For Jane, Ben, George, Nick and all at Makemedia – Ben, George and Nick, No-one has shared more of the last nine years of my life (other than Catherine obviously!) I feel so lucky that we have remained such close friends throughout. Jane, thanks for being the best mentor I could have wished for. Makemedians… keep making amazing things, as you are hugely talented and a fantastic group!
The next week of the trip was spent trying to find a sense of normality at the southern end of Goa. Following our return from Wildernest to the coast we wanted to tick the box with regards to staying in a beach shack. We had plenty of fun and our first truly epic moment but the end of the week had a nasty surprise. Here’s how it unfolded…
Week 4 – 13th to the 19th of October
Within 2 minutes of the start of the week we had a Deathcon 1 situation on our hands. Before we left, our dear friend Will (who is an associate Makemedian, now that he is building the cab for our Glasgow Science Museum project) had told us the story of when Gav, another good friend and Will’s travel partner, had been charged at by a scorpion in India. Catherine and I had already mentioned this story and concurred that our creepy crawly experiences had been on the tame side.
This all ended on the morning of our last day at Wildernest. Catherine, sleeping inside her 1 man pop-up mosquito net (looking like a head shaped cake inside a Women’s Institute cake bonnet) awoke a minute or so after me and we threw off the top sheet of the bed. It was a couple of minutes of yawning, stretching and dressing before we suddenly noticed it at the same time. A bloody scorpion! Lying prone on its back with its tail jerking in all directions.
It has to be said that a standard Englishman or woman’s training in dealing with small spiders via a cup and sheet of paper seemed wholly under-engineered for such a situation, and yet we had no other experience to draw on. We did, however, upgrade to a metal container and a stiff sheet of card! Catherine took supervisor duties (hands on that is…no standing on a chair where Cath is concerned) and I shit myself loudly, whilst capturing and releasing/throwing the would-be assassin out of the room!
It was only afterwards that we realised; the scorpion must have been crawling up the bed as we woke up. It was the only explanation for it being on its back in the middle of the room. We must have flung it off when we threw off the top sheet. This realisation was met with a paleness on both our faces and further towels and pieces of paper were deployed over any remaining cracks and door gaps we could find.
The rest of that day was to prove to be as full on as the start. After breakfast we were going on the major trek offered by our hosts. By this point in time we had seen 4 different waterfalls from various views and the trek was to the one we hadn’t seen. We were joined by an Israeli couple with a strong aversion to leeches, a nice family from Mumbai with their son and a slightly more bling Indian family. One quite comical way to differentiate the socio-economic groups we came from was footwear and attire. This method is also applicable at eco-resorts, temples, ruins and other sights across India.
Europeans always have all the gear on in a way that seems really embarrassing when compared to Indians. Our hiking boots might as well be bowling shoes for all of the grip they suddenly don’t have. Indians are always barefoot or in sandals. Walk in the desert…barefoot or sandals, trek through a bog…the same, climb a small mountain…you guessed it! The aspiring upper middle class extend this by wearing designer sandals and adorning a liberal sprinkling of additional designer items. The mother in the bling Indian family on this occasion wore an entire Louis Vuitton outfit, matching handbag and flare hat for the trek. It really was a strong look.
As we begun our trek the Indian families showed us Europeans just how ridiculous our £100 hiking boots are by hop, skip and jumping over the slippery, rocky terrain like mountain goats. We, on the other hand, scrambled valiantly whilst at times resembling Bambi on the ice!
The trek itself was pretty tough. It wasn’t long (just over 12k round trip) but it was steep, rocky and humidity was about 98%. About 1km from the end we had trek through and up the river so it was then barefoot on slippery rocks in pretty fast flowing water…we sensibly took our time! Motivation was provided by the sound of the waterfall up ahead and, after about 40 minutes it began to come into view.
Somewhere between the beauty, scale and isolation of it the theme from Jurassic Park once more accompanied me in my imagination as we rounded the last rocks. In front of us was a torrent of crystal clear water 2 meters wide falling 250ft in a perfect stream and smashing into the deep, oval pool below. It was so perfect you thought you must be on a set. It was just too well designed.
To top the whole thing off we promptly went for the best swim of our lives in the refreshingly cool water (just what you need after a 6k trek in 34d heat). The sensation was just unbelievable; orchestral scores were no longer required, though still playing loudly in my mind for added effect!
As with footwear and clothing, the next sociological divide was also playing out at the base of the waterfall. The Europeans and Israelis, all in swimsuits, swam right out and almost into the falling jet of water. Our Indian companions (and this applies in rivers and on beaches across India) remained steadfastly fully clothed and just sat down in the water where it was about 50cm deep. This extended all the way to Mrs Louis Vuitton. Fortunately, there was no division with regards to us chatting to each other and it created what will surely be a highlight of the entire trip.
