January 8, 2013

Getting Bendy in Goa (Mandrem & Arambol, Goa, India)

After Hampi (read here), we headed back towards Goa to do yoga for a week in Arambol. Before our course started, we stayed just south, in Mandrem, for a few days because it's a much quieter beach. The two different towns are accessible by about a 30 minute walk along the beach where you pass hippies twirling sticks, hawkers, and plenty of beachside shacks where you can order food and drinks while relaxing on a beach chair. We decided to splurge a little for our time in Mandrem because we were both desperate for a hot shower after sweating like crazy for 3 weeks. So, at $30/night at Cuba Retreat, we were looking forward to the royal treatment. Unfortunately, we were a bit disappointed in our room. It had a great, hot shower, but the room was pretty depressing, and it wasn't even on the beach. Still, we both decided it was worth the stay for the shower alone and spent 3 nights there before moving down the beach to Arambol. We spent most of our time in Mandrem lounging on the beach and boogie boarding. It was really hot, and we were pretty lazy. It was great!

Steph and I are, by no means, yogis, but we've both done a bit of yoga in San Francisco, and found that we prefer Iyengar yoga more than other practices, as it uses props to help us get into the positions and we reap the benefits more. It's kind of a rite of passage for long-term travelers in India to claim they "spent some time doing yoga" somewhere along the way, so we had looked into Iyengar courses and found a great center in Arambol. So, after moving from Mandrem to Arambol, we began our 5-day course of yoga and the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre.

Arambol Road
Though we had reserved a room at a guest house on the cliffs side of Arambol at a guest house (actually, a slew of guest houses and beach huts of varying quality) called Ludu, we arrived later than we had planned and told the manager so, when we arrived, he told us that he had given our room away for the night, but had another room available for the night and that we could move the following day. The room was pretty much a storage closet. There was a broken and rusted refrigerator in the corner, old boxes and trunks stacked against a wall, and piles of dust everywhere. Steph was pretty disgusted and (attention Bernie and Todd) it became our first argument of the trip when Steph really wanted to find a new place and I said she was being picky. Eventually, we both agreed to just spend the evening at a nearby restaurant and return to our room to sleep. Mostly, we didn't want to be bothered with finding something new, since our yoga course began the next morning at 9am. And, besides, we can handle almost anything for one night. No biggie, right?

Playing gin...something we do a lot.
We played cards at the restaurant for awhile and went back to the room to sleep around 11pm. Steph got the sleep sheet set up and laid down to relax before bed. Immediately she hopped out of bed and said she felt bites on her face. At first, I didn't believe her but, with a better look at the bed it was evident we had bed bugs (and lots of them). Disgusting. We realized staying wasn't an option, but it was too late to contact the manager at Ludu, so we grabbed our sleep sheet and the things we needed for yoga the next day and set out to find a new room for the night, leaving most of our things in the Bed Bug Room. After about 30 minutes we ended up down by the beach where we found a clean, but cheap room for the rest of the night. It took a bit of reading to relax enough to get to sleep. We were finally ready to get some rest for yoga when, directly outside our window, a wannabe John Mayer started strumming and singing, and not well. At first it sounded like a bad open mic night. As the night wore on he had gathered a crowd of drunken people around signing horrible renditions of Adele, Guns n Roses, you name it. It was loud, it was bad, and we had left our earplugs  with the bed bugs. Needless to say, it was a rough night.

We arrived for our first day of yoga tired and pissed off. The yoga center is in the middle of woods tucked back about 300 meters off of the beach. The whole structure is built with bamboo and is lined with mosquito net. We had a quick introduction with our instructor, an Argentinian named Leo, and got started. Leo is a great instructor as he does a great job making sure everyone is in the correct pose and using the appropriate props to avoid injury. There were about 15 other people in our class, some of whom we became good friends with; Richard the Australian, professional rugby player who also practices tantric meditation; Alistar, a funny Welsch guy and the former owner of the self-proclaimed "best fish and chips shop in Wales"; Anne the woman from southern France taking some time off from her job with Johnson & Johnson; Vanessa the Canadian heading to get her advanced SCUBA certification in the Andamans; Brittany the Australian who volunteered with Mother Teresa's charity; Katherine the American from LA traveling solo around some of the toughest parts of India; and Alec the Australian surfer.

