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.

Agonda Diaries – week two

After the seismic activities of last week in Agonda, it’s been a fairly calm and restorative one. Partly because I’ve slipped back into doing morning yoga at Sampoorna Yoga School and using the office there a few mornings a week. It’s lovely to feel part of the yoga village again, and to catch up with a few yogi friends.

A dog that used to run in and out of class during my training has now been adopted by the school – it’s a bit sad to see him chained up in the morning, but I can see why he is. His unbridled joy when he’s let loose towards the end of breakfast time is a sight to behold – he sprints round and round the restaurant.

It’s taken a while for my beach dog pack to realise who I am again, but finally Sanjo and Zimbo (who live at Jardim do Mar on the beach) have resumed their customary massive run at me every morning and follow me down the beach. They caused a bit of doggy mayhem by following me all the way home this time, upsetting the dogs that patrol the main street outside Kopi Desa – Zimbo looks so upset when I don’t ‘save’ him from them as any good pack leader would.

Sanjo and Zimbo – the highlight of every morning on the beach

After last season’s dog bite, I’m not taking any chances, so I carry a bamboo stick in the morning on my beach walk. That’s the time when the dog population of Agonda is at its most lively and whilst they’re probably playing with me, sometimes that play turns into a biting match. They’re quite rough with each other, so you can see where it comes from. The stick works as a preventative measure – I don’t intend to start using it, but it seems to ward off unwanted attention just by having it. Even my pack are a bit wary of it.

One of the highlights of this week was walking past my two pig neighbours who were fast asleep and making cute snuffly noises. I heard that their piglet had died in a bike accident so I hope they managed some trouble-free sleep. Bless them…

Sleep well, Mr and Mrs Pig

This week I’ve witnessed the early morning catch a few times, when the fishermen of the village pair up to drag the nets in by man-hauling them ashore. I’ve only ever seen them when the nets are already in and on the beach so I didn’t know that this is what they did each morning. It’s like watching a silent tug-of-war as two teams of men haul each side of a net in to the beach.

One of two teams of men hauling in each side of a net, watched by dogs – 7am

The full moon earlier this week caused some really strange happenings on the beach. One on day, the tide seemed to be sucked right out all day only to be thrown back at the beach at sunset. Even Vasudev was worried about his boat – I saw it pitch violently as it came back to shore on the crest of a big wave. I knew it was a tidal thing, but it did an the eerie pre-tsunami feel to me.

The town has been very quiet in the wake of the cyclone and the demolitions that took place last week and I have spent some time fighting the scaremongering that’s going on about Agonda online. “It’s a war zone,” said one British guy, annoying me so much because it’s still the beautiful town and beach it always was, just minus his favourite bar. I can see people talking about not coming here because of what they’ve heard and it makes me so angry – Agonda needs the tourist business more than ever and people are so ready to desert it just because their favourite bar closed. I am pretty sure it will have recovered by Christmas.

Yet again I’ve met some interesting people this week. Peter the ex-teacher and psychologist who has a particular interest in left- and right-handedness, swam with me for a bit at ‘rock beach’. He talked to me about the ‘tyranny of the right’ and how we are all unconsciously persuaded to use our right hands to write. Being a leftie I am so glad my parents let me use my left hand after a short period of ambidexterity as a child. I think they did that because my uncle had been left with a stammer after being forced to use his right hand as a child.

At Sampoorna I’ve also met Meritxel and Adri from Spain who are running Yoga Sin Fronteras (Yoga Without Borders), a non-profit organisation bringing yoga to disadvantaged people around the world. I’m so impressed with their drive and optimism, I’ve been lending an editorial hand on their website. It’s one of those ideas that you think should have been done already. The best ideas are always like that.

And finally, I can reveal that I have found a Secret Swimming Location. I have found it difficult to swim in the sea so far (dolphins spotted right at the shore’s edge this week!) because of the huge full moon waves and general fear, but I have been granted access to a small pool where I can practise my new swimming skills in peace. I’m not sharing the location because technically I’m not supposed to be there, but boy, I’m glad I am. The water is freezing cold and when I float on my back I can see a circle of palm trees and eagles (they look like kites) soaring above them. Perfect after a hard day at the office…

Agonda Diaries – week one

I think we can safely say that this has been rather a dramatic week, and not only because I have uprooted myself from my London home to move to Goa for six months.  

When I got here, Cyclone Kyarr had just departed the shores of Agonda and has left the beach strewn with debris. I have read that it reached the intensity of a category 4 hurricane, and is the strongest storm recorded in Goa for twelve years. The winds reached 155 miles per hour.

