Joanna Lester-George

May, Mangoes and Men in Pants

KOKOindia Luxury Travels | May 30th, 2019

123rf mango shot

It's May in Goa! The tourist season has come to an end in the sleepy south, and all around us villages are busy making preparations for the epic monsoon weather that’s coming our way. Piles of red chillies, tiny silvery fish and coconut husks are dutifully drying out in every front yard, ready to be transferred to pantry outhouses already swathed in blue plastic.From my veranda, I can hear the crackety-split of logs being stockpiled for firewood and the squealing chatter of kids enjoying their last days of school holidays. And of course there are the dogs, overheated and feral in the humidity, chasing the poor beleaguered cows thundering up the street.

The weather is a lottery now, with each morning holding the promise of glorious blue skies or ominous dark clouds threatening early rain. And its damn hot! The chai shop is filled with locals muttering about the humidity over tea and banana bread, and my friends’ hairstyles are becoming increasingly more bouffant. (Much to my amusement.)

In South Goa, we have what’s affectionately termed as ‘pop up beaches.’ Every restaurant and resort here are just temporary structures during the tourist season, and by May (‘pop down time’) the beaches are slowly returning to their natural state. The palm groves seem to take a great leap forward closer to the sea once the beach shacks are taken down, and the sweeping curve of the bays look gorgeously uncluttered. You can take an early morning walk for miles on some of the quieter beaches and rarely encounter another soul. Truly a tropical, albeit extremely humid, paradise.

It’s been a week or so since the last of the beach staff abandoned their cricket bats and boarded trains home to the mountains of Nepal or Himmachal Pradesh. Only a smattering of Gap Year Kids now remain on the beaches to top up their tans before heading home too. My local beach road is now pretty much devoid of all shops - their frontages boarded up with old Bollywood posters, bits of plywood and brightly coloured plastic. No longer does a sea of yoginis parade up and down the beach strip in fluorescent leggings; no longer is it possible to buy a Shiva bedspread or a gaudy Ganesh t-shirt. Well, not until November at least, when the whole tourist town pops right back up again as if nothing had ever happened.

The departure of the tourist hordes chimes well with Indian summer school holidays, that take place in April and May to escape the brain wilting heat. It can be a heart lifting experience to visit the all-year-round iconic beach of Palolem, and see local families picnicking on the beach and revelling in the ocean breeze. The cultural dichotomy in India, however, is never more striking than when you see ladies splashing about in the shallows with their colourful saris billowing up around them, whilst foreigners pose on the sand for Instagram shots in their itsy bitsy bikinis.

Weekends at Palolem Beach bring a totally different demographic of Indian holidaymakers. In recent years, this has included the cool crowd from Bangalore and Mumbai - as well as the ubiquitous coachloads of men who flock from neighbouring states for their first glimpse of the sea. Taking long beach strolls with their buddies and stopping for a million selfies along the way, to say these dudes are giddy with excitement (as well as Kingfisher Beer) would be an understatement. However, if you can get past the sight of big men in little pants (think Speedos with less support) frolicking in the surf, you too may share in the exuberance of seeing grown men wrestle each other in the Arabian Sea.

One of the best things about May is that Mango Season is finally upon us, with a kilo of local mangoes currently costing just Rs 100 (a little over a pound.) At this time of year, my mango addiction inevitably ratchets up to around six kilos per week. When I drive my son to school, on our now unimaginably dusty scooter, we constantly have to dodge over ripened mangoes thudding from the trees - or the monkeys springing out of nowhere to grab them. For the next few weeks, all the children in south Goa will have permanently orange chins.

In fact, everything everywhere feels ripe and luscious and juicy. I can see the jack fruit that grows on our village lane literally swelling before my very eyes. The animals around us can especially sense this seasonal change. Disturbed from my sleep last night by the sound of heavy crashing and scuffling outside my window, I was confronted by the sight of two enormous cows ‘making love.’ I am now bracing myself for the soundtrack of more amorous liaisons between neighbouring farmyard animals. Can’t say I’m looking forward to the buffaloes very much …