Agonda Diaries – week 14

This has been a week of reconnecting with friends after my Rajasthan week, and looking back on the whole experience. I fell in love with Udaipur so much that I’m going to stay there for a while next season. I need to not be in Agonda for the Christmas drinking season and will arrive here mid-January, when things have calmed down a bit.

Udaipur has little or no ‘ex-pat’ (aka immigrant) British population because it’s not easy to come by booze there, so people tend to pass through to look at the palaces, forts and temples and move on. Of course, I loved it, the chai-drinking culture, white people being in a minority, and I’m not done.

This started a chain of decision-making about my plans to return to the UK this summer and the inevitable question of what I’ll do next. I’ve decided to do a short-ish visit to Shimla-Spiti Valley-Manali before I return so I can suss out the Himalayas as a potential place to stay for a few months next summer. I like the idea of breaking up the year into two- or three-month chunks.

This also started a chain of people insisting on telling me about their own Indian odysseys and either insisting I do what they did, insisting I’ll love the places they loved, or refusing to dwell on the fact that they haven’t been to Spiti Valley, meaning they can’t tell me how much they loved it and how much I’ll love it. As someone who likes her own experience of self-discovery I wonder what compels people to follow in another’s path. I just need my Lonely Planet, not a trail of other people’s favourite restaurants. After Pushkar, which I disliked when most of my friends loved it, I’m going to blaze my own trail (and burn the evidence behind me).

I came back to Agonda to find the sand shelf on the beach had reformed, after apparently being flattened and then created again after a couple of stormy days. It hasn’t stopped the turtles coming on to the beach to lay their eggs, though – we have seven nests now, and the first lot is due to hatch next week. Watch this space!

We’ve also had a spate of high-tides in which pairs of dolphins have appeared just offshore in the early mornings. I’ve had the pleasure of accompanying one or two along the beach as they surf through what must be shoals of tiny fish.

I also had the pleasure of a day trip with The Most Handsome Man in Goa, who remains in my life in a different way, discovering the tiny Mashem beach near Galgibaga, and going back to Talpona and the little gem Tejas restaurant for vegetable biryani and Hello to the Queen dessert. TMHMIG is brilliant at these days out – the thrill of the bike ride there on coastal roads, playing in the waves, choosing the right food for lunch, and getting me back somewhere lovely to watch the sunset. I always feel the happiest I’ve been in years during and after one of these ‘dates’.

He also had to deal with the bothersome regular occurrence of Indian Boys With Cameras, who inevitably turn up right behind us whenever we find a deserted beach. Two of them popped up as we were in the water, putting their stuff right next to ours on the beach. I was fuming. They must have seen the steam coming out of my ears and one of them waded in to ask us if there was a problem? Yes, I said. You’ve got this whole massive empty beach, and you’ve chosen to put your stuff right next to ours. Plus I’m sick of being trailed by Indian Boys With Cameras. We’re on a roadtrip from Hyderabad, he said. We’re just taking pictures of the location. He probably did get a couple of pictures of us but I liked that he came to check everything was ok. The one thing that is a certainty in India is a gang of boys with phones, drones and cameras. That is the biggest problem I face in India. Maybe people just like to herd. I prefer to leave the pack behind…

Talking of packs, I got bluff-attacked by a pack of dogs by the river in Agonda last night. I didn’t take my stick because I wasn’t expecting a flat, wide beach to run on, and simply took my chance. To all those people who make fun of me for carrying a stick – you try being surrounded by ten dogs barking and snarling at you, while all the humans stand around not doing anything to help. They seem to get more feral when the weather is cooler for some reason. Even Sanjo is leaping up and scratching my arms with his claws.

This weather is reminding me of British summer – cool mornings and evenings and warm days… I can’t wait to experience the real thing in May…

Agonda diaries – the Rajasthan edition (week 12/13)

Dear reader…

I didn’t file a diary entry for week twelve because I spent most of it wondering which end to put near the toilet (bad shakshuka) and trying to complete an urgent work deadline. Thankfully, both things were finished by the time I left for my trip to Rajasthan last Thursday.

The purpose of the trip was twofold – firstly, to experience the Jaipur Literature Festival, the biggest book show on earth. Apparently over 400,000 people visit it each year, and as it’s free to the general public, it’s one of a kind. I don’t know why, but I thought it was going to be like Frankfurt or Bologna – both international trade book fairs, but of course, the clue is in the name. It’s a book festival, like Edinburgh. But oh, the calibre and diversity of the panels. I realised that I have never been to a book event without working at it and it was so glorious to be a punter. I sat and listened to Madhur Jaffrey, Elizabeth Gilbert, Lemn Sissay, Howard Jacobson, Jung Chang, Lindsey Hilsum among others talk about writing memoir (highly pertinent to me), fiction and the lives of women. Lemn Sissay was a particular highlight – his emotional intensity charges a room and his story (of being stolen from his mother and placed into ‘care’) is heartbreaking.

Jaipur, unexpectedly, reminded me of Bologna. Huge medieval stone buildings the colour of amber and ochre, hot beverages served outdoors on every corner (chai, rather than coffee), scooters whizzing everywhere, people shouting and gesticulating, and of course, a population of people interested in books. All with added cows and monkeys.

