Goa February 2010

GOA – February 2010

Saturday 6th Feb/ Sunday 7th Feb

The beginning of the mammoth journey begins in Heathrow. After a long day of waiting we arrive at the airport and check in full of excitement. Flight was on time for 9.05pm, managed to get some food at a bar there. People watching gems included careless mothers, wandering children, men who thought they were clearly jumper models and messy posh toffs!!

I end up getting the window seat so I’m happy. Flight was uncomfortably warm which resulted in no sleep. Arrive in Mumbai Sunday 11.25 am their time (5.25 am ours), waiting for our luggage nervously, hoping my dreams of lost luggage weren’t a premonition. It takes a painfully long time but finally the suitcases shuffle their way around the carousel. We pass through a stern customs official to another stern security check to another stern search officer. Finding it hard not to chuckle as it seems the moustache is part of the uniform which makes them all look like Saddam Hussein. The airport is growing with the branding “The New Hub of India”, with the introduction of marble western toilets and modern interior bars it certainly looks like its moving in the right direction.

I can’t deny that it was busy, the place was heaving but the organisation to the eyes of an outsider was non-existent. A lot of hustle & bustle and herding from a mad matriarch of a supervisor who enjoyed highlighting the flaws of her subordinates from incorrect addition to the wrong positioning of some tensa barrier. To be fair though I had more faith in her getting us to the plane in time than anyone else. A crazy high speed coach ride across the airport to the domestic terminal where the whole thing nearly toppled from the speed the driver took the corners. Got off bus, got on plane, got off plane. Arrive in Goa Sunday 15.25pm their time (10.23am ours). After an 8.30am wake up on the Saturday we are exhausted. The heat blast from stepping outside of the airport wasn’t as bad as expected. More concerning was that whilst in Mumbai airport they had received a terrorist threat and grounded a plane – this may have explained the excessive sternness of the airport officials.

We met Abu with ease and climbed inside the quirky Suzuki for the last leg of the journey. Although tiredness was overtaking at this point, closing your eyes was not an option. Abu is in control but there are no rules as long as your horn works! Drive where you can see road. If someone is coming towards you, presume they’ll stop. Have faith the cows, dogs, scooters, children, pigs & chicken knows that your horn means “move over I’m faster than you”. Much like the airport security, it seems crazy but appears to work. Lots of building work taking place, we’re told it’s mainly hotels. Tourism is good but I can’t help feel like that the locals don’t have a choice in the matter. We arrive at the apartment and it’s an eye-opener. Gorgeous white washed walls against luscious green palms and bluer than blue pool.

It’s everything I could have hoped for and Sy’s smile tells me he’s happy. A joint decision was made to go for a minimal effort dinner of a Dominoes pizza delivery!! Large pizza only cost £5, surprisingly good pizza. We finally collapsed into bed a whole 31 hours later.

Monday 8th Feb

Woke up refreshed after 12 hours sleep!!!

Abu took us to Lila café, a recommendation in the visitor book that was spot on. It was in Arpora, great food and a relaxed environment. Sy got to see his first elephant today; its massive bum was blocking the road!! Well, that was until Abu overtook using his beloved horn of course. The elephant looks awesome as it was all painted, I could quite happily have that as a method of transport to work every day, although it would probably take half a day to get there.

We got back to Vagator and decided to take a wander down to the beach, the heat was a little full on so we took shelter in one of the beach bars there. Spoke to a wicked Nepalese guy that worked there who made us both smile. We took the opportunity to find the way up to Chapora Fort otherwise knows as ‘lovers hideaway!’ After the steep climb up gravel to the fort the view was lovely, looking back the way we came we could see an expanse of jungle with temples poking through.

Onwards into the fort we were greeted by Taj, one of the many foreigners who come here for the season to flog drinks to tourists to try and get cash for his family back home. The fort was full of little nooks where the locals could spend some time alone with their forbidden loves. Couldn’t help but feel how sad it was that most of these couples would be torn apart by the tradition of arranged marriage. The view from the top really was amazing with the jungle to one side and the sea and sprawling blue coastlines lapping on white sands. Looking up we were really surprised to see eagles, habituating the coast like seagulls back home.

