The first thing that became blatantly obvious upon arriving at Anjuna airport was just how different this part of India was to Delhi and Agra. The climate was what you would have expected of this subtropical country. The number of tourists (or westerners) had increased dramatically and the general intensity we had experienced at other transportation sites had reduced from boiling point to a mere simmer. Goa seemed like an actual holiday destination, rather than a travel destination. The drive from the airport to our beach hut was lined with palm trees, sandy beaches and bikini clad tourists. Finally it was time to work on my tan.
Upon arriving at our destination Clara, James and I were reunited with Katie and Tom, who had already been traveling India for a few weeks, and Claire and Lizzie fresh off the plane from London. On Christmas Eve we spent the first half of the day testing out the waters of the Arabian Sea which were far superior to the temperatures of the big old Pacific Ocean. It was on this day that we got our first dose of fame from the locals. As Claire has recently arrived from London her pale skin was a huge point of interest and drew in crowds of people wanting their photo with this western beauty. At first it was surprising and a novelty but over time wore rather thin.
After becoming acquainted with a few of the local cattle on the beach and we felt the rays had done enough damage to our skin we headed for the famous Anjuna Flea Market. Earlier that day we had anonymously drawn names from a hat to determine who would buy who what for Christmas the next day. So we all went our separate ways trying to get the best gift for the best price. You could find anything among the hundreds of stalls down by the beach, the only problem is that if you gave a stall holder even the slightest amount of attention then you would be hounded to buy everything. I managed to make it out alive an hour or so later with a few massive blankets without spending more than 1000 rupees.
I guess part of the idea of reuniting our group was based on a Christmas we spent together in Dalston, London two years previously. It was one of the craziest days of my life and this meeting was an attempt at recreating that madness in a rather contrasting environment. So as you would expect there was a certain type of hype surrounding Christmas day and I am pleased to report Christmas in Goa gave London a good run for its money. We started the day with Secret Santa followed by shots of Feni (NEVER again) and then headed to the beach for a swim and more beer. That evening we were joined by two other travellers we met on that car ride from Delhi to Agra the week before. The night at a Greek restaurant was filled with the sounds of Boney-M and The Backstreet Boys. In true Greek fashion (in India) we were invited to smash plates on the floor of the restaurant. As a group we eventually escaped the festivities of the loud restaurant and grabbed some final drinks to enjoy by candle light down on the sand.
After just a couple more nights in Anjuna we caught a two hour taxi further south to Palolem Beach. Here our beach huts were just a minute walk to the ocean and were surrounded by white sand. Another positive feature of this location was the abundance of bars on the beach, so close to home. We were spoilt for choice for cocktails, beer and on special occasions Bacardi Breezers. In the early evening of New Year’s Eve we grabbed the guy who had been pestering us every day to hire a boat to finally take him up on his offer. His original price of 1400 Rupees was quickly reduced to 700 and the seven of us piled into the tiny vessel for a short trip up the river. As the sun set for the final time that year we saw King Fishers and Eagles swooping down to the water’s surface to collect the scraps thrown overboard by our captain.
The party on New Year’s Eve was one of the most memorable of my life. After a lush Indian feast we made our way down to the sand to let off Chinese Lanterns and watch them float out to sea. It was kind of like a symbol of letting go of 2014 while granting a wish for the following fresh New Year ahead of us (mine was world peace. Shouldn’t have said that. Now it won’t come true. Dammit). At around 1am we entered a club called The Spice of Life on Palolem Beach which was completely empty at the time. It was here where the Dalston Crew did what they do best and got the party started. Within just minutes of plugging in our Spotify playlists the bar began to fill with multiple Indian families who were all set on showing us their dance moves and playing us THEIR music (didn’t they know this is OUR party?). After thirty minutes or so a man carrying film lighting, a director and camera man entered the bar to film a scene for their Bollywood, Hindi film ‘Candy-Flip’ (look out for me on the big screen).
The next morning I awoke with regret from drinking one too many Bacardi Breezers the night before. My mouth was filled with that awful fake Cranberry and stale cigarettes flavour. Outside for the first time since arriving in India the rain was falling quite heavily, which wasn’t ideal considering today was the day we would leave Goa and I needed to get up and pack my mess back into my backpack. We spent most of the day waiting for it to end. Eventually it was time to take catch a taxi to Mandolin Train Station to catch our overnight sleeper train to Cochin. What I must mention about the roads in India is that it will always take far longer than you anticipate to get anywhere. We thought 1.5 hours would be plenty of time to get ourselves to the station for our 9pm departure instead we arrived with just three minutes to spare (before finding out we have been delayed by two hours). The ride to the station was one of the most terrifying taxis I had ever been in. We overtook on blind corners as we speed through the jungle and came very close to a number of head on collisions.
Waiting at the station for those two hours was another rather third world yet memorable experience. We sat playing Monopoly Deal (a new favourite) whilst being stared at by everyone surrounding us on the platform. I felt my bubble was invaded over and over, but kept my cool after being reassured by Katie and Tom that this was completely normal in this part of the world. I never thought relief would be how I felt went entering an overnight train in India…
TO BE CONTINUED.