Christmas Day in Goa!! – By Ali (Finally!)

We have now come from Mumbai to Goa so that we can spend Christmas here. Goa has changed a lot since we came 5 years ago it has become a lot more commercialised , however it is still very good and were we are staying is peaceful. It is nice to be staying in one place for more than three nights, travelling is cool but a rest is well appreciated by us all.

On Christmas Eve it was really weird as instead of having a lovely meal at Nana and Granddads with our Aunty and Uncle, then going to bed early and waking up way to early the next day as you are so excited about your presents! But here there was a power cut and we had a Chinese takeaway in the dark and when the power finally came on we had to wait to go to bed as the mosquito coils burnt. As we waited me my sister and my dad all played cards, but when we got bored we played charades and that made it feel a little more Christmassy! So by the time we actually got to bed it was all ready Christmas day!

We woke up really late unlike usual a Christmas morning to a bowl of strawberry cornflakes they were ok until we smelt the bacon cooking down below! I and my mum were drawling on the balcony.

I got lots of sweets and chocolate as they would not be hard to carry and would probably be eaten by the next day. I also got a hundred pounds and a Jet Ski ride which I loved so much I used some of my money to go again the next day. On my second ride I was a lot more confident, I had already done a full 360 degree spin but unfortunately on my second attempt my Dad flew off the back and it was really funny.

We spent Christmas night at a 5star hotel and there was an amazing buffet. I had a small starter and main course as I was saving my self for dessert I had loads of strawberry coated in chocolate and a chocolate mouse a chocolate/strawberry jam log roll thing! It was heavenly.

We are now in Kerala and tomorrow we are going to live on a boat. On the way here we stopped off at Mangalore for New Years Eve the food was slow and not that nice but the party was great there was no countdown but fireworks went off and every one started shaking our hands over a 5 to 10 minute period of time.

I’m looking forward to the boat tomorrow it should be really exiting, but for now the hotel is pretty cool and a rest is nice.

Kerala

As planned we caught the train to Kerala at 11pm last night. We quickly got the kids settled and I went out like a light. As long as I can lie down I can sleep anywhere and I have found that we are sleeping better on the trains now we are getting more used to them.

As we are travelling 3rd class sleeper we have to share our 6 bed compartment with 2 others so it is a bit of a surprise when I wake up at 8am to find 4 extra people.
Simon tells me it was like an episode of Eastenders when this family got on with tears, arguments and a lot of stress. Apparently the little boy got in the bunk with him and then fell out later and it sounded like me and the kids slept through a right drama!

We arrive at Alleppey station at 10.30am and the taxi drivers seem to be completely obstructive and refuse to take us to Cherukara Nest where we have booked 2 nights accommodation. We guess this because they want to take us to some other hotel that they will get paid commission for but eventually it becomes apparent that some sort of strike is taking place and they won’t take us anywhere.

Simon decides to phone the guesthouse and a fella soon turns up on a motorbike and explains that a hartal is taking place over 3 days in protest at the execution of Saddam Hussain. This means that from dawn until dusk none of the restaurants, internet, phones, buses or taxis will be working. This isn’t really a problem for us as we aren’t planning to do much anyway for the next few days but we do need transport at this point, as our hotel is 4km away. He explains the only thing to do is to travel by motorbike and as we don’t really have much choice, when he rallies 3 of his mates around we have to climb on.

They all zoom off leaving me clinging on to the fella for grim death and yelping after Ali and Maisie “Hold on tight kids”. As if they cared – they loved it and thought it was all a great laugh!

10 minutes later and we arrive at Cherukara Nest- oh wow what a beautiful place, it is over 100 years old, there are only 4 rooms and they are all huge with white washed walls, antique dark wood Portuguese furniture, ceiling fans and mosquito nets over the beds. You couldn’t wish to be in a more serene and peaceful setting and I’m so pleased we will be staying here for a few days.

We go through the reception and out to the garden where we have a lovely breakfast of coffee, fruit, omelettes and toast. There is a dove cote in the middle of the grass courtyard and it has the look of the jungle about it with tall palms and overhanging trees.

After a refreshing cold shower we decide to go and check out the house boats. We have been chatting to an English couple who are holidaying in India for 3 weeks and they have found a luxury boat just up the road with 2 double beds for 8000 rupees. But when we enquire we are told it will cost 14000 (around 150 pounds) We expect that the houseboat trip will be a major expense whilst we are in Kerala but feel that as we have some time here the best thing to do is get a feel for the place before we make any decisions especially concerning ones that will cost a lot!

