“Excuse me, can I take your picture?”
If I had a rupee for every time someone asked me that in Goa, I’d be incredibly wealthy. I left the orphanage last weekend, ready for the quiet, pristine beaches of Goa after two weeks of Bangalore’s hustle and bustle. But as is generally the case with Melissa and travel, something had to go wrong. In this case, that something would be a plane crash in Mangalore, not terribly far from where I was headed. I should have known something was up when Jon messaged me “just checking in.” Five minutes later, another message from a friend, making sure I was still alive. Indeed I was, but by then I had gone online and read the breaking news alert. Three hours later, after a few hyperventilations, a frantic phone call home and a “Stay Charlie Oscar Ocsar Lima, baby”–plane-nerd talk for “cool”–from Jon, I was good to go. An hour after that, I was in Goa, ready to kiss the steaming hot ground.
I met Mimsie in Anjuna Beach, a once-upon-a-time hippie haven that’s now a hip holiday spot for backpackers looking for sun, fun and in some cases, plentiful drugs. With monsoon season only a few weeks away, the town was practically deserted and many of the shops, restaurants and guesthouses had closed down for the season. Mims had booked us at Evershine Guesthouse, where the wonderful Sebastiana served as our wonderful hostess. It was hot as hell in Goa, but ice-cold water from Sebastiana’s freezer and evenings catching the breeze on the hammock outside our room made the heat bearable.
At the urging of Lonely Planet, we spent a day at Calangute Beach, which, despite the off-season, was absolutely packed. We knew that day was going to be different when middle-aged men sat down on nearby lounge chairs and aimed their camera phones in our direction. Oh, but that was just the beginning. It was a big game of ‘one of these things is not like the others,’ only in this case, two of these things–Mimsie and myself–were not like the thousands of Indians on the beach. For one, we’re not Indian. Secondly, we were in our swimsuits, a far cry from the saris and salwars that the women around us wore in spite of the scorching sun. The next few hours included, but were not limited to, the following: women posing for photos in that not-so-subtle way so as to get us in the background; parents bringing their babies up and plopping them in our laps for photo ops; passersby sticking their cameras under our umbrella in hopes of getting a shot of us; a group of teenagers hanging around us for an entire hour hoping to get a photo, and then breaking a glass bottle 10 feet away to get our attention. By mid-afternoon, two waiters had become our bodyguards, shooing away anyone we didn’t OK and forcing beach-goers to put away their cameras as they walked past. The only people allowed to speak to us were a few kids on vacation with their parents and a law student from Mumbai who we had met earlier in the day. As we walked out, a man with a camera followed us until a lifeguard came out and ordered him to put away the camera and leave us alone. Apparently, vacationing Indians subscribe to the Lady Gaga theory: “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me.”
By the end of the day, we lost count of how many photos had been taken of us, how many fake names and brilliantly concocted life stories we had come up with and how many people had tried–and failed–to talk to us.
The absurdity culminated a couple nights later at a restaurant on the water. Determined to see the sun set on our last evening in Goa, we grabbed dinner and drinks at one of the few open restaurants left in Anjuna. Unfortunately, a group of teenage boys had the same idea. They jumped at the chance to talk to us and take photos with us and ruined my last damn sunset by playing Justin Bieber (“We have Justin Bieber fever! Is that right name?”) Perhaps inspired by western reality television and under the impression that American girls are floosies (Jersey Shore airs here–enough said), I was asked by one of the guys to “go for a walk” down to a secluded area of the beach. Much as I’d like to fulfill a 16-year-old boy’s fantasy, a girl’s gotta have standards. And dignity.
The next evening, tired and tanned (or in Mimsie’s case, burned), we headed into Mapusa to catch a sleeper bus to Mumbai, where the adventure continued…