2018 – Goa

I’d booked to return to Goa just a few weeks after last year’s trip. It had been a nice break, so I figured I’d need to recharge my batteries.

Again, travelling alone, but not stopping at Abu Dhabi this time, instead direct flights from London to Mumbai, a few hours in Mumbai airport and then the short hop down to Goa.

I arrived at the hotel at around seven in the evening – close to twenty four hours travelling – and was greeted warmly by the hotel manager. I was allocated my requested room, 159, dumped my case and headed to the bar, where I was greeted equally warmly by Walter and David, the barmen.

A couple of beers and a bite to eat left me sufficiently revitalised to unpack my case. I then retired to my small balcony to read one of the several books I’d brought with me; a guide to management and motivation – Formula One style, by David Coulthard.

I gave up after twenty minutes, it was simply dire, a mantra of ‘work hard and you’ll do well’ rehashed every five or six pages, each time extolling how Michael Schumacher, Adrian Newey, Nigel Mansell eat al, each while having their own prodigious talents, had worked hard and done well.

I’m just glad I didn’t pay full price for it!

I finally crashed out at about ten and while I awoke early, I felt refreshed. I downloaded and read the news before breakfast, the day started overcast, but my greeter at the airport had reported that the worst of the rains finished a couple of weeks ago. It was scorching by lunchtime.

Wednesday was, by any measure, a busy day.

I’d decided that I would venture further afield this visit, so took a taxi to a leather tailor I’d read about, but they were closed – a lost opportunity, but money not spent. From there we ventured to a new place, The Royal Enfield Café, part café/bar, part merchandise shop, part motorcycle dealership, but very classy.

I revisited later in my trip. I then wandered into ‘town’ to get some stuff for the room, while my stay in the hotel is all inclusive, I’ve noticed a number of interesting new brews being advertised, and one can get bored of Kingfisher.

At lunchtime I chilled in the pool for a bit (Diga – the ‘pool boy’ – welcomed me back – the Indian guests tend not to speak to, or even acknowledge the staff). I then strolled down to the Hard Rock Hotel, there was little evidence of celebrations for Freddie’s 72nd birthday, so I hit the merchandise shop to get a gift for Tom. At first I baulked at paying twenty quid for a pin, but Tom’s a mate, so what’s a boy to do?

I called in to the Tex Mex microbrewery next to my hotel en route back for a beer, then met my tour rep who was making one of his visits.

As I said, a busy day, I figured I’d walked about six miles, my feet hurt!

I slept well after a busy Wednesday, but counted at least a dozen mozzie bites, I’d bought some repellent but it’s a penalty of being here in what is still considered to be the rainy season – thus far (Thursday morning) we’d had four torrential showers, each shorter than a couple of minutes.

I wandered into ‘town’ – at least as far as the nearest pharmacy to get some ‘after bite’ cream; thankfully I’m still taking the antibiotics from the other week, which won’t do any harm.

The rest of the day was lazy, my feet were still sore after Wednesday and I was planning on visiting the local market on Friday. I finished my next book ‘The President is Missing’ by James Paterson and Bill Clinton. A good page turner, even if Clinton’s political message is spread a little thickly.

The hotel was pretty quiet, but the manager (a Vijay Malta look-alike) advised they were expecting seventy local guests for the weekend, so it could get noisy. He also supplied me with some old-fashioned mosquito coils to burn on my small balcony, so I might suffer fewer bites in coming days.

I also stumbled across an off licence, government approved, selling Captain Morgan rum for – I kid you not – two quid a bottle!

I had cause to open it to celebrate, as Gaz finally got the ‘all clear’ from his MRI scan – the lesion has not significantly enlarged since the last scan – so he has a follow up in 12 months, but so far so good.

Despite the good news, I slept poorly, and was woken just before seven by two coach loads of locals checking in for the weekend. I suspect they’ll be noisy, so Captain Morgan beckoned.

However, on Friday morning I took my prearranged trip to the local market at Mapusa. It was an assault on almost every sense, a riot of noise, colour and exotic smells.

I spent the best part of an hour there, spent a couple of quid on a chapatti pan for my barbecue.

Hardware – Chapathi Pan on the right hand side

And then headed back to the hotel, via the Royal Enfield Café where I bought a T shirt for a biker friend. Oh, and an overpriced beer.

I mentioned previously that the hotel had filled up with Indian ‘youngsters’ for the weekend. I needn’t have worried, the barmen advised me that they were on a corporate weekend, on a bed & breakfast deal and we probably wouldn’t see much of them.

He was right, and on Friday evening the hotel didn’t bother to put on a buffet for dinner, insufficient diners, just a la carte.

I tried their Chicken Biryani, it was okay and yes I recognise it’s a North Indian dish.

Chicken Biryani

On Saturday morning I wandered in a different direction, a bit further inland, off the beaten track, there are lots of hotels and apartments a few hundred yards off the main drag, and more being constructed, albeit slowly. Eventually I found myself back near the beach and spent half an hour just observing. Then back to the hotel to chill in the pool, and then started to read my third book – ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’.

