Casa de Goa Entrance
Well this is it, the start of our last real leg of the sub-continent journey. Since there really isnât much to do on Willingdon Island, we hung out for a little R&R at the Hilton before going to our little local dive for a Thali lunch. We grabbed a taxi to the airport which is an hourâs drive away and plodded through traffic, almost getting hit two different times. Like I mentioned before, the way traffic works here is insanity for a westerner but the locals all seem to know how to deal. When our driver turned right in front of an oncoming truck and the car stuttered and stalled we were hoping that this wasnât really the end of the journey but the old Ambassador (old funny 50âs style car still used as taxis in India) roared to life and we sped off for the terminal.
Sateesh's Taxi Interior in Goa
You would think that a flight from Cochin to Goa would be out of the domestic terminal but, since the next leg of the flight went to Dubai, it went out of the International terminal which we hurried to with a trolley as the sky was threatening a downpour. As we walked through security and into the terminal we saw a big, shiny duty-free store and figured we could invest in some entertaining form of liquid for our stint in Goa since alcohol was hard to come by in Kovalam. Unfortunately we were shot down by the sales girl who somehow easily spotted that we were heading to Goa and not to Dubai - perhaps it was my shorts and flip-flopsâŚ
The flight to Goa on Indian Airlines was short and uneventful and once we got our bags, we hopped in a pre-paid cab to head for the hour drive to Calangute Beach where our âresortâ awaited us.
Traffic was really bad plus a bus had stalled so we inched across one part of town as it started to pour rain, not an auspicious start for our beach vacation! We tried to ask the cabbie about the Paradise Village Resort when he inquired whether or not we had accommodation but all he would say was he knew where it was. In retrospect, perhaps we should have taken him up on his offer to wait while we looked at a room when we finally arrived there. The courtyard and lobby were nice enough looking so we figured what the hell, we could always change tomorrow if it isnât so great. As soon as we got to our âSuiteâ and opened the door we were bowled over by the smell of moth balls and greeted by a stark room with a TV, fridge (no dead cockroaches at least!) and some ratty âpleatherâ furniture. The bedroom was no better with dirty walls and for some reason, a picture of Shamu the Killer Orca Whale on the wall. The electricity was out so the place was on generator, but the baggage kid assured us that the AC works when the electricity is on.
Bridge to the Spice Plantation
Hmmm not exactly what we had in mind, nor did it match the description from our book but we figured we would go have dinner and deal with it in the morning.
Priest at Shri Mangesh Temple
The resort is actually pretty big with lots of moldy, white and red buildings with four suites each in them. We walked out to the beach just to check it out and on the way saw the pool (which was closed, hopefully only for the night) and the âminiature golf courseâ made of cement and Astroturf. Could be fun (right Kaan?). We stopped in the open-air restaurant and met a really great waiter who was mid-fifties and had worked all over the Middle East in British bars. He was really talkative and funny and basically ordered dinner for us including a tot of âFeniâ which is liquor distilled from Cashew Apples (the fruit that grows above and partially around the nut itself) and is somewhat akin to rocket fuel or bad Grappa.
Of course I liked it ;-) Dinner was very tasty with Cindy opting for Goan Prawns in Curry and me going for the spicy Portuguese sausages.
Cindy and Larry with Chariot at Shri Mangesh Temple
A bit about Goa itself in case you donât know about it. Goa is the smallest and supposedly richest of the Indian states (tourism and iron ore that they ship to Japan) and has a long and diverse history. Situated on about 100km strip of land on the Arabian Sea, Goa was invaded and conquered by the Portuguese in 1510 as their first strategic location in Asia for the very lucrative spice trade. Along with the European invaders came the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits who happily brought along the Inquisition as well as intolerance for the prevailing Hindu and Muslim religions.
That influence remains to this day with Christian churches and Portuguese surnames everywhere. In the 60âs and 70âs, the Western hippies and freaks hanging in the Himalayas in Kathmandu, Manali, etc. having had enough of momos, the cold and the mountains swarmed to the long golden beaches and turned Goa into a bit of an international freak scene with drop-outs wearing local clothes, buying property and Royal Enfield motorcycles and generally hanging out. You can still see some of these people even in off season but it is a bit more staid these days and, since it is Monsoon season, very mellow at the moment. Apparently it is absolutely packed in high season (Nov-Mar) when all the prices soar to triple or quadruple, the sands are packed with drunken, marauding Europeans and the party scene is non-stop. At the moment, it is empty and two-thirds of the restaurants and hotels are closed for the Monsoon which gives it an interesting feel kind of like Kovalam where we actually had a blast. This should be a good, relaxing way to spend the last several days of our extended holidayâŚ
Se Cathedral in Old Goa
Well the nightâs sleep wasnât so bad but the huge, almost dead roach lying on its back and struggling to get up sealed the deal and we decided that after breakfast, it was time to look for nicer digs.
