We could tell that Goa was more laid back than anywhere else we'd been the second we stepped off the bus - there were no tuk tuk drivers fighting to get our business. In fact, there were no tuk tuk drivers at all...
Even though we were arriving at 6.30am, we were used to a scrum of drivers, all vying for our business. This time, after a quick trip to an ATM to replenish our dwindling cash supplies, we had to seek one out, eventually finding someone to agree to take us to our accommodation for a suitably exorbitant fee.
We pulled up to Rocco Pelton to find the place looking quiet and abandoned - as I suppose most places do at that time of the morning. We knocked on the door of the reception (we'd warned them that we were arriving early, and they'd agreed to an early check in) and were greeted by a sleepy looking man with disheveled hair. Despite the early hour, Jay, the manager, was kind and welcoming, and immediately showed us to our room. It was a flimsy and run down hut, but it was right on the beach, and after another night on a bus, we would have been happy with any stationary bed. He explained that the following day, another guest was checking out, and we could move into their nicer room if we liked, but at that point, we couldn't have cared less. We collapsed into bed, and fell asleep for a few hours.
We awoke some time later as the sound of the waves grew more insistent, and the noise from the people in the restaurant started filtering in. Famished, we headed out to join them.
A little about Goa.
While I think a lot of people (including me) have the idea that Goa is a place, it's actually a state, made up of many small towns and beaches along India's Western coast. There are plenty of different places to stay, from one of the 54 beaches packed to the brim with beachfront huts, to one of the many cities and small towns dotted close to the coast.
Goa beachfront has a 'season' - from October to January. Outside this time, many of the beachfront restaurants and accommodations are closed, and often dismantled for the monsoon season, only to be rebuilt once it has passed.
Because neither of us a massively into beach vacations, we'd made great plans to visit some of Goa's more famous attractions during our stay. Temples, churches, beautiful Portuguese architecture - Goa is more than just a beach destination!
Deciding where to stay in Goa can be an exhausting task. There are so many options to choose from, ranging from very cheap temporary beachfront shacks to 5 star resorts with infinity pools and swim up bars.
Generally speaking, North Goa is considered the nightlife capital, and ticks the boxes for one of the most common Goa sterotypes: the Ibiza of India, filled with party goers who sleep all day and dance all night. By contrast, the South fulfills the other stereotype: Goa as the laidback hippy hangout, filled with white people with dreadlocks doing yoga at sunrise.
We chose to head to South Goa (no surprises there), and after a little research, narrowed our focus to Palolem Beach. After some careful review reading, we landed on Rococo Pelton - right on the beach, but for the right price.
We emerged from our nap and walked out into the restaurant. While still called Rococo Pelton, it was actually a separate business from the hotel. It was owned by a Nepalese man, who employed a gang of hilarious and incredibly sweet young Nepalese guys, who spent the next week ensuring our every desire was met.
The restaurant was open air - just a roof and a bar with tables and chairs, and a kitchen tucked away behind some of the beach huts. How they managed to churn out the massive volumes of consistently delicious food from such a makeshift place is beyond me!
'Breakfast' consisted of pancakes and chai at a table looking straight out over the Arabian Sea. The temperature was hot but pleasant, with a cooling ocean breeze working its magic, and we decided that we would achieve exactly nothing with our day. Instead, we passed the day relaxing on sun loungers, eating and drinking to our heart's content, visiting the shop next to our hut to visit the insistent shop owner to stock up on scarves, swimming, reading, and generally truly embracing Slug Life.
It turned out it was actually Valentine's Day, so for dinner, we celebrated with a sunset dinner at Rococo Pelton (in reality this was just a coincidence - we happened to be hungry as the sun was going down). As they did every night, the waiters packed away all the sun loungers from in front of the restaurant and replaced them with the tables and chairs from inside, and we ate sitting in the sand, watching the sun go down and enjoying the local 'buskers' doing tricks with fire and hawkers selling laser pointers and light up mouse ears.
The next morning after breakfast, we decided that we better achieve something with our day, so we walked to the far end of the beach and back. We checked out all the other accommodation, and were pleased to see that it was all much the same as ours, so there were no pangs of jealousy. The beach itself was actually pretty nice. While there were small amounts of rubbish here and there, it was nothing compared to what we've seen in other places. It seems like the local businesses do a pretty good job of making sure their areas are kept clean.
When we returned, George, one of the waiters, told us that Jay was looking for us. We found him, and he took us to see the room that had just been vacated. It was beautiful. Rather than being right on the beachfront like our old accommodation, it was above the restaurant. He explained that they were slowly upgrading the huts, and the one we't stayed in the night before was the only one that hadn't been done yet. Even though they take them down every year, the upstairs huts were made of sturdy wood, and had AC, a ceiling fan, a huge bed with great linen and a proper mattress, and a wonderful little ensuite. The price difference? Nothing. We couldn't move our bags fast enough. Even though our old hut had been great, it was right between the Rococo Restaurant and the restaurant next door, meaning that it was reasonably noisy until they close at around 11.30pm (which is very very late for old folks like us). This room was much quieter, and even had a balcony. Amazing.
To celebrate our move, we ate lunch and had a swim, and spent the rest of the day doing absolutely nothing. Bliss.
The remainder of our days in Goa passed in a haze of relaxation. Rather than bore you with a full account, I will present some 'highlights'.
Zev spends quite a bit of time trying to convince me to come and throw with him wherever we are. Goa was no different.
Here's the ting with frisbees - they attract people. Most people know what they are, but aren't necessarily very good at throwing them. So once we start throwing, and people see that we're not too bad at it, it's like a magnet. They want to come and see either the magic frisbee that goes where you want it to, or the magic people, who can make the frisbee do what they want.
