Benaulim to the Wildernest, relax, relax, MONKEYS!

For our parents – Thanks for your support, understanding and additional storage (belongings and pets!). Thanks for making huge efforts to say goodbye and for keeping in touch since we have been away… 

Having hit the wall last week (after a month of packing up our life and an intense first 12 days) we spent most of the week trying to stay relatively still in Goa. Towards the end of the week itchiness returned to our feet and, having decided that we were maxed out on temples, shopping and beaches, we decided it was wildlife time. As usual India did not disappoint! Here’s how it went…

Week 3 – 6th to the 12th of October

The gardens at Taj Exotica, Goa
We spent most of the week trying to relax…tricky with this all around you!

Following Catherine’s birthday celebrations we had to call the Doctor on Tuesday morning as her cough had moved onto her chest (and there was nothing for chest infections in our Eurohike first aid kit). We were once again treated to India’s endless manpower and efficiency from chaos as, having mentioned the situation at breakfast, Catherine was promptly visited, diagnosed with Bronchitis (in the bloody tropics for crying out loud!) and prescribed many medicines within the hour. A further 30 minutes saw the many medicines needed to bring Catherine back to life delivered to our room and all for less than a tenner (including the doctor call out).

In addition to the Antibiotics, probiotics and what Catherine called ‘proper, old fashioned caught medicine’ (which seemed very alcoholic to me), Catherine was told to rest up until better. So the day was spent reading and playing guitar with the occasional errand run. As we were staying in we decided to watch a movie and the only thing we fancied from the hotel library was Intergalactic. No film reviews here (about 8/10 I thought) but we both had a really strange feeling afterwards that I’d experienced before. 

Essentially, when you have been away from home for a few weeks, if you watch a British or American film in a cinema or other dark space, your brain completely forgets that you are in a totally foreign environment. When the film ends, you suddenly pop back into that environment and it can be quite disorientating; discombobulating even, if you agree with Catherine!

A Wedding in the gardens at the Taj Exotica
The beautiful gardens at the Taj, transformed for a wedding at night

By Wednesday Catherine was feeling better and we decided to ride the chopper up to North Goa for the day. North Goa is the more established, beach party, Goan trance length of coast. The idea was to scout the different beaches and see if we wanted to spend any time at any of them. The ride North took us past Margao, an inland city in the South and onwards towards Panjim, a stretch of road that was frequently straddled by farmers drying out huge quantities of Red rice (so called as it has little red stripes on it, like miniature grains of Aquafresh). Although the traffic was a bit crazy around panjim, you also drive over two fantastic bridges that span the estuaries of the Zuari river to the south and and the Mandovi river to the north. Both are stunning and dotted with islands, fishing skiffs and larger boats of all types in the estuary mouths. 

Once in the North, we rode to Anajuna beach. It’s not the most northerly of the developed stretches of coast, but has a laid-back hippy reputation.

A cow walks along Anjuna Beach
What…you’ve never seen a cow paddling before, jog on fella…

At this stage we were unaware of the ticking time bomb that would be the main feature of our return ride…at this stage it was just a minor case of numb-bum saddle soreness. 

Anjuna was a relatively thin stretch of beach that opened out at its southern end into a broader crescent. Having established that the famous Wednesday market was not up and running yet (Goa’s high season is November – March), we had a drink in a hippie themed shack. Here, the bartender was stoned to the point of being comatose and spun out by anything approaching a drinks order! Following lunch at a nicely relaxed beachfront restaurant, we bumped into an Australian couple we had seen on the plane from Jodhpur, they two survived the mass tea-throwing, turbulence induced incident described in last weeks post. Like Aussie prophets, they told us of their previous days exploits when, far from home on a small scooter, they were caught in tropical rain. We laughed together at their misfortune whilst blue skies held fast overhead…

After a pleasant couple of hours of people watching at Anjuna we decided to check out the party beaches of Baga and Calangute, as well as the most southern of the northern beaches at Candolem. As we set off it got a little grey overhead…By the time we had checked out Baga and Calangute and decided that we were way to old for that kind of thing (well most of it anyway), it was spitting lightly…By the time we had checked out Candolem and decided that this was much nicer and a possible next stop it was raining, tropically! 

 As Catherine’s bronchitis was still under treatment, we decided to stop and see if the rain eased off. As we sat having a coffee, realising that we faced a two hour ride home in heavy night-time traffic and even heavier rain, who should walk in but our Australian friends. This time we laughed together at our misfortune…bugger!

Once we realised that the rain was not easing off (possibly ever), we steeled ourselves, agreed not to fight under any circumstances but instead to be supportive and positive, and got back on the bike. At this point the time-bomb went off spectacularly as we realised that the mild saddle soreness of the morning had developed into a serious case of Arse lameness!

