Tuesday 13 January 2009

Fleeing Reality in Goa

Having made it back from two weeks in Goa, with a stomach bug and chronic jetlag as souvenirs, it has been odd answering the question about how the holiday went. Unlike ‘travelling’, which is supposedly about finding out more about countries and cultures (a contentious definition, I know), holidays are a chance to get away from our hectic lives for just a short while, to relax and recharge. On that level, this latest trip has been a success and I don’t even mind that I wasn’t around for the massive protests against Israel’s brutal bombardment of Gaza. Even activists need a break.

But much as I love India, I’m not sure I want to spend time in Goa again anytime soon. Yes, it is beautiful and warm. But after four trips, three to Palolem in the south of the state, it seems like a really long way to go to do nothing and by the end of the 16 days I was there, I was desperate for any kind of intellectual stimulus.

Unfortunately, with the exception of my friends, the majority of the foreigners I met who are long-term residents in Goa are neither travelling or on holiday. They are just stuck - caught in a cycle of parties, 'therapy' of one kind or another, furious gossip, bad poetry and a insular detachment from the outside world.

I can see how even a a brief period of self-absorption can make even the best people incredibly selfish, but drawing this out into a permanent lifestyle choice really isn't appealing. I think the point when I was told, by an English guy with a guitar, that he hadn’t read the news for six years - a fact that he seemed intensely proud of - was the precise moment I knew it was time to come home. Or perhaps it was answering the question about what I do back in London and repeatedly seeing the disappointment in people’s faces when they discovered I wasn’t a reiki teacher, homoeopathist or on sort of spiritual journey…

The bad poetry was at Galgibag, a beautiful beach that unlike others in south Goa is protected for sea turtle breeding and therefore free of the endless beach shacks and bars. There is a poem I had read just before travelling to India that would have made the perfect response, by the Australian comedian Tim Minchin, but it was too long to commit to memory.

It’s about having to hold back for the sake of remaining polite, whilst a hippy called Storm “fires off clichés” at a north London dinner party “like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition.”

I met so many people like 'Storm' in Goa that it was always incredibly difficult to hold my tongue...

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