For the most part, my journal was written late at night after a long, tiring day in the sun. In places, it is not the most clearly written of documents. So what is written here is not necessarily taken verbatim from my journal; parts have been doctored so that they make some sense. The essence of the trip and my reactions to the many and varied experiences and challenges has been preserved (I hope!).

Areas highlighted in red are parts that were not included at the time, but hopefully add some clarity.

 


The Goan Life


 

Friday 25th October, 1991. Benaulim

Well, today I may find out whether I know the way or not. I'm thinking of going to into Margao to go to the bank and to check mail. I'm also toying with the idea of moving away from the beach to the village; I checked into O Palmar Resort last night - and I think that I'm the only guest in the whole place. The village may be a little more sociable. But it is very convenient at O Palmar; from the village I'd have to ride (or walk) the kilometre to the beach. I'd probably want to rent a local bike, too, rather than leave mine unattended whilst I'm on the beach. I may be on vacation, but there are still too many decisions! The truth is, though, that the last two days have drained me physically and I want life to be as simple as possible.

After a solitary supper last night at Pedro's (in the restaurant at the end of the road), I joined Paddy - a Brit who I recognised from eighteen months ago. Paddy is as surprised and disappointed as I am that the restaurants actually on the beach are missing. (We had both spent a lot of time in Johncy's, a temporary establishment on the sand.) Paddy thinks that there is a problem with a new government official so possibly they won't open at all. Imagine, an Indian official who can't be bribed!

It feels strange - and a little anticlimactic - to be back. I'd made a quiet undertaking to myself not to have a beer in India until I'd reached Goa. Many times, after a long hot day, I'd almost given in to the temptation. And, after all the waiting, my Kingfisher was warm and disappointing. But the main problem, I think, is that I'm both very tired and a little homesick; I'm missing (my wife) Bev. Now that I'm here and have no specific agenda - nowhere to reach before nightfall - I'm a bit lost. And my legs feel like lead!

 

Saturday 26th October, 1991. Benaulim

Time went by quickly yesterday. After a leisurely breakfast of poached eggs and chai, I rode back into Margao at around 10:30. I cashed some traveller's cheques at the State Bank of India and got a huge wad of fifties (one hundred of them!). It's pretty bulky, so I'll have to try to spend it quickly! After the bank, I rode down the narrow road towards the railway station, keeping an eye open for some T-shirts. I could use another for when I'm biking. I didn't have any luck with T-shirts but saw a bike stall and bought some self-adhesive tube patches. The owner actually had some a speed 'lightweight racing' bike, weighing in at 20 kgs. It had 27 inch tyres and dropped handlebars, pump and water bottle! Far cry from the ubiquitous 'sit up and beg' single speed Hero cycles. I couldn't see the system (it was in a big pile of other, more typical bikes) but I assume that it had some derailleur system - all for an initial asking price of Rs 2000. There were also some ATB single speed 'mountain' bikes with chunky 26x2.125 inch tyres.

I found the poste restante but it was closed for lunch so I'll wait until after the weekend. Back in Benaulim, I sat and read the paper and a Time magazine I'd picked up in Margao. Later, I rode to Colva (once a quiet fishing village but now popular with Western tourists) with Paddy and a couple of other Brits. There's no escaping them!

 

Monday 28th October, 1991. Benaulim

The days are starting to blend together and it's getting hard to remember what I've done when. So far, I've spent little time on the beach, not wanting to fry. Although my arms and legs are brown from cycling, other parts of me are still pale and a burn would set me back. A few days more and I'll be getting a reasonable tan that'll give me some protection. And a few days more and I'll be well-fed and rested. And ready for the road. For now, though, I still feeling the effects of the last two full days riding.

Last night I met Jimmy. (Jimmy had run Johncy's restaurant.) They will start building Johncy's restaurant in a couple of days and should be open in a week. But I should be on my way by then. Apparently, Jimmy and Stuart (another Brit who had been in Benaulim eighteen months ago) had planned to meet in England and then come to Canada, but Stuart was out of work. Then Jimmy's father died and plans fell apart. Jimmy hasn't heard from Stuart for six months and, more importantly, hasn't been repaid for the tab that Stuart ran up at Johncy's or the Rs 12000 that Jimmy had lent him to get home. That's not very good; Jimmy really helped Stuart out. And I'm sure Stuart still has enough money to go out for a beer or two every evening but not enough to repay some of his debts to an impoverished Goan.

