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Goa, the ultimate budget holiday destination!
Getting to India from China proved to be a mission in itself. There were no direct flights, and always on the lookout for budget flight tickets, I settled on Air India. The actual plane and service by the flight staff was okay. Not great, just okay. The flight to India was long and involved many hours of waiting in the plane. We flew from Shanghai to Bangkok, then Bangkok to Delhi, then Delhi to Mumbai. We decided to spend a couple of days in Mumbai to recover from the flight, before flying down to Goa.
Bollywood in Mumbai
Had a hectic couple of days in Mumbai, which we loved! We had heard so much about the poverty from some Australian friends who had gone, and I must say, it doesn't come close to the sights you can see in Africa. The people are amazingly friendly, and although obviously try and sell you their wares, take rejection quite nicely.Our direct flight to Mumbai, ended in being a not so direct flight. This ourselves and other passengers only found out when we boarded the plane in Shanghai. The direct route, was a 1 hour stop in Bangkok and another 1 hour stop in Delhi, and we weren't allowed to get off the plane. We left an hour late as well, so we arrived in Mumbai absolutely exhausted. 13 hours travelling! If we'd known we were going to stop in Delhi, we would have had a couple of days stopover there so that we could look around. So, we arrived Sunday late morning, instead of first thing in the morning, and collapsed on the beds in our hotel room and slept until late afternoon. We stayed in Colaba area of Mumbai which is great! Highly recommended. We walked around and saw the Gateway to India and several other beautiful Victorian architecture buildings, ate at Leopolds which has been in existence at that very site since 1871. Food is excellent and vibe there is amazing. Walking around again afterwards, we were accosted by a scout for a Bollywood Film Company. He asked if we'd be prepared to be extras in the next huge Bollywood Blockbuster, called Singh is King. The kids were so excited about the prospect, and I saw my day spent shopping and exploring Mumbai and browsing the markets fast evaporating. Anyway, we had to get up at sparrow fart to meet the Scout and about 40 other Westerners. The scout called me Aunty from that moment until he dropped us back off at our hotel that night. The kids were a big success, we were extras in a bar scene - I don't think they realised that Siobhan was only 12, but with her blonde hair, she was put in a prime position holding a glass of wine. She had to dress in a little black cocktail dress. They brought out a shocking pink frilly mini for me and said, "Here, Aunty". I nearly choked at the sight, and after a bout of violent coughing, told them that there was no way in hell that I would wear that shocking pink mini. Not with my legs that can kickstart a jumbo jet! Tony had to wear a polyester suit and he looked like Leisure Suit Larry from those old computer games. No shoes would fit his big feet, so they gave him shoes with the backs split open, which looked hilarious. I got away with wearing a boa over my black tee, then they wanted to make me look more stylish, so they rolled up my three quarter Thai Fisherman's pants until my flabby knees. I ask you, stylish? One of the German guys had put his expensive $600 shoes down and before he knew it, the dressers had taken his shoes and split them down the back to fit a big Swedish guy's feet. The German guy was completely unimpressed and had a serious sense of humour failure and stormed off the set, with his split shoes, hahahaha. We all thought it was very funny, some people were crying they were laughing so much, and we couldn't understand why he didn't see the funny side of it. The lunch was good, but the day was long. Nothing glamorous about being a Bollywood star! We only got home 12 hours later and they paid us 4oo rupees each. A long, long day, but I saved heaps not going shopping, and from an experience point of view, it was worth it. The famous male Indian actors were really nice, but the Indian actresses were really rude, not just to us, but to the staff who worked for them. The most famous one, had a little man who followed her everywhere with a makeup bag, mirror and small portable fan that he had to hold over her whenever she was waiting for a scene to be shot. Then, she wore a little bandage across her chest between scenes, to stop her armpits from sweating. Another world! The next morning we were up bright and early ready to fly to Goa, but the plane was delayed half an hour, then 45 minutes, then when we got on the plane the air traffic was too busy, so we had to wait an hour and a half on a hot hot plane. When the plane finally took off, all the Indian passengers on board started applauding.