On the way back we see a dead bat on the grass verge, its body is the size of a small melon and although its wings are a bit crumpled under the weight of a million evil looking giant red ants, Simon reckons they would span 3 feet. I have never even seen such a big bat on the telly and I hope there aren’t any out tonight waiting to get tangled up in my hair.

We walk up to a pretty restaurant for dinner but are told we can’t have any of the food we order. Although the only explanation we get is “Strawberry milkshake not possible, tandoori platter not possible etc” we guess it probably has something to do with the hartal as the butchers and fishermen have all been on strike today. So we leave there and head for a busy place in town where we eventually get some decent vegetarian food.

On the way back we stop at a shop and I quietly tell a fella I need to buy “women’s things”. Within 2 minutes we are surrounded by 5 Indian men all looking very interested and I’m getting a bit embarrassed no matter what I say to them I can’t make myself understood and I decide I will sort this out tomorrow when an old wizened man says to me very slowly like I’m the village idiot – “Can you please try speak in English Mam, it would be better if you can try speak in English !!”

We get back to our guesthouse and put Ali and Maisie to bed, sleeping under a mosquito net is a novelty and they are a huge problem here along with millions of other biting insects because of all the still waters. The guesthouse owner also burns coal with incense which creates clouds of thick white strong smelling smoke and give us coils for our rooms. Despite all this and the industrial strength repellent we have been using which contains 50% deet we still get a few bites. Still this is a small price to pay for staying in such gorgeous surroundings and I wouldn’t change a thing.

New Years Day

Happy New Year!

We didn’t wake up until gone 10 and as we’re feeling quite ropey don’t actually manage breakfast at all. We eventually make it up the road to a local restaurant and order some food for lunch. We have a few cokes and some fantastic vegetarian food including lemon and coconut rice and mixed vegetable korma and are soon feeling more up for it.

When we come out of the restaurant I see some electronic scales and it�s a major cause for celebration when I weigh myself and find I haven’t even put on a pound since we’ve been travelling � Hurray!!

We call home and spend ages talking to everyone on Skype this is by far the cheapest way to call England and it’s good to catch up on the news. We were saying earlier that we would be complaining about having to go back to work tomorrow and it is such a good feeling to know we don’t have to worry about any of that. I haven’t missed work at all and it seems a million miles away from here.

We also check our emails; glad to hear the old New Years resolution to drink more, smoke more in 2007 is going strong in Alli, Adrian and Reefer’s household – love you long time! I hope our friend Jack Daniels made it to your mum and dads!

We are leaving Mangalore tonight at 11pm on the Malevi Express train to Kerela. I’m really excited about this as Kerela is meant to be the most beautiful state in India. We are going to hire a houseboat and spend a few days cruising the backwaters which sounds very relaxing and peaceful and we’re looking forward to finding out if it really is as idyllic as it sounds.

New Year’s Eve

Well I guess this will be a different New Years Eve to any we have experienced in the past. As Ali and Maisie often go to their Dads in Bournemouth at New Year we alternately either spend it at the pub with friends or go to a party at mums depending on whether we have the kids with us or not.

It was around 8.30 when we woke up this morning and we made our way over the road for a Poonja breakfast which consisted of fresh pineapple juice, cereal, eggs, toast and coffee – plenty to keep us going until tonight and not bad for 120 rupees.

We got our tickets for tonight’s African themed party and decided to visit to the beach which is apparently best accessed through a hotel called The Silver Sands Resort around a 20 minute taxi ride away. Unfortunately when we arrive there is a sign on the gate saying hotel guests only for the 31st December. What a pain and the fella on the gate is having none of it when we try and persuade him to let us in.

We ask the taxi driver where to go and he takes us to the public beach 1.5 km away. It turns out to be quite pretty and we feel like real travellers as we are certainly well off the beaten track here. A deserted beach comes at a price though and we soon realise this also means no sun lounger, umbrella etc and there is very little shade apart from a few scraggy palm trees. We decide to stay for a couple of hours max and this turns out to be long enough. Simon and the kids have a good time playing in the sea but I feel far too self conscious to strip off to my bikini and stay covered up. Despite this I feel like the local tourist attraction as men and young boys all keep wandering over for a good stare.

On the way back from the beach I take the opportunity to have a good look around. Despite there being very little to do I like Mangalore, it seems to be a very laid back and peaceful place and we have been laughing at some of the sights we have seen here.

Maisie now has a bad ear and when we asked for a pharmacy we were directed to “Chemist for all sex problems”. We have also seen lots of signs advertising “The Worlds Last Cannibal”  not too sure whether this is a film or live show but we decide against trying to find out. There are also signs everywhere for palmistry and I would like to go and have our palms read but Simon thinks it’s all a load of crap and refuses to spend a single rupee on it!

