North Goa

In India on March 8, 2013 at 7:00 pm

It’s 7am when I step off the bus in Mapusa, a city in northern Goa and the gateway to the town of Arambol on the coast.  I missed seeing the beginning of Goa’s beautiful topography, straining to imagine the vibrant greens and deep blues passing by in the dark night as the bus climbs and descends the narrow twisting roads.  I have made no friends on this bus ride, quite the opposite, myself the only obnoxious tourist.  I take time to backtrack in my mind as I sit on a busy street drinking hot chai, waiting for Mr. Fate, the person supposedly picking me up on my arrival.

Come nightfall, earlier this bus trip, the overhead lights are turned down and the 32″ flat screen turned on for the evening’s entertainment.  Housed behind a plane of plexiglass and an ornate brown wooden painting frame, a 1980’s Bollywood classic comes to life after some fiddling with wires and plenty of upset yelling, then backseat coaching from the passengers.  It looks to be Kung Fu but Indian, so I see more mustaches, chest hair and sunglasses than the Chinese versions.  As the film begins and every passenger moves to the front edge of their seat in anticipation, I recline, immediately feeling the weight of my eyelids and vision fade to black.  I wake up an hour later, almost to the minute, one of the main speakers encased above my seat at a deafening volume.  Looking around, men laugh at me quietly along with dark stares from the elderly women and all children.  I realize exactly why.  I know I snore at a level likely equal to the deafening sound coming from the speaker above my head.  I assume the sound level turned so high, an attempt to compete.  There is no need to probe further.  I feel fortunate some people are laughing and I haven’t woken being flogged by one of these old ladies or choked by the tiny hands of the kids.  I’ve heard how important Bollywood is to India and I realize I’m messing with that.  I guess all I can do at this point is smile apologetically and try to pay attention.  No chance, I’m asleep within minutes, awake an hour later, almost like clockwork, a continuing cycle until the movie’s conclusion.

Now wide-awake after a three-hour power nap, it is my turn to let other passengers sleep while I ponder and fidget in the dark.  It’s the first time I’m beginning to feel relaxed in India.  I have food in my belly, some sleep under my belt and a hope that Goa will impress.  Now in a more comforted state I am able to question pressing matters like how my shaved brown head got so oily?  There is clearly a greasy film enrobing my head, a feeling like the inside of a McDonald’s cheeseburger wrapper.  Looking at the moon’s light, I must have a sheen that glows like a 10-watt light bulb dipped in mud.  This tropical climate will take some getting used to.  I question if the packs of wild street dogs ever take down any of the docile street cows, nosing through the garbage.  I think about wolf packs in Yellowstone National Park, learning to kill bison and wonder if dog/cow fights will be part of the continuing street chaos I’m slowly becoming accustomed.  I am frightened and excited about the prospect.

Mr. Fate a one-third owner of a beach resort on the Arambol coast, finally picks me up an hour and half late.  He recognizes me as the only possible tourist at our meeting point and beckons me to hop on the back of his motorcycle.  It’s colder than I imagined.  Mr. Fate is in his mid 40’s, large, thick mustached imposing guy wearing a black Raider’s hat, black leather jacket, white scarf, grey sweat pants and black steel toed boots.  His eyes are bloodshot and he mumbles like someone fresh out of bed.  The cold morning wind quickly wakes him as he starts firing questions.  I tell him I’m a chef in the U.S. and wanting to research Indian food in order to start a restaurant in Montana.  He likes this answer and the prospect that I might consider investing in his new beachside resort restaurant.  I give him the restrained reassurance of, “it’s a beautiful area and I can see how people can fall in love with this place.”  This answer is good enough for him as he tells me  that he will take very good care of me.  He asks if I drink, as I assure him I do.  We stop almost immediately as he insists I get off the bike.  Worried I offended him, he tells me, “well here is a bar!”  It’s 9am and I don’t see any signs of waking life around us.  I fear an early morning drinking contest with a man twice my size.  Knocking on the door a tired gentleman opens it, groggy with a thin red blanket wrapped around him.  “Sit, sit, sit, sit, sit,” Mr. Fate insists.  Chairs are upside down on tabletops, closed down from the night before.  It’s almost pitch black in the room, except for the beams of light filtering through spaces  between the broken wood paneling over the window.  I assume he must own this bar to be making such early morning demands.  Drinking is the last thing I desire, other than offending this large man taking car of me.  “Big beer or small beer?”  I decide on a big beer that we might share.  Two glasses and a 650ml Kingfisher Strong beer arrive at the table.  I start pouring two glasses  before Mr. Fate stops me.  “Oh, I don’t drink, this all for you.”  Great, well then hair of the dog.

After pounding back the beer, eager to move along, he asks if I’ve had breakfast.  I haven’t and tell him so.  We head to the building next door where the counter displays fresh crisp samosas filled with potato, shallots, curry leaves and turmeric and pakoras made of grated squash, onion and cauliflower all held together with a dense chickpea batter and deep fried.  Sitting down, I don’t get an option of what to eat.   Appearing at the table is a sambar, a thin soup of lentils, curry leaves and potato made sour to dip the idly, steamed rice cakes both light and fluffy.  To accompany this is a plate of green chilies, sliced open, dipped and fried in chickpea batter.  The first one is atomic in its spiciness but pleasant with the crisp and doughy coating.  It is all a great little breakfast and helping absorb the beer in my belly that’s made me a little drunk.

We keep driving, assured that we are close to our destination.  I am trying to picture the tropical white sand beach resort as we begin passing other tourists on motorcycles.  They are all very attractive people and every shade of hippie represented as dreadlocks, round sunglasses and nose piercings, whisk by in passing.  Arriving I am initially thrilled at the first site of the nearby empty beach, only a few people bent over in yoga positions.  Seeing the one and only bamboo beach hut next to the new but already run down looking restaurant, I am disappointed.  Piles of garbage, some on fire some unlit.  It is far from a utopia, but it seems a step forward in the India evolution of my travel.  Unknown at this moment, later to be discovered is who this Mr. Fate is and his role in the predominant economy in Arambol.  It’s a lesson and realization that will have me on the run once again, this time from organized crime.

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