On this whole trip I have been waiting to experience this much-vaunted ‘real India’ I’ve been told about, featuring people dying and defecating on the side of the road. I managed a whole week in Rajasthan, including rural areas, without seeing any of that, and I’m more convinced than ever that what people mean by ‘real India’ is ‘really poor India’. I think there’s a kind of slum tourism at work here, among foreign travellers – a competition to see who can do it more cheaply, and more ‘with the locals’. I find it a bit distasteful, to be honest. To flaunt our relative wealth on a ‘novelty’ trip that others have no choice but to experience isn’t my bag. I travelled by low-cost airline (SpiceJet) and by chair-class train. It was all completely ‘normal’, other than the trains, in particular, being a bit old.

Things are allowed to be old here. There isn’t a need to constantly renew everything every three years in a cycle of perceived obsolescence. If an item is functional, it lives on as itself, without even a fresh coat of paint. If an item isn’t functional, it turns into something else – it’s given a different function, eg an empty oil drum becomes a stool outside a chai bar, a saree/sari becomes a curtain or tablecloth. A Delhi resident I met at the fair said she misses the old recycling culture in her city: “Everything has to be new, now,” she said. “We used to re-use everything but now it’s discarded to make way for the new things.”

I could only feel guilty as this is definitely the effect of Western capitalism. Yet again, I was forced to wonder why we need so many new things in the west when the old things were just as good. I even remembered saying to my ex-husband, who loved fixing things and making them last for decades, “Why would you do that when you can just buy a new one?” Oh how I have changed that tune … I’m horrified at how far I bought into capitalism and for so long.

I loved Jaipur, with it’s palaces and forts. And I realised something – I love cities with Islamic architecture. There is a much higher proportion of Muslim residents in Rajasthan and it’s reflected everywhere from the male-oriented chai/coffee culture and the millions of Mughal-made arched doorways and windows, filled with coloured glass and ornate paintings. In the City Palace and the Amber Fort there are miles of cool stone corridors with small windows opening onto incredible vistas. Everywhere there is another archway to walk through and another coloured glass window or mirrored wall to marvel at.

I stayed at a heritage hotel, with unique, individually hand-painted rooms (Pearl Palace Heritage) and hired a Muslim tuk tuk driver from Jaipur City Exploring, Sharukh, who knew the city like the back of his hand. I loved the crazy driving and the beeping. It’s like a dance – everyone makes room for each other and there is no rage. It just sounds like rage, to a Western ear, trained to hear beeping a horn as an expression of frustration. It isn’t in India, it’s simply, ‘I’m here’ or ‘go ahead’. And it’s compulsory to do it, which is why the backs of lorries say, “BLOW HORN OK”. I’ve always been someone who doesn’t mind walking out in front of oncoming traffic so it suits me here – you have to trust or believe that the person will stop or move round you, and there’s a greater likelihood of that here. I also don’t mind dirt and dust. You can’t enjoy being here if you’re addicted to hand sanitiser…

On the advice of numerous friends, I then changed my plan to stay one more night in Jaipur to go to Pushkar, which was on the trainline towards my next destination, Udaipur. It turns out that most people’s delight in it stems from experiences in India twenty or thirty years ago, because now it feels like a Hindu theme park. I did enjoy wandering through the bazaar down to the lakeside ghats but the best bit for me was getting lost at night looking for a way out to a tuk tuk – I came across a temple doing pooja, with all the bells clanging, drums beating and a priest holding candles aloft outside, gesturing across the lake. I later discovered that the cacophony is intended to remove ‘obstacles’, to clear the mind of distractions. The sound is intended to create the om, the sound of the universe, of the sun. Once I knew that, the frequent nighttime poojas in Udaipur soothed me rather than frazzled my nerves.

I caught the train from Ajmer to Udaipur and loved the whole experience. Big brown leather reclining chairs, the chai man going up and down the corridor, someone popping up to sell power boosters for your phone, even Dominos pizzas from a delivery bag. It’s a completely logical pop-up economy and people are entrepreneurial about it. I met young, male entrepreneurs in all three cities, keen to capitalise on the tourist rupee. They work so hard to give you the best experience they can. And then you find out that they sleep in their tuk tuk, a bit like the north Indian guys in Agonda, who sleep on the tables of the restaurants they work in.

Oh, Udaipur. I’m completely smitten by you. To the point where I’m thinking of staying with you for a while, next season. As always in India, someone randomly popped up to tell me to do it – a Brit who lives there for six months every year. He’d travelled everywhere in India since he was seventeen, and he confirmed that Udaipur is the best place to live. “It combines a city with a village feel,” he said. “And everyone is so lovely.” I couldn’t agree more.

Yet again, I was reminded of Italy. I’m not the first person to make the connection between Udaipur and Venice. The city is set next to two lakes, and there are ghats and boats at various points all around Lake Pichola and Fateh Sagar. Sheikh, the young entrepreneur responsible for the awesome Doctor Cafe in the very cool Lal Ghat area, took me on a scooter safari into the hills and farm villages around Udaipur at sunset. This is where he grew up, he said, living a simple life. I clung on as we whizzed around Lake Badi (Tiger Lake) and the surrounding villages, small children waving ‘hello’ wherever we went. Still no defecation on the side of the road (ok a few men were having a pee), just people living in simple houses, without new things. I guess it might be a relatively affluent area, considering its proximity to the city and I probably saw its produce being sold by the women in the lively vegetable and spice bazaar in the city. The women wanted me to give them pens – I’m bringing them next time.

Because there will be a next time. I’ve fallen in love with Udaipur and I’m not done. I’ve seen most of the sights and I want to go back and truly just dwell there. I liked the noise and the clanging of the tuk tuks and pooja bells. I liked the chai society and the namastes (they don’t say it much in Goa and laugh when I say it, like I’m being an affected yogi). I like the medieval buildings that are simply ageing as they are, happily in their natural state. A bit like me, really.