Last night, I met a Finnish traveller who had spent a few days at Palolem, fifty kilometres south of here. There were only a handful of Westerners there, and limited accommodation, but it sounds like it might be a good place to spend a night on my way south. Apparently, the Alpha bar has one room and there is a fresh water tap somewhere to wash at. Sounds pretty primitive.

 

Thursday 31st October, 1991. Benaulim

There's not enough happening to keep me writing in my journal every day. On Tuesday I picked a letter from Bev, a short one written while getting her car serviced in Calgary. I spent some time with yet more British travellers. Deborah, an Anglo-Indian who had just graduated from Oxford and a black-belt in karate, having just placed third in a competition in Japan. Ann-Marie has just finished at Southampton University and may be in Canmore this fall. But last night they left, as did Paddy and his friend, and I'm back to being on my own again.

Yesterday, I rode 12 kms down the beach on firm sand. Beautiful expanses of sand - totally deserted except for the occasional fishing boat. I was with Deborah and Ann-Marie; if I hadn't already known they were English, I would have guessed it when they kept on their bathing costumes to swim on the deserted beach with absolutely no-one in sight.

We stopped at a huge resort development, the Leela Resort, and went inside to eat. It was unreal; a huge, tasteful apartment complex in pink stucco, artificial canals running between the buildings, an open air fresh water pool with a bar alongside. It was like being immediately transported to Palm Springs in California. Except it was almost totally deserted! And, of course, the food was nowhere near as tasty as the food at Raphael's in Benaulim - and it was eight times as expensive. There were also squash courts and a beauty salon that could cut my hair (not that I have very much!) but not shave me. The whole place was surprisingly professionally done and perfect for anyone wanting an expensive holiday in Goa without having to experience anything of India. Unless through the glass window of an air-conditioned bus, I suppose.

Before Paddy left, he told me that Matthew Fernandes (almost everyone here is called Fernandes), a fisherman who lived down the beach, wanted to see me. We'd seen him a few days ago and helped him launch his boat. Apparently, it was something to do with a letter to, or from, Canada. Also, he'd said something about going out on a boat. So today I wandered down the beach but didn't see him. It was quite cloudy so the temperature was pleasant.

 

Sunday 3rd November, 1991. Benaulim

On Friday morning, I rode into Colva to phone home. Compared with the fiasco of trying to call Canada from the Telegraph Office in Mysore last time, this was simplicity itself. The phone system seems to have improved dramatically over the last year and a half - as demonstrated by the number of international dialling stalls I've noticed in most of the towns I've passed through. The price (Rs 60/minute) is the same as before, but with the cheaper rupee it's considerably less expensive. I dialled the number myself in a small office and was through to Canada almost instantly. The call was interrupted twice (satellite problems, I was told) but a press on the redial number soon had me back in contact. Bev sounded really pleased to hear from me and it was great to talk to her, too. She sounds in good spirits so I didn't feel too guilty about being here without her. Its been -20C for the last week in Canmore. And it was still October!

The call really set me up for the day. I wandered along the beach for a while before settling on one of Colva's restaurants for a prawn salad, tomato salad and a couple of banana lassis (a drink made from yoghurt, or curd as the Indians call it).

Yesterday, I rode down to Betul and then took a quiet but hilly coastal road down to Palolem. Lots of red chillies were laid out on the asphalt to dry. Palolem is a beautiful, palm-fringed cove complete with fishing boats. I think I'll spend a couple of days there before continuing south - accommodation does look basic but it'll be a pleasant change.

 

Saturday 9th November, Palolem

It's time to leave; I'm getting restless and impatient to be on the road again. I'm going to Palolem tomorrow and then on to Mangalore.