The next 2 hours were indeed a mixture of extreme driving and terrible atmospheric conditions, exasperated by the 20 minute intervals between climbing on and off the bike like octogenarians in need of bottom replacements. Fortunately, the hopelessness of the situation gave way to a sustained period of the giggles. At one point we stopped at a garage that was a bit like a UK convenience equivalent. Catherine and I walked round and made up a basket of nice things that we would buy, if only we had a kitchen to make food, in order to cheer ourselves up. The resultant giggles from the pair of us, soaked to the bone and totally bedraggled, was watched with bemusement by the locals.

Pedros Bar, Benaulim
‘I’m on top of the world’ – oh dear… Pedro’s bar in Benaulim

Eventually the rain did ease off and in the tropical heat we dried out enough to stop at Pedro’s, the beach restaurant we had visited on our first night for dinner. In nearby Margao (which we passed on the way) F.C. Goa were playing Kolcatta. Football is ubiquitous in Goa and played on every beach, every night. The state team is followed with passion and not only was the large stadium full, but every local bar for miles was packed full of fans watching large inflatable screens. The atmosphere was great and it extended into our bar as the staff and punters celebrated a late Goa equaliser.

Having decided that we were happy to stay in the south we spent the next 3 days enjoying much relaxation, massages, archery, mini-golf and Yoga. Yep, you heard right, Catherine and I did yoga…and we kept straight faces throughout…and I fell asleep during the relaxation session at the end…and dribbled a little bit. We also found a new restaurant called Firefly that did amazing BBQ (pork and beef on the menu!!). One Rack of Ribs and bowl of Chilli Beef was devoured to the backdrop of the most oddly professional, overly cheesy Karaoke we’ve ever been subjected too. We agreed the main guy had a voice like sexual chocolate!

Despite the luxurious setting, there is something inevitably plastic about staying in a posh resort. Neither Catherine or I can quite cope with being waited on to the level offered. It’s as if, in the attempt to create a feeling of luxury and everything being taken care of, the opposite is often achieved.

Catherine negotiates with a Taxi owner
Catherine is a mean negotiator (I undertook this covert surveillance instead)

There is a slight sense of tension and panic amongst the staff if you offer to let them through the door first, or drop a piece of cutlery and pick it up yourself (heaven forbid…heads roll for such dereliction of duty!).

With this in mind, we decided that the next step needed to be far less plush and involve wildlife (preferably monkeys as Catherine was integral to the decision making). With this in mind we found what looked like a great and quirky little eco-resort called WilderNest just over the border into Maharashtra State (although marketed as Wildernest Goa). With this booked for 3 nights as well as the 4 nights after at the much hyped Palolem beach, we were ready to enjoy our last day in and around Benaulim. 

Water Buffalo in a paddy field
Water Buffalo and attendant birds are common in the rice fields of Goa

We decided to take the advice of the guy we rented the chopper from and head through the villages to the south of Banaulim, as far as the Sal River. This proved to be a great little road trip as we drifted through tiny villages, past schools full of impeccably dressed kids (who all waved and cheered as we went passed) and amongst paddy fields dotted with Water Buffalo and their attendant birds. Following a great seafood lunch on the river, across from the Goan fishing fleet, we decided to cross over and explore a couple of km further south. 

As per usual, a quick nosey across a bridge, or down a little side road led us to a wonderful little village called Colleavaddo, hidden away on the southern headland of the Sal. Throughout the village, its inhabitants were busy laying out and drying sardine-sized fish.

Drying Fish in Colleavaddo on the river Sal
A villager dries the catch of the day on the roadside in Colleavaddo

We passed nets of varying grades in all manner of baskets and absorbed the riot of colour and activity as we were kindly acknowledged by the people we rode past. This felt like a trip back in time to a less developed Goa and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

Once back at the Taj we had one final afternoon of enjoying the facilities and Spa before having a meal at Firefly and cocktail (or 5) at Pedro’s. We even managed the impossible and finally got internet banking set up for our travel credit card. As dull as that sounds…it was…but it took 4 days and we were proud of ourselves!

On Sunday we awoke with fear and excitement. Fear that the breakfast buffet was soon going to leave our sphere of influence; excited as we were getting frustrated by the over-the-top service of the Taj and really wanted to get amongst some Rain Forest.

Catherine drinking from a fresh coconut
Anyone for some roadside coconut drinks?

Catherine had broken a local taxi owner the previous day by brokering the best deal on a private car journey we had managed to date. She was on top form as ‘bad Cath alter ego’ (name suggestions anyone?). The taxi proprietor even started looking to me for help but I told him he was stuffed and should just agree to the terms being offered by Mrs Scott, or reap the consequences. He sensibly chose the former.

A Beautiful Lambretta Li Series 2 in Goa, India
Saw this beauty on our way to Wildernest, just caught it out of the window!

So Ahmed picked us up and we drove up into the mountains to a valley that straddled three different states, Maharashtra, Kanakata and Goa. On the way I made up for my previous dereliction of roadside fruit duty by obtaining Catherine her first ‘Coconut with a straw’. This was expertly hacked into shape by a machete wielding lady of approximately 90-110 years of experience. The coconut shell was less wrinkly than she!

