Leaving Hampi was straightforward. We had cultivated a rickshaw driver while we had been there and he drove us to Hospet bus station. We were soon on the bus to Hubli. We had tried the usual web sites to get a decent hotel for the one night stopover but hadn't come up with much. In the end the hotel manager phoned one he knew and booked us in.
Hubli itself is quite a large place but it is mostly a business town so not tourist friendly. We arrived at the bus station and tried to make enquiries about leaving the next day. We asked in the information office and were told there were only night buses to Margoa and they left at 2pm and 9pm. This was different to what we had been told and rather threw us. Firstly it would mean a day less in Goa and second, night buses in India are not for the faint hearted and most guides advise against them.
We checked in at the hotel and made some enquiries. The reception staff told us there were lots of buses during the day to Goa. They made a phone call and gave us a list of times. Now we were confused. Who do you believe? We spent the night in what turned out to be a nice hotel with breakfast included. We decided to try for the 10am bus. We pitched up at the bus station at 9.15am and were directed to a platform.
We had asked a few people and they seemed to confirm a 10am bus to Goa. At 9.30am a conductor said 'Goa' to us and pointed to a bus just about to leave. He had been shouting 'Punaji/Ponda' two minutes before. We were doubly confused but he was insistent that we needed this bus. Once on board and headed to god knows where a young lad explained we needed to go to Ponda then change to a local bus to get to Margoa. Phew.
As always the ride was an experience. Four hours or so and we were in Ponda. I think the local bus was waiting for us as we got off one and on the other just as it was about to leave. An hour later and we were at Margoa bus station and being met by our taxi transfer to Agonda beach. We put ourselves, our big rukkies and little ones into his Hyundai Rio which was a tiny thing and he drove off.
As he pulled away he kindly asked if we wanted the windows open or the aircon on. Should I have been suspicious? We opted for aircon. It was an uneventful drive to our beach hut. We took our bags out and I handed him the fare we had agreed with the hut owner. He then asked for 200 rupees more. When I enquired he told me it was an extra charge for aircon. Hands up if you think he got 200 rupees or a stern lecture on trying to rip me off? Correct.
Now the Indians are famed for a 'just in time' approach to building works etc. Remember the last Commonwealth games? We were shown to our hut which was quite nice with a little veranda and a great view off the cliff down to the beach. As the chap opened the door he said 'Sorry but we don't have water. So don't use the toilet'. It seems we were the first and only customers of the new season and they were nowhere near ready. Could we have a beer? No. Could we have something to eat? No. 'We'll have it all working later' he said cheerily with a head wobble.
The website had described the location as on the cliff about 10 minutes walk down a steep path to the beach. That seemed fine. It was a gorgeous setting with everything nearby. We asked where the path was to the beach and village and he pointed us to it. It was steep but not too long. We decided to go and explore. As we started walking he said 'you must be back by 6.30pm'. Ok, 'why?' I nervously enquired. 'The path is cut off by the high tide' he said. It seemed that at the bottom of the path was an inlet channel from the sea to the river. It was possible to cross it on foot for only a few hours in the afternoon. This was not going to be good as it meant you were isolated on the cliff as the road route was too long to walk. It was too late to do anything now so we settled for a beer and eating at the hut restaurant that evening.
We managed to get a shower as they had fixed the water supply. At the restaurant we were handed the menu. We are starting to understand India. In the last hotel while in the restaurant an Indian lady was handed the menu. 'Don't bother with that just tell me what you haven't got' she said. I tried the same line. 'We only have a few veggie things' was the reply. So, no water, no beer and no meat. We ate veggie and drunk our own beer.
Next morning we decided to go down to the village and try and find another place to stay. Breakfast was a lot like the evening before. The water had gone off and they had nothing much to eat. Apparently the manager was in the village buying food. After our meagre food we asked about the channel and if we would be able to get to the village. We were told we could walk across after 1pm but now a boatman would take us across. We went down and were soon waved at by the smiling young boatman on the other side. The channel is about 20 feet wide and waist deep but it runs very fast and the floor is soft sinking sand so you can't swim or walk across at high tide. To cut a long story short it took the two young lads in the boat nearly an hour to reach us. Once in the boat they tried to take us across but could only get half way to a slow flowing area. The boat had live crabs in the bottom from their morning catch. One of which nipped Jill. In the end we had to get out into the water and wade to the far bank. We definitely needed to move.
