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Originally, we planned a visit to Goa in January. My absence, coupled with a visit by the Secretary of State, necessitated that we reschedule. DiploDad, looking at the holiday calendar, decided that Holi would be the perfect time to go.

Holi, the Indian festival of colors, is a big deal, and, I hear, a ton of fun. Lots of expats forego the travel weekend to stay home and enjoy one of the many big parties that take place in most of the apartment compounds that expats tend to live in. People wear white; throw colored powder at each other, and attack random people with water guns. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holi Our apartment complex was planning a BIG celebration. Ooops. Next year, we will mark which festivals we need to stay home for.

We took off early on Thursday for the airport, and the trip was already much better than our last out-of-town foray, for the simple reason that DiploDad was not projectile vomiting. It’s all about the little things.

After a quick flight, we landed in Goa and then began the hour-and-a-half car ride to Palolem Beach. The scenery was different than we’d seen both in Maharashtra and in Gujarat. Instead of high-rise buildings and apartment compounds, there were a number of squat little bungalows.

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We have similar bungalows in Bandra, a suburb to the North of Mumbai too – perhaps the Goan Catholics that settled there brought some of their hometown feel to Bandra. Palm trees lined the roads, contributing to the beachy feel as we headed further South.

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Every once in a while you could see a flash of blue ocean in between the rice paddies or the brightly colored bungalows.

After some harrowing moments along a two-lane mountain road,

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How many lanes?  Your guess is as good as mine.

we arrived in Palolem Beach. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palolem_Beach Palolem Beach is a little different than the giant hotel resorts favored by many of our friends and acquaintances in Mumbai. It’s got a hippie “live casually” vibe. Even the cows on the beach adopt it. Yes, beach cows.

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After a quick welcome drink, at a sister hotel, the porters showed up and we trekked down the beach to our digs.

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Accommodations on the beach consist of beach huts that are taken down during the Monsoon and erected annually during the dry season.

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Most are pretty rustic. Rustic, you may know, is fancy speak for “dump”. We stayed at the Cuba Beach Bungalows. It was high-end as far as the beach bungalows are concerned, but it was still a little shabby, and a little mouse visited us a few times, chewing a hole in my backpack, leaving “presents” in my suitcase, and making off with our toothpaste. Next time, I’m bringing traps, karma be damned. A word to the owners: paint is your friend. So are outdoor showers – skip the en suite and go for a privacy fence and some gravel.

Still, you can’t get a much better setup. We were directly behind the restaurant and bar and every night the sea lulled us to sleep – after they turned down the thumping dance music that blared until 11 p.m. It was a very short commute to the beach, and an even shorter commute to the best mojito I’ve had in quite some time. Once we unpacked, we hit the beach for an afternoon swim.

After our swim, we came back, rinsed off, and then took a stroll down the beach to a place called Ciaran’s. http://www.ciarans.com/ Ciaran’s had excellent food, including naan made with Goan sausage. They also host a cultural show every night at 7:30 p.m. with dancers and musicians. In one of the first dances, the dancers put lighted oil lamps on their heads and continued to sway back and forth.

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Just when it was starting to get monotonous, they began building human pyramids.

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DB2 just finished a sports unit on tumbling, including pyramids, and I could see him watching, the wheels in his head turning. I will have to warn L before I leave him with her during his next scheduled playdate. And hide the candles.

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The next dance looked something like a maypole. Each woman took a rope and as they danced, they braided, re-braided, and unbraided the ropes into a variety of patterns. It was complex. I was fascinated once I realized the skill required.

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It was getting late then, so we headed back for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, we breakfasted and then hit the beach. It was Holi proper, so there were kids on the beach, smearing gulal powder on each other, beach dogs, and random people. Some of the kids had the entrepreneurship thing going on, asking for R10 donations for being smeared. Backpackers and young couples walked up and down the beach, completely covered in color and carrying plastic bags of gulal.

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Pink gulaled beach puppies.