First taste of the beach in Goa
Panjim and Old Goa
Old churches and a dead person
Our stay in Panaji, Goa's capital, was uneventful. The Comfort Guest House proved to live up to its name. We managed to find our way to the bus stand and catch a local bus to Old Goa. We spent a good few hours there, walking from old church to old chapel to old cathedral, marveling at the architecture, trying to recognize the bits of St Francis Xavier's mummified body on display in a glass coffin, lifted high so you had to use your imagination a bit to see the head. He seems to be the patron saint of Goa, he died of some mystery illness while trying to convert the Chinese to Catholicism and they poured lime into his coffin to stop his body from getting smelly and hastening decomposition, so that they could ship his body back to Goa for burial. Two months later, they opened his coffin and his body was intact, his internal organs hadn't started decomposing and when they put their finger into a small wound on his chest, their fingers were covered in blood that was still fresh. The Catholic Church proclaimed it a miracle, he was canonized and his body only started to decompose several years later when Japanese Catholic Priests chopped off one of his arms to take back to Japan so that they could display it and have miracles happen to them. They quickly preserved his body properly and now you can sort of see him lying in his glass and silver coffin. Pretty gruesome stuff, eh? Tony was ecstatic to find that St. Anthony is another popular saint in Goa, and every little town has a St. Anthony's Chapel. St. Anthony is the guy you pray to when you need to find something you've lost or if you're looking for romance or a life partner. For the rest of the day we had to call Tony, St. Anthony. That was, until we saw little St. Anthony dolls and paintings of him – he was virtually bald with three curls only – one on his forehead and one on either side of his head. The hairstyle is what put Tony off.
The old churches are definitely a must-see. You definitely feel completely immersed in history there and marvel at how such a small nation like Portugal could have such a strong influence on another land, so far away.
Brilliantly beautiful Baga Beach
We have definitely hit the jackpot with the place we stayed at in Baga. As opposed to Palolem, Baga is part of the hectically busy tourist area, with a 3km beach stretching from Baga to Calangute, part of the old Hippie Trail of the seventies. So you have a mix of youngsters looking for fun in the sun and ex-hippies, still coming here faithfully every Christmas and New Year for the past thirty years. Our guest house was an old converted Portuguese mansion on the Baga River, across from the action on the other side of the river. That meant we could wade across the river to join in the action, or simply sit on the large veranda of the guest house, sip our drinks and observe some of the action from afar. The best of everything, with nice quiet nights. Apparently across the river, at Calangute or Baga itself, the noise is deafening at night and you get little sleep. Tony and Siobhan were out on the beach somewhere most of the time. They both made friends with other holiday makers from around the world, as well as the staff at the beach shack where we ate dinner most nights.
Wednesday is big market day at Anjuna, the town next to Baga. This market is the market to end all markets, and even if you don't like shopping, this is still a market you have to experience. The owner of the guest house said that one could walk to Anjuna market on the footpath which winds itself around the hills and cliffs next to the sea. She said that it's only a 20 minute walk, and being a little cheap and not wanting to pay 100 rupees for a boat or 200 rupees for a taxi, I decided that on such a beautiful sunny day, a walk would be great. Neither of the kids fancied a walk and I was quite looking forward to heading off on my own. However, straight after breakfast Tony decided that he would accompany me on my walk. At first it wasn't so bad, but I think we took a wrong turn and headed down the path that meant clambering over sharp rocks with jagged edges, steep inclines where you had to grab onto branches of trees to help you get the momentum to keep climbing. Of course, as I thought it was a little pleasant stroll around the corner, I wasn't suitably attired for a tough hike up cliffs and over rocks. My beach sandals didn't offer much protection at all, and I still hadn't got around to buying sunglasses… The scenery was spectacular and on the path, in the middle of nowhere, we had to gingerly step over a used condom with semen not yet congealed. As the path was narrow and rocky with a sheer drop to the rockpools below, and no lovely soft bed of grass to be seen, the used condom did seem a bit out of place. However, about 50m on, around a corner, was a small box mounted onto a wooden pole, offering free condoms. We were about 20 minutes away from the nearest humanity, on a lonely narrow cliff path strewn with rocks and sharp pebbles, so the mind boggles why there's a box with free condoms so far from anywhere or anybody.
After about an hour of steep rock climbing, I began to feel dizzy and asked Tony to slow down as I needed to rest. I found that I had to stop every couple of metres and try and clear my head. By that time, we were quite high up and if we so much as slipped, we would be seagull fodder down on the rocks below. Suddenly, I felt as if I was going to pass out completely, and managed to get to a rock with a flat top that I could sit on. The world started spinning and I felt as if I was being drawn into a vortex, I held my head to try and steady my ship, but the cliffs started rocking out of control. I could feel a strange force inexplicably pulling me onto the rocks about 20m straight below us. One mis-taken step and we would be goners for sure. I cried out to Tony to stand in front of me, even though there wasn't much space on the narrow footpath for him to do so. The next thing, I was washed up on a sandy beach, entwined in a fishing net made of fine nylon gossamer threads. I was well and truly caught, but elected not to fight to untangle myself, but rather chose to lie there passively while dark-skinned fishermen gathered around me excitedly and carefully started unraveling the fishing net and exposing me. I looked up at the harsh sun, burning holes in my eyes and felt myself reaching for the sun. The fishermen were whispering among themselves and then one started telling me to breathe. I felt my mouth opening, but no sound would come out, my lips moved like a fish's, and then I heard a fisherman tell me to put my head on my knees. I opened my eyes and saw Tony looking at me with an ashen face filled with terror, and some strange man was telling me to breathe and keep my head on my knees until my colour came back, as I was as white as my shirt.
