On my first weekend free from work, I knew I had to get out of the place where I was staying and hit the roads.
Goa was just over the mountains from where I stayed; the glistening green hills sang for joy and called for freedom.
I hired a bike from a local dude (one of the drivers at our office). Prasad, as he was called, was quite helpful and went out of his way to help me get a good bike. I use the term “good” loosely, because the bike had missing rearview mirrors and papers (vehicle registration, insurance, etc.). This is pretty much what happens when you try to rent a bike in the villages.
It was around 10.30am on that Sunday morning that I finally left. My first destination was to head to the closest petrol pump and fill ‘er up. Didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere.
I made it to Arambol, which is near north Goa, in roughly an hour from my project site in South Maharashtra. It was a bright, sunny day, and I headed to the beach after parking my bike near a garden. Going down a hill, and crossing a small rivulet, I reached the beach! Heading towards the nearest shacks, I noticed that many signs were in Russian. Interesting.
Ordered a cold Kingfisher and sat down to enjoy it, while watching and listening to the waves. There were quite a lot of people about, more foreigners than Indians. Many people were tossing around a Frisbee, while others lay down sunning themselves.
Finishing the beer and heading out, I saw these guys dressed in red sitting on the beach at regular intervals. I went to them, and found out that they were local lifeguards. Who better to ask for directions around the place? One guy pointed me towards a place called Sweetwater, where apparently you could swim in a small freshwater lake. I thanked him and clicked his photo. He asked me to add him on Facebook so that he could see the pic!
Walking on the beach towards Sweetwater, I saw many more beach shacks, small restaurants and hotels with interesting and funny names. Signs and menus in Russian were everywhere. After reaching the end of the beach in Arambol, there are these series of small shops and restaurants, literally hugging the sea’s edge. You can walk through these, and many of the pathways are pleasantly cool in the afternoon sun. I had an ice cream cone and walked towards Sweetwater, absorbing the sights and sounds of the place. Finally coming out of the path, I reached a hidden beach, which circled a freshwater lake.
I went to a lifeguard and talked to him. He spoke about his work, and I asked him where he had got his training, etc. He told me that they had all been trained in a nearby Maharashtrian village, and made to swim through rivers in heavy rains. All lifeguards were given rigorous training, but however, since he loved to swim, he had enjoyed every moment. Now he was stationed at Armabol, and soon he would move to some other beach.
I thanked him for his story, and we both stood looking at people sit around, have food, sing songs while playing guitar. I looked across the clear water and thought there was no point coming this far if I didnt at least jump in the water! I told the lifeguard to look after my my bag, and he agreed. Taking off my clothes, I jumped into the dark green waters, and swam towards some reddish brown rocks in the distance. In retrospect, it was quite a risk leaving my glasses, phone and wallet behind like that, with someone I met only minutes before.
Reaching the rocks, I climbed on top and looked back towards the beach. The people were small blurry pinpricks, and the noise was muffled at this distance. I felt strangely at peace, and removed from the world, in this wet, watery environment.
Going back, I thanked the lifeguard for taking care of my bag. Luckily, as I speak Marathi, we had talked on friendly terms, and I had instinctively felt I could trust him.
I had a chicken sandwich in one of the restaurants while watching the sun turn red, as it slowly became evening. There was an English-Jamaican guy sitting on the table next to mine, talking to his European friend. I found it fascinating to listen to him speak in accented English, bobbing his dreadlocks up and down. He was talking about fishing industry in Newfoundland and how over fishing by trawlers had finished it. I remembered reading about this randomly on the Internet (link given here) and it was quite interesting to hear his opinion about it. The English-Jamaican guy ordered a Tandoori shark (first I’ve ever heard of it) and I watched in mute fascination as a slightly crisp orangish brown monstrosity was carried to this guy’s table on a huge platter.
Finishing up with the food, I walked back to my bike as the glowing red sun slowly sank beyond the horizon.
Though, I didn’t have great food on this trip, it was definitely a memorable trip. To this day, Arambol remains the nicest beach for me. I prefer it for its relative peace, quiet and privacy.