Saturday, 16 February 2013

Palolem Beach

Monsoon-like downpour in the middle of the night.  Rat a tat a tat of fat raindrops pounding the blue plastic tarp that covers the roof of my thatch-roofed coco-hut. Somehow this thrown together shelter - part palm fronds, part bamboo, part cheapest of cheap particle board - weathered the storm.  But all the locals and frequently visiting tourists mouth the same sentiments: "It's so strange.  It never rains this time of year."

Yesterday evening my friend from Strasbourg, France thrust a pair of leather slip-on shoes in front of my face.  One was conspicuously marked by a huge gnawed-out hole, tiny teeth marks scalloping it's edges.

"Oh my God," I said.  "Something's eaten a huge hole in your shoe."

Marion tramped off to display this travesty to the managers of our huts - Flavia and Louis.

Marion returned ashen.

"Rats," she announced like a biblical prophesy. "I know it's not rational, but I'm scared to death of them."

Louis and Flavia arrived at Marion's hut.  The rotund Louis smiled broadly and laughed.  Usually taciturn, he had never displayed such joviality before.  Who could have guessed that rats brought out the best in him.

Like a crusader dressed in a black and green striped polo shirt, knee-length khaki shorts, and a gold crucifix around his neck to save him from harm, Louis strode into Marion's hut on his pudgy legs.  A man on a mission.

Flavia appeared more shame-faced, smiling weakly and studying the sand around her flip-flopped feet.  She looked up at me, knowing she could count on me for empathy. "Ah, what can we do?  Here it is jungle.  We cannot control.  These things problems everywhere."

"Yes," I smiled understandingly.  I remembered a friend complaining last year about having to share her beach hut with a family of rats that had made their home between the palm fronds in the roof of her Arambol hut.

Flavia and Louis are Goan Catholics.  A tradition started by the Portugese who ruled Goa so many years ago.  The Portugese eventually left.  The religion stayed.  But Goan Catholicism differs wildly from Western Catholicsim.  It has taken on some of the colors and feel of Hinduism.  For instance in the Catholic churches in Choudi, the faithful adorn Jesus with strands of marigolds and other flowers as is common with Hindu followers and their deities.

Louis emerges from Marion's hut grinning.  He puts her leather shoes in a plastic bag and hangs them from a bamboo pole.  "They like to eat leather," he says, his ample belly bobbing up and down with each laugh.  "I'll buy poison tomorrow." He smiles, showing his straight white teeth and wobbles down the three steps to the sand.

"No," Marion says. "I can't sleep in there tonight.  It is not possible."

I understand.  No one wants rats running around where they sleep.  But what can we expect?  We are in the jungle.  Facing out to the sea, a perfectly clean silken-sand beach stretches to the Sea of Arabia.  Every morning local women wearing palm frond hats, cholas, and sarongs sweep the beach clean.  Bending over they create infinity patterns in the sand with their short strands of coconut branches tied together with string. They smile. Chatter together.  Laugh.  Bent over with their short brooms.

But walk out the gate at the back of Flavia's and you enter another world.  A world of villagers.  Blue plastic tarp-topped shacks.  Small cement houses painted pink and apricot and yellow. Long-nosed, slate-gray sows and their baby piglets rooting around in the dirt.  Lucky ones roll around in dirty holes of black mud. Iridescent roosters with flaming red heads, golden necks, shiny green-blacks bodies, and blue tail feathers strut next to yellow-orange hens who scratch the dirt as a parade of fuzzy chicks scuttle about pecking at insects.

Black dogs lie in the shade of tangerine buildings.  Crows hop about shrieking.  Smoke rises from pits of burning rubbish.  Piles of whiskey bottles leaning against the side of the local's watering hole gleam in the sunlight.

One old Goan man seems drunk frm morning to night.  Whether I cross his path at 10 am or 10 pm, he bellows out to me:
"Happy New Years Madam!"   
Ah Palolem Beach. I love it here.. 

No comments:

Post a Comment