The Russian invasion. Apparently when Thomas Cook went bankrupt, there was a hole in the Goan tourist market. It has been filled with Russians, who have moved from their northern beaches to cover even Palolem.
Our initial reaction to Palolem was that it was very chaotic with lots of touts and restaurants full of middle aged westerners and young families. Chill? Our coco huts, just behind Ciarans, were 30 metres from the beach. Very basic dwellings with unfinished plywood on the back, the porch area made for a perfect afternoon writing, relaxing and trying a few beers with tiki masala corn chips. We had expected to do a little exploring by local bus, but in the end rested, swam, and tried the local food and drink. Our last night was a splurge at Ciarans, where we selected a fresh kingfish for the tandoor, soo tasty.
To those escaping the northern winter, Goa is a paradise. It is easy to see how one could book in for 5 or 10 weeks and just hang out in the south. It is also easy to see why Agonda is popular, even more off of the beaten path, even more chill, even less choices for food and lodging.
Our plan for Goa was to take it in two parts. Chill in the South at Palolem for 4 nights then move to Vagator as a quietish base to explore the more happening/ over touristed/ historical North.
Until Goa, using booking.com has been surprisingly successful for finding well rated, good value if simple accommodation aimed at Indian tourists. They’ve been a step up from hostels and keen to accommodate Westerners- proudly presenting a second towel and a roll of toilet paper, because they know what we like.
For $15-25 per night you get double bed, private bathroom, a/c, and sometimes Indian buffet breakfast. You probably won’t get a top sheet, art on the wall or bleached linens. Hotels might have soap and shampoo, guest houses won’t. It was working for us.
For Palolem we paid a touch more for the “tent” Villa near the beach. It was a good bit scruffier than the photos, but the location was stellar and the staff very accommodating. Huge flocks of ravens screeching at dawn were no one’s fault.
But Vagator was a serious let down. First, we really didn’t understand the area. So far we had been able to get places more or less in the tourist zone, but Vagator isn’t arranged like that. It’s a sprawling web with no hub or heart and the beach area is crazy expensive (think W Hotels). A scooter is definitely a requirement for maximizing the experience.
We ended up with a tiny room on a dusty side street in an unstaffed guest house, and nowhere interesting nearby to see or hang out at. We made do with walking, making our way past Hilltop to Little Vagator beach and along to the proper beach before climbing back up into town. Dusty red earth and bus loads of Indian tourists. Ice cream vendors charging 100 rp for 30 rp lollies.
We had a memorable encounter with a strange couple over beers. We’d ordered loaded nachos which consisted of a pack of nacho flavour chips and one bowl of chopped tomato (salsa) and one bowl of grated unripe avocado (guacamole) – as we were staring in disbelief the same dish was delivered to the only other table, met by loud protests from the Indian half of the mixed couple. We struck up a conversation and spent a few hours with them. It was one of the few interactions we have had with fellow travelers all trip. She was sort of local, working as a waitress, he was from Montana, making his way very successfully around the world via dating apps. They had met in Sri Lanka, and she had lured him back from Germany where another woman was keeping him. Good stories, though he seemed the sort that might find himself at the bar at 9am.
That night we indulged our inner ravers at Hilltop, a local institution with weekly 5 hour sessions of trance. Nice mix of a crowd, but 3 hours was enough for our out of shape dancing legs. There was also a great meal at an Italian place in town the next eve, with Arbor, another local craft beer producer, some of the best gnocchi ever, and a score of mosquito bites on Fs foot that burned for days.
It wasn’t all bad, but after day two, we were over it.
So the next morning while struggling to arrange a trip to old Goa, we aborted. Remembering that it only takes money to solve some problems, we ate our meager egg sandwich breakfast, then walked away from two more nights prepaid and moved to the capital, Panjim.
It was one of the best decisions we had made. Panjim has crazy colonial architecture, great food, and a better hotel. It is also closer to the airport saving time and money as we moved on to Mumbai.