The Gift of Goa -Ashwem Beach, India

February 17-20, 2017

I arrived at the glorious Ashwem beach in North Goa late at night, and the very first thing that struck my senses was the sky. Far away from city lights, millions of stars hover overhead, shining bright against the pitch black backdrop of sky, and Venus, glowing bigger and brighter than I’ve ever seen her before, descends upon the horizon, nearing her collision with the ocean. There is a reason I fell in love with this particular patch of land-meets-sea last year, and I am elated to be back.

My humble hut
My humble hut

While none of my accommodations thus far have been particularly cumbersome, three weeks in India inevitably starts to produce a certain sort of wear and tear, particularly the in logistics of getting from place to place, and so the resort I chose (not by accident) is the exact dose of eco-chic I need at this juncture. Even the sweet little frogs that join me in my bathroom every night are a welcome reconnection to the natural flow of life away from the tourist hustle and bustle.

My roommate
My roommate
Reflecting on the situation
Reflecting on the situation

Before arriving, I had a small list of things I wanted to do and explore here in Goa, but by the end of my first day it became clear that what I really wanted was to just land. My body and soul, immediately resonating deeply with the sun and sand and sea, wanted get far away from doing, and revel in just being… and this beautiful beach was exactly the right place for such non-endeavor.

I only had three full days here, but right away I saw a meditative rhythm emerging. I greeted each morning with a powerful pranayama (breath) practice followed by a teapot of masala chai on the beach overlooking the early morning tide. While drinking tea may not seem like the most spiritual of activities, I found that the simplicity of being present with the ritual, intently listening to the sound of the ongoing wave breaks, and tuning into the breeze softly blowing against my skin to be as profound a meditation practice there is.

Ritual
Ritual
Yoga. Always.
Yoga. Always.

Tea has been followed each morning by a long and peaceful yoga practice in the resort’s delightfully cool yoga shala (a lovely reprieve, as the temperatures here climb quickly as soon as the morning sun crests the hillside behind the property) after which I’ve enjoyed a delightful breakfast in my own private, lush little garden area. I found myself wondering each day, without fail, how the hours so quietly slipped away.

I won’t lie and pretend that I didn’t fantasize for a brief minute about living out the rest of my days in blissful routine such as this, but I’ve come to realize that a large part of the pleasure in these kinds of affairs is learning how to remain fully present with the moment at hand while remaining cognizant of its impermanence. There is a certain experiential amplitude that happens when you surrender to being so in the moment that you automatically relinquish any future expectations from it… and that’s a practice worth cultivating.

Entrancing end of the day, every day.
Entrancing end of the day, every day.

My biggest pleasure so far has been the water. As a Northern California girl for the last 20 years, I enjoy one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world and that’s something that I never, ever take for granted. But when I travel to tropical regions I realize the small void that exists by not being able to regularly and comfortably immerse myself into the vast and powerful oceanic waters that comprise the majority of this planet.

Here, in the warmth of the Arabian Sea, I submit to the womb-like lull of the all-encompassing salt water that pulls me into her rhythmic dance, and I feel a sense of freedom and connectivity to something so beautiful that it’s hard to put into words… and in large part, it is this luxury of the senses that keeps me tethered to this beach, forgoing any desire to explore beyond my immediate vicinity.

Afternoons here have varied, albeit not greatly. I had the pleasure of sharing some food and drinks with new friends I made on the plane ride here, and I spent several of the glorious dusk hours watching the sun set, cold drink in hand, amused by the canine turf wars that inevitably erupted on the beach every evening. Dinner choices have been plentiful and delicious, and afterwards, walking home on the darkened shore I found myself drawn to lay in the sand and ponder the sublime beauty of the same wondrous sky that greeted me upon my arrival. It is an undeniable moment of heaven on earth.

img_3252

February, the time when temperatures start to creep up uncomfortably high, marks the tail end of high season here. As such, the busy weekend beach activity has segued into a blissfully quiet Monday and I am grateful that my last full day here is filled with calm and quiet before I venture on to my next locale. Thank you Goa, for this beautiful gift.

Island Life – Phu Quoc, Vietnam

November 10-12, 2015

The 24 hours preceding our arrival on Phu Quoc Island was about as draining as travel can be… an 11 hour, mostly sleepless, overnight bus ride followed by three consecutive flights across three different countries. The salt on this exhausting travel wound was the final ride from the airport, the last half hour of which was on a rural dirt road in the dark with endless crater-sized potholes that rattled the depths of my weary soul.

At this point we could have pulled into the local Motel 6 and I would have collapsed with joy, but as we approached the lovely lantern-lit courtyard in this lush, palm tree-rich countryside and I could hear the ocean somewhere out in the darkness beyond the open-air reception area, I knew we were some place special. How special, I wouldn’t find out until daylight.

image

Meanwhile, we enjoy the icy-cold drinks we were greeted with while walking to our cottage under a sky bursting with a million twinkling stars, the gentle waves lapping ten yards from our door… and already I know I don’t want to leave here. Ever.

The greeting committee.
The greeting committee.

