New Year on the beach?...oh Goa on then!

January 12, 2012 - Goa, India

 

1. Where the devil have I been?

First rickshaw rideAfter a lovely, but all too brief stopover in a pub near Heathrow (for a nice big pub lunch and lots of Christmas present exchanges) I found myself back in the airport departure lounge with a considerably lighter bag, waiting for my next flight to Mumbai, India. I arrived in a total daze, having effectively completely missed out on 12 hours of my life due to unfortunate time zone tomfoolery. And I didn'tAnjuna beach, North Goafeel much more human after a few hours sleep on a mattress seemingly constructed of concrete and a 9 hour train ride spent engulfed in a family of oversized Indians. But I had made it to my New Year destination - the beaches of Goa! The northern area was my home for the first week or so as I spent my time mostly attempting to relax on the beach whilst ignoring anyone who tried to sell me anything apart from books and pineapples. Once I had recovered from the fireworks and bad dancing of New Years Eve on the beach, I was able to spend some quality time checking out the sights with the family who had popped out to visit for some winter sun. After waving them off on their bus back to the New Year smilescold reality of home, I headed further south alone to the chilled out beach of Palolem. With no pesky beach vendors, insanely busy roads or Indian men brandishing camera phones, I was able to truly relax and unwind. A bike ride to nearby Agonda beach provided some much needed exercise and I kept my mind and tastebuds active with an intense cookery class hosted by "the Master Chef Rahul" (self titled). By the time my train to Kerala pulled into the station I was fully recharged and (just about) ready to leave the beach behind for a while and see what else southern India had to offer...

2. Most memorable meal

Sampling some REAL Indian food was definitely something I had been looking forward to. And I trulyThali feast! hit the ground running with my first proper meal in the country - the highly recommended thali (mixed plate of dishes) from the Plantain Leaf restaurant. I placed my order with the slightly deranged looking waiter, and a few minutes later a giant platter arrived containing 5 curry dishes , rice, chapatti, poppadom and yogurt. And all for the grand sum of 100 rupees (about 1 pound 25p - which is actually pretty expensive for a thali in India!). It was delicious, and needless to say, I went back with Soph, mum & Shaun a few days later.

Palolem sunset3. Favourite photo of the fortnight

With Goa conveniently positioned on the west coast of India, it was more or less impossible to miss the sight of the sun setting over the Arabian Sea. I took this photo from the comfort of my super soft chair, whilst sipping on a cold Kingfisher beer and watching the frisbee throwers, yoga experts and cricket players making the most of the last rays of evening sun.

 

4. Best bargain

Old Monk rum (before tasting)

Quite possibly the cheapest bottle of rum in the whole world, my 365ml container of the local special 'Old Monk' dark rum set me back a whopping 65 rupees (about 80p). Only slightly more than the bottle of coke I bought to accompany it! Unfortunately I very quickly discovered the justification for the ridiculously low price as soon as I took my first sip! I managed a valiant two glasses before deciding to protect my tastebuds and preserve my internal organs by pouring the rest down the sink.

Meals is ready!5. Favourite sign

A lot of smaller restaurants in India choose to make life easier for themselves by only serving a couple of dishes per day, rather than offering a full blown menu. In such cases, when the meal of the day (usually thali or biryani) is ready to be served, a sign similar to this one is put up outside to let everone know its dinner time. I love the sign...not so sure about the grammar though!

 

6. Fashion crime of the fortnight

At the end of December thousands of (mostly male) Indian tourists head for the beaches of Goa to see the new year in in style whilst simultaneously checking out the western women in bikinis! Unfortunately, most of these men do not possess either a muscular physique or appropriate swimwear. Consequently everywhere I looked on Calangute Beach were hoards of scrawny blokes wearing nothing but (always saggy and usually brown) Y fronts. Count yourself lucky there's no photographic evidence of this one!

7. Crap tourist attraction of the fortnight

Feeling the urge for a bit of culture and a day away from the sand and sea, myself, Mum and SophieWho invited Bjorn? took the sweaty local bus to Panjim, the state capital of Goa for the day. One of the most popular sights in the city is the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and with it still being the festive period and all, the area at the bottom of the church steps was taken up by a lifesize model of the nativity scene. All the usual suspects where there - Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the wise men, some shepherds, a few disinterested animals...and bizarrely Bjorn from Abba dressed as a waiter! I'm sure I don't remember that part from my primary school nativity play!

Sandy reflection8. Best view

After spending a good 5 hours in the same spot on the beach during my first day at Palolem, I gave my tired sunbathing muscles a much needed break and went for a wander along the sand to see what the rest of the beach had to offer. At the far northern end, away from all the beach huts and frisbee games, I found a peaceful spot to sit and wait for the sun to set over the ocean.