I spoke to the boys at the local bar, Kopi Desa, and they said they hid from the storm at Love Bites, my new cafe find. Despite three earlier visits to Agonda, I never went in there because of the name. Now I find that it’s a perfect bohemian hang-out, complete with rooftop chill area, and the cheapest good Thali in the area at 200 rupees. Waiter Umesh saved a small puppy from the storm, Ocean, giving me another reason to use Love Bites as a remote office.

Umesh and Ocean

Little did I know that there would be another cyclone hitting the town in the form of 200 policemen and women with a number of JCBs, set to demolish twenty-two illegal shacks on the beach. For anyone who tells me that Goa isn’t the real India, well let’s just say I’ve seen the real India this week. I’m not going to discuss the whys and wherefores here, but the town is still in shock. The threat of this has hung over Agonda since I’ve been visiting but, as a local friend told me, no one expected it to happen. It’s the first time in twelve years of working here that they’ve seen anything like it.

If all of this devastation wasn’t enough, I arrived with my own mini-cyclone in my stomach, picked up at Oman airport in a suspicious frittata. It’s always bad eggs with me – I once thought I was going to die from one in Kenya. I spent my first night hunched over a toilet, moaning in agony. Still, I thought, at least I’ll be beach-body ready.

Having recovered from that, I’ve set about reconnecting with all my friends here – Vasudev who runs Tranquil River Tours; the boys at Kopi – Shubham, Ram, Kapil, Shiva and Manoj; Mr Happy at Agonda Villas; Dinesh, Binesh, Ajay, Malika, and Manish from Simrose; Sudhir and Veena from Sampoorna Yoga School, and Gita who has her own stall near Kopi.

One of the joys of staying here is how many conversations I get to have every day. I can be in London and know my friends are all around me but only properly connect with them on social media or at a pre-arranged time. Here, I physically see people every day and have a chat. It’s part of the ritual. I’m trying to wean myself off my phone so I tend to leave it charging in my room.

And then of course there are my animal friends. I found out from Mr Happy (aka Anandu, which means ‘bliss’), that White Horse, star of a previous blog post, has died. Thank goodness Sweetpea is still here at Simrose, but she is out of sorts. Another beach dog has moved in and taken her place as lead Simrose dog. She is lying sulking under benches every day, because he takes no notice of her barked warnings.

Sweetpea – Queen of Agonda

Zimbo and Sanjo, my pack, are still there on the beach, Zimbo sporting an anti-rabies green marker on his head – he must have been vaccinated as part of the Mission Rabies project here in Goa. Apparently they have vaccinated over 12,500 dogs so far. Having been bitten last year, I’m glad to hear that, but now that I’m running on the beach a few times a week, I have taken to carrying a big stick just in case. It’s usually one dog that goes feral and that’s all it takes.

Coca Cola the cow is still hanging out in bars and cafes in town (I heard another Brit call her ‘CC’ yesterday) and Papaya the grumpy dog is in residence at Kopi. I’ve also spotted ‘Gammy’ – Agonda Villas’ dog with a broken leg, and ‘Phantom’ – the black-and-white-faced dog that hangs out with him.

Coca Cola tries out the vegan food in Zest

I’m now trying to establish a routine that is panning out to be morning exercise – either yoga, running, walking or swimming – followed by late breakfast and then I start work around noon until 4pm. Then it’s time to walk in the evening sun and catch up with everyone on the beach. I work again in the evenings on my writing or editorial projects, depending on what’s going on and the wifi connection. Goa borrows its electricity from neighbouring state Karnataka so it can be an on-off affair, especially during the recent post-cyclone storms.

And of course those wonderful stranger conversations have already started happening. I met Peter at the swimming beach (south end) yesterday, a former teacher and child psychologist who told me about his work on left- and right-handedness, and how forcing a child to work with the other hand can lead to disharmony and abnormal behaviours. I spoke about the Ida and Pingala, the two sides of the body we learned about in yoga training – the left being passive, thoughtful, cool, guided by the moon, the right being active, physical, hot and guided by the sun. The goal of yoga (or one of its many goals) is to achieve balance between the two.

Then I met a wonderful young couple at Kopi who had met here – he, a German childcare professional and she, from Calcutta, a film producer. We had one of those conversations that I can only have here. We were talking about what makes Agonda so special and he said it was something about it’s reflective quality, a mirroring of yourself. I laughed and said I’d come to exactly the same conclusion and I’d talked a lot to my therapist about the reflective quality of the light here. There is something in it that shows you who you really are or who you could be and it makes you rethink everything. It’s hard to articulate but all who come here seem to know what it is.

I have twenty-five weeks here, and have completed one, and I intend to post a diary entry every week. I hope you’ll join me on this adventure. I’m not sure what will happen after the six months are up but I’m sure Agonda will show me the way.