5: A Week in Goa: Climate Strikes, Beaches, and the Dilemma of Trust [Goa, India]

Wednesday, Sept 18th was my first day off from working at Saraya. I took a bus to the main city in Goa, India – Panjim, in order to try to get the Moneygram that this Steven Dixon sent me. He apparently got beat up and lost basically everything, so I was trying to help him get on a taxi all the way to Delhi by giving him a large sum of cash (see blog post #3 for more details). So once I arrived in Panjim, I went to where my hone told me there was a Moneygram office. It turned out to be a Thomas Cook office, which I didn’t think offered it, so after asking around I was directed to a bank, and then after failing at the bank, to the post office. That seemed unlikely to work, but I figured I’d try it. When asking for directions to the post office, I met this guy who was selling really beautiful cloths and tapestries. He chose to help me, leave his shop, and take me to get some money (so I could buy something from him).

Naturally, the post office was a no go, so they directed us to a Thomas Cook, which thankfully had moneygram, but their computers were down, so we had to go somewhere else. I ended up walking around Panjim with him for about 2 hours from bank to office to bank to store, always getting redirected to somewhere that couldn’t help us. The process was sped up quite a bit since he spoke Konkani, they native language in Goa, so he could say very directly what I’m looking for. But even he realized that walking around with me all over Panjim was taking forever, so he took me back to his shop, where his friend could pick me up on a motorbike to save time.

Finally after 2.5 hours we get somewhere that will at least look at my code to see if there is even any money that was sent to me. Though I was trying to stay optimistic about not getting scammed, I finally met my contrary skeptical expectation. The code didn’t work, I tried the other one he gave me, and that too didn’t work. I knew at this point there was nothing I could do except keep trying to contact him in hope that there was some mistake. I did so for the next few days, and no response.

So, I learned my lesson. I wanted to be trusting of people, and lending of help to those who really seem to need it. I believe strongly that we cannot start to create a peaceful coexistence with others if we greet everybody we meet with distrust. Many times, even though you can’t be 100% sure, it is worth it to trust others, for the rewards of friendship and kindness that result from trusting by default are greater than the consequences of having your trust broken every now and then. I am fine losing money or personal belongings every so often, so long as I’m able to have meaningful connections with others in the meantime. That means far more to me than holding firm onto material things, which can come and go at a whim. It’s better exude the energy that creates harmony among people than putting out a cold, unaccepting, skeptical energy, and consequently attracting people who are on a similar negative wavelength.

This isn’t to say that you should blindly trust anyone and everyone. You have to trust yourself first and foremost. When on the edge, lean towards trusting, and let yourself be proven wrong so you can learn. Otherwise, If some people rub you the wrong way, then avoid them. If you feel like something isn’t right deep down in your gut, then act on that, no matter how difficult it may be. This scam was a reminder for me to listen carefully to my intuition, because I did indeed wonder a few times if he was scamming me, but always talked myself out of the idea. My want of the world to be full of good people overtook my grasp of reality, and I paid for it – literally. Still, just because the world isn’t full of good people, it doesn’t mean your world can’t be full of good people.

In fact, my world in Goa with the exception of Steven Dixon was full of good people. Every volunteer at my first Workaway (work exchange program for a free place to stay & 3 meals a day) called Saraya Ecostay was caring and sweet in their own way. Some people I could joke around with more easily, and with others I can have more meaningful conversations. I loved all the different accents I was surrounded with – British, Australian, New Zealand, Mexican, French, and of course many varieties of the Indian accent. Each country has their quirks, and each individual too. I loved hearing Deeksha speak, for she spoke with such passion and humble authority, sounded Indian but with a hint of all of the accents of her previous volunteers.

Each volunteer and employee had at least a few things that set them apart from everybody else. Still, we all functioned really well in sharing a living, eating, working, and chilling space because of what we have in common: A curiosity for new places and people, an appreciation for community living and sustainability, and often at least a handful of yogic values. 2 of our volunteers were yoga teachers, and many others appreciated doing yoga, meditating, and reading, and seeking a stronger awareness of one’s true self.

Quite a few volunteers had done a Vipassana mediation course, where one basically meditates for 10 days straight without talking to anyone, or even making eye contact. They all commented on the difficulty of it, but also said it really changed them. Or if it didn’t “change” them, then they benefitted from it by growing a greater self awareness and achieved a deeper meditation. So after it coming into my life from many sources, event from a coworker named Laura at Wilderness Awareness School before I arrived in India, I’m strongly considering doing this Vipassana mediation in Myanmar, where it originates from.

