As the sun rose on the journey down I was drifting in and out of sleep, mainly on a paranoid cockroad watch. The Konkan scenery was stunning and watching rural India fly by helped pass the several hours still left. When we finally stumbled off the train at Goa I pulled my backpack out from under the chair and saw several cockroaches scuttle away.. nice. Was seriously hoping the next trip in sleeper wasn't quite so dirty, but I guess you get what you pay for!
With no real plan we decided to try and head down to Palolem and then maybe head up North to see other bits of Goa later in the week. More by luck than anything we eventually figured out a bus down to Palolem and we put out bags in the back the driver didn't seem all too happy about the small delay and starting slowly driving off without us, snarling as we got on. He then absolutely floored it, lurching the mish mash of passengers out of their seats. With no real name or number on the front the assistant leaned out of the window at each village and shouted where we were going repeatedly for what seemed like 10 minutes. After barely any sleep and in the insane heat each repeated shout felt almost like a bullet to the brain but eventually we were on our way again absolutely flying down barely tarmaced roads, careering round every corner and overtaking anything that obviously didn't match the drivers required speed. The guy was a madman and every near miss jolted me slightly out of the temptation to sleep. When the insane driving was coupled with the blasting techno-hindi music being played it was hard not to find the whole thing pretty amusing! After about an hour we arrived in what was apparently the outskirts of Palolem so following the signs we started walking. A guy on a moped pulled over and offered to take us to some nice cheap beach huts in the middle of Palolem beach front, so with no solid idea of where we were actually going I thought what the hell, no harm in checking them out and at least he'd show us the way. So we followed him through the winding palm trees and wooden shacks of Palolem village towards the beach front. The huts ended up being pretty nice and even had a bathroom which is more than India Guest House in Mumbai could say, and at £5 a night we really couldn't be arsed to look around so took it! Little did we know we'd be there all week. It was about 20ft from the beach front and directly behind Ma-Rita a bar/restaurant where we quickly made friends with all the people who worked there. Crashed in the room for a bit and got the mosquito net sorted out before heading down to Ma-Rita where I was greeted by VJ an absolute legend and the best waiter/bar-man/advice giver you'll ever find in Palolem and a really sound guy to top it. Starving I cracked on to the Kingfishers with an amazing beef burger and chips, about £1.50 for both - good times. The beach front was amazing and stretched out either side, lined by bars, restaurants and beach huts dotted between the rolling palm trees as far as the eye can see. It wasn't too busy and people seemed to be milling around on the beach and in the sea and as the sun set and it all got lit up it looked incredible - we immediately loved it.
The next few days mainly consisted of chilling on the beach during the day and bar at night, the place seems to be a black hole of time and without even realising it I'd quickly spent as much time as I had done in Delhi which incidentally had felt like a lifetime. Woke up on one of the mornings bitten to s*** on my leg thanks to a hole in my Mosquito net but after sorting it out the nights have been nicely insect free. We found Cuba bar and Cafe del mar the places to be and were almost constantly busy with backpackers, many of them British. The food at Cuba was incredible and with a small open kitchen at the front you can see them preparing the fresh sea-food that is brought in every evening ranging from Lobster and Prawns, to Kingfish and even Shark. One night we were even treated to an amateur fireworks display by some Indians on the beach, and after laughed at a guy obviously off his face standing absolutely rock still staring out to sea for about half an hour. I'm not sure I'd like to see what he was seeing! We even managed to catch the Newcastle - Chelsea match on TV in del mar and a good result, coupled with 40p bottles of Carlsberg meant a good night all round. The place is paradise and after realising we'd spent nearly 4 days here and had no motivation to make the effort to see any of the rest of Goa in the remaining 3 days, coupled with the fact we were supposed to be flying out to Sri Lanka in like 8 days decided to plan getting the hell down to Kerala, so hopped on the internet and booked a train for 3 days time.
The last full day in Goa came around in what felt like seconds. As I'd slightly sunburnt decided to stay off the beach and get round to drafting my blog from the epic collection of notes I had accumulated over the previous month. Had hunted around the shops in Palolem and found a lined notebook in a funky little bookshop full of gems, neatly arranged into genres including "girly" which Steph loved. So after having a full English in the morning wrote and wrote until about 4pm, a Cockney guy called Jim asked me if I was converting my memoirs into a novel, ha it felt like it after leaving them all to build up for so long but eventually got it finished after sipping on what seemed like my 1000th ice cold Kingfisher of the week. Finished the day by chilling on the beach and reading some Shantaram before heading to Cuba for some food and drinks before crossing the sand to del mar. A couple of girls were playing Jenga in Cuba and after some cheap doubles and coke we quickly ended up giving it a bash ourselves. Drunken Jenga on a rickety table with heavy footed waiters bashing about proved hilarious.
