Goa, India – 24th to 27th March
Prior to our arrival in Kerala we had a whistle stop tour of Goa. It was the perfect way to end an intense but incredible two weeks of travel and a great way to recharge our exhausted batteries.
With strong influences from the Portuguese (and I don’t mean Nando’s restaurant), Goa was the ideal base for seafaring ships that were enticed by natural harbours and wide rivers. Arriving in 1510 with the aim to control the spice route from the East and later in 1542 under missionaries led by St Francis Xavier, the Portuguese expanded from their first settlement in Old Goa to further provinces such as Bardez and Salcete.
The central Indian people (Marathas) near enough vanquished the Portuguese in the late 18th century and after a brief British occupation the Indian army marched into Goa in 1961 to finally end the Portuguese occupation.
In 1987 Goa was established as a single state and 5 years later their language of Konkani was recognised as one of 22 official regional languages. Today, Goa has one of India’s highest per-capita incomes, with farming, fishing, tourism and iron-ore mining forming the basis of its economy.
We stopped off at two rather contrasting places in Goa. In the north, a spot named Calangute and in the south, Palolem.
Calangute was a typical tourist beach town. This trait alone doesn’t always equate to a negative experience. There are plenty of tourist beach towns around the world that have managed tourism effectively and ensured original charm and features remain. Unfortunately Calangute was not our cup of tea. An area littered with neon lights, beach sprawling bars, overpriced clubs and at its worse, exploited children. We sadly witnessed a number of children with ghostly white painted faces selling all sorts of items at ridiculous hours of the morning. I’m not sure if the children were drugged our just spaced out from sleep deprivation but it just added to my feelings that 2 nights in Calangute was plenty.
On the positive side of things, some of the sea food was mouth watering and the beach itself was very clean and well kept. A recent catch of crab stuffed with herbs and spices served with coconut rice is a dish I’d highly recommend and lazy days of sunbathing and swimming definitely helped rejuvenate our tired bodies.
We then traveled to the south of Goa and eventually reached picturesque Palolem. With a backpacker vibe and a Thailand-esque feel it was a great place to chill out and it was undeniably our cup of tea. We spent our days on the warm golden sands and our nights in a simple but pleasant bamboo beach hut ran by a Nepalese family. The rather amusing but confusing conversation of the ‘stoners’ on the beach made for great daily entertainment between refreshing dips in the calm sea.
Never content on staying inactive for too long we headed on an adventure into the jungle with a company called Goa Jungle Adventures. We enjoyed an action packed day of canyoning meeting in the early morning outside a dainty German Bakery that served the finest deserts in the area. The cheesecake and chocolate balls were to die for.
The day consisted of an hour or so’s jeep ride out of Palolem into the abyss of the thriving jungle. The ancient jeep that somehow managed to start but had no window wipers was driven by an Englishman named Ben. Wearing a Goa FC football shirt he had took a sabbatical from his job as an I.T consultant to travel and ended up working for Goa Jungle Adventures for a prolonged period. Today was his and his French co-workers last trip of the season.
We stopped off at a restaurant come bar to pick up a local that Ben referred to as “the bodyguard”. When I say bar I basically mean a scantily clad shack in the middle of nowhere with 4 drunk Scotsmen and one Indian local sat outside on bright red and cheap plastic chairs. It was 09:30 in the morning and these guys were blindly drunk. Steering their mopeds to the cheapest remote bar they could find the Scots strayed slightly away from the beaten track to take advantage of the dirt cheap price of alcohol. Fair play to them. The bar and view wasn’t quite my scene though. We picked up ‘the bodyguard’ who had eyes like flying saucers and was skinny enough to appear invisible if he stood sideways and continued our journey
We parked the reliable jeep on the outskirts of our path into the forest, left the bodyguard to sober up and protect the vehicle. We changed into tight fitting, short sleeved wet suits and began our trek into the hot and humid forest.
Sweating our way up and down various eroded paths, dodging our way past a number of venomous plants and shrubbery we finally a made it to the refreshing rivers edge. With a quick safety chat it was time to take our first plunge into one of the river pools that lay below the first waterfall.
With a snappy demonstration from our French female instructor I was happy enough to put myself forward for the first jump. At a modest 8 meters this first jump was a light taster into the sport of canyoning. Now, as you are all fully aware, heights do not become obvious until you are actually stood from above looking down. With the added fact that we had to land in a particular spot and then bring our legs up straight as the pool was slightly shallow, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly apprehensive.
I stood at the waterfall edge peering over, down towards the plunge pool.
