Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Monday, January 2, 2012

White Square Nirvana

There is a good, funny movie called "Outsourced." We saw it again in Goa and enjoyed it even in the censored Indian version. It was a few years ago when every job in America seemed to be moving abroad and the general sentiment was against it. Like most, Americans are only humans, they think of their immediate, personal and selfish interest, missing the broader implications and the overarching benefits of the process. I haven't heard much talk about outsourcing lately, maybe because all the jobs have moved abroad, maybe because some of them are coming back, maybe because Indian companies are creating more jobs in California than the Americans do. Back to the movie, it is a funny introduction to India for first time travelers and a good parody of the cultural "shock."
It also introduced to us the expression "holiday in Goa." If anybody is familiar with that, that's not what we had! We had a nice, overdue vacation, spent the holidays, got some rest and a little tan.

Goa is a tiny speck on the map of India. As the smallest state, with a population of only 1.5 million, it might not even count. Except that it is Goa. "Occupied" by the portuguese for 550 years and "liberated" by the Indian army in 1961, it has a different history than most of India, a different culture, a different mix of religions, many different rules and laws. Also it is by some accounts the most developed and people here have the highest income per capita and the highest literacy rates. The Portuguese language is still in use in administration, children can learn it in school and many choose to do so. The catholic religion remains a significant presence. Goa also has the best beaches, but unfortunately that comes with hordes of tourists and higher prices, especially this time of the year.
We found a great villa on and got a good discount price. It wasn't near any beach, in the middle of nowhere, but we could get to Mapusa, a local town,  and connect from there with the possible attractions. To my surprise nobody wanted to leave the premises. It was a "gated" community called White Square Nirvana (funny - the gate didn't have a latch). Twenty one villas around a decent size pool and badminton court, trimmed grass, palm trees and shrubs in flower. Air-conditioned, with only brief power cuts, satellite TV, Internet and three bedrooms with their own bathrooms. It had so many power switches that we didn't find until the 11th day that we had enough light in the dining area! The bread-man came every morning at 7 am with fresh bread and milk.

View from our villa 
The road to our complex
Yes, we live here!
If it sounds too good to be true, let me continue. Until now, we never bathed in the sea on Christmas or New Year's Eve. The sand was perfect, no rocks or plants or shells or jellyfish. The Arabian Sea water was warmed just at the right temperature, the breeze was there, but not too much, just to make the temperature pleasant. There were waves, not too big but not too little, enough to have fun but nothing to worry. I was impressed with the timing of the waves, giving you time to recover, but also not letting you wait too long for the next one. There were no clouds, just a perfectly clean sky. The temperature was 69F/20C early in the morning and 90F/32C later in the day. No rain, no wind, no insects.

The Calangute beach, too crowded for us 
Indians at the beach

Anjuna Beach

Ioan, left for the waves
As there are no Orthodox churches in this side of the world, we chose to come here to have a Roman Catholic service for Christmas. We went to St. Jerôme in Mapusa at midnight and I thought it was magical. We didn't understand any of it, except one small paragraph in English and some of our children didn't love it as much. But there was something special in the mix, the event, the feeling of summer and vacation, the plaza illuminated at midnight, the church in the background, the chorus in the front, and the crowd of about 2000 Indians, dressed in the best clothes, men in suites coming with the whole family, the daughters and the wives in sparkling, ruffled dresses or fantastic saris, occupying one row after another with the most solemn attitude. Of course my wife and Maria had their new saris on, and Ileana had her new dress. At the end, we got cake.

The Christmas service

Friday market in Mapusa
We went shopping to Mapusa and found everything we wanted for Christmas and New Year, we tried some of the Goan desserts, we had lassi everyday, champagne for New Year.  Santa brought badminton gear so we could play on the court. Ioan learned some cricket rules and played with the other boys in the complex.

We had one day trip, visiting Old Goa and Panaji. As the most important centers during the Portuguese period, they retain elements of colonial architecture and they have beautiful catholic cathedrals. At one point, several hundreds of years before, Old Goa was even bigger than Lisbon. Now, as a dormant village, it is declared a World heritage site and, from what I could see, it is just a collection of (great) monuments. We visited some of the churches and enjoyed the difference with the last few months of countless temples.
Panaji, the capital of the state, is developing, with new high rise buildings and all, but it continues to have some old attractions and some old quarters.

Old canon in Old Goa

Church of St. Francis of Assisi, 1661

Sé Cathedral, 1562

Sé Cathedral, the largest church in Asia
Panaji, the church plaza

Lost in Panaji

Old street in Panaji
We followed the recommendation from Lonely Planet and had a great meal at a luxurious restaurant, Upper House. We called it "our New Year dinner" and it was a great introduction to the Goan cuisine. We had roast chicken empress, roast lamb with mint sauce, tenderloin steak in Goan style, pork vindalo and pork assad. Pork vindalo - "succulent cubes of boneless pork cooked in blend of red chilly paste, palm toddy, spice and a dash of palm fenny" - the most special Goan thing - was too spicy for our taste and we'll never have it again. We ended with ale-belle, a local specialty and several servings of ice-cream. We thanked my friend Kathryn for her generous donation and talked about my conversation with her, earlier in the day, about black ice and weather at home. Thank you Kathryn!
Pork vindalo
So what's the catch? It was so good to be here that we started to want more of this good life, home cooked meals - three times per day, watching old movies on TV, warm temperatures, pool and beaches. Mom (helped by Ioan) cleaned the house a couple of times and admitted that she enjoyed it and missed part of it. But besides that, we got lazy. We could have gone to more than three beaches (Anjuna, Vagator and Candolim). We could have seen much more of the attractions of Goa, but we didn't and we even felt that it is OK.
For a moment we even entertained the thought of staying longer and canceling some of our future plans, like the second trip to China. None of us wants cold weather again, none of us wants to get another cold. But it would have been really expensive to change the plans and we agreed that it didn't feel right. Maria, who always wanted to stay in the house and who didn't leave the villa for four days, made it clear to me: no matter where we have to go, we want to get to Guilin and Hong Kong and we will get through it!

So we left as planned...

Bye bye White Square Nirvana! Bye bye Goa!

Ileana, the new dress and the happy vendor
Only in India

Fresh fruit on the beach

Vagator, is getting crowded so we are leaving
New Year's Eve on Candolim beach 
Still having fun, every now and then

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