Apparently, after I told Tony to stand in front of me in case I fell forward and onto the rocks below, I passed out and luckily fell backwards and hit my head on a rock. Tony says that I stopped breathing and my face lost all colour and my eyes rolled back until all he could see was the whites of my eyes. He called out to me and lifted me up so that my head was against his chest, but I didn't respond. In a panic, he started shouting for help, and a couple further down the footpath hurried to us. An unbelievable coincidence – it was a Finnish doctor holidaying with his daughter! I don't know what he did, but he calmed Tony down and got me breathing again. Apparently, initially I started hyperventilating, but then started breathing normally again, and that's when I regained consciousness. Amazing that I managed to have a dream in the middle of a fainting spell. Anyway, the doctor and his daughter insisted on walking the rest of the way with us, the daughter gave me her peak cap, and he made me take frequent rests. He said that I should get my blood sugar looked at when I get back to China. Although the good doctor advised that I immediately drink alcohol on our arrival at Anjuna, I ordered a coke. Of course, Tony reckons that he saved my life, and made me call him St. Anthony again. He was totally freaked out by the whole episode and told me that when Siobhan and I go to Anjuna market the following week, we take a taxi. No more walking on this holiday, he said. I jokingly said that I've planned a climb up Kilamanjaro next, but he didn't find that very amusing at all.
At the market, we saw a traditional Indian doctor and he felt my pulse and told me that I have a digestion problem, my pancreas and liver aren't working properly so even though I don't eat that much, I'll keep on putting on more and more weight as my digestion system isn't working, and it's causing me to retain water, which is why my feet and legs swell up when I travel. He also said that I have circulation problems, so he prescribed me all these herbs and other strange powders. I said I'd think about it, it's quite pricey, but I might get it next week and give it a go. He also felt Tony's pulse and said that he doesn't make enough white blood cells so that's why he can't fight infections. So true, not sure how he knows all this, maybe he does know what he is doing.
We went across the river for New Year's Eve – buffet seafood dinner, live music and fireworks. All in all, the foor was superb, shark steaks, biryani, king fish steaks, lobster - you can get it all in the beach shacks.
Time to leave
Goodbye to India
This was one of our best holidays ever, amazing place, amazing people. The foreigners here are mostly from the UK, Finland, and some other European countries and Israel. No Americans and only met a couple of Aussies in Mumbai. Many of the Poms are from Manchester. Sun, sea, great food and excellent company - can you ask for more? Tony and I also headed out for Fort Agua - we decided we had to see at least one Portuguese Fort, Siobhan elected to rather hang around on the beach with her English friends she's made. As Forts go, it's just basically the structure, other than big bricks and blocks and a spectacular view from the top of the hill, wasn't much more to see. Our last Saturday night we went to Ingos Night Bazaar on the road to Anjuna. Another enormous market with wonderful things to buy. What was interesting, is only the outer stalls on the fringe were run by Indians, most of the other stall around the live music stage and food places were run by foreigners, many French and Israeli, who are living permanently in Goa and making crafts and clothing to sell. Lovely lovely stuff, some highly creative, but obviously a lot more pricier than the local stalls, but definitely some of it was more upmarket stuff. The food stalls were all run by foreigners and we picked up our only runny tummy the whole holiday, after eating homemade pies from the English Pie stall. Shows you, our bodies are used to an Indian diet now! New Year we spent on the beach at a beach shack called Oceanic Cafe. That's where Tony and Siobhan spent all day lying on their sunbeds, and most nights, we ate dinner there. I tend to head down to a little beach area next to the river and a stone's throw away from our guesthouse, so I can burn in the sun, read my book and fall into the water whenever I need to cool off.
Siobhan told me, that when I get very old, like 50, then I can come here to die. Thanks Siobhan, that doesn't give me too many years left on this planet! Siobhan and I went to Anjuna Market the following Wednesday, and went by boat. No more cliff top walking for me! We shopped up a storm, bought all kinds of funky clothes and had to buy an extra bag to bring it all back. We came back on the boat, no way I wanted to try that walk again! The photos don't do this place justice. If you are ever looking for a holiday destination - Go Goa. And, no, I haven't been paid to tell you that! hahaha. It's just that.....how does one put this nicely. In Thailand the beaches, bars and restaurants are filled with old men way past their prime, with big paunches and varicose veins bulging out their legs, accompanied by young - very young beautiful Thai girls. For me, there's just something seedy and paedophilic about that whole scenario. In Goa, you have none of that. On New Year's day you might get bothered by some drunken Indians from up north or in the interior, who've left their wives and cultural traditions behind at home and are looking for some fun, but they are easily brushed away. In Goa, you get it all - scenery, beaches, markets, and sense of history, on a shoestring and without the seediness and sleaze of Thailand.