ONCE UPON A TIME IN GOA
“Adventure and the unknown are my obsessive-compulsive disorder with no known cure.”
Back in my hippie days when I was chasing life and backpacking across the
globe without a care or a responsibility in the world, my traveling companion
and I first heard of Goa while hanging out with some fellow travelers in Spain.
We weren’t even sure where it was, but it sounded pretty cool from the stories
we heard. We’ll do that one day, we thought, but Australia was our main goal with
a short stop in London to meet up with some Aussies and Kiwis we had met in
Greece. As we started making our way to London, the idea of heading to India
(yes, we found out where Goa was) sounded better and better. Goa lies on the
western coast of India and has attracted powerful traders, merchants,
seafarers, dynasties, monks and missionaries as it was one of the major trading
centers in India. Portuguese seafaring traders arrived at Goa in 1510 to
take control over the spice route from the East. So, when we arrived in London,
and it was cold and rainy, that sealed the deal – next stop Goa and then
I call this the “long trip” because people didn’t jet around the world in the early 70s as easily as they do today. After being fogged in in London for a week longer than we had planned, we finally flew out on the cheapest airline we could find (can’t even remember the name of it), arriving in New Delhi in the middle of the night. We found a taxi with a driver who had the worst cough I have ever heard. When I asked him if he was “sick,” he replied, “No, I’m Hindu!” It took me a while to work that out. He thought I asked if he was “Sikh.” The next morning, we saw trucks coming around to pick up the bodies of poor people who had died during the night. Not quite what we expected, so we set off for Goa.
In those days (early 70s), Goa was a pristine paradise. We set up camp on the beach with some like-minded people and chilled – at least until the partying started. Life was a never-ending parade of spectacular sunsets and parties. Everyone seemed to embrace the lyrics of a popular Crosby, Stills and Nash song: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” At first, we bought bananas from a local villager until we found out that a village farther down the beach sold them cheaper. Feeling “ripped off,” we decided to walk to the other village, which turned out to be about a 10-kilometer round trip. We did save money though – about 15 cents per stalk of banana. Oh well, we didn’t have much else to do except, swim, sunbathe, enjoy spectacular sunsets and party. It was a tough life (but tougher for some).
One night a young Canadian girl crawled into our camp. Yes, you read that correctly, she was on all fours! She looked as if she had been living outside for years. She was skinny as a rail, and her hair was a mass of dreads with sticks, feathers and other assorted objects that had ended up there. Her eyes were dazed, and she could barely put together a coherent sentence. She asked if we had any drugs or food, preferably drugs, she added. I asked her how long she had been in Goa, but she had no idea. I’ve often wondered if she survived. Meanwhile, I had contracted some sort of “crap” from drinking water from a local well (surprise, surprise). I was violently sick from both ends at the same time, often with little warning. It was time to head back to Delhi.
As we were boarding a flight from Goa to New Delhi, a policeman was patting down passengers before they boarded. We knew the guy ahead of us and knew that he had a big “hash cake” in his back pocket. Man, he’s screwed, we thought. Guess if we were shocked when the policeman asked what the bulge in his pocket was and he said, “just some hash,” to which the policeman said, “as long as it’s not a weapon” and let him board. We arrived in Delhi early one morning, found a fleabag place to crash and set out to get some breakfast. We didn’t carry much cash when we were out for fear of being robbed, hiding it instead in our dirty underwear at the bottom of our backpacks (no safes in the places we stayed). When we got back after eating a curry omelet that burned my mouth and stomach (we did ask for “mild”), someone had stolen our dirty clothes and the money.
Now we were up “Shit Creek without a paddle,” as the expression goes. India was not a great country to be broke in. We sold a few things and raised enough money to buy one-way tickets to Germany that included a two-day stopover with hotel in Damascus, Syria. We didn’t do much of anything there as I remember it except sightsee a bit. But the one thing I do remember clearly was hearing 20-30 men speaking Russian in the hotel every day. You didn’t hear Russian (outside of the Soviet Union) in those days, so we realized something special was in the works. About one week later, the Yom Kippur War broke out. It turns out the men were Soviet military advisors helping to plan the attack. Our adventure in Goa turned out to be a lot different than we had envisioned, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
Lesson learned: Hide your money better or take it with you.