Monday 11 May 2020

Arambol diaries - The hippie life

After leaving a stable job, the first thing that hits you hard is the sudden stalling of a regular income. It does not matter how prepared you think you are for the change, it still manages to catch you unawares. It takes a while for the discomfort to sink in, before you gradually start accepting the fact and tune your life according to it. 

Both Vani and I had very recently left our jobs, and both of us were in this initial phase of discomfort. We were trying to hold on to every penny we had. There was a slight difference in our situation though. While I had made up my mind to leave the corporate world, I was still expecting this to be a short break and then return to something I felt closer to my heart. Also I was staying at home when not travelling, and had a general idea where my next assignment would be. Vani on the other hand had embraced a life of total uncertainty. She did not know in which part of the world she would be in ten days time, when she was to leave Arambol.

Arambol diaries - Vani
Arambol diaries - La Sambusa Latina

Living the hippie life

Vani talked about her struggles after she arrived in Arambol two months ago. She was scared and uncertain about the life choices she was making. The security of a stable job was gone. She struggled to retain the accepted norms of privacy she grew up with and she didn't have any of her old friends or family for support nearby. She did not even know when she will see them next. Thoughts of escaping this life was frequent. But the old life suffocated her and her creative, gypsy soul.

She told me how thankful she was to have Tom for support. At one point in life probably Tom had been through the same dilemma as her, when he left his stable life behind for the life on the road. In all these years, he had managed to find balance and peace through his struggles. In complete contrast to the liberties provided by the hippie life, he was surprisingly organised and focused. Even though he was living in a different part of world every few days, he kept in regular touch with his friends and family in Argentina. At least every three years, he planned a trip back home, to renew the bonds. This was true for their whole Argentinian community of travellers, including Seba. They were more in touch with their roots back home than most wanderers I have known. To me, it definitely brought a different perspective and proved my presumptions incorrect.

Arriving in Arambol

From Panjim we took the bus to Mapusa from where we were to get the bus service to Arambol. I waited in the long queue for the bus while Vani went to grab some snacks for the journey. The bus arrived and we were lucky to get the last seats. The sun was blazing down and despite the open windows, it felt like being trapped in a packed-up hot metal can. The roads were empty but the young driver maintained a decent speed as the bus snaked its way to Arambol. 

Where we got off in Arambol, looked like a small town one can find anywhere in India. A couple of convenience stores stood by the road. There was an omnipresent branch of the State Bank of India and a few scattered shops selling food and tea as locals smoked and gossiped under the shade of a banyan tree.
There was a small yet significant difference though.
A major percentage of the people walking around or whizzing past on their bikes, were Caucasians. They were foreigners to the land, but looked as comfortable as any local would do in their hometown. The bus we just arrived in also had a significant number of foreigners travelling. I had even heard one girl trying to have a conversation in Hindi with the conductor. It was impressive.

We got off the main road and walked towards the beach. There were more foreigners lazing around and very few Indians. Everyone was dressed in a style so typical of the hippie culture. Loose trousers, elephant pants, shorts, vests and cropped tops, shaved or braided hair and almost everyone sporting exotic tattoos and piercings. To add to the ambience, the shops lining the roads were selling everything these people wore. The food menu on the restaurants were inspired by Western dishes, obviously catering to a select clientele. To top it all, there was an obvious air of chill. I immediately knew I had landed in a hippie town.

We left the main road through a gate, walking past a popular bakery on to a dirt track. The track wound past isolated buildings and undergrowth. We turned at a wayside cross. Structures like these once adorned the many neighbourhoods of Goa, but are fast disappearing. Tucked in a small courtyard beside the cross was a half painted three story building. It looked like an unfinished new build. Musical motifs were designed on the balcony rails, perhaps an indication of the spirit of its residents. 

Living arrangements in Arambol

La Sambusa Latina was renting the top floor of the building. The owner lived in one of the lower floors while the remaining flats were rented out to other travelling musicians. Vani was telling me all this as we climbed the uneven stairs to the spacious landing on the top floor. It counted as an open balcony. Tiny fairy lights hung casually around it.

There was a tiny lock hanging on the door when we arrived. This meant both Tom and Seba were out. I was wondering what our next course of action would be, when Vani reached up and fished out the key from their 'hidden place', within the gaps of a hanging bamboo log. It was right in sight and all their friends knew where it was kept. I gaped at her. This was something I would never consider doing in India. But I had more surprises in store.

It was a two bedroom flat with a decent sized living room and a kitchen. Both the rooms had their own bathrooms. One of the bedrooms had a tiny balcony, and of course there was this lovely space in the landing outside when we walked in. The flat was sparsely furnished. The bedrooms just had a bed and no other furniture. The bathrooms didn't have any hooks, shelves or storage. There wasn't much cooking arrangements. The fridge was broken and there was no hot water. Ceiling fans worked overtime to cool down the flat, but it was pleasant to just sit out on the airy balcony. The living room was the most furnished in the flat, with a sofa, a table and a desk.

The living standard was very basic, but travelling musicians do not own much, neither do they stay in a place long enough to even try to make it comfortable. The landlord though was very strict. He restricted how much water was to be used through the day, means even every toilet flush was controlled. Unfortunately, he also restricted the hours they could practice their music. The building being located around dirt ground, the dust crept into everything, even after relentless sweeping through the day. The rent for the month amounted to twenty five thousand, which I found exorbitant. But it was a short term let too. The local economy was supported by these seasonal travellers to Arambol, but more about that on another post.

While such a basic setup is very normal in India, I remembered that Vani wasn't an Indian. She had spent all her life in places were basic accommodation comes with certain basic amenities and these were glaringly missing here. I was really amazed at her capability to cope with her new life. She wasn't on a vacation, when backpacking is for fun. This was a life she was going to live for the foreseeable future. She had been comfortable taking public transport, travelling on rickety buses and in the non-ac coaches of the long distance trains, something I would always reconsider doing. I was full of respect for her and in awe at her courage.

The travelling community is very strongly knit where everyone is always there for everyone. This also means that everyone follows a more or less open door policy and people walk in at odd hours. Definitely privacy isn't something you can have.

I was offered the living room to sleep in, with a spare mattress and a bed sheet which Vani bought from the fair in Panjim. I had my own sleeping bag liner to wrap up in and an inflated pillow. For a little privacy, the flimsy, plastic table was moved away from the wall and my mattress placed in between the wall and the table. It was close to living in a hostel, but with a lower level of privacy. Vani was apologetic and told me I could always move to more private and comfortable paid accommodation if I so wished. She also warned me that the main door is kept open overnight and I should just ignore anyone dropping in at random hours at night. People here didn't own much. Their most precious possession were their musical instruments and even these were left out mostly in the open, without the fear of being stolen. I dumped my backpack and its contents behind the sofa and I was set, to explore Arambol with La Sambusa Latina.

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