At 8pm we make our way across the road to The Poonja International Hotel. The party is on the rooftop and we sit in the bar for an hour first having a drink. I’m developing quite a taste for gin and it goes down well with fresh lime juice and soda water.

When we go through we are fairly bemused to find cat masks on the tables and hats with Happy Birthday on them but put them on anyway and enter into the spirit of it. You would be hard pushed to find any evidence of an African theme but the evening starts off well when Ali beats a group of little girls in the musical statutes competition and wins himself a Bacardi Breezer umbrella. There are a number of competitions some of which we enter and the kids are pretty game considering we are the only westerners there.

These are followed by singers, dance acts and a live band which are all entertaining. Although I don’t think they are necessarily meant to be funny, we can’t help laughing at some of them and have a great night.

As we haven’t eaten since breakfast we are hungry, but by 10.30pm the food still isn’t ready and we get quite drunk on the complimentary whisky and soda. By the time the food arrives I’m too pissed to eat much but I do remember it looked quite nice with lots of different types of curries, fried fish, mixed salads and rice and noodle dishes.

There is no countdown to midnight but suddenly there are fireworks in the street and everyone is shaking hands and saying Happy New Year. The four of us must have looked a bit strange linked arms singing Auld Lang Syne on the dance floor but as we are a bit of a novelty here anyway I don’t think the Indians are particularly surprised by any thing we do.

We try and make some calls home but the lines are all busy and we decide to call everyone in the morning. Can’t remember going to bed guess the Indian whisky must be quite strong then.

Mangalore

We arrive at the bus station in Mangalore and try to ring a guesthouse recommended in The Lonely Planet but it is full so we ask the rickshaw driver to take us to The Hotel Parkway that Simon found on the internet yesterday. It turns out to be nice and we take one large room with three single beds all pushed together. There is a TV which we have all missed especially Maisie and by 7.30 am we have showered and lie on the giant bed watching a film with Ben Afleck called Surviving Christmas.

Mangalore is on the west coast of India in the state of Karnataka and only 15km from Kerala which is where we are heading. We are going to try and book our onwards train tickets later but don’t want to travel overnight tomorrow. We go out for breakfast but can’t find anywhere open apart from a hotel over the road so we go there. They are advertising a New Years Eve party, interestingly with an African theme and are selling it as the looniest and craziest bash in town. As it will cost under twenty quid and is only over the road with live music and food and drinks included I guess we will probably go for that.

When we are walking back to The Hotel Parkway I’m upset to get groped by some fella. He pretended to bump me and then stepped in front of me and stuck his hand in between my legs. It happens so quickly and although I shouted at him and shoved him on the back he just waltzes off like nothing happened and although Simon and Ali are only just a few steps ahead they never even noticed.

I’m not easily offended but I feel really pissed off about it and angry. I haven’t dressed skimpily anywhere except Goa’s beaches where it is acceptable and would like to have to the opportunity to tell the cheeky sod where to get off. Still I think you have to keep it in perspective and not get too uptight about it. After all I had read that many female travellers get sexually harassed in India and until this point we have had a relatively hassle free time.

We spend the day dossing around, we have searched the book for somewhere of interest to visit whilst here but there really aren’t any attractions to speak of. I guess it’s like visiting Derby having been spoilt in London. The train that we need to get to Kerala only runs three times a week though, so we are stuck here and will use the time to catch up on some school work.

We have an early dinner of a very hot and spicy mushroom masala and rice and then catch up with emails and update the website. I chat to mum for ages before we head back to our room. On trying to bolt the door I jam my thumb which hurts so much I can’t even cry so I swear a lot instead, take 2 paracetamol and eventually get into bed.

The Way to Mangalore

It was a early start to the day and we all felt pretty miserable and we where not looking forward to our 12 hour bus journey. But we went to the beach had a nice day and had a nice dinner and we felt not so nervous about the bus journey.

We got back from the beach and had a shower, but we all had to use the same towel, and we got in the taxi to take us to the bus station. We waited for about 25 minutes and finally the bus came we thought it was the big roomy one but dad took us to the small cramped one with no working lights and filthy sheets, but we made it through the night luckily.

Last day in Goa

Today is our last day in Goa; I have mixed feelings about this. When we started on our trip I kept thinking if we didn’t like the rest of India we would just stay in Goa for 8 weeks but now we are ready to move on and I can’t believe it has gone so fast.
Having travelled around the north I have viewed Goa in a different light. It remains for us a fantastic holiday destination and I would recommend it to anyone but we have of course encountered touristy elements here that we didn’t see elsewhere.