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The beach was fantastic – probably the best swimming beach I’ve visited on four continents. It was a long slope, with gentle waves. The DBs and DD rented a few boogie boards and, as DB2 says, set out to “catch some waverinos”. I floated along on my back for long periods at a time and played Frisbee in the surf with the DBs. Every now and then, some local youths would come over to play with the DBs, wish us Happy Holi, and if DiploDad wasn’t in the vicinity, try to hug me. Gah.

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Eventually, we set in to build a sand castle. We hadn’t finished digging half the moat when two youths came over, commandeered the shovels, and proceeded to enthusiastically dig and take over the project. Sigh. Wanting some true family time, we excused ourselves to go track down some lunch.

We wandered down the opposite side of the beach, dodging more Holi frolickers. We tried this restaurant perched up on some rocks. The fish was fantastic. The view gorgeous. And we could get pizza for DB2 (aka, the Kid Who Eats Air), so a home run in the dining department.

On the way back, our luck ran out and five very giggly girls who managed to catch three of us chased us down. DB2 looked like an orange and green monster when they were through with him,

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and DD had green hair like the Joker. I got a few smears of green and purple. Only DB1 escaped. Tween snarkiness and daggers in his gaze were the only two defenses he had and they apparently worked. A few yards further down the beach some white dreadlocked backpacker guy (actually orange and hot pink and yellow guy at this point) finally got him with some gulal. Then, a few yards past that, the boys were all three attacked by a man with colored water in a squirter wearing a gorilla mask. Only the camera at my side saved me. When we returned to the hotel, I remembered that I had purchased organic, safe, gulal at FabIndia and gave a few packets to DB2. He immediately set out to color me, the wait staff in the hotel restaurant, and the hotel puppies and dogs.

After more sun and fun and an afternoon nap, we had dinner at our hotel, then put the kids to bed and stayed out late watching the stars. Sigh.

The following morning promised much of the same tranquility until mid-morning, when DiploBoy2 attracted the interest of some very friendly animals. First, one of the beach dogs ran after him, tugging on his swim trunks and Hell-bent on re-creating the 1970’s Coppertone Ad. Then, out of nowhere, a cow appeared, chased DB2 down, pinned him against a lounge chair, and started licking him. I could not breathe, I was laughing so hard.

“Mother of the Year,” swore DD under his breath, “help him!”

“No, no – give me the camera!”

“Mommmmeeeeee!” (lick, lick, slurp)

“She’s going to lick his face off!” screamed DB1, keeping a safe distance.

“Oh, for crying out loud – give me the camera!”

“Mommmeeeee!” (lick, lick, sluuuuurp!!!!)

I grabbed the camera, and managed to get a shot.

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Actually, I got two, but I was spasming with laughter so hard that the second one didn’t come out. DD pulled DB2 up and onto the lounge chair, and the cow gave us a contrite look before moving over to give me a few kisses too.

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“Nice cow,” I crooned, “Sweet cow.” Cow tongues are big and heavy, and feel like a cat licking you, but with about 100x the scratchy intensity. Eventually, she got bored with us and mooooved on. Bizarre.

At low tide, we wandered back down the beach to an area that was covered by high tide and waded through to beachcomb and check out a few huts that were visible from down the beach. Someone had built a Ganesh in the sand – seriously cool.

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We also passed a few rocks that were decorated – this one was particularly clever.

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After some wading,

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we headed back, passing the lifeguard station. The cow lifeguards were on the job!

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My friend, J, asked me, “Do they know CPR?”  Good question.

After another full day at the beach, we crashed hard, caring less and less about the barely functioning A/C and rodent visitors than we had at the beginning of our stay.

The final morning was sad. DB2 had to say goodbye to the hotel’s puppies and dogs, and we had to rinse off our beach toys. Every. Single. One. Time for one final swim and then we headed back to the airport and to Mumbai. It was a wonderful trip to paradise. And a bovine one at that.

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