But before you think I’ve romanticised everything about it, the day before the bazaar visit, people in the city centre were beaten with bamboo sticks by the police for protesting against anti-working class laws (I was warned off going near it and saw someone else’s video). Many of the shops were closed and the temples remained quiet. I’m not stupid enough to think that everything is perfect here, but it’s real and it’s open and I love that about it.

See you soon, Udaipur.

(Note: I stayed at the extraordinarily beautiful Little Garden Guest House in Udaipur, run by the incredibly helpful Akshay. Highly recommended.)

Agonda Diaries – week eleven

This week the cool winds have blown into Agonda, bringing with them a freshness and relief from the unseasonable heat. The weather pattern is about a month late here, and it’s still doing strange things, with monsoon-like waves suddenly creating a huge sand shelf for most of the length of the beach. Dogs, cows and people are teetering on the edge of it, seeing if they can find a way down to the shoreline below.

I hadn’t realised how much I loved and missed a cool wind until this one arrived. It has been truly blissful to walk on the beach, morning and evening, feeling it blowing in my hair and around my body. I see people running each morning, wearing headphones, and I wonder why you would want to intentionally blot out the sound of the ocean and the wind in chorus: nature’s ‘om’. I really don’t get it. You’re missing everything that is beautiful about the world. Mind you, people always used to ask me what I listened to while I was hiking alone in the UK – nature, I’d say. What is the point of blotting it out with manmade noise? Still don’t get it.

It’s been a week of realisations. One – a key one for me – is how important it is for me to be productive. Over the festive period I had a lull in freelance work which would have been great if I’d allowed myself to relax into it and use it as a holiday. Unfortunately I didn’t, and I started to feel really down about everything. I blamed the full moon or the Christmas forced-fun machine, but actually I think it was simply that I wasn’t very productive. I felt every day that I should be achieving something and I wasn’t. Now I’ve had a new block of work and I feel happy again. There is a structure to my days as I plough through it.

I’ve also realised the importance of doing something you’re good at – that you’re fluent in, whilst you’re learning a new skill. I’m loving my yoga teaching but I don’t yet feel completely fluent and confident in it (despite some nice feedback). Plus I’m still trying to master some asanas (poses) that I’d like to have in my body before I teach them to anyone else. Blending the learning experience of teaching with editorial work where I know exactly what I’m doing is great for me. One without the other seems to throw me off somewhat. Yin and yang, I guess. One can’t exist without the other.

One of the biggest realisations of this new year is that I’ve turned from a sunset person to a sunrise person. I remember previous holidays in Agonda, where sunset would be the highlight of the day, as it is for many tourists here. I would order a cocktail and sit and watch the sun go down, along with lots of people doing the same thing on the beach. I felt a sense of hope and excitement for the night ahead – anything could happen, and it did, while I was under the influence of alcohol.

Now I walk the beach during sunset, glancing at it occasionally, but prioritising the walking over the watching. Since stopping drinking I’ve started to think about why so many people turn up to celebrate the setting of the sun when the rising of it is a much more positive thing. I walk during sunrise, now, and I’ve realised that this is a much more hopeful and optimistic experience for me. Why was I putting so much hope into brain-numbed darkness? The morning, the daytime was here all along. The dogs frisky and tumbling over each other on the cool sand, the fishermen sharing out the overnight catch, the boys singing happily in the Simrose restaurant, preparing for the day ahead.

I am a sunrise person and I want to walk in the daylight, not the darkness. Sadly this means that my time with The Most Handsome Man in Goa has come to an end. No more Nighttime Girlfriend.

The sunrise moment does come with some surprises and yesterday’s was finding a dead rat in savasana on the yoga mat outside my door. Marshan the landlord and I concluded that a cat had deposited it there. Thankfully there was nothing there this morning.

In other animal news, there are numerous puppies at play on the beach, enjoying the adventure of the sand ledge, turtle number three has laid her eggs, and both pigs have now been sold. I miss them. I haven’t seen the foal on the beach this week – I wonder if he’s been sold too. If you stay here for more than a month you start to see animals disappear, including Simba from Sampoorna Yoga School and Foxxy from Samudra Surf School. We don’t know where they have gone.

Time to stop writing this and get on with some productive editorial work. I’m really loving it this week.

Words are my thing, it turns out.

Agonda Diaries – week ten

The week started so well, with an overnight stay at nearby Khola beach. They call it paradise and it is, made up of a beautiful beach, a river and shady palms. It’s cooler than Agonda at Khola, and there are no mosquitoes, miraculously. I still haven’t worked out why … maybe it’s the absence of cows…

The Most Handsome Man in Goa joined me there for dinner and then an early-morning jungle walk at 7am. The walk simply follows the river upstream towards the Shree Laxminarayan temple, where I’d previously found the praying Nandi. I loved it, even though it meant wading through shallow water for some of the way. We tiptoed round some small rice fields, misty in the morning light. I could see why the river was so small at the beach end – much of the water has been diverted.

Being in Khola overnight is a bit like being on a Greek island when all the day-trippers on boats and scooters have left. There is just you and the delicious silence – no whirring AC (it’s not needed) or droning mosquitoes to spoil it. It was the best sleep I’ve had so far in Goa.

I had a bit of a dramatic tuk tuk drive over to Khola as we found a couple who’d fallen off their scooter on a dangerous bend in the road. They were from Mumbai. She was in shock – the driver – and and tuk tuk driver was amazing, throwing water in her face to keep her from passing out, and bandaging up her husband’s hands. “I’m never driving a scooter again!” she wailed. And reader, that was the moment that I decided that I’m not even starting. The likelihood of having an accident is really high, based on the evidence I’ve seen so far. Everyone has at least one story and I don’t want one of my own. The tuk tuk driver took all three of us back to Agonda where his friend was waiting to take the couple to the hospital.

