From one stretch of coast to another – Goa!
We’d tried to time our travels so that we hit the golden sands here at the dregs of its monsoon season in September and we knew the weather could go one of two ways – hot and humid or wet and humid.
We arrived in North Goa after a relatively relaxing journey and made our way to Arambol which would be our base for the next 4 days or so.
Our first impressions of Goa were good – it’s extremely green and clean compared to so many other places we have visited so far. It’s a state known for it’s larger Christian population so rather than temples there are many whitewashed churches dotted around. It also seems comparatively wealthier overall than anywhere else we have visited – with plenty of colourful and well kept family homes and villas to admire. However, the most overwhelming impression of Goa, other than its endless beaches and lush greenery, was how laid back it was – from the friendly locals to the pace of daily life. Shops opened when they wanted, service was welcoming, and no one batted an eyelid at us as tourists – which wasn’t surprising as Goa is very geared towards tourism – but made a nice change for us.
What wasn’t so nice unfortunately was the weather….
This picture was our first day at the beach in Arambol.
After only about 20 minutes dipping our toes in the sea we were hit by a heavy monsoon shower causing us to run to the nearest open beach shack/restaurant where we remained for the next couple of hours waiting for the rain to ease at least a little bit. If we’d had our swimming stuff we would have done as a couple of the Indian guys did and enjoyed a splash in the rain. Luckily we had our books, plenty of beer and tea on supply, and a good view of the rain drenched beach.
This somewhat typified the weather in North Goa for us. It was nice for spells then the clouds would come out of nowhere and we were hit by heavy downpours.
As we were visiting Goa out of season we knew that a lot of places would be closed and that our experience would be very different to that of someone visiting in only one and a half months time.
Sure enough, many of the places we sought out to eat were shut and only a few of the notorious beach huts and bars lining the beaches were in existence at all. As our days went on the construction really went up a notch though and you could see the many beach huts beginning to be hammered into resurrection.
To reach the other beaches close to Arambol and to bestow some Independence, we decided to rent a scooter for three days. We could now eat whereever we liked – no matter how far it was from our hotel – and could visit isolated stretches of sands a little further afield. Perfect. It was all going swimmingly well until a 10 mile trip to Anjuna. En route we were stopped by the white cladded Goa Police who were keen to line their pockets with a little toddy money through some unscrupulous fining of long haired bearded tourists. Where’s your helmet? 200 rupees please. You need an international driving permit – that’s another 950 rupees! After being stopped for a second time and an extraordinary drenching by a passing storm, we ditched the scooter and decided to pack our bags and move on to the state capital of Goa – Panjim.
Panjim is one of India’s smallest state capitals with a heavy Portuguese influence evident everywhere you looked. It was a brilliantly sunny day when we arrived and, after checking out numerous heritage guesthouses, we opted to reside in a hostel which proved to be outstanding value for money.
We managed to cram a lot into our single day in the capital. Highlights included wandering the streets lazily observing the range of Portuguese era architecture, a delicious lunch at an arts centre at the top of a hill and some shopping where Jess was fitted for a sari by an enthusiastic shopkeeper.
We liked the place and we felt like it was somewhere I could quite happily set down roots (though maybe not in a hostel).
As luck would have it, our hostel had another site in Palolem, South Goa, which was next on our hit list and provided a shuttle bus between the two. The sheer joy at not having to negotiate the minefield of buying a government bus ticket, finding the correct stand and fighting for seats with locals while heavily laden with luggage, sent us into a state of ecstasy.
We spent four days in Palolem and it rained heavily for two of them. Many tourists, who had come to ‘party in Goa’ gave up the ghost and departed for what they hoped would be sunnier climes.
Persuaded by some incredible sea food (we arrived just as the fishing season was at its leak), we decided to brave it out. Over the 4 days we hand picked -from a selection displayed in ice at the entrance to the restaurant – a sea bass, a red snapper, an enormous tuna and a rock fish. Ranging from £4 to £9 the fish were gently spiced and then cooked whole in a tandoor. Lee felt that if he could only eat one food for the rest of his life… it would be fish cooked in this manner. Shame they cost at least 5 times as much in the UK. As well as the local fish, we also sampled the regions moonshine – cashew feni (strong stuff).
Every evening at around 5pm, we were able to watch and even help the fisherman drag in their nets and discover what delights the sea had blessed them with. On one day there must have been over 50 different varieties including rays, eels and sharks.
Leaving Goa we knew we hadn’t seen it at its best but still thoroughly enjoyed our two weeks in the state and would definitely return if the opportunity arose in the future.
Almost forgot the obligatory bovine pics…