We arrive in Goa just after the rainy season has passed. The raffia/bamboo shacks are starting to spring to life and a few metres down the beach from us two couples of Nepalese are setting up shop – a café and a massage parlour. One of the men bounds across the sand to greet me, and quite miraculously we have met before in the hot-spring village, Vashisht, in the kneehills of the Himalayas, a village a short walk from Manali. Where they had a store selling Nepalese crafts and trinkets, we chatted for quite a while and exchanged life-stories. The men separated from their wives and young children, eventually to meet up with them in Goa; they would have been apart for five months by this time. I was intrigued to know how the operation would work on the beach, and now I could see it, quite literally. It was one of those life-affirming moments, it reminded me of that Maya Angelou quote: ‘Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.’
I remember thinking up in the Himalayas what a hard relentless existence they had, just to make for a better life for themselves – many destinations, but only one home. But the day we met them on the beach I ‘d had a full English, and the rest of the family had consumed the beloved Heinz beans on toast for breakfast; like the privileged travellers we were, as if on a package holiday to the Med; deluding ourselves that we had earned it, a homely change, after weeks of just Indian food. The day I chatted to the Nepalese men, Yash and his best friend, up in the Himalayas, was the day after the first snow of winter, Yash turned to me and said: ‘First snow, time to move south soon. We may meet in Goa.’Like a line from a movie: No chance, I thought, ships that pass in the sea of humanity; two faces, I think it was this tentative bond of words that made the meet so ‘miraculous’.
The Boy had bought two magic tricks in Panaji (Panjim) and spent a long time in their room perfecting the craft to bedazzle us. But the girl told us how the harder one is performed. He demanded she owed him a thousand Rupees; that he had paid for them, now the magic was ruined. Add to this, tumultuous hormones, those little Gremlins on crack. Plus the fact he is hobbling due to running into a tent peg from one of the shacks on the beach; which he has appeared to run into in some bizarre show of homing pigeon display topography, to prove he knows the way back down the beach. Which is not really that impressive – you can either walk back to our accommodation, or away from it. Then add in his desire to purchase a black ‘Hell’s Angels’ skull and crossbones T-shirt with the slogan: ‘Live fast, die young.’
Which I’m in two minds about, but his mother is in one only, a definite ‘no.’ Then the rejoinder from a hormonal teenager, ‘You prostitute!’ aimed directly at his mother. If not for the intervention of a husband and a father on the main drag in Calangute, the British Consulate would have been involved in a fifteen minutes of unwanted fame scenario. Normally when you have a hormonal adolescent and they are being ‘I-hate-you-teenagerish’, you can reprimand them and send them to their room. This is not so simple when there is nowhere to hide. The upshot was the boy slept on his own, and our daughter bunked in with us, mainly for her own safety. I’m not sure having your own room is a punishment, but this comment would be best slept on. The next morning there was only one teenager slightly seething! I highlight this warts and all anecdote, as it certainly needs some severe consideration if you are going to take a biologically metamorphosing primate away with you, which is difficult to disown. One massive positive is that strong bonds are formed during the ‘big change’, and when your immediate genetic relatives are your only port of call, even if one maybe masquerading as a, ‘lady of the night’ you become a much closer family unit. On the whole you would have to say in our fast-pasted-materialistic lives’, this is the glue that holds us together. You may also want to think carefully if they might never want to leave the comfort of the nest once you return? It can be a bit like watching a teenage version of the ‘The Fly’ but with more laughs, unKafkaesque, except one of the family is not laughing as much as the rest.
We discovered that all the young happen’n cats are in south Goa, Palolem. Bamboo huts off the beach and hammocking abounding. It is where we would have been if we were young, on a tight budget, childless and wanted to get pissed and have sex with intentional strangers–best single for the last one. The kids said it was boring as there were no waves in the sheltered bay. Our beach and many of the beaches all down the east coast of Indian are a death trap of criss-crossing rip rides. We had been told horror stories about the death toll, especially when the interior ‘weak or non-swimming’Indians arrived to escape the heat of the cities, to be quite literally and physically swept away. One afternoon when we were having lunch overlooking a small treacherous bay in Baga, we saw the same Indian guy rescued by a small outboard-motored boat, twice! Maybe he was determinably trying top himself? The guy picking him up said, “Listen you fucking idiot, once more and you’re on your own,” I suspect! It was like a show of idiocy put on to entertain us while we masticated.
The kids were not allowed to go past chest height, and told to avoid any Sirens calling from offshore on our beach, and not to go in the water without one of us there. Which meant me; a mere moderate swimmer. I’d be like the owner going in to save the pet dog in the iced lake, as I slipped below and the canine survived. (This is an easy way to test if someone is an animal lover, a ‘Blade Runner’ replicant type test, if at the end they say, ‘At least the dog survived,’ that’s a pet lover.) I had instructed them on rip-tide survival and an absence of RNLI, rather than scaring them it made them more brazen to get involved in a survival situation. By the end of the day with the freedom of being allowed to swim without height restrictions and feet separated from the sandy bottom, they did not want to leave. The Girl has no fear; she’ll end up being a rock climber without the restrictions of ropes. Her choice of activity was paragliding, not because she wanted to do it the most, because she thought it was the most dangerous. I went up with the boy so he would feel safer, and she went up with her mother, as she knew her screaming would amuse her! To soar 120 feet into the air, with only the most basic and casual of instructions: Keep your arms in, (there was no ‘in!’), pull both cords when you land on the small strip of beach, trying to avoid breaking any tourists necks, and the thorny bushes, and don’t dislocate your shoulders. This would require a weekends training course in Britain, but not on a holidaymakers’ beach in India with an eight year old girl and a frightened mother! (You could hear the Madonna wailing from the shore, but not the laughter of the child.)
Everything is relative, Eddie the travel agent due to his ‘pre-retirement’ life in shipping, has been everywhere, except Antarctica, which is only a very slight exaggeration. It is great to have a font of knowledge to tap into for onward travels, saves a lot of research.
One outing I did love was a visit to a spice farm. We observed all the herbs and spices we use in Indian cooking growing. There is something enthralling to see the root crop turmeric pulled from the ground like hidden treasure. I always do the same with the neighbours’ kids in the autumn as we discover subterranean potatoes, and tell them it is hidden treasure. Pepper was another favourite, it’s a creeper. Twining and meandering up large trees. Pretend your body is a fire, raise your interweaving flaming hands between each other until they will extend no more, and that’s pepper, sort of. I liked it a lot. The kids liked the old bones of St Xavier and an elephant drinking water from a hose-pipe more.
We were heading south, eventually to the point of India. Something to be mindful of, are train ticket prices. We had to pay well over the odds as ticket touts buy them up on popular routes to make a quick buck, which they did through us. Go direct to the train station if you can, but even then if you don’t book popular routes well in advance, you will have to pay a tout, or a tout via a travel agent. With this in mind we booked our train back to Mumbai before we even started heading south. Trains anywhere in the word are marvellous, but trains in India are bloody marvellous, wot, wot.
We went and said ‘goodbyes’ to Yash et al the night before we left. These are the people your thoughts turn to years later when earthquakes rip through an already poor inaccessible beautiful country, and you don’t just hope they have made a better life for themselves, but they still have it to make.
Next time: I saw, Mysore.
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