In animal news, a new puppy appeared at Agonda Diva resort but promptly disappeared, Coca Cola the cow continues to terrorise Mandala, Zest and On the Way cafes and a second turtle has laid her eggs on the beach. Sweetpea is appearing further and further away from Simrose on the beach and she has met TMHMIG, and they seemed to like each other, despite her preference for white people (they feed her).

I have had another weird week, feeling unsettled and stressed for no apparent reason. I have got a lot of work projects either hurtling towards me or that need wrapping up, but that’s not it. I am feeling in the midst of a transition. I hit my one-year soberversary on Friday and the gulf between me and the drinking set in Agonda appears to have widened. I don’t think you realise, when you’re drinking, that all you can talk about is drinking. And if it’s not the actual drinking, it’s what you and your friends did because you were drinking. I must have been like that. I just can’t take part in it any more and I’ve found myself wondering where I fit in here. I’m not part of the yoga set and I’m not part of the holiday drinking set. My mind keeps wandering back to my hiking tribe back in the UK. I miss them. I need to decide where I am going to be when these twenty-five weeks are up and I think I know that I don’t want to be a permanent digital nomad.

I have booked my first Indian trip outside Goa – to Rajasthan. I will be attending Jaipur Literary Festival at the end of this month, and will then take a trip to Udaipur by train. Palaces and forts – something to look forward to…

Agonda Diaries – week nine

This week has been marked by a series of new beginnings, not just a new decade. The first Olive Ridley turtle laid her eggs on the beach at 4.30am on January 2 and they will hatch in 44 days’ time. I’m hoping I will be there to help them into the sea, as I was earlier this year, watching them waddle towards a light held aloft by the forestry commission official (aka Turtle Guy). They think it’s the moon, and they walk towards the crashing waves with little or no chance of survival. Turtle Guy told me that the odds are one in 100. It’s so moving watching the little creatures be swept up by the waves – a story circulated among tourists that their mother is waiting for them offshore. TG told me bluntly that this is a myth – they’re out there completely on their own. I can relate.

The happy news came through that Captain Nitesh’ wife Ashwita gave birth to a baby girl and I can’t wait to meet her. I’ve bought a pair of the tiniest Ali Baba pants I could find in Gita’s shop to give to the baby. I keep thinking about how lucky this little girl will be to have Nitesh and his family all around her as she grows up next to the river in Agonda. I took a river trip with Mukesh, Nitesh’ brother, and his dad Mangaldas (‘Das’) this week and now I almost feel part of the family myself. I saw another sea otter and a stork-billed kingfisher (apparently very rare). That river trip never disappoints, even though Das had to push the boat through various sections because the tide was so low.

Mangaldas at the helm

Having ended 2019 saying no to being a nighttime girlfriend, I have happily said yes to being a daytime one. New Year’s Eve saw an almost Groundhog Day repeat of the scene two years ago, when I was about to leave the NYE party alone and a certain someone I shall refer to as The Most Handsome Man in Goa (how he was introduced to me) appeared. I figured the universe must be telling me something if he appeared again in the exact same place at the exact same time two years later, and so I heard out his apology.

We have since been on two blissful day dates to Canaguinim and Polem beaches. I have never really had the simple pleasure of walking hand-in-hand with someone along a beach, with them stopping occasionally to take a picture of me (without being asked to do so) and suggesting we stop for lunch somewhere. This week I realised that I never heard the words ‘let’s do this’ from a man I was with. Just the simple acknowledgement that he is with me and wanting to suggest something to do together. ‘Let’s’. Yes, let’s.

The inevitable fly in the ointment is that TMHMIG works evenings in a bar and doesn’t finish until late (which is why I had become Nighttime Girlfriend). I have struggled this week with being the only one in a group of friends who isn’t on a drinking schedule, ie going to bed at 2am or 4am and getting up at lunchtime. I am tired at the normal time and want to go to bed at 10pm, just when the party is getting going. Interestingly, a new member of the group tried to use me as a scapegoat for his own not-drinking. He was told about my alcohol-free state and jokingly asked if I needed to see a doctor. I politely replied that he may be the one to need one (being the one choosing to pour ethanol down his gullet). It turned out that he wasn’t drinking either, and not only that, he was about to go on an alcohol-free retreat in north Goa. Aha I thought – another one of those people who pretend to be drinking and ‘fun’ whilst actively avoiding the stuff and using me as the scapegoat to deflect attention from themselves. But I see you, scapegoater, and I will always call you out. It’s nice not drinking, isn’t it, Noah?

Just putting this here – info via Clare Pooley (sobermummy)

I noticed a similar thing at a work party I attended late last year – people who made a lot of noise and fuss about how much they were going to let rip at the party, and specifically how much they were going to drink. I noticed that on the night, they were the ones to have one glass and then sneak off home. The drunk people didn’t notice. I remember this when I was drinking – the ones you thought you’d be partying with were never there at the end. But by then it was too late for you. You’d taken them at their word and ‘let rip’ but they had only pretended. Now I’m sober, I see these people everywhere. Great that they’re not drinking but not great that they feel they have to pretend to, to fit in.

I’ve been greatly amused this week to see how the various dogs in my ‘pack’ respond when I bring them a little treat in the morning. Sweetpea gently lays hers on the ground while she waits to see if there is another one to be had. Sanjo eats his straight away. But Zimbo carries his a little way off and digs a little hole to bury it in the sand for later. Perhaps there is something a little human in these three responses. I’m definitely a Sanjo. Why wait?

