Scribblings from the hard shoulder of the Information Superhighway

2017 – Abu Dhabi & Goa

October 2017 was to have been our 35th wedding anniversary, rather than mope around at home I decided to go away, and found an interesting looking hotel in Goa.

Val and I had spent more wedding anniversaries away than at home, so I figured it was the right thing to do. 

My journey to Heathrow went better than planned; I arrived just as the check-in gate opened, dropped my bag off and was in the lounge shortly after five. 

The flight itself was okay, marred by fractious children (“Daddy do we have to travel in Economy class?”) ; I didn’t manage to get any sleep.

Our landing in Abu Dhabi was delayed by half an hour due to thick fog at the airport. When we did land, the fog was so dense I could barely make out the wing-tip on the aircraft! The pilot taxied to the stand at walking pace, taking a full forty minutes to get to the terminal building. 

Then another forty minutes to disembark – fractious brats again – but passport control and baggage collection went smoothly. 

I arrived at Gaz’s at about nine, unloaded his supplies (bacon and chorizo) and chilled. Early afternoon we took a taxi to my hotel, possibly the worst driver ever, we were his first fare on his first day and he didn’t know where my hotel was.

We got lost twice and toured the car parks at the Yas Mall. 

Every cloud has a silver lining, the girl at the hotel check-in was in process of giving me a ‘club’ room with a sea view, but it was given out as I was checking in. Instead she upgraded me to a suite! Sad that it was only for a night and a half, but very comfortable. 

Gaz, and I then spent a pleasant evening at the hotel bar, and I later crashed out in my suite and slept the sleep of the just.

I had planned to take a trip over to the aforementioned Yas Mall for breakfast, but decided that I couldn’t be bothered. Instead I had a very lazy morning and repacked my case. It was going to be a long day and we were meeting some of Gaz’s friends for brunch. 

 

Phil and Tina turned up, and while brunch was less exotic than last May’s, we enjoyed some excellent food, and more drink than is probably healthy. The waitress brought top ups each time she saw glasses nearly empty, and two or three just before the brunch finished at four.

My journey back to my hotel was even more comical than Thursday’s, the taxi driver got lost several times. It was his third day and his first time outside the city centre; my journey towards lunch cost me 48 ‘local’ and the return taxi meter read 78. I gave him fifty and walked away, grabbed another beer from the hotel bar and adjourned to my suite. 

I left the hotel at about eleven thirty, checked out and found a taxi driver who knew the way to the airport. I checked my (much lighter) suitcase and walked through the terminals to a lounge. As I mentioned, back in May, I’d signed up to a deal that included 10 lounges in the first year; given the savings compared to the ‘public’ bar (£20 for a Bloody Mary) it looks to be paying for itself. 

The flight was only 20% full, and while only a couple of hours, I caught up with some much needed sleep. That was a blessing as I encountered Indian bureaucracy. My passport and boarding pass must have been checked ten times between flights. 

The empty flight was also a curse, because while I slept, some miscreant rifled through my bag – in the overhead locker – and ‘relocated’ my iPad! 

In retrospect, while the flight was nearly empty, there was a group on Indian lads behind me who had commandeered an inordinate number of lockers, and both my jacket and bag had been moved while I slept. 

I found another lounge and whiled away the morning. My lunchtime flight was delayed so we arrived in Goa at about three. 

The drive to the hotel (42km) took nearly two hours and we arrived at about five. 

Outside the Hotel Santiago, Calangute @ Tolfalas.com

Outside the Hotel Santiago

My first thoughts were that it was a bit ‘rough and ready’ and that Val would have stayed in the taxi and demanded that she be taken elsewhere. The room was sparsely furnished and initially smelt musty but a couple of hours air-con cleared that.

Bedroom of Room 159 at the Hotel Santiago, Calangute @ Tolfalas.com

Bedroom of Room 159

I unpacked and wandered over to the bar, the staff – David and Walter – were welcoming, and plied me with bottles of Kingfisher lager.

They explained that ‘the season doesn’t start for a few more weeks, so the local night markets aren’t happening, and if I wanted bacon at breakfast, that I should ask. 

Saturday evening’s entertainment was karaoke by the pool, but as so often happens, the karaoke host sang more than the hotel guests.

Dinner was an Indian food buffet, and frankly delicious. As I sat by the pool enjoying a couple more beers, I couldn’t see any other westerners.

Back in the room I was disappointed to find no ‘English’ style power sockets, and the hotel had no adapters, so that would be a project for Sunday. I had to turn the air-conditioning off as it was noisy and blasted the air onto my bed, but the mattress was unexpectedly comfortable. 

Breakfast Buffet

Breakfast Buffet

Breakfast was really tasty, lots of healthy vegetarian daals and sambas. I ordered a Masala Dhosa to be made to order and it was delightful. The restaurant staff appeared concerned and kept asking if I wanted bacon or sausages, but I was fine. I then sat on my small balcony and read my book for a couple of hours. Then wandered into ‘Town’ and squandered 80 Rupees (a tad under a quid) on a power adapter.

It was hot and humid, but later in the day I wandered to the Hard Rock Hotel, had a beer and bought a couple of bits – no bear – then wandered back. 

