I had low expectations of Goa. The idea of it having been taken over by Russians, Israeli’s and package tourists did not fill me with much enthusiasm. However in need of a holiday within a holiday and with Christmas and the New Year fast approaching it seemed to be the place to be.
I traveled down with Jamie and after a long haul of a bus journey we arrived in Goa in near monsoon conditions. It wasn’t a pretty site. Our destination was Arambol. It was the place that the majority of people I had met who had been to Goa recommended. It seemed to still hold a sense of remoteness whilst also having enough there to entertain. After searching the beach we settled upon the beach huts on the cliff side. They were not made of much and we said a short prayer that the rain would not return as I doubted that they would offer much protection from the elements. They did however offer unrivaled views across the beach. The hut also came with two complimentary geckos. After my experience of sharing a shower with a salamander I was unsure about the arrangement but to their credit they were on their best behaviour and kept the mosquitoes at bay.
As the clouds subsided and the sun broke through, Arambol proved to be more beautiful than I could have hoped for. Outside of the huge beach and warm ocean the jungle that surrounded it was incredible. Being able to put the bags down and relax was a great feeling. So relaxing was it that it took five days to actually turn right out of my hut and visit the smaller beach some five minutes away. Enclosed by cliffs it was picturesque. Going for a dip in the freshwater lake with its volcanic base before sprinting over the boiling hot sand and diving into the ocean was something that I could never get bored of.
Going out on a scooter proved that I was wrong in my preconceptions of Goa. Sure there were lots of Russians and Israeli groups and the package beaches existed but so much of Goa has an untouched feel that in many ways is missing in much of India. With the roads relatively quiet, buzzing around on a scooter was a great way to explore many of its hidden treats. Predictably the police did get involved at one point, which resulted in a 100 rupees fine for not having a helmet. The lack of a scooter license was less of a concern for them. I got a slap on the wrist for that one! They then watched as the four of us attempted a hill start, with lots of traffic and worryingly for me, an upcoming sharp left turn. I wasn’t very good at turning left. It felt like a driving test. I passed with no red or blue lights.
The setting helped but it was all the old and new friends that passed through that made the three week stay so enjoyable. Come Christmas and New Year we formed a group of around twenty which meant that life was never boring. With the ever entertaining meeting point at the delightfully named ‘Mango Tree Beer BarChillout Resteraunt’ the days would fly by in all sorts of directions.
For a number of days cricket dominated. With the Ashes being held in Australia it meant that timing wise it worked out well being in India with the games starting early morning. This always allowed at the very latest to be there for a good number of hours if not the full day. The one day that the cricket timings did not work out was for the final day of the fourth test. With a 5am start and with only two wickets remaining we pulled an all nighter so as not to miss us retain the Ashes. Unsurprisingly it proved to be a challenge to find a TV at that hour but as the saying goes ‘everything is possible in India’. We ended up celebrating in silence, in the dark, outside a landlords bedroom where all the workers slept around us. It was a surreal moment.
When we weren’t watching we were playing on the beach. It’s amazing how quickly a gentle hit around can descend into madness as every Indian bar owner and worker abandons their business to join in. Their passion and competitiveness went far beyond what I thought cricket could generate.
Before I knew it Christmas had arrived. But in in many ways Christmas never did. Whilst it was a fantastic day it never felt like Christmas when hearing stories of the snow and the cold in the UK. That suited me just fine as I had wanted Christmas abroad to be a very different experience. It started with breakfast whilst watching dolphins playing in the ocean. After a festive swim we met up to eat steak in India before heading to Anjuna to party the night away. It was a great day.
The other most notable day was New Years. It was different from how I expected it to be in that I was not raving on a beach as I had always assumed Goa would involve. Instead I saw in the New Years at the Surf Club, with a live blues band, dressed in a quite simply horrendous kids designed Hawaiian shirt. Tom had been wearing one for a week in the lead up to New Year as part of a bet. In solidarity we all joined in for New Years thinking in the very least we would help that poor shop get rid of its disastrous stock of shirts. As it materialises it ended up buying in a lot more convinced that it had found the clothing that every tourist desired! The owner looked pretty chuffed with himself a few days later. With a good atmosphere and crowd it made for a memorable New Years. However typically midnight was missed as there was no Big Ben to play it in. Instead the only signal was some badly lit fireworks as the band kept on playing. Everyone checked their watches and tentatively said a Happy New Year unconvinced it was time. The party then continued long into the night. It seemed to be a recurring theme across Goa.
As always in India the food was a major highlight. On the whole the restaurants served up faithful replicas of continental food that allowed me to catch up on food that I had missed. There were more traditional treats as well. Fresh fish of all types were available to be haggled for before they were slapped on the grill. I lost count of all the fish I had but they included: white and red snapper, barracuda, baby shark, hammerhead shark, tuna and king fish. All were delicious but shark meat comes out top to my taste. The Goan specialties of the fish curry and vindaloo went down a treat. The latter was hot but unlike the English train crash the flavours were superb. Such was my enjoyment of the food that I did a cooking class with the ever entertaining Ahmed at the Indian buffet. Having cooked at the Taj hotel and for 15 days for Ricky Ponting of all people, the food he showed me how to cook was incredible culminating in a breathtaking display of how to cook all the dishes in half an hour. All you need is the base curry and after that you can rattle them off in minutes. Of course I ate every last spec on my plate which left me collapsed in a heap for many an hour. It came in at over ten plates. Now all I’ve got to do is remember how to do it myself!
I postponed my leaving date by one day but itchy feet meant that I could delay no longer. Arambol and everyone there provided for a great time but the simple fact remains that it is just not India. I longed to get back and experience real India, something that only three weeks before I had needed to rest from. It has that pull, when your in it you long for a break, when your out of it you can’t wait to get back into the fun and games.