After some great photo snapping we made the treacherous trip back down the hill where numerous foot slides and near falls had us giggling all the way down. We passed some stalls on the way back to the flat and heard our first great heckle of “come look at my shop, my prices are cheaper than Primark!” who fed them that line!! We stopped in at the Mango Tree for food and drinks; my appetite wasn’t great though so only had a little.

Tuesday 9th Feb

Busy busy day ahead! Had a day to acclimatise so now its time to attack and see some sites!! Abu has been booked to pick us up at 7am to go all the way to Dudhsagar Falls. As we found out it is on the border of Goa and Karnataka so nearly 2 hours later we arrive!

We picked up some bananas and nuts on the way for the monkeys. We then were shown to a jeep, Abu did the negotiating, we paid the man and in we got with 2 Swedes, 2 Russians and our maniac Metallica fan of a driver!

The journey up the hill was an experience in itself, stashing the food as officially you’re not allowed to feed the animals, paying the officials money to take the cameras up and then we were through the gate. We bounced our way up the dirt track taking in termite hills, massive spider webs, and beautiful lagoons along the way. The driver took us through two rivers (and yes the jeep leaked!) and by the time we got to the top car park I felt like I’d done a massive abs workout.

We walked through the jungle path along the river crossing over little bridges to begin with until the path was more of a make your own nature. I tried to follow to the best of my ability but my little legs were struggling to get up some of the rocks or jump the gaps between them. At one point I very ungracefully fell in which made walking impossible in slidey sandals but we still had a way to go. Noticing Sy had taken his flip flops off I followed suit and found it much easier. We made it to the edge of the plunge pool and were invited to go for a swim, I stuck my foot in and immediately wussed out – it was freezing! Only one person did, the Russian bloke who i’m sure if he didn’t wouldn’t have some kind of explaining to do for his lack of masculinity!

The guide then took us across the way over the rocks again and it was not long before a group of monkeys joined us. I was invited to give some bananas out and they seemed more than happy to not only accept them but to sit with you and eat them. I had the pleasure of meeting a 5 day old baby who was wrinklier than I could ever imagine.

Sy’s face was a treat as he got up close and personal with them whilst feeding and catching some great close ups with the camera. We moved over to the other side where the sun was beating down on the rocks and enjoyed a well earned rest in the sun watching the monkeys and the crazy people who braved it to go swimming. As we headed back to the jeep I realised Abu was amazing, the car park was filling up rapidly as we were leaving meaning that our experience was much more personal and unique. The journey down was just as fun, I got a massive fit of the giggles as I was being shaken around like a jibber jabber.

After paying the driver we met back up with Abu and were en route to the spice plantation. We passed Goa Eco Tourism which was the company we wanted to go with to do the ‘Jungle Book Experience’. As we mentioned it Abu chirped up saying it was a waste of money and not a good thing to do, the jungle is full of mosquitoes and it smells apparently! We explained that it was mainly the elephant ride, wash and shower that we wanted to do; he asked if we wanted to do it now, on our reply of yes he advised that he had a friend that could help.

About 15 minutes down the road we pulled in to someone Abu knew. As if by luck this friend had two elephants! We agreed a price and were taken to a platform to get onto the elephant. I accidentally ripped my thumbnail back while trying to shuffle forward on her but managed to stem the bleeding as we walked off. It was only a short ride but it felt great to be plodding into the jungle with Sy on the back of an elephant! Could have quite enjoyed plodding for a few more hours but back to the platform and we posed for photos.

The smiles couldn’t have been bigger for the both of us. We dismounted from the 40 year old beauty and were invited to follow a man, who I shall call Mowgli as he really did look like him! Sy, Mowgli, the 35 year old elephant and I walked into the jungle and I couldn’t have been happier.

We arrived at a watering hole and Mowgli walked the elephant into the water and ushered her to lie down and then called me in.

Stripped down to my bikini I waded into the water to the elephant, I was handed a scrubbing brush and I washed her as Mowgli splashed water over her. I was aware of movement around my legs and as I looked down I realised that I had lots of little fish nibbling away. Sy was invited to come in so I took hold of the camera and attempted to take some pictures whilst he scrubbed the elephant and climbed on top of his back.

