Our first Goan sunset.
We left the hotel around 17.30 and headed to down town Calangute which is a leisurely 30 minute stroll passed a variety of rag-tag shops, stalls and houses. Small clusters of cows amble down the road in their own good time, grazing on green plants at the roadside or on small piles of dumped rubbish.
The hot, sunny day had and become a cloudy and muggy afternoon. We weren't especially hopeful for much of a sunset down at the beach. Town was busy, locals and Indian tourists alike gathered by food stalls or just in groups by their scooters and bikes talking and enjoying being with each other. We headed down to the beach and took a table at the open air bar. The other patrons, were a mixture of locals (who didn't mind sitting with their backs to the sea and sunset) and tourists, many of whom were buying all manner of goods from the hawkers (beads, bags, shell jewellery and the strangely popular temporary tattoos). Just a quick word at this point about the hawkers, they are polite and tout their wares without any kind of intimidation or pressure " Want to buy some cheap rubbish?" one lady said, and by a third "no thank you" move on. This seems in direct conflict to everything we've read about the hawkers in Goa whom we were given to believe are aggressive and bothersome. Again our experience of beach life maybe different because of the monsoon season. So, shortly after being seated at our table two drinks arrive and we wait for the show to begin.
The clouds break up and sunlight, a fair way above the horizon pours itself over the sea in a column of dazzling light. The crowd on the beach thickens as sunset draws nearer and the expectation of seeing something amazing increases.
More and more people come from the streets of town to witness this spectacular daily event. And then the clouds close in and it's over. Ugh! What a disappointment. We looked at each other and just laughed. What were we going to do? Complain?
It was still very warm, we had cold drinks and the atmosphere was vibrant. No-one was leaving, in fact still people were coming on to the beach.
Faint pinks and oranges started to appear in the sky, and as the minutes passed these deepened, intensified and spread like fire.
The entire horizon glowed orange and directly in front of us the sun melted into the sea and disappeared.
The first few spots of rain had started to fall, giving refreshment after the heat of the day. No-one budged, no-one put up umbrellas. As The smells of food being cooked wafted in the air, people dozed in their chairs or browsed the menu for ideas for dinner. Beach life, we could get used to it I suppose.
Suddenly, the rain intensified and a few umbrellas went up (ours included)and within seconds a mass exodus began. Like a sand timer being turned back on its head, the beach emptied back into the beach bars and the streets of town. We went inside to finish our drinks, Bob Marley was on the radio and we felt very at home.
We went for a bite to eat and they like a bit of live music here. Usually it's a two person line-up banging out wishy-washy versions of well known classics, Summer holiday, When you're in love with a beautiful woman, Karma chameleon. The locals love it.
The road home is like a poor man's Krypton Factor assault course. Its very dark. Puddles up to our knees, potholes up to our knees, cows, cow pats, not to mention the traffic (many drivers don't put their lights on to save the bulbs). It keeps you on your toes.
For the next three days we had true monsoon rains. The sky remained heavily overcast at best and when the skies opened, the onslaught was incredible. The rain was so heavy that at times you couldn't see 10ft in any direction. The roads turned into streams that gushed and bubbled furiously, the hotel pool overflowed into the gutters, water poured off the roofs like swollen waterfalls and the rain fell and fell and fell. So far there has been no thunder bolts or lightening, so it's not been very, very frightening. Between downpours, we had piña coladas by the pool (our holiday has begun) and we went for short walks along the shore. From Candolim to Baga the long sandy beaches are flying red flags and the rough sea is out of bounds. There are plenty of lifeguards patrolling the coastline to ensure this is adhered to. Even going in up to your knees is greeted with a sharp blast on their whistle.
We had a week bumming around in Calangute before moving on to Goa's capital, Panaji.
We're staying in a restored Portuguese mansion house in the Latin quarter, the room had beautiful period furniture and contemporary local art on the walls. From our balcony we can see the Mandovi river which carves a muddy looking vein through the city.
Panaji is clean, even the shed leaves from the trees are swept daily into neat piles at the base of the trunks from whence they came. The pace of life in this city seems almost sleepy in comparison to either Mumbai or Pune, but then doesn't life always seem a bit slower when by the coast? People are quick to smile, (though only when they are smiled at first) and they do so with such warmth and sincerity, that you feel you're making friends all the time.
We took a walk down to Miramar beach, the 8km round trip was about all we wanted to do in our flip flops. The walk there was fairly unremarkable, the riverfront in peak season must be an amazing sight with large numbers of ferries, paddle steamers, floating casinos and all manner of fishing boats and cruisers. This mish mash flotilla lay at anchor in the estuary, patiently waiting for the return of the crowds in November.
