Most evenings here in Goa Brian and I have dinner at one of the tiny restaurants that dot Patnem Beach. Near dusk we leave our apartment and walk down our single-lane road, turning left near a field where knock-kneed Indian boys, skinny as bones, play cricket in the evenings.
We shuffle past a tiny convenience store owned by a warm-eyed woman named Dilara. We turn the corner past the tourist shops, sidestepping the dogs that lay curled and sleeping in the red dirt. The woman who sells coconuts from her roadside shack yells “HELLO, COCO?” as we wander by.
We walk past the gentle curve of Colomb Bay and the cows that eat the vegetable scraps and the pigs that eat the garbage.
Our flip-flops slap beneath us. It’s a familiar sound in a tiny town sat by a great big sea. When we arrive at the beach we walk barefoot through the sand to the row of restaurants built up under the palm trees. We take a seat at an outdoor table, face the ocean, and recline in our chairs. We dig our feet into sand still warm from the mid-day heat and watch the sun blaze and fade from the sky. The changing from day into night again, as natural and as sure as anything.
Brian and I talk about whatever comes to mind. I scratch the ear of a dog that has curled up beside me, hoping I’ll share my evening meal. Around us is the quiet chatter of the other diners, the slow beat of the music that wafts from the restaurant, but most of all there is the darkness of the ocean and the nighttime sky and the sound of the waves rolling over on themselves. Whoosh.
Tonight, Brian is telling a story about Bigfoot and I lightheartedly tease him. There’s been a sighting in Oregon, he tells me. It is a really big deal.
Brian loves the unexplainable. Bigfoot and ghosts and extraterrestrials. He says it’s because he likes to believe that there are things out there that we haven’t discovered yet. Big things that we can’t quite understand.
“Like God?” I ask, but he won’t go that far with me.
Someone is walking along the shore; the blue glow of their flashlight floats in the darkness.
“There! By the water!” I say mischievously “It’s the glowing eye of a giant squid!” I hold my hands a foot and a half apart to demonstrate the size. “We definitely need to report this.”
Brian looks at me seriously. “That is almost exactly the size of a giant squid eye.”
I roll my eyes and laugh. And then he laughs at himself.
It’s a night like so many others but one that we have missed over the past nine months of traveling. We’d been moving like gypsies, darting from place to place, and we were exhausting ourselves in the process. Traveling was losing its flavor.
Before we came here, to this tiny Indian town, our conversations tended towards the next place we were going. Should we take the overnight bus or the morning bus? Should we go to this city or that one? Have we researched the hostels? Do we know the exchange rate? It was all business all of the time. And we took a beating because of it. We were beginning to forget why we were doing this, and why we were doing it together.
So slowing down has not just been about relaxing, it’s been a saving thing for us. A back-to-the-basics boot camp, a gift of attention, conversation, time. Time. The thing we so desperately craved back in the days before we left our cubicles and stepped out into this beautiful world.
And slowing down has also given us the freedom in our day to develop routine, to escape the crush of the weight of a thousand tiny decisions and a thousand big ones. Where should we sleep tonight? Where should we visit next? What should we eat for lunch? Should we escape India altogether and search for cheap hotels in Bangkok? Bangkok, with it’s pulsing nightlife and cheap street food. The Buddhist temples and shrines, the Bangkok National Museum, the Bangkok Aquarium. We’ve never been to Thailand after all. Every place pulls, every photo entices. Because, when anything is possible, your head can go wild with the chaos of choices.
We needed this breathing room.
As we walk home after dinner a map of stars burns high above us and the palm trees sway in the ocean breeze, silhouetted by the glowing moon. The dogs are still sleeping in the red dirt. My arm slips through the triangle of Brian’s and we stroll home the way we came. We walk slowly, the familiar calm of heading home, the steps to a dance we have recited in so many cities now in countries all over the world.
And I am struck once more at how fortunate we are to do this, to do what we love and make the world our home. It’s another benefit of slow travel, having the time to be thankful, the time to process all that we are seeing and doing and learning. To be still and in that stillness feel a well of gratitude bubble up: Thank you, thank you.