The night before Raksha told us about the waterfall, about how we’d go hiking up a trail with nature surrounding us and after about how’d we eat a complimentary meal and explore an old spice farm. We were excited to wake up, and when we did we all quickly packed our things ate our breakfast and made a dash towards our van. Hopping on, the usual scenes of Goan houses and palm trees scrolled past us while most of us napped. When I woke, we’d arrived. The setting was rural village, the old dirt road that led us there were littered on each side by old mud houses, built by generations before. We walked into a what seemed like a forest of palm trees and various plants stepping over fallen cashew apples along a trail that led us to the gates of an old spice farm that welcomed us with a open walled tiled roof eatery. The menu offered papaya shakes, melon juice, and chai just as a start. Food had to wait though because soon our guide for the hike arrived. He was a thin man dressed in a stripped shirt and loose pants with sandals. Given his attire we thought that maybe our hike would be more akin to a stroll. Our hike had originally been planned to be two hours but it was decided that we would drive then hike for one; some became disappointed but were still pleased to finally be able to explore nature in India. After driving up winding roads up a steep hill we came to the gates of the park where we would hike. The old steel gate opened and we proceeded onto a small dirt road that led to a trail. We got off and adjusted our things then started walking down the path towards what we expected to be an exciting and refreshing tour of the sights. Our guide led the way as we walked deeper and deeper in. Trees and small bushes began to surround us and dots of sunlight escaping the canopy shimmered on the trail. About five minutes in, we came upon a clearing. On our right was an incline into the heights of a steep hill and on the other side the reverse, a steep rocky descent down into the buses. The view of a distant giant came into sight. A mountain covered in trees, it seemed to make dwarves of anything in it vicinity and cut into the far distant sky. We stared and took pictures for a while slowly moving along the trail. We had our wow moment; this trail seemed promising. We kept walking and thin bamboo like plants a bit taller than us enveloped our team. We walked along this narrow trail, our eyes more focused on the trail in front, which had began to become rocky and loose. Then we started to feel the beads of sweat roll down our necks. We had become tired and barely noticed but our guide was on a stroll as if he was going to the supermarket. The thick tall plants became fewer and now we were into a dense forest packed with ancient trees and fallen leaves, I started to remember the sights and feelings of forests in Canada. We kept walking and now our breaths were short and shirts stained, the guide kept his leisurely pace. We navigated steeper and steeper, down more declines. Then we started hearing the sounds of a stream. We were getting close, not much longer now. It must a been a while though, I had now noticed new landmarks planted by mosquitoes on the back of my leg and I felt like a survivor of a grueling march. Finally, when I came back from the hypnotizing pattern of rocky paths and thick forest the waterfall appeared into view. It was cut deep into the surrounding mountainside. The water slid down a tall rocky wall splashing itself on the hard rocks on its descent. Below it was a small pool of water cradled by the rocks of the mountain with a small island of dry pebbles in the center. We eagerly tried to find our way down until we realized that to get down we had to climb deep down. The only things for our feet to hold onto were small rocks embed into the trail downwards. The guide as usual seemed to float down while we struggled to find our way. Finally we reached the pebble island. We shed our clothes revealing swimwear underneath and eagerly dipped into the water. The water greeted us with a refreshing cold sting that turned into a comfortable cool. We swam and splashed and dived, I opened my eyes underwater and saw the light of the sun dance and shimmer like the northern lights. The waterfall splashed into the pool, spewing mist and rained itself on us. We swam underneath, and felt the water come down. Despite its crashing force it felt like a massage. We swam in bliss then it was time to go. We took pictures and dried off. It was time to make our way up again. Feeling refreshed we started on the trail back up with renewed energy. We stepped onto rocks and gripped onto the dirt trail upwards. We started to feel our breaths only after a few steps. We slowly climbed until we reached back onto flatter trail. From there on our trail was a steady climb up. We marched with our heads down trying to ignore the shortness of our breaths and the sweat rolling down our faces. We walked past the canopies and up through bushes. Our breaths were now heavy, heavier than some of us had breathed in months