Breakfast was an uninspired buffet and the large crowds of flies buzzing everywhere made us drink our tea and bail as quickly as possible. We looked on the map in our book and saw that a couple of the other places that we had considered and emailed but received no response from were in walking distance. We opted to walk up the main road to the first place down by the main part of Calgangute Beach called the Coco Banana Bungalows. A woman at one of the few tourist shops open on the road tried her best to get us into her shop. When we declined, she said the typical âOk. Maybe come back later.â Usually we just smile and walk on but for some dumb reason this time I said âMaybeâ which led to her immediate response: âPromise?â I said noâŚ
Wax recreation of the Last Supper at Se Cathedral in Old Goa
We eventually found the alleyway where the Coco Banana bungalows were, somewhat of a walk to the beach and none to impressive.
No one was actually there and we werenât sure whether or not they were even open so we figured it was no better than Paradise Village. Strike One. Walking up the beach past Paradise Village to another place that was highly recommended called The Golden Eye proved unfruitful. The beach walk was nice (although the beach is pretty dirty and the water very churned up from the strong Monsoon currents) but we never did manage to find the hotel. On top of that, on the walk back, we took the wrong street and got lost for a bit, eventually finding our way back. Feeling hot and a little resigned to sucking it up and staying at our moth-ball smelling âsuiteâ we walked back towards Paradise Village.
Oil Lamp at Se Cathedral in Old Goa
We had noticed a small, nice and expensive looking place one block away that had a pristine looking pool and clean paint (not easy to find in Goa where it is always wetâŚ) I was surprised that Cindy wasnât opting more strongly to get out of Paradise and we walked into the Casa de Goa hotel which looked nice enough a little afraid to ask how much the rooms were. Eventually we figured out that no one was helping us because we were on the administration side of the hotel and walked across the street to a nice open air lobby and reception area. We asked about rooms and were kind of pleasantly surprised when Angela told us that the pool side rooms were 2000 rupees and the villas across the street were 2500. Kaching! I was figuring that since this is pretty much the end of this extended vacation, as long as it wasnât more than 4000 we would upgrade. Cindy briefly looked at the really nice, clean, non-smelly room and said âDone!â. We walked back across the street, packed up as fast as possible and checked out, the confused girl at the front desk saying âWe thought you were staying till Friday?â
Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa
After getting settled in we had a nice lunch at the bizarrely named OâYes restaurant and then headed back to Casa de Goa to lounge around the pool.
We love the hotel - it is really clean, we have a great patio that opens directly onto the pool, the staff all seem nice and they have ice cold beers - much more of a paradise than Paradise Village across the street :-D
Pool at Casa de Goa
On the way to dinner we were walking down the main street running towards Calangute Beach and a very funny vendor lady made us laugh with her different approach. Unlike the usual âHello - looking at my shop? No charge for looking!â as she sat with her friend on the sidewalk said âBuy my kids, 10 rupees?â which was a refreshing approach. Considering we are barely qualified to raise fish, we declined her generous offer. We ended up having a tasty seafood dinner of Tandoori Pomfret (fish) and Goan Prawn Curry at Sauzo Lobo, supposedly one of the oldest restaurants in Goa.
Bizarrely enough, there was a band playing - not Indian music, not pop stuff but Mexican Mariachi music. WeirdâŚ
Beers and Chairs at Baga Beach
Well I woke up this morning not feeling particularly well in the stomach department. Not sure if was the questionable plane food we had on the way from Cochin or perhaps the Portuguese Sausages from Paradise Village but it kind of laid me out for the morning so we ended up lazing around the room watching HBO. We did manage to walk to the beach which was fairly deserted and hung out for a while. I went swimming and the current was a bit rough and the water choppy and brown/green from the waves but it was still fun to swim in the Arabian Sea even if the few locals around were watching me like I was crazy.
Apparently lots of fatalities occur here but I would attribute it to lack of swimming skills and excessive alcohol consumption (neither of which I have problems withâŚ) We spent the afternoon swimming at the pool and had a nice lunch on our patio. Feeling squeezed for time, we decided to check into extending our stay in Goa for an extra day and made the mistake of calling MakeMyTrip where I was put on hold repeatedly (I can sing you the MMT Hold Music if you likeâŚ) told that they couldnât locate our tickets and finally hung up on. We ended up calling Spice Jet (budget air carrier in India) and getting hold of a very nice and helpful woman who helped us change our flight to Delhi.
Baga Beach Streets
We walked into town to grab something to eat, stopping at first at the Two Pac bar (not sure if that is a reference to the deceased Tupak Shakur or something else) and realized after we sat down and ordered a beer that it was a Karaoke bar too.