Zev has the patience of a saint, and the mind of a teacher, so when strangers ask to join in, he's delighted. While I love that people want to play with us, I can take about 5 minutes of chasing their wayward throws down the length of the beach, or sprinting to throw myself in front of unsuspecting families who have no idea that they're about to take a frisbee to the head before I slink off into the water under the guise of being too hot to throw any more and leave him to it.
Goa was no different. We could probably get in 5 minutes of throwing before there were at least four of us. The locals love nothing more than throwing these massive, blading bombs up into the sky with no regard for the people they might kill when they come down - not to mention the fact that the constant smashing of the edge of the frisbee into the hard sand actually broke our frisbee! But even this couldn't deter Zev! One day he spent over an hour teaching 6 different people how to throw with a completely cracked disc while I watched from my towel, wondering how the hell one person can be so endlessly patient.
In the end, our disc was abandoned in Goa after it reached the point where you couldn't catch it without cutting yourself on the sharp cracks. Godspeed little disc.
Our breakfast outing
On our fifth morning in Goa, we thought we'd be a little adventurous and leave the property for breakfast. We walked about 10 minutes to a cafe with great reviews, and chowed down on pancakes and chai (we might have been ready for a mix up in breakfast locale, but we weren't brave enough to spice up the menu). The food was delicious, but ultimately, we decided that it wasn't worth the walk to repeat the experience.
Goa is absolutely FULL of stray (and not-so-stray) dogs. They're running around all over the place, and are all super friendly. While I don't love that there are so many dogs without owners to care for them (and spay and neuter them to stop the stray population from getting completely out of control), mostly they all seemed pretty happy and healthy. During the day, they're often found hiding in the shade under the sunbeds, or hanging around restaurants waiting for soft foreigners (like us) to give them a tasty treat. Usually around sunset, the dogs would get an attack of the crazies and all run out on the sand, barking and jumping and chasing each other around. Occasionally (although not as often as you'd expect), you have one join you in the water for a swim. While we were at Rococo Pelton, one of their dogs (as much as anyone owns any of them) gave birth to a litter of 8 adorable, tiny little furry jellybeans. As cute as they were though, it made me sad that these dogs were just running around, breeding freely and exploding the stray population. Spay and neuter your pets people!
Every night, performers make their way along the beach, putting on shows in front of each of the restaurants for tips. Similarly, touts walk along selling various glowing goodies to people eating their dinner. A popular purchase is the paper lanterns that you light and they float off into the distance, to eventually burn out, crash into the ocean and kill some fish (disclaimer - I have no evidence of that - they may have been totally eco friendly and made entirely of products that dissolve in water. But I suspect they were not).
One night, a man a couple of tables over, bought himself a lantern and went down to the beach to set it off. Based on his gait, I'd say he'd had a few drinks. He promptly set the whole thing on fire, much the the delight of his mates. He brought a replacement. He had more success with this one, fluffing it out and lighting it, trying to get it to float. Then this one caught fire too. A few more people at the restaurant joined in the laughter. Bless him, he tried again. This one managed to fly a little, before plummeting into the water and going out. By this point, everyone in the restaurant was in on it. As he went back to buy another lantern (the tout could NOT believe her luck!), the whole crowd was yelling, 'No John! Give up!'. But John would not be deterred.
4 lanterns later, John managed a successful flight. John is a mascot for never giving up on your dreams.
On our final night in Goa, I went two doors down for a massage. A nice man quoted me $20NZD for an hour (daylight robbery I'm sure, but I'm terrible at haggling, so there you have it).
I walked into a small curtained off room, and he told me to get up on the table and take off my shirt and bra. No problem! He continued standing there. I looked at him. He went out behind the curtain, and no sooner had I started disrobing than he popped back in. I did my best to get changed without him copping an eyeful and got on the table. Weird.
He began the massage, and I have to say, it was pretty good, although it seemed to focus a lot on massaging my ass for a 'back, neck and shoulder' massage. At one point, he got on the table and stradded my thighs. An interesting technique that I have not encountered before...
Once my “back massage” was finished, he told me to get up and sit on a chair for my neck and shoulder massage. He made no indication that he was going to offer me anything with which to cover myself during this portion of the massage, nor was he going to leave the room to allow me to move with any modicum of privacy. I managed to snake my way off the table, gathering the towel I had been lying on to wrap around myself in the process. He seemed disappointed that I'd managed to figure it out.
The whole time, I just kept thinking, this is weird and a little bit creepy, but man it's a good massage... Eventually it ended, and he told me I could get changed. Then continued standing there. I stared at him. He went behind the curtain and no sooner had I dropped the towel than he came back in to 'clean the bed'. Dude, seriously. I dressed hastily. As I walked out from behind my curtain, I found that there was another man getting a massage in the cubicle next door, which I had to walk through on the way out. He was naked. I saw it all. At that point I was just grateful that only the masseuse was trying to see me naked, and they weren't parading other tourists through for a viewing...
Nothing achieved, but mission successful
As you can see, none of our great plans to see the sights of Goa were achieved. We didn't see a single church, temple, market or Portuguese building. But we did achieve our real goal of having a holiday from our holiday. It was so nice to just unpack our bags and relax completely for a week, with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
Is Goa the most beautiful beach destination in the world? No. We come from New Zealand so it takes a lot to wow us with a beach. But is it a great budget friendly place to pass some time? Absolutely. The hospitality from all the staff at Rococo Pelton was by far the high point of the stay though, and should we ever find ourselves back in Goa, that's where we'll be.
From Goa, we flew to our next destination, Mumbai. Let me tell you, Mumbai has been an incredible stop, and we can't wait to fill you in on it!
Lots of love,
S & Z