Saturday, 11 April 2009

Leaving Goa

The trip from Jaipur to Delhi consisted of a couple of flights, firstly between Jaipur and Mumbai, followed by the leg from Mumbai to Goa. Flying over Mumbai was quite surreal and I kicked myself for having left the camera up in the overhead com[artment. Actually surreal is just a lazy adjective in this case. It was a view of constant juxtapositions. One hand the modern cityscape and glass buildings that on display in every direction, built almost on top of slum housing held together and covered with bits of blue plastic and dirt. As the plane came into land we flew directly over some of these houses and life there looks like it would be pretty, erm, challenging. It reminded me of standing on a balcony in a student house in Grahamstown, all very comfortable and cosy, whilst overlooking the township that was very close by. You knew that life in those townships was hard, whilst up on the hill… On the flight out to Goa I kept my camera on hand to record this, and was rewarded with views of the sea and nothing else. More comforting in some ways.

Our arrival in Goa was greeted with the usual barrage of people trying to find work in the form of taking us to a hotel or offering their transport services into town. Having been straight to the tourist office on arrival we knew that there were buses that would take us to Panjim, the capital of Goa, though the touts and taxi drivers had no qualms in brazenly telling us that there were no buses that covered this route. On one hand the blagging is comical, though on the other it can get really frustrating and give the feeling that everyone you meet is on the make. I think we are beginning to get inured to it now, to the point where if anyone appears to be genuinely helpful we get suspicious. I do not know if that is sad or healthy. No doubt I have offended a couple of honest souls by dismissing them out of hand by this stage.

It has to be said that the atmosphere down South is very chilled out in comparison to the North. You notice it on the roads immediately, the drivers are more sedate and the incessant hooting is replaced by the occasional honk of a bus or taxi. The people as well seem more laid back. On arrival in Panjim we checked into the Hotel Ashok, a recommendation. It was a fairly soulless place but passably clean if you were tired and the staff seemed eager to please. We checked in, chewed the fat with the receptionist about his new restaurant that was in the process of being refurbed and asked what time breakfast was between. The usual kind of rubbish really. The next morning we were sent down the road to a local restaurant for brekkie and were somewhat taken aback when we were presented with a bill, having been led to believe this was included in our room. We had also checked this with the restaurant manager who had confirmed that this was the case, or so we thought. He had rolled his head in that endearing South Indian style and told us to sit down and eat our fill, whilst clearly having not listened to a word that we had said. So a bit of a spat developed, initially between my good wife (Punjabi, ie Warrior Class and take it from me this is accurate) and the good Sir behind the counter. I was playing Switzerland. The he started shouting. The Warrior shouted back. She is, to use my friend Phil K’s words, a formidable lady. And then the shop owner started pointing his finger very close to Nipun’s head and Switzerland became America (in other words involving itself in other peoples disagreements and threatening to destroy everything in sight regardless of any collateral damage). It got a bit ugly, and very quickly we had a hate triangle of gargantuan proportions. At one stage I feared that our verbal sparring might become physical sparring and so was immensely relieved when we legged it with a copy of the bill to claim it back from the hotel Ashok. Funnily enough the Hotel Ashok also claimed to be gob smacked when we presented them with the bill, and in a repeat of the previous argument gob smacked he nearly was. In retrospect it is fiendishly embarrassing, but your most humble narrators are both pretty damn sure that breakfast was included and had checked with both the hotel and the restaurant. Both had rolled their heads and seemed happy to confirm anything we asked, though in all honesty I suspect that neither of them listened to our questions. The most embarrassing thing of all is that the bill came to all of about three quid.

Our welcome in Panjim seeming to rest on rapidly cracking ice we decided to make out way down to Pallolem beach, about forty kilometres south. The beach is beautiful with long stretches of sand, a lagoon at the Northern end and then a hill with panoramic view at the other side. The sea is clean and whilst you wouldn’t be surfing the waves they are alright for a bit of body boarding with no real fear of getting dumped to badly. And the ocean is a whole lot warmer that Brighton which is the last place my bulbous beer belly met the salty seas.

We spent three days in Pallolem just catching our breath. It is beginning to dawn on us that travelling for a year is very different to being on holiday for a year. Sure it is great, an epic adventure to quote that splendid fellow Mark Knapp. But it can also be pretty stressful at times and packing a backpack up every two days and wondering where you will next have a chance to do your laundry can be a pain in the proverbial. So we stayed on the lagoon with the sea a hundred metres away, drank sundowners and ate fish each evening. In an attempt to woo tourists the beach is littered with bars and eateries that for some reason all want to make (bad) “continental” food. Finding fresh Goan cuisine was a nightmare and as evidence of this my first Goan curry knocked on the backdoor at about midnight if you will excuse the scatological reference. For those who may feign interest it knocked again at two and then at three. But at this stage that is a positive, I have lost a few kilos and this has done no harm whatsoever. I am still not ready to liken myself to Adonis, but hey, a journey of a thousand miles starts with one small bout of food poisoning. So maybe a comparison with Adonis’s podgy brother may fit the cap better.

Our last nights in Goa were spent in Margao, which merits mention only for the quality of its bed lice, the size of it’s mosquitoes and the inferno like quality of our room. You could have baked bread in there, though you would have had to throw it away due to all the bugs in it. Thankfully we are now on the train headed further down South to Kerala, a sixteen hour journey. So far the views have been fantastic, palm trees and banana plantations, lagoons and rivers, paddy fields. Kerala is our last stop in India and if the journey so far is anything to go by then it will be a very special place.


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