The drive from the airport and southern parts of Goa towards the north crosses the River Zuari. The bridge is like a familiar, reassuring welcome board that seems to say "Welcome to Goa". We know we have arrived! It's early August, and the early morning sun has managed to peep out. For how long, it is impossible to tell.
Looking over towards the west, the river seems to be all swollen up with the water from the late Monsoon rains. Clouds stretch all the way up to the sea on the horizon, and the water looks turbid and agitated. The rainfall pattern in 2014 has been strange. The pre-monsoon rains hit on time, around early June. However, the monsoon went quiet for over a month, picking up steam once again towards the end of July.
In contrast, the year 2013 was that of incessant deluge between the end of May and the end of July.
The fields are their usual brilliant green, they seem to be absolutely loving the sun's early morning rays. Not entirely clear and bright, but not too bad, either.
Destination: Chalston Resort on Calangute Beach, the venue of the fifth edition of the reunion of the Goa Chapter of the Old Boys Association of St Joseph's Boys' High School, Bangalore. For some (like yours truly), the meetings and festivities are typically preceded by a few days of doing whatever one typically does in Goa, a lot of nothing, strolling around and sampling varied menus in the permanent shacks and restaurants. The monsoon driven sea presents a scary sight, as always.
Gazing at a bunch of cows one evening, I wondered, "Where have they come from, where are they going?". The thought of following them crossed my mind, but then the option of lazing on the lounging chair on the lawns seemed a more comfortable option at that time.
Souza Lobo is the most familiar restaurant in the vicinity of Chalston Resort, located about 300 metres south. A convenient lunch option, or even an early dinner option, since the after glow of the setting sun stays on for more than 30 minutes, enough for a quick walk back to Chalston. Tuna Salad remains one of our favourite options.
The sole Vegetarian in our family often prefers a hot, not-at-all-spicy Veg steak.
Seafood is yummy at Souza Lobo, both the Grilled and Curry versions. There is no dearth of curries on the menu, ranging from Ambotik to Caldin to Xacuti to Vindaloo to the 'Goan' curry, the latter being a middle-of-the-road offering in terms of spice levels.
Crowds do land up in the Baga-Calangute areas on Fridays and over weekends.
The famous 'Calangute steps' is the most popular converging point for locals and package tourists who arrive in 20-seater 'Tempo Travelers' and 40-seater buses. Their typical schedule consists of wading in the water in clothes ranging from 'Y-fronts' and 'banians' for the men, to 'sarees' and 'salwar-kameez' for the ladies. Large, multi-level 'tiffin-carriers' are opened out, filled with multi-course lunch. The remains are littered on the beach, along with whisky and beer bottles, which appear to be the most commonly consumed liquids.
The Government has put in place 'beach-cleaners' these days, to clean up the bottles, wrappers and food left behind. The litter is a result of the notoriously filthy 'what-me-worry-not-my-beach' attitude of hundreds of package tourists visiting beaches at the rate of one every two hours. The 'Calangute steps' area has been remodeled, resembling a couple of flyovers. The well located Goa Tourism Development Corp hotel visible in the background has also gone through a makeover over the past year.
The scene only a few hundred metres from the 'Calangute steps' presents a study in contrast, allowing one to ponder peacefully about life and the quickly passing seasons.
Well, in about three months from now, thousands of tourists would be back. Scores of beach shacks would spring up. Good for the economy. The nasty water-scooters and other mechanized boats would also be back, polluting the water and the air. Terrible for the environment. So, the off-season is a lovely time to stroll the beach in peace. Junior carries his Canon camera and lenses in a small, water-proof, camera backpack. The backpack survived a camping and hiking trip in Tanzania a few months ago, and was extremely good at keeping the Goan monsoon rains out, as well. We did get caught occasionally in a few short, sharp showers!
Our typical stroll was about 1.4km. from Chalston Resort in Calangute to Emannul Shack in Baga, a 'permanent' shack run by my old friend Robert, located mid-way between Mambos and Titos.
Robert's menu is quite vast, ranging from Goan to Continental to Indian dishes.
Yes, tuna salad, again!
