Planet   Backpacker
  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier
  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier

The party scene never ends at Anjuna Beach in Goa

Anjuna Beach, Goa, India, Planet Backpacker
A tough day in the market for an Anjuna vendor.

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  Dinner is garlic prawns and a barmundi filet at a grill overlooking the Indian Ocean as the sun goes down.  Goan trance music plays in the background and the food is delicious far beyond the usual seafood.

   Must be Goa!

   This is a return trip for me and a thrill to take Jnette around to my old haunts of four years ago such as Bobby's Shack, where i had several happy meals back when. We happen to arrive here in time for the Anjuna Flea Market which brings hundreds of vendors to a place by the sea every Wednesday.  A huge brahma cow with 20-inch horns ambles along with us as we stroll the market.  Jnette gets a new skirt, embroidered and dotted with mirrors, Indian-style, along with a necklace (50 rupees -- $1) and some silver hoop earrings with semi=precious stones.

   We can't compete in the freaky looks department with the hippie crowd who fill the market, many of whom are European expats who've lived here for years.  They've established their own clothing lines, which take up a wing of the market.  A German woman in her 50s strolls around the market in a pink tutu and knee-high cowgirl boots and the sliced-up tee shirt is popular, along with the usual dreadlocks and tattoos.

   We're staying at the Laguna Anjuna, a sprawling maze of a place about half a mile from the beach which looks like a cross between a monastery and a hacienda with lush floral landscaping.  This whole coastline is one big party with beach bars and thousands of tourists lounging on the beach for miles.

   There's trouble in paradise, however; since the Russians started coming here three years ago, the Brits and other Europeans have stayed away in droves.  It seems the Ruskies have a bad reputation on the manners front and even the locals aren't too keen on them because they tend to not spend much on anything but getting drunk.  We've only noticed bad behavior on one occasion, some asshole smoking a cigar at a restaurant in Ubud.  So far the Russians are okay with us.


                     ***

   A 12-mile hike down the beach from Baga past Calangute to the old Portugeuse fort of Aguada takes us past tens of thousands of tourists lounging in sun chairs or playing by the surf.

    Most of them are young Indian men in their teens or early 20s.  Less than 1% (if that) are women.  The men strolling along hand-in-hand or dancing together in beachside clubs makes you think you're at a massive gay festival.

   "Why aren't there any women here?" I ask a waiter.

   "The men all take buses here for a holiday," he says.  "The women are afraid to come."

   At first i think i've misheard him and ask again, "Where are their girlfriends or wives?"

   But this makes him uncomfortable and he doesn't get where i'm coming from.

   The upshot is that India is the most male chauvinist society this side of Afghanistan.  On the planes you see nothing but businessmen -- virtually no women.  And i've observed other entirely-male gatherings in places like Little India in Singapore.  Women, it seems, are excluded from having fun at the beach -- their job is to stay home with their papooses.

                  ***

   We have a final dinner by the sea in Anjuna and then stop by Hippies, a big dance club and beach bar which has hundreds of wanna-be hippies, many of whom are the real deal with waist-long dreads, elaborate beads, piercings and tattoos.  We dance for a bit beneath a green laser to the trance music and marvel at the flaming fire pots filled with hot coals that are hanging overhead in the byways.

    Many of the merchants in this town ask if we want to buy drugs -- marijuana, hashish, pills -- not likely.

   Later, we head for our hotel to enjoy a minor miracle; Graeme, a vocalist with UB 40 stages a live show on the patio and he's fantastic, singing reggae and ska tunes and playing a small trumpet over a mix of pre-recorded tracks.  Perhaps it's not so surprising he's here, being a Brit -- many come for the entire winter.

   Most of the tourists rent motorcycles or mopeds, but we've stuck to hiring local taxis.  For one, people who'd never dream of risking their necks back home get a bit bike-crazy when they're down here, rocketing around the blind curves on narrow lanes amid traffic that has to be experienced to appreciate.

   Plus, we feel better about supporting the local cab drivers.  One young Indian on the beach asks how the economy is in the U.S. and i tell him it's growing much faster in India.

   "Yes, but here only the rich are getting richer and the poor stay the same or worse," he replies.

   "Yes, same as in the U.S."



Hazards, warnings, danger, crime, etc.: As in the rest of India the greatest danger one might face in Goa is getting run over by a car.  The rules of the road are seldom followed (if they are even known) in India, with traffic coming from any and all directions.  Many Westerners rent motor scooters for their stay in Goa and flit amid the traffic on the state's narrow roads without much of a care. Consider getting a helmet if you go this route.

   Otherwise, you will surely be offered drugs at some point in Goa, especially if you are a young backpacker.  Caution is advised, especially if you intend to buy anything in the way of a quantity:  be sure to read the chapter about life in a Mumbai jail in the novel "Shantaram" before you pull that trigger.

India, Anjuna Beach, Goa, Planet Backpacker
A typical day on the beach at Anjuna.
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