Friday, 18 March 2011

India - The first vindaloo

March 11-14

Hello everyone!

I’m writing this on a boat. I’M ON A BOAT! You all know the words. As I write this we are in Mumbai, having spent the last four days in Goa; the part of India that most foreign tourists know. It is very small, and may even be smaller than Wales, but the options of where to go once in the state are numerous. We plumped for pretty, peaceful Palolem in the south.

It seems strange to me that I don’t really know what to talk about when thinking of Goa. I could talk about the silky sands being lapped gently by the serene sea. I could talk about lying on a beach being bronzed by ray after ray of glorious sunshine. I could talk about the lower tax on alcohol, resulting in me being able to purchase a bottle of rum for Rs75 and then not make it out later that night.

But we know about all of these things. We have seen how stunning Goat is on holiday programmes, and we have all seen me drink a little bit too much from time to time. Boring. So I’m going to talk about the other, more quirky aspects of our Goan getaway. Starting with actually getting there…

The first Indian overnight train. Not a problem – these have been tackled and conquered in Europe and China, and can be a lot of fun. This one was only twelve hours as well, scheduled to leave at 22.35. We arrive an hour before, and ask a nearby Westerner if he knows anything. He responds in a German accent, “4 hours delay”. Oof. Time for a seat.

One of the things we have found during our travels thus far is that a local will always give you a definitive answer to a question, irrespective of whether it is backed up by knowledge or not. In chronological order, various sources told us the delay was:

4 hours à 10 mins à 30 mins à On time/early à 1 ¼ hours à 1 ½ - 2 hours.

This last guess proved to be close enough, and soon we were on board in our six-bed compartment. No door, but breakfast provided by ‘Meals-on-Wheels’. I’ll bring my own food next time. After taking buses which always seemed to kick us off just before we reached our supposed destination, we finally arrived at Palolem, scored a very cheap beach hut at a place wonderfully called Temptation, and embraced the beauty of our surroundings.

The holiday brochures opt against showing you the whole picture, though. They don’t mention the sellers constantly harassing you on your sunbed. They don’t show you the stray dogs lining parts of the beach, almost wanting to knock on death’s door before then peeing on an empty sun lounger. They certainly don’t prepare you for a cow walking casually into a bar. A cow. In a bar.

Apparently this particular beast frequents the same bar twice a day, and can only be escorted away (can’t hurt them, remember) by dangling bread in front of its face and leading it to pastures new. Cows are everywhere – even on the beach – but this particular one is enjoying the benefits of being a regular customer.

Goa has its own cuisine, which we relished. Kingfish, biryanis, ox tongue, to name but three. But Goa is the home of the curry British men only eat to prove their masculinity – the vindaloo. It is different going in – still hot and spicy, yet really sweet on the lips – but much the same on exit from your body. The taste was worth it, mind.

I really enjoyed our time in Palolem. It was great to meet up with Steph, a friend from Korea, and her travelling companions, and we made plenty of other new friends. If I ever get lonely after Chris flies this largest of nests, I know I could come back here and be a very contented young man.

But this trip is not about going back – never go in reverse. Goa was wonderful, and perfect preparation for one of the most populated and chaotic cities on the planet. I’m a bit apprehensive, based on the bad vibes we experienced in the only previous big Indian city we have seen, but am also very excited. Jai ho!

Love you all


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