On Wednesday, I went to the flea market at Anjuna to the north. By taxi! This was my first non-self-propelled transport since the train ride up to Matheran. There was a nice relaxed atmosphere from the traders at Anjuna. The Westerners ranged from the white anaemic-looking package holidayers to hardened hippies who looked as if they'd already been in Goa for a few years too long. Some couples had small children with them who looked as if Anjuna beach was the only home they had ever known. But they'd probably adapt to a more 'normal' life back in the West more easily than their burned-out parents.

One interesting Westerner was wearing a dark green shirt and gold-flecked green tights on emaciated legs. His long hair (almost to his waist) was in long matted strands covered in mud (or worse!) like some of the Inidan holy men I'd seen. He was arguing angrily with a fat white women in her fifties, covered in makeup and a cigarette hanging from her bright red painted lips. It was a great place to people watch, but I did feel awfully straight.

 

Newspaper cuttings
(Indian newspapers have their own, particularly graphic, style!)

Gormantak Times Weekender, 9 November
"... twelve commuters were charred to death and 55 wounded when a powerful bomb ripped through a suburban train on the Central Railway at Kalyan railway station at 11pm on Friday night..."

The Herald
"13 Mutilated As Blast Rips Train Bogey At Kalyan ...Eyewitnesses said the explosion was so powerful that it ripped apart the compartment and tore through the adjacent compartments as well. The bodies of the victims were flung out with great force and pieces of flesh and broken limbs were strewn all over the place ... The scene at the hospitals was pathetic with anxious relatives running helter-skelter looking for their near and dear ones ..."

 

Yesterday, having breakfast at Raphael's, I could see dolphins breaking the surface of the shallow water only thirty yards from the shore. And walking down the beach later in the day, I came across a fisherman cutting up a huge fish. It was (or had been!) fairly flat and about eight feet wide; the fisherman claimed it was a dolphin. It was sad to watch them taking a hammer and chisel to break the bones so that they could cut off huge steaks, weighing fifty pounds or more. But the fishermen had to survive too, I guess. Further down the beach, an local told me that it was a kite-fish (it had looked big and flat, but it was hard to tell since it was already fairly well chopped up) so I felt a little more cheerful!

The Kiwi

Also, yesterday, I chatted for a while with an ex-New Zealander, now an Indian resident, who has a house a little way down the beach from Benaulim. He also has a place somewhere on the west coast. It sounds like he's stayed on, after years working on a plantation of some sort. Now he breeds race-horses for a living, apparently quite big business in India. His horses are stabled in Bangalore, racing there, in Madras (now called Chennai), and up in Ooty during the hot season. He's a short, solid-looking guy in his early fifties, with a beard and surprisingly fair skin for one who has spent so much of his life in the tropics. Some of his comments about women definitely put him in the chauvinistic class but, by his own admission, he didn't get on well with them. Maybe he's just scared of them.

He'd just had an interesting trip back from Bangalore. Stopping for petrol, he noticed the attendant taking money and his watch out of his vehicle (he called it a 'gypsy' - some kind of jeep-cum-truck, I think) whilst he was paying. So (he said...), he beat the attendant up. And the garage manager, before ransacking the office and taking all the money and oil that he could find. Then he took off quickly, with other service station workers retrieving what oil they could as he left. At the next town, he informed the police (!) and returned with them, where the garage workers had some more rough justice meted out to them, this time by the police. Later, counting up the money he'd collected, he found that he'd come out Rs 80,000 in front!

Further along the road, he came across an accident. A bus had clipped an adult and two children on a bicycle and then, out of control, had ploughed into a group of pedestrians. The bus driver had, wisely, disappeared. (It's typical for a driver in such a situation to be lynched by an angry mob.) So, the Kiwi took as many of the injured as he could to hospital in the next town; a child that had gone under the wheels of the bus died as he carried her into the hospital and he didn't think much of the chances of survival for some of the others. Two hundred people from the street crowded into the fly-infested emergency room to spectate! There was another accident on the trip but this time he didn't stop. Two buses had collided head on - he carried on and just informed the police at the nearest police station. I don't how seriously to take all this; maybe all the exciting things that had happened to him in India were condensed into one journey, for y benefit. It made good entertainment for me, though.