So, it’s easy to say I found my people in Goa. It was really hard to say goodbye, for what exists there is so special, I’m unsure if I can find any other Workaway communities that can compare to Saraya. Still, I was satisfied with the myriad of adventures I had. I accepted most opportunities to do something new and different when they came to me, and it always was well worth it.

For example, on Friday Sept 20th, I was invited to a climate strike by Deeksha’s son, Zora. He and his friend Isha were the 2 people who organized the whole event. That afternoon while eating lunch after a hard day of gardening/outdoor maintenance work, Zora comes in to the dining room speaking faster and with more zest than usual, saying that there’s currently over 150 countries in the world who are participating in a global climate strike, and that it might be the largest coalescence to advocate for action against climate change there has ever been. There was some chit chat of Goa having a climate strike, but nobody was seriously taking action and putting something together, so he’s doing it. As he kept buzzing about in and out of Saraya, spreading the word of Goa’s climate strike that will take place this evening, Deeksha approached all the volunteers who had already finished work and said that we need help making posters for the event, and we can count this extra time working to the next day’s 4 hours.

So at around 5 PM we hop in Deeksha’s car with a bunch of posters – including one big, long one made out of an old street banner for Saraya that says “GLOBAL WARMING (and underneath) GLOBAL WARNING.” Simple, big, and to the point. I ended up being one of 3 people who held this sign up for the event – right in the very middle and front, where everybody could see.

As soon as we showed up to one of the most well-known landmarks in the heart of Panjim – the Immaculate Conception Church – and sat down, there were already maybe 10 people there. Within the matter of minutes, it doubled to 20. People on the streets start walking up constantly to take pictures. It felt like there was always at least 1 person, and sometimes 5, who had a camera pointed at our faces.

As a white tourist who flew a long way to get to Goa, I couldn’t help but to feel a little hypocritical. My carbon footprint was probably bigger than most other people driving by. Still, I feel passionately that it’s not just some calculation of how much CO2 you put into the atmosphere that determines if you’re being “good” or “bad” to the planet. To me, it matters more the awareness of your actions, and the efforts that one takes to bring about positive change. Mainly, it matters that you make changes big or small to live more sustainably, live by example and encourage awareness of climate change, awareness of the current destruction of nature thanks to our capitalistic societies, and awareness of how to live more in tune with your environment. With this awareness one tends not to consume mindlessly, taking things for granted by wasting food and other products that took a lot of time and energy to produce.

I try to live this way, and even just the simple action of putting a piece of trash in my pocket instead of throwing it on the ground might confuse another Indian who notices and asks why, having some sort of a good impact. You don’t always need to be showing off to the world that we all need to care about how we’re treating the planet (and the lives of ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren). On the other hand, sometimes when the time is right, a strong action taken by the community is needed in order to spread awareness and work towards bigger change on a political level.

And so as the climate strike ensued past the sunset, we sang songs and grew in size, like a magnet that pulls in those passer-bys who feel in their heart that something good is happening here. There were other tourists and locals, even full families with children, who freed their voice in song. We sang “Do it Now” the most, along with the Konkani version, “Ami atanch komes korunk zai.” In addition, there was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, “Get Up, Stand Up” by Bob Marley, “We are the World” (a classic humanitarian aid song), and even some chanting to the tune of “We Will Rock You” – but instead, singing “We want, we want, green Earth, green Earth.”

I had never been a part of any social protest before, and it felt really amazing. Not because I was on Goan TV and the front page of Goa’s news (though I have to admit, that was pretty cool, too), but because I felt a such a bond with everyone else there and was standing up for what I believe in. We all had enough motivation to actually do something about what we feel is right and what we want for our future, and that group of people is going to be very different from any group at a psy-trance party or even a community meeting at a hippie tree near the beach.

By the end of the strike, there must have been at least 70 people, if not 100. Zora, who organized the event, saw nothing like this coming. The musicians showed up unexpectedly with 2 guitars and printed out lyrics to a few songs that we sang, and totally changed the dynamic of the strike. That brought more people in, and gave us something to do other than shouting things to the people on the streets, which really wouldn’t have been my cup of tea. I was really impressed by the way Zora interacted with everyone, in a personal and friendly manner to those who showed up, but when it came time to address the group as a whole, he stood back and let others speak. He didn’t need to make himself feel big or important by saying anything like “thanks for coming to my climate strike.” His actions spoke louder than words.

