I'm about to fly to Goa, I've got my bags in the hallway,
ticket in my pocket, and most of my good-byes said. I leave in the dark
of dawn to catch the early flight for London, then on to Bombay and finally,
I answer the phone on the second ring. It's an old friend from Greece travelling days, Tony. We've not talked for about 2 years and to hear from him is a surprise. Not as big as the surprise he has for me - he's also flying to Goa in the morning, with Alitalia instead of Air India. Anyway we're meeting at the check-in in the morning to compare notes. Unbelievable coincidence.
GOAN CRAZY - A story from India
January 6th - Heathrow airport 1100 am
After waking earlier than either the alarm clock or the three alarm calls made by my incredible friends, I made it to Schiphol with no hitches. Tony was in a rush to catch his flight having miscalculated the time - he must leave in 20 minutes. We arrange to meet at a restaurant on Baga beach in Goa, and he races off.
My flight is on time to London where Air India has delayed the Bombay flight. Great. Nothing to do but hang around Heathrow trying not to spend any money. I try to relax in the Comfort Lounge (that's a joke in itself).
1540 Heathrow - Alone in a crowd
Amazing how time can fly when you're bored shitless. I'm tired, irritable, and even the free lunch didn't cheer me. The flight's going at 1600 now, but that's the third update since 10.55 when it was supposed to have left. On the plane I am blessed with an entire row to myself - I extend my aching legs and settle back to watch The Mask of Zorro, revelling in Anthony Hopkins buckling his swash all over the place. The lights come on, waking me from a much-needed sleep to eat another curry and rice. I'm not too keen on this at what for me is almost midnight. Fellow passengers exchange friendly banter, obviously jealous of my single row status. We land in Mumbai at 5 am. Well at least I won't have the overnight wait that I expected for the Goa flight.
January 7th Mumbai Airport 05.20 (local time)
- Hotter than July
The temperature hits as soon as I disembark. Thick hot air bathes me, the airport's fans cool me. I fall over laughing at the sight of a huge plastic Santa Claus on the window of the duty free shop. I remember saying I wanted out of Europe to avoid plastic Santa Clauses, now I'm faced with a two metre high version in India! Of course! I recall that Goa is Catholic, legacy from the Portuguese who ruled until the 60's.
I am ushered to the check-in desk to watch as an official slowly fills in a form by hand, meticulous in his work. Things are very slow here. I am informed the flight is delayed (now why am I not surprised?) for half an hour. Delay will feature heavily in this story, I warn you. The Formica airport stays open all night; at 6 am we're offered free breakfast - boiled or scrambled eggs, tea, juice, or 2 types of curry and rice with chapatti. Curry for breakfast? Uurgh!! After a chat with lady passengers, I find a spot to lie down for some more shut-eye but am rudely woken by an Indian woman sitting on my legs, forcing me to abandon my comfy position for a reclining chair with missing under slats just where my hip goes. It's impossible to sleep. I sit in a fine ill temper until the flight's ready. We are shunted through a security gate, bags x-rayed, then told there's another delay. What is it with Air India? Can't they ever leave on time?
At last we're released from the purgatory of Mumbai's
wonderful airport and 45 minutes later, arrive in sunny Goa. I emerge onto
white-hot tarmac. Oh rats! My sunglasses aren't in my handbag. The sun
beats unmercifully onto my uncovered head. Tales of heat stroke cross my
mind, followed by fears of lost baggage. Eight bags are missing, says a
fellow traveller, a matronly Dutch lady. Oh no, it's bound to be
mine! Anxious, I peer through a hole in the wall to where baggage
handlers toss luggage onto a torn, creaking conveyer belt. Their
inefficiency stops the belt 4 times as bags become tangled, causing logjam,
suitcases spilling onto the floor. My bag is in the last load. I almost
shout with relief and am off like a rocket to investigate this strange
Taxis from airports are prepaid in Goa, a board full of destinations displays prices for given distances; you pay and receive a receipt, which you give to the driver. Two attempts to confuse me didn't work, I kept my eye on the chit until one man found me a cab, a mini-bus seating perhaps 6 with luggage. The Indians like to overload their vehicles.
