We're waking up so early -- 3am most nights, and by 5am we just can't keep trying to sleep. We get up and walk around the grounds, so beautiful. So we did that, and had this delicious breakfast:
I've been trying unsuccessfully to get a photo of this beautiful life-sized statue in the hotel lobby. Because it's dimly lit, and I don't want to use a flash, the shutter speed is slow and my pictures end up blurry. Finally this morning I got it: the walls are red raw silk, and the statue has a spotlight on either side and behind it. It's so striking, in the low-lit lobby.
After that, our mission was to go exploring Old Goa, and to visit a spice plantation. We hired yesterday's taxi driver again today, to drive us around for half a day. Of course, his name is Neville. And the tour guides at the spice plantation were named Cyril and Cedric. Anyway, Old Goa is the center of Portugal's entry into India, and the only reason you go there is to see the old churches. They are perfect characterizations of Portugese architecture:
And, by the way, see those big blue skies? For two weeks before we left, we checked the weather in Goa every day, since it's on the beach and we wanted to do some lounging in the sun. Every day the weather report said rain, thunder showers, cloudy. And every day we've been here, the skies are bright and sunny, with no rain. Hot, steamy, but sunny skies.
One more thing about Old Goa. On the grounds of these huge churches are enormous trees of some unknown kind, the ubiquitous palm trees, and these pine trees:
Weird, the way they're bent. We have no idea why, and our taxi driver had never noticed it before. We wonder if they're bent by monsoon winds when they're small and just grow like this.
After Old Goa, Neville drove us to the spice plantation, Sahakari Spice Farm. It's a generations-old plantation, organic farming. When we arrived, they draped flower garlands around our necks and gave us the red dot on our foreheads. The entry was lush and tropical, with red hibiscus:
And on the grounds, in addition to cattle and crocodiles and spiders and frogs and lizards, live two elephants. This one is only 10 years old.
We later saw this boy bathing the elephant in the river, and it looked so happy.
Cyril, our tour guide, showed us betel nuts (they're harvested by boys who climb to the top of one extraordinarily tall tree, knock down the ripe nuts, and then swing to the next tree), coffee, vanilla beans, pepper corns, cardamom, nutmet, cinnamon, cashews, turmeric, and ginger.
Oh -- yesterday as we were driving around, we passed a string of bulls (like you do, here), and Neville said "those are the fighting bulls." I sat there a minute, kind of confused (fighting bulls? like cock fights?) when Marc said "oh, you have bull fighting here!" I felt so dumb, although I'd never have thought of bull fighting in India, would you?
We've been extraordinarily surprised by the absence of American and European tourists in India. We've seen only a small handful, altogether, even at The Leela. One waiter told us that Americans don't come this far, they only go to Africa (! really?). The primary tourists are Australian (makes sense), German (they're nearby, too), and Russian. It's weird to be driving along in India and see billboards in Cyrillic. We've also had a more difficult time communicating than we were expecting. Of course, it's much easier than in Vietnam, but really so often, either the person we're trying to talk to speaks no English, or their vocabularies are limited -- note, of course, that they know more English than we know Hindi! We've tried to get someone to take a picture of us together but (a) there's a communication problem, and (b) my fancy 35mm camera is a bit complicated. We'll keep trying.
We have two more days here in Goa and no more specific plans here -- just lots of lying about, walking around, swimming, beach-walking, and enjoying ourselves. After that, we're off to Udaipur (or maybe Jaipur, I can't remember). It feels like we've been gone forever.