Mowgli issued a command and then the elephant was sucking in water to her trunk and then on command again the best shower experience of a lifetime came down on Sy full force! I was worried that I wouldn’t catch a good shot so I was concentrating very hard to get one. Sy looked like he was enjoying himself and I was so chuffed that he was getting to do something he really wanted to. Mowgli made the elephant shower Sy many times and then even more times after he asked Sy to turn around so he could do his back.

I was nervous as he called me up but so looking forward to it. The anticipation as the elephant is sucking up the water is immense and the sensation of the water crashing over your head is so refreshing! I shrieked with shock and delight every time the water came down, the anticipation made worse when facing the other way as you had no idea when it was going to come down. I couldn’t help think of how many fish were sucked up and spurted back out over us! As we got dressed Sy took some photos of the elephant and we walked back towards Abu.

The experience was priceless and to share it with Sy was amazing, something I will never forget and walking back to the car I was so full of serotonin I could have just cried with happiness. It was truly beautiful to be able to enjoy that experience not as part of a package tour but just us; us, the elephant and Mowgli and for that I am ever grateful.

Back in the Abumobile and onwards to the Spice Plantation! We had a tour of the plantation where to be fair; I learned a fair amount about spices/plants etc! I was even shocked by the inane fact that a pineapple plant only produces one pineapple per plant per year….crazy! Had a buffet lunch and then homeward bound. We arrived back at the apartment exhausted and crashed out for an hour, still with elephant induced smiles on our faces!

We decided to try a local restaurant, not scared off by the notes in the visitor book we ventured to Bamboo Palace which was busy with a large local group when we arrived (always a god sign). We ordered tikka masala, chicken Shashlick and naan and I cannot fault the food, it was lovely and the staff were very friendly. Was just what we needed, a relaxed atmosphere for food and a few drinks.

Wednesday 10th Feb

Today is market day. Abu’s advice of rising early was again spot on. The market was just building up as the sun rose higher in the sky. The stall holders were on fire as they sold their wares to anyone that would give them a second of attention. There were some amazing things to buy and my magpie eyes managed to rack up an expensive jewellery list in my head! We bought a few items and walked away relatively unscathed and feeling a bit more prepared for our trip to the Saturday night market.

We returned to the apartment at just the right time for a busy afternoon of relaxing by the pool reading, swimming and generally basking in the glorious sunshine. Last night whilst at Bamboo Palace, we met two English guys that amongst other pearls of local wisdom advised that we visit a Greek restaurant nearby that was un-missable. The views of the sunset were worth it alone apparently.

Not entirely sure of where we were going we set off towards Little Vagator. It felt great to have that element of unknown adventure walking through streets with no real idea of where we were going. We found the place; it’s called Thalassa (a first born Greek Sea Goddess). WOW, what a place, set on the cliff top, it is not clear what the place looks like until you venture on inside. As you walk up the paving stones through the few coconut palms bungalows you see a clean cut, crisp modern restaurant with the most mind blowing view over Little Vagator bay. The palms are swaying in the breeze and you could quite easily pass a whole evening watching the sun on its journey towards the horizon and enjoying the night. The guys we had met advised us to get there early to get a front row seat at the best tables in the house.

Sy and I ate slowly; starter by starter we worked our way through the menu taking in tzatziki, spiced Feta and vine leaves. Accompanied by refreshing wine and beer, a shared mixed grill was enjoyed as we watched the beautiful orange sun dip through the palm trees towards the sea.

Finished off with stunning desserts we were utterly overwhelmed by the whole experience. Sy immediately decided that he’s like to revisit for his birthday meal and we booked it there and then. The walk back to the apartment was fun, mentally skipping with joy, on top of the world.

Turned out the two guys were staying in Portugeisa too so we stopped off in their villa for a few drinks and talked until the small hours about their travels, life in Turkey, music and random tales. I was way too tipsy when we left and in true Kate style giggled all the way home.

