Well, it lives up to the hype. It’s truly a beautiful place.

Goa countryside

The Goan countryside, taken from a bus on my way from the train station to Arambol

Weather, pace of life, food, personalities, and of course, the beaches. They combine for a state of being that can easily be called blissful and defended as such.

I am in a little town called Mandrem, which is more well known locally as Madlamaj. It sits a bit south of Arambol and is right next to another little town called Aswem. Mandrem is a two-blink town: the town center is a couple blocks long, with a couple side streets of a block or two each built up with additional shops, and then it’s back to small houses and trees. Mandrem has some nice beachfront, much like Arambol, and next door in Aswem there are many more nice beaches. Actually, when it comes down to it, Goa is pretty much just full of nice beaches. (Although they’re not all great experiences; for example Baga Beach would be more aptly named Litter Beach. Unfortunate :/ ) You can – and if you come to Goa you should – walk from Aswem to Arambol on the beach, which takes about 45 minutes. Yep, walking the beach for 45 minutes, and you could keep going if you wanted to.

Center of Arambol on a bright morning

Center of Arambol on a bright morning

Arambol is a groovy little town with a bit more buildup than Mandrem, but still a quiet little town all in all. Arambol is one of the original hippie destinations from the 60s, the travels of these counterculture voyagers unwittingly making the first lasting inroads of tourism to the area that would strengthen over the next half century and eventually put it on the map as the tourist destination that it is today. And it still holds this history near and dear to its heart: every evening – yes, every evening – around sunset there is drumming on the beach, people dance, smoke cannabis, imbibe in the local spirits, and generally have a groovy and relaxing time as night falls.

There are a lot of tourists in Goa. It’s the high season, so that makes sense, but still – wow! I think I see more tourists and semi-permanent foreign residents here than locals. A buddy in Mumbai told me that there are more foreigners in Goa than there are local Goans, and another buddy told me that’s not true, but even if it’s not, it’s probably pretty close. (I’m almost positive there would be no way to get an accurate count one way or the other.)

My time here in Goa will be mostly or all spent doing a work exchange at a yoga resort called The Mandala. The place is simply awesome. I cannot say enough about the staff, the facilities, the location, and the atmosphere that everyone here strives to cultivate, guests included. Work exchanges can be dicey, and they are a bit hit-and-miss, particularly if you are not careful to clarify into very specific terms the nature and scope of the work that you are exchanging and what you get in return. They’re also a bit of a guessing game for hosts, because they never know who or what they’re going to get until the worker is there and a bit of time has passed.

This is my first work exchange, likely not my last, and even without other experiences as context I know this is one of the best opportunities out there. The owner is a wonderful man and his staff are a tight-knit, carefully selected crew full of good people. The work is a bit on the heavy side timewise for the avverage work exchange: a rule of thumb is 25-30 hours per week over five days in exchange for two or three meals a day and a roof over your head seven days a week. This is about 35 hours per week over six days per week, so only one day per week off. So a bit more heavy than the going rate. But then, this is Goa, we’re less than ten minutes walk to some off the nicest beaches in the world, the food is always good and often great, the staff is groovy, the accommodations are groovy, and best of all, for the most part the work is also groovy. All in all this is about as good as it gets when it comes to work exchange, methinks.

The Mandala Resort, all lit up for a little evening shindig

The Mandala Resort, all lit up for a little evening shindig

Average day:

Wake up at 7am to the breeze rustling the thatched roof of my yurt and think that it’s raining because it sounds exactly the same (so much so that the owner of this place, who has been coming to Goa for twenty five years and living here the last eight is still fooled regularly).

Meet my Welsh work exchange mate Jackson outside at 7:15, grab a surf board and a couple bananas, and hit the beach. Surf for an hour, hour and a half.

If we’re not surfing for some reason then I get up and either wait for yoga at 8am and do that for 90-120 minutes, or go eat breakfast.

Come back from surfing, shower and eat breakfast, which consists of oatmeal with granola and honey, fresh fruit, fresh squeezed pineapple or watermelon juice, an egg sandwich, and masala chai.

Work from 9:30-10:00 to noonish-1pmish on site work, currently sorting the tools and supplies area of the property which is pretty well disheveled at the moment. Once this is done I’ll do an inventory of the tools and their condition, service tools that need it, put together a buying list for a few tools that the place needs, and then start building the owner some shelves and cabinets. Very much looking forward to that.

Eat something like more breakfast, or not, and go to the beach or go into town and get something yummy like a fresh squeezed cane juice, a samosa, or maybe a pound of coffee and a block of vanilla ice cream for making iced coffee a la mode every afternoon (just a hypothetical, totally didn’t happen).

Mid-afternoon, either come back and work 3-6, or come back and chill or do personal work, or stay in town or at the beach, or fall asleep under a palm tree and get bitten by ants (just a hypothetical, totally didn’t happen).

Dinner time, either start an evening shift, or go into town, or basically any of the above things. Or walk down to Arambol and chill at the drum circle.

Night time, hang out at the bar, shoot the shit, eat curry until rice is popping out of my ears, do some personal work.

Current Goa to do list:

Vsit Mapsa/Mapusa, a small city about a half hour away, hopefully on a Friday or Saturday. The Mapsa market is big, and it’s a market for local people, not tourists. Someone described it as shades of a mini-Mumbai, in the sense that it’s busy, packed, and there’s pretty much everything you could want or need all right there. Looking forward to that.

Visit the Saturday night market in Arpora. It’s a tourist market, and you only go there to shop and spend money, which I won’t be doing, but it still sounds like a blast. There’s good food and lots of people. Camera and F1.8 lens will be present.

Visit the clubs in Anjuna and Calangute. Or not, don’t really care one way or another. If I make it there then so be it, of not than no big whoop.

Visit a few more beaches. So far I’ve seen the stretch from Aswem to Arambol, and as big as that is, it’s a small section of the Goa coastline.

Get on a surf board. I guess this can wait until Indonesia, especially since the waves here aren’t anything special, but maybe it’ll happen. Probably not since the surf shops want 1000rs. per hour? Srs? Edit: done, thanks to our man with the plan Jay, a close friend of the owner here who keeps a board on site and is leading a ten-day retreat with no time to surf. Thanks for the tips Jay!