So there I was at Delhi Airport, backpack brimming with unclean clothes and ready to face my long journey back to Toronto. My flight was with Ukraine International Airlines and I had a overnight stopover in Kyiv, where I looked forward to eating borscht and hanging out in fancy cathedrals.
To my shock, the guys at the tiny UIA counter matter-of-factly informed me that there were no seats left on my flight and they didn't know when the next one would be.
I wanted to cry.
Did I mention: don't fly with UIA?
I'm usually good with checking in online the day before, but the reason I didn't this time was because my UIA experience on my arrival flights was bad enough that I wanted to upgrade. I didn't think I would have trouble getting a seat in Premier Economy or Business class because those sections had been pretty empty on the arrivals flights. But I was out of luck for this one.
I swallowed my tears and got it together. After going through all my options, I decided my best plan was to fly to Goa. Jazzmine and Kelsey would be there in a few days for a music festival, and I could bum around and chill out while I figured out this flight situation. UIA doesn't fly to Toronto on a daily basis, so unless I wanted to plop down two grand for a ticket back with another airline, I had to wait and get rebooked.
I hear about Goa a lot. South India is supposed to have a totally different vibe. And Goa is where Jason Bourne holes up with Marie in the beginning of The Bourne Supremacy. (I watched the first three films countless times but the fourth one is garbage.) In preparation for India, I read the Hippie in Heels blog constantly, and she wrote a great deal about Goa.
I'm going to take a moment here to say RIP to Rachel from Hippie in Heels. I just found out recently that she passed away unexpectedly in May from an undetected heart condition—how devastating for her family and friends. Even though I had never met this sweet soul in person, I felt I had gotten to know her on some personal level by reading about her various travel adventures, how she met the love of her life, and her honest thoughts on living in Goa and Mexico. One of my favourite posts of hers is "10 Things I Love About the Culture in India." She inspired confidence in me that if she could live in India and travel around alone as a young woman, I could too.
And I did. She was right that Goa is paradise. It's relatively safe for women, and I could see once I got here why she loved the place so much that she lived here for over five years.
Getting to Goa from Delhi
At the Delhi airport, I bought a one-way ticket to Goa. I flew with Vistara, which I liked because they use compostable utensils, paper straws, etc. Two and a half hours later, I was in the sunny state by the Arabian Sea.
Before coming here, I didn't know that Goa was actually a state. It's the smallest state in India, yet one of the richest. With people of various ethnicities and religions living here, along with a huge expat community and being India's most popular tourist spot, English is widely spoken, along with Portuguese, Konkani, Hindi, and Marathi. Konkani is the official language.
Since Jazzmine and Kelsey planned to stay in Mandrem in North Goa, I decided to stay there as well. I found the Banyan Tree Yoga eco resort on my Orbitz app. Eco huts. What the heck. I'm always down for interesting—and sustainable—experiences.
Outside the airport, taxi drivers clamoured for attention. Ubers aren't allowed in Goa, and the city's ride-share app GoaMiles did not want to work for me. I went to the pre-paid taxi counter and got a slip for the amount it would cost to go to Mandrem. Hippie in Heels did warn that even pre-paid taxis can be questionable. It's expensive, but options for transport in Goa are limited unless you want to take public transport (which Jazzmine and Kelsey use).
What I ended up doing was taking up one taxi driver's offer to do a ride-share for a reduced fare. I took the passenger seat while an older India couple sat in the back. While the traffic here is still crazy, after my experiences in the other cities, especially the drive up and down the mountains in Rishikesh, the Goan roads felt tame in comparison. We did witness two motorcyclists on the side of the streets arguing as a result of a minor crash. Drivers are calm until they get into accidents.
Otherwise, the sunshine, the palm trees, and the breeze through the open windows made me forget about the ordeal at the airport. I usually plan my travels at least a month in advance, but this Goa trip was the first time I was forced to go somewhere at the last minute. I didn't like the stress that came with it, but since a beach vacation was thrust upon me, I might as well make the most of it.
