After my Tiger Safari back to Goa. Calangute this time, a little south of Baga.
Or maybe not. There's a huge row on the plane about who is going to sit where. It takes fifteen minutes for all the passengers to play musical chairs. I suspect that the happy check in clerk is behind it.
It doesn't really feel like Christmas. There are large illuminated paper stars hanging in the trees around the brownstone old style Portuguese posada where I'm staying. The pool has cascades and is also beautifully lit, surrounded by tastefully planted palms. But no Christmas trees. Or presents. The sky is unrelentingly blue and it's lobster on the beach for lunch, followed by curry dinner at the hotel with an American and his daughter. We are the only guests at the moment. I have been upgraded to a huge suite and it's like having my own private villa, with servants on tap.
My hotel might be quiet but Goa is rocking, very different to my last visit five years ago. The Hispanic architecture, huge churches and narrow stone walled lanes, with wrought iron gates and intricate bell towers remain. But the streets and beaches are thronged with Russians, huge bellies, ape like arms and teeny swimsuits too small even to smuggle budgies. I'm sure they must all be gangsters. They say there are three hundred flights from Moscow a week. The sunbeds and gaudy umbrellas stand ten rows deep on the wide yellow sand and even the billboards have Russian subtitles. The lifeguard careers up and down the beach in a van, extorting the crowds to get out of the water on his tinny megaphone. There are strong currents and drownings are common. But no-one takes any notice.
The days merge into a pattern of swim, massage, breakfast by the pool, transfer to a sunbed at the hotel's beach restaurant (a comfortable hotch-potch of mock Greek temple and fishing nets) set back from the main drag. Back to the pool and dinner. The hotel owner is anxious that I do not venture out alone - the traffic is too bad he says. And every day brings a new story of violence or rape. The Americans depart and a family of 13 Portuguese arrive. They ignore me. It's a good job I have a lot of reading matter.
There is a diplomatic row escalating between the USA and India; this might be why one of the headlines on the BBC today suggests that condoms don't work effectively in India as the standard size is too large and they fall off. Apparently 1200 volunteers were measured 'to the nearest millimetre’.
The traffic in Goa is now terrible, Partly because the vehicles have to navigate round stuffed guys, displayed along the lanes, Guy Fawkes style, complete with collecting tins. These are the ‘old men of the year’. They will be burned so that there can be a new beginning. This is the only state in India that has late night clubs and the only one that celebrates Christmas and the New Year. I eat dinner on my own at the posada and then catch a taxi down to the Taj resort and blag my way in. I sit in solitary splendour on the decking above the beach drinking a martini whilst Bollywood parties the other side of a curtain. There's a great view of the fireworks all up and down the beach.
A last day at the beach. A couple of very small clouds drifted past today. Tomorrow's journey home could be hairy. The first leg is via Air India, notorious for cancellations and delays. And I only discovered when I arrived in Mumbai that the domestic airport is 10 kilometres from the international terminal. There are dire warnings on the Foreign Office Advisory about women not taking taxis alone, let alone at night. There are also tales of taxis being hijacked in the early hours on the Mumbai airport road. I'm told that there is a free coach every hour- if I can work out where it is in the usual Indian airport chaos and provided my Air India plane does the necessary. At least they will check my baggage all the way through so I don't need to worry about that.
Good news. The plane is going to land at the international airport so I won't have to worry about being transferred. Bad news. They won't check my baggage through as it's a different airline and the plane is delayed an hour. I queue at the immigration desk only to be told that I have to go back as I need an exit form filled in. When I try to pick one up I'm told that don't need it (and can’t have it) as I'm only on a domestic flight. Then I'm told that I can't go through security yet anyway as my plane is late. Wunderbar!
Another great holiday - this is my sixth visit to India - this must be because after a while you forget the pain and remember only the good things
Stay in touch. Get travel tips, updates on my latest adventures and posts on out of the way places, straight to your Inbox.