It’s April 3, 2008. We’ve just left Palolem Beach in Goa, India, after a rather relaxing & rather eventful 6 night stay. We didn’t intend to spend 6 nights doing nothing here. It just happened and we rolled with it. This is how it went.
The 44 Day Reward || March 28, 2008
I‘m generally an early riser when I travel but I still don’t like it. 5 a.m. we were out of bed, our train bunk, this morning. The fact that we were finally in Goa, that our 38-and-a-half hour train trip was over and that we both actually slept moderately OK last night helped get over the God-awful early start to the day. We hung around Goa train station for a few hours until the ticket reservation office opened at 8 a.m., hoping that when it did that there would be no communication issues in securing onward tickets.
No communication failure on this particular morning and we were soon in possession of our last India train ticket, the one that, in 6 days time, will get us north from here to Mumbai (Bombay) from where we´ll fly to Oman. But first things first. Goa, part II for me. We shunned the more expensive, but more convenient, options for getting to the beach from the train station, hopping on a local TATA bus for the 35 kilometre trip south to Palolem Beach. Its five-and-a-half years since I was last here and thankfully it still looks the same. There is a slight bit more development and a few more travelers cafes and bars but little else has changed – the sand is still golden, the beach is still dotted with fishing boats and is still lined with a swaying curtain of coconut palms, palms that shelter an unbroken line of seafood restaurants, cafes, bars, shacks, cottages and Thai-style bamboo & palm-leaf huts that house the foreigners that flock here during the season (November to April). We settled into a basic cottage within a few hours of getting here and have spent the day so far doing nothing. Well, that´s not actually true; Pat, ecstatic at finally getting to the sea on this, day 44 of his trip, spent a big chunk of the day in the water and getting `lobstered´ on the sand. We´re not quite sure what we´ll do for the next 5 days, but that´s the beauty of being here. As is the smell of sun cream, having sand between our toes and on the floor of our room, having to take 3 to 4 cold showers a day just to cool down, making friends with the cute geckos clinging to walls of our cottage, eating fresh seafood and drinking cold beers as the sun goes down. Yep, rest assured, we should be fine for the next 5 days.
· A classic
I finished reading the Godfather at 7:50 a.m. this morning standing in the queue for the ticket reservation office of Margoa train station. It’s a hell of a read. Well recommended.
· 5 turns into 6
We only intended to spend 5 nights here in Goa but a lack of ticket availability on our preferred date of departure from Goa has now pushed that out to 6 nights. I´m sure we´ll get over the `inconvenience´ and won´t let it spoil out time here.
· Air just right
We were glad to get off the 38-and-a-half hour Goa Express. All told it wasn´t a terrible trip, just a long one. Pat liked it, saying he preferred it to the long trip we did weeks back, the one that got us from Xi´an in China to Lhasa in Tibet, even though that trip was shorter and done in infinitely more comfortable compartments. He puts that fact down to Co2. He says the Co2 levels in the Chinese train (because it was pumped with oxygen due to the altitude) made that more uncomfortable. Can´t say I noticed to be honest.
“Remember Apollo 13 Dave?” Pat asked in explaining his reasoning.
“Those guys didn´t exactly enjoy their trip, now did they? Co2 level were too high, you see.”
“I see Lad,” I said, not seeing at all.
We´d almost forgotten that India suffers with mosquitoes. That was until we got here to Palolem Beach. Our room has mozzie nets over our beds, we’re choking ourselves with the fumes from the mozzie coils we’re burning and we’re even, get this, putting on some repellent.
I commented from Xi’an, China, some weeks back how the Chinese sweep the dirt on the roads into nice even layers. Well, the Indians here on Palolem Beach go one better. They actually sweep the sand on the beach. Yep, out they go with their homemade brooms (a few twigs tied in a bundle to a bamboo stick) sweeping the sand. If we weren’t laughing so hard at the sight of it we´d probably pluck up the courage to ask them what the hell they are doing. They speak English you see.