Agonda diaries – week eight!

Yes, it’s my two-month milestone. I can’t quite believe I’ve been here that long! I feel so settled in my big red house that it already feels like home.

The landlord, Marshan, invited me to his family Christmas lunch this week – such a lovely act of kindness. I decided to start the day by going to mass at the local church. Although I’m no longer a practicing Catholic (aka an atheist) I enjoyed it. Going into Catholic churches when I’m abroad is something I like to do to remember my mother. This one was festooned with a pink blousy canopy outside to shade the congregation – Catholicism, Indian-style. I did get quite emotional when seeing a western woman who had trouble walking go up to receive Holy Communion from the priest. She was crying and I wanted to give her a hug. I think I needed one too. Something about Christmas always gets to me – memories of family Christmasses past, and how there will never be another.

I turned up to Marshan’s having bought a painted glass candlestick, which I immediately broke by lightly tapping it against the stair rail. Sigh. Oh well – it’s the thought that counts. However, I later found out that people don’t exchange gifts at Christmas here – the ones under Marshan’s tree were fake. The real gift is food and good cheer, and your presence, not presents. At the lunch I met a woman and her daughter from the famous self-contained, self-run community Auroville in Kerala. It sounds like an interesting way to live – it’s mission is to “realise human unity’.

I found a little bit of human unity in Marshan’s house, as we all gathered, shepherd-like, around Elish, Marshan’s grandson. He is a smiling, gurgling, laughing boy who wears black and white bangles around his little wrists. His chocolate-button eyes made us all go gaga for him.

It’s also been a week of beautiful beaches as my friend Shubham took me back to Galgibaga, another turtle beach with nothing built on it, where we pretty much had the whole expanse to ourselves. The beach is lined with casuarina trees, not palms, affording shade from the blistering heat. We played in the sea, where Shubham found a dragonfly that had been hit by a wave. He held it aloft in his hand, to dry it out and to see if it could be brought back to life – sadly, it couldn’t.

I also paid a visit to Khola (Cola) beach, which I had decided I didn’t like because of a visit I’d made by boat where I was hot and bothered and couldn’t find a shady place to sit and relax. This time I came in through the jungle/river route, fully shaded with palms, and could see why everyone raves about it. People were walking in the river to keep cool – that’s my kind of paradise.

Dog-wise, there is little to say except that there’s a new litter of puppies at the river end of Agonda beach, and I had a little play with one of them who decided to squeal at my feet. Ocean isn’t really a puppy any more – he’s so independent and headstrong now. No more cuddles there. It seems to be crabbing season with the dogs, with so many of them digging each morning, bums high in the air all over the beach. I’m afraid to say that there is now only one pig outside Casa Red Shade. I think one of them went into Christmas lunch…

We’ve had a partial solar eclipse which excited me way more than anyone else, it seemed. At breakfast it went oddly dusk-like, but that was the extent of it. Business as usual on the beach.

After last week’s meditative diary entry, I have continued to have a very thoughtful week. I’ve been musing on the power of the word ‘no’. Women are socialised to be ‘yes’ creatures – it can be so hard to opt out of something you are being asked to do, but don’t really want to. I said ‘no’ to a couple of things this week and the reaction from others was interesting. I was asked if I’d enjoyed my break (assuming I’d said no because I was taking a holiday – nope), if I was stressed or tired (no – I’m just saying no), and asked if I could state exactly when I could say yes in the future (when you ask me in advance). It throws people when you stop saying yes to everything. They try and attach a problem to it – she must be stressed, she must be nervous, she must be tired, she must be depressed. What if she is just saying no?

Once more I have run into the problem of becoming a ‘nighttime girlfriend’. I’ve been here before – the guy I’m seeing has all the daylight hours in the world to offer his friends (or his hangover) but nothing for me. I get the darkness, when I all I want to do these days is sleep. So I’m claiming those hours back for myself and saying ‘no’. I don’t need anyone by my side but the person who might appear there would need to be able to walk next to me in the daylight. To that, I say a resounding YES.

I intend to start 2020 by focusing on all the things I am saying YES to, and there are many. As always, Agonda offers me opportunities that I could never see coming and I now need to balance those with the opportunities hoving into view from the UK. I am loving teaching yoga but also researching and writing about it in blogs. I have become interested in pursuing Hatha yoga (having trained in Ashtanga-Vinyasa) so I think this may be in store for me in 2020. All of this has to sit alongside my editorial work in children’s books which I still love and pursue. It’s quite the portfolio career…

One thing I’ve started this week which I’m about to do when I’ve finished this piece – yoga self-practice. A yogi friend said to me last week that the most important thing was to work on my own practice. For a while I thought he meant in a class, but no, he meant on my own. I’ve been attending classes for so long, I wasn’t sure I had the willpower to do it. But this week I did. And I loved it. I did a Lisa version of the Ashtanga primary series, modified with blocks and straps, Iyengar-style. I felt like I could really focus on my breathing throughout and that I disappeared into a little bubble for an hour or so. So I’m still going to do led classes, but I will intertwine them with a little ‘Mysore’ self-practice too. And sprinkle in a few barefoot runs and swims on the beach for variation.

The mat is calling. Namaste.

Agonda diaries – week seven

People say to trust your gut, don’t they? I say it to people who are in the throes of a decision-making crisis, but so many of us question those pure instincts even when they are screaming at us. I’ve relied on mine so many times but this week I didn’t listen as much as I should.