The next day, Saturday, I rented a scooter/motorbike for the first time. I’ve never driven one of those things before, and people told me that if you can drive in India, you can drive anywhere, because the traffic and lack of respect for any driving laws are so insane. It was intimidating at first, especially graduating from the side street to the main road, but there was no option other than to trust myself. Sometimes it’s fun, other times it’s scary and stressful. Especially at roundabouts.

Regardless, I made it successfully to my destination for that day: Calangute Beach. The sun was shining so brightly off of the waves of the Arabian Sea, I was overwhelmed at first. Especially with so many people around, too. Some were playing volleyball, some cricket, many just sitting and standing by the beach, and quite a few who were waiting right at the edge of where the waves ebb out to, in order to get soaked by the next one. Interestingly, nobody was full-on swimming, so I took that as a sign of danger, and stayed back as well.

But that didn’t keep me from going in up to my knees. And how warm it was! The last time I was in ocean water was in the Pacific Northwest, where it stays around 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit all the time. This must have been 75-80 degrees. I actually wanted it to be much colder, to escape the never-ending heat of Goa, but my wish blew away in the wind. So, I sat down in the sand to just admire the energy of the ocean and all the human life around me, but away from the crowds. After a few minutes a dog came to sit right next to me and asleep, and after another 10 minutes, a human walks up to me and sits down next to me. He offers me a cigarette, and we start chatting for a while. His English wasn’t amazing, but good enough (much better than my Hindi). Varun was from Mumbai on vacation in Goa. A really friendly person, he even told me “you are my new friend,” and video-chatted his girlfriend to introduce me.

We sat together for a while, and eventually started talking about fenne – the local liquor of Goa made from cashew husks. He mentioned having some back at his hotel, so I went back with him and had a small drink so I could still drive my scooter back safely. Afterwards he stayed at his hotel, and I left to go watch the sunset on the beach. On my walk back towards where I parked, quite a few Indians stopped me and asked for a selfie. One group of men who were seemingly all in their 30’s were having a blast swimming (more like kneeling down in the sand and letting the waves hit you), and I figured this would be a good chance to really experience the sea. So I ended up in the middle of 5 other Indians, laughing and taking selfies in the water. Curiously, I could never picture a group of middle aged Americans having nearly as much fun as they were – with no toys like jet skis, no football to throw, no alcohol to binge on, just yourself, your friends, and the ocean waves. That said a lot about the ability that we all innately have to really appreciate the simpler things in life, but often lose it to consumerism.

After exchanging Facebook info and watching the sun dip below the cloudy horizon, I had to ride back to Saraya for the next 20-30 minutes. It was pretty much a straight shot down one road, but I guess some roundabout must have thrown me off, because I ended up way too far north of Saraya after 25 minutes when I checked to see if I was close. Luckily Google Maps tracks your location even when you don’t have service or WiFi, so I found my way back alright, but not without being stuck in really intense traffic. People in India leave no space between the front of their vehicle and you, and especially at night when I can barely tell if there’s a pothole right in front of me, it was really stressful, but never felt terribly dangerous. People here are used to driving like this, having to stop quickly or maneuver around someone like me who is clearly still getting used to the roads.

The day after, Sunday the 22nd, I went back to Panjim with my volunteer friend, Monia, who wanted to try to find some loose rolling tobacco. She is 39, from Belgium but lived in Barcelona for 5 years, and works seasonal jobs at ski resorts in the winter, and more beachy resorts in the summer. It allows her to travel, and meet fellow travelers, while being able to enjoy outdoor recreational activities year-round. She is one of the few volunteers who did the 10-day Vipasana meditation course, and did yoga every day in the morning.

