The Journey Begins ~ India 2023

Karin and I board the Delta ~ KLM flight from Boston to Amsterdam an hour before departure. My new Osprey backpack, which I chose for its compact profile, already feels heavy. The plane fills slowly, and we find there are many center rows completely empty, so once the plane is aloft, we snag a row each and plan our rest. After a quick dinner, I make a pile of pillows, cover myself in a blanket, and I’m out. This is only flight one of eleven we’ll take in six weeks, so four hours of uninterrupted sleep is a blessing on the beginning of this journey.

As we approach Amsterdam, the neon red sun is rising. I catch this snap as we taxi to the terminal:

Our 5-hour layover begins with a black coffee and a perfectly crisp croissant with butter and jam. We chat for a bit, then find a nook to sit and check emails. I lay down on the green vinyl couch and fall fast asleep. Karin has to shake me to wake me. Our departure gate has changed, and by the time we get there, it’s a pile up. Our section is already boarding, and we are miles from the top of the cue, so we wiggle up and pass through. Thank goodness. It’s a full flight and the overheads are bursting long before boarding is complete. I am in a window seat behind Karin with two Indian men to my left. It’ll be 8 hours to Mumbai on the inside, and I know I’m going to have to pee at least twice on this flight, so I make friends with my neighbor, Rajat, who immediately asks if I’ve been to India before, followed by his wondering about my favorite Indian meal. He tells me to try Pav Bhaji and Vadapav. I write it down, and a few minutes later ask if I can get by to go to the restroom.

We touch down in Mumbai on time at 2:15 am, but the plane is chockablock full, so it takes an age to disembark, and by the time we get to customs, the lines snake around in long coils and don’t seem to be moving. We have 3 hours ‘til the next flight, so neither of us is concerned, but then we learn our connecting flight is taking off at a different terminal requiring a taxi or bus ride. Karin asks a customs attendant about the wait line and if there is a way to expedite our getting through to our connection. We are directed to a different line with a half dozen or so people ahead of us (which was like a dream when looking back on the crowd of easily a thousand travelers all waiting in the snake coil). 

Ahead of us is a couple who can’t seem to get through customs. They have to do their fingerprint images over and over on the little machine. The customs agent barks commands. By the time we get up there, another 15 minutes have gone by. No movement in the coil to our left. Three tries and my fingerprints are finally accepted–I’m through! Then Karin. We literally take off through duty free, which forces you to wander in a zig zag through chocolate and perfume. People stroll leisurely, but we need to book it, so we carve our way through, and sprint out of the main terminal to the bus lot. The driver and baggage attendant care nothing about our attempt to make our connection, and in fact say we have “plenty of time,” but by now it’s 4 am and our next flight is at 5. No worries, I tell myself as Karin and I sweat in the pre-dawn heat. Another 15 min, and the bus finally pulls out, packed full with foreign nationals just like us all trying to catch connections. 

By the time we get off the bus, the “Go First” check in line is out the door. We report to the ticket counter, and the receptionist tells us the gate is already closed, but tells us to “cut the line,” and get to the front fast. No one bats an eye as we again maneuver our way through the thicket and up to the MP checking passports and boarding passes. Karin doesn’t have an official pass, and I don’t have a seat declared, so once we are through, we run to the next counter, cut the line, and the girl calls the final gate to hold what we think is the boarding gate while she prints us tickets. Another sprint, and we are directed to get on another bus (yes, another bus), which takes us ALL the way back to the International terminal to board our domestic plane. We had literally left the main terminal 90 minutes before, took a 10 min. ride to the domestic terminal, only to get a boarding pass and get back on a bus to our origin point. Only difference is that we board the plane on the tarmac. The most ridiculous time wasting travel situation I’ve ever seen. And this is normal. Once we are in the air, I look back to see the lights of Mumbai over the wing.

An hour later we arrive in Goa as the sun rises and our cab driver, Sarvesh, greets us with a smile and immediately takes Karin’s pack, and off we go. The air is thick with dew, and we drive into the morning with the windows down. Statues of Ganesh and Shiva sit on the dash, so I know we’re in good hands.

Sarvesh takes us to the pathway to our hotel in Mandrem, but it turns out to be a different place than Karin remembers from her previous trip, so we get back in the car and proceed to Morjim. The hotel is under new ownership and has a new name, but we stay anyway, and decide to give it a try.

Morjim is a bustling little town with beach bars and seaside restaurants that open onto the sand, and although our quiet little retreat is on the other side of the busy street, once the heavy bass beats begin at 1 pm, we quickly realize we’ve landed in the party zone.

The beach is lined with shade huts and chaises upon which are scantily clad sunbathers from Russia. They clearly own the beach; even the street signs and menus are duo-lingo Indian and Russian. By the time we lay down our heads just after 8 pm, the music is full tilt across the street. Regardless, I fall into a deep and long sleep. 11 hours later we awake to sunshine and crows. It’s our goal to practice yoga at least once a day, so we head to the shala, roll out a pair of mats, and practice as the sun rises. It’s hot by 8:30 am. We finish with a half hour meditation, then head to breakfast.

Our waiter brings us a bowl of fresh fruit: watermelon, kiwi, strawberries, pineapple, and dragonfruit. We order masala omelets and share a plate of aloo paratha. Oh and an espresso, which I mix with a cup of hot water to make a short Americano–just enough to brighten me up on this beautiful morning in Goa.