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Going solo in Goa: Panjim and Old Goa

In which I develop a taste for kingfisher beers

Leaving the hotel as the group dispersed, a bird shit on my head. I hoped that, as per the superstition, this was a gift of great luck for my onwards travels as opposed to signs of crappy times to come. Ally and Emma from the group had an extra day in Goa so the three of us headed to a secluded beach bar where ordering a drink (for about 30p) earned us a day of hassle free sun-loungers. We chose some in the shade as the heat was almost intolerable and I couldn't help order a salad for lunch. Having been warned against salad in India, I waited for the sickness to come but I was lucky - it had seemed like a safe place. Whilst we were eating, another bird pooped on my beach towel - more good karma?

After a lazy afternoon amongst overweight Russian sun worshipers we strolled back through the touristy bits of town, visiting the first supermarket we'd seen so far in India. I stopped in a few dodgy travel agents in an attempt to organise my onwards travels and booked a sleeper bus for a couple of days later to Hampi. In the evening, Ally napped before her flight and Emma and I sat in a little bar, surprisingly full of Brits (of the old leathery kind) and shared a large bottle of Kingfisher (for £1).

The next day, Ally had left but Emma and I ate breakfast (my new favourite Puri Bharji for 80 rupees) in an open air bar called something like the Happy Horse where one of the staff was still asleep on a mattress on the floor. It seemed again to be another popular British hang out. We got talking to a tanned old British man with sparkling blue eyes. He was probably only in his late 40s but his hippy lifestyle and too much sun had aged him dramatically. His hands shook as he ate his fry up and regaled us with tales of India and recommendations for my onwards travels. He was very friendly and seemed to love India and have travelled extensively but he reminded me very much of someone I used to know. I couldn't help but feel sad for him and I hoped he had family to go home to in the UK if adventure ever got old.

He pointed Emma in the direction if the beach and I decided to join her for a while, again sitting in the shade before eventually saying goodbye and returning to the bar from the previous night, Prashant's, to satisfy an unusual lunchtime beer craving, something that had never happened to me before. One of the Indian customers stood up and asked when I wanted to go to Panjim and I realised that he was the taxi driver who I'd asked to drive me there, apparently enjoying a large kingfisher (sprite-d down) while he waited for me to want to leave.

Leaving in the taxi, I was still nervous but feeling better about things - turns out I'm too lazy to have any unnecessary emotions while severely overheating. I couldn't actually sit on the front seat of the car as, having been parked in the sun it was so hot it was burning though my silk trousers. The driver kindly put his jacket on it to help protect my bum and i just hoped it wouldn't get sweaty. His name was Pradeep and he was very chatty. He showed me the bus stop I'd need to go to the following evening to ride to Hampi. A native Goan, he told me that Goans were the friendliest of Indians and the most honest. Whilst I'd found the shopkeepers highly irritating, I'd have to agree with him to date. He asked how old I was and I laughed when he said he was 29, thinking he looked much older but retrospectively I don't think he was joking. Dropping me off, he gave me his phone number (even rickshaw drivers in India seem to have business cards) and told me to call him the following day if I wanted to go anywhere or needed help. I didn't think I'd be using his services and hoped I wouldn't need help but I thanked him anyway.

Standing outside the Paradise Inn in Panjim I assumed that it had obviously been named ironically as it looked like a complete shit hole. Attempting to find the entrance, with a sense of foreboding, I accidentally rang an old lady's doorbell and she pointed me around the corner. Once I got to my room I was pleasantly surprised. I hadn't yet checked for hot water but it was a big room, clean and there was a/c that worked so well that the room was pleasantly chilly.

After checking in, I set out to explore Panjim, the capital of Goa built on an estuary and reached by two bridges from North Goa. Goa has a lot of Portuguese influence and as i walked along the water front in the early afternoon I though that it had rather an air of a sleepy, dilapidated European seaside town. There were some once grand, most of them now crumbling in a way that only buildings in India can. In the water were India's only casinos that some how escape the law by being located in old ships off-shore. Zahid had pointed them out to us on the drive to Calangute - apparently gambling is generally illegal in India because it would make it too easy to legitimise black money or something like that. Walking along, I received a few stares and was indiscreetly followed for a while but managed to lose him and eventually came to a small park at the waters edge where I found some steps to sit on and write a postcard to my grandpa. The small beach there smelt bad, in fact generally Panjim didn't smell great (despite the presence of several public toilets) although I guess that's the prerogative of a capital city. After sitting for a while I wandered back into town,pleasantly surprised at how little attention I received and how a simple no thank you was enough to turn down the offer of taxis. I saw the odd white person walking around but in general Panjim seemed lacking in tourists. Whilst in the last few days that's exactly what I'd craved, I began to sense that Panjim may be a little dull and briefly contemplated returning to Calangute to find Emma again until I remembers that taxis in Goa were not cheap.
There was a United Colors of Benetton in town along with several sports shops which surprised me. Whilst the waterside paths certainly lent themselves to jogging, the temperature certainly didn't and I was still feeling distinctly hot and sticky. Aside from a few museums, the main tourist sight in Panjim is the a church, described by lonely planet as a wedding cake atop a hill but despite my best efforts,even with the help of a map and the small walkable distances of Panjim it took me a while to find. Since arriving India, I'd constantly felt as if I'd left my sense of direction at Heathrow. Eventually, after getting slightly lost in a covered market, I stopped in a park (where for the second time in two days I was approached and asked a question in Russian) to re-consult the guide book and thought it must be near-by. Eventually I found it, I'd in fact passed it earlier but must not have been looking up as there it was, perched atop a small hill looking wedding cake-y. It didn't take long to 'do' the church (it made a pleasant change from temples!) and next I sought out the post office again with the help of the map. I accidentally entered several municipal buildings (one of the only indicators that I was in a 'capital city' before finding it, crossing my fingers and handing over my postcard. Next I went in search of a place for a drink - I didn't find the guide-book recommended place I was looking for as I was looking in the wrong place. I did however find a clinical looking spa (much more hygienic looking than those I'd seen in Calangute and Baga) where a pedicure cost 300 rupees (about £3.30) so I settled down to have my feet cleaned and scrubbed by a small Chinese woman. She did a very good job - I'd recently been wondering if my feet would ever be clean again aft touring India in havianas - and chatted to me while she worked away, seemingly oblivious to my grimy state (I'd caught sight of myself in the mirror downstairs and, as expected I was a dreadful sweaty mess). She described India as 'some people is good, some people is bad' and asked me if I was Protestant or Catholic - I answered that I was neither but my dad attended a Methodist church so I suppose I would be Protestant. Then a man, possibly Russian, also came in for a pedicure and four of us sat in companionable silence.