 

9. Div of the fortnight

It had been about a month since my last haircut, so on New Years Day I decided to go for a trim…new year, new look or something like that. Soph T hadn’t had her barnet chopped since the easily distracted woman in Cusco hacked away at it like she was trimming a hedge, so she came along for a chop too. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a good sign that we had to wake the hairdresser up as we entered the salon, but I thought nothing of it at the time, jumped straight into the chair and chatted away whilst he gave me a good trim. Pleased with my haircut and with Soph next in the hotseat, I jokingly said “and she wants the same style as me please!” I laughed, clarifying that it was a joke. Soph laughed. The hairdresser laughed. We all laughed together in what I thought was mutual agreement that my request was not a serious one. So Soph climbed up into the chair, made herself comfortable and requested just a trim all over. Now, either the hairdresser didn’t hear that part, or he assumed that the bit without the laughing was the joke part, because he promptly picked up his scissors, took hold of a large chunk of Soph’s hair and chopped it clean off at about cheek height! It all happened so quickly Soph didn’t manage to shout stop until three snips worth of damage had already been done, leaving her with an interesting demi-fringe which couldn’t even be described as stylish inSmiling before the chop! India! “What have you done?!” shouted a devastated Soph. “I thought you wanted the same as your friend” replied the equally devastated hair violator. “That was a joke! That’s why we all laughed!” I chimed in. With no-one completely sure who was to blame for this tragedy, the hairdresser completed the job by trimming the rest of Soph’s hair as quickly as he could whilst a painfully awkward silence filled the room. Soph was trying not to cry, I was trying not to laugh, and the poor barber was trying to find a way to rectify the situation. But the damage was irreversible, so the best he could offer was to give Soph the haircut for free…saving her a massive 100 rupees (1 pound 25p!).

10. Dodgy moment of the fortnight

After parting company with Soph T for a few days whilst she completed a scuba diving course in the north of Goa and I completed a sunbathing certification in the south, we decided to met up on the train as we headed further down the coast. With a stroke of luck, we managed to acquire tickets for beds in the same sleeper carriage of the night train to Mangalore. The only downside was that the train left in the early ours of the morning, with Soph due to climb aboard in the north at 1.30am, followed by me half an hour later. So at 1am I took a taxi to my nearest station, took a seat by the entrance to the deserted and otherwise empty platform and waited. The train was late so I waited some more, struggling to keep my tired eyes from closing. Just after 3am, the bright lights of the train approached the station and I got myself ready for boarding. Like many others in India, this particular train was stupidly long, and helpfully, there was no indication at the station as to where the different carriages might come to a stop on the platform. So I just had to ride my luck and hope that my carriage, S4, didn’t end up too far away from where I was waiting. Obviously I had no such luck. As the train pulled into the station I spotted S4 go trundling past and started walking towards the far end of the platform. With the train already running late and no other passengers to board at my station, the driver clearly didn’t intend on hanging around very long. Responding to indecipherable shouts from a few heads leaning out of a carriage door, I broke into the best impression of a jog I could manage at 3am with a giant rucksack on my back, located the door to S4, grabbed the handle and pulled. But nothing happened. I pulled again and again, but the door still wouldn’t budge. It was then that the horn sounded and the train started to pull away from the platform. I tried the door once more, but to no avail. So, in true James Bond style, I chased after the gradually quickening locomotive having spotted that the door to the next carriage was open. Once I was level with the open door, I grabbed the hand rails and used all my strength to haul myself inside the carriage. Relieved to have made it on board, but slightly disappointed that Soph was already sleeping soundly so no-one had been around to witness my Hollywood (or should that be Bollywood) style stunt, I blindly fumbled my way to my bunk, curled up inside my sleeping bag and slept amongst a cacophony of snores.

11. Motto of the fortnight

“NO PHOTOS!!!”

For anyone feeling a little bit low on self esteem, or with the ambition to turn heads without even trying, my advice would be to head for India. Here, the simple fact that you are not Indian creates instant celebrity status and every other person wants to know your life story, have their photo taken with you and sometimes even get your autograph! Unfortunately, when attempting to relax on the beach, the novelty factor of all this attention wears thin pretty quickly. Especially when the photo requests are still pouring in after you have already posed for snaps with a bloke, the bloke and his mate, the bloke and another mate, the two mates, all three blokes together, and any other possible combination of people.

12. Magic 8 ball adventure of the fortnight

Sometimes in life one is faced with a dilemma so difficult and potentially life changing that it is impossible to make a choice without seeking advice from elsewhere. A good example of this is the awful predicament I found myself in after making the decision to head to south Goa for a few days on my own. Should I go to Palolem, a busy backpacker beach with plenty of beach hut accommodation and scores of good restaurants with sunset views…or would it be better to head to Agonda, a quieter stretch of sand with nothing to distract me from total relaxation but fewer opportunities to meet fellow travelers. I spent many a sleepless night agonizing over this impossible choice, and having received what can only be described as ‘hate mail’ after seeking advice on the matter vis facebook, I knew there was still one place I could turn for help. ..the magic 8 ball. “Is Palolem the best place for me to head?” I asked. “Look like yes” replied the wise piece of plastic. Decision made.

