St Anthony's Chapel

St. Anthony’s Chapel (and cow)

In my safe haven in and around the hotel I’d grown acclimatised to the heat, roads and beggars (just a couple of kids, tugging on pocket/heartstrings, but after saying hello and smiling once I marched on, ignoring them, and they eventually went away – sounds cruel, but as I don’t give to individuals, it’s the best way to deal with it) and most excitingly, the food. Waking up late on the first evening I graced the hotel’s restaurant, which unfortunately claimed to be an “Irish Pub”, but luckily it didn’t look particularly Irish, especially with the Hindi karaoke going full pelt. I realised that it was called an Irish Pub purely because it sold Guinness, which in terms of authenticity puts it on a par with any Irish Theme Pub in England at least. I settled for a veggie masala with naan, and it was pretty good. Even better was when I ventured out the next day to a nearby vegetarian restaurant for aloo ghobi (cauli and potato curry), naan and lassi: wonderful.
The service you get in such establishments – both were fairly well aimed at the expanding Indian middle class – is attentive to the point of being infuriating. If you finish the mound of curry on your plate, before you know it someone who was quietly watching you eat nearby will have damn near wrestled the serving spoon out of your hand in order to serve you more from the accompanying metal dish. I really didn’t enjoy having someone watch me, as I was trying to get into the Indian way of eating. The rule in India is that you should not use your left hand to put food to your mouth, as Indians (and people in South Asia in general) use their left hand to wipe their arses. You don’t need to be particularly culturally sensitive to understand how raising a curry-stained left hand to your chops might be a little off-putting for other diners. As a born left-hander, this was naturally a bit of a challenge, and as my useless right hand had never wielded a fork or spoon or broken naan bread on its own before I was more than a bit clumsy with it. At least I was burning plenty of calories with my right paw to counteract the fattening curry. I had to all but sit on my left hand to prevent it from participating in the meal, and it hovered above my plate occasionally, moving in circles as if conducting an invisible orchestra.
It was time to move on from Mumbai, and again I had planned to ease myself in for the first two weeks of my trip by taking a flight on a domestic Indian budget airline down to the accessible tourist state of Goa, the common habitat of the British package tourist. The towns the masses flocked to were the highly developed Baga and Calangute; I had chosen to go somewhere slightly to the north, a much quieter seaside village called Anjuna.
My home for the next five days was the AnjunaPalms Guesthouse. More of a homestay than a guesthouse and run by a friendly and laid-back Goan family, I had treated myself to an ice-cold air-conditioned room with cable telly, internet and my own bathroom, for £8 per night. There I met a traveller who had also just arrived called Craig, a thoroughly decent chap also from England (albeit from the barren wastes of The Land Past Birmingham), and we chipped out a few evenings in a row for curry and beer, exchanging tales of our travels and the lives we had left in England.
The beer took a bit of getting used to. Whilst the Kingfisher we get in England is a decent brew, the homegrown stuff here was packed with a nasty preservative called glycerine, which gave the beer a horrible bitter taste and helped to cultivate more “interesting” hangovers. There was a way of removing the glycerine by immersing the bottle in a glass of water upside down – it’s heavier than water, so leaks out in a shiny film of filth – but that was a hassle to do each time, so we just let our palates adapt to the unpleasantness.
Anjuna was a quiet village, but was more developed and geared up for the backpacker scene than I had expected it to be. It had the usual flock of guesthouses, beach bars and shops to cater for the budget traveller, although some had already closed up; April was the start of the low season, with 35 degree heat and a monsoon bearing down on the coast due to hit on 1 June. I spent the days masochistically exploring the country roads under the beating sun, avoiding the wandering cows and vicious dogs and taking in the countryside views as well as sights such as St. Anthony’s Chapel. The Portugese had got their talons into Goa way back in the 16th century and had successfully evangelised their preferred brand of superstition over the local one, and as a result Goa had a high proportion of Christians and churches.
As I strolled back one day with the sun setting through the palm trees, I looked to my left to see a makeshift game of cricket being played in a field. Walking further on, in the field next door three Indian women in sarees were walking diagonally across on their way home from working the fields. I turned my head back to the path to be blocked by a herd of cows noncholantly crossing ahead of me. Three classic rural Indian sights within thirty seconds of each other; I loved this place.
The lazy life in Anjuna took a welcome boost when Craig and I met a Dutch backpacker bloke as well as two British girls on holiday. We all linked up to check out the popular Anjuna Flea Market, where all sorts of rustic, antique-looking Indian products authentically mass produced in Indian factories were on sale. We spent most of the time dodging blokes trying to flog us bongo drums who would not take no for an answer. We also bumped into a Jewish chap Craig and I had seen down by the beach a few days’ previous. He was sporting a wild look and impressively-sized scabs on his legs and arms, having just come off his scooter at speed. If you ask me he was lucky he was wearing his little Jewcap, else he could’ve been sporting an impressive skidmark on his head as well. Who says faith can’t protect you?
Later, the All New Famous Five went for drinks down the beach followed by jaunt to the resort of Baga for a Proper Night Out of twitching to music and late night drinking. I was glad to have a chance to sample the “Brits Abroad” experience and it was a lot of fun to do (once), if very quiet in off-season, and a good send-off for a bunch of people who had all really clicked; we were each continuing on our respective journeys in the morning.
Although I postponed my exit until the afternoon due to Glycerine Hangover.