30.01.2010 - 06.02.2010 35 °C
Late in the evening on my last night in Udaipur I was in a travel agency/cyber-cafe checking emails and I started chatting with the guy who worked there. After I told him that I was not looking forward to the train trip I was taking the next day to Goa via Mumbai, he asked if I'd considered flying there instead. The plane tickets were far more expensive (but still cheap in NZ$) so I pondered for a while, "Should I sit on a warm sunny beach in a matter of a few hours, or on a train for the the best part of three days, and possibly next to another squat toilet?" It was an agonising decision, but I went with ...BEACH! The travel agent was really good and in a matter of minutes he had organised my plane tickets and even a taxi to the airport the next morning.
By the next afternoon, I had landed in Goa, the tiny beach studded province on the south west coast of India. The province is divided into three main regions, the north which is supposed to be where you go for shopping, water sports and trance parties at the beach. There's the central part which is Goa's cultural centre and then there's the south which is supposed to be calm, peaceful and more laid back. I had decided to head to the south so I could just take it easy and relax in a less crowded beach. I also wanted to avoid the hoardes of try-hard hippies and the young kiddies on holiday from Europe as well as all the touts and other annoyances that come along with it.
Even after landing in Goa, I still didn't have any definite plans on exactly where to go, but I'd been in touch with Katie who I'd met in Delhi and she recommended Agonda, this is where she was staying at the time with her friend Elizabeth who she'd met up with in Mumbai. Agonda is a small, quiet fishing settlement in the south of Goa. The vast majority of accomodation there comes in the form of beach huts and there's only one road running through it which is sparsely populated with small stores, cyber cafes and a few restaurants. It sounded perfect, so I set off on a series of taxi and bus rides to get there.
For the first time on my whole trip, I got really angry with someone and ended up yelling at them - it was bound to happen eventually. The buses that traverse between the small towns of Goa are small and rickety and most have signs with only the final destination in English, the rest is all in Hindi. I had no choice but to ask the drivers and their little helpers if their bus was going to Agonda. The guy from the first bus I tried said (after a brief pause), "Yes, yes, Agonda, get in, get in". I wasn't too confident after his initial hesitation so I asked, "Are you sure you go to Agonda?", he said, "Yes yes, quick, get in", so I jumped on board and we were off. We ended up stopping at nearly every small town in the south of Goa and after over an hour we stopped in Chaudi and everybody got off except me. They then told me, "Last stop, get off here". Although Chaudi is only about 12 kilometers from Agonda, this meant I'd have to catch a taxi or ricksaw the rest of the way. They had obviously lied to me just to get me on board. I can't quite remember the exact phrase I used as I hopped off the bus but it included words like "cheats", "liars" and a couple of expletives I shouldn't be repeating in this blog. Reactions from the men ranged from sheepish to bemused looks on their faces. In reality it may be that no buses go directly to Agonda and the only way to get there is by bus then a taxi, but the fact they had deceived me into thinking their bus was stopping in Agonda really pissed me off. It didn't take long for me to get over it though because I reminded myself where I was and soon I'd be at the beach sipping cocktails.
Luckily, the place where Katie was staying had a space available and I managed to book a beach hut there for a few days. It didn't take long before I found Katie sitting at the front of her beach hut enjoying the warm evening. It was good to catch up with a familiar face after not really meeting many people since I left Delhi. Soon after I arrived, Katie, her friend Elizabeth and I headed to the attached restaurant for a few drinks.
Later that night, the bar man walked over to us and told us the turtles were hatching. I had read in the Lonely Planet that some beaches in Goa were the place where the rare Olive Ridley sea turtles sometimes lay their eggs, but I was sceptical about his claims. It was a full moon that night and you could see silhouettes of people standing on the beach in front of us with small torches pointed towards the ground. We raced over to find them looking inside a small square enclosure made out of poles and thin netting. Within minutes the ground was alive with wriggling turtles digging their way out of the sand. Eventually seven of them had emerged and were now crawling around in the enclosure looking for a way out. A large crowd from all the surrounding beach huts had gathered around it. The men with torches were conservation officials and weren't letting anyone take photos. The men made a smooth ramp in the sand leading towards the ocean and then finally lifted the net to let the little turtles begin their journey out to sea.
