Goa : A Lesson in Life. Chapter 12 : The High Season Begins.
I should have felt a lot worse as the blinding light of a new morning pierced through the makeshift window of my room, jerking me out of my slumber. Maybe I was lucky to be alive, or at least glad that there were no broken bones, or even a bruised/pulled muscle, but I felt great today. As I headed for the wash-room I noticed a book on the table outside. A political, sci-fi thriller which Roisin was raving about and she’d kindly left behind for me. On my return home, we’d speak again via email, where she’d reminisce about her and Ronan listening to my playing and singing efforts outside on the terrace. They really were a great couple, but now, here in my last week in Goa,I was once again Anjuna Palm’s sole resident.
As I showered away the grime and darkness of yesterday’s events, what I was left with was merely a collection of superficial cuts and grazes, which were already healing up, as if the very atmosphere of the place was attacking my wounds. I bounded out of the hostel down to the familiar path to Baga. The rains had stopped, but something else felt different. I could sense a buzz about the place. As my momentum tumbled me down the ramp of Baga bridge, a Jeep loomed into view and screeched to a halt almost at my feet. “Where’s the Party?” Said a young Asian looking woman with a BIG Afro just like Felix’s wife. The shrug of my shoulder’s didn’t seem to dampen their spirits as the Jeep continued on up the road towards Anjuna. This was it then, the start of the high season, and tourists were arriving.
My first stop of the day was Brittos, a beach-side cafe in Baga. I was early and the place was just about empty, bar an English ex-pat. I suppose he represented everything I came here for. He was living the lifestyle and was openly comfortable in his surroundings as he read his morning paper, probably the same paper in the same spot every morning. The man, probably in his late 40’s, was tanned and bespectacled with long grey dreadlocks, shorts and sandals and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. I wondered what his story was, perhaps an ex-teacher by the look of the way he studied his broadsheet. As I tucked into my full English though, I saw another side to him. The dreadlocks really didn’t suit him, he looked out of place, in the no-man’s land between being a tourist and a native. In that moment, I realised I couldn’t live here the way he did. However much I’d fallen in love with the place, I was English and this was India, end of. I settled back into my chair, Brittos was a spacious, airy place with naval and subterranean décor that reminded me of fish restaurants back home. All blue and white livery accessorised with ropes and buoys. As I gazed out at the fabulous view of the Indian Ocean I felt an itchy sensation on my scabbed-up wound under my knee. Flies! and lots of them, swarming around the salty crust and nibbling away, ignoring any attempt to remove them. I made a flustered getaway.
Back in central Calangute, I headed for a 24 hour food/drink complex and a modern looking bar on the second floor. All the trademark Indian-isms were present and correct. The friendly and highly motivated barman, the obsession with the west, the life threatening electrical work, and amusingly a flat-screen TV, mounted on the wall, but with the power supply dangling about underneath, connected to the socket by the floor. A good effort nonetheless. I attempted to relax on the square bean-back style seats and super-low table, but I was just not built for such an arrangement. Nevertheless I peered out onto the courtyard below, all hustle and bustle, with my pint of Kingfisher in hand. I was beginning to feel isolated again. There was no way into these people’s lives unless I forced myself upon them, something I wasn’t willing to put them through. The mental stimulus of the gang back at Anjuna Palms was missing and once again I had nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to see and no-one to talk to. I wondered how the man back at Britto’s coped. It was now becoming a chore just to fill out the long, empty days. I continued drinking and self-analysing.
Next, I found myself in what was billed as an ‘English Pub’, hidden away across the street. It was tiny, dark, empty apart from the barman who didn’t utter a word, and devoid of any character or atmosphere whatsoever. I finished the pint almost immediately before finding myself back on road to Baga, dizzied by the alcohol, desperately in search of something to relieve the ominous onset of boredom which was sobering me up.
I decided to brave the super-persistent beach-touts to break up the scenery and strolled back towards Mambo’s as the sun was beginning to set. The shoreline was animated by the usual violently crashing waves which couldn’t break my contemplation mode. Maybe I had just arrived too early in the year, but I really wanted to experience Goa in high season. As I took up a wicker sofa on the beach-side terrace of Mambo’s I resigned myself to a lonely and fairly repetitive last few days. The early promise this morning hadn’t come to fruition and the flies were at my knee again as I tried to relax and order a curried fish dish and a kingfisher.
My tea arrived and yet again Goa surprised me. I was presented with two bland looking pieces of fish, but cooked so simply on the bone over a fire, covered in a curry paste and coated in crispy breadcrumbs. The perfect snack food to soak up yet another beer. The vista into the sunset over the open ocean was now almost achingly beautiful, The amber sun bathing the whole place in a warm glow while the palms trees cast longer and longer shadows. I was captivated yet again and made to forget about such triviality as ‘being bored’ in favour of a much more agreeable ‘just being’. Of all the sunset’s I experienced in Goa, this one stayed with me the longest.
Familiar accents snapped me out of my daydream, as I noticed the place filling up, and the atmosphere change almost immediately from calm and quiet to the excitement of the weekend. Looking around at the crowds of customers stood around me as I remained sprawled out too comfortably on the sofa beneath them, I was no longer out of place. these were people of my age and culture, dressed like me, laughing and joking. At last!
I felt an uncontrollable urge to get back to Anjuna, get ready and get back out here for a night out. One Taxi ride later I found myself outside Munchies, the restaurant outside Anjuna Palms. It was absolutely jumping. There were no English people here though, as It turns out the place was full of Israeli’s. As usual, I pulled up a chair, ordered and observed them. I’d heard that Anjuna was popular with the Israel’s, that they were loud, with massive egos, aggressive even. The rumours appeared to be true as the alpha-males, who made even Ronan seem effeminate, bellowed and boasted. I wasn’t arguing, these were tough-as-nails looking soldier types no doubt hardened by years of conflict back home. They were simply letting off steam and their squaddie style antics kept me highly entertained until my second favourite dish of all time was presented to me.
Butter Chicken, I can still taste it now. The most luxuriously comforting, moreishly tasty curry in the whole world. After one spoonful I was hooked. The sweetness of a korma but with more of a kick…. I greedily tucked in, eager to get back down to Mambo’s. A quick shower, change and taxi later, and I was back on Tito’s Lane. Forget about Mambo’s. There was a sea of people outside Titos and who was I to miss out. As I paid the extortionate entry fee and entered a world of chrome, neon and darkness. I slumped drunkenly into a nearby chair. I was beyond speech as the dense crowds blurred around me and made the room spin. Here I was, the high season, in Goa, too drunk to stand or even raise my head, feverishly picking away at the itchy scab on my knee, bleeding and muttering away to myself.
Completely partied out.