Our two day train journey ended at thivim station, from there we took a taxi to arambol. We should have gotten off at Pernem, much closer to Arambol but this was not marked as a station in the Rough Guide. Straight away Goa felt like a completely different country to the rest of India that we’d visited so far. The roads were good and there was a noticeable difference in the amount of rubbish lying on the ground. The buildings were well-kept with well tended gardens and the taxi itself was luxury with clean leather seats.
We arrived in Arambol at around 10am, giving us plenty of time to find a reasonably priced room or beach hut after a truely refreshing and long overdue pineapple and mango juice at a small cafe just above the path to the beach. We were overjoyed to finally have reached the beach but as usual searching for a room with our bags in the midday sun was too uncomfortable. Lost in the mangroves we saw a pale man with long white hair and a beard wearing a lungi. He was called shiva and directed us towards some possibly cheap rooms just behind his lodgings. While we were checking out a room in a concrete block of paulos guest house (quoted at 300 rupees and very clean) he sent someone else our way to show us to some huts on the beach. Thus we found Yoga Village amongst the huts and restaurants which line the beach. We took one of the more expensive huts for 300 rupees a night. The hut came with it’s own bathroom and shower and mosquito net and was fairly spacious, although our bathroom floor was falling through it seemed to be the only hut in the compound with a fault as our friends beth and amy did not have any problems. They also offered more basic, smaller huts for 100 rupees a night as well as a free yoga space and somewhat overpriced yoga lessons. The best thing about this place is that it was situated about 10 minutes south of the main village of Arambol close to the next village of Mandrem. As we would find out, this was an especially good thing as the crowds of Russian tourists began to gather for the festive season, mostly around the main part of Arambol beach at the north end of the bay.
We spent 10 days at Arambol, relaxing on the beach, playing music, meeting like-minded travellers, doing morning Yoga (that we had learned in Rishikesh) and swimming in the salty sea. This was our first impression of Goa and we loved it. Arambol itself is a fairly messy little town, the beach-side area is full of shops selling a-typical hippy gear but for fairly reasonable prices. As with most Indian towns the litter really spoils the streets and area of beach in front of the buildings, although more picturesque restraunts line the sands heading south. However, the streets bear the beach are a great place to shop for hippy gear and souvenirs. All the amenities, such as cash points are a 20 minute walk inland from Arambol beach at the main village. This is where one can see more of the locals daily lives happening but don’t expect to find restaurants or tourist shops at this end of town.
At the north end of arambol beach, yet more restaurants, huts and shops filled the rocks round into the next cove where there was another small beach. This is where we found the ‘sweetwater lake’. We’d heard great things about this lake where fresh water from a stream is mixed with saltwater when the tide comes in. A number of people had said it was a great place to swim. But when we arrived we found the water lined with scum and plastic so we didn’t fancy going for a dip. From the sweetwater lake a short walk through the jungle took us to the legendary banyan tree. We’d also heard a lot about this being a cool place to visit and chill out with the Baba but when we got there the place was crowed with Russians and other tourists all waiting for some free smoke. We left quickly. We’d heard of people camping and living in the jungle and wanted to find them and mabye join them. We searched around through the undergrowth for a while and along a dry river bed but found no signs o anyone staying there, except for at the banyan tree.
There were a couple of more worthwhile walks that we did around Arambol. One was south, along the almost deserted sands and past a few beach restaurants, through Mandrem beach ad in to Aswem beach. Although the walk and the beach was lovely we found only an expensive money grabbing beach resort. Our other favorate walk was up to the top o the hill from the rocky point north of the Arambol main beach. It was a hot climb but from the small shries at the top we got amazing views of the whole bay and beach streatching south.
Every evening, before the sun went down over the sea, a small crowd of musicians, fire spinners and spectators would gather and play music and dance into the night. This communal drum circle was open to everyone, but usually conducted and encouraged by a old gnarly looking hippy with a big beard and flute. One night there was even a saxophone player giving it his all! Sometimes European travellers would try to sell their jewellery on the sand by the music but were taken away by the Indian police as they did not have a visa to work.
I had some amazing jam sessions on most days. Just sitting on the beach with a guitar would always attract follow musicians eager to make music. Amongst them I met a cahon player who was a music producer from Mumbai, a French singer-songwriter with a huge collection of songs and an expert musicologist from America who lived in Thailand with his wife and children. Together we had many amazing jams throughout the week.
The sea along the beach was excellent for swimming, and in the heat of the afternoon floating around in the blue salty water and chasing waves was the best thing to do. Days seemed like seconds and eventually the ever-growing crowds of tourists and rising prices persuaded us to move on to chapora with a friendly Israeli called Roy who had also been staying at the Yoga Village.
Our first impression of Goa was definitely a good, positive one and it was easy to see why so many people come here, although we had to admit to ourselves that it felt more like a western resort than ‘real India’ and that simply staying in Goa would not provide any where near the wide verity of experiences that India has to offer: it is after all a very very small corner when compared to the mass of India.