Thursday 11th Feb

We woke up surprisingly ok; my bowels told me something else. Unsure whether it was drink related or the beginnings of Delhi belly I took precaution. With a crocodile hunting day trip planned I’d rather be on the safe side. After 20 minutes of being in the car with Abu I had to get him to pull over as I vomit all over the side of the road. Not feeling brilliant and fearing the worst we came home and I crashed out for an hour. Woke up feeling tentative but ok, drank plenty of water and relaxed on the balcony with a book. We went to the poolside for a little while then decided to go and look at the Shiva head on Little Vagator beach. After a safe lunch in the apartment I felt ok and braved a trip outside.

We ambled along to Little Vagator, saw the Shiva and strolled along the beach before hiking it back up the cliff. We stopped off at Paradise for a drink, had my first Chai of the holiday!!! Found the Nine Bar which we decided we would go to over the weekend. We walked back to the apartment via Bamboo Palace and enjoyed another lovely dinner with the friendly owners and their dog.

Friday 12th Feb

I unfortunately had another morning of randomly throwing up (?) I sorted myself out and headed out for the Dolphin Trip we had planned. Very confused as after I was sick I was fine but it was always first thing. Got to the beach and yet again Abu had done us well by taking us to a lesser known spot. We went out with a few other people on the boat passed ‘Jimmy the Millionaires’ place. He is a big Bollywood Director and from the outside the house and grounds looked very impressive. However, not the best location as he was next door to a high security jail housing Goa’s most dangerous criminals……great neighbours!!!

We continue out to where the dolphins are and it’s hilarious. We’re one of a few boats circling waiting for a dolphin to pop its head up. One’s up and we’re off, all that’s missing is the Benny Hill music as these boats chase the dolphins to give the tourist the best view before they disappear under water again. They’re playing the game they appear a little way off in the opposite direction teasing the boats and they chase. It’s like a massive Tom & Jerry act with the boats spinning into action everytime a dolphin comes into view. I really enjoyed being on the boat on the open water in the gorgeous sunshine and could have quite happily stayed out there all day.

We returned to Abu and onto Aguada Fort. Although a fantastic view point and the obvious history behind the location we make the visit brief as the midday sun was cooking us alive! Home to the apartment for a snooze, sunbathe and dip in the pool then its off out to dinner. We decided to try a recommendation in the visitor’s book and after running an errand to the local jeweller we went to Baga/Calungute. My god, what another world that place is. It made us realise that for us the peace and quiet of Vagator is much more appealing than the hustle bustle of the English laden tourist strips. The restaurant was lovely and the food was fantastic but for now it was back to the apartment ready for the busyness of tomorrow.

Saturday 13th Feb

We both enjoyed a lovely lay in after the few early starts this week. We strolled up to Jackie’s to change up some money, took a walk around Vagator and found a little bar called Dipti’s that we took shelter from the sun for a drink. We headed back to the apartment and read on the balcony before Abu came in the afternoon to take us to Panjim. The traffic on the way there is busy but that was to be expected as this was the first day of carnival! I was really happy as I was sure we were going to miss this as all the guidebooks said it was late February and previous years had been around the 23rd. This year however, it fell bang on Sy’s birthday weekend! Brilliant!!

The traffic was making me laugh as not a second went by without someone beeping their horn. We left Abu and went in search of the stretch where you can see the floats. That was an experience in itself as we walked against mentalist drivers coming towards us trying to find a gap in the sheeting to crawl under. Was a bit fearful as I was worried about the closeness of the scooters and cars but we managed to find a way in. The route takes the floats through the city and over the bridge where spectators line the roads to dance, smile and sing along with them. It was the first time on the holiday where we had a chance to see Goans being Goan.

Not working or selling or serving, just dancing, smiling and letting their hair down. It was fantastic to be a part of and Sy took some great photos of the floats and people as they went past. We moved from our standing point and took photos walking down the road of the floats. Traditional music was blasting out alongside the trance that Goa is renowned for, impossible for me to walk without jigging up the road.

We left the carnival for the night market in Arpora. You walk into the site through metal detectors; which is always a good start! Then you look at the sight that greets you and in short it’s immense. Stalls as far as the eye can see, crawling up the hillside, lights guiding the way.