Staying in an eco hut
The drive to Mandrem took over an hour. After dropping off the older couple, my driver had the hardest time finding my resort. Google Maps didn't help. Finally, he asked a local. It turned out not to be too far from this huge banyan tree, off the beaten path in technically the jungle.
I arrived and met Chino, one of the co-owners, in the reception hut. It was quiet around the resort since many of the guests had gone out after lunch. He could tell I was tired and stressed and asked someone to make me chai. As I had no clean clothes, I took them up on their laundry service, which takes less than a day, to my relief.
Chino gave me a tour of my little eco hut, which was made from local and sustainable materials such as clay, bamboo, and wood. So, yes, literally a hut. I could hear the neighbours and they could hear me, although no one was excessively loud. Window panes were basically pieces of fabric, so there was very little separating me from the natural world. Cicadas and birds would lull me to sleep, and I would wake up to a rooster crowing. The hut had a private bathroom with a clean compostable toilet and outdoor shower. No hot water seemed to be available, but since the weather here is consistently hot throughout the year, the water can be naturally warm during the hottest time of the day.
The mosquitoes are nasty in Goa. I couldn't enjoy chai time on my veranda for long because they immediately swarmed me to feast on my blood. I sprayed on some organic bug repellent, but the damage was done. Why do mosquitoes have to love me?
Inside the hut was relatively safe from the buggers. Incense warded them away, as well as the nightly ritual where two fellows visited every hut with Dhoop smoke. My bed also had mosquito netting.
I went to dinner, which is buffet-style in the common lounge as was all their meals. The resort always had the most delicious vegetarian food, made in-house with locally-grown produce, the kind of light, healthy food people into yoga would enjoy.
Since I generally favour adrenaline-fueled workouts, I only do yoga sporadically, but since I was at a yoga resort, I went to one of the classes before breakfast the next morning. I had not properly exercised during this whole time in India, so the class was a good way to ease my body back into it.
Blue, the visiting teacher, helped me do a headstand. That was something I had assumed was too advanced for me to attempt. Now I have some confidence that I could do one on my own and how to do it safely.
Crashing a moped
After breakfast, Chino said my moped was ready. I'd always wanted to zip around in a moped and thought my dream would finally be realized in Goa. Here, mopeds are only something like $6 CDN a day to rent. If I stayed on the quiet roads to gain some confidence riding, I figured this would be easy peasy.
I'd never actually ridden a scooter, however, so Chino showed me how to operate it on the secluded road outside the resort. After, I sat in the front to drive it myself while he gave me instruction from the back.
I didn't go far before I suddenly lost balance while accelerating a little too much and crashed into some sort of cement block on the side of the road. We both fell into a small ditch.
Luckily, neither of us were seriously injured. I had a bunch of superficial scratches on my arms and legs, but the actual pain came from the internal bruising around my left rib area, and my neck was sore. Chino had similar scratches and pains.
What a stupid accident, I thought. I barely got to ride the thing, and I felt like an idiot. In hindsight, it probably would've been easier to learn how to ride without the added weight of another person in the back. But I do believe that things happen for a reason, and I took this as a sign for me to not ride a moped around Goa alone. If I were to have a serious accident on a similar secluded road with no one around for help, I would've been screwed. And traffic was still pretty bad in the busy areas, which I had planned to visit. They also drive on the left side of the road, something I'm not used to.
I was a little shaken, but I used ThetaHealing on myself to remove the trauma, and soon I was laughing about the incident. Chino said he didn't remember the last time he'd been in a moped accident.
I did damage the scooter, so Chino was busy that morning. He had to get the thing fixed at an auto repair shop. My $6 scooter ride turned into a $70 CAD ordeal, but of course, things could have been a lot worse.
My scooter dreams were dashed this time, but I will try again on some other trip.