We suffered through listening to some drugged old hippy chick try and sing John Lennonâs Imagine before deciding that this was not the place we wanted to dine. Across the street was an interesting looking little food court so we wandered over there and ordered tasty Chicken Kathi rolls (these are the tasty things that Murli and Darshan turned us onto in Delhi). These ones were a lot bigger than the ones in Delhi and we over ordered. Three guys were sitting at the table next to us speaking English and Cindy leaned over and told them that we ordered too much food and they were welcome to it if they liked. They readily accepted and we started talking with them. It ends up that they were all doing an internship thing with e-Learning in Hydrabad and were now on vacation for a bit. Rory has just finished college and lives in Santa Cruz, CA, Jonathan is still in school at Cal State Monterrey but originally from Mexico and Greg is a software developer who recently left IBM.
Dogs sleeping on the bridge to the Spice Plantation
They were all fun and ended up buying me a beer before each doing their own Karaoke stint for which we hung out and applauded. They tried to get us to sing to but, as anyone who knows us can imagine, we said âNo way in hellâŚâ
St. Catherines Church in Old Goa
Another day at the deserted beach with a pitstop at an Internet cafĂŠ so that we could print our new boarding pass. Unfortunately, they had no printer so we had to go elsewhere and try again. We tried calling Sateesh, a taxi driver friend of Sureshâs from Kovalam and the Coconut Grove Restaurant to see if he could take us around for the day and see Old Goa and Panjim and perhaps the Spice Plantations. He was busy today but said tomorrow would be good for him.
We ended up walking from Calangute to Baga on the small road and wandering around Baga Beach.
We stopped at a very cool looking restaurant called Casa de Portuguese but we think it might be closed for the season. There wasnât much going on in the village itself since it is Monsoon but we walked down to the beach and ended up having lunch at a little place right on the sand called Xavierâs that had pretty good food and a great, relaxed atmosphere. It is the place in the shot with the two beach chairs and was a nice way to spend the afternoon. We walked all the way back to Calangute on the beach which was a lot nicer than the road just in time to head to the pool for happy hour and a swim.
Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa
That night we went to another one of the local seafood restaurants and had really tasty tiger prawns and Pomfret fish. At least the food is great here! Tomorrow we are going to play tourist and romp around Old Goa and Panjim to see the sights.
Beach Chairs at Baga Beach
Sateesh showed up right on time after breakfast in his groovy mini-van taxi (check out the interior in the pic). Our first stop was Old Goa which is filled mostly with old Christian Churches from when the Portuguese took over. We stopped at the Basilica of Bom Jesus and, across the street at the Se Cathedral and museum and some small churches. These were typically serene and crammed with golden iconography depicting Jesus and felt a little out of place but then again, the Jesuits and other missionaries were a lot more successful in Southern India than Northern. The life sized wax recreation of the âLast Supperâ at the Se Cathedral Museum was almost comical ďż˝ďż˝" I donât think Madame Tusaudâs House of Wax has anything to worry about.
Church and Bus in Panjim
We stopped at a few Hindu temples including the Shri Mangesh temple where we met the monk that you see in the red sarong. He was hilarious, talked about a million miles an hour and came running out when he saw Caucasians in order to garner a tip for touring us around. He insisted on taking our pictures in front of the giant 200 year old chariot as well as in front of a ceremonial elephant. When we tipped him, he asked for more, then asked for dollars stating âOne is good, five is better!â We gave him oneâŚ
While we were tromping around the temple, Sateesh talked with another taxi man who told him that the Spice Pantation was open for tours and lunch and asked if we wanted to go there.
We did and took a bit of a drive through lush, green hills to the beautiful plantation, walking across a rickety wooden bridge over to the plantation itself. After a cup or two of lemongrass tea, we were given a tour of a small part of the property by a kid who explained all about the local herbs raised and processes there. It reminded us a lot of the tour in the jungle at Tampobata, Peru. The tour included lunch and they started us off with a large shot of cashew feni, their jet fuel liquor. Another couple who it turns out is on their honeymoon had just walked in and it was pouring rain. They asked if they could have lunch before the plantation tour and then joined us. Raphael and Colette from Vancouver are actually on their honeymoon and had been in and around Goa for around a week. Coleete was going to an Ashram for a bit afterwards and they were trying to figure out what to do with their remaining time before ending up in Shanghai where Raphaelâs sister works. We talked to them about India and Tibet and gave them contacts for both in case they are interested. Both seemed really nice.
Buildings at Mahalsa Narayani Temple
After the spice plantation, we quickly walked around Panjim which is the capital of Goa and wasnât all that interesting before heading back to Casa de Goa once again for pool and cocktails and a really nice last dinner at Souza Lobo for Tiger Prawns. Tomorrow it is back to Delhi and then back homeâŚ
We spent the morning hanging around the pool and dropping by the ATM for Rupees for the rest of the trip. On the TV this morning, the CNN Banner had two questionable items scroll by: landslide in Nepal kills 21 people and tourist bus crash in Tibet kills 12 people. We are feeling lucky and like maybe we should just stay inside until we go to the airport in Delhi!
We had a last lunch at OâYes Restaurant before meeting Sateesh and heading off to the airport for our flight back to Delhi. Guess this is it! HomeboundâŚ