01.12.2012 - 03.12.2012 31 °C
We flew with SpiceJet from Mumbai to Goa and drove for about an hour to reach our hotel in north Goa. . The drive was beautiful and green with the sun a deep orange. As the final destination on our trip together we were staying in Calangute and Baga described by Lonely Planet as follows: 'Once a refuge of wealthy Goans, and later a 1960s hot spot for naked revelling hippies, Calangute today is popular with extended Indian families, groups of Indian bachelors and partying foreigners. If you want to experience authentic Indian (or Russian) tourism full on, come to Calangute.' It was a stark contrast to the rest of the places we'd visited and heading into town for dinner we encountered obnoxious Russian tourists, groups of older leathery Brits and several sleazy locals asking if we wanted 'party or boyfriend'. The only real reminder that we we in India was the intermittent electricity at Hotel Alor.
Goa is famous for its seafood so in the evening I ordered a calamari vindaloo expecting eye-watering, sweat inducing spice. I was sadly disappointed, I didn't cry or sweat and the meal's only redeeming feature was the presence of garlic cheese naan. Whilst I was sad our trip was coming to an end, the freedom to chose my own less touristy eateries was something I was looking forwards to. After dinner Zahid led us to a sports bar (yes they have lots of them in Baga) so, having little interest in watching football, Christine, Olli, Maria and I left and walked down to the beach repeating the word no over and over as we were asked 'taxi?' every couple of seconds. The beach was littered with bars/shacks and their fairy lights glittered far into the distance in both directions. Walking to the sea for a paddle (pleasantly warm), we watched a guy wade in a couple of meters to knee height, cast a net and pull it in after just a few moments. He then showed us his catch, several catfish amongst smaller ones and a few small starfish which he threw back in to the waves.
The next morning there was no electricity again. Keen to get away from the touristiness of Calangute, Olli, Christine, Maria and I got a taxi to a quieter beach in the north, Vagator. Zahid had told us that the beach near the hotel was very very busy and we wouldn't want to wear bikinis there.
Our driver, Sunny, was friendly and gave us his number so we could call him when we were ready to go back. He dropped us at the top of the beach path and we bought coconuts on the way down. The beach was relatively quiet, a few foreigners were beginning to arrive and a group of school boys were playing fully clothed in the water. After setting up a base we immediately got into the water, which shelved gradually but had strong currents, and lolled around for quite a while before lying in the sun to dry off.
A large group of local guys were making a sand mermaid nearby, paying particular attention to the detail of the chest area. A couple of them asked Maria and I if they could have a photo with us. When we refused they had one with Olli instead. Within an hour it became too hot for lying in the sun and we headed off in search of refreshment. Along the way Olli asked me to look at his ear - apparently a couple of locals had tried to grab his ears and we was wondering why as they didn't seem interested in his earrings. We soon found out why - a little but further along a local had a tourist held by the top of the head and was inserting a long metal rod into his ears and pulling out enormous amounts of wax - there are several ear-cleaning touts along this stretch it would seem.
On the other side of the cliffs we came across a different part of Vagator beach. Here seemed to be a popular local, Russian and cow hang out. It was busier and had some shacks serving food. Although it was lunch time, we ordered mostly breakfast foods. I had the 'Indian breakfast' and for just 80 rupees (about 85p - by far the cheapest meal I'd had so far including paying for coffee and toast at hotels) I had three puris and bhaji (not the same as onion bhaji - essentially a mixed veg curry). Not only was it a bargain but it was also a very strong contender for the best meal on the trip to date. Walking after lunch we came across David and Sophie on a scooter they'd rented for just 200rupees, a bargain compared to what we'd payed for a taxi but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to brave the Indian roads myself.
After a sweaty afternoon walking around Baga and the beach near the hotel, the group met for our final meal together at a beachside restaurant called Brittos. Amongst the pies and seafood on the menu there was one spicy veggie curry that turned out to be pretty good. It did however take almost an hour to have our order taken, the waiter understood my order of ginger tea to mean g&t and there was some warbling karaoke going on in the background. It was a quiet last night and fortunately, after walking back to the hotel I found that both electricity and wifi were in good working order so I attempted to plan where to go next. I was sad to leave the group having met some great people and had an easy two weeks in terms of travel and accommodation details being taken care of but at the same I was, if slightly apprehensively, looking forwards to the challenge of going it alone.