Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Birthday (aka Goa, Part II)

While the trip to Goa was timed perfectly for a much needed break from Delhi, the primary purpose was to celebrate Lindsay’s birthday. It was also the first time we’ve done a resort-style vacation without a thing planned besides informally figuring that we’d need to find time to schedule a massage and a strategy to snag the preferred chairs at the pool. Upon arrival, we took a tour of the grounds and quickly made our way to the pool, which was a beautiful southwest facing infinity pool overlooking rice paddies (someone old us it was wheat, but I had never heard of a wheat paddy, but then again, it’s not exactly Kansas, so they very well  may have been wheat paddies) with palm trees blowing in the distance. You couldn’t actually see the Arabian Sea from the hotel, but you could just kind of tell there was a massive body of water lingering just beyond the last row of trees. We spent the afternoon alternating between swimming, reading, and cocktails. Yeah, that’s right, cocktails in the afternoon. Shocking.

Apologies for the length of the post, but I’ve tried to break it up in pieces.

Ranger, Leisure Concierge
While sipping cocktails by the pool, the leisure concierge, whom we had met at check-in, found us at the pool and brought his menu of offerings. His name was Ranger, and he claimed his parents named him after the Lone Ranger. While that was probably just a story to endear himself to unsuspecting tourists that could pronounce and remember the name, he seemed like a good enough and genuine dude. Among Ranger’s more interesting offerings was something called “beach bubbly” which amounted to sparkling wine sunset beach picnic and a combination outing to the local fish market to bargain for seafood and a lesson with Chef Linda as she prepared the food you had purchased. Thankfully (as you’ll learn later) we opted to skip the beach bubbly based on the menu but figured the fish market would be a good opportunity to feel like we did something “local” rather than only lounging by the pool for three days.

India’s Pike’s Place Market
 We awoke early on Lindsay’s actual birthday to venture to the fish market with a guide and driver. We were too early for the retail market so we headed to the open-air wholesale market, and we were glad we did. It was a market in its most basic form with dozens of impromptu stalls selling everything from snails to sharks to other various sized fish pulled from the Arabian Sea. It certainly wasn’t a place heavily visited by tourists as evidenced by the fact that we were able to walk around without the constant pull of hawkers and beggars; basically, we were left alone to explore. Lindsay placed herself in charge of bargaining for the night’s main course and relegated the the evening’s starter to your’s truly. As we approached the kingfish section, it was time to bargain. We really had no idea how much fish we needed, so a “medium-sized” kingfish seemed appropriate.

Lindsay quickly got herself into Indian market bargaining mode. The salesman’s first asking price was Rs. 1200 (I’m not going to convert everything into dollars here, but let’s just assume we’re using a $1.00 = Rs. 46 rate going forward which makes this a $26 fish). At least he recognized us as Americans. Lindsay’s initial bid? Rs. 350. The salesman quickly got crazy eyes and started yelling incoherently (“incoherently” is another way of saying it was a language I didn’t understand). Apparently, he was insulted. He grabbed the fish, took it to another stall that had a scale (in hindsight, it’s a little odd he didn’t have a scale), and weighed the fish; just over two kilos. He came back and basically said, 500 rupees per kilo so 1000 rupees. Lindsay pulled the “let’s start walking away” move. Having taken two steps toward his neighbor, we heard his price quickly begin to fall.  His newest offer was Rs. 500. Lindsay had the figure 450 in her head (not sure exactly why, maybe because it was close to $10?), made one last effort to try and get that price, and felt comfortable with Rs. 500. Upon walking away from the stall, the hotel guide who had been mysteriously silent through the entire process said, “You got a very good price on that fish; it would have cost at least Rs. 700 or 800 at the market in town.”

Since the tiger prawn selection was somewhat limited at the wholesale market, the fish market in town was our next stop. The Margao marketplace resembled some of the markets we’ve seen in Thailand; however, it was still early in the morning so the crowds had not yet arrived. The first stall we found had absolutely enormous prawns that were the size of a fist. The price for those was equally outrageous at Rs. 1100 per kilo. The shopkeeper was treating it as fixed price and wouldn’t budge .We walked away. We weren’t so fortunate this time as we allowed to keep walking. At the next stall, they didn’t have prawns nearly the size but the prices were much more reasonable. The second shopkeeper also seemed intent that it was going to be a fixed price affair; based on the commotion Lindsay caused when she stepped on a stray cat as I was trying to bargains, I decided that Rs. 225 for a half kilo of prawns (about 12 based on the size I had selected) was fair for my purposes and dinner had been purchased.

