In our youth Goa was a place rich, disaffected kids went to tune in, drop out, make love, seek enlightenment. For me California might have been on the other side of the moon, much less Goa. And now we are actually here, long after all the hippies have moved on. Our guide told us that Nigerians and Russians have moved in, bringing prostitution, drug crime and corruption. We saw no evidence of this, but have to assume that she knew what she was talking about. More recently we have heard about spectacular beaches here. I love a beach as much as anyone, but there are plenty of nice beaches at home. There’s no need to travel thousand and thousand of miles to stick your toes in the salt water. We didn’t visit any today.
Goa prides itself on religious tolerance. In this majority Hindu country this province has almost as many Catholics as Hindus, with a smattering of other religions thrown in. Hundreds of years of a close relationship with Portugal has resulted in some extremely fervent Catholics. We drove past a church so full that the congregation flowed out onto the street on a Tuesday morning. It is Holy Week, but I doubt you would see that in our country any week day. Our guide spoke with vehement hatred about the current prime minister Modi, who is trying to make Hindu the official religion of the country and ban eating meat. She compared Modi to Sadaam Hossein and said that he would have a revolution on his hands here if he ever tried to implement any of this nonsense. It was no surprise that our tour included some remarkable churches, built by the Portuguese and kept in a good state of repair, especially after they were designated as UNESCO sites. Bom Jesus is a church built to guard the partially exposed body of St. Francis Xavier who died here in 1562, The fervent guide made our tour here feel a bit like a Sunday school lesson. We have seen ornate gold plastered altars in churches like this before in Brazil. It must be the Portuguese way.
We toured another produce market. This one was better lit and organized than yesterday’s and smelled better, except for the chicken section where the birds were getting hacked into pieces and were covered with flies. The fish section reeked of fish. We wondered how long you can keep a fish or chicken fresh in this oppressive heat without refrigeration. Our guide bought us blueberries as big as grapes. They were blueberries in name only. They were so tart my saliva instantly dried up and my mouth puckered. As usual we saw many produce items that were totally unfamiliar.
We had a traditional Indian lunch at a spice plantation. Six weeks in India had already confirmed that we really do not like Indian food. Spicy mush just doesn’t appeal to me. I ate a piece of bread, drank a bottle of water and knew that there was plenty of great comestibles waiting for me back at the cruise ship. We took a walk around the planation, where every tree and bush produced something to eat or something medicinal. It must not be in the Indian tradition to use western medicine. The plantation had a cure for whatever ails you: memory tea, diabetes control tea, cough & cold tea, male tonic, heart tonic, renal stone tea, female uterine tonic, etc. There was stuff for allergies, depression, liver problems, blood purification, weight reduction, and eczema. Indians must be the healthiest people in the world. We were amazed to see what a cashew looks like when it first comes off the tree: a giant lima bean attached to a red fist-sized fruit. The fruits are juiced and turned into liquor, medicinal of course.
Whenever we are on cruises with their limited time in port, we wrestle with how best to visit, especially if we are stopping by for the first time as we did today. Ships always offer excursions. They are well run and guarantee that the ship will not leave without you if your tour comes back late. However, they are pricey and tend to be on large buses which overpower the sites with every stop they make. Today we took a private tour which was a bit cheaper, but everywhere we went we saw our fellow cruisers in the same spots on their big buses. We weren't very happy with our guide today. She spent most of her time talking to one or two of us at a time, rather than sharing information about Goa with us all with her microphone. We would have liked to learn more. On a ship’s tour we would have someone to complain to and have gotten partial refunds more than once, but when you are on your own you are on your own. Some folks eschew tours altogether. They wander around town on their own or hire a cab and let them decide where to go. Not very efficient from our point of view and language can be huge barrier with this approach. The verdict about how best to do this is still out.