Wednesday 4 February 2015

Goa Trance

I must have been seventeen years old, sat on a wooden picnic table, probably smoking a joint, in between A-level classes. A friend approached and, removing a headphone from his ear, generously proffered it to share the contents of the TDK D90 twirling around inside a chunky Sony Walkman. That was the first time I heard Paul Oakenfold's "Full Moon Party" Essential Mix from 1994. The Goa Mix.

It was music that I had never really heard before. And like the music, the word Goa itself conjured up an image of far flung tropical beaches. Beaches thronging with sweaty people from all over Europe, wearing Thai fishermen's pants, matted dreadlocks clinging to their greasy, naked backs, dancing in a crazed, acid fuelled trance, possibly for days and nights on end.

I must say when I rocked up at Anthy's guesthouse on a stretch of golden beach, somewhere between Colva and Benaulim last Friday night, that image felt pretty wide of the mark. I was twenty years older, but if these were the same guys, they were twenty older still, their hair had either gone respectable, or gone for good. Half of them had turned Russian, and if any dancing was being done it was behind closed doors, and after 9pm when they all went to bed.

Colva Beach, Goa
 That isn't to detract from the innate beauty of the beach there, or the incredible hospitality of the people. (A special mention should go to the guy who came to unblock my hut's 'soil pipe'- cheerily crossing the grass and ducking round the back with a shovel slung over his shoulder). I had a nice stopover for a couple of nights and headed further South, to a place called Patnem.

The little street that leads down to Patnem beach isn't suitable for cars, so I'm backpack laden as I pass the tiny shops, and step out onto the baking golden sand for the first time. It takes all of about three seconds for me to fall in love with the place and wonder when, if ever, I could possibly wish to leave.

Patnem High Street, Goa
Patnem Beach, Goa
Patnem is a lot more like the Goa I imagined twenty years ago, but quieter, gentler, calmer. There is a spectrum of people here from all walks of life, of all ages and from all corners of the world. There are a few holidaymakers, a lot of American girls training to be yoga teachers, travellers, people here for months on end just checking out for a while, and old guys who look like they’ve been here for centuries.

It’s hard to express what these people share, but if I had to use one word, it would probably be humanity. I’m sure between them they harbour some pretty crazy ideas about the universe and our place in it, and I’ve heard a few. But mostly there is a harmony and balance to the community here, and it comes from within, from a collective belief in the innate goodness of the world and the creatures that inhabit it. There are friendly faces everywhere; warmth, kindliness and compassion. So many of the things lacking in our everyday lives.

Of course there are downsides to a life here. Beach huts fill the area 100m back from the sand and where they meet, a string of restaurants and bars line the fringe. My hut is one of the last in the line, at the quietest end, but its unique acoustics render it a kind of sound box, and everything sounds louder inside than out. On my first night, people were on the beach fifty yards away, sat around a fire playing their bongos. Later they let off fireworks and whooped and cheered into the early hours of the morning. So much for compassion I thought.

When I finally woke after a restless sleep, the sea had got up in the night. The waves were crashing down outside and I wondered if I needn’t fear for my life. I stepped out onto the ramshackle terrace only to see soft little ripples lapping the sand. I stepped back inside my seashell of a hut to hear them rendered as a tsunami once again.

Maybe the place is rubbing off on me, because each night since I have slept blissfully and uninterrupted. Last night I fell asleep to a horrendous rendition of some U2 song or other at the open mic night next door. Fireworks get incorporated into my dreams, and the gentle rhythm of the bongos, and the sound of people laughing and enjoying themselves rocks me quietly and contentedly off.

Watching the Sun go down on Tuesday evening, I turned to look behind me and noticed that the Moon had already risen. I thought of the moon I watched rising over the Mekong before I entered Laos, four and a half years ago, winched quietly up into the night. Same Moon, same me. I turned west again because it struck me that the three seemed aligned, and so they were – Sun behind, Full Moon in front, and the Earth and I exactly in between.

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