My Holi End to India

This is my final post on the six weeks spent in India. It brings me up to the post I made on March 17th, written on the heels of what felt like at the time, a snap decision to flee India, cutting my trip in half, and cancelling my onward tour of Pakistan. Torn between “fight or flight,” I agonized over whether I could fight back the fears of an invisible disease and continue to enjoy an idyllic beach resort, waiting out what had to be just another wave of flu like SARS or H1N1. India was a hot, tropical country, right? Not exactly flu-type weather.

Or would I give in and take flight? Me, chicken out? Would I succumb to the minute-by-minute terrifying news that was gnawing at my stomach, while giving credence to the feelings of fear creeping up over my shoulder with each overheard cough?

I’m not sure if Palolem Beach was really that idyllic, or if the memories have just aged well. I think a little bit of both.

I particularly loved this area because it had all the amenities, but not the typical Goa “trance party” vibe.

I felt safe swimming here, and the wave action was just to my liking.

There was always something interesting taking place during my daily beach walks. While yoga is not as prominent here as in Kerala’s Varkala, it’s still a popular practice.

While the main swimming beach was rock-free, nearby Butterfly Beach had some beautiful boulders.

Recycling Station. 😉

I was even “eatin’ vegan” here. Tofu Spring Rolls from my favorite restaurant, “Zest.” (Not as good as my brother Don’s shrimp version, but still a good break from curry!)

I typically prefer more craft-style brews, but when in India, you just can’t beat an ice cold Kingfisher!

Looking back just 100+ days ago, a time span that now feels like years, I reflect on what a shock it would have been to see what lay in wait down the road from my carefree beach shack. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the metaphorical tsunami that was about to hit, and the detritus and debris that would continue to rise around me even today, with no ebbing in sight.

I was excited to be in India for Holi, the ancient Hindu celebration also known as the “Festival of Colors.” While most “Hallmark moments” don’t hold much allure for me, and in fact can often times make me resent the sentiment, Holi is a day I can get behind. It’s a celebration signifying the resurrection of spring, of good triumphing over evil. It’s a joyous festival where people come together to celebrate life, let down their hair, and live it up while everything and everyone gets covered with vibrant colors.

Evening and early morning beach walks amid the fishing boats are my daily moment of Zen.

I made it my goal while on Palolem to never miss a sunset.

Walking at night was quite safe, as there is only one main road that runs parallel to the beach, and it was well lit with lots of people strolling about.

The bed in my cabin had a serious mosquito net covering it, so I slept with the narrow vertical windows open each night so I could hear the roar of the ocean.

One morning, I woke up and headed toward my suitcase, when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. This little one scared me out of my wits!

The Holi festival begins on the evening of “Purnima,” the night of the full moon. Bonfires are built to symbolize purification from evil spirits. The following day is the actual festival where people of all ages come out to play with clouds of powdered color, water guns, and parades.

I had been looking forward to Holi, researching the best destination to celebrate. I had even bought my pack of “colors” from Adil’s stand back in Mysuru. I couldn’t wait.

But as time approached, the fear factor was spreading fast. Holi fell on March 10th, just six short days before I would make the mad dash back to the USA. By that time, a sense of caution and nervousness seemed to fall over the little village of Palolem, and I began to question “should I stay or should I go?” Between reading the headlines and wondering if I was hedging my bet, the coming of COVID definitely put a damper on the party. Given the theme of Holi, the triumph of good over evil, it seems ironic in hindsight.

When I first arrived in Goa, there was very little talk of the corona virus, and then it was mostly about China. Posters were all over town advertising events for the upcoming Holi Celebration.

Packets of Gulal powder, just called “colors” by the locals, are seen for sale in all the stalls along the street.

Even this cow has been blessed. Note the dot of red paint on her forehead.

The Holi celebration starts on the night of the full moon, and continues into the next day.

The celebration is like a giant water fight, where even the water guns and balloons are loaded with colored water.

By the time the actual day of Holi rolled around (March 10th,) words of caution were starting to spread about the virus.

At this point, no corona cases had been reported in Goa, and it hadn’t even been given the name of “COVID 19” yet.

However, crowds were light. This was the only Holi party I saw taking place along the beach.

By this time, I wasn’t shaking hands with anyone, and was using up my hand sanitizer and wipes left from my Ethiopian tour. So when this kind man approached me with his outstretched palm filled with pink powder, I really struggled between not wanting him to touch my face, versus not wanting to be rude. It was still early in the news cycle, so while I weighed the risk, I might have just stayed inside if I had known then what I know now.

So it’s been 109 days now since I boarded that Qatar Airways flight in Goa bound for DFW. I never considered for one second that it could be my last. Now, looking at the mess we find ourselves in, I wonder… Not only are we being swept out to sea in a tsunami of COVID cases, our only lifeboat is full of politically divided oarsmen, all rowing furiously in opposite directions. And due to our inability to see, let alone steer, we have now been denied access to landing on foreign shores. I can’t believe this is what has become of the USA.