I’ve had a week where my gut was telling me one thing while my head was telling me what it thought I ‘should’ do, based on what others might choose. I wrestled with the issue for a few days before listening more closely to my gut and realising that it had been right all along. The moment that clarity settled inside me, I felt so much happier, and when teaching my next yoga class, I realised how important it was for me to be happy with myself when passing on the joy of yoga to other people.

I find these moments of clarity most often when I am walking along the beach. For a week or so, I was working for a couple of hours at 6.30am and missing my morning walk to the river and back. On some days I even missed the sunset walk too, and I felt something die a little in my soul. Now I have them back I am feeling so much happier.

It’s so simple, that walk. The mornings are cool, now, and the sand is almost cold underfoot. I’ve found that the sand is warmer where the outgoing tide has just left it, and it feels lovely to walk on it after the cold touch of the dry sand. I like to step on the sandy ‘pouches’ – air-filled sand pockets that I thought contained a sea creature, but I’ve noticed that the waves cause them as they bubble onto the shore. It’s like a game of bubblewrap popping as I walk along – something about depressing one of these bubbles is so satisfying as your foot sinks down into it.

I love that part of the beach where the river waters meet the sea. There is something about the confluence that is calming when you’re grappling with a decision. I stand and stare at it for quite a long time, noticing how the waters flow over each other for a while, trying to compromise.

I’ve also started to run the same way in the evenings, when the tide is further out and there is a wider plain of hard sand. I’ve tried it with running shoes on, which offer stability and mean I don’t have to focus on random rocks or broken glass that might be in the sand beneath my feet. This week I tried it barefoot and it was actually lovely. I think I’m going to do that more.

I made a pact with myself to only run the beach if it feels good and if I can smile while I’m doing it. So far, so good. People seem perplexed as to why I carry a long bamboo stick when I walk and run – if you’ve been bitten by a beach dog you know that a stick is a great preventative measure. I don’t intend to use it – it seems to be enough that I am carrying it. Also Zimbo and Sanjo are less likely to jump up when I’m carrying it, I’ve noticed. A small win.

I worked out that Agonda is at least 50% down on its usual numbers of seasonal tourists, purely based on the numbers turning up to the drop-in yoga classes I attend. This time last year, they had two shalas full, running simultaneous classes. This year it’s just the one, and even that’s not full. I’ve noticed that some visitors feel the need to decamp to a busier place, but a quieter Agonda makes me want to stay here even more.

Of course it’s not great for those people running businesses, but my attempts to give prospective visitors some information about Agonda being open for business met with some criticism in a local Facebook group so I deleted the list and came out of the group. Sometimes people reject help and I have to accept it. Sometimes people like to cluster around negative comments and I have to accept that too. Thankfully some people really appreciated the list and approached me by direct message to glean the information.

My policy to date has always been to tell the truth about a situation, to present a scenario exactly as it is, no sugar-coating, no beating around the bush, but I have found that while most people seem to appreciate the honesty, others can’t bear to hear the words, often specific words. An interesting response to my Facebook post was that I ‘shouldn’t’ have used the word ‘demolished’ with regards to properties on the beach that have actually been demolished. Despite weeks of the word ‘demolished’ being used over and over again on every social media outlet with regard to Agonda. And me, warrior-like, trying to stop people describing this beautiful beach as a ‘war zone’. I say the word ‘demolished’ for the first time and suddenly it’s not ok.

You live and learn.

Agonda Diaries – week six

Whenever people say to me, “You’re living the dream! I’m so envious!” I always reply by saying it is possible to feel sad in paradise. Believe me, I’ve experienced it all over the world. I’ve cried on beaches in Thailand, Costa Rica and Egypt. Somehow these palm-fringed locations make a feeling of sadness or loneliness stronger because you’re not meant to feel those things here. But you can, and do.

I haven’t had a terrible week, I was just feeling sad and a bit lonely last weekend for reasons I won’t go into here. I started to do that thing of ‘wandering the earth’ that I do back home when I’m feeling like this, but this time the earth was simply Agonda. And then, just as I was at my lowest ebb, a motorbike came wobbling towards me carrying my friends Hannah and Dave and their precariously balanced luggage and guitar. It was so good to see them I nearly knocked them over with hugs on the street. They are just such great people – nice and normal. They love dogs as much as I do. Thank goodness for Hannah and Dave.

As well as his guitar, Dave has brought his harmonica and when he spontaneously began to accompany Taylor the guitarist at Silent Waves resort, it was a beautiful moment. He played along with guitarist Willem to Mr Bojangles – a song with such poignancy. I felt so proud of him as he shyly took to the stage. It takes guts to get up there.

Part of the reason for me feeling so discombobulated is that I’ve started teaching public yoga classes. I watched Dave get up on ‘stage’ (aka a raised bit of sand) and tried to channel a bit of his bravery. I think it’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done – preparing and teaching a class full of hopeful yogis. I tore myself to pieces beforehand and during the classes, feeling sure people would just leave or pick me up on something I’d got wrong. It turned out the only person who wanted to leave or criticise me was myself.