Once on the other side we went to the 'sister' huts of ours. We had wanted to stay there originally but it had no space. Luckily someone was moving out when we popped in so we negotiated a move with no cancellation charge. As it happened the village had loads of spare space. It seems booking are down about 40% due to the recession. We took a taxi back to the cliff top and were soon in our new hut. They are made of straw matting but do have an attached shower/toilet. They are basic but cosy. The beach is a huge swathe of golden sand and there was next to no one on it. There were of course the ubiquitous cows. Well it is still India and even cows need a beach break. There is something quite comical about cows sunbathing. One day we saw four guys stood chatting and a lone cow walked up and stuck its head in to the group as if it was joining in the conversation. They just continued as if it was the most normal thing in the world. The village behind the beach is basically a dirt road lined with restaurants, shops and more accommodation. It was one of the most idyllic places we've ever stayed. We had four days of strolling along the beach, relaxing and eating amazing food. We absolutely did not want to go back to the noise and dirt of the towns. But if you want to see the country you have to move on.
We had a train booked for 7am so we arranged a taxi for 5.30am as we were about one hour from the station. Our taxi driver turned up bang on time and we arrived at the station about 6.15am. We soon realised this was not going to be a good day. The train information board said our train was delayed indefinitely. We tried to enquire at the desk and were told there had been an accident on the track in Mumbai and they didn't know when the train would get here. When dealing with Indians you have to phrase questions carefully to avoid getting an unhelpful answer. After about ten re-phrasings we eventually established that the train would still come and we could still use our ticket but they had no idea when that would be but not before 2pm. The prospect of spending seven hours at the rail station prompted us to jump in a rickshaw and go to the bus station. We tried to find out if there was a bus to Mangalore that day. It wasn't easy with people pushing you and almost throwing money at the ticket seller. Eventually we managed to glean that the next bus was a night bus at 7.45pm. Back to the rail station.
It seemed that the train was now due to arrive at 3pm. In all a near nine hour wait on the platform. What to do to fill the time? Ok, here's a list of things to do on a provincial Indian railway station platform. There, that didn't take long did it? Nowt, zilch, denada. Fortunately there were buffet restaurants for tea and coffee and plenty of people to watch and judge. Oh I mustn't forget the three resident beggars each with the memory span of a goldfish. All the time we were there they walked down one platform, across the foot bridge, down the other platform, across the tracks and repeat for the entire day. Each time they passed they asked us for money. Each time they got the same answer. The main positive about the wait was it wasn't a cold wet February evening at Grimsby central. On the platform was an interactive train information computer. I tried to use it but without success. A young chap said to me 'Not working eh? If you ever find anything in India that actually works rush out and buy a lottery ticket as it will surely be your lucky day'.
Eventually the train arrived at 3.30pm and we got on board. We had a ticket for a sleeper berth which would have been quite nice at 7am. Of course by 3.30pm it was now converted to seats. In with us were a couple with their 8 year old son called Neem. I knew that within two minutes as he was a noisy, hyperactive, disobedient little s***. Don't you just hate pleading parents? Stop it Neem, please Neem, come here Neem. 'Neem sit down and shut up or I'll lock you in a suitcase and put you in the luggage car'. I thought but didn't say. I felt a tiny bit guilty later when I found out the problem with the train occurred outside Mumbai between stations and these people had been on the train for 20 hours. Another couple had been trapped for 27 hours. 'It's ok' he said. 'We are Indians we get used to this'.
I closed my eyes and practised my Zen as we sat in a small space with Neem and the others on an uncomfortable seat/bed. We arrived at Mangalore five hours later. We were soon in a rickshaw and in our hotel. It's a nice 'business' hotel. A bit pricey but worth it after that day.
This morning we did some internet research booking hotels etc. We popped to the bus station to check on times and bumped into one of the couples from the train. They were now about to do seven hours on a bus. That's stamina for you. Especially as they were in their late sixties. They greeted us like long lost friends, shook hands then departed for their journey.
There isn't much to say about Mangalore. It's by the sea but is more of a port than a beach resort. Next stop is Mysore for Christmas. You'll all be pleased to know that we haven't escaped it. They don't celebrate it; they just try to make money out of it.