Every country has its a******s. It was in Goa that we found one of India's. During the course of our journey from the airport to our hostel, we were subjected to the loathsome presence of a young, obnoxious taxi driver who, not knowing where to go, accused us of providing him with the wrong hostel phone number, the wrong hostel name and blamed us for not having GPS for him to follow. When we finally arrived at the hostel, which did indeed bare the name first given to the taxi driver, we were informed by the unenchanting fellow that he did not want to give us any change, as he felt he deserved a tip for his exploits. And so, after throwing our luggage in the dirt road, this taxi driver drove off into the sunset, money and hand, most likely complimenting himself on a job well done. Our trip to Goa had not started well.
It didn't get much better as the evening wore on. Desperately hungry, Alice and I decided to venture down the road in order to find some food. But it wasn't a road, it was a strip. One long stream of bikes and cars was flanked by an endless line of bars and restaurants which, boasting names like ‘Top Nosh' and ‘10 Downing Street' in huge neon lights, blared out awful 80s karaoke music as middle aged couples from Liverpool and Shropshire danced away another night of their Thomas Cook package holiday. I looked at Alice as I sat down to the night's entertainment singing Enrique Inglesias' ‘Hero' and shook my head as my chicken tikka was served with chips and ketchup. One thing was clear, we'd somehow got lost on our way from Mumbai and ended up in Benidorm.
Things became a bit brighter in the morning as we headed for the beach, Goa's hallmark. And it was pleasant enough. With sun, sea, loungers, drinks (kingfishers cost 70p a bottle, take note Crown) and food all around, with nothing to do but read, write or rest, there was little room to complain. And yet, there was something disheartening about being one of many tourists, Russians and Brits aplenty, staring into an indistinguishable bit of sea from an indistinguishable plot of sand. We were supposed to be travelling, not on holiday.
So the next day we went looking for some Goan culture by taking the bus to its city centre, Panji. The buses in Goa were certainly an experience and a fun one at that. Full to the brim, the vehicle whipped past cars and mopeds, allowing a more than welcome breeze to cool its sweaty inhabitants, and blared out Hindi music. That though was pretty much where the fun stopped. Panji was awful. It's supposed landmark was such a plain Jane of a church. In fact it was a plain Jane of a city centre. And the temperature must have been about 35 degrees. We were not amused.
There was the prospect of a saving grace as only 20 minutes away stood a World Heritage Site in nearby Old Goa. We decided to chance it and on arrival were met with the sight of several more churches. We tried in total earnest to take something away from these buildings. One church did indeed have a nice golden display as its internal centrepiece. But really, these churches were instantly forgettable. Worse, after trecking up a steep hill in the sweltering heat, we found not a church but a ruin. Maybe even ruin is too kind. It was basically a heap of stones. And if that wasn't enough, they were refurbished. So it wasn't even an authentic heap.
Needless to say we gave up on culture and returned to the beach for the next two days. This did include a nice meal with a few solo travellers at one of the only restaurants to not play anything by Ricky Martin. We went to eat there three times in six days.
Three days of sunbathing was going to be too much. So we decided to dip our toe in some Goan culture for one last time. After another fun bus journey we arrived at Mapusa market. It was the best part of our trip in Goa. For one it felt authentically Indian as the locals shopped for their food and supplies. Secondly it had some genuinely eye catching stuff. And thirdly the stall owners were extremely friendly, engaging us in conversation and not pushing us into a purchase. One kind women, ignorant of my famed bargaining encounter in Mumbai, even showed me how to haggle. Bless.
We did buy things. And I couldn't help but marvel at the women's strategies. ‘Oh, low season, I gve you good price'. ‘Oh, we like English, always very kind. Not like Russian. We give you English price. If you Russian I tell you this price, you English so now I tell you this price.’ ‘You look like an Indian David Beckham'. Okay so the last one is less a subtle strategy and more a shameless attempt at flattery by using a stock Western celebrity. Saying that I did end up buying two things from that woman.
And so ended our trip to Goa. Six days in the scheme of our trip was too long but due to travel restrictions it was also necessary. We left hoping that the cultural sights in the North of India would be more memorable.