‘We have not received any calls from our clients in England for a room booking, and this has happened for the first time. Normally by this time in October, we know our occupancy until December,’ Fatima Fernandes from Ashvem, Mandrem, told Gomantak Times.
Ashvem is a ward in Mandrem, kissing the northern coastline and one of the few places to open up late to tourism as people lived on fishing and the sale of alcohol produced from cashew and coconut trees.
‘We had to keep up with time and slowly started letting out our rooms to foreigners. The British were some of the first to come, and then we had the Germans. Slowly we saw Russians coming in next. Once the pandemic started, we had plenty of Indians who came over, rented our rooms and did their work from here,’ says Paulo Britto, who has rooms to let and enjoys a monopoly on the rent-a-bike business in the area.
‘I prefer foreign tourists to local ones as they are sociable and they never mess up the room they are staying in. They take care of the place they are staying in and that is why, when they leave, the room is given back in the same condition as it was when they stepped in,’ says Fatima, whilst explaining why the non-arrival of tourists from England is worrying her.
‘My clients have kept coming over the years, and if they didn’t come for a particular year, they recommended their family or friends to come over. My clients would normally start calling me by late September or early October to confirm their bookings. I haven’t heard from them so far, but I have still not given up,’ says Fatima.
From a quiet village dotted with a virgin shoreline, Ashvem is now a hive of activity with construction material strewn around and labourers busy working. The roads are potholed with the busy traffic and small shops selling Indian artefacts by gipsies line the roads connecting villages along the coast in Mandrem. Small roofed houses are being replaced by one-storey houses, offering a view of the shoreline.
‘People start flocking to the beach by 5 pm and the entire place becomes crowded by sunset. There is a lot of noise at night, with restaurant owners playing loud music till the early hours of the morning. I have stopped complaining to the police because after the complaint we are threatened. It does not make sense to complain,’ says an old lady, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.
‘There is no problem if they play music till 10 pm because our guests need entertainment too. But playing loud music through the night is bad for our health. What is the use of making money if it is going to be spent on doctors?’ she retorts.
‘We had Russians and people from India who stayed with me during the pandemic. Most of my clients told me that they worked from the rooms, and they preferred being here than locked up in their homes. The rates during the pandemic were low, and they had the freedom to move around,’ explained Sanjay Parsekar, who runs a homestay in the village.
‘My clients (mainly Indian) like to stay in Ashvem and Morjim because of the closeness of these villages to Anjuna and Vagator, and with the nightlife found here now too,’ opines Sanjay, who thinks the season is yet to pick up.
‘Foreigners normally do not like to hang out in places frequented by domestic tourists. They find them loud,’ adds Sanjay.
Whether the British, Russian, German or domestic tourist comes or not, villagers of Ashvem and surrounding areas know that the choice of which tourist comes is not in their hands but with the tourist visiting.
‘We hope the season starts early because we have not been earning what we used to prior to the pandemic. We hope to get back to our old days. It has been tough, but Goa was good to us. So, we cannot complain,’ is how Fatima summed up the mood of the village.