It took almost an hour to travel to Baga, where I was
to begin the adventure. Along the road, I marvel at the similarity to Portugal,
although considerably hotter. The road is atrocious. Occasionally a cow
wanders across, forcing everyone to brake. You daren't hit one - in India
they're all somebody's Grandmother. All vehicles are ancient, box-like
saloon cars resembling the Lada, or three-wheeled rickshaws, teetering
on the edge of falling on each curve of the pot-holed road. Massive trucks,
named after Hindu deities, their names painted brightly over the cab, rumble
along sounding klaxon horns to scare away opposition.
Overtaking, an Indian driver beeps his horn; turning a corner, he beeps his horn; seeing a friend, he beeps his horn; at tourist women, he beeps his horn. Car horns are very important tools in India.
I watch the pattern of life unfolding through the open window. It's 32 degrees centigrade now we've reached noon. I'm not used to these sorts of temperatures at all. The myriad colours of the Bougainvillaea are vivid against white or pastel shaded houses; other flowers, bright blue and yellow against grey-green scrubland, contrasting the warm ochre of the earth. I see Eucalyptus trees, Bamboo, and all the plants I have on the windowsill at home growing in their true environment, to the size of bushes. Rubber trees tower over the road, as do the ever-present palm trees, swaying overhead bearing clusters of green coconuts. Oh what a green and pleasant land this is.
Houses sport star shaped lamps, such as the one Sue bought
me from Glastonbury. I had no idea they were from here, they're everywhere,
as are the coloured fairy lights draped over roofs and strung along the
porches of Portuguese houses. Here and there you are wished a Merry Christmas
and Happy New Year, tinsel and Christmas tree balls hang in abundance,
and the plastic Santa syndrome is alive and well. The Indians love tat,
the more gaudy the better.
Arriving at Villa Fatima I am astounded at the garden's sparkling lighting decorations. This is in fact the wrong Villa Fatima, I want the Guest house next door. Extracting myself from the grip of the persistent proprietor, I search out the lady doctor, Otillia who is expecting me. I'm shown up to a first floor corridor containing three rooms, built behind a spacious villa which also houses her medical practise. I have a room with bathroom, a bed, table, chair, and wardrobe, all ancient. Mosquito netting covers the windows, I am pleased to note. A fan hangs over the middle of the room. I pay 600 rupees (£9 or \\$13 - I kid you not) for 2 days. I'm delighted to unpack, showering off the last 36 hours of travel.
Outside my room on the balcony, I meet Carol and George, a Canadian couple, receiving valuable advice from seasoned Goanites on how to hire a moped.
Time to plunge into India. I walk out to find the restaurant where I am to meet Tony. Striding along the Baga Road I am constantly accosted by traders, eager to sell me anything on their packed tourist stalls. I find it hard to resist but know I must just ignore them and carry on before they have the money out of my pocket without me knowing it. These are not Goan people, they are mostly from Rhajistan, a very poor state further north. Like many others, they came to Goa to make money from tourists, this is a very rich tourist state. The roads are choked with crude stalls where the owners sleep at night, right next to the road; whole families live along the roads. I walk the good distance to the end, finding St Anthony's Restaurant looking out onto Baga beach. This is one of several beach shacks catering to tourists, with Coca Cola umbrellas shading tables on the sand. Sun-beds stand near the shoreline. Glancing left, along a near white beach stretching for miles, more shacks and sun-beds dot the sand all the way to the horizon. Not quite the solitary beach life I imagined. A few cows lie down on the sand, resting in the day's heat. Dogs pad around guarding their sandy territories while westerners soak up sunshine at levels likely to cause skin to peel.