13. *NEW QUESTION* Brit abroad moment of the fortnight

Without wishing to tempt fate or disappoint any avid followers of my bowel movements, the Bristol Stool Chart question has not produced the kind of spectacularly explosive anecdotes I had imagined it would. Therefore I am replacing it with a new addition, ‘Brit abroad moment of the fortnight’, for those occasions when things are so familiar I feel like I could easily be back home. Due to the large numbers of British tourists who travel to Goa for some winter sun, there was no struggle to find something for this category’s blog debut. The best example came on New Years Eve. After watching some Premier League football action at the local sports bar we decided it would be a good idea to eat something before heading down to the beach to see in the New Year. We didn’t have much time to spare searching for somewhere decent, so instead we just popped around the corner to a busyHungry bum!bar/restaurant humming with the sound of northern English accents and a fat, bald bloke murdering “My Way” on karaoke. Hungry and lazy, we decided to give it the benefit of the doubt, sat down at the only empty table and opened the menu. But what I saw on page 1 shocked, amused and appalled me in equal measures…a whole section dedicated to “Frozen Pies”. Steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom, steak and ale…the list was impressive. Unfortunately we didn’t stick around long enough to discover if frozen was a description of the state in which the pies were served, or merely slightly unnecessary storage information! I reckon the bloke in this photo probably knows though!

14. *NEW QUESTION* On another planet moment of the fortnight

Another new addition to the blog (this time to replace the immature moment of the week), the ‘on another planet moment of the fortnight’ is for me to share those moments which are so surreal that home feels a billion miles away and I seriously question whether I am still on the same planet. I encountered my first Indian example of this whilst relaxing on Agonda beach, in south Goa, with a book aptly titled ‘Holy Cow’. As I neared the bottom of the page a large shadow started to form over the text. I immediately turned around expecting to be greeted by a camera wielding Indian, but instead the face peering over my shoulder was a big, bovine, cud chewing one! I have no idea what a cow was doing on the sand, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t see any the last time I was at Great Yarmouth! After sitting underneath my sun umbrella for a while, the cow walked down to the sea for a paddle then strolled off back towards the road.

15. Soundtrack to the fortnight

Every song ever recorded by UB40 – because I guarantee I heard them all, at least 5 times each on Calangute beach.

Dancing Queen (Abba) – dedicated to all the Indian men strutting their stuff at the beach bars on NYE.

Auld Lang Syne – sung with gusto on the beach as my watch struck midnight!

16. Favourite snack of the fortnight

With the heat suppressing my appetite I didn’t need much between meals apart from the odd pineapple, freshly cut while you wait on the beach. Yum!

17. *NEW QUESTION* Bizarre conversation of the fortnight

The third and final new question for the blog, this one is fairly self explanatory. The following conversation occurred whilst searching for an internet cafe...

Me: Excuse me. Do you know if there is an internet cafe near here?

Indian man: International?

Me: No, internet. Computers.

Indian man: International?

Me: No, internet. You know, typey typey (I perform typing action with hands).

Indian man: Ah yes, typey typey! This way please. (Indian man points us across the road, where there are no internet cafes!)

18. Best game invention

"Get the party started"

What you need: a beach or similarly spacious area with a selection of open sided bars (some busy, some quiet), a hundred or so Indian men, jazzy music, an escape route.

How to play: First find a quiet bar, survey the area and take note of all potential escape routes. Then enter the bar, head to the dancefloor and start strutting your funky stuff (the more outrageous the moves, the better!). Within seconds, and as if by magic, the dancefloor will begin to fill with gyrating, head wobbling Indian men, desperate to get their slightly outdated groove on with the foreigners. Once the dancefloor becomes so full that the hip thrusting becomes a bit too close for comfort you know its time to utilise that eacape route and take a breather before repeating the process in another bar.

19. High point of the fortnight

Understandably, there are no direct flights connecting Mexico City with India, so when I was booking my flights I had to look for other options. As it turned out, some good fortune with flight paths meant that the cheapest option would be for me to travel via Heathrow, giving me 8 hours or so on home soil between flights. This meant I was able to have a lovely afternoon with some of my family, sharing stories, exchanging gifts and enjoying a big fat pub lunch!

20. Low point of the fortnight

Not being able to stay in England longer than those 8 hours so I could've seen everyone I miss. Although April isn't so far away now.


Pictures

First rickshaw ride
Thali feast!
Happy New Year 2012!
At the spice plantation
 
 

1 Comment

Big Bruv:
February 13, 2012
Hi Sis,

Sounds like your pace slowed a little in Goa (Train-stunt excepted) I'm very jealous of the amount of beach lazing that you have been doing! I saw some of Mum and Soph's photos this weekend before Nan's party, which all looked great. Nan liked your message, but I wanted first dibs on the honey sandwich houses memory... I had to settle for reminiscing about making ice cream cones from different coloured tissues to serve in the "shop" and counting out the penny bottle!

We had some of the salsa the other day on fajitas, twas lovely, haven't braved the mescal yet though! I've been enjoying the snow here over the last week and a bit, looked after Em's nephew so made a rather good snowman if I do say so myself (To be honest Harry was not involved in the construction, he just gave legitimacy to my endeavours!). Hope that the rest of India continues to be amazing. We are off to the equally exotic Ross on Wye for the weekend - actually, have booked a himalayan restaurant, so culinarily we may not be a million miles apart on Saturday!!

See you soon,

Ben
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