Mandrem’s huts in O’Saiba
While in India you feel oppressed by the constant heat so the spectrum of a beach seems like a dream with a refreshing breeze going through the palm trees and empty stretch of sands ready to be explored. At least this was in my mind when I planned to spend one or two days in the Goa beaches. And it was somehow as I imagined except that I found the place to be some kind of… “meh”. Far from the secluded beaches of Thailand or the exotic beauty of the Sri Lanka’s south shore beaches, the beaches in Goa are lined up by so called resorts, sets of buildings and/or huts built on land or on top of the other buildings. All resorts have a restaurant by the seaside where you can hang out all day using the Free Wifi and watching the waves, the time and your life go by.
Arambol street, Goa, India
However I was some kind surprised to find out that Russians occupy almost exclusively the majority of these accommodations. Their presence is overwhelming to the point that even the names of the resorts are spelled in Russian. But also the menu in any restaurant is in Russian – and thankfully English -, the stores’ advertising is in Russian, there are party flyers and billboards only in Russian, the shop sellers speak Russian, greeting the customers with “pajal” and “krasnaya”. You hear Russian everywhere, including from the Indians who serve them and learned enough to manage. The day I arrived the resort nearby had a Russian wedding with loud folk music that could be heard on the entire beach. When accidentally you hear some bits of German, French or English you turn your head to see who are those people lost in this Russian land. The Indians are happy because Russian fill up the hotels and give them business but they were very clear to point out that they dislike them; they consider the Russians to be cheap, uncouth, and they treat the Indians bad in comparison with the Westerners who may be distant but few are rude. When, in stores or at the beach, the Indians asked me where I am from, it followed with: “It’s good that you are not Russian. We love USA.”
A “trip” sarong store in Mandrem
The faint distinctions that existed in the old time between the villages, each with its own specific were now obliterated by the Russian tourists. I could not distinguish the quaint and forlorn spirit that existed in Mandrem, or the traveler vibe for which Arambol was known, or even the hippy and backpacker counterculture from Anjuna. Everywhere I went there were the Russian families with naked children roaming the beach – not that I have anything against this – obliterating what once was a specific flavor of a place. If you salute them, like travelers usually do, you get just a blank stare, a kind of “do I know you from somewhere to respond”.
One of the few throngs of palm trees I could find close to Aswen Beach, Goa
Besides all these I found the beaches I visited way too common. Large expanses of darker sand, stretching as long as you could see and occupied by lounge chairs under extended awnings. It took me a long stroll to take ONE picture with many palm trees that looks some kind of exotic. The rest of the beach side is filled by all sorts of vegetation, a lot of erosion and a general feeling of unkempt on some places. Even the overpriced hut I occupied in Mandrem in O’Saiba Resort looked that it saw way better days with a curtain on a rod that was covering a totally cracked wall that fell from the wall onto the bed, luckily not on my head because it happened in the middle of the day while I was out.
The night I arrived in Mandrem the Internet was down in the entire village and hotels could not do their bookings so everybody was freaking out but nobody had the guts to ask the guy who came to fix it how long would take till the Internet would come back.
The Yoga Village schedule, Arambol, Goa
Still Goa is all into Yoga of various kinds and the beach is full in the morning with people jogging, swimming, practicing asanas and meditating in the caressing morning sun. About a 2 km walk on the beach from Mandrem is Arambol that has a good stretch of nice stores, probably better than I saw in any other places, competing only with the Friday market of Mapusa. However my midweek passing through Mapusa found just a dull local market with wares of all kinds, shoes, underwear sold from large stalls, bags of chilly and lots of flowers.
Sunset in Mandrem, Goa
Anjuna had lots of construction going on and it looked for the moment very unappealing. Not even a hint of the old hippy and backpacker spirit for which the place used to be known. But I came here, right before my Mumbai flight, to meet a very dear friend who spends a lot of time in Goa and whom I did not see in 20 years. A video editor from New York whose interests migrated to become a professional DJ , Jo lives and works around the world but spends a good chunk of her time in Goa and the rest in London. It was an emotional meetings and a lot of catch up after so many years. And it could have happened neither in New York nor in London but in Anjuna at Zoorey’s under a spectacular sunset, thou with no “touchdown” – the sun does not seem to touch the water – like there are most of the sunsets in Goa because of the haze.
Sunset in Anjuna, Goa, India