I walk along in the surf, searching the beach shacks but see no sign of Tony. Perhaps his journey from Bombay is longer than I thought. Returning to St Anthony's Café where fishing nets dry in the late afternoon sun, I drink Cola while receiving a massage from one of the beach vendors. I didn't want it, it was thrust upon me by this astute salesman. I frown at the 200-rupee bill but when I remember that is only Dfl.10.00 (£3) I smile. It was a pretty lousy massage, more an excuse to feel my leg than to relieve any pains.
Sunset on Baga Beach
I view the sunset with Carol and George who come here every night to see it. It's certainly worth looking at. I photograph furiously. Leaving the restaurant, a taxi driver comes up to me to ask if I want to rent a moped. I go to see the vehicle with Mahon as he is named. Resembling a scooter, it's a Kinetic Honda. We test my ability to drive on a patch of rutted waste ground. I pass the test and after parting with 1000 rupees, am soon speeding along the road at 20 Kph. Finding a nice looking open air restaurant I eat a dinner of Prawns Masala, a very hot and spicy Goan speciality. Exhausted, I return to the guest house, retiring to bed by 10 pm.
St Antony's Cafe, Baga Beach
8th January St Anthony's Restaurant, Baga Beach
I slept well. I was here again early this morning to search for Tony and perhaps hire a sun-bed. Within ten minutes, Tony and his brother Dennis strolled up to me. I was delighted to see my old friend and to have an experienced guide. The brothers have visited India for years and know the score. Together we strolled along to the next beach, Calangute, me picking up tips on what's what as we progress. We stroll to Tony's rudimentary beach house with its desert garden, three barely furnished rooms, shower, and toilet from hell. Indian toilets are a ceramic hole in the ground leading to an underground cesspool; you must not use paper but must wash yourself with water, using more to wash the waste away. Don't worry - it gets worse later on.
We talked for a while then I left him to sleep off his 24-hour bus ride from Mumbai (I blessed my 45-minute flight even with its delays). I rode off to find Anjuna, the beach where the world famed hippie market is held every Wednesday. It's said you'll see everyone you know at that market if you sit there long enough. I trundle along at a crawl, mainly due to the presence of occasional sacred cows in the middle of the road. Why they let them wander about aimlessly is a mystery to me, they must cause no end of accidents. Now, sitting here in late afternoon sun, I see one stealing a banana right off the table of a nearby tourist. They mooch about the beach all day foraging amongst beach shack garbage dumps and eating discarded fruit. Anjuna beach appears to have much less of all this, but I didn't walk its length, preferring to bathe in one spot. On Goan beaches, salesmen and women constantly bother you, with anything from fruit to henna painting on sale. It becomes quite tedious after the first ten 'hello madam, what you like today?'
After Midnight and a few Bacardi Banana Milkshakes
It is Tony's birthday, time for a celebration. We went to Laxman's Restaurant on the beach, where I ate a delicious Prawn Byriani washed down by strong banana milk shakes laced with duty free Bacardi. We were joined by Tony's landlady's son Santana - nice man. I found myself deep in political and social discussion with him until the party moved to the Hard Rock Café, along the beach. By midnight I was weaving along the sand in search of my moped, glad nobody else was on the road at this time of night, everyone seemed to be abed.
Baga's version of the Hard Rock Cafe
Saturday January 9th - Joe's Café, Baga
I ache today, a product of long unused muscles. I ease the discomfort with a good breakfast of boiled eggs and a pot of decent tea. No toast accompanies the eggs, toast must be ordered separately. Funny place India. Chatting with the lady of the house, I learn the price of saris and buy a local area map before heading off across the fine soft sand to find Tony's house, here's a photo:
Tony's 3 quid a day residence
In a nearby beach shack I order a Lassi, the yoghurt/milk shake so popular in India, refreshingly cool in the almost midday sun. The afternoon is spent lazing on the sand or plunging periodically into the sea, which appears very clean, but carries a plethora of bacteria. The one thing I've noticed over all else is the sanitation. With few public toilets, Goans (poor ones anyway) use the wilderness to 'do their business' and I'm sure the sea is no exception.