As with any holiday I feel we have over eaten and drank too much and I am looking forward to eating a bit more healthily and spending less money doing it. I am sorry to be leaving; it has been great having the apartment and more space. On the other hand we seem to have become embroiled in some type of turf war over business, with the taxi drivers which is a pain and you soon realise if you stay anywhere for long, all the same little niggly problems you encounter at home arise, such as whose turn it is to do the washing up!

We are due to catch the night bus at 8pm to Mangalore. After our previous bus experience I have blocked this fact out until now, but I do know now at least, that although the buses are noisy they are reasonably comfortable. In some ways I feel like we have had a break from travelling for a few weeks and we are going back to it now. This leaves me feeling excited and slightly apprehensive, in fact a little like when we first left.

We spent the afternoon at Bambolin beach, it took us all morning to repack our rucksacks but I have ditched some stuff and left some clothes with Aruna who is going to take them to the orphanage at Saligao. So it does seem like we are travelling a little bit lighter.
After an early meal of baby kingfish, rice and salad and a speciality Goan dish of spicy sausages we head back to our apartment for the last time.

We say our goodbyes to Aruna and promise to email and then get in a taxi to the bus station. When we arrive the bus is late and it doesn’t bode well when the crappiest looking bus turns out to be ours. I suppose it serves me right for thinking after the last bus ride that it couldn’t get any worse as this one turns out to be way worse. The sleeping compartments are smaller, filthy and the only concession to any privacy is a pair of tatty too short curtains. I have brought some sleeping tablets with me for use in an emergency only and they are looking tempting at this point.

The bus also stinks and I lie in the darkness for a few hours alternately trying to imagine if we would fare better if the bus crashed to the left or to the right and fantasying about how I will describe the horrible smell that is completely turning my stomach. This doesn’t quite cut it, but the best I could come up with is a combination of diesel, wet leather, something dead, something dying and urine.

We stop briefly at midnight and I take half a sleeping tablet, I would hardly say it results in a good nights sleep but the next time I am fully conscious is 5am. I’m absolutely desperate for a pee and after enduring every rattle and bump of the bus for an hour I finally ask Simon to empty a water bottle and decide I will try and pee into that somehow. At this point the bus slams to a halt and I virtually throw myself down from my sleeper and run to the front. There is no alternative than to crouch by the side of the bus with another woman whose modesty is a bit more protected than mine as she has a skirt on and doesn’t flash her bum like me, but by this point I am totally past caring and would have peed in the middle of Trafalgar Square if need be.

Bambolin Beach

We wake up quite early and mooch around our apartment for a few hours. Simon does some maths with the kids and I wash a load of clothes, although we had hoped to give up on that we haven’t dared give our stuff to the local laundry as it took so long to get it back last time.

Maisie is sill complaining that her arm is very sore and so to err on the side of caution we walk up to the hospital and ask for an x-ray. It is quite busy but seems to be quite a large hospital with all recognisable departments although I don’t see a sign for Hepatology.
After making our way from casualty to radiology we are seen by a friendly Dr who examines the x-ray carefully and pronounces there is no fracture. He re straps Maisie’s arm with the bandage we had bought and sends us on our way clutching the x-ray and a bill for around one pound fifty.

This all took around an hour and although the hospital was an old building it looked very clean and smelt strongly of disinfectant. We were treated efficiently and there was certainly none of the complete chaos that greets you when you are admitted to the acute medical unit at Derriford. As someone who has always been proud to have worked as a nurse, I think it’s sad when I find myself wondering if patients would be safer here than in an NHS hospital in England.

We catch a taxi to Bambolim which is a local beach, Aruna told us it is the safest beach for swimming as the sea is very shallow and there are no waves. Although it doesn’t turn out to be the prettiest beach, we have a lovely afternoon there and it’s good to be able to relax and read in peace without wondering if Ali and Maisie are being munched by the sea every five minutes.

There are just a couple of shacks playing my favourite sort of cheesy love songs including Leo Sayer and Elton John. The food is simple and cheap and we enjoy watching the cows on the beach who seem really naughty like spoilt pets! One in particular keeps nosing around everyone’s stuff looking for food and they run in and out of the sea kicking and bucking like rodeo horses.

We are going to Panjim for dinner and get a taxi at 7.30. Aruna left us a note inviting us to a party at her place tonight but by the time we have eaten it is quite late and we need to catch up with a few phone calls home. I have a chat with mum, it sounds like they had a lovely Christmas and we get back to our apartment around 11pm.Feeling exhausted again- how can you get so knackered doing so little?