We took my scooter, and ended up going over a huge bridge that doesn’t allow 2-wheel vehicles in the fiasco of trying to find the right road to take into the city… whoops! We parked at the bus station, walked, had some coffee, then some fresh juice, and didn’t end up finding loose tobacco (at least for a decent price). So, we spent the rest of the day exploring the public parks, beaches, and lookout points. It all was incredible: we learned what a bull oak and royal palm tree look like, found some tiny crabs leaving the most peculiar signs on the beach, and saw a fancy-looking swallow with two thin lines coming off of its tall. We also ate some amazing garlic naan bread with a creamy veg soup, a mango milkshake, and basically indulged in the local foods and sights that Panjim has to offer. The main downside was that the monsoon season had finally started to end, and I wasn’t used to it being sunny the whole day, so I forgot to put sunblock on before I left. The back of my neck ended up getting super burnt, and so halfway through the day I started wearing the newspaper that my shot glass was wrapped in over my neck, and tucked it under the straps of my backpack to keep it in place. It worked surprisingly well!

On Monday I rode my bike around to visit some temples and see more of the Goan countryside. By this point I had settled in to a very comfortable life at Saraya of exploring a little bit, working a little bit, and hanging out with the other volunteers a little bit. We’d sit at a bench in the cafe while playing cards, drinking beers, and sharing stories of prior travels or comparing all of our cultural differences. I learned how English is taught more poorly than I previously imagined in France, and how in India the public schools are generally really terrible, and your only chance of having a decent education is at an expensive private school. At public schools, teachers have very little clue of how to actually teach, don’t even show up a lot of the time, and often don’t really care about the work that they’re doing. This country needs so much help, I’d have no clue where to begin. I guess bringing awareness about the state that India’s in is a start.

Tuesday was a fairly normal day. I planted some bamboo and turmeric, chopped plants for compost, experienced the most painful insect bite of my whole life… from a swarm of seemingly harmless black ants. Then hung out with friends, and took it easy, knowing that the next day had adventures waiting for me.

For Wednesday the 25th was my second full-day off from working at Saraya. So, I went on a scooter ride to Arambol beach with Monia and Joy, hoping to meet up with Raul and Emily later in the day there as well. On the way there, I was forced off the side of the road by a rickshaw driver who was passing a truck and wouldn’t move back into their own lane. There was space for me to turn off into, but it was super bumpy and unmaintained, so I couldn’t keep control of the bike. I hopped off it and saved myself from getting hurt, but the bike was damaged. No good, but no choice other than to keep going.

We made it to Arambol, checked Monia into her new guesthouse, and headed to the beach. I had possibly my best meal yet in India – Okhra Saag. It was okra (aka ladyfinger) and spinach in a slightly creamy sauce, with a side of rice and some garlic cheese naan bread… I’m salivating right now just thinking about it. Afterwards we headed along the beach to a “secret beach,” I took a selfie with a sign that says “Danger: No Selife Zone” (for pic see on Instagram) on the way, and we ended up at a beautiful, uncrowned part of the beach, with a freshwater lake named “Sweet Lake” just on the other side, only a few hundred feet away from the ocean. From there we followed a gorgeous small hiking trail along a creek up to a famous hippie hangout spot next to a really old Bunyan tree, where there were prayer flags and a picture of a great sage named Babaji.

This was the most encapsulated in nature I had been since my arrival in India, and was so refreshing. Even more refreshing was the little freshwater pool that formed in the creek, where Joy and I swam for a little while. We stayed and relaxed until a massive, foot-long crab decided to join us in the pool for a swim. Hah, we had our fill, now it’s the crab’s turn. So we headed back down the nature trail to Sweet Lake, where I did some laps back and forth for a little while. As the day was growing old, we decided to start heading back to avoid driving most of the way at night. I bought some nice pants for 200 Rupees ($2.50) on the way, and passed many folks working terribly hard in the hot sun, carrying large stones on the top of their heads. They passed them off to each other conveyer belt style, a long ways from the pile on the beach to their future building. I felt really bad for them, and it made me feel so thankful that I wasn’t born into a situation where I had a life of carrying stones atop my head ahead of me.

Joy and I said goodbye to Monia after some coffee and failing to meet up with Raul and Emily. Now for the 45 min-long drive back, hopefully this time without being driven off the road. It was a long and beautiful ride back, though it became really dark for our last 20 minutes, but we made it home to Saraya safe and sound.

Since then I’ve lived over another week in India. Stay tuned for some of my best days at Saraya, the longest train ride I’ve ever been on, and more adventuring in New Delhi, India’s capital, before I head to Dharamshala, in India’s northern Himalayan state where the Dalai Lama lives.

Peace and Hoppiness,


By Hans Tepel

Field Guide in Wilderness Therapy; Life blogger; Nature enthusiast; Philosopher; Writer; Amphibian.

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