Most people pop down to their local curry house on a Saturday night if they want a ruby – Shell and I decided we’d go authentic style. By the next morning, we were in India…
It appears to me that the airport bag handlers in Goa have no concept of the carousel. As soon as the bags start their journey on the merry-go-round, they are taken off and put to the side, leaving everyone standing like they’re waiting for the bus that never comes. Chaos reigns. Culture shock? Probably not even started yet. We soon find our Thomson rep and get pointed to Bus A down to the right, so we walk off.
“Sir? Sir? Want a taxi?” someone says nearby.
I smile politely, “No thanks.”
A hundred yards and several similar requests later, my smile is a little forced after each identical response. Ah, Bus A. Some bloke takes our bags and gives them to the guy who will load them into the bus. “Thanks,” I say.
He opens his hand, showing two recognisable coins and looks at me, “Pound coins? Pound coins?”, thrusting his palm towards my face. Oh, it’s like that is it? You do ten seconds of work and expect a tip? I oblige, only because we’re about the first ones here, he looks persistent and I can’t be bothered with the hassle after a long flight. We board and wait.
Palm trees blow in a brown, dusty landscape while mopeds buzz amongst the cars on the motorway ahead. I hear a familiar cry of an unseen bird, and recall the wildlife of the Maldives last year. Bus finally full, we depart.
Within minutes, I discover that it’s probably best to be a passenger in a Goan vehicle with your eyes closed. Normal rules of overtaking don’t apply here – beep, manoeuvre, mirror, regardless if oncoming traffic is near. On a bend? No problem. Just another challenge. Mopeds, pedestrians, trucks, buses and cars all jostle for position on varying degrees of road like an 80s video game.
The rep on the bus supplies us with information on the area in a chirpy but well-rehearsed up and down voice that grates after a while. I gaze out of the window and see fields with cows, herons, other birds and the odd fisherman. We pass sporting fields where goalposts look on untroubled as cricket takes centre stage. We hear that the roads are quiet due to the partying after yesterday’s world cup win. Celebration of a billion people – must have been one hell of a party.
We arrive at our hotel as the only ones from the plane coming here. We’re doing a five-day tour round a small part of India, whereas everyone seems to have come for Goa on its own. We appear to be the only Europeans here in amongst a crown of people checking in or out. Suitcases everywhere. Suddenly, a man sidles up to where we’re sitting and asks us to get in a photo a woman is taking of him. Obviously a white couple are a photo coup around here! We go past the pool and loud pop music accompanied by live Spanish guitar played by some dude outside the restaurant. Different.
The room is very nice – we thought we were being put into a dive, so this was unexpected. Double shower, huge bed, view of the pool, big TV. We take a small nap, tired after our travels, and then venture out after deciding that the dodgy acoustic musak versions of Madonna and George Michael were a bit too much.
“Sir! Sir! Taxi?” We’d barely stepped out of the front gate. No paths to speak of, we slowly stroll down the road, single file, with the sun warming our heads. We pass local stores, shacks, barbers and builders, all with a rough, run-down look about them. Walking past the river, I spot the silvery blue of a kingfisher perched on branch jutting out, bringing a spot of welcome colour.
“Taxi?” another car slowed down beside us. I shake my head. “How about tomorrow? Next week? I take you to waterfalls!”
I’m not sure if these guys are annoyingly persistent, or persistently annoying. Still tired, careful of the sun and not willing to risk playing chicken with scooters and cars, we head back to the guitarist in full swing. “Welcome to the ‘otel California…Such a laarvly place…”
Another small nap and then dinner. Buffet, Indian style. Nothing too spicy, just a few different curries, garlic naan and lime pickle with a kick. The waiters practically fall over themselves to help, smiling all the time, making us feel welcome. We stay for ages, chatting long after the last bit of sauce has been mopped up. Fed, happy and ready for bed, we escape before more loud music starts up. Luckily for us, this soon ceases, and our first day in the sub continent is complete.