Laxman's restaurant Baga beach 1700hrs
I came here to try out my first coconut pancake - a sweet but delicious experience- while listening to the chatter of ex-pat British customers. These people are obviously in the know about the party scene when I hear mention of Disco Valley, one of the party spots picked out on my map. I watch and listen awhile. Tony and Dennis are planning to eat at a Tibetan restaurant tonight, we wander along the road to find the place, stopping first at the German Bakery on Baga Road. Nice food available here, fresh croissants and pastries, decent coffee. Can't work out why it's a German Bakery though.
At the Tibetan restaurant we met up with Ade, an old work mate of Dennis' on holiday with wife and sister-in-law. A party quickly ensued with much gaiety until my right leg began to ache painfully and I had to take a taxi home.
Sunday 10th January - St Francis and St Patsi
Today began well. At 10 I was on the road to Old Goa, where St Francis of Assisi's relics are displayed in an inadequately lit but very ornate coffin in a plainly decorated church. Crowds of Indian tourists mill about, chattering incessantly. The atmosphere resembles a side-show. Outside I fall into conversation with an Indian man recently arrived from Hampi, the ancient Hindu capital, where he claims he was robbed. I have heard of similar attacks via the Internet Indian travel information page. A sucker for a sob story, I part with 100 Rupees (sometimes I'm so guilible) but when he gives me his work and home address, I begin to think he is genuine. He says he has asked St Francis to help, I tell him his prayers are answered that the blessed saint has sent me as a Good Samaritan. Christian Indians appear very devout. However, everywhere the mixed images of Christianity and Hinduism proclaim their devotion to gods of both persuasions to protect them from the evil of this world. Indians obviously like also to hedge their bets.
Anxious to leave, I journey back through Mapusa, the small market town some 15 kilometres inland from the coast, failing to spot the speed breaker in the road as I motor down a long, steep hill. When the moped and I part company, a friendly Indian family is fortunately on hand to bathe my wounds, stinging me painfully with iodine. The old cures are still the best but do they hurt! I have scraped my right arm from elbow to wrist, right knee, and the plate sized bruise on the right hip is already visible a few minutes after the crash. Shaken but not disturbed, I mount the damaged moped to limp back to base and leave the machine to walk for the rest of the evening. I think Shankses Pony is the best form of transport for a while.
Reaching Tony's house, my mishaps are little compared to his tale of the previous night, when a passing motorcyclist snatched a plastic bag from his arm as he and Dennis walked along Baga Road in the darkness. By an amazing stroke of luck, as the thief grabbed the bag, Tony's wallet fell out onto the road, so nothing more than a sweaty tee shirt, a book I had just lent him, and the mandatory bottle of mineral water carried by all tourists had been lost. The assault had shaken Tony, who knew the attacker could well have pushed him down a cliff after the robbery, worse stories are heard every day around here. We ate at the Hard Rock Café. I chose a sizzler, and was presented with vegeburger on rice, with chips and salad. It sizzled as it came to the table, hence the name, and drew everyone's attention. I walked home after dinner, not keen on the prospect of a night's football games being shown in most of the bars.
The restaurant neighbouring my hotel, Casa Portuguesa, possesses a walled terrace set back from the road, offering quiet dining in a shady garden. My window overlooks this terrace, and when the restaurant's owner broke into "Happy Birthday to you' accompanied by a guitar, I knew I had to move out of this room. Even with closed windows, the conversation from the diners was audible. It was after midnight before I fell asleep but at least it gave me time to think about where I can get the moped repaired......