I wasn´t feeling too well today. Stomach rumblings and the likes. Nothing major but it was enough to keep me off the beach with Pat. Lets hope it doesn´t develop into something bigger.
I told him to be careful but he wouldn´t listen. Pat is a tad red this evening, having over indulged a bit on the beach today.
“But I was only out for a few minutes,” he claims.
“Yes Lad, but it´s hot out there. I told you that.”
There will be no sunbathing for a day or two, that´s for sure.
Let’s Get The Party Started || March 30, 2008
God damn Indian train food. I commented recently on the fact that we were probably tempting fate by getting a lot of our recent sustenance from those little tinfoil dishes served on board Indian trains. I was hoping they wound’t but recent infrequent stomach rumblings I was experiencing did turn into something worse. Nothing major, just something worse & nothing that wasn’t righted by a few trips to the throne in our cottage bathroom – we think the culprit was the last meal we had on the Goa Express the evening prior to arriving in Goa which would explain the typical 24-36 hour wait one normally has to endure before food poisoning strikes. Pat, however, didn’t escape as easily. Whatever Indian train food microorganism breached his defenses held on tight and took him for quite the ride. Either that or his constitution isn´t as well traveled as mine – we have been eating the same food after all. He spent all of yesterday walking/staggering a line between the bed and our `throne´ and once there had to decide via which orifice he was going to make his latest deposit. I think he lost count of how many times he paid a visit to that bathroom. How many times he left the cottage during the day was an easier figure to determine – zero – as was the hours he spent in bed – 36 (10 p.m. Friday evening until noon today). Thank God for the Godfather book I had finished the day earlier. It kept his mind off whatever it was that was causing him to bring back up whatever it was he was trying to keep down. Me? Well I checked in on the patient a few times throughout the day, day 2 of the 6 we´ll spend here, but keeping myself busy was my escape from having to listen to a mate in obvious distress with his head/ass over a toilet bowl.
But that was then (yesterday actually) and this is now (today, day 3 at the beach) and as God would have it, today is a new day. It´s 2:30 p.m. and we´re sitting at a beach side café getting cooled by the sea breeze, drinking mineral water (still some cleansing needed, for both of us) and watching beautiful people pass up and down the beach in front of us. It´s quite peaceful, that is until a newspaper/sarong/bangle/book/massage hawker drops by, forcing us to shake our heads and mutter “no thank you” while giving them a polite now-move-along-please glance. And that, as one might say, is that. If there is one thing that can be said for Indian train food it is that at least it has given me something to write about here and now.
Right, the soup – comfort food – we ordered a few minutes ago has just arrived and anyway, I´ve been neglecting my latest book for too long. Oh the stress of a Goa beach day, food poisoning aside.
B&B – Beers & Books. If things keep going the way they are going here on Palolem Beach, by the time we leave here the number of books we will have read will outnumber the number of beers we will have consumed. It was never supposed to be like this. We´re still waiting to get this 2-man Goa beach party started but thus far events, namely a 38-hour Indian train trip tiredness (on day one) and Indian train food poisoning (on day two), have conspired against us. However, there is still time to salvage the cause and we have the utmost faith in ourselves, and Kingfisher beer.
· Twice is enough
I’ve already warned Patrica that she’s not allowed to get sick again – twice in as many weeks is enough, even by Indian standards.
Almost Done || April 2, 2008
Normal service has been resumed, meaning we’ve spent the last few days making up for lost time. Yep, Cuba Bar & Café, Paradise Bar & Café, San Francisco Bar & Café and Palolem beach resort have collectively been monopolizing our time of late in much the same way that our cottage and its ‘throne’ did the days previous. Yeah, life has been good and rest assured, the amount of books we’ll read during the remainder of this trip will now never outnumber the amount of beers we’ve consumed during our time here in Palolem Beach, not even if we were to stop drinking now (not likely), turn into savants and spend the rest of the trip locked inside a library (also not very likely).
