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Not Goan to do much for the next week

Written by Martin Pitwood. Uploaded 20 March 2006.

India, Country 15, Diary entry 14th-27th Jan 2006, Total distance in India: 7133km

Ensuring Richard had enough money to get a cab to the airport (then discovering he'd much prefer slumming it on the trains and buses) I left Mumbai with Andrew as co-pilot.

The drive to Goa was uneventful but long, taking over two hours to escape the city and another eight hours following the NH17 which more or less follows the coast down. Our destination was Arambol, which is one of the first beaches you reach in Goa when coming from the north and is supposed to be one of the more laid-back ones. Also Veronica had told us that you can paraglide there, which interested both of us.

After taking care of our immediate needs of food and a quick beer after such a long drive, we found quite a nice room at a guest house just a ten minute walk along the main road which backed onto the beach. There were many nicer places with sea views perched on the rocks along the headland to the north of the village but needing somewhere with parking they were not for me. The place we found was nice though, and after such a long drive I didn't care too much anyway.

Arambol beach with added cowsHaving heard horror stories about Goa being over-touristed and having many touts on the beaches trying to sell you stuff, Arambol turned out to be actually quite nice. There were quite a few ladies walking up and down the beach trying to sell saris and jewellery but they soon got the message I wasn't interested in anything - and that was without even using any swear words at them! The main beach was a beautiful long sandy beach lined with coconut palms and with old fashioned wooden fishing boats here and there (which seemed to be there only for decoration because I never saw them moved) and of course the inevitable cows to remind you you're still in India and though the beach was very clean, it is not the place to go walking barefoot in the dark. There was a second beach past the guest houses on the headland which was very much quieter. Again there were people trying to sell you stuff but after a couple of hours the offers of cold drinks or beach umbrellas were actually quite welcome.

Andrew getting his arse whipped at backgammonThe village itself was overrun by hippie shops and plenty of people who should have been old enough to know better, but I decided that it suited my purposes all the same (which meant it was a good place to do nothing much) and I ended up staying there four nights - the first night in a room but subsequent ones camping in the guest house's car park. Arambol seems to shut at about 10pm - some of the bars are open a little later but the place is dead, which was fine when I wanted to sleep. Neither Andrew nor I managed to go paragliding but to me it wasn't that important, it was only a short stretch of cliff for soaring. Though I'm sure it was a very nice view from up there, it looked quite hard work and looked quite turbulent so I decided not to bother. Veronica was determined though so she stayed there and we moved on.

Wednesday is famous in Goa for the flea market at Anjuna. The guide book says that whatever you want you can find it there, suggesting second-hand books, haircuts or tattoos, so needing two out of the three I drove down there with Andrew as co-pilot again, which took less than an hour. The beach at Anjuna is not as nice as the ones at Arambol and there are many many more people there, but being Wednesday many of them would have come by boat from other beaches for the market.

It was a bit of a disappointment - I didn't find any of the things I was looking for, it was basically a bigger version of Arambol market selling all the hippie crap one might buy if one didn't have to then carry it around - hippie clothes, hippie bags, incense, jewellery, saris etc. There were a few things I hadn't seen before like fake Rolex watches and some traditional Goan puppets but on the whole I thought it was a bit of a waste of time - but wasting time was fine as that was my reason for coming to Goa!

Andrew had met an American couple called Matt and Marina so when I met up with him for a sunset beer I met them too - turned out it was Marina's birthday so we had a couple of drinks in one of the beach bars before they disappeared to look for some dancing. Good luck to them as everything seems to close quite early in Goa, though there was a nightclub at one end of the beach but when we checked it out the cover charge was too rich for my blood so we didn't bother.

