My requisite for coming to India was a promise to spend Christmas in Goa. Besides being known as a hippy hangout from the 70′s onward, Goa also happens to be India’s highest concentration of Catholics as it was previously a Portuguese colony. Having never spent a Christmas away from my home and my traditions, I wanted to be somewhere that at least acknowledged the holiday.
As soon as we settled on a date I was on the Internet to make reservations as Goa gets extremely busy during the Christmas season. We decided to base our searches in Palolem, one of the lesser touristed beaches, but still has a variety of restaurants and people to create some good conversation. We settled on Camp San Francisco based on the owner, Joseph’s quick responses and (we can’t help it) the fact that they had a website with pictures of the cute little huts. We were so pleased with our choice as Joseph and his whole friendly staff made us feel like we were here to only lie in the sun, drink, swim, eat and sleep – which is exactly what we did for 10 days. Our daily routine consisted of nothing more than swimming and lying in the sun before retiring to a spot to enjoy a cold beer and watch the incredible sunsets each evening.
I had been having a hard time with the amount of disease, cruelty, and lack of health with the animals in India. Nearly every dog we came across had mange, bleeding lacerations, or missing body parts. Even the cows in India which are considered holy, had their hip bones protruding from their skin. Being such animal lovers, when we got to Goa and saw healthy dogs (and cows) roaming the beach we were ecstatic. The three resident dogs, some which we learned their names and some which we named ourselves, included a friendly lab named Tarzan that kept us entertained. We even made a cow friend that we nicknamed Bob because his tail somehow cut cut off leaving only a stub. Even Bob, we noticed, was lovingly bandaged up the next day. A lot of the credit to the healthy animals goes to the Goa Animal Welfare Trust, which helps keep Goa’s dogs, cats and even cows healthy and keeps the stray population under control. I came across a girl who had a puppy that had been covered in oil and with the help of GAWT, rescued her and is bringing her home to England. I was very glad that I wasn’t headed home because I wouldn’t have been able to resist doing the same.
On a clear night under the stars, there was an outdoor screening of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ on the beach. We got there early to get good seats and by the time the movie started there was a full beach of people wanting to get in the Christmas spirit. Nick having never seen the classic (!) couldn’t believe what a quality movie it was. When the movie ended there was an overwhelming applause proving that although people get away at Christmas they still like to celebrate. Proceeds were also given to GAWT which we were happy with.
Christmas dinner was one of my top priorities and we hunted down what we thought would be the best option the day after we arrived. Christmas day came and we were excited all day for our feast, and after arriving we were pleased to see pretty garlands and candle-lit tables. These candles were nearly the death of us because we were unable to see the bright pink colour of our tandoori chickens before we had eaten half. Thankfully we didn’t get sick, but since I was absolutely terrified of getting food poisoning we ran back to our hut and took preventative Pepto and on the advice of my cousin, downed a big bottle of Coke each because apparently it can help kill tummy bugs. After our ‘traumatic’ dining experience we hit the Internet cafe to phone home for the first time since leaving 3 months ago. Hearing the voices of our loved ones put us in significantly higher spirits, and went back to Camp San Francisco to tell our cautionary tale to some new friends.
Since Christmas dinner was a big disappointment, we decided to hit up our favourite restaurant in Palolem for a boxing day feast, Magic Italy. If there were ever a more authentic Italian restaurant outside of Italy we haven’t been there. Although the pizza is delicious the pasta sauce made me feel like I was sitting in my Nonna’s kitchen eating comfort food. The amount of money that we pumped into that place while staying here is a testimony to it’s quality.
Goa is an interesting place around Christmas. Having been traveling in the North of India it was almost a shock to the system to arrive into such a different culture. Besides the fact that I didn’t feel comfortable wearing a tank top in the North, and now we were all strutting around in bikinis, the travelers alone in Goa are much different. Most of the people we met were on a winter getaway to the beach rather than a long term trip which gave the atmosphere much more of a good-time vibe, which helped us relax from our more serious approach to traveling. We had talked about how we weren’t having the easiest time meeting other travelers in India and we thought that was really unfortunate, but thankfully in Goa we met some really nice people to chat with. (Hi Aidan and Vicky!)
To say the least we were very apprehensive about leaving. It’s very rare to come across a destination that we could picture staying for months at a time, but South Goa was one of the few that we will hopefully return to.