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Laterite

Started: 2016-01-23 10:44:21

Submitted: 2016-01-23 02:35:07

Visibility: World-readable

28 December 2015: In which the intrepid narrator visits an old Portuguese fort and the adjacent beach in Goa

Having arrived in our hotel in Goa after midnight, I slept in, and only reluctantly emerged from my room to acquire a one-time password good for two days of WiFi from the hotel's front desk. We were finally far enough south that, unlike our previous stops in India, the hotel room was stuffy and warm unless I turned on the asthmatic air conditioner -- and then I had to turn the fan down to the lowest setting so it wouldn't annoy me too much.

I found my family and we considered my options for breakfast. The hotel was not especially interested in letting us eat breakfast in the attached restaurant, even if we paid for the privilege, so Willy went out to scout the local streets and reported back that we could probably find something to eat out in the town. We followed him out into the town, walking through the leafy tree-lined streets laid out without any sort of obvious order. It was only mid-morning and already the temperature was warmer than we'd experienced so far in India. We found a small restaurant to eat an Indian breakfast at, then returned to the hotel.

Willy's Hindi classmate Alex was spending part of his Christmas holiday in Goa, and he joined us while we played tourist for the day. We got a van-sized taxi to take us from Panaji, where we were staying, around the bay to the rocky headland protecting the northern side of the bay. It was only a couple of kilometers in a straight line, but it was considerably further by road (and even longer when one considered the normal state of Indian roads). Dad, Willy, Alex, and I got out at Fort Aguada, a Portuguese fort built in the 17th century to protect their colony in Goa and provide a dependable water source for their ships. Mom, Bethany, and Calvin stayed in the taxi to head down to the beach on the Arabian Sea next near the fort.

By the time we got to the fort it was early afternoon and scorching hot. I bought a bottle of Pepsi from the informal market that had erupted to serve tourists to the fort to sate my caffeine habit (which had gone unsated thus far since the tiny restaurant we ate breakfast at had seemed uninterested in serving me either coffee or chai) and we set out to explore the fort.

Main tower and perimiter wall at Fort Aguada
Main tower and perimiter wall at Fort Aguada

The fort was basically a big wall with a modest tower inside and a big reservoir for water. The entire thing was built out regular stones or bricks, which looked too regular to be stones and too much like stones to be bricks. The various interpretive signs identified as "laterite" without bothering to identify what precisely "laterite" was. I looked it up later and discovered that laterite is a unique soil phenomena of the tropics where the clay soil leeches minerals out of the bedrock, forming a thick layer of waterlogged mineral-infused clay. When the soil is dug up and allowed to dry, the minerals crystallize to form strong bricks without needing to be fired to cure the clay. This soil was readily available in Goa, and the entire fort (and most of the older buildings we saw on the following days) were built from laterite bricks.

Looking down the moat at Fort Aguada
Looking down the moat at Fort Aguada

I took special interest in the design of the towers forming the defensive fortifications above the moat on the landward side of the fort. The design appeared to follow a star fort pattern, consistent with the era of its construction, with contemporary field artillery capable of punching holes in masonry walls, but without the earthenworks and simpler design that would characterize the later polygonal forts. (It may also have helped that the landward defenses were intended primarily to defend the fort against attacks by local Indian armies, which probably lacked the more-advanced European artillery of the period.)

Jaeger at Fort Aguada
Jaeger at Fort Aguada
Dad, Willy, and Alex rest at Fort Aguada
Dad, Willy, and Alex rest at Fort Aguada
Willy at Fort Aguada
Willy at Fort Aguada

We wandered around the inside and outside of the fort and made our rendezvous with our taxi driver, who took us down the hill to the beach. We stopped to walk out on the small extension of the fort protecting this part of beach from invasion, which provided a convenient vantage point to find the rest of our family, lounging about on the beach enjoying the tropical weather.

Lower extension of Fort Aguada
Lower extension of Fort Aguada
Calvin enjoys the Arabian Sea
Calvin enjoys the Arabian Sea

Calvin, in particular, enjoyed the beach, especially playing with the waves as they rose to break on the sand. The water was warm -- somewhere in the swimming pool/bathtub range -- and the air was hot. I took off my shoes and waded into the water, letting the waves wash over my feet and the sand work its way between my toes. It was warm and pleasant and I almost wished I'd allocated more time just to enjoy the beach.

Jaeger's feet in the Arabian Sea
Jaeger's feet in the Arabian Sea

Instead I needed to eat lunch, since by then the afternoon was wearing on. I joined the rest of the fort-visiting party at the beach-side restaurant above the beach chair Mom and Bethany had rented for the day, and while the food was good the service was slow enough that I did not have much more time to actually spend on the beach.

Willy, Alex, and I wanted to see The Force Awakens, which was playing that evening at a movie theater in town, so we marshalled the group back to town as the sun was setting. We kept the true nature of our movie visit secret from Calvin, who wanted to see the new Star Wars movie, because (based on the reviews) we thought it would probably be a bit too violent for him. I left Calvin in the care of my mother, and we headed to the theater.

Sun sets over Goa
Sun sets over Goa

I am old enough to remember the crushing disappointment of seeing The Phantom Menace, which failed to live up to my expectations as a young adult of what a Star Wars movie ought to be, and the somewhat more modest disappointment of the rest of the prequel trilogy (both because my expectations were lower, and because the following movies were somewhat better). (This is in contrast to some of my younger former coworkers, who were actually children in 1999 and therefore have a far different relationship with the prequels and remember them all fondly.) As a result I set my expectations low, refusing to be disappointed, but also failing to let myself fully enjoy the movie. It was, in fact, fantastic -- we got to see a gritty, lived-in world, where the stars of the original trilogy had lived and aged and made sacrifices and bad decisions and lived with the consequences of their actions. I was totally shocked by THE SPOILER, and I was very impressed with Bethany for keeping it to herself for the week we'd been in India together, after she saw the movie in New York just before getting on the plane to come to India, and also with the Internet at large (in particular, my social media circles) for also keeping it under wraps. It was clear that the filmmakers loved the original trilogy, and pretended the prequel trilogy had never come into existence; I counted at least half a dozen visual references to iconic scenes from the original -- especially Star Wars -- and nothing referencing the prequels.

After the movie Alex headed back to where he was staying and Willy and I headed back to our hotel, stopping for a late snack of something not unlike an Indian veggie burger: a fried ball of some vegetable batter served in a bun. It was a weird fusion food and I thought it was great.

For more photos from Fort Aguada and Goa, see Photos on 2015-12-28.
You've reached a new low when you start naming your condiments.
- Bitscape, 13 December 2001