We spent the last three days in Agonda, a smallish community on India’s western shore, in the southern state of Goa. Think Indian Riviera - lots of little hotels lining the beach with open air restaurants, cabanas, beach umbrellas, cows (yes, cows - even sacred animals like the shore) - and a long, clean sandy beach. The beach was gorgeous. Gentle breakers, bathtub-warm water that you could swim in forever without getting cold, lots of flounder, rays, hermit crabs in spirally shells, and slightly larger crabs whose pincers definitely work. I know because I tested them out. Twice.
Goa, Scott tells me, isn’t “real” India - it’s very easy (almost too easy - I kept looking around and wondering what the catch was) and feels like touristy beach places everywhere. Lots of good food and souvenirs and there was very little noise, traffic. The air was the freshest I’ve experienced since being here. And it was a definite improvement over what we’d done just prior.
You see, more than anything, I wanted to try to see a tiger while we were in India. Not in a zoo, not someone’s pet. An honest-to-goodness tiger, out in the wild. And while I knew the odds of that were only slightly greater than catching sight of Bigfoot, I wanted to give it a shot - get out into the Indian jungle, see some monkeys, see tropical birds and maybe, just maybe, get a glimpse of a man-eater.
So Scott, being the dutiful and adoring husband, booked us into a hotel in an area called Dandeli, which was home to a tiger preserve. After a 6 hour drive (!) over half-finished highways, crowded with all manner of vehicles (see previous entries), we drove up and up into the mountains, on winding narrow roads, through very jungle-y scenery. A tiger could have appeared at any moment. It didn’t, but it could have. And then we arrived at the Buffalo River Resort where it became quite clear that we had made a serious error.
Think the worst parts of summer camp and you’ll be able to envision the Buffalo River Resort. Mildewy cabins. Frogs in the shower. Mediocre food. Cow pies. Mosquitos. All for an incredibly high price (in booking, they misquoted the price to us). But it was too late to go looking for something else and we quite likely would have ended up at the same type of place, slightly different location. So we decided to suck it up and stay the night. We opted out of the archery, the decaying ropes course and the whitewater rafting, in which you could pay even more money to strap on a helmet and life vest, and paddle around in a what amounted to a large bathtub, while going over one tiny rapid. It was so depressing that I failed to take any photos.
At precisely 6:30pm, the PA system came to life with extremely loud Bollywood music - just in time for the happy hour portion of the evening. Dinner would not be served until 8 - in the interim, you could watch locals try to learn Bollywood dancing. We were not in the mood but we kept telling ourselves it would be worth it because we would be seeing tigers (Tigers!) the next day.
After a sleepless night on stained sheets and lumpy twin mattresses, we got up at 4:15am, packed up our stuff and made a beeline to the car. 45 minutes later, still in the dark, we arrived at the gates of the safari, along with about 30 other sleepy people. They crammed us into an open-air safari jeep - back row - with a big Indian family. And then everyone started talking loudly and taking selfies. In the dark. With flash, without flash, from every angle. The jeep started down the jungle trail and they didn’t even bother looking for animals. They just took selfies by the dozen. It was like a fireworks display - any animal in its right mind would have seen us coming and bolted the other direction.
Needless to say, we did not see any tigers. We saw some deer (boring). And two elephants that were chained up (depressing). No monkeys. No fancy birds. Not even a peacock. Although we did get this nice view out over the neighboring national park. Silver lining?