The far south of Goa’s coast has a reputation of being more laid back and undeveloped than the rest of the state’s beaches. It sounded good to us, so we caught a bus south from Panaji, headed for a place we’d been hearing about called Patnem beach. The minute we stepped off the bus something seemed different. Three different local shopkeepers saw us, smiled and said “welcome to Patnem!” Consider that the normal Indian shopkeeper’s sales pitch feels something like a body slam and you’ll know why we felt a little taken aback, and we suspected that an unusually smart chamber of commerce type thing was going on here. As we made our way down the short main street and walked onto the sand and looked around, we began to think that coming there had been a very good idea.
Patnem is a fairly small and curving stretch of beach, hemmed in on either side by headlands and forming a small exposed bay. Beach huts and restaurants sit back in the palm trees on shore completing the tropical paradise look, and I have to say the place is very nice. The water was perfect for swimming, the beach was just right for lazing, and in general conditions were perfect for complete relaxation. We found enough cheap and tasty restaurants to keep things interesting with both Indian and western food, and we ended up staying in a homey and clean plywood hut with it’s own bathroom, right off the beach for about $10 USD a night. There were a couple internet cafes and a barber up the street, and that’s about all we needed.
Patnem was…. perfect. That restless and bored feeling that occasionally overtook us in Arambol just never manifested in Patnem, and we were there for an entire month! During our stay the place was never crowded, ranging from moderately busy to just shy of eerily quiet. There was no techno music, and no weird hippy groupie scene. There were almost no roving trinket sellers on the beach to bug us, and even the shopkeepers stayed pretty mellow. For the way we were feeling at the time, the beach had that elusive balance between quiet, natural beauty and having plenty of places to get a good meal, and enough book exchanges to keep up our one or two book a day habit we soon found ourselves in.
Our hut was painted light blue inside and out and had great light, and the place came complete with two huge and beautiful German Shepherds that hung out with us a lot. We positioned our little table and chairs outside the hut so that they weren’t directly under the coconuts that would occasionally fall with a scary sounding thud, and we learned to hug the eaves as we went in and out of our door to stay out of their trajectory.
A typical day went something like this: Wake up around 9 or 10am, and wander out to the ocean to take a little morning swim. Dry off in the shade with some coffee and oatmeal or fruit for breakfast (maybe $3 for both of us) at our hut hotel’s restaurant, while we read or play cards and discuss plans for today’s strenuous activities. Go for a walk/swim along the beach, maybe climbing over the headland to the adjacent beach where a five star hotel is set back in the palms, it’s guests paying hundreds of dollars a day. Suckers. It’s starting to heat up so maybe go read in the shade for a while at our hut, or hide in the AC for an hour at the internet cafe ($.75/hour) while we catch up on Google news and emails. Try to remember to wear sandals when we walk to our favorite lunch destination up the beach, the sand gets hot this time of day! Order that delicious hummus plate and salad, maybe a couple kingfisher beers (for a total of about $5), and read and relax for two or three hours in the cushioned floor seating area, running out for a few quick swims whenever we get hot. Take our books back to our hut and then go for another swim, doing some body-surfing if the waves are big enough. Play with Cookie and Cashew (the German Shepherds) for a while. Play some more cards. The sun is setting so it’s time to head to Papaya’s restaurant for their King’s beer (a good pilsner) happy hour, an incredible 12 rupees (less than a quarter) a beer between 4pm and 9pm, and either eat there or at one of our other favorite restaurants while we look for that elusive green flash sunset, never spending more than $10 and usually a lot less. Enjoy dinner and the cool nighttime temperatures with our toes in the sand, listening to the surf and watching the candles flickering up and down the beach. Go for another walk, then head back to the hut to read and a restful nights sleep under our mosquito net. Big plans for tomorrow, we need our rest.
Anyway, we averaged about $30 a day here in paradise, and man did the time ever fly by. We almost never left our little beach; one day we walked over the nearby and better-known Palolem beach, which was larger and much more crowded with tourists, and we immediately found ourselves wishing we were back at Patnem. We took a rickshaw a couple times to a nearby town to use the ATM, but never really had the impulse to explore; we were pretty spoiled in our little beach cocoon. Our most active days were when we rented the tandem kayak ($1/hour) from up the beach and paddled out through the surf to look for dolphins, which we always found. They would arc up past the surface of the water with a surprisingly loud puff of air, gracefully wowing us as they swam around. It was so cool to be out in the totally quiet kayak, rather than the stinky motorboats that took tourists out on expensive “dolphin cruises,” and we paddled a long ways up and down the coast on several occasions.
Before we knew it our time in Patnem, and Goa, was up. We were flying out of Mumbai in a week, and we had to get there to make sure we had enough time in that great city. I vividly remember walking toward the road and the bus stop as we left, and then deciding to have one more wade into the water. Standing there in that warm water with my backpack on, I wondered how we could actually leave our little paradise. I’m still wondering that as I write this now…