He had some interesting (if true) statistics about Goa, too. Last year, about 35 Westerners went to jail (for a minimum of ten years) for drug offences. Apparently, the dealers work hand in hand with the police, and hte going rate (baksheesh) to get charges dropped is about Rs 80,000 - less than £2,000 and certainly not worth doing ten years for. But I can see how a lot of the people here won't have access to that amount. Also, whilst on the topic of women again, he mentioned an incident that happened a year ago. A Western girl was being bothered by five local fishermen. The manager of the L'Amour restaurant stepped in to help her and was stabbed in the heart, dying immediately. The Kiwi held the girl responsible; the incident would never have occurred had she stayed home in the kitchen like a good Indian woman.

I asked him (Ian, I think) how he managed to live in India as a foreigner. And got another interesting story in reply; this one didn't show him in a very good light so it may even be true. He was married to a beautiful Indian women from a very good family. They'd had a wonderful high-society life, breeding race-horses and with hardly a care in the world. Then his wife fell in love with a Petty Officer (French, I think) in the merchant navy and had an affair.(This behaviour is almost unheard of in Indian society.) The sailor persuaded her to withdraw all the money in bank accounts shared with her husband and to run away with him. When Ian realised that she had gone, he went to close his bank accounts but was too late. The bank manager was most apologetic; the manager had, he said, thought something was wrong and had tried unsuccessfully to contact Ian. But Ian was up in Ooty, inspecting horses, and couldn't be reached and the bank manager was obliged to allow the withdrawal of all the money. Now the Kiwi was almost broke, and breeding horses became a necessity rather than a hobby. Some time later, with the money all spent by the sailor, his wife came back and begged for forgiveness but he wouldn't take her back. He heard that the sailor was back in the area and he threw him threw a thorn fence, almost killing him. Now the Kiwi was in a strange position, hoping against hope that the sailor would survive - otherwise he would have legal problems with the Indian court system for years. After some weeks, the sailor was released from hospital and Ian could breathe easily again. His wife was disowned by her family for the great shame she had brought upon them all and Ian's wife was now living as a pauper in a convent. She had once visited him to plead for a divorce so that she could try to resume some sort of normal life - but Ian would not grant her that. If he divorced her, he would lose his right to reside in India...

Back on the road

I got on the road at about eleven and went south from Maria Hall, instead of throug Margao. I was passed by a Canadian, on a motor-cycle, whom I'd talked a few days ago. The Canadian showed me a workshop he had with a German who has an Indian wife. Goan carpenters were carving ornate teak mantelpieces. Some were very nice. He was taking them to Bombay where he'd booked a 40 feet container. It was six weeks by ship to Seattle and train to Toronto, for $5,400 which seems quite reasonable for thirty mantelpieces and twenty front doors. Fred, from St Catherines in Ontario, wouldn't say how much he was paying for the mantels and doors but I'm sure there's a good profit to be made. The doors were not a standard height for Canadian homes, though, so installing them would not be trivial. Also, I wondered how they would react to the relatively dry air in Canada after the humidity of the Indian coast.

Continuing to Cavelossim, I got a ferry across the lagoon and was soon in Betul. This was certainly an easier and more pleasant route than through Margao. I was now back on familiar ground. I took a side road to Cape Rama, hoping that it would rejoin the road to Palolem later. But it didn't; it was a dead end that stopped at Cape Rama fort - which for a few sections of broken down wall didn't justify the ten kilometre detour. Mind you, I'd probably saved that much by not going through Margao. I stopped to explore at Agonda - a nice, long deserted beach and a simple village but nowhere to stay. Or I would have.

I arrived in Palolem at about 4 o'clock and found an OK room for Rs.50. Parked inside the house were two sparkling clean mountain bikes with lots of racks (normal racks on the back, low-riders and a high bag on the front), add-on bars with elbow rests, lights, reflectors on the wheels, stands and mudguards. Nice bikes, but it didn't look like the owners were travelling light.

Somewhere today, I passed the 1600 kilometre mark. That's a thousand miles!