The Bamboo Cottages, a small, eco-friendly, solar powered property, is located on a relatively undeveloped part of Pho Quoc Island, although it looks as if that is in the process of changing based on the construction we saw in the surrounding areas. Still, for now, this gentle bay is a tranquil slice of heaven on the northeast coast of the island and it is magnificently serene… and just what the doctor ordered.

Morning coffee.
Morning coffee.

image
Daily breakfast on the quiet beach boasts the likes of exotic fresh fruits, homemade jellies and jams of mango, banana and dragonfruit, soft and crusty French baguettes, omelettes made from eggs just laid and literally, the best Pho on the face of this earth, which we will later learn how to make… not nearly as well, I’m sure.

Fruit never tasted so good...
Fruit never tasted so good… or looked so interesting.
Beach breakfast goodness.
Beach breakfast goodness.

Our first day here is all about decompression, so after breakfast under the shade of the palms, some lounging on a chaise with book in hand, and swimming in the tepid, gentle water, we decide massages are in order… and where better than on the beach in an open-air cabaña six feet from the loud, lovely lull of the tide. For this, I would have paid handsomely, but both massages cost us a whole $25 and I wonder if I’ve fallen into a lovely dream.

My faithful companion.
My faithful companion.

Late afternoon here might be unbearably warm were it not for the cool ocean breeze, which today has started to pick up noticeably with what feels like the birth of a storm… strong warm winds with an undercurrent of refreshing cold that feels incredible. By nightfall, which comes early here, lightning has started to brighten the sky at regular intervals, but thunder is imperceivable, telling us the storm is still far away. But the staff knows what’s coming and start to pull in tables and chairs, and before long we are eating dinner under the cover of the patio while rain pours all around us and the sky puts on a brilliant show. It is a spectacular end to a luxurious day.

Lightning storm number 1.
Lightning storm. Gorgeous.

~~~~~

It’s true, not all days are created equal and sometimes you just have to surrender to imperfection, inconvenience and complete incongruence. So after what could have been classified as a perfect day yesterday, we were due for a little difficulty.

Heading out of the hotel property on a rented motorbike we promptly get lost. Street signs, or rather dirt road signs, are nonexistent here and the tourist maps are not of much help when looking for non-tourist places. Normally Google is of great assistance in situations like this, but with our late arrival the night before we have not yet gotten our Vietnam SIM card, so we’re winging it old-school style. Fun!

image

And it would have been, had we not realized several miles away from our hotel (having already crossed that ridiculously difficult and slow terrain) that we were getting dangerously low on fuel and left all our cash at the hotel. Conveniences like ATMs on every corner are things we take for granted at home, but out here, purchases such as gas and food run solely on cash and ATMs are very scarce. And getting stranded out in the middle of nowhere without phone service was not something I wanted to experience.

Rural beach living.
Rural beach living.

Abandoning our plans for discovering secluded beaches and exploring small villages, we turn around, head back and pray the gas gauge is wrong. Thankfully we are saved by the horrific soon-to-be tourist trap theme park that has just been built here, the ATM sign beckoning us from the road.

Having lost a couple of hours we decide we still have time to explore a bit before darkness descends upon us. Having refueled, we regroup and head into unknown territory.

Gas station attendants.
Gas station attendants.

image

I like it here.
I like it here.

Back at the cottages, the night greets us with another beautifully intense lightning storm over the oceans horizon, providing a much-needed reprieve from the heat of the day.

More light shows in the sky.
More light shows in the sky.
Might as well play a game or two.
Might as well play a game or two.

~~~~~

Before our sad, afternoon departure from this heavenly place, we take a private Vietnamese cooking class from the chef here, who based on the impeccable food we’ve been eating (and I do mean impeccable) clearly knows a thing or two… in fact, I think the food here is perhaps some of the best I’ve eaten to date.

Ingredients.
Ingredients.
In process.
In process.

 

Satay and a beer. Yes.
Final product.

As is always the case when planning a trip of this magnitude, you don’t always know how much time to give in each destination, and so it is with mild remiss that I only allotted three nights here. Alas, that just means I will have to come back. Soon.

image

Locals. :)
Locals. 🙂

 