At the airport, I had taken out cash at an ATM, so at least I had money to cover the repairs. Anno, the other owner, was concerned though because my bills were so crisp and new he suspected they were fake. There are quite a lot of scams in India, and even the ATMs at the airport can sometimes spit out fake bills. He went to the bank to check. Later, he told me the bills were real. Even the banker had first thought they were fake. I suppose they were used to receiving counterfeits.
It sucks that daily life can be unnecessarily difficult in India, with people paranoid of being scammed on top of water shortages, air pollution, and periodic electrical cuts. (I learned recently that Chennai, India's sixth largest city, has a serious water shortage.) Since these type of things were beyond my control, aside from practicing caution and using my intuition, I surrendered to whatever the outcomes would be. Luckily, I did not get scammed during my whole trip, except perhaps I overpaid for a tuk-tuk ride here or a little trinket there (haggling can get tiresome). On the whole, I was well taken care of and met kind and helpful people. Chino and Anno are examples.
Beaches in Goa
Before going to the auto repair shop, Chino gave me a ride on his scooter to Mandrem beach. While the beach is less than fifteen minutes on foot, it's only a few minutes away on a scooter. It did make me wish that the scooter thing had worked out so I had the freedom to travel around more. Ah well.
I liked Mandrem beach. It seemed more quiet than the other beaches but still full of restaurant options with beach-front patios. You could easily lounge on the cushioned seats all afternoon. I've even seen people take naps. In one restaurant, I ate fish curry and drank a couple of glasses of freshly squeezed fruit juices. I wished I had my laptop to get some work done, but I did what I could on my phone and by writing longhand.
I can see why so many expats live here. White sand beaches, nice people, good food, chill vibes, plenty of party options, and low cost of living—no wonder Goa is hippie central. A friend had suggested staying in Arambol for the hippie vibes. I thanked him for helping me decide where not to stay.
Walking north along the beaches, I did ultimately check out Arambol to see if it really was a hippie hellhole. Perhaps literally? Nightly drumming circles sound like gateways to hell.
Well, it was just a bunch of young white people in trendy hippie clothing gathered in vegan restaurants called Love Shack or meditating and doing yoga in "Sacred Spaces." So a Portlandia skit waiting to happen.
Look, I have hippie tendencies myself (example: I would like to experience a sound bath), and some of the people here are probably pretty cool if I got to know them individually, but when the same type of people congregate in one place, it creeps me out. I left pretty quickly.
Throughout the day I had been waiting to hear back from UIA for my return flight info. They sent me an email with a flight dated for December 2019, which meant I would go home in a year. They made a mistake; it was supposed to be January of 2019, but this made me wonder: would I ever go home?
Realistically, if I had my laptop and a couple of skincare essentials, I could live in Goa quite comfortably as a digital nomad. Many people do. But frankly, I did miss Toronto and the comfort of my own bed.
Finally, late at night, UIA came through with a flight for the following day. They would upgrade me to business class for my troubles. Although Jazzmine and Kelsey were coming soon and I would completely miss them in Goa, I had to take this flight because who knew when I would get another opportunity. I had run out of sunscreen, facewash, and toothpaste too.
I flew from Goa to Delhi. Delhi to Kiev. And after eating duck borsht and staying warm inside pretty pastel cathedrals, from Kiev to Toronto. I really took advantage of the first class lounges inside the airports, taking a hot shower in the Delhi one. Never take hot showers for granted, people.
In business class, I got to sleep during both flights. I suppose I did get the upgraded seats I wanted in the end. Despite all the stress and uncertainty with the flights, I'm glad I got to see Goa.
I came back with my body pretty banged up. After about a month, my internal bruising healed, although six months later, I still have two faint bruises on my body. Man was I tired. India can be an introvert's nightmare. My jetlag was so bad that I slept for twenty hours straight, no joke.
Although I'm someone who usually takes every opportunity to travel, I haven't gone on a major trip since India. I've been very fortunate to travel a lot in my life, and India was probably the last country I really wanted to visit.
Really, how can I top India?