I’ve said we are all going to come out of this COVID conundrum with our own brand of PTSD that has ripples throughout the rest of our lives. For some, it will be the crushing ache that comes from not being able to say goodbye to a loved one. For others, it will be the irreparable losses done to a career or life savings. I am so fortunate not to have befallen to tragedies such as these.

But grieve, I do, nonetheless. The more plans are suppressed, the more they well up in my thoughts and dreams. I have constant flashbacks of places I’ve been, hikes I’ve hiked, experiences I have enjoyed. I read travel articles. I watch travel vlogs. I daydream about places yet to be explored. I have even started an affirmation list. “When the virus leaves, I will….” It’s a list that grows daily in hopes that one day, I can once again turn my dreams into reality.

As my Mom loves to say, “You never miss the water till the well runs dry.”

“You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.” ~ Alain de Botton

Meetup in Mysuru

I am determined to finish up this India series if it takes me all year. Here’s one more down on a rainy Tuesday, with one left to go…

I’ve known my friend John since 1993. As a colleague with American Express, he was one of the first people I met when I reported to duty as National Account Manager at the United Nations account. I had an office on the 19th floor of the UN Secretariat Building, and John’s office was across the street at UNICEF. We became “fox hole buddies” in Continue reading

All Aboard to Ooty on the Nilgiri Mountain Train

The thought of leaving the beach causes me pangs of regret, as I am not ready to leave yet. I have really enjoyed my early morning walks along the cliffside path, and my sunset swims in the gentle surf. I have made friends across the rooftop breakfast table at Debra’s guesthouse, had dinner with the couple I met in Alleppey, and met a “swimming friend” Piret, a lovely woman from Switzerland whom I met while swimming in the surf. We have taken to meeting up for conversation at the popular “Coffee Temple” along the cliffside path. Continue reading

Varkala, Om My!

Continuing on my “make it up as I go along” tour of South India, I was really wanting some beach time. While the beaches along Fort Kochi were beautiful, they just didn’t look clean to me. Too close to town with too much opportunity for “runoff.” Beaches in Alleppey looked a little cleaner, but they were still city beaches. So instead, I was looking for more of a beach resort vibe with hotels and guest houses right along the coastline, calm waves for swimming, and with a little luck, some semblance of a life guard since I would be swimming alone. Continue reading

Looking Back on the Backwaters of Kerala

My reason for wanting to visit India’s southern state was to experience Kerala’s “backwaters,” an intricate network of narrow canals, lakes, and waterways that run parallel to the Arabian Sea for hundreds of miles. I have long been intrigued by the romantic notion of plying these narrow waterways via houseboat, a very popular tourist attraction in the southern state. Continue reading

Cochin: Like China

Last October when I hit my 65th birthday, I decided it was time to re-prioritize the old bucket list. Looking back on the Medicare milestone, I realize now that many of the limitations I began feeling at the time were due to the constant barrage of AARP emails and well meaning newsletters preparing me for impending decrepitude. Around this time, I began to manifest aches and pains and imaginative scenarios that led me to think my physicality as I knew it was about to be over. So I had best “git to gittin’” as they say in the south.

I decided rather than my usual prioritization based on desire or geographical proximity, I would instead prioritize according to difficulty. Not just physical difficulty, but those destinations requiring a certain level of travel-savvy as well. I decided to tackle some of Continue reading

Was Bahrain as Boring as it Looks?

In order to get from Addis Ababa to my next destination, Cochin, India, I needed to make a connection somewhere across the Middle East. Where to connect was of course dependent on which airline I chose.

My one deciding factor on choosing Gulf Air connecting through Bahrain was their offer of a three day stopover package which included hotel, transfers via a private vehicle, and two sightseeing tours. But most importantly, it also included a Visa. The opportunity to extend my connection to include a few days exploring a country not yet visited seemed like time well spent. Continue reading

Reading Departure Signs: Addis Ababa

My favorite Jimmy Buffett song, “Changes in Latitudes” has a verse, “Reading departure signs in some big airport reminds me of the places I’ve been.” Only the opposite is true for me. Reading departure signs in some big airport has always reminded me of places I still would like to go… and perhaps none so much as Addis Ababa. Through years of travel through international airports, I have always stood in awe of this quirky sounding city appearing on departure signs, and hoped that one day I would get to visit such an exotic-sounding place. Continue reading

Utopia in Ethiopia?

Thanks to everyone for their support and kind words about my premature evacuation from India.  It’s only Day Six of my self-imposed quarantine, but it feels more like Day Twenty-Six.  Still, I am grateful to have a place as comfortable as 80 square feet can be.  At least unlike many, I have a free and secure place to park it, food to eat, internet to entertain me, and a solid 98.6° temperature. So for that, I am extremely grateful!

A good friend of mine who is in the mental health profession suggested we shift the term “social distancing” to instead “engaging in physical distancing but staying socially engaged.” I like that idea. Thanks to all my friends, family, and followers who continue to help me stay socially engaged.

Okay, so now it’s back to a much happier time in Ethiopia when the only things I had to worry about were severe dehydrating diarrhea, pick-pockets, and looking down the barrel of a Kalashnikov held by the roadside militia. Looking back, things seemed so much less scary then. Continue reading