We’re kind of surprised how quickly Goan beach days slip by, days in which we’ve had positively nothing to do save for getting out of bed, eating, drinking, being merry and trying not to get cirrhosis of the liver, skin cancer, malaria or dengue fever. We’ve somehow managed to do all of that (we hope, only time will tell), but little else. Today is our last day here on the beach. Tomorrow we leave to retrace our steps of 6 days ago and hoof it back to the train station for the overnight sleeper train to Mumbai (Bombay), our final stop in India. Something tells me that on our return to Goa train station we won’t be a bright eyed and bushy tailed as we were when we arrived. But let’s not think about that just yet. We’ve just watched our last Palolem-Beach-in-April sunset and we still have one more sleep, one more hangover, one more beach café breakfast and probably at least one more Kingfisher beer to look forward to. Yep, probably at least one more Kingfisher beer to look forward to.
· My Mate
It doesn’t take long to realize that Palolem, and Goa in general, is an Indian Benidorm or Costa Del Sol, minus the doggy cabarets. The English make up the majority of visitors to Goa and if they, the English who visit here, weren’t the type to obnoxiously shout their “Al’right darling.. triff’ik day, in’it mate?”mouths off, you’d know they were here thanks to the union jack shorts, the Enger-land soccer shirts and the menus in The Dog & Duck beach café that boast of serving Heinz baked beans and having HP sauce. I’ve taken advantage of some of the comforts on offer and as a result our daily breakfast of Marmite toast is easily the best meal of the day. Btw, I should point out that I actually like England and the English people – I have relatives in London, a city that has long been one of my favourite world cities and somewhere we hope to get to before all this madness comes to an end. But there is no denying that fact that the English who make their way to the beach resorts of Southern Spain, and now Goa, are not exactly what could be called good ambassadors for their country. Rant over.
· Monster Tuna
Speaking of great meals. We had a whopper of a tuna fish cooked on the grill for us the other night. It was a big fish and even between the two of us we struggled to polish it off. We succeeded of course but it brought an end to our night of drinking; neither of us had room to consume much of anything, let alone beer, after that feast. We probably won’t let that happen again.
· April fool
Yesterday was April 1st, April fools day. We didn’t pull any stunts on each other (to be honest most of the time we barely know the correct day of the week never mind the date) but Pat did pull out this cracker yesterday afternoon as we were sitting staring at the waves.
“Here Dave, if you were stranded on a desert island and the only thing you had to eat were two weevils (a beetle like bug), one big and juicy and the other small and… well, not juicy, which one would you choose to eat?”
I eyed him suspiciously, knowing the successful completion of the joke – I assumed it was a joke – demanded of me the correct answer.
“What are you talking about Lad?” I asked.
“Seriously, which one would you choose… the big juicy one or the other one?”
“The big juicy one I guess,” I, not surprisingly, revealed.
“No, no Dave… you always choose the lesser of two weevils!” Pat proclaimed as he began to take immense enjoyment at his joke.
Boom boom. That had us in beer-fueled stitches.
· The season
Even as we sit here recovering from Pats weevil joke the Indians are dismantling the beach shacks that nestle in the shade of the palm trees behind the beach. Why? Well, because the season is almost over and the monsoon rains will be here in a few weeks battering the beaches and driving all the English back to Blighty. They’ll build them all back up again in early November, just in time for the start of the new season… and just in time for the return of all the English.
· The Middle East
I’ve started reading my Middle East guidebook over the last few days in preparation for our upcoming 2-3 week jaunt through the region. In a few days we’ll be in a part of the world that I’ve always wanted to visit. That in itself has me in particular chomping at the bit in anticipation for what lays ahead but what’s even better is the fact that neither of us are quite sure what to expect beyond the usual Middle East stereotypes of sand, sea, sun, camels, Arabs, mosques, spice bazaars, water pipes (the ones you smoke, not the ones that carry water), oilfields, mud-brick buildings, ancient ruins, desert oasis and conservatism. Of course conservatism, we hear, means beer is hard to come by and you get your hand chopped off for stealing stuff (not that us good boys would ever do such a thing of course). We hope to get out of the region in one piece, hands and all.