Just outside my hotel I stumbled across Habenero, a ‘Tex-Mex’ microbrewery. I stopped off to enjoy the brews, they offered me a complimentary taste of their nachos and salsa, and found a replay of the F1 qualifying, I didn’t think I’d stay awake for the race. 

I enjoyed a dip in the hotel pool on my return, just to cool off – I was suffering following my walks. 

Dinner was once again delicious, then a few beers and an early night. I had planned to get up and revisit Habanero to see if they were showing the race, but while I slept fitfully, I couldn’t be arsed. 

Monday was overcast and muggy, I sat on my balcony listening to music on my iPhone and read my Stephen King book.

Tuesday was much the same although, rather amusingly, several ‘Indians’ though (with a baseball cap) that I looked like a ‘Bollywood’ star, so I had lots of ‘selfies’ and carefully positioned ‘surreptitious selfies’ so, if Indian ‘Hello’ magazine reports that a certain ‘celebrity’ is a) actually bald, b) pretends not to speak Hindi and c) is reading Stephen King in English, then I’m guilty as charged.

I walked into Calangute on Tuesday lunchtime to draw some cash out, ready for the in-house tailor (5 shirts) and nearby jeweller (two studs).

One ‘Gujurat’ guy, back at the hotel, translated through the waiters, challenged me to a ”4 guys, 40 bottles of Kingfisher” challenge – loser pays. 

I asked the barman to advise that I fear no beer and that seemed to scare him off. 

That said, over dinner I learned of the passing of Steve Packham, Chelmsford City Council’s CEO, a nice guy, and friend. His funeral is likely to be my number eight for 2017. I toasted his memory with local Cashew Nut Brandy (Fenni).

Wednesday was a peaceful day, I strolled down the main drag to Baga, got hustled into buying a T Shirt, then back and finished the Stephen King book. In the afternoon I spent a pleasant hour or so in the hotel pool, just me and the dragonflies. 

Most of the hotel guests are Indians, who spend two or three days here. Wednesday was a changeover day, so the hotel was very quiet. 

I returned to my room for an early evening snooze, and woke to find it was raining. That was unexpected, but might kept the dust down a bit.

Thursday morning’s mission was back to Calangute, about a mile away, to try and find some spices. As you approach the ‘Town Centre’ pavements emerge from the dust, litter and cow manure. My mission was  successful, and the pool guy sourced me some spices from a contact of his.

 

Then back for more chilling, in an empty pool, just me, the dipping dragonflies and high wheeling kites.

Another brief but torrential downpour at about five, but I was within sprinting distance of the bar.

I collected my jewellery order after the rain stopped and bumped into a couple from Stoke who were settling into the hotel next door for the next five months.

Also, on Thursday evening, as I headed to my room, I bumped into another Brit – Raj and his wife. It quickly transpired that I used to be able to see his apartment in Manchester from my Room at the Holiday Inn Express – small world? 

After five days as the only Brit, the guy sitting by the pool with a beer, there were a couple more Brits around!

They invited me to join them for breakfast next morning (Friday), and Raj explained that his wife and most of their friends were going to spend the day on an excursion. This would leave him at a loose end for the day, and did I fancy an adventure? 

Raj, inevitably, is a larger than life character. Imagine an Indian Lenny Henry. He’d sold his various U.K. businesses when he hit fifty and divides his time between his apartment in Manchester and a villa in Gujurat.

And occasional holidays in Goa.

After the other members of his group had departed on their excursion, we walked down to Bagha beach, a mile or so. I don’t normally ‘do’ beaches, but Raj was well known at a bar, so we occupied some sun beds, ordered some drinks, and chilled. Later we had some lunch – including some lethal garlic bread and paneer in Chilli sauce. 

The rest of Raj’s group joined us late afternoon as the cafes and bars were setting up tables for sunset.

Sunset itself was, inevitably, shrouded in clouds, but as the twilight darkened the cafes and bars started pumping out Bollywood disco tunes and hawkers started selling glow sticks and laser pens. 

We took a couple of cabs back to our hotel, an incredible day, a wonderful end to an enjoyable trip and, hopefully, a new friend. He and his wife have invited me to visit them at their home somewhere unpronounceable and, of course, they’ll be welcome in Essex. 

Raj and his wife whizzed off to the Taj hotel on Friday morning for a day’s pampering, while the hotel allowed me to retain my room (and All Inclusive privileges)!until my car arrived shortly before three. 

Check-in at Goa was painless, my baggage checked through to London, the ‘lounge’ however, had the charm and ambience of a bus-station canteen.

The flight to Mumbai was equally painless, but despite checking my bag through to London, once I’d made it through international security checks and immigration (should that be emigration?) my next flight was showing ‘Flight Closing’ so I had no chance to register last week‘s theft.

The Mumbai/Abu Dhabi sector was packed, but I grabbed some ‘lounge time’ and a few drinks before the homeward leg, which was also rammed. I managed a few hours sleep, we landed at 6:30 and I was on a tube train by 7:30, despite pandemonium at passport control, they’d had 3,000 arrivals in sixty minutes. My suitcase was on the carousel when I got down there. It had survived all the transfers, which was a relief, as I’d packed my jacket and, at just 14 degrees – 20 less than Goa  –  it was a chilly morning.  

I was home before ten, and Layla finally forgave me when the heating turned itself off and her warm spot on the radiator had cooled!