The riverfront gave way to a small marshland that leads to Campal, a picturesque part of town, with its parks and green open spaces that also hosts the Kala Academy of Arts.
We arrived at the beach, it's a deep but narrow stretch of golden, powdered sand where the sea and river meet. The brackish water lapped at the shore and a constant stream of people came, stood, took photos and left in short periods of time, us included. Something interesting we've noticed about Indians is both before and directly after having their photo taken they are full of smiles, but during the photo, they stand po-faced.
We wandered back to the edge of the beach and sat on the concrete chairs and just spent an hour or so people watching and shooting the breeze. At 12.00 the local school broke for lunch and the excited kids came running down to the beach. We left them to it.
Our second day here and it was a rainy day in Panaji. We were determined to go and see a bit more of the old town so after a fairly mundane breakfast, we went and braved the elements. The rain was fairly light for an hour, the brolly occasionally had to go up but due to the warm breeze we were mostly drying out as soon as we got wet. We walked through the town where the intricate Portuguese style buildings nuzzle up to the blocky concrete towers of apartments. The striking colours of the Portuguese buildings are a true reflection of Goa's personality. The vivid purples, greens and reds set against the lush gardens never failed to impress.
In the rain it was hard to look upwards and so much of the architecture was missed. And then the proper rain started (sorry to bang on about the rain, it does feel very English though , and it is SO heavy and has so much influence over people's lives, it can't be ignored). We ducked into the nearest shop for shelter and can you believe it, it was a patisserie! You won't believe this though, all we had were drinks, no cakes, no pastries. Honest.
The weather brightened and we decided to make a break for it but not before we donned out pack-a-macs. We know, rock and roll.
We mooched around for only about 15 minutes when the heavens opened once again, but this time we had a plan, we were headed to the museum. The customs of Goa museum, this should provide us with some of the culture we've been looking for. We got to the museum, only semi-drowned and the bewildered guard looked at us as if he'd never seen a tourist before. We had arrived at the museum of Customs and Excise no less, and it's the only one in India! So we went in and were personally escorted round (in silence) and, and...well it was a museum of customs and excise for god's sake! It was about as boring as you can get.
We decided to call it a day as it was pointless wandering round in these conditions, so we decided to head back.
We went for a spot of lunch at a local restaurant, it was one that we'd been past a couple of times and the food was pretty good, it was sandwiched between the walls of two buildings (aka in an alley) and we shared our dining experience with a rat about the size of a cat, the last one we saw was in the departure lounge at Heathrow by the way.
To think that three weeks ago we saw the blue tarpaulined shacks and shied away from the area and now here we are, sitting under one, happily eating chilli squid not 5 meters away from rodents. Are we travellers yet? We keep asking each other. This might be a move in that direction.
Our final day in Goa's capital and it was another washout. Very frustrating but we knew there would be days like this. We managed to get to the local indoor market before our daily drenching. We wandered round and looked perplexed at the different vegetables that were on offer. It was amazing how many different veggies look like string beans.
At one point, Janet enquired about a fruit that was on a stall and the chap offered a piece to her and she found that it smelled like a cross between an apple and a pear (so it was probably a stair fruit) but as the hand that gave her the offering was caked in grime, she politely refused to taste it.
The spice stalls were great to see, 10 or 15 types of dried chilli, turmeric, ground coriander, cardamom pods and dozens of others in huge white sacks dazzled the eyes but surprisingly, gave very little aroma.
By the time we had finished, the daily soaking was in full swing. We decided to go to the cinema. Everyone has heard of the Bollywood films, we love them and had watched a good few in the UK as preparation for the trip.
So we arrived at a modern multiplex style cinema and asked for tickets to see From Sydney With Love. "This is a Hindi film madam" Janet - "Yes, that's fine". The young lady in the box office looks at Jan, looks at me, looks at her colleagues who are looking at both of us too. Big smiles "350 rupees please madam". We watched the film, it was an easy romcom, that happened to also have a little English in the script.
The things that made this memorable were that just before the film started, the Indian national anthem was played and without exception everyone in the auditorium stood. There was also an intermission! What a blast from the past. It was such a lovely and nostalgic thing to happen.
People were bewildered as to why we were there and even more so that we were enjoying the film. Our last day in Panaji was like many we'd spent back home, and that too is part of being a traveller rather than a tourist.
We're heading further south to Betalbatim. It's promising to be the sleepiest place on our trip so far. If the weather picks up, it will be amazing, if it doesn't...it will be wet and amazing.