Agonda beachThe next day I said goodbye to Andrew and drove to Agonda Beach. This beach is another perfect stretch of palm-fringed sand about 3km long and (so far) has not been overdeveloped, but most importantly I'd been told that at the south end of the beach it's possible to camp! Sure enough when I got there I found another 8 or 10 vehicles parked up, all European and a variety of shapes and sizes ranging from large German police Mercedes trucks down to the smallest - a British guy on a bicycle who'd already been to Australia and was heading home!! Most of the people were German or Dutch and had been there for several weeks recharging their batteries but I met a group of French guys (from Annecy - small world!) and I didn't get a chance to talk to them but one night there was a Swedish couple with a standard Volvo car with a sleeping box attached to their roof which I'd already seen at Nuweiba port in Egypt!

Palolem beachThere is nothing to do at Agonda beach except relax, which was nice for a couple of days but soon I felt the need to do something so I rented a scooter and went to the next beach to the south, Palolem Beach. Palolem is regarded as the most idyllic of all Goa's beaches but I was disappointed by it. A typical Goan churchIt was obviously beautiful once with the pure sand beach gently curving around the bay and thick forests of coconut palms all the way along, but now there are so many huts nestling under the palms they are completely bumper to bumper. The occasional shack adds to the character but this was ridiculous, and such a shame. My visit wasn't wasted though as the village had internet cafe and amongst the normal email and other tasks I needed to check on the latest security situation in Nepal, which seemed to be deteriorating at a frightening rate with us due to be entering the country in only a couple of weeks' time.

Sunset at Agonda beachThe next couple of days I spent most of the time back at Agonda waking up whenever the sun heated up the tent... or so I planned. One morning I was woken by a woman singing to the cows - really - she was crouched down in front of them and singing nice melodies to them, and someone was filming her with a very professional-looking camera. It was like something out of The Sound Of Music but with added palm trees. The next morning I was woken by the Italian group who were having a proper punch-up between themselves! No idea what it was about but it was very exciting with lots of "Basta!" but it took me too long to get out of bed and get my camera out, it was all over by the time I was ready. The rest of the days I found lots to do: lazing on the beach with a book, catching up on diaries back at the camp, planning the rest of my time in India and Nepal, clearing out the rubbish from the car and doing a number of odd jobs I'd been putting off, but in the meantime I once made my way to Palolem by rented bicycle (proving to myself now unfit I am, trekking in Nepal will be interesting).

A fine selection of haircutsI made the effort to go to Palolem every couple of days for internet and telephone access but it was a good opportunity to sort out other things I couldn't get in Agonda, like the occasional chocolate bar and a long-overdue haircut, and who could blame me when the barber claims to be able to do so many fashionable styles as on the posters on his wall. The main reason I finally got it done was just because of the heat with it reaching 35 deg C during the day. I decided I should go for the full experience and have a shave as well. One can get pork in Goa but there were no pork pie shops next door to the barber's so I thought I should be safe enough. More of a concern these days is the risk of disease but the man got out a new razor blade without me asking, but I'm sure they are used to tourists insisting. I felt reasonably relaxed as I got lathered up but was a little concerned that the guy decided to watch television at the same time as scraping my throat with a lethal blade, but I survived intact and very very smooth chinned.

Finally I decided it was time to check out one more beach before leaving Goa: Vagator Beach, where I'd also been told it was possible to camp. Sure enough I found the spot where the other overlanders were camping but to my surprise out of the 8 or so other vehicles already there, 6 were French - one was Bruno, the WWF guy Richard and I had met in Daman a couple of weeks before (I mean the wildlife charity, not that he's a wrestler) so we had another chat about the hassles of getting permits to enter China with a vehicle. I noticed one of the other French vehicles had a 73 licence plate, meaning the vehicle was registered in Savoie which is the department in which I lived. I introduced myself and asked where they were from - the answer Les Marches, about 10km south of Chambery, in the wine areas right next to Lac St. Andre where I'd been cycling several times and making a nuisance of myself in the S2000 on many occasions (though I didn't tell them that bit) - even smaller world!