The Beach

Our intentions of getting to Candolim early fell to bits as we didn’t wake up until 9.30.After yesterdays performance by Ali I am determined we are going to crack on with some work today and once they have had their breakfast (of chocolate toenails as they call them) we start some literacy. I have found this quite difficult to teach and today ask them to write a story about the day they got lost in India concentrating on presentation, punctuation and paragraphs. (They didn’t actually get lost mum!)

Looking through Ali’s SATS revision guide I’m not particularly thrilled to see there is quite a large section on Shakespeare. I don’t have a clue how I will go about teaching that and will maybe have to contact the school for some help.

Eventually we get a taxi to the beach and have some lunch of butter/garlic tiger prawns first which are yummy. The waves are a bit stronger today and I watch the kids like a hawk. Ali finds Lewis the boy he played with on Christmas day and they have a fantastic time with body boards and a rubber ring. Simon takes them for a walk up the beach to play the “flicker game” at one of the shacks and Maisie stays behind with me.

No sooner have they gone and we have a bit of a disaster, as I watch from the sunbed a huge wave crashes into Maisie and knocks her down, I run down to her but can see straight away she is hurt. The poor thing is holding her wrist and I have to almost carry her back up the beach as she is so shaky and upset. It takes me ages to calm her down and when I examine her wrist it is so tender I wonder if she has broken it.

As a nurse I rely on a combination of learnt skills, 18 years of experience and instinct to tell me if a patient is unwell, but have always found when any of my family have been ill or hurt that I have to ignore instinct and instead completely rely on assessment skills in order to make the right decision about what needs to be done. Eventually I decide that I don’t think it is broken and needs to be strapped up tightly and I will see how it is tomorrow. I give her some paracetamol which helps a little bit and decide if it isn’t any better in the morning we will have it x-rayed.

By this time it is quite late in the afternoon and we sit at Deva’s shack drinking gin and tonics. Maisie has a sip and then a big gulp which makes us laugh as we have never known her to like the taste of anything even vaguely alcoholic and I figure it will help her wrist pain!

We made the decision this morning to bring a change of clothes with us and stay here for dinner as there is such a large choice of restaurants but in the end we play it safe and go back to After Seven. We know the food is great and figure that if we go elsewhere and have a crap meal then we will wish we hadn’t.

Over dinner Maisie talks about “her friends” – The Simpsons. Every night for the past 3 years at least, we have had an hour of Bart, Homer, Marge, Maggie and Lisa and we tease her that the viewing figures have been noticeably affected since we left for our trip.

We get back to Dona Paula around 10.30 and after a quick shower go to bed. Maisie tells me she is “pour me into bed tired” and looks it – bless her.

Boxing Day

As expected none of us surfaced until gone 10 this morning. Having tidied up the place I set the kids going on some science which unfortunately Alister objected to so strongly he ended up having the privilege of his PSP and internet removed for the rest of the day.
Needless to say Maisie and I carried on while he and Simon had a little chat!

We have now started on the circulatory system and I have had the idea of going to “The Lucky Mutton Store” and buying a heart to dissect. Neither of the kids seem too keen but even if we aren’t able to locate any valves I’m sure we will be able to see some of the major vessels and 4 chambers. Simon isn’t too keen either but that is because he will probably end up with the job of buying it and bringing it home!

At 3pm we eventually wander down to the beach, we take a path Aruna told us about and end up scrabbling over rocks but eventually get there. A long drawn out discussion between Simon and the sun lounger fella ensues over money but we get settled at last!

Ali has decided to spend some of his Christmas money on a further jet ski ride and they go off, while Maisie plays in the sea and I read my book. After a game of frisbee we make our way back and decide where to eat tonight. I’m of the opinion we are on holiday so we should sod the expense but when Simon reminds me of how I was moaning about how fast we are spending our money I see his point and we decide to go to a local restaurant with a good reputation for Goan food.

We walk to The Goan Delicacy, down a tiny dark pathway lit by Christmas lights it seems so difficult to get to that I wonder how their business survives but when we get there it is a large place with quite a few customers. The owner brings us a book with comments in from previous customers and it certainly all looks good!
When the food arrives we’re not disappointed and Simon’s Chicken Xacuti is definitely the winner dish. Ali and I have strawberries and cream for pudding and we leave there stuffed and knackered!

We get a taxi home and although it’s not too late Maisie goes to bed and Ali plays his guitar to me. Simon goes to update the website and I have fallen asleep by the time he gets back. We are planning another day at the beach tomorrow and want to get up early. Must make the most of it, we are leaving for Mangalore on Friday night and our holiday will be over, for a little while anyway.