We all have a fixed idea that time in India will somehow change our lives. This huge country, with its ancient culture, is associated with ashrams, yoga, spiritual development and other things we, Westerners, corrupted by money and other material values, just do not understand. So, thousands of tourists that do not hurry to sign up for an ashram right away, book a trip to Goa instead — the smallest state in India, which has become a true tourist hub. And the funniest thing is — some of these first-time visitors come home just to extend their visas and hurry right back to Goa — this time, for years and years to come. So, what’s so luring about this downshifter’s paradise?
For some, Goa is about cheap seafood, sunny beaches, and exotic juices. For others, it’s about drugs (lots of drugs) and all-night-long techno parties. There are even a few who equally enjoy both. Still, how much shellfish can you possibly eat and how long can you party, non-stop? It’s understandable (well, kind of, the globe is still big) that some people would like to spend more than one vacation there. But to uproot one’s life entirely and move to India? Not even to India — to the tiniest of its states, with relatively few historical landmarks and natural wonders, and stay there eternally, barely taking any time to explore the rest of this huge and fascinating country? What’s up with this?
From what I’ve seen during my month in Goa, the truth is simple and a bit alarming. Goa is one of those places that offer an escape from reality. Not the glossy magazine ad kind of ‘escape’ (which is usually just a metaphor to sell you an overpriced tour), but a real, actual escape from life. Let me paint you a larger picture.
For starters, there are two ‘Goas’ — South Goa and North Goa, physically separated by a river and symbolically — by the visitors’ age and income. South Goa is a place with fancy hotels, expensive service, and hundreds of well-off, 50+ Europeans. The northern part is mostly populated by people in their 18-40s (but still kids in spirit), who are happy to rent low-budget accommodation (often sharing a house with the locals) because they need all the money they can save to have fun. And it’s not like most tourists there have much to begin with. It’s the land of drugs, hippies, and affordable prices — and it’s the land that lures people into oblivion.
Think cheap weed on every corner is the reason? If it were so, people would just stick to Amsterdam. Goa, on the other hand, offers way more for its main demographic — location-independent freelancers who tend to downshift and choose to take as little responsibility for everything work-related as it is technically possible. There, you can rent a 3-4-bedroom house (and share the cost with your friends) for about 250-300$ a month; order a HUGE plate of seafood noodles for as little as 3$; get on your scooter (about 80-100$ a month) and ride off right into the sunset — drunk, stoned, and free as the wind.
The funny thing is, no one even cares if you have a driver’s license to start using this scooter. Yes, technically driving without a permit is illegal, but so is the weed. And cocaine. And LSD. And meth. And plenty of other things easily available in the local bars.
On the first glance, it may seem like North Goa breaks the time-space continuum and transports you directly into the 1970s. But, after week one, you see the huge difference between the two. The seventies were crazy, true. Goa, on the other hand, is more of ‘lazy.'
There is even a word for it — Shanti. Translated from Hindi as bliss, peace, or tranquility, it can mean a lot of things in a tourist’s personal dictionary. Chill, relax, take your time, enjoy the moment — the exact meaning is quite circumstantial (as long as it’s not ‘get your ass up and do something’).
Things do not get done in Goa. Time flows differently in Goa — mostly because it has little meaning or value there. People don't even bother to agree on the exact hour to meet — around sunset/after sunset is as precise as you can get. Usually, it’s ‘tomorrow’ or ‘sometime soon,' though.
And it’s not like there is anything terribly wrong with that. Yes, we do need some time to relax. The whole Shanti experience comes naturally in Goa. If you are a burned-out workaholic, you really should come on at least 2-3 week work-detox tour. And it is really going to be a detox because:
- electricity can go off any moment
- few places have adequate 3g service (don’t ask about LTE — forget it)
- very few for-rent houses have cable Internet
- those that have come with 'dying snail' speed
- cell phone towers often go off with the electricity (sometimes, independently)
- getting the power back on track takes 6-7 hours at least (staff knows about Shanti, too).
It may seem like I am criticizing or that I hated my stay in Goa. I totally did not. I believe there are few places left on our planet where anarchy is still the king. And it’s very sweet that there are still some. But, if you are looking for a warm place to spend your next winter and plan to actually work there, you'll have to manage your expectations.
Goa is indeed a very nice spot for a brief vacation. Especially if you’re young and miss a bit of craziness in your life. But if you (just like me) think that you’ll come to Goa, chill out for a week, and spend the next three-to-six weeks working in a relaxed atmosphere, away from your cold, northern home, wake up. There will be no remote work. Shanti.
But how do all these downshifting freelancers work there, then? Simple — they do just enough (and no more than that):
- not to get fired from a paying project
- to earn some money for food/shelter/a bit of fun.
So, totally doable if you are not taking responsibilities for your work and you do not really love what you are doing. But, if you are truly passionate about your job (no matter if it’s writing, designing, programming, or building a startup), cultural shock is guaranteed. That is, if you stay more than two weeks — the maximum amount of time people who love what they are doing can spend NOT doing it.
Is there anything you can do if you already agreed on a (bi-)monthly Goan “working” vacation with some of your freelancing friends but do plan to work there eventually? A couple of pointers (unverified, unfortunately — nobody warned me about the real situation) that should theoretically help:
- look for a big, well-furnished house
- make sure there is personal space for each of you (one bedroom for each couple/single person will not be enough if there is no large, neutral area)
- try to find a house with cable Internet
- if you can’t, contact Internet providers right away (three months of Internet plus setting up fee will cost you about 35$ - at least, that is the deal my friends got)
- check if there is a 3g network in the house or the nearby area (in case only the electricity, not the cell tower, goes off)
- if possible, delegate some of your responsibilities before going; do not count on being online 24/7 and try to stick to less urgent/responsible work.
Also, mind that Goan escape will probably lure you to stay forever IF
- You hate your job
- Your still don't know who you wanna be when you grow up (and you’re not really trying to figure out)
- There is nothing in your old life that brings you joy. Nothing. Not a single thing.
- You're emotionally burned out, and you want to see if any of the above is really ‘your case’ (if it’s not, you’ll probably come back to your old life happy and super-motivated).
Most importantly, remember — nobody’s judging. Not in Goa. You can love it, you can hate it — no one around will care. Everyone is too preoccupied with their own, personal Shanti's. All in all, our fixed idea about India changing people has some truth in it — this country does have a couple of answers about life. And, if you kind of like what you’re reading and consider going, stay tuned for more posts — we’ll describe the perks of going and the fun things to do in Goa in future articles.