The flimsy frame of the Maruti Van was hurting down a picturesque Goa road, blurred visions quaint old Goan homes barely registering in our minds. Vincent, our driver was controlling the steering wheel with his right elbow, to leave his hands free to flip through his CD wallet, "I have Konkani, Russian or Himesh songs, which you want?" We settled on Konkani. Although this time was my tenth visit, I've never been to Goa for New Year. I had images of street parties, raves at every corner, oceans of humanity, basically more than my nature boy instincts can handle.
Luckily, we were relegated to a cosy corner of South Goa, near a tiny town called Varca that basically revolved around its spanking white church, recently given a facelift. Staying at the Colonia Jose Meninho, a stone's throw away from the secluded Zalor beach, it was a reintroduction to the word peaceful. There was no Euro trash, no extended families of middle class India tasting the surf in their salwars, no lines of shops attempting to sell you everything and the elephant.
Just an endless stretch of untouched sand playing kissing games with an almost blue ocean. A 500m walk along the beach and I would find myself completely alone with the sound of the sea, sometimes not encountering any human beings for a couple of hours. I spent a lot of time meditating in my own little alcove, drinking the cool air in greedy gulps, experiencing a steady calm.
This beach is so untouched that tons of sea creatures can be spotted, drawing in the Sandpipers for a ready buffet. Starfish, many species of crabs, a huge pile of fish eggs, clams and oysters burrowing into the sand, even the occasional dolphin sighting, their shiny bodies reflecting the sun as they jumped over the waves.
There were occasional visitors, each with a story to tell. The HUGE buffalo, kept in check by Mark, was fresh off a victory in the bull fighting tournaments that they have around here. No matadours, its bull against bull. Cruel yes, but try telling Mark that as he bathes Bonny in the sea with the pride of a prizewinner.
No such luck for Rakesh the fisherman. He moanfully tells me that he has been casting his net all night and all morning and has only managed a to snare a few crabs. He's afraid he'll have to go hungry. I quickly pulled out all the small notes I have and pressed it into his palm, over riding his protests. His eyes well up with tears as he proceeds to tell me the story of his life. Apparently he was the eldest brother in a rich landowners family in Bihar. His two younger brothers wanted the lions share of the spoils and started plotting to have him killed. They even tried twice before Rakesh decided to escape to Goa. He worked at a beach shack for a while before resorting to fish for a living. It isn't in his blood and he usually struggles, especially since the local fishermen aren't very keen on sharing their know how with an outsider. But he ploughs on like so many millions mulling everywhere.
At the behest of my young cousin from the US we celebrated New Year at a five star resort, shelling out a mind numbing amount of money. If it wasn't my favourite aunt and uncle I'd have a lot more to say about this but it was a first even for them, so lets let it lie. The buffet spread was extensive with 30 kinds of salad, 6 different cuisines and over 40 different deserts. Unfortunately the entertainement in the form of ungraceful dancers and a Goan uncle band that was horrible to say the least. The worst thing for me was the wastefulness and opulence. Foriegners piled their plates with food only to waste it after a couple of mouthfuls or just a taste. I couldn't help thinking of poor Rakesh and so many others who would have gone hungry as the New Year dawned. It made me lose my appetite.
The time spent with the family was wonderful though, and I got a few more stories out of my uncle who has seen Bob Marley, The Police and a whole load of jazz artists live in the 70s.
It wasn't the typical Goa trip but it was definitely the most peaceful one.