Goa was once a dream holiday haven, but it’s sadly no longer for me
Tuesday 16th August 2016
My last words when Leaving Mumbai were 'onwards to Gorgeous Goa' and that's definitely how I remembered it from being there eight years ago. I'd described the pure white sands and crystal blue water to Rene and told him that after our hectic couple of weeks in the Northern cities, the relaxed, bohemian vibe in Goa would be just what we needed.
A lot can happen in eight years and it seems to me that time has not been kind to Goa. Being Monsoon season, we had read mixed reviews about it as a destination. The weather forecast had predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms for the whole of August and many of the blogs had said much of Goa was closed during the low season. For this reason, we headed to Baga, where we were promised the only lively scene in the state.
Well, lively it definitely was. We arrived on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend, as India got ready to celebrate its national day of independence on the 15th. The beach, once beautiful, clean and fairly remote, was now littered with rubbish everywhere you looked and packed with families, couples and groups. There was a definite seedy vibe to the place, with casinos and nightclubs attracting hoards of hopefuls, the highlight being "Tito's", where ladies could drink all night for free. Lucky us! That didn’t sound dubious at all.
Where were all the old hippies doing yoga on the beach? Where was all the henna? Where was the chill out trance and the massive bean bag chairs? They'd been replaced by wild dogs and massage parlours. This wasn't a hippie haven! It felt a bit like a lads’ weekend in Faliraki. To make matters worse, our hotel was beyond dire. Dirty towels, dirty sheets, dirty pillows, dirty floors. The roof top bar it advertised was nowhere to be seen, neither was its restaurant, tourist desk or reception. We'd have complained but communication was fairly tricky. We just had to suck it up.
We found some solace in a walk up to Anjuna beach the next day, where it was quieter and less gaudy, and we enjoyed a beer looking out to sea from the Elephant Art Cafe. The less romantic establishment along this stretch was Curlies, where we quickly realised that customers could order girls alongside their evening refreshments. Back in Baga, we found one nice restaurant which had live music on for the evening, so we hid out there away from the crowds and enjoyed an amazing Goan veggie curry and spiced bean burger.
We decided to give it one more night and headed to Colva beach the next day where we were so happy to find a small resort away from the holiday makers called 'Soul Vacation', and after 48 hours in Baga, we definitely felt like our souls needed a bit of a cleanse. We even managed to do a spot of yoga! We had a short walk along the beach, where it was much quieter and a bit cleaner than Baga and we found the only bar open on the beach where we stopped for some cold drinks in the shade. I don't know how the weather forecaster reached the conclusion about non-stop rain but it was hot hot hot and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. However, even on this quieter beach, it wasn't really a place to relax so we returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the day (and the most of the next one) soaking up the sun beside the pool.
You can travel to the ends of the Earth and experience priceless wonders, but there is still great joy to be found in simple pleasures. In this case: room service and pyjamas. Look at this photo...That is pure, unbridled happiness right there.
Another joyful moment was to be found the next morning when we headed across the road to a charity shop in order to browse the second hand books for a new read. Recommending various titles to Rene, who is not typically a book lover but has warmly embraced this wonderful art since we've been away, was a happiness only marginally beaten by my wedding day. Am I being overly romantic? Maybe. But it did feel brilliant. He chose 'Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha' by Roddy Doyle as per my insistence that he will most definitely love it because I did, while I went for 'Us' by David Nicholls (because a book about a failing marriage seemed like the EXACT thing I would want to read on my honeymoon).
Perhaps, sadly, Goa has lost its charm, or perhaps we just came at the wrong time. Our visas are still valid for the next six months, so maybe we'll have to come back in December just to check...
Low point: The 'buffet breakfast' in our Baga hotel, which turned out to be a plate of bread and butter delivered to our room.
Highlights: The bookshop? The room service? The pool? The sunshine? It's actually hard to choose.
Next stop: South to Kerala.