Monday 11 January Villa Fatima 2010
I write this in the first power cut I've yet experienced. I was warned about this, it happens every day at some time. It has silenced the intrusive sounds of the tourist bars and restaurants, cloaking the world as if wrapping it in velvet. Even traffic seems light. I am munching pineapple cake, sipping mango juice by candlelight after a very good day.
I got up early to meet the lads at the German Bakery for breakfast before they take the bus to Palolem, further south. I promise to follow in a couple of days. Fixed the moped's mirror and light fitting locally then drove to Mapusa to get a new front faring. Now you'd hardly know it had been in a crash. I toured the large market, buying fruit and checking the sari shops for prices. On the way back I stopped at a roadside rest place where stone benches and tables provided a lovely place to watch the river birds. The near perfect tranquillity made me feel relaxed and happy.
Me and the blue monster
At Laxman's the magnificent sunset accompanied Vegetable Makanwala, a creamy curry and rice dish, and Fenne, the local hooch, distilled from coconuts or cashew nuts, a lethal concoction with a proof measure right off the Richter scale. I stayed on the beach until the power cut sent me back for the torch. Looks like an earlier night than planned for me.....
Tuesday January 6th Pumpernickel Café, Baga
Decided to get out of noisy Baga to spend the day at Vagator beach, a little further north. Passed this German style resort and couldn't resist the fresh croissants and filter coffee. It's a bit pricey but nice for a change. The waiters are snooty, regarding me with suspicion. I dislike these resorts, responsible for most of Goa's water problems. As resorts increase, they suck precious water from wells on which everyone in the area depends, just so tourists can shower twice a day and flush toilets to death. Makes my blood boil. Sometimes it's so hard to take a balanced point view.
Laxman's Restaurant Baga, 1820hrs
Spent the afternoon toasting my buns at Vagator, trying to ignore the constant interruptions. Returned via the Tibetan refugee market in Calangute, purchasing a red-faced Tibetan sun for my collection. I received a visit from the taxi driver Mahon, who had heard of my accident (surprise surprise). Drat! Now I must repair the other piece of the faring, which is really just scratched a little. I resolve to return to Mapusa again. Beginning to wish I'd never seen the darned machine.
Wednesday 13th January Ajnuna Market 1100 hrs
Siting under the palms, watching life roll on past. This is market madness. Hassled from the start to the end by over eager traders who will do anything to get the cash out of your pocket. I tried to tell them I was only looking but to them that means you want to buy.
I am in a sort of café in the middle of the market, enclosed on 3 sides by drink salesmen and a family cooking pakoras and bhajis on a camping stove. I bought a boiled egg and bread for 4 rupees and am content to eat and sip tea, writing the scene. And what a scene! Colours and smells everywhere, people crushing through the throng, slowly pacing past stalls of clothes, jewellery, souvenirs. Under pressure I bought one soapstone carved egg with a tiny owl inside, for Ali, and a sarong for me. The rest of my shopping can wait for my return from Palolem. I enjoyed a cappuccino while chatting to an English couple and ate lunch in conversation with two Dutch boys on their way home. This is certainly a place to chat the time away. Amongst the beggars and snake charmers there are street performers, a fire eater and a high wire act. The little girl balancing plates on her head now sits on the wire to eat her lunch, balanced perfectly, shovelling rice into her mouth with her hand. Her right hand, of course, the other must be used for much more intimate practises.
Aguada Fort beach 1530hrs
I came to this southerly beach in search of a friend from Amsterdam staying.at the Marbella Guest House, a beautiful hotel set back from the road amongst wilderness. Designed by a German architect, the place has become an expensive guest house with rooms starting at 950R. Well now, how the other half live! The couple are out but I leave a message and return an hour later to be given his mobile phone number. How decadent, a mobile in India. I came down to the beach, under the 5 star Taj resort, to relax and soak up some sun on a beach bereft of traders, fruit women, or any kind of hassle. Police keep the unwanted lower classes away from this exclusive spot.