and even years. We kept climbing for an unknown length of time until finally, we reached back into the clearing with the view of the mountain, the breeze rolled onto us and we felt its refreshing cool on our worn bodies. When we finally reached the van, we sat inside and enjoyed the AC. I felt like I’d been through a marathon but we did it, we felt the nature of India and came out new, or at least breathless. We had lunch after the drive back to the spice farm, with fried fish, chicken, daal, and mixed vegetables. It was what we needed after our hike. We sat drying until we started the tour of the farm itself. We walked out the gate and into the forest again. Expecting neat rows but we were surprised to learn that the forest was actually the farm. The trees and plants were all naturally grown, planted by bird droppings and the natural process of pollination. Our guide was another planter from generations of planters who had started the farm years ago. He showed us the nutmeg fruit that split open on its own to reveal nutmeg covered in a thin red white web that seemed to be more work of art than webbing for a seed. We walked further and saw more plants and trees that grew vanilla, pepper, and even coffee. We learned that for some plants the time of harvest only come for a few days a year and that to miss one meant waiting another. Through that I learned a bit about the virtue of patience and the importance of timing. We headed towards a temple afterwards and saw a man-made pool that was dug deep into the ground laid with ancient bricks. Methane gas escaped from the bottom of the pool and bubbles blew up from under, as if the pool hosted breathing creatures underneath. From the temple we walked and saw the house from which the farm started. It was a 250 year old home made with mud that absorbed heat in the summer keeping it cool, and insulated warmth in the winter keeping it warm. We saw in the back courtyard a tulsi plant and learned how the ground floor of the house had been cleaned with cow dung. Cow dung was antibacterial and kept flies and insects away, it seems that people, especially in India, always have a way of finding the best use of anything. We left and came back to the eating area outside under the roof. We sat and relaxed, helping ourselves to chocolate shakes made from chocolate grown on the farm. We also bought a variety of spices that were all locally grown. After the goodbyes to the farm and its keepers, we took the long ride back towards the guesthouse. It was a day that had felt like it was two. We learned the importance of endurance, and patience and how much the human body can perspire. With these thoughts I fell asleep on the bus and arrived back to welcome a new day.
Monday had felt like the day after a long week. That long week had been sunday; when we had arrived. staying awake until the evening then had been a battle of the ages. This morning we were greeted with indian crepes and yogurt. The crepes felt soft and the yogurt hit with an extra tang. It reminded us along with the heat and palm trees that yes, we were indeed in Goa. At our guest house, the warm breeze blew into our eating area under a pagoda like building at the centre of the house’s back yard atrium. This place felt exactly like a holiday postcard.
Arun the COO of ISAC greeted us with an orientation on our shared goals and what the do’s and don’ts’ are around the community we are visiting. Particularly that of unspoken language with elders. It seemed that body language is truly the universal language and being respectful and fluent with was critical. After lunch, Sarah briefed us on how our project is ultimately about creating clean water and empowering women and how it seemed we had a long and potentially wave-making project ahead of us. With a quick wardrobe change we headed out to shop. We walked the narrow roads populated by small shops and houses and saw how everything was buried in nature. Pigs, chickens, and dogs wandered freely around the palm trees surrounding the houses with the sounds of birds and animals becoming the soundtrack for the walk. We reached a little shop by the name of Things and Things. It was filled with goods from necklaces, bracelets, hats and small souvenir items to traditional indian clothing and DVDs. Everyone tried out shirts and garments, fascinated by the unique local design, brilliant colours, looking most importantly for something breezy to wear for the heat. We stayed for an hour in that one little shop. It was a cornucopia of varieties and options. After picking out our things we practiced the fine, ancient art of bargaining and negotiated prices down. We were told to start at 1/3 of the offered price and to go to half but we got them down to about 2/3, still a win in my book.
With that and a quick swim to see who could do the best back-flip dive, butterflies, and laps, we fell into our beds while raindrops began to fall. The sound of animals, the occasional motorcycle passing by along the road, and the rain soothed me to sleep. This was it we’d arrived.