After the waterfall Trek, the rest of our time at Wildernest was spent spotting animals back at our chalet, enjoying the great food on offer and watching a David Attenborough documentary (this time about India…see last post!).
The following day we packed up our stuff early on and, thanks to more of Catherine’s negotiating prowess, we headed off towards Palolem beach, via another waterfall, in the transport provided by Wildernest for 50% of what it cost us to get there. It would later transpire that one reason for the cheapness of the transport was that the driver had no idea where he was going at all.
Following a few requests for directions along the way, we reached Dudsagar falls and were launched into a different type of waterfall experience. Firstly, unlike Wildernest, it’s on every tourist map of Goa. Secondly, it is not reachable by road and so you have to hire a jeep to take you up the 8km of rough terrain. This all adds up to a small human funnel based around the 2 sanctioned jeep providers and a hundred or so guides and other hawkers.
As soon as we got out of the car, we where approached by a shitstorm (our collective noun!) of both sanctioned suppliers and hawkers alike. Whilst trying to comprehend whom to trust we were passed down a line of paperwork and eventually given a life jacket. It was one of those horrible moments when, despite only parting with £20 or so, we were left feeling aggrieved that we were not given time to figure things out for ourselves.
On the way to the falls we managed to decode that one company had provided the Jeep and its driver, whilst the life jackets had been leant by another. The guide, as we suspected, had just got in the car without being asked by anyone and passed himself off as part of the package…Gggrrr. That said, we reminded ourselves that lots of people rely on tourist money and that it is an unavoidable aspect of Indian culture that there is immense human competition to survive and earn. Besides, the guide and driver were both pleasant and the notice at the entrance to the reserve did confirm the compulsory nature of our Jeep and Lifejackets.
Fording rivers in the Jeeps was good fun and the falls themselves were undoubtedly spectacular. They consisted of three main drops and were about the same size larger than the waterfall we had swum underneath the day before. However, despite this and the fact that to add to the visual spectacle, a working cargo railway line had long ago been built across the face of the falls (this was really nuts!), the volume of other tourists (possibly 200-300) meant that the experience suffered in comparison.
Having returned to park exit we carried on, with me now navigating via a map, to Palolem beach in southern Goa. We had previously booked ourselves a small apartment for a few nights whilst we checked out and hopefully found a beach shack we liked. The Apartment was in a nice complex called the Tubki Resort and duly arrived during the afternoon.
One thing we were looking forward to was having a small kitchen of our own. Its strange but after a few weeks the need to have a small element of control over simple things like laundry and being able to cook something you really fancy can become quite important. The small apartment was nice and clean once again. The kitchen would stretch our imaginative use of 4 utensils but pastas and omelettes were certainly possible. The hand raised, hot crust pastry pork pie I had in mind would have to wait!
Realising that in order to cook you needed ingredients, we decided to spend the rest of the day scoping out our surroundings before going shopping in the local town the following day. Having picked up a scooter for £3 per day and filled it with petrol bought in old plastic 1l water bottles from the roadside; we headed along the backstreets and beaches of Patnem and Palolem.
Our apartment was slightly to the south of both and so we reached Patnem beach first. Patnem is the smaller and quieter of the 2. A crescent shaped beach of approximately 800m; it has a single road leading to its centre point that is bordered by shops, café’s, laundry/parcel services and the ubiquitous rickshaw stand. At this stage most had not yet opened for the season but there were signs of life.
The beach itself consists of a fine soft sand plateau and a steepish shelf of harder sand that generates some decent surf, whilst still being ok for swimming. The beach is lined with temporary resorts that typically comprise of a restaurant, yoga area, bar and about 10-15 beach shacks arranged around it like a miniature Brunswick place. The variety and intricacy of these varies widely with some being brilliantly designed.
We headed for the ‘Lotus Oasis’ yoga retreat at the southern end of the beach and had a drink. This turned out to be a nice chilled out place that caters well for a certain type of person that seems to need to find themselves, but all in a friendly and nice way. After this we made a point to return and check out ‘Mike’s Naughty Corner’, a bar at the other end of the beach, and headed for Palolem beach to the north.
Palolem was a similar, but far larger beach with a shallow river estuary that entered at the northern end. It also has a startling island just off its northern tip that is cut off at high tide. Similarly, the road running perpendicular to the sea and meeting the centre of the beach featured larger and more varied shops. Signs offer yoga, cooking lessons, music and drumming lessons and the commerce spilled out along the long back road that ran in parallel 100m from the beach as well.