Like most self help books it has one premise and seems to rehash it a hundred ways in two hundred pages. I wonder if I could stretch my personal philosophies to two hundred pages?  I guess the question would be if anybody would bother to read it.

I digress, Saturday was a ‘selfie’ day, several of the visiting locals wanted selfies with the strange Brit, one guy even Skyped his father!

I also finally bought a few bits from the young lad with a ‘shop’ at the end of the lane, he’s painfully camp, and setting up for the new season. He’d bought in some XXXL shirts that should fit me, so I bought a couple, I haggled him down to £6 a shirt, his first sale of the season!

This should prove to be a reasonably cheap trip, none of the tailors or jewellers are open yet.

In the evening I wandered out of the hotel to find somewhere different to eat. I found a quiet lane down to the beach and a local restaurant.

The starter (Paneer Manchurian) was a revelation, they finally found something useful to do with Paneer!

Paneer Manchurian

Sadly my choice of main course (Prawn Xacuti – a local specialty) was a major disappointment. I’ve had better in London, I’ve had better from Waitrose!

Prawn Xacuti

Ah well, life’s a journey.

On Sunday evening I decided to try the TexMex microbrewery/restaurant close to my hotel. I’d enjoyed a few beers last year and this, but decided to try their food. Paneer Chipotle skewers and chicken fajitas.

 

All in all, it was pretty good, but pricey for Goa (a tenner for two courses and a beer), where local curry houses charge a couple of quid for a main course and 30p for rice.

The visiting locals left the hotel on Sunday evening, leaving about a dozen of us in the hotel, me being the only Brit.

I’d chatted with the pool guy on Sunday, about my disastrous attempt to try a Prawn Xacuti on Saturday evening. He told me that most local restaurants had been taken over by people ‘from Delhi’  who had no idea how to cook Goan dishes. He recommended one on the beach at Calangute, a thirty minute walk away, so that became my Monday quest.

The hotel was nearly empty on Monday, maybe half a dozen families, and the crazy old Brit in the corner. It was a scorching day, 27 degrees at 9am, I wandered into Calangute to find the recommended restaurant, then back along the beach.

I also withdrew some cash from an ATM, mainly for tips.

After cooling down, I returned to Calangute and to the aforementioned restaurant, one of Goa’s oldest, for lunch. My meal (a Chicken Tikka starter, followed by Prawn Xacuti) was much, much better than Saturday’s and again a tenner for two courses and two beers. I then spent some time back at the hotel, cooling down in the pool.

Chicken Tikka

 

Prawn Xacuti

In the late afternoon I tried a few new local Indian ‘craft’ beers, a pleasant change from the ubiquitous ‘Kingfisher’ lager, and found an English speaking channel on the TV. I watched an episode of Australian Masterchef.

As I mentioned previously, most on the ‘locals’ are here on a bed and breakfast basis, and while there may be a dozen other people in the hotel, it was only me for dinner.

I was able to check in online on Tuesday morning, anything to save time on Thursday. Of course this means that my time here in Goa is coming to an end, but nothing lasts forever. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, perhaps I booked this trip in haste last year?

Breakfast was, for the first time, a la carte, rather than a buffet and I enjoyed the first dosa of my trip.

I then wandered down the road to get a few more local craft beers to try; again, I was the only person to dine in the hotel, and again I retired to my room to watch Australian Masterchef.

Wednesday, and my final day in Goa. I loaded my case onto the day bed to start packing, there are a few things I never got round to wearing but only a few. I’ve been sending stuff to the laundry every couple of days so I have very little dirty laundry to take home.

I gave the James Paterson book to the pool guy, with a fiver as a bookmark, the David Coulthard book went to the hotel’s library, and I packed the other one to take home.

For my final dinner, I tried Baga Deck, another restaurant outside the hotel. I’d avoided it thus far, it was big, brash and noisy.

I was very pleasantly surprised, the food – a Salt & Pepper Prawn starter, followed by Prawn Balchao (another local specialty) – was excellent, even if – bizarrely – it was served with two slices of white bread.

Salt & Pepper Prawns

Prawn Balchao

I settled my hotel ‘extras’ bill, six quid! Then an early night, Thursday was to be a long day.

I’d set my alarm for 3:45 and I was in reception for my scheduled pick up at 4:15, the roads were mercifully empty and it took just an hour to get to the airport. Check in and security checks were the usual Indian style, my boarding pass and passport were checked five times.

The flight up to Mumbai was painless and I traversed Mumbai airport in record time, just forty five minutes and a further six document checks. I’d had concerns about making the connection but I needn’t have worried.

The flight actually landed early at Heathrow, we landed at two thirty, my baggage had made the connection in Mumbai, and I was on the tube by three thirty.

Tom kindly picked me up from Wickford at five thirty and I was home with a cuppa and Layla purring beside me on the sofa by six.

It had been an eighteen hour journey, but incident and delay free, it was good to be home, even if my next trip was only ten weeks away!