Goa, its hostels and more.
It took my colleague a whole week of coaxing, no, nagging, to lure me into booking my one-way flight to Goa.
The last time I'd been to Goa was a few years ago, with my parents, and we left Goa – the land of New Year's – on the 31st of December. I still had the bitter aftertaste of that experience somewhere in the back of my mouth. Ugh. Goa. I didn't ever want to go back.
The deal-maker for me came from my not-particularly-close, 'friend from work', a nag who sold the trip with – “The stay is already sorted.” I jumped to acquiescence with a pinch of salt and a huge pail of ale. And there I was, finally, on a beautiful Saturday evening looking at the sun set on Anjuna beach and sipping White Russians, living the ideal IDGAF kind of life, a few hours after leaving my mom aghast and upset with my sudden departure.
Sunset in Anjuna
The peaceful evening turned into a mad party and I morphed into the Porter from Macbeth (Act 2, Scene 3). I still don't remember much from that night. What I do remember, clearly, were the horrors that awaited me the next morning. It wasn't just a hangover.
With a single eye that I managed to open I saw my friend sitting with a packed bag. Even before I could open my mouth to abuse/question/exclaim/ he said in a low and apologetic voice “my mom is unwell”.
As I sat there dumbfounded, fearing the words waiting to instinctively come out my mouth (which were “where the hell do you think I am going to stay?), instead of what I wanted to say (which really, I swear, earnestly, was “I am so very sorry”), the insides of my brain reeled like a giant Ferris wheel.
Here I would like to add that there are many kinds of travellers. Of which, some are budget travellers, because they just are that way. I, on the other hand am a budget traveller out of circumstance and not volition. I think the befitting phrase would be ‘broke traveller’ and if I were to pinpoint a particular trigger that made me fly out with my pitiful funds, it was these exact lines: “why are you overthinking, the stay is already sorted.”
Thankfully though, I would have the room till next morning so I had an entire day to figure stuff out.
Me on Agonda beach
After hunting for two hours, but in vain, I came back, slipped into a cute dress, took my favorite book to the beach and as I lay down, something in me lit up as I had this strong inkling that that was perhaps the best thing I could do.
I plugged in my headphones and stretched out on the deck chair, prepared to get lost in the world of Aymenem. Twenty minutes later, from the corner of my eye, I caught a beautiful woman in a yellow dress pass me by, smiling at the sight of me. The moment was so apt because I was listening to La femme d'argent by Air which means ‘Silver Woman’ and that is exactly what she was.
I was engrossed in my book when after a while, she came up to me and announced, “The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy… is that a good book?”
“I am reading it for the fourth time. What do you think I am going to say?”
'Cat' (that's her name) laughed.
Me and doggy on the beach
And just like that, on that lemonade colored afternoon, began a friendship I was to cherish forever. We ended up chatting for hours about life, writing, being a woman, music and hashish.
After hearing my pitiful, pauper, story, she said to me “why don’t you just come live in my hostel? I am the only one in the girl’s dorm, so it could be fun.” I could not have been happier for being stranded by my colleague or for deciding to just chill on the beach instead of panicking.
After another night of being a Porter, I thanked my old hosts, while barely able to stand straight, and checked into Funky Monkey's, a hostel run by a German and a Slovak. Couch surfing and backpacker hostels are things I had only heard of up until then and were mere images in my mind that I made up.
I went into the dorm and saw Cat sleeping peacefully in her bunk. I woke her up and she gave me a warm hug. By now, sleep had decided to evade me so we decided to take a walk up to the hillock between Anjuna and Vagator. From that height, everything before us looked like a child’s painting of ‘Summer Holiday’. There, sitting beside Cat, I lived one of the most surreal mornings of my life. I spent the entirety of that day lazing around, hanging out with the other people from the hostel where I met strange but mystifying people, like Marko who was a quintessential hippie, touring India on his bike and another Asian guy from Australia who made origami all day.
My new friends at the Jungle hostel
At night, I went out to a party at Curlies where I met Praful, my poker playing friend and Janne, a music teacher from Finland, whose fancy I had caught and was going to become my friend and companion for the days to come. I had got these two back to the hostel and we were hanging out by the porch all night. In the morning, one of the owners called me and told me I had broken hostel rules by bringing outsiders in (which was bollocks cause people came in to the hostel all day) and asked me politely to leave. So yeah, I was chucked out of the hostel to put it blatantly but for some reason worry could not catch up with my spirit in Goa even once.
The tuk tuk racers
From Janne, I found out about The Jungle Hostel, run by The Hostel Crowd and which is where he was living. By 9 a.m. I had checked in to the mixed dorm (the only vacancy left) at The Jungle, which was going to turn my life around. Here, not only did I get the opportunity to befriend the most bizarre and unique people, like the gorgeous beauty from Denmark who adorned the adjacent bunk and broke my heart when he checked out that very day, or Ben who was racing from Kochi to Rajasthan in a tuk-tuk, or Ali, my hoola-hooping partner but I also had a taste of what a world freed from gender biases and constructs may feel like, wherein I did not have to squeal if some guy walked in while I was changing, or worry about my underwear showing when sleeping or any of these banal issues. No one really cared. Everyone just lived and laughed and drank and smiled at each other.
Hammocking and hula hooping at the Jungle Hostel
By now I had so fallen in love with the hostel culture, of boarding buses to go to parties together, or meeting new people over breakfast, or drinking beer with people for hours at night without knowing their names or where they came from that I was seriously considering working in one.
I had however, partied much too hard and was yearning the quiet and peace that my travels usually comprise of. Janne and two of his friends were leaving for South Goa the next day, which offered just that. Impulsively, as I live, I called my office, took an extension and instead of booking a bus to Bangalore started packing for Palolem.
There, we checked into our dorms in the Summer hostel, run again by The Hostel Crowd, who – I must add – are doing a wonderfully pleasing job.
Palolem beach in the afternoon
Summer, did not have the hustle bustle of Jungle, or boasted a lavishly done up front yard, but it felt exactly like its name. In Palolem, I spent my days eating from the nearby German bakery, reading, writing, swimming and taking long walks with Janne, with whom, by now, language barriers had been overcome. In the evenings, Palolem beach looked like a life size Impressionist Painting where the artist used fairy lights instead of paints and at night I enjoyed my evenings in the common area where I bonded with Greg over Flume and Chet Faker.
The day I boarded my bus to Bangalore, waiting at the station, it dawned on me that in 22 years of my life, the only hostel I had ever lived in was a backpacker's one and I beamed from ear to ear as I prided myself on it childishly. I contemplated the words that could be used to name my book if I wrote one on these experiences, of sharing rooms and loos and food and books and music with people who I only knew because we shared bunks, or dorms or happened to decide serendipitously to lay on hammocks or fetch laundry from the terrace at the same time.
Just when I decided that my own words failed to conjure a befitting title, I caught myself reminiscing Janne’s observation while walking down Agonda beach and could not help but think how perfect they were, because truly “It was like walking in a postcard.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Suman Quazi
Photos credit: Ali, Cat, Janne, Ben