More typical Goan religionVagator is really not my kind of place, I discovered. The beaches were small and pretty, joined by rocky outcrops where I went walking close to the water's edge and sent the crabs scuttling across the rocks to the water as I approached, and there is a fort overlooking the bay across which is Mandrem Beach and leading on towards Arambol where I'd started. It's a very pretty place but VERY crowded. Maybe it didn't help that I it happened to be 26th January which is Republic Day in India so there were plenty of locals there picnicking and, of course, leaving all their rubbish behind when they left. But even without that it seemed to have much more of an atmosphere of people looking for something - drugs, raves, whatever - and not just being content with relaxing on the beach as they had been at Agonda and Palolem.

Mandrem beachI left early in the morning of the Friday for my booking at Barracuda Diving based at the Marriott resort just down the coast. Alex had been in touch with the boss Venkat to ask what the diving was like, but with them having decided not to come to Goa but instead fly to the Andaman Islands, I took the contact details and made a booking for myself.

I was welcomed by Vikas (Indian), Adam (English) and Greg (American) who run the day to day operation and it was quick and easy to get all the kit organised - they soon realised I knew what I was doing so they left me to it, and we boarded the boat and set off. It took just over an hour to reach the dive site, during which time Greg gave us a detailed description of all the fish life we might see, and Adam was briefing some local novice divers on the usual safety stuff, including "I want to see a nice clear OK symbol, none of this Indian wobbly head business"!

Barracuda Diving boat tripThe dive site was the wreck of the SS Rita (known locally as Susy's Wreck, because someone called Susy was the first person to dive it), a British goods ship carrying railway tracks which hit the rocks in around 1950 and sank in three pieces. The tracks have since been salvaged but the wreck itself is worth an explore. It's very shallow, 13m or so to the sea bed, so I wasn't expecting much but it was actually quite intact with winching gear and cables still present on the deck and boilers further astern. It was also much larger than I expected, taking a good 20 minutes to go from bow where we descended to the end of the midsection, the stern having sunk a mile or so away. Unfortunately the visibility was about in line with what I expected i.e. very poor, maybe 3m or so. It made it very difficult to keep together and I spent more of the time looking for my buddy (Brian, from Yorkshire) and Greg than I did looking at the wreck. The water was lovely and warm though, and it was great to get back into the water for the first time since Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt in mid-October.

Main road towards Bombay!The second dive was even shallower, just a scenic dive around the corner from the wreck site. I got 4.8m maximum depth and that was by putting my arm into a hole, but there was quite a lot to see. The visibility was much better (but still not great, maybe 6m) and I could see the rocks littered with hundreds of sea cucumbers looking as they do like turds all over the sea bed. On top of that wonderful mental image we saw nudibranchs, a few puffer fish, cute little hermit crabs AND ANOTHER SHARK!!! But it was only a little one and it was asleep under a rock so you could only see its tail but it was a SHARK nonetheless!

Another hour boat ride back to base with us all eating watermelon and merrily spitting seeds all over the sides of the boat and it was about 2pm after all my kit was washed off. My next plan was to start driving north, making my way via some sights towards the Nepalese border, so I decided I wanted to get some of the miles under my belt straight away. I took the other road back towards Mumbai which at first seemed like a big mistake because it took 3 hours to get from Goa to the main road, but when I finally got there it was worth it because it was a luxury 6 lane highway so even with the trucks, bicycles, rickshaws and camels it was still possible to make good progress in the fast lane... until dark, when it seemed all bets are off and you can do what you like. Faced with trucks coming towards me on the wrong side of the road (never mind that there's a central reservation!) I quickly decided to abandon journey for the day and stopped at the next petrol station with a quiet-looking corner on its forecourt and they kindly let me camp there in return for filling with diesel the next morning.

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Comment from Ant.
thanks for the torment - sun and sand and chilled beaches while we sit at work shivering...

keep 'em coming nonetheless! ;-)
21 Mar 2006 @ 13:42:49