Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Up the creek with a paddle: Kayaking in Goa

It was 7am and the clear sky only bore the wisps of a few clouds. The sea was a rippling sheet of turbid saltiness, eight kayaks waiting on the shore to cleave through. 

We set off from Bambolim beach, not without a fairly wet start. A little rocking sends the kayak toppling over and it’s a fair feat for an eight-year-old to jump back in when his feet can’t touch the ocean floor.

Kayaking on flat(ish) water is easy enough when you get the strokes right and set yourself into a rhythm. The shore slowly begins receding and not long after comes the exciting but terrifying reality that the seabed is far below you and any number of marine creatures swim in between.

We headed inland, up the yawning mouth of the Zuari river. Ashwin Tombat, of Adventure Breaks, paddled alongside like it was a walk in the park, alternately whizzing up ahead to spot rocks and dropping behind to chat up the ones with kids in tow. Here and there, a dozen fishermen sat quietly in single manned canoes, dropping lines beneath the murky surface. There would be fresh fish for lunch in Bambolim village.

At what we imagined was a decent pace, we approached Siridao beach. The rocky outcrop with a dome-shaped chapel jutted into the river like a thorn in its side, the odd man-made plastering of the laterite hill-face a sore reminder of how far we have gone to deface Goa’s beauty.

A lone coconut tree stood sentinel at the edge of the outcrop. We sneaked past some rather dangerous-looking rocks with a few small eddys to emerge onto calmer water on the other side. Slowly, crevices formed by falling boulders made themselves visible along the shoreline. It was early and not a human was in sight – other than us of course.

The water appeared calm on the surface, but surely enough the tide was pulling us along. Trees and shrubs of all sorts hugged the rocky banks. All too often, tiny fish fled the looming shadows of our kayaks, skipping as high up above the water as they could to stay ‘out of sight’ of what they probably assumed was a very large fish.

Soon, we came upon the laterite ruins of some centuries-old pier. Was it possible that we were upon the site of the prosperous ancient Kadamba port of Govapuri? Suddenly, the scene changes. A bustling port emerges, with large wooden ships alongside, fishermen and soldiers knocking elbows in haste, children screaming as the chase each other barefoot.

The scene changes once more. Thunderous clouds gather in the sky. There is a clash of swords and shouts of commands as the Adilshahs of Bijapur take over the port now under the control of the Vijayanagara empire. The pier buckles and sinks to the sea floor, taking with it my day dream.

We are now five kilometres away from where we started, and beach our kayaks on a sandy stretch only accessible by water. It’s a short walk to the bend, around which lies the river heading up further inland towards civilisation. There is talk about rampant construction, birds, and fresh water crocodiles.

It’s time to turn back. It is harder to paddle now, against the tide, arms and shoulders straining against the river. As we turn around the bend at Siridao, I nearly fall off my kayak in excitement. There’s a puffing sound and the wash of disturbed water, the distinct signs of marine mammals nearby. A pod of dolphins is barely metres away! We sit in silence, pointing vigorously each time one of us spots them break the surface as they feed.

As the dolphins move on, so do we. Eight kayaks with eight hungry people head back to shore for a delicious brunch of omelettes and chouri├žo.

First published in The Navhind Times on February 06: