Wednesday, 29 January 2014

I went to Goa and this is what happened...

Cola: Goa's best beach
Days 9-11

August 2008: Gordon Brown was fumbling around the prime minister’s office, the English football team were halfway through their four-year hiatus from tournament football, and I was enjoying that lovely little window between graduating and getting a proper job. So I decided to travel to Goa, oblivious to the fact it was the height of the monsoon. On arrival in the sleepy little fishing village/seasonal resort town of Benaulim I realised why it was so quiet, save for the relentless thudding of golf ball-sized drops of rain. The beach resembled coastal Norfolk after a period of chronic global warming, complete with packs of stray dogs. There wasn’t an orgy enthusiast-populated tepee in sight. It was massively disappointing.

It’s taken nearly six years to return, but here I am again in Benaulim. I’m alone, there’s no power and my stomach is spinning right round baby right round, but before I tell you more about the wonderful time I’m having, let me take you on a journey. A journey to north Goa, a land of hippies old and young, drugs hard and soft and Russians unfriendly and unfriendly. Oh, and where I have spent the past few days. Or rather tried to.

Anjuna Flea Market
After travelling across the Maharashtra-Goa border, my first stop was Anjuna - a place chiefly famous for its Wednesday morning flea market and over-developed beach. I noticed that my room’s only door, facing the guesthouse’s garden with direct street access, was of the sliding glass variety and featured a charming handmade lock that could be picked by a monkey with a cocktail stick (a surprisingly common occurrence in this part of the world). Things got worse when the chap at ‘reception’ insisted on keeping my passport for four hours until some guy turned up to photocopy it on his magical machine.

To make myself feel better I hired a moped - no questions asked - and scootered on down to the crowded beach, where I was approached by approximately 20 drug dealers in quick succession. This impeded my ability to find a little patch of seaside sanctuary, a task that was challenging enough given the plethora of drunk Russian men in impossibly-tight swimming trunks. Fuck this, I muttered to a tag-along stray, before heading back to the guesthouse, sleeping, waking up, and catching a taxi to Panjim, the state capital.

A fruit seller in Panjim, Goa
Most travellers bypass Panjim, but it’s absolutely worth seeing. The old quarter is jam-packed with quaint Portuguese colonial houses, most of which are red, blue or yellow - though unlike Nuuk in Greenland the colours don’t correspond to the occupier’s profession. Peppered throughout the districts of Sao Tome and Fontainhas are cafes, tea houses and boutique shops, and inside most are actual Goans, whose existence by this point I wasn’t entirely sure of. My two-night stay here was interrupted only by a swift visit to the coastal ‘resort’ of Arambol in Goa’s far north, a destination I wasn’t quite able to focus on given the story Diogo, my taxi driver, told on the way there. In 1987 he was asked to drive a customer from Panjim to Calcutta - a distance of over 2,000 km. Diogo drove continuously for four days and four nights - breaks he couldn’t do because the passenger had an urgent funeral to attend. His own. That’s right, the passenger was stone-cold dead: a 24-year-old man who tragically died in a construction accident. Diogo chain-smoked continuously from day two, partly to stay awake but also to mask the smell coming from the back seat. “That back seat?” I asked. “No sir, different car.”


Days 12-14

My Anjuna-inflicted wounds sufficiently licked (despite the image of necrocab), it was onwards to Benaulim, which I have already fabulously described (you are probably wondering why I went back there. I think it was nostalgia). But since I wrote the above paragraphs, two unexpected things have happened to me; one of which was nice, the other not so. As my girlfriend (who is real – you can check her Facebook profile and everything) will tell you, I’m not one for complaining, which is why I haven’t mentioned my chronic tooth ache until now. Well, it got to the point where a trip to the dentist was needed - something I haven’t done since 2008, a year I have also already fabulously described.

Cute puppies on the beach
Dr Vas did unspeakable things to me, but for 150 rupees I was happy to walk out of there with a diagnosis and a prescription. A gum abscess that would clear in three to four days with salt water and some gum that tastes like curry. Praise be. I felt a little cheated that my bravery wasn’t rewarded with a sticker, so I decided to treat myself to a nice beachside lunch. On arrival the sands were surprisingly quiet save for - wait, what’s that? A litter of puppies! I’m having trouble recalling the two hours I spent with them as they were probably the happiest of my life; made happier still given the fact that I’m yet to contract rabies. Goa, I think I’ve fallen for you.


Days 15-18

With my time in Benaulim having drawn to an impossibly-blissful close, I ventured further south to a beach hut in Palolem. En route I stopped at Cola, a destination Lonely Planet describes as “one of south Goa’s most gorgeous hidden beach gems”. And hidden is the operative word, because unless you know which turning to take, it’s near-impossible to find. Flanked by forested hills, the beach is backed by a gorgeous freshwater lagoon, whose source is a spring just a few hundred metres inland. The water is absolutely pristine - rare for a natural watercourse in India - and fortunately free of snakes and alligators, meaning it’s absolutely perfect for swimming. The lagoon is flanked on either side by a modest collection of beach huts, each having its own space and identity (which is absolutely not the case in Palolem, as I was to discover). It’s the closest thing to paradise I’ve seen, and I was rather reluctant to leave.

Best beach in Goa
The problem with Cola, inevitably, is that every other beach visited thereafter isn’t as good, and unfortunately Palolem is no exception. It’s far prettier than anywhere in the north, but such is the density of huts and restaurants that the place has a festival feel, which may not be the thing you’re after. For example, I woke up to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky playing next door and the unmistakable, slightly-disconcerting-when-it’s-so-close sound of wee on porcelain. I could practically feel the splash on my sleepy face through the wafer-thin coir. There were also two immensely irritating firework displays during the night: one at 2.30, the other at 4.30, each going on for half an hour. Real India this is not, so I did what any aspiring bon vivant would and got out of there; specifically back to Cola, convinced by this point that it’s among the most beautiful places in the world. I was lucky enough to find one of those brilliant beach huts I was banging on about, so there I stayed, enjoying barbequed seafood and probably the best sunset I’ve laid my eyes on. Jobs a good'un.

Cola Beach sunset, Goa

No comments:

Post a Comment