- Meandering through the local beat
Meandering through the local beat
Happy to wander, Deepa George meets Raul da Costa and Mackinlay Barreto, founders of the experiential travel company, THE LOCAL BEAT that takes travellers through scenic hinterlands of Goa, offering them a cultural experience of vintage, ‘sobit’ Goa. Through local experiences of long hikes, fishing in the rivers, having wood fired pez, feni and food trails, being serenaded by musicians to zatras, fests and zagors; they chip at the stereotypical image, one passoi (walk) at a time.
I am greeted with a chilled glass of toddy as I enter the vehicle of the team that runs The Local Beat. I am with them on a ‘passoi’ (walk) to purposefully loaf (if there is such a thing) around St. Estevam or Juvem - the island village but instead find myself suspended in time, taking in the sights and sounds of the pristine side of Goa, sometimes forgotten in the daily humdrum of ‘development’ economics. The scenic backwaters, majestic fort with ‘Christ The King’ monument and mangroves of this idyllic village is quite unlike any other island on the Mandovi. I can clearly see why Fr. Bismarque who hailed from this island would want to fight to protect and preserve this Goa.
Shaken from this reverie, I can hear Raul da Costa sharing trivia about the Cumbarjua Canal and about how Adil Shah imported crocodiles from Africa 500 years ago as a defence strategy to ward of Portuguese invaders! Raul D’Costa and Mackinlay Barreto (aka Mack), the partners who founded The Local Beat are not just content impressing travellers with historical data alone. Says Mack, “Our jaunts are about local experiences, not guided tours but ‘happily unhurried’ loafing that gets you to see the authentic side of Goa and its people, away from the touristy trap.” Adds Raul, “Being a Goan, I am sick of the typical stereotype of Goa. I didn’t want to take people to casinos, pubs or even beaches.” He should know. Hailing from Curtorim, Raul used to run his own travel business for decades before two major accidents changed the course of his life. Clearly, his third lease of life is driven with a purpose and drive. “I want to enjoy what I’m doing with sincerity and if the guests don’t like what we’ve custom curated, I am happy to return their money,” he says with a smile. Mack adds, “We don’t want to make these outings ‘hip’ and we don’t believe in itineraries. In fact no two trips have ever been the same. This helps keep the surprise element for guests and makes it novel for us.” Soon, the duo don’t seem like guides but friends showing you around their home, proud of their Goan culture.
Keen on reviving old traditional games of Goa, they get their guests to play Tablem, played with seven bamboo sticks, on their Tavern trails. Lobio or Lagori (played with seven tiles or seven coconut shells) and Gulli Danda keep guests, especially foreigners enthralled. The experience is replete with funny anecdotes by Raul. He shares, “I never liked History in school but that changed after my teacher, Laurita Sardinha taught me. She was instrumental in getting me to love the subject. When I came back from Bahrain, I wanted to show my friends around Goa and was shocked that none of the guides really knew much. This made me want to know more and enhance my knowledge.” If Raul seems wordly wise, Mack compliments him with a youthful energy and new age savviness.
We move on to Kuppar in St. Estevam where a group of local residents, catch up on news, sipping on chao (tea). Santan Fernandes, takes us on his ponnell (fishing boat) through the tranquil river, regaling us with stories of yore. The silence as we move along is strangely comforting; the whizzing dragon flies punctuate the green expanse with dots of red as the setting sun throws inky cloud shadows on the glistening water. The mind is at peace. Santan goes on to tell us of the otters and crocodiles that exist around the mangroves - a firsthand simple lesson in ecology without it sounding like one.
This is the Goemkar life and this is the experience that makes Mario Miranda’s Goa come alive - that all of us in Goa should want to preserve. Says Mack, whose mum’s ancestral home is in this village, “For me, coming back and connecting to the villagers is one nostalgic trip.” As Santan shows us the ‘mannos’ or the indigenous sluice gate system and we join in crab catching frenzy, it is evident that he is happy to show off his village and his fisherman skills, passed on from generations. Sustainable tourism and social entrepreneurship may seem imposing terms but here it sits lightly as ground examples to what one can do in promoting local tourism and supporting local businesses.
The worldwide trend of ‘going back to the roots’ in all things from diet to travel is heartening. Mack reveals, “The testimony is not in the reviews but that we get strongly recommended. We have some Japanese tourists who have been coming to Goa often and they’ve been wanting to translate our brochure in Japanese, so impressed are they, not just with us but by the ‘real’ Goa. We are only the medium.”
Wary of these oft beaten spots being revealed and commercialised, they only consider small private groups, clean up the places they visit, don’t allow tagging of locations and have a healthy disdain for selfies!
Living the ‘sussegado’ life is hard work after all but they aren’t complaining.