We knew straight away that this was the beach we wanted to stay on, as there was more variety and more to look at. We walked its length and chose a couple of likely candidates for further investigation and then found a Tapas restaurant. This place was great and not at all a facsimile of the real thing. That fact alone really made the decision inevitable! In fact, there are great restaurants all over Palolem and surrounding Patnem and Agonda beaches. You can easily switch between a top quality Pizzeria, a Goan Curry restaurant or a great Vegetarian café in less than 500m.
The next three days were spent orienting ourselves within a radius of roughly 10k around the beaches. We went to the local town Chaudi and did something approaching a normal grocery shop. Whilst we had the apartment it was great to cook scrambled eggs for breakfast, veggie pastas and an assortment of sandwiches and toasts (cooked by holding the toast laboriously over a gas burner with a fork!).
We went back to both beaches a few times and looked at 3 huts before booking a week at Brandon’s. It didn’t have the nicest restaurant but it was a great place to sit and people watch and they had a hut right on the beach. We also revisited the Lotus Oasis and made it to Mike’s naughty corner. It turned out to be a great café with tables shaped around mangrove roots at the opposite end of the beach. Plenty of insect coils and fairy lights made for quite a setting (Catherine and I accept we have a childish love of fairy lights…) and Mike himself insisted that I play some tunes on his guitar. Fortunately I had been practicing and, upon rolling out my ‘cant go wrong’ repertoire, I even had a fan on the next table!
One highlight of those days was watching a group of fishermen on Palolem Beach bring in a massive haul using on-shore nets in about 5ft of water. The whole process of putting out the net and bringing it back in took about an hour and spawned little sub routines with children capturing fish in plastic bags for fun, old ladies picking up the fish that spilled or got stuck in the net and 30 or so sea eagles that swooped down to pick off the rest. Once again India served up a riot of activity and noise.
Another scoot up the coast took us through the village of Agonda and on to a higher coastal plateau. The road was amazing to ride on and seemed to be brand new. 10km or so along from Agonda was Cola beach. Marked only by a small sign at the edge of the road, you have to ride or walk down a 5km track of really rough terrain.
We chose to ride as it would simply have been too hot to walk all the way back and I can confirm that a knackered out old scooter does not function well in an off-road situation! Jane, it made your driveway look like a waterslide! At the end of the track you walk down a cliff and at the bottom are two wild and deserted beaches. Both had a single tented resort at the back, but these were only just under construction and so we sat and watched ladies carry baskets of sand on their heads that would form pathways and sand gardens, a feature in many of the resorts.
On Sunday morning we went for an Ayurveda (the South Indian holistic medicine system) massage first thing at the Lotus Oasis. Mr Johnny, the amusingly and genuinely titled masseur was a massive bloke who could have snapped me in two if he’d wanted. Names like John, Johnny, James and others without a J at the front, but similarly Christian, are common in Goa and Kerala; where the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence extends to religion as well as administration.
After this we packed and made our way to the new beach hut with lots of excitement. We unpacked, had some food and then went for a walk to the Island at the end of the beach. Much to Catherine’s disappointment, its name ‘Monkey Island’, was not literal. The tide was not quite low enough to get to the island but we were able to round the headland and sit on the rocks with about 100 others and take in one hell of a sunset. The mix of people was great with Will’s favourite stereotype ‘Simon from Basingstoke who shall now be called Om Shanti’, travelling teens complete with John Lennon glasses on and all sorts of others who were trying to carry off looks that would invite mockery in the UK! Here though, all were welcome and it made for a really nice moment.
Afterwards we went for a Pizza in a restaurant we had spied all week and found that the Italians who owned and ran it had not compromised on their culinary beliefs. We had 2 amazing pizza’s with perfect Romano bases. We are on a roll we thought. What could go wrong (exactly what we thought before things went wrong in Delhi!)?
Forty-five minutes later Catherine mentioned that she felt dizzy…then nauseous…then all hell broke loose.
I’m sure I don’t need to say more and I also want to say how amazing Catherine was in dealing with our first case of food poisoning over the next few days.
A hot and sandy beach hut with basic facilities is not a nice place to be so ill, especially when you can hear fun and laughter all around. So then next day, the last of the week, was spent nursing poor Catherine and going for the odd walk whilst she slept.
Don’t worry; things do get better! But the week certainly ended as horribly as it had started incredibly. The contrasts of India strike again!
I hope you enjoyed the update and I look forward to keeping up to date with all your successes during this year. I’ve been keeping an eye on Twitter and reading the team notes!
Robin and Catherine xx