Monday, 21 November 2016

No Goa-n Back This Time...


My last trip to Goa saw me tripping like a hippy at a hilltop rave. Unfortunately, this was not due to imbibing some fantastical mind-bending substance and having a "spiritual awakening" - you know, the kind those faux-Rasta gap yah brats bang on about down the pub on their return...to Kingston (Upon-Thames, not Kingston Town).

Ohhh no.

My hallucinations were due to my having imbibed some...human faeces. Yep, I'd basically eaten shit. Delicious. The holiday ended with me being whisked to hospital where I was quarantined and hooked up to a drip whilst the doctors scratched their heads and frantically tried to fathom whether I'd contracted malaria. Luckily(?), it turned out to be dysentery instead. On the plus side, I was as brown and skinny as a Pepperami within days - so much cheaper than a colonic, daaahling.

So, you may ask, why the hell am I Goa-n back for more? Well, you're not a proper traveller until you've had a parasite eat you from the inside out, so I thought it only fair that Andy experience the delights of India too. I know, I know: I'm all heart (quite literally - that's about the only internal organ I have left after that darned bug ravaged my guts).

There are various tiers to India, and it's vital that you ease yourself into it gradually, in stages, like getting into an icy swimming pool. First, you visit Goa, which is basically India Lite: for beginners. Once you've built up your immune system you might want to progress to intermediate level: Mumbai. Only when you have guts of steel or a blackbelt in backpacking should you attempt the ninja stage: Delhi.

True to form, I feel as rough as a cat's tongue within hours of take-off from Heathrow on our Air India flight. Everyone on the aircraft has already consumed two plane meals of curry, and the methane levels are rising to dangerous levels in the cabin. I'm already turning a deep shade of Kermit as passengers shift in their seats, bellies rumbling, releasing a steady stream of toxic gases. We are the only non-Indians on the flight. Our noses twitch like Bisto kids', and I realise now why the crew confiscated Samsung phones: one spark from a dodgy Galaxy Note in here and we'd all go up in a fireball.



After a 22-hour journey, the first thing I want to do when we finally reach the hotel is shower and clean my teeth. Absent-mindedly, I run my toothbrush under the tap. Big mistake! The water in India is liquid poison: one drop and your insides melt like ice in the sun.

I then accidentally ingest a single molecule of H2O in the shower and frantically run around the bathroom naked to locate a towel, mouth open in a state of panic, like that little girl in Vietnam, the one who'd had Agent Orange dropped on her from a great height. Napalm is less toxic than the water here, let me tell you.



Hungry, we hit the hotel restaurant. As soon as the first mouthful of curry hits my stomach, my guts start churning like a washing machine on spin cycle. It may only cost a few hundred rupees, but it's guaranteed to give you the poopees. The flavours are like fireworks going off in my mouth, and a nice cold Kingsfisher compliments them beautifully, but I know the true cost will be more than those few rupees. Sure enough, as Andy later snuffles and snores like a contented puppy, my immune system implodes and I'm writhing in agony with a classic case of Delhi belly.

Having spent most of the night sleeping upright on the loo popping Immodium Instants like sweets, my eyes are bulging like an overactive thyroid sufferer when I stagger down to breakfast in the morning, silently questioning my sanity for returning to this godforsaken land.

What do you eat in a country where everything is laced with chilli? I opt for a plain omelette. Unfortunately, an Indian's idea of an omelette is a hot curry wrapped in a thin veil of egg. Sickos! After what's left of my already-pounding head has been blown off, we take a taxi to Anjuna. I pray there are no shart attacks at the beach today, as we stroll gingerly along the hot sand, buttocks clenched.

Within seconds, swarms of stallholders descend on us, commenting on our "chicken skin" and attempting to drag us in various directions to "come look at my cheap rubbish" (their actual words, which did make us lol). Like careworn rag dolls, we are resigned to our fate and we stand patiently as I have sarongs draped on me, tacky ankle bracelets hooked on and all manner of tat thrust under my nose. Considering cows are sacred here, they seem to be rather fond of turning them into handbags, I think to myself as I cast a wary eye over their wares.

They ignore our feeble excuses that we have no money, although it is in fact true: the Indian government has withdrawn 500 and 1000 rupee notes overnight in a bid to combat the country's huge fraud issues. There are mile-long queues snaking from every ATM and the banks are all closed as they are empty. We attempted to swop our cash in pounds for rupees at every exchange bureau we could find, to no avail. Now I know how Mary and Joseph felt when they were constantly told there was no room at the inn. The country is in a state of panic, with tales of people dying in the stampede for money on the front of the papers.