The ubiquitous Coconut Feni, would simultaneously flow gently by, with lime squeezed for taste, keeping pace with lazy mornings and afternoons. Which reminds me, I missed asking for a few slices of green chilly. From past experiences, a dash of green chilly adds a pleasant 'twang' to the unique, sharp flavour.
The most productive occupation would consist of gazing at the sea, clouds and the waves that would sometimes leap 20 feet up on the cliff.
Dry periods would signal time for the migrant labourers to emerge from the shack, accompanied by the faithful canine shack mascots.
Tourists stroll by every now and then. The relatively quiet beach seems to be a good occasion to audition for a Bollywood take. First, it's 'her' turn to get behind the camera.
Next, roles are reversed.
Then it is time to compare notes - images, I mean. Good enough? Looks like it. Let's go on.
Moments of nothingness continue. The shack lad draws out a thoughtful doddle on the sand. Junior goes to the water's edge for a stroll. Right then, another picture gets clicked. Thumbs up, a visitor seems to be saying, I'm all set.
The lazy afternoon wanders gently by. We glance occasionally towards the skies. I wonder what odds the bookies would have decided on. When is the sky going to open up? Will we have a few seconds to run to the dryness of the shack?
An occasional large group wanders by. They stay for perhaps 30 seconds, look around, click a few pics, and return to the safety of the area where the mini-buses and big-buses are parked near the Tito's area.
Meanwhile, the number of pieces of squeezed lime pieces in the Coconut Feni drink continues to rise. Next time, a few slices of green chilly should add to the thrill!
True to form, the skies open up about five or six times during the course of a typical afternoon. Each time we would return to the pavilion, with bag and baggage, waiting for the rain to 'go away'.
Some lunch, maybe? One afternoon was all Xacuti time. Fish Xacuti and Chicken Xacuti, with rice. The lunch was in two phases. Phase 1 was under the umbrella on the beach. The downpour started about 10 minutes into our meal. Fortunately the skies provided adequate warning by way of a few warning drops, and we had time to run in.
Phase 2 of our lunch was indoors. Sometimes the rain would stop in about 5 minutes or so, but it would be too cumbersome to go back.
The shack dog would also lie on the sand in the comfort of the dry shack, waiting for the downpour to subside.
The heavy plastic sheets would be pulled down by the shack staff with every deluge, and then pulled up after a few minutes as soon as the rain let up. This routine would be repeated with every downpour through the day.
Finally, it was time to head back. Our destination was Chalston Resort, a walk of about 1.4 km according to the Nike app on the smart phone, glancing up at the skies every now and then.
The Old Boys' reunion provides the opportunity to say hello to familiar, long lost faces and to join in the festivities. It's not always easy to recognize class mates from several decades ago. Time has taken its toll!
The meeting hall is rather unique. It's the beach front restaurant at Chalston Resort, all fortified by thick plastic sheets, barely 15 metres from the sand.
Sunday is filled with music, song, dance, acrobatic shows (by a Tanzanian group) and lots and lots of mostly coastal food. It feels good to walk 1.4 km back to Robert's Emmanuel Shack with Junior and Nephew at the end of the event, getting a little wet in the rain, soaking in the monsoon atmosphere (literally!).
A quick look at the monsoon powered sea is all we have time for the next morning before leaving for the airport.
It has been several Goan monsoons in a row for me. I get reminded constantly of the 'pome' we had learnt in school: "And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas." It's the 'cloudy seas' bit that has particularly made an impression on me. The boundaries between the ominous clouds and the angry sea get erased for a few months as the sea seems to roar in glee.
The latest brand campaign for Goa Tourism, unveiled in Sept 2014, plays on the word 'kenna', which means 'sometimes' in the Konkani language. The message alludes to Goa being a destination of contrasts. The monsoons play up to the 'kenna' tune: 'Kenna wind, kenna rain, kenna clouds, kenna sun'. However, always Fish, always Feni!
Thanks for reading so far. Besides, I hope you enjoyed the little glimpses of eating 'kenna' under the umbrella, 'kenna' inside the beach shack as the rains played out their usual monsoon game.
See you next year, for another look at the 'cloudy seas'!
Oh, in case you are interested in taking a look at Goa and South Maharashtra during Jul-Aug 2013, please click here for several posts.
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