The marketplace also contained fresh fruit stands with the world’s smallest bananas (probably figuratively, not literally) and a butchers’ row with stalls dedicated to various meat types, including the first beef butcher I’ve seen (Goa has very much a Portuguese influence, and with that has many more Christians). After walking around for ten minutes or so, we figured we had had enough local flavor for one day and headed back. At 8:30am we were at the hotel.

Chef Linda
The rest of the day played out quite similarly to the day before; swimming, reading, and cocktails. We did, however, find the time to squeeze in an afternoon massage.  The second bookend on the fish market experience was to learn how to cook the local catch with Chef Linda at one of the hotel’s restaurants. While the lesson basically amounted to us watching her prepare the food, it was still a fun experience to get into the kitchen and see how it was done. If nothing else, it convinced me that buying and preparing fresh shrimp isn’t really as gross as I had always suspected (i.e., I won’t feel as tied down to the bags of frozen cooked shrimp in the grocery store at home).

The prawns were prepared with loads of butter, garlic, coriander, and chopped onion and were absolutely delightfully delicious. We selected two preparations for the kingfish; simple grilled  filets and chunked cubes in a red masala. Both preparations were great, though Lindsay was partial to the grilled filet and I the masala; if for no other reason that I could enjoy with some naan.

Lindsay’s birthday concluded with one last cocktail by the pool that was interrupted by Ranger, who had learned it was Lindsay’s birthday, and one of his leisure concierge lackeys that brought a birthday cake and serenaded her with a “Happy Birthday” song (Ranger also plays acoustic guitar, his talents are multi-faceted).

The Beach
The day after Lindsay’s birthday we had very little planned so decided it was time to experience the Goan beach which was supposed to be a ten or fifteen minute walk from the hotel. I think we may have missed a turn and the walk was a little longer; however, it gave us the opportunity to walk the main streets of Majorda, the nearest town. To be perfectly honest, the beach disappointed. As soon as our feet hit the sand, every shack’s front man approached us to either have a drink, rent a chair, get a beachside massage. If a front man wasn’t approaching us, a beggar was. In short, it felt like India. Not that that’s a bad thing; it just wasn’t the intent of the trip.

As sad as it is to say, the most entertaining part of the beach was getting photographed in the ocean (it’s my newest thing, kind of like (but nearly as entertaining as) getting a photograph at the entrance to a National Park). Honestly, the only reason that was even entertaining was that Lindsay had set down her flip-flops to take the picture and an unexpected large wave nearly washed them into the sea.

The most surprising thing about the beach was the way it catered to Russian tourists. Many of the signs labeling the beach shacks were written in Cyrillic script. Upon seeing the script, I started to feel like I was at some Black Sea resort. While I’m sure there are many nice resorts on the Black Sea, again, not the intent of the trip. Upon seeing one beach massage in action; which consisted of a topless Russian woman laying facedown, with her husband basking in the sun a few feet away, the male masseuse eagerly working out any knots, and some sort of masseuse’s assistant leering at the customer. Surprisingly, Lindsay wasn’t into this and decided it was time to head back to the hotel.

The downside to traveling on a holiday weekend is that you end up missing the ability to actually celebrate. Holi is India’s festival of colors and amounts to participants having colored water fights. It stains clothing, hair, you name it. One American colleague here on a short visit took part in the celebration and came to work on Tuesday with her blonde hair looking like a clown wig. When I saw her later in the week, nothing had changed.

On the ride to the airport in Goa, there were numerous revelers on mopeds that were absolutely covered in colors. We couldn’t get any pictures because our driver was driving a bit fast and erratically, which is to say he was driving very normal. My sister actually passed along a good slideshow (the pictures are well beyond anything I could have produced):

Needless to say, it’s something I’d like to experience next year. When we arrived at the gate in Delhi, the Kingfisher ground crew had obviously partaken as their hair and skin was stained underneath their clean work uniforms.

The trip and break from “India” while remaining in India was exactly what we needed. By the second day of the trip Lindsay mentioned that something like this might be necessary every eight to twelve weeks. While I’m not sure I need the tropics that frequently, we’re only three short weeks from our first “John” trip of this adventure; two weeks trekking in central Nepal to Annapurna base camp. Not much time to get into hiking shape.

1 comment:

  1. Love the blog and the pictures...especially the one with your Iowa hat! Looks like you are having a great time.