“Leen, Leen!” He yelled my name from across the street, this tiny, frail man dressed in worn, yellowed office clothes a couple sizes too big. His belt was pulled tightly around his thin waist. He was sweet-looking. Not desperate or hungry or tired, just simple and curious, asking for stamps. I saw him the first night I arrived, and he remembered me as “Leen” from Canada. He approached me in the street tonight on my way home and asked me for stamps again. “When do you return home?” He inquired. “I could give you my address and you could send me some stamps from Canada.” I told him I didn’t know when I would go home. “Where will you go next?” He asked. I replied maybe Sri Lanka. “Well I could give you my address and you could send me some stamps from Sri Lanka then.” I can’t put my finger on why this interaction was special or why this place is special, but it is.
Some things we just know without knowing how we know them. Sometimes our bodies hint to us things we can’t understand right away, like how this ground feels so familiar beneath my feet, that my eyes have seen certain images before, or how my hands already know how something feels before I touch it, that sometimes the smells of incense and curry wafting in the street remind me of a home I’ve never encountered before. Other times instinct leads the way like a scent leads a bear’s nose down a forest trail, to discover something completely new and unknown. I’m starting to realize that this feeling may be Intuition, which in my case, has a tendency to hide out in a dark corner like a shady squatter and then show its face only later when sunup casts light on my mistakes.
But here in Goa, India, on this small dot of dirt and sea where I stay, Intuition has become this shiny, sequinned showgirl amidst bright, sparkling lights. Dark shadows and premonitory niggles of danger or regret seem to have washed away with the sea to reveal gems of clarity and understanding, dappling my days like sunlight on water. There is a synchronicity here that lines up all those little dots that make us wonder about a seemingly random occurrence of events or songs played on the radio.
I went to India a few years ago, to Calcutta, which is the opposite of easy to travel in. And I went right at the end of a very exhausting year. I didn’t stay long, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t have the eyes or the heart for it yet and like a ominous black cloud overhead, it whispered, get out, so I did. India is not for the faint of heart or the novice Western traveller, especially Calcutta. I knew I would eventually come back when I felt more capable of facing such a task. So this time around, I started with a softer India–Goa, which has a reputation for being safe, beach-y, and chill. And it is all those things. It’s an unconventional paradise. The chill factor might have something to do with the incredible ganja available, or resignation to the uncontrollable realities of quintessential Asia life like regular power cuts, empty water tanks, shitty internet–internot, if you will, and a 3-day process for getting a SIM card, which involves a semi-rigorous identity check. Really, what else can one do but adapt to her environment with a spliff and a swim, or a mini-exploration on a manual motorbike I somehow already knew how to drive?
Being in Arambol, a small coastal town in Goa, feels like being in a giant campground. Trees grow between the stout little houses and sand from a beach 300 metres away collects at my doorstep amongst the leaves, next to the pile of dirt. And my “campsite” is awesome. I stay in a little house all the colours of one of those stripy pinwheel candies, a hippie house decorated with tie-dyed sarongs, purple crown moulding, orange walls and a hammock on the front porch. What a great energy it feeds me, all those sweet colours of a summer day. The house is tucked away in a corner beside two other houses and a small cross statue which locals surround with lit candles every night. A house is being built next door, so everyday the sounds of hand-fed labour and pumping dance music fill my corner in this little corner of the world. There are so many things going on in this pocket of the world but it also feels a bit ghostly as shops and restaurants begin to close for off-season and just a few Russian stragglers remain.
When I travel to a new place I am often plagued by a feeling that the younger generation has coined FOMO–Fear of Missing Out. My mind wanders to other incredible places I’ve been and unforgettable experiences I’ve had there and part of me starts to miss those places and moments in time. But I don’t feel that here at all. There is nothing I miss when I’m here because everything about this place makes me peaceful, present, and clear-eyed. It pulls me to it and demands I pay attention, soak in what it has to offer. It’s a feeling completely new to me, that dips below the material world to an underground of resounding clarity. Like someone finally took the stars, lined them all up, handed me a piece of chalk and said, go for it.
