Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Beaches and Churches

We've spent the last five nights in Goa, splitting our time between three nights in the South Goan beach town of Colva and two nights in the "city" of Panaji. We survived our overnight train ride from Hampi which was actually quite enjoyable. Our sleeper bed had just been cleaned (it still smelled of cleaning detergent) and we only saw one cockroach in our section of the train! We decided to head to Colva because the South of Goa has a reputation for being more laid back than the North. The town was full of Indian tourists, with the odd European tourist here and there. Technically it's off-season in Goa and for good reason. During the day it is almost unbearably hot (temperatures well above 100) and very humid. And the water is so warm it hardly refreshes. Fortunately, there are frequent breezes, but in the middle of the day even the breeze can feel like a hair dryer. (I'm making it sound terrible; it really wasn't that bad.)

We went to the beach a couple of days (it was nice, but not like our beach routine in Kerala) and rented scooters another day to tour several of the beaches.
From Goa
From Goa
Indians are pretty interesting at the beach. They congregate in the trees just off the beach, setting up camp around blaring stereos and coolers full of cold drinks. We drove our scooter out to a beach called Lover's Beach expecting a nice romantic spot but all we could hear as we approached was Bollywood music. The trees near the beach were full of dancing Indians and the beach was full of men and women playing in the sand and surf. The women go swimming while covered in their saris or kurtas and the men are split between those wearing pants in the water and those who wear just their underwear. Needless to say, it was a surprising scene.

We were in Colva over the weekend, and at night the town was crawling with people. The beach parking area had so many motorcycles it looked like a motorcycle rally. That's something that we still haven't gotten used to in India yet (as you can tell by us mentioning it in nearly every blog post): everywhere you go there are masses and masses of people. It makes India very interesting, but sometimes it's a bit tiring when you want peace and quiet. Our guest house, called the Golden Rose, was pretty peaceful though, outside of Colva by about a quarter mile or so. They had a small restaurant on site so we spent a couple nights just hanging out on the patio chatting with the other guests, one other American (from Dorchester, MA), a couple of Brits, an Australian and a Danish kid.

From the beach we took a bus up to Panaji, the capital and more or less geographical center of Goa. It is a really pretty old Colonial town. The Portuguese came here in 1510 and at one time, it had a larger population than either London or Lisbon. The Portuguese influence is mostly seen in the architecture and cuisine. Besides the myriads of churches (more on that in a second), many of the building in Panaji have an old battered, European look to them. The food too is very different from the rest of India. Coconuts and cashews rule here. Many dishes are made with both, often through the use of feni - a liquor distilled from either cashews or coconuts. Meat and seafood are also much more prevalent; you can get chourisso (spicy red sausages flavored with feni), many kinds of fish and vindalho (a pork stew of vinegar, garlic and spices). Being India, there is still plenty of veg food, but interesting to see the differences in cuisine from one region to the next. Goa has the largest variety of foods of anywhere we've been so far.

We took a side trip from Panaji to the city of Old Goa and were mesmerized by all the churches. If you want to see old cathedrals, this is the place to go. Apparently in the 1500s Priests routinely wrote the Pope in Rome saying that there were so many churches that the sounds from all the bells were colliding with one another and they requested something be done about it. Here is Se Cathedral, the largest cathedral in Asia, also containing the largest church bell in Asia:
From Goa
Another highlight of Old Goa was learning about Saint Francis Xavier. He is absolutely venerated here. He came to Goa in 1542 and spent the final 10 years of his life touring around Asia (going to various points in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan) before dying off the coast of China in 1552. We stopped in a small reading room near the Basilica of Bom Jesus (where Xavier's body is entombed) and read a small graphic novel (okay, really a cartoon but calling it a graphic novel makes it sound legitimate) about his life, and browsed numerous books about his mission and travels. Here is a picture of a statue of St. Francis Xavier as well as the tomb that holds his body. Every 10 years on December 3 (anniversary of his death) his body is taken out and paraded across the street. Apparently, even with all these parades his body is not decomposing. What a miracle!
From Goa
Tomorrow we take a 12 hour train ride to Mumbai, our last stop in India before we fly to Cairo on Sunday. We sent out 13 couchsurfing requests before we finally got someone to host us (although we ended up with three positive replies so we picked the best sounding one). Given everything we've heard about Mumbai we wanted to couchsurf so as to get the "insider" (and safe) view of the city.

Take a look at all our pictures of Goa. We also mapped out most of the pictures, which you can view on the map if you want to see where in Goa we went.

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