After a while, all became quiet and the majority of the crowd had returned to their huts leaving just a few of us sitting around the now empty enclosure talking about how incredible it was that we got to witness the hatching. Too bad for the people who left because all of a sudden one of the conservation officials pointed his torch inside the enclosure again and we saw a mad flurry of activity. Dozens of little turtle legs and heads were poking out of the sand trying to wriggle their way out. This time, one of the conservation officials had brought over a camera and started taking phtos and we were told we could take photos also.
Dozens of Oliver Ridley sea turtles emerging from the sand - WOW!
When it looked like all the turtles had emerged from the sand, the officials began transferring them over to a large plastic bucket. Initially it seemed to me like they were interfering with nature, but I think it was probably the right thing to do because there were several dogs running around the beach and some of them had hungry looks in their eyes as they attempted to dig their way into the enclosures. We were all allowed to get involved and place the turtles in to the bucket (while keeping count) which was quite amazing.
Katie and Elizabeth got to carry the bucket closer to the shore where we placed them all back on the sand so they could resume their (now shorter) journey into the ocean. Their instincts kicked in straight away and they followed the sounds of the crashing surf. Some of them were gently picked up by the calm waves which then carried them out to sea never to be seen again. Others had a rather ungraceful entry, being smashed up the beach on to their backs by a rolling wave before recovering for another attempt.
The turtles making their way towards the crashing ocean waves
One of the turtles reaching the ocean - Go little fella!
I believe by the end of the night the official count was 122, although I know it was actually 123 because at one point I had transferred two in one hand but I forgot about that when I tallied them up. Oh well, at least I under reported, perhaps 122 was just below the critical threshold which would somehow lead to increased conservation funding from the government ...or perhaps not. Besides, there are so many predators out there that within minutes of entering the ocean, half of them had probably already become midnight snacks.
It was quite an incredible experience and I really couldn't believe how lucky I was to have stumbled on this scene, talk about being at the right place at the right time.
Madhu beach huts where I stayed for four nights in Agonda, unfortunately I wasn't in one that faced the sea, I was in the row of huts just behind these
My bed in the beach hut, simple room but I had a mosquito net so that's all that mattered
Madhu beach huts and the attached restaurant on the left
The food at the Madhu Beach huts restaurant was absolutely delicious, even people who were staying in other places walked down the beach to eat there. I ended my vegetarian-while-in-India vow in that restaurant because Katie had eaten chicken there a few days before and she had no problems.
A few drinks at Madhu beach huts - I must have said something really funny, again
During the day, the beach was really quiet and uncrowded, there were never be more than 20 people out sun bathing or in the water at any one time along our little stretch of beach. The water was amazing, so warm that you could stay in it for as long as you wanted, though you knew it was time to get out when your fingers and toes started turning into prunes. On some days you'd spot a few dolphins swimming around not far from shore, sometimes you'd even catch sight of one leaping out of the water and high into the air - now paradise was complete.
Katie and Elizabeth sitting on the deck chairs enjoying the sunset
A beautiful sunset in Agonda
The warm glow just after sunset
Katie and Elizabeth only stayed for another night since they had already been there a few days and they were heading for Hampi in Karnataka Province just east of Goa. I wasn't ready to leave yet and hankered down for a few more days. I ended up moving to the beach huts next door to Madhu for the rest of my time there just so I could get a hut facing the beach. There's nothing like waking up, opening the door to your hut and seeing the ocean crashing on the beach in front of you.
View from in front of my beach hut at Sami Beach Huts where I stayed for three nights
The rest of my time in Agonda can be summarized by the following: swimming, relaxing, eating, drinking, sunbathing and walking along the beach, so here are some photos.
A sunbathing cow
Small fishing boat at sunset
Another brilliant sunset in Agonda
Funny sign on telephone box outside cyber-cafe - You gotta love the "HERE" written at the bottom by hand, makes you wonder, did they look at it after they had printed it out and then asked themselves, "Is that too vague?" - Credit goes to Katie who noticed it first
I really didn't want to leave, but I had a plane to catch in a few days and I wanted to visit Mumbai before I left India, so I packed up my sandy clothes and sun screen and left Agonda with a nice new tan.
Hopefully I'll get to stay at the beach plenty more times by the time my journey ends.