One of the best things about living abroad is that you are more motivated to explore and get away. When we lived in DC, a weekend away seemed so onerous. Plan, book, and hope not everyone else in Northern Virginia had the same idea. Seriously, a last-minute trip to Shenandoah National Forest (sigh) is impossible. A last-minute trip in another country generally isn’t, especially if it’s not Western Europe.
A couple of weeks ago, we realized that the kids had Spring Break. A LONG one. Two weeks. DiploDad had already arranged to take some leave after Easter to do some projects around the house, but when he realized the DBs were off school, those quickly got pushed aside for a trip out of Mumbai. It’s official: I will never get all my pictures hung or the closets organized. Ever.
He and a co-worker decided we should go back to Goa. I was still reeling from the icky “rustic” experience and ready to run for the hills, but they found a cute little beach hut hotel at the same beach, Palolem, and I was convinced. (I still brought my Raid foggers.)
Another friend at the Consulate piled on the bandwagon, and soon we had reservations for five kids and five adults (a lovely 1:1 ratio – almost fair).
Palolem is a great beach for families. The waves are big enough to boogie board, but not big enough to create a life-threatening wipeout for a six-year-old. We spent every morning on the beach, floating in the sea, boogie boarding, or digging in the sand. DiploBoy2 loves to dig, and he found lots of interesting shells, including some sea stars.
We also fed the Lifeguard Cows – our hotel, the Palolem Beach Hotel, http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g306996-d1372526-Reviews-Palolem_Beach_Resort-Canacona_Goa.html was right next to the lifeguard office where every afternoon the cows go to hang out. Did you know cows like bread? They do. I don’t need to tell you that we got some major cow affection then, do I? Let me just say that the rule for feeding the lifeguard cows is to finish doing it before they stand up.
Otherwise, they will rub up against you, which is OK if you are a grown woman, but scary if you are seven. At the end of the encounter, all was OK. The kids left happy, the cows were full of that morning’s leftover toast, and I had a red mark on my leg from being licked repeatedly that lingered for about two hours.
The second night, we put the kids to bed and played Cards Against Humanity. I love this game. As my friend, A, says, “You figure out that you’re really not a nice person. And you’re OK with that.” DiploDad had never played before and was laughing so hard he was crying. It warmed the cockles of my heart to see him enjoy something so much. Anyone who has ever played CAH knows that the experience is enhanced by alcohol. Preferably a lot. Happily, the average cocktail costs R200 in Palolem, which is less than $3.00. Bonus. I have still not decided if the alcohol consumed is to stimulate play or so that you forget that you played the words “swinging” and “grandma” in the same turn.
The next day we got up early and went sea kayaking. The kids were so excited. I was paired with DB1, which meant that (a) I actually had a partner who could paddle; and (b) I actually had a partner in the middle of puberty hormones. I don’t think I need to tell you which one overshadowed the other. We paddled out to this island at the end of the beach, and DB1 and I pulled up onto some rocks at the far end to go and explore. We’d just finished securing the kayak when B and her daughter, A, came up. We helped them secure their kayak and then climbed around among the crustacean-covered rocks for a few minutes. Eventually, we headed back to the kayaks, which were looking to break free and float off. A decided that she did not want to go back with her mom, but wanted to go with me instead. As much fun as GirlTime is with A, it was not going to happen because my kayak was higher up on the rocks and I definitely needed DB1 (raging hormones and all) to help me dislodge it. After some cajoling and a “shooop!”, A and B were paddling off again. B told me later on that her daughter wanted to go with me because I was “bigger” (I have to admit this as much as I don’t want to) and I “had more experience”. With kayaks, she would be dead wrong.
DB1 and I then set out to tackle the kayak and get it moving on the waves again.
“OK, now get in and I’ll push us both off.” Shove. The kayak scraped the rocks — Shhhk! Shove. Shhhk! “OK, then. Get out and we both push us off.”
After a few slips on slimy rocks, some uttered-out-loud swear words (mine) and a few shrieks (again mine), we got the kayak off the rocks and back into the ocean. All was well until we were halfway back and DB1 simultaneously got salt water in his eyes, had the sunscreen we forced him to wear start to sting, and became overwhelmed at wearing his life jacket. So much for help paddling. There is only so much reasoning that you can do with an 11-year-old who is wailing and riding the Puberty Wave high and in earnest. I decided that distraction was the best method and began reciting Rudyard Kipling’s “If” to him. Not only was I pleasantly surprised that it worked and he began to refocus, I was extremely proud that I managed to remember that from 7th grade English class.
After lunch, we decided that the kids could take a Free Range Kids trip just down the street for ice cream. When they returned, they had more news to share: DB2 was victim to his third unprovoked cow attack. As they were walking down the street, a cow turned her attention to DB2, ran after him and chased him right straight into Baskin & Robbins. I could not believe it. There is definitely something going on with DB2, and it’s bizarre.
