With Stefje’s health in poor shape, we opted to take a taxi South out of Arambol three hours down the coast to Palolem. More expensive yet exponentially faster and more comfortable than a train or public bus, her stomach nevertheless questioned the decision as our driver lurched through traffic and performed daring passes on hairpin turns.
The density of the population creates enormous traffic jams in this region, causing our driver to stay up to date not via google maps but rather by placing a series of calls from his flip phone. His intel led us off the main road, through relaxed villages and agricultural areas without a tourist in sight.
With one last set of treacherous twists and turns behind us, we cruised downhill into Palolem. With fewer bars, guesthouses and tourists than Arambol spread out over a larger area, we were immensely pleased with the chilled out atmosphere.
Even the music blasting from beachside restaurants follows a more serene cycle: yoga mantras in the mornings, light tropical house in the afternoon, and classic rock in the evenings. Within minutes Stefje and I were checked in and laid out on lounges, taking in the intense heat of the mid-afternoon sunlight.
From the people in town to the colorful huts on the beach, everything about Palolem felt less commercialized and more comfortable for the pair of us. As evening came and the tide retreated, the beach surged with people playing all kinds of sports. Soccer and cricket ruled amongst the locals, while frisbee and paddleball were enjoyed by Russians, British, and Israelis alike.
The dull haze that hung over the region since our arrival seemed to slowly dissipate, leading to a sublime sunset. The sun faded into a pale red orb before rapidly disappearing from view.
Friday morning I awoke early and went out on the prowl for some coffee. Walking through the quiet sandy backstreets felt like a lucid dream: locals greeted my curious gaze with friendly cries of “good morning”, streaming rays of sunlight peaked through the fronds of palm trees, and my nose eventually led my feet to a German bakery sporting freshly brewed espresso and baked croissants. With the town still slowly waking up and only the faint intrusion of a few motorbike honks cutting through the endless supply of bird song, I felt as though I had uncovered my own personal paradise.
Soon enough the birds were outdone by the waves, but a calm stillness to the morning air meant they were just gently lapping at the surface. Palolem beach is a long crescent strip bookended on either side by rocky outcroppings, so we set out to one of the vantage points to take in some aerial views with the newest addition to our traveling gear: a DJI spark.
The new angles available added quite a bit of wonder to our already delightful morning.
With immense mid-day heat already penetrating, it was high time for a long swim in the calm water, followed by intermittent sessions of reading good books, long walks with toes dragging in the sand and lying in lounge chairs blissfully doing nothing.
As evening rolled around we explored the center of town, which is just a haphazard T junction around which an epicenter of commerce bustles. Juxtaposed against the family run restaurants are some hip new players, all offering trendy vegan menus that wouldn’t be misplaced in Amsterdam’s hippest neighborhoods. Yet perhaps my favorite quirk about Palolem is the multitude of books. One sees them everywhere: behind a weather beaten bar, filling up the wall of a restaurant, or even supporting a seamstress’ table in a tailor shop. On the town’s Main Street we found the Mecca: a tiny shop literally overflowing with classic books, including everything from a huge set of Stephen King novels to the (almost) complete works of Ernest Hemingway.
Saturday morning’s breakfast scene was idyllic. Surrounded on all sides by flowering bushes, we indulged in healthy food and good coffee while the first rays of sunlight began to glance across our necks.
Soon enough we left the tranquility behind for the chaos of the open road! Aboard a rented scooter whose engine topped out at 40 MPH, we turned away from the coast to take in the natural wonders present in inland Goa. Along a thin and curving road we passed through a multitude of micro climates. Flowering trees rained yellow upon the roadside. Parched rice paddies kicked up storms of dust. Shade provided by groves of palm trees took an edge off the thick hot air. Within a nature sanctuary, a diverse range of trees took root, splaying their branches across the canopy to prevent any sunlight from reaching the road.
In the distance a set of mountains appeared on the horizon, foretelling our future route up a winding mountain pass.
Back and forth we went around hairpin turns, heading first up a steep incline and then coasting down into a new valley below. A few minutes later we disembarked and began walking through the forest, an eery sense of calm enveloping us.
Our sights were set on the Swarvi waterfall, but after seeing the deathly dry surroundings expectations were abysmally low. Naturally, having low expectations is one of the surest paths to happiness; the waterfall was a tremendous sight!
A thick spout of water shot over the rock lodge, careening off the walls to create an endless display of water-based fireworks. The spray dissipated over a series of rocks and then congregated again, this time funneling with intense speed through a series of crevices before spilling into a deep pool.
While I found a chill spot to enjoy the view, the water cancelled out all the other noises of life. The music of the beach town, the chaos of honking trucks, and the dull din of the motorbike had ensured that since arrival in India my ears were always stimulated. Finally, a spot of utter tranquility.