Eventually, we manage to get a stack of old notes when a security guard takes pity on our sorry, sweaty selves and directs us towards a huge Portuguese-style house in town, where a man takes our British cash and swops it out on his porch, no questions asked...




...although we discover later that these denominations are useless in most parts of town. Even the most poverty-stricken turn their noses up. The words "beggars" and "choosers" spring to mind, especially when we attempt to offer wads of notes in restaurants for dinner later and get sent packing, as contemptuously as if we'd tried to pay with shirt buttons.




Having fought through the sellers and onto the beach, we plot up on sunbeds outside Lilliput, a beach bar pumping out house music, order up the drinks and relax (sort of - not our sphincters, obvs). The more we're hassled to buy jewellery (which will clearly turn whichever body part it's adorning a deep shade of green), the more we chug back the bevvies in a bid to take the edge off the annoyance factor.

By mid-afternoon, I'm half-cut and laughing along with half-a-dozen sellers - and have so far bought two anklets, had a couple of massages and Andy's got a hat that we both know he'll never wear again. That's when I really let my guard down - and the henna 'artiste' strikes...

A beautiful girl with big doe eyes (and impossibly long lashes that handily double up as fans, such are their breeze-creating abilities) hypnotises me somehow and I recline, eyes closed, allowing her to use my pure white carcass as her blank canvas, armed only with a pot of black henna and a toothpick. What could go wrong huh? Well, quite a lot as it happens. When I casually glance down to check on her progress, it looks like a toddler has drawn all over me with black marker. Great.

That night, we decide to go to the Full Moon Party, since it's the much-hyped 'supermoon',  and we'll take any excuse to party. Only this is not like any full moon party I've ever been to (and as a regular visitor to Thailand, I've been to plenty): everyone is sitting inches from huge speakers, ear-bleed trance pumping out....eating curry. Yep, no-one is even so much as tapping a foot (except one overweight Russian couple incongruously going nuts at the seashore). I'm not impressed. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, we're joined by some nauseatingly loud and annoying Texans, who proceed to wedge themselves between us and shout drunkenly in our ears for the next hour. Joy.

Not content with the relentless harassment we received at the beach, later in the week we go to Anjuna flea market. It's blisteringly hot and we drink a plastic cup of sugar cane, which is priced more like cocaine, and head into the throng. I attempt to look at the wares without moving my head too much - as soon as I show the slightest interest the stallholder pounces. We're clearly regarded as cash-cows...and we've already seen what happens to the cows.






Andy wants to buy a few packets of herbs, but the seller gets greedy and attempts to relieve him of 2000 rupees (25 quid!) and we fall out with him. The same scenario plays out at various stalls around the market. These guys hustle like New York crack dealers: you'd think they were selling drugs in those little baggies, not garamasala. After several attempts to completely mug us off, we eventually settle on more realistic prices for a few bits of junk, and escape the chaos, exhausted from the heat and haggling. Two large Kingfishers please!




Throughout the week, whenever we visit a tourist attraction, it becomes apparent that we are the tourist attraction. As we snap away at the church or a cow in the road, the locals snap us. The boldest ones grab me, shouting "selfie" in an Indian accent, then taking a selfie of us before I can change my mind, whilst others just take pictures when they think I'm not looking. I don't mind; I guess they don't get many 6ft blonde women in these parts. I jokingly put my hand out for money in exchange for the shot, as they do to us.





At Vagator beach, a local attempts to scam Andy using an age-old distraction technique: he gesticulates that he has something in his ear and sticks a toothpick in Andy's lughole, pulling out what looks like a waxy maggot. Gross. Of course, it hasn't really come from his ear at all, and the guy is probably about to cunningly relieve Andy of his mobile or wallet. I've seen similar tricks whilst backpacking, so quickly shoo him away and we escape with all our belongings intact - although Andy is left feeling slightly queasy.

A trip to the spice plantation is interesting, and we buy some essential oils for various ailments. I wonder how essential they really are, having successfully survived 40 years without these particular oils, although I'm super-impressed when the cinnamon one I buy totally sorts out my neck and shoulder pain when massaged in (caused, no doubt, by the air-con wars Andy and I have most nights, with him insisting on total refrigeration of the room, grrr).

By the end of the week, we've had fun, but it's all been rather a lot of hard work. I do love you India, but it would appear the relationship is a little one-sided. I've had enough spicy food to last me a lifetime; even the crisps here are masala flavoured. I'm craving bland British fodder, all flavourless and beige-coloured. Mm-mm-mmmmm.




So that's it India, my love. I came back for more and you used and abused me once again. You've had all the chances I'm willing to give. You win; I'll never get past beginner level. You're like a computer game I can't play; I just don't have the dexterity.

Stick a fork in me - I'm done.

Which is more than I can say for some of the food here...







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