Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Standing Room Only

Written about Colva Beach, Goa, India
Posted from Kumily, Kerala, India

When we were looking for a beach on which to relax away our first few days in India, we wanted something, well, relaxing. Nothing too crazy. Just sun, sand, and waves, the ability to sleep late and eat well. In reading the guidebook, we found tons of options in Goa. The northern beaches are the centers of the wild party scene, as well as package tour destinations. The southern beaches are much more laid back and better for swimming with a smathering of package tourism to boot. As we sat in the baggage claim area of the Goa airport, we decided that we wanted to go south, and we further narrowed our choices to Colva and Palolem. We weighed our options: Rs 360 to Colva vs Rs 1000 to Palolem, local tourists vs a backpacker haven, close enough to explore Old Goa vs pretty remote; ultimately, we settled on Colva.

By the time we arrived, caught a shower and a quick nap, we were ready to see what the beach had to offer. It was late in the afternoon, around 4:30, when we set foot on the sand. The guidebook was correct, plenty of local tourists (mostly from Punjab, we later discovered) and very few Westerners (mostly from Russia). It was like a picture perfect beach, except that there were no towels laid out with beach bags tacking down the corners, no boogie boards, and really no one in the water at all or even SITTING on the beach. Nope, everyone was standing in saris, in pants and collared shirts, in leather shoes. They were all standing and looking at the ocean. Although we thought it was a bit strange, we dismissed it because it was late, the wind had picked up, and it was beginning to get chilly.

The next day we hit the beach just after noon. The beach was packed. Kids were building sandcastles. Teenagers were batting cricket balls around. Touts shouted offers for parasailing. After just a few minutes, Lizzi, who was wearing a tanktop and skirt over her bikini, noticed that she was getting lingering stares from the men around us. We took another look around. Just like the night before, it was like an ad for saris and Dockers threw up on the beach. No one was in the water. No one was laying on the beach. Towels, beach bags, umbrellas were all unmistakably absent from the scene. Everyone was just standing and staring at the water. The beach looked like a business convention where the most exciting event was a discussion of the steady price of locally grown rice rather than a holiday. They stood there with their arms clasped behind their backs, eyes turned toward the water, quietly, politely regarding the open sea in front of them.

respectfully regard the sea

A day or so later, we took a trip down to Palolem, just to see if we could find a beach where people actually went into the water. Sure enough, there it was with its gap-year backpacker crowd (mostly from Russia and Israel). There were bikinis, beach towels, and beer. The water was beautiful and warm, and people were actually playing in it! After the sun went down, we dreamed up elaborate schemes for staying at Palolem while our bags remained in Colva. But none of them made any sense and often included some unlikely event, such as winning the lottery back home, so we said our good-byes to the beach of our dreams and went back to Colva. If we had to do it over again, we would head to Palolem in a heartbeat. Of course, if we had gone to Palolem first, we wouldn't have this burning desire to go back to Goa as soon as we possibly can.

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