Needless to say, I was utterly shocked to turn around and find Stefje immersed in a gaggle of shouting and splashing Indian teenagers. For the next hour while we swam in the crisp waters, relaxed on the scorching rocks, and spoke with a pair of Dutch travelers, the kids were unrelenting in their noise-making and selfie-taking.
Yet beyond the ruckus a gorgeous scene was available for us to explore; the waters meandered slowly along a picturesque stream.
We ended up departing alongside the Dutch guys, but the way back was decidedly less enjoyable. With just a few drops of petrol left in our tank, each winding upward turn felt like the last before our bike sputtered out. With the two guys trailing us as an insurance policy we felt at least a little more secure, but the feeling of relief when we finally found petrol was palpable. Soon enough the four of us were digging into a late lunch of zucchini pasta, vegan pesto and crunchy tofu block’s in one of Palolem's hipper cafes, relieved and exhilarated from the adventure.
Over a beer on the beach, I took in the sights of Saturday night in Palolem. A family of 6 children was so immensely entertained by a frisbee that I wondered if they had ever even heard of Nintendo. The Nepali workforce of our hotel’s restaurant did their best to cajole passerby into staying for dinner. The tide slowly retreated, marking the end of another day in paradise.
On Sunday morning we took the drone to the other side of the beach, flying over the serene shallow waters while the sun rose on a peaceful grey morning.
Yet the haze soon burned off and the town became so hot that almost everything shut down. From midday until late afternoon, no one moves from the peace of their shadowed retreats, as the heat is so intense that it dictates the pace of life in Palolem. This was totally fine with me, as I was content with swimming, reading, and roasting on the sweltering beach. Unfortunately for Stefje, her stomach bacteria had still not adjusted to the Indian cuisine, and the heat only made her headaches and cramps worse. It wasn’t until after the sun dipped below the ocean horizon did she start to feel better. We made the most of it, shooting some night time photos and enjoying one last dinner in paradise.
To cap off our stay in Palolem, I woke early on Monday morning for a stand up paddle board session. Although the ocean looked eerily calm for my vantage point on the sand, once I got up on the board I could feel the undulations of the waves and current, paddling far out from shore and letting the waves whisk me back in.
The feeling was an impeccable way to start the day. Removed from the trappings of life with nothing but my thoughts on the water, the paddling led me to a great mental state. But just as I was finishing up, I realized I wasn’t exactly alone! In the distance I saw a dorsal fin. At first I was petrified, but soon a flume of oxygen spouted up from nearby and I realized my companion was a dolphin and not a shark.
In fact, I was soon within a few feet of a family of dolphins. Their graceful arched backs popped up above the crest of the water over and over, the sun glinting off their spines and then disappearing momentarily. It was a magical reminder of all the gorgeous creatures we share this beautiful world with, and the perfect send off to my time in Palolem.
A few hours later we boarded the bus to Margao, which felt more like an aluminum cage than a transportation vehicle. 40 minutes into the journey, I realized we had gone in a huge circle and were now just a 10 minute walk from the hostel. It took some serious willpower to not just get out and return to the beach for another week.
For the next hour we never topped 35 MPH as the bus rolled through towns, but fortunately that was the perfect speed to catch glimpses of local life, ranging from heart warming to patently absurd. A pair of chums laughed joyously under a broad, flowering tree. A trio of homeless children scampered up the mound of dirt created by a construction project, momentarily blissfully unaware of their life which exists in a tent city across the street. An elderly man accompanied only by a walking stick sat in an abandoned bus station, awaiting a ride which will surely never come.
The coastal plains of Palolem gave way to wooded hillsides with trees desperately aching for precipitation. In the distance a chain of rolling green hillsides formed a pastoral scene far removed from the burning plastic and intense Coca Cola marketing visible at eye level.
As my butt started to go numb from the cramped conditions clearly designed for someone a few inches shorter, we pulled into Margao. The city sprawl here was dirty, loud and oppressive, well exemplified by the chaotic bus station sporting colorful busses headed every which way.
It was another hour further on to Vasco Da Gama, driving right past the airport we landed at a week prior. The same thick smog ensconced the city, leaving us wondering if it is perpetual.
What the dense city center of Vasco lacks in character, it make up for in contradictions. A field of rubble strewn with plastic lies adjacent to a plastic factory. Young local girls chat away on cell phones while walking by elderly women crouched in traditional saris. A homeless man and his daughter walk barefoot next to stores selling Nikes and Pumas. A crumbling house is overrun by gorgeous purple flowers.
It required a couple of wrong turns, some poorly given directions and a unnecessary climb up a steep hill with 30 pounds strapped to our backs, but by the time we arrived at our guesthouse, Stefje and I were blissfully grateful for the clean quarters, warm shower, and air conditioning. Within hours we’ll be leaving the region of Goa for good, but not without fond memories, sunburned faces, and plans to return.