Later in del mar as I helped a guy who'd broken his arm kayaking carry his drinks to the table the barman briefly flicked the channel from the football onto a hindi language news channel showing breaking news and a building on fire. From the opposite side of the bar we couldn't recognise it and as none of it was in English couldn't understand it. After a bit he switched it back to the football and we put it out our minds. When I got a couple of text messages I began to get a little suspicious, one from Rhoda said "Just seen the news, hope you're safe and not in Mumbai" so i got up and asked the guy at the bar if anything was going on in Mumbai and he brushed it off as just a fire. The guy sitting at the bar mentioned it may be the minor anti-government riots that Delhi and Mubai has experienced flaring up again. So once more put it out my mind, has some more drinks, played some pool and stumbled back to the beach hut for the last time.
Woke up shortly after 7am with just a few hours sleep under my belt to the sound of my phone. I'd recieved a few texts in the night, each just as alarming as the next - most checking I was ok and not in Mumbai. One from Luke however quite frankly scared the s*** out of me. He told me terrorist attacks were kicking off all over Mumbai, especially in Colaba. The Taj hotel had been attacked and was on fire, and many people had been shot dead at CST and Leopolds. My first gut instinct was not to believe but obviously he wouldn't lie about something like this. I felt a bit physically sick and couldn't think about getting back to sleep so headed straight down the beach and to the internet cafe. Sure enough blarring headlines on the front pages of every news site were declaring terrorists had killed over 100 people in a rampage around the city, perhaps targetting Westerners and were still holding many hostage. Looking at pictures did nothing to quell the sick feeling within me, I recognised almost all of them, they were places we'd been to one week to the day ago. That last evening in Mumbai 7 days ago we'd walked up past the Gateway to India where they came on shore in boats, under the Taj hotel lobby which was currently on fire, under seige and surrounded by army and police. I'd got cash out the Colaba petrol station ATM which was blown up by a car bomb and then we'd had food in Leopolds where people were shot at with AK-47's before a grenade was thrown through the front window. Then to top it all off they indiscriminantly mowed down people waiting at CST station at the exact time we'd been there. The Goan paper detailed people who'd been shot dead waiting for the exact train we'd taken and the pictures of abandoned luggage and pools of blood behind a backdrop I strongly recognised made me boil with anger amongst the numbess of shock. After visiting New York just months before September the 11th and having a Dad that worked inside the trade towers we knew the area almost as a 2nd home when we were kids. It doesn't sink in immediately when you witness somewhere visited so recently attacked by terrorists via the media. Unless you're actually there at the time or later physcially witness the aftermath - like seeing Ground Zero - your brain almost puts a block between it and so even now I can't fully comperhend the truth that people were so brutally killed in the exact places I had stood just a week prior. If I was to go back up to Mumbai now and take a walk around Colaba I'm sure it would all become alot more real, but it will probably be years before I return if ever at all.
Ater a while I headed back and told Steph what had happened, she couldn't believe it either. Everyone around was talking about it. We checked out and left out bags in the restaurant with VJ, we had to mission it to the ATM in order to pay for the epic 4000 rupee Ma-Rita tab we'd managed to rack up. After buying some last minute postcards and other little bits and bobs we said bye to people and headed up the sand towards the large flood-light and the exit to Palolem beach and the direction of the local bus station. By pure coincidence we managed to catch the same bus back up to Madgaon station as we'd got down a week ago and after waiting what felt like an eternity for the bus to fill up to acceptable levels we once again bombed it off down narrow roads and into the night. We were dropped off somewhere apparently nearby to the station - this was definitely a "where the hell are we" moment. We've had a couple in India and is effectively when we have had absolutely no real idea where we are or where we're going, sometimes funny, sometimes a bit frustrating! After walking and walking and walking though we found the station and I immediately noticed a couple of armed guards that were not there the first time we'd visited the station a week ago - obviously a result of ramped up security after the Mumbai attacks. The train was an hour late which really wasn't surprising at all considering it had been going for 2 days before reaching Goa. Saw a bizarre train full of colourful Indian trucks speed through the station while we were waiting and when the train finally arrived we trudged over the bridge to platform 2 and waited for the typical Indian scrum to subside before getting on. Yet another thing about India I still can't fully understand. Despite having fully reserved seats, people will push and shove like manicacs to get on and off trains, boats, buses etc alot of the time before even letting people getting off to leave! It's a far cry from traditional British queue etiquette. I didn't think it was possible but the coash was even dirtier than the last one, heaving with people and no bedding to be seen at all. Despite all this, and even the odd cockroach sighting I was so tired I fell asleep as we hurtled off down South towards tropical Kerala which is where I'm writing this blog. We've only been here a few days but it's been incredible and we're off out to Sri Lanka bright and early in the morning if all goes to plan! Hope you're all good, Peace out.