At 3 p.m., we joined Captain Pratap’s brother Captain Sapnesh for a tour of the estuary at the South end of the island.
The boats were smallish, so our group filled it, but they were cute and some of them had cool names.
As we rounded the first bend, there was a group of birds of prey – eagles, hawks, and falcons. The Good Captain threw a few pieces of chicken overboard into the water and the birds started swooping.
It was seriously cool. The only time I’ve ever been that close to an Eagle was at Busch Gardens’ rescue display. To see them up close was amazing. There was lots of fun life to watch – birds, mangrove trees, and even monkeys.
All in all, a steal at R1,500 – about $25. For all of us.
Another evening of copious cocktails and seafood followed. Goa has fantastic seafood. I did not weaken at all the entire trip there and had fish, prawns, and calamari the entire time for every meal but breakfast where it wasn’t an option. My favorite dish of all was the tandoori snapper.
I spend half an hour one night at dinner to convince DiploDad that we should get a tandoor, to no avail. I am not giving up though.
Saturday morning, we got up a bit earlier than usual and headed back out on Captain Pratap’s boats for some dolphin watching. The kids were off-the-hook excited. I was not entirely convinced, but the crew told me it was guaranteed – no dolphins, no paying. We circled around past the island we had explored kayaking and slowed the motor. In just a few minutes, the Captain motioned to a spot about fifteen yards from the boat. A fin!
We slowly inched towards it and were treated to a few more surfacing fins and a smack of a tail. For about twenty minutes we circled the open ocean and then followed the dolphins to Butterfly Beach and Honeymoon Beach. The beaches are only accessible by boat and I made a mental note to plan a beach picnic next trip down. Again, the trip was a great deal – R1, 800 for all of us – about $28. I highly recommend Captain Pratap’s boats and guides. If you are ever in Palolem and desire a boat trip, contact him at +91 9637397567.
We had lunch at Ciaran’s Tapas restaurant down the beach from our hotel. It was a nice break from the Goan cuisine, but still lots of fish. Ciaran’s is a Palolem standard, and if you are sans enfants, I recommend staying there. http://www.ciarans.com/ I would not stay there with my kids personally, because there is no garden for running around and it’s difficult to see the beach from the hut area. After lunch, we girls headed for the Mothership (aka, “the Spa”). Ciaran’s has the Hummingbird Day Spa, which is much more upscale than the standard hut off the beach with rough towels and a straw mat on a table that most places in Palolem call a “massage center”. Prices match, of course, but are still well within budget (a Swedish massage for 60 minutes sets you back R1900, or approximately $30). The experience itself is more swanky, with clean huts, a real massage table, fluffy towels, and the sound of the sea.
Our final night in Goa was a fest of more seafood, cocktails, and rehashing the trip. We also set off some floating lanterns. DiploDad and M were quite the curiosity on the beach attempting to ignite them and launch them properly, but after the assistance of many a local who happened to walk by and a tutorial from our waiter at the hotel. Om, all lanterns were launched and wishes made by the kids for each launch.
After a final swim the next morning, we reluctantly boarded the van for the airport.
At the airport, B and I turned out backs on DD and B’s husband M, and when we turned back around they had agreed to an “upgrade”. For a forty-five minute flight. I don’t need to tell you that B and I thought that was the most ridiculous thing ever.
“Are you two crazy?! It’s a 45-minute flight!”
“But you get a meal with it. And the kids will get hungry.”
“You know it’s going to be some nasty, pre-packaged, mystery cheese/meat and that the kids won’t even eat it!”
“What would you suggest we give them for lunch then?”
“Pringles. Cashews. Cashew cookies. M&Ms.”
“They’ll eat it and be quiet, even if the fallout later stinks.”
Still steaming, we made our way to the gate, at which point both DBs disappeared into the crowd.
“Where are the DBs?”
“Beats the Hell outta me.”
“Seriously?” (That must be DiploDad’s favorite word, I swear he says it to me at least thirty-five times a day. I am positive this has absolutely nothing to do with me.)
As the last call sounded over the loudspeakers, the DBs showed up again, each of them with a chocolate bar in his hand.
“Seriously, DBs?!” (See, I told you.)
Midflight, the air hostesses came by with our “free (included in upgrade)” meal. Turns out that there was a free meal. One. For one person. Not eight, one. B and M were in the row in front of us and so the major griping and clarifying was left to them. I still managed to get in a few eye rolls, snorts, and raised eyebrows though. We wound up buying sandwiches and drinks for the kids. I cannot wait to tell SpiceJet about our flight. http://www.spicejet.com/ Especially their stellar drink service. It appears that our “upgrade” didn’t even include the paper cup of water that everyone else around us got. Bottom line: don’t bother with the “upgrade”. Especially if you want to stay married.
After forty-five minutes, we landed back in Mumbai, grabbed our luggage and headed out to catch a “Cool Cab”, a cab with A/C, back to our digs. Even with all the airport frustration, we still felt relaxed, rested, and happy.
Now that’s the sign of a great trip.