We had created a bit of a shopping list of what we wanted to buy from the Anjuna market the Wednesday before so we went off in hunt for those bits. I could have spent a lot more money and in future I will come prepared for that market so I can get more things! We had a laugh walking around, bartering, the food court looked great and there were bands on in the middle, it really was a one stop shop for a night out!

We left having run out of money and Abu took us to a little Italian called Basilica in Anjuna. Although the food was lovely I wasn’t blown away by it and the restaurant certainly lacked a little atmosphere. I think Sy and I are finding that the restaurants that are more catered towards the western crowd are just not juicy enough in Atmosphere; just not Indian enough if that makes sense. We arrived back at the apartment and enjoyed opening up all the bags to look at all the stuff we had bought. We relaxed with a few beers and went to bed ready for birthday boy’s day tomorrow.

I’m not sure what date it was in the holiday that I wrote this but I had a few moments while we were away where everything just felt electric. The birds singing, sun warming your skin, watching the sun on its daily journey. Just that moment when pure contentment that fills your heart with tingles, when you really feel alive and privileged to be experiencing your life to the full. Many songs accompanied this moment for me during this trip and they will forever remain special and thought provoking whenever they are played.

Sunday 14th February

So, it’s a massive day, it’s our anniversary, Valentines Day but of course most importantly Sy’s birthday. We had a little lie in and then walked up to the Alcove for breakfast. WOW – their strawberry juice was amazing; I enjoyed a muesli, fruit and yoghurt breakfast. At least I’m getting my 5 a day here. The heat was picking up so we came back to the apartment for some reading, cards and general relaxing on the balcony. Sy went for a snooze so I went for a swim and sunbathe by the pool with my iPod. I come back up and wake him up, its time to get ready to go out for the night. We’re excited as we walk up the way again to Thalassa for his birthday meal. Walking down the paving stones we both smile as the amazing view greets us again. We’re shown to our table and the greeting from the staff is familiar and friendly.

We both are sucked into the view again as we order from the menu slowly and dish by dish. We watched the sunset again in a beautiful sky, finished dinner and decided to check out the Nine bar.

The Psy-trance was the perfect soundtrack to this open air club on a cliff top overlooking the beautiful bay. We enjoyed people watching, although it was a quiet night there were certainly some characters – especially the 80’s bum bag crew. Main character was an Officer Ballack from Prison break look-alike in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and great leather bum bag. With an arse wiggle to match he really was a sight and a half. Came back to the apartment for a few drinks and had the rare opportunity to see a bat feeding up close and personal as it repeatedly came to the tree right by our balcony feeding off the berries. Great end to an awesome day.

Monday 15th February

Today was a bit of a driving epic adventure as after I cashed a traveller’s cheque we drove to Old Goa to see the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Although I’m not a churchy person the architecture was stunning and the sculptures brilliant.

Opposite side of the road was the Ministry of Archaeology was another church which had an awesome chandelier and landscaped gardens. Into Abu’s car and off to a Hindu temple of Vishnu. Spotting westerners we were approached by a guide, usually I avoid guides preferring to wander around a place by myself by this guy was a welcome change.

We were taught about the different gods and their purpose and the ritual when you visit the temples from the offerings, the redemption, the walking around the shrine and purification. The temple itself was amazing being carved from the ground up, the silverwork was stunning and the shrine itself was beautiful. We stopped back in Panjim with the hope of seeing the Portuguese multi coloured houses like in the guidebook but the heat, noise and bustle beat us again into wanting to retire to the quiet town of Vagator! We clearly are too used to the quiet life rather than city life.

We took the visitor books recommendation for dinner and went to East meets West. The entrance was quite grand and all fairy lit and the restaurant itself was large but you could tell it was designed for foreigners who wanted a restaurant more like they’re used to back home. I couldn’t tell I was in India while I was there, felt more like I was in resort somewhere. I cannot fault the food; it was gorgeous, massive portions that someone my size just cannot fit in! The fun and games then started when there was some unexpected entertainment. In the centre of the restaurant was a stage, complete with PA, lights and a dance floor. We are then subjected to a male and female singer belting out the classic ballads and show tunes complete with flat notes and technical malfunctions. It was clearly some people’s cup of tea as they were accompanied for most songs by an older couple ballroom dancing to their songs. Quite aptly put Sy and I enjoyed our comedy night and we went home smiling to ourselves.

