Whenever I told people I was heading to India, the same word kept popping up in conversations like kernels in a hot pan: Goa. The beaches, the drinks, the food. A must. So when a couple of friends invited me to go for New Years, I hopped a flight and met them there. Everyone was right.
As the taxi took me from the airport to the easy going town of Candolim, I watched as jungles, villages and beaches whipped past the window. The hour-long ride was a great way to see the whole area, not to mention take a nap in the backseat of a roomy van (not that I normally recommend sleeping in vans, but this one was pretty great, he had blankets and really great nice fresheners, don’t judge). The house, set back in the woods (you had to take two random paths and then just walk through the dirt to get there) was a deep red with stately white columns in the front. The inside was all stone, with big windows open to the outside (read: mosquitoes). In each bedroom, netting draped over the beds like a ball gowns, the thought of malaria distant but plausible. I arrived to the party late, my friends Andrew and Steve and a few of their friends had been partying in Goa all week. I arrived at 6 p.m. on New Years Eve and was told to throw my stuff on the couch, slam a cocktail and get dressed fast: we were going out. After a rough coffee cup of Old Monk, I was ready. We cabbed it from Candolim to Baga Beach, the place to go for New Years, we were told. Apparently everyone else was told the exact same thing, as the car inched slowly forward through the thick traffic, I began to doubt the decision not to stay in town. My apprehension flew out the window like an umbrella-clad nanny as the steak landed on the table with a beefy thud. We ate and drank and danced, and as the night crept towards midnight, I made my way outside the bar into the streets. A crowd had started gathering and I had a feeling something great was about to happen.
A man standing next to the bar was holding a handful of punks and seemed to be in charge of the show. I asked him if I could light a few. He looked at me for a moment and then said, “it’ll cost you.” We bargained for a bit (I didn’t have any cash), and finally settled on one and a half Rum and Cokes. He handed me a lighter and shouted in Hindi to some men standing in the street. They quickly threw some fountain fireworks on the ground and motioned. I ran over and lit them, the first ones shooting towards the sky before I could finish lighting the rest. I jumped out of the way and ran back to the safety of the sidewalk. I stayed out in the street for a long time, trading drinks for pyrotechnics, not realizing the new year had already began. I missed the countdown, the kissing, the shouting. I was fine with it.
The next day, we all got up (rolled slowly out of bed, chugging water and gatorade) and made our way to the beach. Goa beaches are beautiful, the brightly colored umbrellas poking up out of the sand like drink toppers on a pina colada. More than anything, it’s just relaxing, the shorts and tank tops a welcomed departure from the kurtas and long pants I had grown accustomed to wearing in the more conservative Hyderabad. Goa is notorious for being a party town, and I had never seen more foreigners in India than I did in Goa, including a heavy Russian influence (apparently there are direct flights from Moscow!) We spent that day, and the rest of the remainder of the trip lounging by the water, playing in the waves, and eating. There’s something about seeing the ocean, throwing yourself into the waves and getting sloshed around like a sweatshirt in a washing machine that lifts your spirits. Reading books, getting massages and fending off young, persuasive vendors hawking beads and sarongs, we whiled away the hours under a bright blue umbrella, the salty air was hot, but not humid, the kind of weather that makes you swear you’re going to quit your job and open a juice bar. Not a bad way to start a year.
Goa has the cheapest beer in India, a seemingly endless supply of beach shacks and a few hidden gems. One such place is the “Chocolate Man” a bakery/bar with free wifi, chocolate eclairs and bacon. Pretty much my ideal combination. One night we took a cab a few towns over to a Greek restaurant. I’m not sure I can put into words how amazing this place was. As a half-Greek myself, I have a soft spot for pastitsio, seasoned olives and all things Mediterranean. I didn’t realize how much my stomach had been yearning for the food until it arrived in front of me, the cheese falling around the noodles like a lactose cascade of goodness. We sat around, eating and drinking for a long while, the dark night sky above us, the sound of the waves nearby and the glow of the candles on the table illuminating our faces.
As I made my way back to the airport, again maneuvering through the towns and villages lining the way, I sighed contentedly. What started as a random invitation ended up being a really fantastic vacation, a series of memorable meals and encounters, and the best New Years I’ve ever had.