Leo, our instructor

After our first day of yoga, we asked for a new room at Ludu, which we were very happy with (Rs400, or about $8/night). It was large, decently clean and had a balcony that looked out into our own little beach. At night we would fall asleep to the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks on the beach and the sea wall on our balcony. Arambol is a much busier town with lots of guesthouses, beach huts, yoga/ mediation centers, and plenty of options for food, so we had a lot of options for food and entertainment when we weren't practicing yoga.

Our new room at Ludu was on the bottom floor of the white building
We had planned on leaving Goa after 5 days in Arambol to start exploring Mumbai before flying to Delhi to meet my mom for our friend's wedding there. But, after a great 5 days of yoga, we were getting over our soreness, feeling stronger, and realizing we would be sad to go so soon and give up the daily yoga practice. And we liked Leo, although at  times it felt like he was torturing us, he was just trying to get us to use our mind to recognize the discomfort of holding postures and to accept that pain and use our minds to focus anyway. He has a great balance of being strict but not being too serious and had a way of knowing the exact moments we were all letting our minds get the best of us, and he would quickly direct us back to focusing on the pose and meditating. So, because we made no plans before we left for this trip and we decided to pretty much do whatever we want for this year, we decided to change our plans. We knew we had to be in Delhi for a wedding in a week, but weren't ready to leave Goa just yet, so we decided to stay another 5 days of yoga (going into the more advanced class), skip Mumbai (for now) and, instead, fly straight from Goa to Delhi in time to meet my mom and for the wedding. So that's what we did. However, while we enjoyed our 30-minute walk each morning from the cliffs to yoga for our 9am start, stopping along the way to buy bananas from a fruit monger for breakfast, class began at 7:45 in the more advanced levels, so we decided to move rooms to stay closer to the yoga center. Just a 5-minute walk up the road from HImalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre is Magic Park, where we got a nice beach hut on a beautiful property. Magic Park also had really delicious, organic (and expensive) vegetarian food, as well as free and unlimited filter water, which was great!

Unfortunately the two days off in between yoga sessions I got sick. (Delhi Belly strikes!) It kind of ruined our time off between yoga, so we never really got the crazy nights out that Goa is known for. Still, we enjoyed the time relaxing on the beach and sleeping in.

The second week of yoga was even more intense. We did more advanced poses and worked on headstands and backbends- which Steph and I both struggled with. Steph had some pretty awesome breakthroughs with her knees and, after only those 2 weeks, my back felt stronger than it has felt in a long time. We were both much less sore than the first week and felt stronger and more capable.

It was a really great 2 weeks. Each day, we would wake up early (8am the first week and 7am the second week), walk to class, and socialize a bit with our classmates before class begin. (The second week, we were to begin practicing yoga before class started each day by hanging upside down for 15 minutes.) Class went until about noon each day and, after, we would grab breakfast/brunch with a few other people from class, then we'd run any errands (buying toiletries, emailing, etc…) and then spend the rest of the day at the beach. In the evenings, we'd shower off the sweat, sand, and salt, and head to dinner, sometimes with our new friends, and we'd try to be in bed and asleep by 11:30 or so.

One of the best things about spending that second week in Arambol is that we became closer to some of the other people from our class (both those who continued into the second week with us and those who didn't); particularly Richard, Alistair, and Anne, and we enjoyed our afternoons and evenings hanging out on the beach with them. When we first got to Arambol, Steph and I, well accustomed to drum circles and dirty dreadlocks in SF, were less impressed with the counter-culture than other travelers were, and we would often roll our eyes at the hippies and weirdoes on the beach. But after two weeks in Arambol fighting our inner hippies, we spent our last night in Goa having dinner on the beach with our new friends. And, at the end of the night, we were the ones twirling in the middle of the drum circle.
Steph,Vincent (France), Alistair (Wales), Me, Anne (France), Richard (Australia)
You can see all of our pics on our Flickr page here. Or click to see pics from Mandrem, Arambol, and Yoga (photos courtesy of our fellow classmate, Lee). Some more of our favorites are below.

Walking back into town in Mandrem from the beach
Mandrem Beach

Leaving Arambol

You can see all of our pics on our Flickr page here. Or click to see pics from MandremArambol, and Yoga (photos courtesy of our fellow classmate, Lee)

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