Once my feet were suitably buffed, I left feeling pleased with myself and thinking that 300 rupees was affair price to pay for an hour in air conditioning even without the added benefit of a pedicure. I made a brief stop at my hotel room where the air con was going full blast and immediately regretted it when I had to go outside again, sure that it had got hotter in the 10 minutes that I'd been inside. It was now dark and the 'city' had livened up, or at least the traffic had. I successfully navigated my way to one of the lonely planet's recommendations for drinking, a bar/restaurant with a balcony overlooking the traffic, the bridges and the water where I slapped on the mosquito repellant and, slightly confused by my own actions, ordered my second kingfisher of the day. Whilst the beer was cheap, the food prices were reminiscent of several of the restaurants we'd visited in the last two weeks as a group (£4+ for a meal) and so I decided to stick to beer and enjoy the view whilst holding out for under £2 food later on. After two beers for 120 rupees (hurrah for finding cheaper places) I moved to another lonely planet recommendation, Viva Panjim, reputed for its seafood and pork dishes and low prices where, under the relative protection of a mosquito candle, I enjoyed a thoroughly unnecessarily sweat inducing veggie vindaloo and two chapatis all for 100 rupees. I went to bed in air conditioned paradise with my wallet still heavy and feeling pleased with myself.

In the morning, my skipping rope, resistance band and I decided to make the most of the aircon with a spot of hotel-room circuit training to the tune of Grey's Anatomy on TV before taking the most powerful shower I'd had in India to date. With all that and a noon checkout, the Paradise Inn was actually living up to its name.

Leaving the hotel I was unsurprisingly asked 'taxi?' and although I'd planned to have some breakfast first I asked how much to Old Goa. Somehow I ended up on a pilot, a one passenger taxi in the form of a moped heading along the Mondovi river towards the former capital of Goa. It seemed to be a busy market day in Old Goa and it was bustling within Indian tourists and locals. Looking for somewhere to sit to consult my map, I chose a rock opposite the police station but was shortly told by someone I assumed was a casually dressed police officer that I wasn't allowed to sit there. Instead I relocated to Sanjay's cafe, the only eating recommendation in lonely planet where, at the filthiest table I've ever come across, I ate a masala dosa and was given a glass of warm sugary milk with a dollop of coffee powder on top which, once stirred was actually delicious.

I walked through the market to Se Cathedral, Asia's largest church built in the 1500s under the instruction of the king of Portugal. There were 5 churches within 200m of each other so next I visited the smaller but slightly grander Basilica of Born Jesus. After managing to fill two hours with breakfast and churches, Old Goa seemed to have little more to offer. I'd wanted to visit another remote church on a hill top 22km away but wears advised not to make the trek alone and, given the heat, I was easily dissuaded from a 2km uphill walk.

Instead of taking a taxi or pilot back to Panjim I decided to add another mode of transport to my repertoire and instead took a local bus for ten rupees for the 20 minute journey back. I clambered over an old Indian lady who didn't seem to want to move when she agreed to me taking the seat next to her and enjoyed the breeze coming through the window.

Back in Panjim I was at a bit of a loss at what to do. It was slightly overcast and clammy so a beach was out, I'd seen most of what Panjim had to offer the previous day and, having already eaten I headed back to Down the Road bar for a drink. Unfortunately they decided to close 30 minutes after I'd arrived so I went in search of another lonely planet recommendation - Hospedaria Venite. Unable to find it I used an Internet 'cafe' for a few minutes before deciding to stock up on essentials. I'd just finished a book and lonely planet referenced several book shops in Panjim. I was also out of shower gel. Unfortunately these two purchases took under 15 minutes, but at least I'd bought a new copy of a Sam Bourne book for under £4 in an Indian bookstore.

I found Hospedaria Venite eventually. I was the only customer and sat on the balcony where the owner gave up his seat for me as it was the breeziest. I settled down with Sam Bourne and a kingfisher thinking that 7.30 pm and my sleeper bus to Hampi couldn't come soon enough.

Posted by madeinmold 03:38 Archived in India

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