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Goa’s fabled beaches: Land of fat pink people

OK, that may be a tad harsh, but honestly after coming from six days of seeing only local folks and beautiful non-touristy coastline, and seeing minimal tourists in the last 5 weeks, Goa was a bit of a shock.

When we crossed a ferry roughly 20k north of Goa I started seeing lots of Westerners.  Many were on motorbikes in tanks or bikini tops or bare chested with flesh in colors ranging from petal pink to Dentine red to leather brown which was hanging out in rolls and jiggling with every bump. The hotel where we are staying is littered with pink tourists sweltering and sunbathing around a pool – it’s so hot I can barely stand to leave the shade yet there they lie. And don’t get me wrong, I’m sympathetic to weight issues having struggled with it myself over my life.  It’s just such a contrast to the beautiful saris and the care local folks take to dress and bejewel themselves that it’s literally shocking and in some ways embarrassing to see.   
It really gave me a perspective on what locals must think of westerners when they see us.  It’s not pretty, really. Most cyclists are now wearing bike shorts and a short sleeve jersey for riding.  A few have taken to riding shirtless which – frankly – isn’t great as far as I’m concerned but I’m not the clothing police. But at least most of our flesh isn’t jiggling, or there is less to jiggle at any rate, and we’re doing something that is so bizarre and alien that the novelty of puffing up steep hills distracts from how we look.  There are a few of us still covering arms and legs below the knee for sun protection and to try and be respectful of more conservative views on what’s appropriate.  After this I wonder if more will think the same as me and cover up more.
So Goa resorts … not the place for me.   It’s beyond me why many in our group left the riding to come to Goa early.  We have 2 rest days here – wondering what I’ll do with myself tomorrow. 
Some folks are going out in a boat for a little snorkeling, fishing, sunbaking and beaching. That’s possible, though I’m a pretty bad beach sitter. 
Marooned ship off the beach
I did walk down to the beach this morning and –besides the huge ship that’s just sitting marooned right off shore that’s incredible to see BECAUSE it’s so bizarre – the beach was like a wasteland of human-generated litter:  little food shacks blaring party music at 8AM and lines of deck chairs and umbrellas for rent with touts roaming about selling everything from postcards to “massage”.  
I was interested in a cooking class for tomorrow but the only one I found was very expensive for a 2 hour course including lunch and, maybe it’s me, but I’m a much slower learner than that and I want to go learn about the spices and how to identify and use all these wonderful flavors and create these amazing curries.  I may take the bus into the main town and go troll around the old town to explore in the morning and come back in time to finish chores and clean my bike. We’ll see what happens.
This package tourist area where we are – North of Goa at Candalin Beach – is packed with everything a westerner craving home might want:  a full western-style grocery store, clothes shops that tone down Indian clothes for Western tastes, and restaurants that advertise themselves as the home of English breakfasts, mashed peas, fish and chips and beefsteaks – just like you could get if you never bothered to travel thousands of miles to experience another culture. 
Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve found the Westernized familiarity of Goa comfortingly easy and satisfying in many ways. 
When I found an air conditioned coffee shop that had real coffee and not Nescafe, yummy chocolate desserts and free Wi-Fi, I was truly delighted.  I’ve already stocked up on cheap prescription drugs where – for the equivalent of $40 – I just purchased what would have cost hundreds of dollars of prescription meds in the US so I am feeling a bit self-satisfied about thumbing my nose at the exploitative US health system.  I’ve bought two westernized Indian style blouses and a new crinkly scarf and am happy with those purchases.  I shopped at familiar style grocery store with shelves packed with inventory and hundreds of competing choices and replenished vital supplies such as shampoo, bike snacks and note paper and finally found bleach to kill whatever critters have been germinating in my water bottles. And I’ve eaten a couple of mighty fine meals served by waiters with perfect English and delivered with Western-style efficiency, complete with a quaffable wine from Portugal to accompany it.  
But then, Goa seems to me to be the poster child of an underlying truth of typical holiday tourism:  Maybe many people don’t want to experience something different when they travel.   Maybe they want to travel but have things be familiar and comfortable just like at home. Maybe all they want out of an experience is to come back with a tan and cheap souvenirs and some photos and a couple of stories to tell — the experience equivalent of that airport T-shirt that says:  “My Dad went to Goa and all I got was this lousy shirt”. I think Goa is the place for them.  
But maybe I’ll try and dig a little deeper tomorrow and see what I’m missing. Or maybe I’ll find a spot in the shade and order a beer and go spend money on something I don’t need and surrender to the surroundings…
Leigh Pate
Leigh Pate is a writer, former political consultant and two time cancer patient and cancer research advocate living in Seattle, WA