I careered into the waters surface. My breath taken away from a combination of the adrenaline and the submersion of my whole body into the surprisingly ice cold river water. The back of my legs hit against the softish river bed and I rebounded up towards the surface glancing above at the reflective lights of the sun’s rays peering through the jungles overgrowth. I was still alive and as a bonus no broken bones or injuries. Let’s try something higher I thought.
The day continued on this high. Various abseils, climbs and jumps as we made our way down the rivers path. I highly recommend the trip if you are ever in or around the area.
One interesting but daunting fact we were told (after we had paid our trip fee) was that a number of King Cobra’s had recently been spotted slithering amongst the forest undergrowth. In the unfortunate but unlikely event of one of these deadly snakes biting you, you would be dead within the hour unless you somehow made it to a hospital for the anti-venom. The nearest hospital was 2 hours away! Luckily no-one was bitten and we are both still alive today. The guides do a great job of investigating the path before you tread it. I’m not sure I’d fancy doing that job myself though.
We eventually left Goa and only wished we had arranged more time to explore the south but pre-booked train tickets solidified our plans to move after just 2 nights. We were heading from Canacona train station in Palolem to Ernakulum Town in Cochin on a 13 hour overnight train. We had booked air-conditioned second class sleepers online and in advance. What could possibly go wrong..? If you want some decent advice on how to book Indian rail tickets then try the website Seat 61.
We sat on a rusty metallic bench in an eerily quiet train station at around midnight. The ever distant stars burned bright in the blackened sky while the full moon beamed proudly in replace of the sun. As the warm, humid breeze brushed our moist skin we waited anxiously for our train.
Your mind likes to play tricks on you at that best of times and with a combination of our current environment and the fact that this was our first overnight train we reassessed every detail of this journey over and over again.
Was this the correct train station? Was this the correct time? Was this the right platform? Where were all the other people? Etc, etc, etc.
In the distance the ‘choo choo’ of a train ringed through the air and we anticipated the arrival of our train…
It wasn’t ours.
Hundreds of Indian trucks and their accompanying drivers were being transported on an enormous freighter train. Each truck decoratively designed in a different way. Bright colours, neon lights, painted religious words and small shrine like dashboards were part and parcel of every truck.
Some truckers lay asleep in their bunks, some in their comfy bespoke chairs and others decided to depart their vehicles for a midnight snack or a refreshing drink. It felt as if every driver stared ominously at the pair of us as they walked towards the little refreshment shack making the odd comment to their friends about these strangely dressed westerners waiting for a train at this ghostly hour. Off course in reality these people couldn’t care less about us but like I said before, the mind can be ones worse enemy at times. We sat their thinking of the worst.
The freighter train departed as the last of the men ran and jumped aboard the moving carriages and we were left on the platform with a small number of potential passengers unscathed and still intact. We decided to pop in and talk to the friendly station master who was wearing a standard issue bland green uniform and sporting a popular thick black moustache. He punched our reference code into an outdated computer but there was no response. He rang a colleague but was he was still none the wiser.
The man inspected our printed ticket again. “WL” he said. “This means waiting list”. We had no confirmed beds on the train Oh no! He tapped away at his computer again but it appeared the system was down. I could hear the train chugging in the background as it speeded closer towards the platform. The station master hurried and shuffled us out of his office and said he’d do his best to get us on tonight’s train.
He just managed to get us on! Two air-conditioned second class beds but they were in different cabins. We boarded the pitch black train and wobbled our way down the narrow aisle as the snores from beds either side of us radiated through the carriage. Our giant back packs barely squeezed down the minuscule passage as we tried to find our beds. Accidentally smashing into Indian people’s prevailing legs and arms we eventually got to the end of the carriage. Where were our beds?
The onboard train master joined us at the end of the aisle and instructed us to turn back around. Now, in most instances this would be an easy feat but with a turtle shell like 15kg bag on your back and a small 5kg rucksack on your front this is far from easy. As we tried to spin around Dani crashed her bag into me and I stumbled clumsily into the train attendant. The poor fellow nearly fell over and to top it of our bulging side bag pockets smashed into people’s bodies as they lay asleep. It was a calamity of errors but we finally made it to our beds just as the attendant decided to turn all the individual cabin lights on and wake up the light sleepers in our compartment. I’m sure they weren’t our biggest fans.
Steering on the safe side of things we decided to chuck all our bags into one bunk and sleep in the other cabin together. Now let me tell you, 13 hours sharing a small single bed with someone’s feet in your face is not the most comfiest nights sleep I’ve ever had. In hindsight it could have been a lot worse. We were lucky to even be on the train and fortunate enough to afford the second class cabin were travelling in. The beautiful southern state of Kerala awaited our arrival.
“He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him”