I’ve had so much encouragement from my friends at Sampoorna – hugs and kind words and “it’ll be fine” times a million. I’ve also had one or two people returning to my classes – thank you Daniela and Uwe. I have resolved to keep going and ‘screw my courage to the sticking-place’, but this whole week I’ve felt very emotional and I’ve hardly slept. There’s been another full moon, too. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

I haven’t spent as much time on the beach this week, but when I have it has more than delivered. Firstly sunsets to die for and secondly a sea otter, who emerged near Simrose last Wednesday at 8am, and swam all the way along the coast to its rocky home, accompanied by me alongside (walking, I might add). He, or she, swam silently by people in the ocean who didn’t notice they were sharing the ocean with such a glorious animal, and he stopped to come out of the water with a silver fish in his mouth at one point, to eat breakfast. I was pointing him out to people but few were interested. Vasudev (Captain Nitesh the boatman) was as excited as me, though, because he loves the nature in his home village.

I’ve also discovered the delights of Charlie’s street food van by Gita’s clothes shop in the main street. Gita introduced me to Charlie one day when she was having her lunch. I was persuaded to come back for a snack lunch the next day and sampled an omelette and bread roll for 25 rupees. The next day I had bhaji with bread roll for 50 rupees. Both were delicious and Charlie is so lovely. I like that you stand and chat with him while you eat. He’s there all day from 7.30am to 10pm at night serving delicious food. And for someone on their own, this is a way of bypassing the awkwardness of sitting somewhere on your own. I sense that I’ll be going to Charlie’s cart a lot from now on.

In dog news, Sweetpea has been spotted on the beach again and again, and I’ve just left her in the company of a Portuguese family, being fed titbits. It’s so lovely to see her out and about again. The old Sweetpea has returned. Zimbo and Sanjo are still my pack, but I saw Zimbo cosying up to a group of people at Jardim a few days back so I know I share him a bit.

Papaya, the Kopi Desa dog, has started to walk up to me for a cuddle whenever I stop by, after years of ignoring me. Same with Jerry (Gary? the jury is out on which name it is) at Simrose. He’s ignored me for years (apart from sitting outside my Simrose hut two Christmasses ago) and suddenly he’s butting my legs with his head. I don’t know what’s caused the change but I love it. More dogs to cuddle for me.

Ocean is growing bigger and stronger every day and now sits on the beach to watch the sunset with his human and canine friends from Love Bites. I saw the election news from back home and cuddled Ocean to remind myself that beautiful, innocent things exist in the world.

I have decided that I won’t let the news get me down. I won’t let it fill me with negative thoughts and feelings of helplessness. I will simply strive to live a life that is as good as it can be. Many people have been quoting Gandhi on Twitter and Facebook: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I’m not sure if he said those exact words, but that’s what we were taught in our yoga teacher training at Sampoorna because it’s part of Indian philosophy (otherwise known as Hinduism). It’s all you can do when it comes down to it – be in control of your own thoughts, words and actions.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve hit my 11-month soberversary this week and the fact that I almost missed it shows how much I’ve moved on from my drinking lifestyle. I’d rather watch a sea otter in the ocean early in the morning and say hello to a dog named Sweetpea.

Agonda Diaries – weeks four and five

Apologies for the lack of diary last week – I was completing a Yin Yoga Teacher Training course at Sampoorna Yoga in Agonda in week four and wanted to focus my energies on that. Happily I passed my exam and I have taught my first public Yin class.

Yet again I find myself struggling with a new language – this time the slowness and silence of Yin. Not only are students facing the challenge of maintaining stillness in a pose that might bring them discomfort (“find comfort in the discomfort”), but the teacher faces a similar one. Somehow it’s easier to keep talking in a ‘yang’ class – and harder to stay with the silence in yin. I’ve had to learn to pace myself and not try and fill in all the blanks.

I’ve often thought about this when I’m out walking. I love being on my own, listening to the sounds around me, not needing any conversation to keep me going or music to distract me. I see people walking or running on the beach wearing earphones and I think, “what a shame…” It’s the same back home in the UK. In modern life we seem to need so much noise to drown out our silences.

I’ve had much to amuse me on the animal front these past two weeks. During my training I did some washing and hung it up on the line without pegs holding it in place. When I returned my new green leggings were missing (Gita finds these leggings hilarious: “you look like a snake!”). I immediately thought there was a person responsible and started to feel angry. But my landlord came round the corner and cried, “It’s a cow! He stole my daughter’s things!” He pointed in the direction of the church and I made haste – the cow had passed through an hour ago. There were my green leggings squished into the road by the Tuk Tuk area. All the drivers shouted in unison, “It was a cow!” I wish I’d seen my leggings draped on his horns.

Needless to say I’ve asked my landlady to start doing my washing. After the first load I asked what I should pay and Marshan the landlord said, “Pay what you think is right.” I offered 400 rps but it was obviously wrong because he and his wife didn’t answer. I checked the going rate in a few shops and it turned out to be around 200 rps. I went back and offered this. “Too much, 150,” the landlady replied, giving me my change.

Soon after ‘cowgate’ I emerged one morning to find my shoes in disarray outside my door and my landlady returning one of my running shoes. “A dog!” she said, gesticulating at the incriminating sandy paw prints. A beach dog had snuck onto my balcony and nicked my shoe to play with. He’s still visiting, but my shoes are now safely inside.

Simba the Sampoorna dog has also been helping me assist the teacher training at Sampoorna, which consists of running round the shala at 6.30am, barking at monkeys and then settling into a blanket. I knew Simba in his previous incarnations as ‘Midnight’ and ‘Blackie’ the Fatima’s restaurant dog. He could be forgiven for having an identity crisis.

Ocean the puppy is getting bigger and stronger by the day and venturing out beyond the confines of Love Bites. He’s been enjoying the spectacular sunsets we had last week, courtesy of some rain clouds that headed Agonda way. Now we’re into that gloriously cool winter season where you need to wear an extra layer in the early mornings and the sand feels cold under foot where the warm sea hasn’t touched it. I love morning beach walks around Christmas.

