Kicking back at the beach for the holidays
After our time in the Thar desert, we took a four hour train out of Jodhpur to Jaipur for the simple purpose of catching a cheaper flight to Goa. We couldn’t get out of either of these cities fast enough given the choking pollution and grime that one is continuously forced to breath. In some places in India, the diesel auto rickshaws have been banned but not in Rajastan and the difference is remarkable.
Things changed immediately upon arrival in Goa. Much further south and on the coast, the chill we were experiencing in Rajastan was absent and we found it great to be back in the rich greenness of a more tropical setting. For those not familiar with Goa, a quick history lesson. Goa came under control of Portugal in 1510 when Afonso de Albuquerque captured the fort at Panjim and established the colony as Portugal's first foothold in Asia. Goa remained under Portuguese control for 451 years until 1961, 14 years after India gained independence from the English. Four and a half centuries is a long time and the influence of the Portuguese both in terms of genetics and culture is clearly evident no matter where you go in Goa. Today, 30% of the Goa population is Roman Catholic and from our observations at the Christmas service, there was abundant mixing of Goan and Portuguese genes over the past centuries.
Candy canes at the airport - a good sign!
Because of changes to our travel plans, we had to stay one forgettable night in the Goan capital of Panjim. This city became the capital of Goa only after a combination of the the plague and the silting up of the harbor of Old Goa made the former capital obsolete. Still, it was close enough to Old Goa to offer a short visit to the old capital, a city that once was home to several thousand people but now is merely a ghost town. However the biggest ghosts are impressive - a number of old massive cream colored cathedrals, churches, and convents remain providing one's imagination the seeds necessary to invision the splendor of what was once a spectacular city.
Old Goa Church
Old Goa Church interior
Jenn gives a lesson on church architecture
Another Goan Church
The Governor's gate, once the entrance to a bustling city, now a gateway to a ghost town.
Mari down by the river at sunset - where did our little girl go?
After our night in Panjim, we taxied out to our primary desintation, Resort Terra Paraiso, in the coastal town of Calingute in North Goa. Jenn picked a winner with this place, a small but clean, charming, well run resort situated far enough away from the traffic of the main road paralleling the beach and only a five minute walk to the beach itself. It was so very nice to unpack the suitcases for five days. The resort attracted a potpourri of guests including Indians, Russians, Europeans, and Scandinavians, and others.
Santa greeted us at the door
Prepping for Christmas
Moon over Terra Paraiso
Arriving a couple of days before Christmas, we observed the slow but steady process of Christmas decorating leading up to a huge Christmas dinner and party on Christmas Day. Being so close to the beach, we spent a lot of time there. Goa came into its own in the 1960's as a vacation destination discovered by Western hippies in India for a variety of reasons consistent with that era in history. The miles and miles of sandy beaches and the laid back attitude drew increasingly larger crowds and a corresponding growth in the resort industry. A characteristic feature of the Goan beaches is the presence of hundreds of "beach shacks", small restaurants that serve food and drinks to the customers using their collection of umbrella covered beach chairs offered for free.
It's really nice arrangement except for one thing - the unending stream of touts approaching us every 30 seconds selling something. It's a true test of patience - I discovered the best way to cope was to pretend I was asleep. For someone like Jenn trying to relax and read a book, it as not unlike the displeasure generated by mosquitoes at a campfire - it was just an unending chain of disturbances one after the other. Still, we were at the beach in beautiful warm December weather so it wasn't all that bad! Occasionally, someone would appear with something unique - the girls had some personalized bracelets made by a young girl who was about their age.
Fruit sellers take a break
Lena mermaid and friends
Steve and Mari take a walk
A contrast in cultures - a Muslim woman dressed in full burka enjoys the beach with her family while a European wearing considerably less saunters by
On a beach that stretched for a couple of miles, Indian vacationers crowd together in one small section - the more, the merrier...
One special event for both girls was the opportunity to Skype with their classmates back in Amesbury, the first time they have actually seen their classes due to our August departure. There was little doubt they'll slide back in quickly.
A hello from across the world.
As Christmas approached, Jenn asked Elena what she wanted and she replied "a Christmas tree". So Jenn hired a taxi and traveled into the town to rustle up a small tree from a nursery, some lights, and some ornaments and we had ourselves a beautiful tree Charlie Brown would have been proud of.
Decorating our tree
As one would expect in any beach resort area, there was a full slate of water sports offered at the beach so during the day on Christmas Eve, we negotiated a family rate for some para-sailing and gathered a different perspective on of the Goan coastline attached between a parachute and speed boat tow line.
On the parasailing boat
Lena in the air
After a Christmas Eve dinner in town and a little shopping, we were set to attend the midnight mass. However, upon arriving an hour early to get a good seat, we learned from the security guard that the service was NOT in English, contrary to what we had been previously told, and that is would end around 2:00 am. The English service was the next morning at 10:30 am, so were were happy to adjust our schedule.
Christmas Day service at a Catholic church
Before leaving the church at the end of the service, each person stopped at the nativity to kiss the baby Jesus, who appears to have been a rather big baby...
Not an unusual scene in India - on the church steps on Christmas Day, beggars compete with boys handing out Dominos Pizza flyers for the attention of the departing attendees.
On Christmas morning the girls discovered that Santa had managed to locate them and arranged for a pedicure/manicure at the resort spa. The day was very relaxing - back to the beach and hanging out. The big event was the evening Christmas dinner celebration with a massive buffet dinner, live music, and lots of dancing 20 feet from the front door of our room.
Prepping for the big evening
Ejoying Christmas dinner
Rajastani fire dancer
An appearance from Santa
We enjoyed the festivities for a while but after the volume started getting to us, we opted out in favor of a visit to the massive Saturday night bazaar that happens once a week where vendors selling anything and everything a tourist could possibly want. Jenn acquired a bunch of the beautiful illuminated folding paper stars that we've seen decorating Christian homes in Kerala and Goa throughout the Christmas season.
Shopping for stars
The rest of our time was more hanging at the beach and a lot of gift shopping. Our time here was every bit as relaxing and enjoyable as we imagined it would be, a wonderful break in the long and sometimes arduous trek cross various parts of the North of India. Goa we liked very much.