Tuesday 16th February – Thursday 18th February

Abu picked us up and we went to the Alcove for breakfast. Today was our big trip down to Agonda for a few days of relaxed bliss on the beach. We hit the road and it seems clear that although I cannot fault his driving, the near misses become more frequent with a lengthy trip. Through Panjim onto Margao, Margao seems much busier than their capital and much more crowded. Understandably so it would seem as we were later informed that it used to be the capital before Panjim so a lot of commerce remains there.

From Margao onto mountainside curvy roads with sheer drops on the side of the road and far too much overtaking on blind corners & crests of hills!

We finally arrive in Agonda in one piece, glad to have to have stopped moving. We were shown to our bungalow & we couldn’t have been happier. Views of the beach from the private balcony were stunning. After having a little snack and a drink we decided to walk down the beach and soak it all in. WOW – what a beach! White sand, looming green mountains, palm trees and clear waters.

We walked along as Sy took photos and we laughed at the crabs as they scurried into their holes anytime we got near. Paddling revealed a lovely warm sea that I couldn’t wait to get in the next day. We watched a beautiful sunset together as people did yoga on the sand, relaxed and generally tried to catch the last few minutes of the orange glow before it disappeared.

The sky had some great cloud formations which made for some stunning photos of the sunset. Sy had a garlic beef steak and I had a crazy big red snapper from the tandoori oven. Food here is great; both of us were quite tired from the journey so we stayed up for a drink then went to bed. Dawn woke Sy as always and we both got up to walk the beach in the other direction to get some sunrise shots. It was so unbelievably peaceful as we walked hand in hand up the beach with the sun rising and the waves lapping at our feet. People were enjoying their early morning run or yoga. Such a great way to start the morning, I couldn’t have been happier. We blagged two good loungers back at White Sands and set about doing a busy day of nothing. We read, chatted, ate, drank, played scrabble and dipped in and out of the beautiful sea.

We headed out onto the beach again for sunset to catch some more shots. As Sy was getting some shots I did some yoga and could have quite happily enjoyed that routine every day for the rest of my life. Afterwards we took some silly pictures in the sun trying to “capture” it before it once again fell below the horizon.

Had another lovely dinner then Sy met his match. We started to play Connect 4 and then Shaan, one of the staff, set a challenge for Sy. After a few rounds it was clear to see that Shaan was thinking about 10 moves ahead and we had no chance!

We had a giggle as they tried to out-wit each other. Then one of the younger staff wanted a go, at a draw they ended but it had been fun. The place itself was beautiful, Agonda was amazing. As there were only 10 huts everyone was really friendly. The others staying there ranged from some guys from Europe, another English couple, a crazy inventor, a family from new Zealand, some Russians and a family from somewhere we couldn’t figure out.

We left begrudgingly but smiling knowing we had just enjoyed paradise within paradise. The drive home was scary and after the bus crash on the hill we just concentrated on getting home in one piece.

Friday 19th February

Not much great to say about this day as we were both in a grump about coming home. It was really sad to be saying goodbye to those who had treated us so well and I hated every moment of it. It’s never nice to go home but being out there had really kick started by bug to go travelling and home was the last place I wanted to go. If we had been going onwards to another place it wouldn’t have felt half so bad. We boarded the plane in Goa back to Mumbai. Funny after the shock of seeing the slums when we first arrived I realised they were quite civilised after some worse environments we had seen. At least these guys had walls, roofs and electricity! Mumbai was painful waiting for 6 hours, I was grumpy and passing the time went quicker than I thought and the 2.20am boarding time meant that we both managed to get a few hours kip on the plane. Shocking was the announcement on the plane from the captain that ground temperature at Heathrow was -2 degrees!!!! Oh My God they had to be kidding, after two weeks of 33-35 degrees this was going to be painful. We arrived back 25 hours later and feeling worse for wear but glad to have experienced one of the best holidays of my life. A few minutes later I was on the internet planning the next adventure…………………

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