I’ve started to try a few different places to eat in Agonda to break my routine. Amazingly, I’ve never been into Mandala cafe right next to Sampoorna so I’ve been getting iced coconut coffees to take away and last week I had shakshuka for breakfast. Put it this way, I didn’t need to eat again until dinner time. And Coca Cola the cow turned up as a bonus.

I’ve also tried the rooftop Fatima’s near the ATM at the crossroads and had the most delicious coriander and chilli naan with paneer tikka masala.

And more recently, I discovered the hidden gem that is Avocado Garden – next to the river in Agonda. I had the most delicious iced coffee and taco lime shrimp salad and even their cooking classes are calling to me (I’m usually not that interested…)

I called in on my friend Doctor Furtado after her clinic had to be rebuilt (it was built on illegal concrete foundations). She remembered me from last season’s rabies shots (I was bitten by a hungry dog). As before, I was seen, diagnosed and prescribed within five minutes of approaching her astro-turfed entrance. I was also told to “be more positive, Lisa” when I told her of my concerns (a skin issue). Ok, then.

Talking of more positive things, Sweetpea from Simrose has been seen once again on the beach. I spotted her early one morning, pottering about near the churchyard. It was so nice to see her back out on the sand – she hasn’t been out much since the incident a year ago where she was badly injured somehow. The Simrose boys think it was by human hand. I’m so happy to see her gaining in confidence and becoming the old, happy Sweetpea again.

Agonda Diaries – week three

This week began with an incredibly colourful visit to Chaudi market. Mr Happy drove me there and I wandered around for an hour or so taking in the sights under its yellow canopy. It was the yellowest place I’ve ever visited, and therefore one of the happiest, filled with stallholders selling every kind of fruit, vegetable and spice, plus a range of plastic goods from combs to soap dishes. Yet again I succumbed to the beaded necklaces and bought three silvery ones to wear on the beach. As you’ll know from previous blog posts, I like a bit of sparkle. They’re £1.50 a strand…

It was all yellow…

Like many people in Agonda, the purpose of my visit to Chaudi was really to use the ATM because the one here is closed indefinitely. Of course the ATM was broken in Chaudi too, so I’m having to use a local cash-exchange place that charges commission. I’m letting it go – it is what it is. Things could be a lot worse.

I’m keeping up my swimming practice at my Secret Swimming Location but I have now added a Not-So-Secret Swimming Location to my portfolio – the Wild Berry Resort just outside Agonda. I had the huge blue pool almost all to myself on Sunday, for three or four hours.

The lovely pool at Wild Berry

When I say ‘almost’ I mean I was accompanied by a huge domestic row between what looked like two guests but I gather they may have had more to do with the management, judging by the staff’s reactions. In extraordinary scenes, a woman beat her partner about the head while two other men stared at their phones nearby. He appeared drunk and she kept shoving a phone in his face, so I took a wild guess and thought he may have cheated. It was actually horrible seeing a man getting beaten like that – imagine if it had been the other way round? Would we have all sat around ignoring it? Thankfully the pair were encouraged to leave the pool area and took their argument elsewhere. Lord knows what happened to him.

Talking of men, I have met two extraordinary ones this week. Sven from Germany, who is the happiest person I have met in a long time, has joined me for breakfast at Simrose most days this week. It turns out that he has never touched a drop of alcohol (“Am I a real German?!”), and he told me he’d ordered a ‘Sex on the Beach’ cocktail the previous night “without the alcohol and without the sex.” He laughs like a drain at his own jokes and it’s infectious. He has two grown-up children and has their faces tattooed on his chest – he obviously has an amazing relationship with them and it’s so lovely to hear him talking about them.

Every day Sven climbs aboard a scooter and explores South Goa and I envy him his freedom. I’m still too scared to ride a bike here so it does mean my daily activities are restricted to Agonda unless I want to hire Mr Happy or a Tuk Tuk. He tells me he’s been mistaken for Bruce Willis by some Russians who asked for a selfie. Cue infectious booming laughter.

Then, as I was writing a piece on men doing yoga for Sampoorna Yoga School, I met Luke, a 35-year-old yoga teacher from Manchester. He’d been taken to a yoga class following a divorce and a period of depression. He now says yoga is a tool he uses to help himself cope in society and teaches other men back home who are struggling to cope, as he once was. He talked about the social pressure on men to be the ‘alpha’, to curb their emotions and act competitively and aggressively. On the yoga mat they can choose to step away from all that. As he spoke, I thought about Sven and his ‘alpha’ appearance, all muscles, earrings and tattoos, but how all of that is undercut by his clear-eyed grin and the way he talks about his children. We need more Svens and Lukes in the world.

My Chicas

I have continued to get to know the pigs who live behind me and have started to call them ‘Chica’ whenever I see them. They seem to like it and honk their approval. I met the guy who owns the house where the pigs ‘live’ and asked them if he had names. No, he said, but he calls them ‘Chico’. I’m not sure if he’d heard me talk to them but I like to think I just guessed their collective name correctly. I also found out that Orson the puppy is in fact called Ocean. I’d misheard Umesh say his name. He’s now got a tiny collar and is running about outside Love Bites cafe.

My name is Ocean!

My early morning walk on the beach was wild this morning. I didn’t have my phone so I can’t show you a picture, but the waves were crashing high onto the beach, almost into the buildings along the shore. I’ve never seen it like that and was told this is what it does during monsoon or just before a cyclone arrives.

Everything is much calmer now so I hope it was just a post-monsoon blip but you never know.