I’ve been in Panjim, the capital of Goa, for the past two nights. The Portugese influence here is much more pronounced than in the beach towns: the colors, the street names, the Christian imagery everywhere. It’s disorienting to be here less than two weeks after having been in Portugal and to see the same architecture of churches and houses.
I took my life in my hands and rented a bicyle yesterday to get out to Old Goa, which was the capital until the 18th century. It’s farther inland along the river, which seems to be the case with most of the towns: they aren’t set up right on the coast. There’s not much left in Old Goa other than a bunch of churches, the cathedral being the largest church in Asia. There is also a Bom Jesus, which houses the incorrupt remains of St. Francis Xavier. At this point they are exhibited to the public every ten years.
Riding a bicyle in this part of the world is an adventure. Mine had no gears (which made me work hard on the hills, I can tell you) and no springs, so I’m sitting a bit stiffly today. Despite my years of riding in downtown Boston, I wasn’t ready for the steady stream of buses passing me at the same time a motorcycle was passing them, always timing it just correctly to avoid oncoming traffic – much of which was in the midst of passing each other. Luckily vehicles here are about half the width of western ones, so they can generally fit two in a lane. I’m constantly reminded of Harry Potter’s Knight Bus, which contorts to squeeze between obstacles.
The buses all have stickers with slogans on them, my favorite being ‘Don’t Drive Rash, Stay Away From Crash.’ Everyone drives with one hand on the horn, much like they do in New York and Boston, but with a significant difference: here it’s a friendly hoot, a gentle reminder that there’s someone there, no anger implicit. It made me jump at first, and now I appreciate it.
I nearly adopted a puppy yesterday, but common sense prevailed. He was hanging about on the steps of the Old Goa cathedral, so thin he could barely walk, this close to not making it. It was heartbreaking. Most of the other stray dogs I’ve seen have been thin but relatively healthy-looking. The Englishwoman who I blame for the shark incident (ok, she got sick too, so it’s not fair to hold her responsible) was egging me on to take him, saying how wonderful it would be to have a friend on my travels and how it seemed like Indians wouldn’t mind. She was right in some respects: having a companion, especially a non-complaining one like a dog, would add immensely to my general happiness (I know this already). Anyway, I went to get him a meal, but when I returned I couldn’t find him. We called the animal rescue to let them know; hopefully they can do something for him. I’m haunted by his dull eyes and slow shuffle.