We’re moving back home in less than three weeks. In less than three weeks… Seems hard to believe.

While we’ve lived in Delhi, we have intentionally avoided travelling very much inside of India. We know there are a lot of people who have a higher tolerance (or call it grace) for this place, and some who even love it. But Michael and I are not those people, so whenever we’ve had an opportunity to get out of the country, we’ve taken it. Of the ten cities we have visited since we moved here, only two of them have been in India. (1. Mussorie (India), 2. Phuket (Thailand), 3. Rome (Italy), 4. Naples (Italy), 5. San Diego (US), 6. Singapore, 7. Chiang Mai (Thailand), 8. Madrid (Spain), 9. Toledo (Spain), 10. Jaipur (India))

But after my last visit to the US and getting back into Delhi, we wanted to visit one more place in India before coming home and so we booked a trip to Goa.

Whenever Michael and I plan to go somewhere we try to think about what kind of trip we want it to be. Do we want to rest? Do we want to do a lot of sight-seeing? Or do we want to do a really awesome mixture of both? But for some reason, whether we were in Mussorie, Agra, or Jaipur, we have always struggled to find a balance between relaxing and enjoying the change in scenery.

I think it has something to do with the constant mesh of positive and negative in India. Any other place we’ve been, the “undesirable” things are hidden. You know that they’re still there, but since you can’t see them, you just forget about them and it’s easy to enjoy your time. But in India it’s all out in the open. You can tower over the city in a 5-star hotel and be looking down at a slum right next door. The good and the bad live side by side together.

We walked everywhere while we were in Goa. To get to the beach from our hotel, we had to walk little ways through town. Every day we passed these guys who sat idly on the wall of a guest house:

Taxi Driver: “Taxiiii?”
Us: “No thanks.”
Taxi Driver: “Want to goto market?”
Us: “Uh… no.”

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Up ahead we’d walk through the smoke of someone’s burning trash or something. Further on we’d pass this woman holding her baby, squatting along the road behind next to a laid out blue tarp with an assortment of fruit:

“Heeellloh, madam, come and have a look. Try my watermelon!”

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When we reached the main road that runs through town, we would again be approached by taxi wallas as we waited for a gap in the traffic of mopeds, bicycles, buses, cars, dogs and cows.

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We’d cross safely and continue walking down another street lined with vendors on either side the rest of the way to the beach. Every minute or so a water truck or two-wheeler came whizzing past and honked so that we would have to quickly move over:

“Yes, what’s your price?”
“This way madame, just come inside my shop.”
“Yes, this way.”
“Looking for nice quality pashminas?”
“Come and have a look my friend!”

Walking the "gauntlet" to the beach.
Walking the “gauntlet” to the beach.

Trailing behind a couple of cows the rest of the way, we see this snake charmer who, after watching him “charm” some unlucky de-fanged cobra, tried taking us for a mere seven hundred rupees (that’s about fourteen US dollars). He’s settled instead for a hundred.

This way to paradise...
This way to paradise…

After all that, we’d make it to Candolim beach.

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Candolim isn’t as busy or popular as Calangute, but it still attracts a decent-sized crowd.

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Wednesday morning, we were making this same walk to the beach, except in addition to the usual routine of shop hawkers and taxi wallas, we were greeted by children armed with bags of colored powders. When they saw the two of us headed in the their direction they all started shouting and coming towards us: “Happy Holi!!! Happy Holi!!” And never missing an opportunity to make a rupee or two they start in with the bribes: “Ten rupees, or color! Ten rupees or you color!”

Awh, what the heck.

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So the we spent the rest of the morning sporting our “beards of many colors” in pink, yellow, purple and green. (And yes, that was a nerdy biblical reference to Joseph’s coat of many colors).

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After a good scrubbing with castor oil and soap later on, we went out to dinner. In the middle of enjoying fried prawns, steak and tandoori chicken, we sat back and watched a cow attempt to come inside the front door of the restaurant. This went on for a while until he had enough of being yelled at and hit with a switch.

It was another moment where Michael and I just looked at each other and said, “Only in India!” I mean really.. How many places can you be enjoying shrimp and steak and get interrupted by waiters shouting to shoo away some garbage-eating cow?

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The second night in Goa, I had a craving for something sweet so we stopped by the hotel buffet downstairs. It was expensive, but we agreed to only do it once and to at least eat enough desserts to make it worth our while. I was going back up for a second helping of tiramisu when out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. Scurrying across the table, there he was: a cock roach.

Here we are, staying in a four star hotel and I’m staring down at a cock roach twitching his little antennae around in between the platter of orange sponge cakes and bowl of gulab jamun. I couldn’t decide if I was more disgusted or disappointed. The gulab jamun was so good. Almost worth still going for it and getting another helping. But, I’ve always had a weak stomach when it comes to stuff like that…

I had trouble enjoying the free breakfast buffet the following morning too… Especially after watching a waiter wave one of those tennis racket bug-zappers directly over the food and visualizing the charred remains of fruit flies and gnats pepper the chocolate croissants.

In India, it’s all out there in the open: the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the clean and the disgusting, the honest and the dishonest. There is no compartmentalizing your positive experiences into one neat little box and then putting your negative experiences into another box. Everything gets thrown into the mix and you can’t separate the end result. You just have to take it or leave it for what it is.

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Incredibly, in less than three weeks this stranger than fiction story will come to an end… And as for this last trip to Goa, it seems like a the perfect way to summarize our good and bad, up and down, forwards and backwards time in India!

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