When I was young, going to the beach meant suffering the crowded shores of Ocean City, Maryland or the frigid waters on the other side of the pond in Cornwall, England. Ask my children about the beach and you’re likely to hear them compare the crystalline seas of Thailand to the dunes of Vietnam and the islands of Malaysia. Indian beaches offer less stunning beauty, but that doesn’t matter to Lala, Georgie or Eddie – they love the sea and the sand and the endless days all the same – whether in a tropical paradise, on the Jersey Shore (and its beloved board walks) or on the rocky coast of Northern California where, I might add, IT’S FREEZING. (That’s for you, Patti.)
We have just returned from Goa, a place I wrote about last year, so I will try not to repeat myself. The Arabian Sea in south Goa is a bit murky, but the beaches are wide and shallow and undeveloped. And tropical. Exceptional in many ways – though not better than the Grayton Beach, Florida… My Number One. (That’s for you, Hubba.)
Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961 when Indian troops invaded and forced the Portuguese to leave, ending more than 400 years of occupation. Goa still looks very colonial. Old Portuguese plantation-style houses, painted in bright purples and limes and oranges abound. Every town seems to have a church. Nearly a third of Goans are Catholic.
There’s lots of debate about India’s north versus its south, with some reports showing that infrastructure, education, social welfare and civic services are better in the south.
Goa isn’t officially considered a southern state, though if you look at a map of India, it’s nestled well south on the western coast, just above the southern state of Karnataka and below Maharashtra. Goa is rich in minerals – iron ore, manganese and bauxite – and flush with tourist money. I don’t know if this translates into anything better for its citizens, but I hope so.
I can note that Goa is a far more relaxed and pleasant place to visit than destinations in north India. The roads are better and it’s cleaner and more organized. I was most surprised by the well-staffed and efficiently run lifeguard system along the public beaches. The guards were active and alert, and seemingly capable of handling a crisis. It was comforting knowing that they were on duty. Rarely do I feel that way about say, the police, in Delhi. Or the paramilitary patrols at the gates of the American Embassy School. Or the puppy-faced security boys guarding my friends’ homes.
Worth mentioning is the number of Russians in Goa. We were among the minority at our hotel, along with our fellow Indian guests. Restaurants offer Russian food; signs are bilingual in Russian/English, and some of the Indian staff at the hotel speak Russian. There is also a Russian receptionist working at the hotel who handles the Russian guests. A lifeguard spoke to me in Russian to warn me about rough currents. It took a moment for my brain to register that this wasn’t Mandarin or Hindi or anything else I might recognize.
Tourists aren’t the only ones feeding the economy in Goa. I’ve read that the Russian mafia is thriving – pushing drugs, trafficking sex workers and snatching real estate – to the ire of local dons and corrupt officials, no doubt.
I have known Russians to have a great sense of humor and keen wit (that’s for you Vlad) but we didn’t experience this warmth or fun on our trip, sadly. We even made it a game to get a Russian to smile. I think I won when I sneezed a loud sneeze and startled my fellow bikini-clad sunbathers. It was worth a good giggle, and I enjoyed laughing at myself as much as I enjoyed the sneeze and the disruption. A Russian neighbor, who obviously appreciates the relief of a good sneeze too, giggled back.
Every night after sunset we played family poker until 7:15. Lala then took the boys to the room for showers while daddy and I enjoyed a few quiet minutes together:
We had a near-full moon as well as gorgeous sunsets:
Before we went to Goa, Lala and Eddie went to riding camp:
One of the activities included grooming – after the horses relished in a sand bath:
I sat ring-side, knitting while the kids had lessons:
A peak at Christmas Day: