Watching sunset in Aldona, Goa
India Travels

Aldona and the Amarals: A 4-day Retreat

I stood there on the sidewalk of a low bridge watching the sunset. Content. 

The evening breeze gently nuzzled at the lazy backwaters causing a few ripples here and there. My face comfortably warm from the golden hour rays that spread like a yellow carpet on the green landscape. 

I breathed deeply, closing my eyes for a few seconds. I hadn’t been this present and calm in a long time. 2023 was a mad rush from eight months at a life-sucking full-time desk job to four months of indulging in my passion for dance a little too hard. I was just constantly exhausted and emotional and had almost forgotten what it was to just be and breathe. Until this moment. 

It was Day 3 of staying with the Amarals in Aldona. 

Aldona and the Amarals

Aldona is a charming village in North Goa that many blogs and a few YouTube videos claim to be the most beautiful village in the world. And the Amarals (Roberto and Raquel with their human and fur babies) are a family that runs a charming homestay called Cancio’s House in this charming village. 

Cancio’s House

Thanks to the travel storytelling course by Shivya that I had signed up for, I got an opportunity to stay at this place for 3 nights. It was an exclusive opportunity given to two of the course participants to ‘experience slow travel with a traditional family-run homestay in a typical Goan village and create stories about it.’

So, here I’m telling you the story of how this 4-day trip came at the perfect time to help me go from on-the-brink-of-burnout to slowing down and bringing joy back to my life. 

It was a rough start

The trip was supposed to happen in the first week of February when I still hadn’t realised how messed up my everyday schedule was. I was working with a dance studio to manage their highly active social media, dancing 2+ hours a day as a part of team practice and helping manage the studio while dancing for 6+ hours on the weekend. This along with three other freelance clients I had. 

I was constantly hustling and constantly felt inadequate. If the trip had happened as planned on the first week, I would have probably spent half my time there FOMOing about the list of tasks I could have done if I had been back home. 

But the trip got pushed to the 3rd week of February. By then, I realised that my schedule was terribly unhealthy and that I was mostly sad and exhausted even though I was pursuing my deepest passion. So, I started doing a Slow Living Challenge to reset and fix my messed up schedule.

You can read about the Slow Living Challenge here.

This trip so beautifully aligned with that. But I didn’t know that on Day 1. 

Our guest room in Cancio's House, Aldona, Goa
Our cosy room at Cancio’s house

“There isn’t much. Maybe you can take a walk to the riverfront in the evening. It’s quite nice there.”

Raquel had told us on the morning we reached there while we were munching on bread slathered with delicious grape jam she had made. Roberto was out of town on business. And I had hoped for a good trip with a lot of exploring – especially because it had been almost a year since I travelled except for a terrible volunteering experience in South Goa just a couple of months back. 

Here I was sitting in the dining room of a 500+ years old Goan house that dates back to before the Portuguese era in a beautiful village away from the noise but my heart just sank as soon as I heard ‘There isn’t much.’

But do we really need much?

After breakfast, we went back to our cosy room and assessed the situation –

  • Everything including hotels was at least 3 km away and is a solid half hour one way by walk. We cannot do 2 to 3 meals a day and sightseeing like this considering we had to work as well.
  • It was also going to be so hot in the afternoon that walking or even driving for lunch sounded horrible.
  • To hire a bike, we had to go to Mapusa town which was again a half an hour bus ride away. 
  • One of the major attractions nearby was Corjuem Fort, but it was closed for maintenance which made us wonder if hiring a bike was even worth it. 
  • Take that away, it didn’t seem like there was much else to do in Aldona. 
  • Everything was inconvenient and it seemed like I couldn’t catch a break even if I travelled 620 km!

Oh no… deep breaths… one thing at a time! 

Luckily I found that Swiggy delivery was available here and we could sort out the lunch situation. We decided to check out the riverfront in the evening and then figure out if we were going to hire a two-wheeler. 

So, at around 4 pm we set out to walk to the riverfront. 

Wiping the sweat off our foreheads every few minutes and gawking at the beautiful houses with pretty gardens around every corner. The vibe was of laid-back sophistication and not at all what I had pictured of a village.

As we reached the riverfront a little too early for the sunset, we settled down with our feet dangling over the water. Cute little sparrows were chirping away, circling a barren plant nearby. We got excited spotting fish through a small window right below our feet where they were visible in the slightly murky water. 

Riverfront, Aldona

The riverfront wasn’t that impressive in itself but I found my mood improving as I sat there observing little things. A beautiful sunset followed and made my heart happy. 

For an early dinner, we tried Okapi Vegan Kitchen which Raquel suggested. With a quick walk of 500m from the riverfront we were at this cute place with an interesting vegan menu. We ordered the day’s special meal and french toast which was so exceptional that we ordered again. 

We chatted with the sweet people at Okapi for a little longer and walked back home at around 9 pm, gawking at the fancy ambient lights decorating people’s driveways and gardens! 

How did the day end up being so good? We decided to not get a scooter and go with the flow. 

Time slowed down

We woke up late on day 2, ordered in and worked listening to the tunes of birds. In the evening, we walked to St Thomas Church, the cemetery nearby and then the Corjuem Cable bridge and noticed many abandoned houses on our way. 

St Thomas Church, Aldona
St Thomas Church, Aldona

The next morning (Day 3) we walked 2 km to try a famous local eatery called Sai Mauli and had a beautiful breakfast spread. In the evening we went on a random walk in a direction we hadn’t ventured before because why not?

And that’s how we ended up at this low bridge watching the sunset. Content. 

How did a place that didn’t initially impress me capture my heart so effortlessly?

After our walks, I would walk into the kitchen at Cancio’s house as if it were my own to ask a bunch of questions about the village, the places and their home. And I would hear fascinating stories mixed with their playful mother-daughter banter as Raquel and her mother indulged us enthusiastically while the cats and dogs lazed around.

Like this story about the yearly feast called ‘Choranchem Fest‘ or the feast of the robbers! The festival is celebrated to remember how the community came together when robbers tried to rob St Thomas Church back in the late 1800s. When the church bell rang to alert the people, they came rushing with any weapons they could find and bravely fought the robbers, massacring them!

Then there were tales about their home and of running the homestay. 

On the night of the third day, she invited us for dinner. 

Dinner and the last day

Two traditional Goan vegan dishes and warm gooey walnut brownies waited for us as we went in for dinner. 

A dinner to remember!

Trust me when I say that it was one of the most amazing meals I have eaten. And boy did I eat! The Vorsanne (local beans that grow after monsoon) curry and the Ambado (hog plum) curry were phenomenal. I ate three rounds each and two big squares of brownies fresh from the oven! 

Both my heart and my tummy were extra full! 

Roberto came back from his work trip the next afternoon (our last day here) and we had the pleasure of hearing stories from the ‘chatterbox of the house’ as Raquel lovingly calls him. 

He told us a whole lot about how this ancestral home evolved from being one of the first seven houses in Aldona (making it older than the church) to one of the earliest homestays in India when homestays weren’t popular 18 years ago. He has spent 29 years of his life, carefully renovating and maintaining the house, using as much of the original material as possible. 

With the hosts of Cancio's House, Aldona Goa.
The one with the Amarals

Apparently, the pretty room we stayed in was once a mill house made of stone and mud! Most of the furniture in the guest rooms and their home are refurbished old furniture that has stood for decades. While they don’t advertise it, they try to be as sustainable as possible with everything they are doing like channelling the water from bathrooms to their beautiful garden and never selling a plastic water bottle. 

As I munched on samosas and bajjis hearing more of these great stories, my heart sank again. This time from the realisation that it was time to leave this beautiful place and amazing people. Roberto and Raquel were kind enough to drop us off at the Mapusa bus stand and I came back to my city life feeling rejuvenated from this amazing trip that turned into a slow living retreat! 

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Author

  • Nivetha Kannan

    Nivetha Kannan is a joyous soul who loves to follow the flow of life with a open and curious heart. With 5 years of writing experience and a useless law degree under her belt, she hopes to inspire and encourage people to live a life of simple curiosity. As a passionate writer, dancer and traveller, she loves to tell stories through her words, moves and journeys.

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Nivetha Kannan

Nivetha Kannan is a joyous soul who loves to follow the flow of life with a open and curious heart. With 5 years of writing experience and a useless law degree under her belt, she hopes to inspire and encourage people to live a life of simple curiosity. As a passionate writer, dancer and traveller, she loves to tell stories through her words, moves and journeys.

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7 Comments

  1. Sandhya says:

    Always a fan of your writing 😍😍😍😍 cheers,
    Sandhya

  2. Aravindan says:

    Tech era made everyone throttle harder. Lovely read of this slow living short story.
    Will stay tuned for more! Cheers Nive and Sundaram 🎊🥳

  3. Vaish says:

    Beautiful piece of writing. I could feel the tranquilness and how you have enjoyed this experience ❤️. Looking forward to read more about such kind of eye opening life experiences of yours 😄.

  4. R Kannan says:

    Excellent. I feel almost being stayed there

  5. Kruthi says:

    The more you travel, the more you learn!!
    Thank you for giving an online ride to the beautiful place😍!! Keep it going!🎊

  6. Krishnendu says:

    Really enjoyed reading this, I could hear you talking about this experience while being relaxed and content. Sounds like a great way to slow down, I definitely plan on visiting someday.

  7. Couldn’t have expressed our experiences in a better manner! It’s wonderful how you can translate your thoughts into writing without skipping the soul and the essence! The retreat at the Cancio’s House will be a constant reminder to slow down, sit back and enjoy the tiniest joys of life.

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