Oct 9, 2011

Arambol, Off On The Wrong Foot

Arambol Beach
Once again, we reluctantly left a place we loved, in this case Palolem, in the name of adventure--to see what else is out there.  We had heard that Arambol located in the infamous northern beaches of Goa, was the more laid-back choice.  But after a very arduous and sweaty journey to get there, we wondered, ‘What had we done?!’

We really got off on the wrong foot there.  We had very little information on the best way to get to Arambol, be it by train or by bus and strangely, none of the ‘locals’ in Palolem could offer any information either.  And when we finally arrived and got off our 4th bus of the day, we could not see a tuk tuk anywhere.  Instead, we were pointed in the direction of the main village and the beach, which was about a 1.5km walk away.  Although it was the last thing we really needed especially after spending over 5hrs on 4 different local buses, all of which were standing room only, to travel just over 100km to get here and without having a proper meal since breakfast, at least it was all downhill.

We walked for about 200m in the hot afternoon sun with our two unhappy kids when the first guesthouse that was actually open for the season finally appeared.  And it had a large, glistening pool.  With total scepticism laced with wishful thinking and a sliver of hope, we approached them to enquire about their rates.  To our surprise, again thanks to the fact that it’s not quite high season yet, we got a ‘super deluxe room’ at the Arambol Plaza Beach Resort with air conditioning, hot water, satellite television and of course the pool, for $25.00 USD/Rs1,000 per night.  Although it was more than we would have liked to pay, it was still within our range plus it had been a while since we’ve had any of these perks (we’ve actually not had our own pool in India at all), so we splurged.  For what we were getting, it was actually great value here in India, the likes of which we had not yet experienced.  Things were looking up.

The layout of Arambol was a bit similar to that of Palolem.  The southern end, where we were closer to, was the quieter end frequented mostly by the locals who live here.  The road from the main highway runs perpendicular to this end of the beach, then bends and heads northward parallel the beach before bending perpendicular again to reach the more popular and populated northern end.  Along most of this ‘S’ shaped road are stalls upon stalls of traders selling clothes and textiles aimed at the ‘foreign/bohemian’ market.  The odd restaurant (at this time of year anyway), a few small ‘supermarkets’ (aka convenience stores), travel agents, internet cafes as well as accommodation can also be found in the mix.  But given the 1.5km length of this road to the intersection with the National Highway, which is where the more ‘local shops and services like the post office, pharmacy, and fresh food market are located, most foreigners seem to have rented their own motorbike/scooter for their time here.  Luckily this is a fairly inexpensive option; we got one too so that we could get around more quickly, and it cost us $3.75 USD/Rs150 per day plus about 2 litres of petrol.  But with so many motorbikes on the road, it resulted in a relatively busy road.

The northern end is quite congested with restaurants on the wide beach—popular but expensive ones, all with tables on the sand, belting out techno beats and a few even with sun beds and umbrellas further out by the water’s edge.   We were told that even further north along the beach, on the other side of the rocky headland, was another quieter bay.  It was only accessible by a narrow and slightly rugged walking trail, which unfortunately was also lined with stalls selling clothes as well as a surprisingly amount of accommodation (huts as well as concrete block of rooms).  But when we actually reached Colomb Bay after an easy 15min walk, we started to see a side of Arambol that we finally liked.  Although there were a couple of restaurants in this small bay along with more accommodation, it was cosy, backing on to a fresh water lake and ‘jungle’ beyond that, surrounded by low grassy hills.  On the seaside as well as lakeside beaches were a few sun beds, umbrellas and chair-side service from the restaurants.  Vendors selling fresh fruit as well as sarongs, bedsheets and jewellery were also there for your convenience.  

Colomb Bay

The 'Sweet Water Lake' (foreground)

Walk along the cliffs, lined with shops

And guest houses and restaurants too

At first glance, Arambol was not our cup of tea.  It seemed too commercial, too busy, and too touristy.  The crowd was predominately younger, mostly from northern Europe, Russia and Israel although there were a few older ‘hippie’ types here too.  Plus the sea was rough here and the beach was not as picturesque as Palolem’s.  A part of us wanted to leave as soon as we could.  But the girls were so excited about the pool, and the ‘super deluxe room’ was a small luxury that we haven’t had for a while, so surprisingly we ended up staying for 3.5 days/4 nights.  And slowly, Arambol grew on us.  Although it was very touristy, it was surprisingly low key with no large developments or resorts in sight (our hotel was actually the largest around).  We ventured a bit into the ‘jungle’ and had a nice swim in the fresh water rock pools flowing within it (our friend, Rhys, later sighted a cobra further upstream from us!).  We found a not-too-expensive restaurant at the base of the cliff looking back on to the main beach where we had our dinner as the sun went down.  After dark, the twinkling candle lights from the tables of the other restaurants in the distance back on the main beach looked magical and we looked forward to ending our day here. And we spent many hours in the pool.  Arambol wasn’t so bad after all.

Walking through the jungle

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