Today was one of those rare days in life when everything seems perfect. I slowly woke up on the train this morning to the chai-wallahs. I am not a morning person (especially after talking until two in the morning with a couple of our bunk mates who were curious about America), so lazily waking up to a cup of chai as the jungle-covered hills of Maharastra passed by was great. The night before, we had met a guy with a great name (Matt) who was on his way home from a two-year Peace Corps stint in China. Like the evening before, we talked on and off all morning. By noon, we had reached our stop in Goa, just a small rural station from which we took a small bus to Mapusa, and then one to Calangute. Calangute is the most developed of the beaches, but we chose it for two reasons. One is that its supposed to be quieter during the offseason and, two, many of the other beaches would be dead before the tourist season. As we (Joylani and I, and our new buddy Matt) walked down the main road that ran perpendicular into the beach, the ocean came into view. Not the bay or industrial port of Bombay, but the beautiful light green Arabian Sea lapping up against golden Goan shores. Having been on the train all morning, the first thing we did was sit down at a restaurant on the beach.
After some kingfish, prawn fried rice, and an ice-cold beer, we introduced Matt to our usual gameplan when first arriving in a place. And I’ll outline it for you as well: The first thing we do in a new place is eat. This accomplishes two things; one it rids us of an annoying rickshaw driver who is intent on “helping” us find a room (rickshaw drivers get a commission when bringing people to a hotel, which gets tacked on to the room rates we get quoted) and gives us a chance to relax and recharge after hours or days of travel. Secondly, after eating, Joylani stays at the restaurant with the bags, while I do a circuit of 5-10 guesthouses. We do this for several reasons as well. One, neither of us has to miserably trudge around in the Indian heat in our backpacks- Joylani gets to sit and I get to walk quickly backpack-free. Two, I can check out a lot more guesthouses in a shorter time without all the weight and get better rates (perhaps because Joylani’s not with me or maybe because I make it clear I’m quickly shopping around). Anyways, it works out well for us and it did this time. Joylani chilled in the shade of the restaurant, while Matt and I checked out a half-dozen guesthouses. I was ready to head back and give Joylani the options (a big room but expensive, a cheap one but far from the beach, or a substandard room right on the beach), when a guy and his girlfriend pulled up on a motorcycle and asked if we were looking for a room. They told us they were on their way out of Goa, but that the place up the road was REALLY nice, so we checked it out. It was awesome- clean, hot water, balcony, 10 second walk to the beach, it even had a safe. Even better, I negotiated a price below even what I thought was possible (Usually I ask for the room rate, they quote me one, I ask for the best price, they lower it, I ask what if I stay x number of days, they sometimes lower it more, and then I’ll offer an even lower price, which sometimes like this case, they accept) (But if its fair price off the bat, I’ll just take it, despite probably being able to get it lower). It was by far the best room I saw there and maybe the nicest room we’ve stayed in India thus far. We took one room and Matt took next door.
After getting Joylani and getting settled, we threw on our beach clothes and walked all 30 seconds to the water. The sand was soft and feet sank in as we walked. The ocean roared as a half-dozen waves continually broke parallel to the shore. The water was warmer than the late afternoon air, which was being cooled by a perfect breeze. Looking down the beach in both directions, salty mist rose above the wave-pounded beach. After walking for awhile, we contented ourselves to just sit on ribbon of sand sandwiched between a coconut plantation and the Arabian Sea.
We finished our night with a bright orange and pink sunset, a filling dinner, and just as I started my day, a cup of chai.