——

image

~~~~~

Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Phu Quoc, Vietnam

 

—–

Gorgeous Goa (and getting there.)

October 18-21, 2015

I will admit, I’ve been a little stressed since I arrived in India. Bombay was super intense and although I absolutely loved my time at the caves in Aurangabad, the logistics of traveling from place to place has been difficult. And of course there was my time at Vipassana…. wonderfully transformative, but not exactly comfortable.

Finally... less concrete, more trees!
Finally… less concrete, more trees!

The beautiful thing is, with enough travel under your belt you start to learn how to plan in such a way that not only meets your need to see everything you’d like, but also your need to take care of yourself. So it was no coincidence that I booked this beach-time in Goa at this juncture in the trip. I knew I would need the decompression… and I am getting it.

I am staying on the gorgeous Ashvem beach at the delightful Yab Yum resort.

The gateway to heaven.
The gateway to heaven.
My humble abode, steps from the beach.
My humble abode, steps from the beach.

Getting here was, as to be expected, difficult. Before catching my flight to Goa, I took the train from Nasik to Mumbai.

“Is it coming?!” I know how he feels.
Nasik Train Station
3 generations of sheer beauty.
3 generations of sheer beauty, standing on the platform.

After 4 hours on a hot, sweaty train through the Indian countryside, listening to the peddlers continuously walking up and down the aisles selling food, chai, toys and gadgets… I was so ready to arrive.

Selling something.
Selling something. Note the “A/C” overhead.
On-beard snack... a fried chickpea sort of thing and a bun. In print.
On-board snack… a fried chickpea sort of thing and a bun. In print.

I must first give thanks to my two new friends from Vipassana who were on the train with me. Were it not for them, I don’t know that I would have been able to navigate it all and get where I needed to go within my time constraint.

Beautiful Geetu and Savita.
Beautiful Geetu and Savita.
And beautiful, mountainous countryside
And beautiful, mountainous countryside
...and the discernible nearing of the city.
…and the discernible nearing of the city.

After my flight, the 2 hour taxi ride from the Goa airport to my resort quickly revealed that I was in a much different (and much needed) vibe… one of considerably less congestion and considerably more green. I had kept my expectations for the resort low, since thus far not much has been as I had anticipated… but this place was everything I wanted and needed: comfort, beauty and a really relaxed pace.

Cute huts in the property.
Cute huts on the property at Yab Yum resort.

What I appreciate the most here, is simply having the time. Time for things like laying on the beach at sunset and getting to watch the sky morph from pink to periwinkle, from purple to slate, and eventually becoming a color dark enough to call night.

Or time to watch a flock of birds travel from as far north as your eye can see to as far south as your eye can see, their arrow-like formation continuously morphing in the subtlest of ways.

Abstract art by the sand crabs.
Abstract art by the sand crabs.
Best way to spend a sunset.
Best way to spend a sunset.

Traveling alone has had its challenges, to be certain, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would cope with it for this length of time (and of course it remains to be seen, as I’m still in the first 1/2 of my alone-time.) In the cities it was more about overall survival… the logistics of how to get places, the hassle of unwanted attention etc. But I’m glad to say that here in Goa, I have kept myself happily occupied and have had no issue whatsoever being alone. It’s actually been really kind of nice.

Some of the simple things I have taken pleasure in:

Night time walks on an empty beach, the moonlight my only guide.

Unplanned excursions.

Lunch spot in Anjuna
Lunch spot in Anjuna, a beach village south of where I’m staying.

Driving through the region, there is a discernible shift in religious influence… significantly fewer Hindu temples and many more churches.

image

Crosses everywhere
Crosses everywhere
Contrast
Contrast

~ Swimming in the ocean, something I rarely ever do… the tepid, gentle water just too tempting to resist. That and the fact that it’s a good way to cool off, even though the water is warm.

~ Wandering up and down the beach, picking out which beach shack looks most pleasant for that days lunch… and then doing it again for dinner.

More good food on the beach.
Eating good food by candlelight with the sand in your toes. Yes please.

Or maybe for an afternoon cocktail.

A Pink Lady.
A Pink Lady.

~ Talking to strangers… and to the women selling things on the beach. Yes, I’m a bit of a sucker in this regard, but the conversations have been pretty amazing. Despite the fact that these women are trying to sell you their goods and services, they also want to know about you and your life, and they were all very forthcoming with the details of their lives as well… their arranged marriages, their children, how they travel each year to come here for the high season. So while I probably didn’t really need another scarf or that bracelet, for a few American dollars, the conversation value was quite high.

Ladies selling their wares.
Wonderful working women, selling their wares.

~ Morning chai on a beach chaise lounge.

Heavenly way to start the day.
Heavenly way to start the day.

~ Time on my veranda, having a delivered breakfast of the freshest foods or a cold beer while writing and listening to the never-ending lull of the waves.

Morning ritual... sipping and writing.
Morning ritual… sipping and writing.

~ Being barefoot all the time and wearing very little clothing has also been quite freeing.

Sun-kissed, wind-blown and au naturale.
Sun-kissed, wind-blown and au naturale.

One of the most important things I’ve realized here, is that I’ve reached a place where I’m starting to really understand what it means when the wise souls tell you real happiness can only come from within. Spending this kind of time alone makes you pause and consider how much you rely on other people to fill all the empty spaces in your life. Oh yes, we all need a little love and companionship… and I am certainly looking forward to having some company in just over a week! But this deep feeling of contentment while I am alone… well it’s a feeling I’ve become quite fond of.

Really, my only difficulty here has been the heat… there is never really a cool-down period, so it starts to get to you (me) after awhile. But on the upside, temperatures in the 90’s with very high humidity have helped me continue focusing on surrender and accepting things as they are here in my post-Vipassana leisure. That, and the fact that the humidity is amazing for my skin!

In this heat, even the dogs can't even.
In this heat, even the dogs can’t even.

Yes, I’m a very lucky girl, here on the Arabian Sea. Thank you gorgeous Goa, for the glorious, much needed recharge.

Sunrise coming over the hill.
Sunrise coming over the hill and in to the beach.

image

Ashvem beach Goa, India
Ashvem beach
Goa, India