On my walk home from a work-session-turned-talk-with-a-friend one day I experienced the most incredible sensation out there on the massive beach. I felt pulled to that spot, to that beach. Not because it is beautiful or relieves the heat for a few brief moments, but for some other reason. I knew instantly that it is a place I will return to and that I have perhaps been once before. My feet know that ground. When I returned home, I sat in front of a whirring fan, whilst some locals chanted a prayer somewhere in the neighbourhood. I destroyed a mango with my bare hands and licked its juice off my arm. And I wondered, how can everything be so amazing here? Why am I so drawn? It’s so dirty here, so dirty. Filth hangs in the air, lingers like heavy smoke. The only escape from it is that magical sea own the road. Yet, I feel so clean. There is immense space and openness in one of the most populated countries in the world. And a feeling of security that my imagination could never have paired with being in India. The way I feel is so contrary to where I am, yet everything feels in sync. Perhaps it’s the start of tempering an attachment to the material world. I love all the cool, quirky little materialisms of Asia, because they’re charming and they contribute to rich, wondrous cultures, and those things make me really like certain places. But to be drawn to a place is different. Like my feet are leading somewhere that doesn’t make sense to me because they already know the way (and they don’t rely on that Google Maps Bitch). So I go and I stay where they do, in spite of material fears and worries, because I trust my knowing feet. Perhaps that’s how we survive.
And those feet walk me down to the beach every day. The most beautiful time to be at this wildly magnetic strip of shore is anytime of day, I can’t choose. I’m down there at sunup for gloriously sweaty, sandy yoga and a swim. I’m down there mid day to catch a breeze–that time of day when the sun is the highest and the brightest and absolutely anything seems possible. And then again at sundown for the butter cream sky of a fading day. When I turn to walk home I have to stop and look back because there is something there. My feet know that ground. I feel free here. Not free from anything or free to do something, no qualification at all. Just free. What a glorious feeling to sweat and breathe and feel the sun and wear nature on your skin every day. To be amongst people and animals and trees, with a cup of masala tea, under a brilliant, smudgy sky, beside a shiny sea. Dots and clusters of beautifully dark-skinned people and candy coloured saris everywhere. To be in this most amazing world that gives us one incredible experience after another.
And every beautiful day here ends with one of those necessary, material delights: the bucket shower–one of life’s simple beauties. It so beats the contrived, even spray of a cookie cutter Phillips shower head. It’s like creating your own little waterfall under which you get to stand naked. The crisp room-temperature water, sluicing over you, cutting through the grit, the salt, the road paste settled in the skin since morning. It’s a fairly involved shower at the end of each day, I like grime, I love doing that things the make one grimy, which here is just a matter of walking down the street. And I love washing it off at the end of the day.
And the mangoes. You want to talk mangoes Indonesia? These Indian-grown babies are perfect 21-year-old breasts basked in the sun all day, warm and just a little tender on the outside but mostly, a gentle, squeezable firm. And they are oh-so-sweet. To eat them any way but on their own is an act of blasphemy. They must be what Incredible truly represents in the banner statement, Incredible India, besides the whole range of meanings inside the word Incredible, of course.
But wow–India. I almost gave up this experience in this little dot on the map of this fairly massive country for a Change of Plans. That shady little squatter in the dingy back corner flashed his shiny tooth and croaked GO NOW, and I nearly ignored him. Maybe a plan is still out there somewhere else, undecided. More likely that the plan is in every day already and it doesn’t have a beard or a heart-crushing smile, but instead a pair of old flip flops that fit my willing feet perfectly. And now, those showgirls are dancing, leading me down the right road.
One of the ways I knew I was going to be good here in India? When the plane touched down and the radio came on, the song Love Is All Around by Wet Wet Wet was playing–my dad’s favourite song. And my dad is the safest guy I know. A beautiful synchronicity before I even left the aircraft.