I feel more at home here at 'my' table, watching the waves pounding the Baga sand while the sun slides gently into the sea. I have decided to go to Palolem tomorrow, a change of scene is needed.
January 14th Panjim bus station 1100hrs - going
Packed early, returned moped and took the bus here for 5 rupees. What a manic place. Men shout out each bus's destination in the style of American auctioneers, so fast you can't decipher the information. The bus will only leave for Margao when it is full. Kids selling paper cones of peanuts are allowed onto the bus to ply their trade, while an old beggar gets on to tell his story and beg passengers for alms. The fifty year old bus sets off, billowing black fumes from its exhaust pipe. It's like being in a petrol soaked oven as the old bus rattles and lurches along the pockmarked road. Everyone stares at the foreigner in their midst. I feel like a scientific experiment.
Margao bus station 1225
Another motorised oven waits to leave. This is more of a coach with soft seats but little improvement on the last vehicle. The driver hangs an orange and yellow flower garland over a picture of the Virgin Mary, the bus is called 'Our Lady of Peace' but I see little peace in this noisy metal monster. Men stand in the aisle, but yet more passengers are squeezed into the sardine can. Glad I have a window seat.
Blue Welkin Beach Restaurant Palolem Beach 2230hrs
Wow! The contrast with Baga is palatable. This is peaceful indeed. A few bar/restaurants line the beach, partly hidden amongst palm trees; the only sound the whoosh of the ocean, some twenty yards away. The bars here don't have music blaring out to attract trade.
I found the boys OK and I now sit in a crude room hired for 100 Rupees a day. from a family selling drinks and food to tourists on the beach. Tony is next door for 75 Rupees. Very basic accommodation, a lumpy, hard bed, a chair with a fan, and a light. The shower and toilet housed in palm-frond structures across the small compound. Pigs wander about, snuffling in the undergrowth, but I see no cows - perhaps they only plague the northern tourist resorts. I can hear no traffic, no music, nothing but the sound of the ocean to lull me to sleep, Lovely!
My lovely Palolem residence
Friday 15th January Blue Welkin 0710hrs - It's a
small world after all....
After what could be termed the worst night's sleep I can remember, I watch the dawn in pain. The lumpy, hard mattress was just too much for my aching back, I would be better sleeping on the sand. The sheet's simply filthy, I have to get some bedding organised today before I catch something. Oh my aching back!
I discovered the reason for the pigs' presence - they eat the 'residue' left behind by us humans right out of the toilet shack. A perfect eco-system exists where the pigs ensure flies don't get the chance to spread diseases and everything is eaten within minutes of being discarded. India is marvellous. I fall over laughing at the sight of a pig's snout poking through the hole, scoffing human waste. She seems satisfied at any rate.
Later, same day
I brightened up a bit after a paracetemol to ease my pains. Dennis and I went into Chaudi, the nearest town, to shop for sandals, beach mat, fruit, and backache pills. On the way back to the beach I bought a cotton wall hanging which will double nicely as a shroud.
Returning to base, I sat for a while under an umbrella reading one of the eight books I brought with me. Boredom forced me to move along the beach to the left, to climb the rocks to a tree lined point, where I intended to watch the sunset. I crest the rocks, finding a small bay with a bar, and as I clamber past, a voice says 'Hey up!'
I look into the face of a man I met on the plane from London, with his wife and two lovely kids. We chat awhile and when Des as he's known, mentions Noorderwijk in Holland, I mention Tony, who lives there and would you believe it, this guy is an old workmate of Dennis and Tony from a year or two back, and knows them well. India is a place of coincidence, the third in ten days. I lead the way to the Blue Welkin where Tony sits in the sun, and a party ensures. Des and Lisa are staying at the other end of the beach, near to Brendan's Bar where another new friend of Tony's lives, Andy. We all commandeer a table to drink and smoke the night away in peals of laughter.
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