambol’s beach was wide and long enough that when we hiked south for an hour and a half one day we turned around because the sun was frying our skin, not because we’d reached the end. There were lots of beach hut restaurants where we could grab a meal and a kingfisher, and at the north end of the beach was a headland with lots of permanent buildings containing hotels and some excellent and cheap eateries. We ate really well in Arambol, and there was a good mix of Indian, western and other Asian fare to choose from, so we were never bored with our options. There was even one restaurant that served good Mexican food (tex-mex really, but we like that too), the only decent Mexican food we found on this trip in fact. Lots of tourists were around but it usually didn’t feel overly crowded, and we could always find some relative solitude if we looked for it.
We spent our time swimming in the nice warm water, strolling or laying on the beach, reading, and hanging out in restaurants. Most evenings we’d catch a movie being shown for free with our dinner. We kept saying maybe the next day we’d rent a scooter and go explore the area, but just never got around to it. After a few days we moved to a beach hut accommodation that was better located near the sand and restaurants we liked. In general it was really nice to kick back and unwind. That might sound funny to some readers, who are probably thinking about the fact that we hadn’t had a job for six months at this point, but this was a vacation, and while budget backpacking is almost always fun in some way or another, it definitely doesn’t always feel like a vacation.
So in general we liked Arambol and had fun there, but not everything about the place was endearing to us. For one thing there was a lot of techno music, and we’re not fans. I mentioned earlier that Goa is kind of known for techno, but we’d expected more of a laid back Bob Marley type soundtrack at a place known as a hippy hangout. At night there would usually be a loud techno rave-type party somewhere on the beach with a hundred or so travelers dancing druggily to the beat. Not our scene. And the whole “hippy vibe” thing ended up being a bit of a turn off for us, because it mostly seemed to consist of a bunch of travelers wearing variations of the same pirate clothing that was for sale at every shop along the road. It felt contrived to me. And it was pretty crowded at times. In general the place didn’t quite suit us perfectly, and in the middle of most days while we were there we’d find ourselves feeling kind of antsy and bored, but only for an hour or so. Anyway, after eight days we decided to move on.