As we arrived at Wildernest we were slowly overcome by feelings of great joy. This is one of the most spectacular places to stay I have ever been fortunate enough to experience.

Three waterfalls in view at the Wildernest resort
The view of 3 waterfalls from our room at the Wildernest camp

The policy of no-plastic, alcohol or music systems on site made for a clean, simple, quiet and utterly beautiful stay. Our ‘Valley View’ cottage was slightly understated as it had a balcony that looked out onto 2 of the 5 local waterfalls and about 40 miles of pristine rain forest valley.

Monkeys, giant squares, sun-birds and hornbills all patrolled the jungle right through the camp, without ever feeling in the slightest bit domesticated. In addition the staff were typically Indian, idiosyncratic and following bureaucracy to the letter.

Immaculately uniformed in Khaki, the guides were clearly knowledgable and nice, once you opened them up. However, the policy seemed to be, ‘only give out information under extreme duress!’ if not part of the sandbox of 20 or so facts that they had been taught to share with the punters. 

Catherine looking through a picture window at Wildernest
Now thats the proper use of a picture window!

We decided that we would do the sunrise and sunset treks the following day and the long waterfall trek the day after (these were the three guided treks available for free), so we pottered around camp in the afternoon and tentatively struck out 300-400 metres along the trek paths so we know what to expect. We also took a swim in the infinity pool. This was not the manicured pool you got at Taj. This was more like an old-school skate park pool. The effect was rough, ready and perched high on the valley side with an infinity edge looking out over the glorious view. It was quite astonishing. 

We finished the day by attending the ‘wildlife film’ as promoted on the camp blackboard. Silly us, we expected it to be a film on the wildlife of the Western Ghatts (a biodiversity hotspot in which we were sitting), however, much to Catherine’s distress and my amusement, the film turned out to be made by an Indian equivalent to Attenborough about safari in Africa! It also contained a little story of a big cat trying to isolate a young elephant but being ‘Thwarted by Giraffes’. You probably needed to be there but the emphasis placed on Giraffe thwarting behaviour was bloody hilarious. 

The day ended with the buffet dinner that, in various forms, made up breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. To say it was delicious is an understatement. Salad, curd and pickles gave way to classic or south Indian Red rice (which is much nicer). Then there was a choice of 5-7 bhajis (dryish vegetable mixes, not deep fried balls of onion), papads (popadoms with a salsa topping), pulaus (like biryanis) and chapatis or rotis. Then there was either fish or sweet potato fries (not chips but disks in semolina) and a choice of 2 curries. It says something that I never got anywhere near the meat curries. Catherine still thinks I’ve been abducted and replaced by someone with poor intelligence on my habits, because I was quite happily veggie for 3 days!

Catherine investigates a Stick Insect
This is the stickies situation since Sticky the Stick Insect got stuck on a sticky bun…

The week closed out on Monday (our weeks are running Tuesday to Monday) with a breakfast walk at 7am (which Catherine cites as further evidence of my kidnap and replacement) followed by a session just sitting still on our veranda. During these sessions we saw Giant Spiders, Vine Snakes, Black Snakes, Both types of indigenous monkeys (I lost Catherine for about 2 hours to those monkeys), multiple birds and our favourite, the Pill millipede (see video for a demonstration of its defensive capabilities). Rather disgustingly and also hilariously we saw a rare monkey feeding habit. One monkey found that his friend had a tapeworm hanging out of his bottom. Said monkey then started to eat this tapeworm and proceeded to pull about 2 meters of worm from his friends arse and munch down on it. At this point Catherine conceded that she only liked nature that came with eye-lashes and/or tails (she would regret the tails comment in due course…see next weeks post!).

After another amazing buffet lunch we spent some more time in the pool before completing the sunset Trek up to a high ridge in the mountain. The view was epic and you could now see 4 waterfalls, all but the one we were hiking too tomorrow. This wasn’t the last treat of the day though and, in the entertainment slot filled by the wildlife doc the previous evening, some ladies from the local village performed and hour of folk songs and dances.

The View from Sunset Point, Wildernest, Goa
Another spectacular vista from Sunset Point at Wildernest

Believe me this was not a facsimile of the real thing. It was incredible. The harmonies and melodies along with the intricate dances, spins and hops were a joy to witness. After each song a minor inquest would be held so that the next number could be improved. It was great and really inspiring from a musical perspective. A special note goes to the cossack-esque dance that was accompanied by wild raspberry blowing. The 6 or so Indian tourists in the camp were wildly impressed with this and rightly so, even if the raspberries didn’t translate in quite the same way to us Europeans!

So that is what we got up to in week three of the trip. All in all we are finding our feet quite well now and, despite missing home, family, friends and life’s little conveniences, we were ready to launch into another week.

All our love to you 

Robin and Catherine xx 

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