Goa is very much the soft underbelly of India. Up until 1966 it was still part of Portugal and for long after that the lack of rail links to the rest of the country kept it relatively isolated. 95% of the population are Roman Catholic and family names like Gonzalez, Hernandez, D’Souza, Constanzia etc are very common. Remnants of colonial era architecture survive in terms of churches, bungalows and official buildings. Most telling, is the frequency you will hear Goans talk of the habits of visiting “Indians”!!!
So, when discussing India with friends, in case of doubt, we always advise visiting Goa first. If you don’t like Goa, then it is extremely unlikely you will like the rest of the country. No shame in that. It’s not for everyone. If you can appreciate this place though, you will find it gets under your skin, making you long to return for its colour and vibrancy and the friendly happiness of its people.
It’s no good coming here and looking around with a British eye and wanting or expecting things to be the same. You will see potholes in the road. You’ll see cows in the road. You’ll see cows everywhere! Often there are not organised rubbish collections (there is in our area) so people burn little piles of rubbish outside their homes. This can look a bit untidy! Health and safety is largely as distant a concept as a landing on Mars.
At the moment the main transformer equipment is being changed in the village. If only I had had my camera with me to record the removal of the old one. A chain of men climbing the poles, no safety equipment, I’m not even sure the power was off. It was certainly humming. They’ve got half way through but clearly something has arisen to halt progress as the “innerds” of the machine is now supported on a trolley on the road, humming angrily away like a giant bee. We just hurry past!
Cows and buffalo are ever present. Unlike the UK, they are allowed to wander and graze freely. We often meet the main herd in the street plodding slowly along a regular path they take every day, leaving traces behind them! Don’t bring your treasured shoes to India! For some years they would spend a lot of time at the village rubbish dump just outside of the habitable area. We were always amazed at their preference for eating the rubbish. The dump has been gone for about 3 years, but herd memory still takes them back to the place perhaps in hope of pickings. They seem to sleep there overnight too, a definite hazard to night time traffic. The local drivers know them well though and automatically weave through the sleeping bodies.
Driving is often an adrenaline sport no matter what your choice of vehicle. Indians do not believe in signalling. There is also a seeming widespread belief that fuel economy can be improved by turning off headlights. There is a great reliance on use of the horn. Patterns of sound, unintelligible to our ears, but clearly understood by other drivers for all manner of purposes. Nervous drivers or backseat passengers will need to take a vallium and just sit in the back and think zen thoughts, repeating the mantra “It’s not the UK, It’s not the UK”.
A never ending source of amusement is noting the unlikely cargoes carried by motor scooter. Obviously, you will see 4, sometimes 5 people snuggled up on the back of a Vespa, that’s commonplace!!!! More noteworthy have been sightings of riders transporting huge blocks of ice, easily 1000 eggs in cardboard trays, massive poles held across their lap horizontally, massive poles held “fore and aft” in front and behind, mattresses, a large dining table. We once saw a lone and frail elderly man attempting to hoist a large dead cow over the stanchion of his pushbike. He was struggling. Sadly our car passed by too quickly to know the outcome.
So, if you come, when you come, try and come with an open mind and enjoy the richness of life here on its own terms. Life isn’t always tidy but, my god, the colour, the vibrancy of the experience, the sounds of nature ought to warm your heart. Most of all, the warmth of everyone you meet, the unrestrained interest in YOU and your life, the curiosity and exuberance of the enjoyment of life is an enchantment. Many Indian people have far less than we have although in Goa the land is too rich in itself to promote real poverty, so it is a mistake to equate a seemingly — by our standards again – ramshackle house with poverty. What is so refreshing to me though, is the attitude of positivity that is universally pervasive here. You won’t find anyone whinging on about anything; they either accept it as something they can’t change or they get on and change it. Whinging is not part of the national character. Any whinging to be done will be done by visiting foreigners who lament the absence of a daily paper or packaged bread, missing the point that they just had a full dinner for £3 and a double gin and tonic for £1.50 or the colour of an orange sunset or the fact that it’s 32C in early January… So, when you come, if you come, don’t be one of them! Lift your eyes above that cowpat and enjoy the view!
So….. tonight is Freddie’s last proper night in Patnem. She leaves in the early hours of Tuesday morning so tomorrow will be an early night. Also Gloria is heading up to Benaulim for a few days tomorrow. So tonight we called up Suresh and his trusty tuk tuk and headed off at 530 for Boomshankar and sunset cocktails. It was a lovely one tonight and I enjoyed 2 Passage to India cocktails (£1.50 each) and Bob had strawberry daiquiris (same price). From there we walked up to Magic View and had fab Italian food looking across the bay of Patnem. I could not resist the spaghetti with gorgonzola sauce and a generous topping of parmesan. Others had the pizzas which are just great. Made in the wood ovens and with such a thin, crisp base. It was about £8 for two including a g&t and a beer.