Goa : A Lesson in Life. Chapter 14: Vagator and Chapora
The final three days of this eye-opening, life-changing experience were now before me. I’d done Baga / Calangute to death, and saw no point of another bus-ride to Panjim. Boredom was the last thing I expected I’d be fighting. Not having the constant push of having to get up for work everyday meant I really didn’t have anything to aim for. Put more simply I just didn’t have anything to do. So I forced upon myself a plan. Today: head North to the Vagator / Chapora area I’d read next to nothing about. Tomorrow: Old Goa. The day after that I was going home.
I started off at the ‘Oxford Arcade’ which was a convenience store next door to Anjuna Palms. I couldn’t for the life of me think of a use for it, Goa was after all super-cheap to eat out in. As a result it always seemed completely dead, but again I had to remind myself that I would be home again well before things really started to pick up.
I still had the moped which was now becoming an extension of me as I casually kicked off the stand. I was now into flat, picturesque agricultural land with I’d noticed a lot more livestock present, including the usual cow stood motionless in the road. As I ground to a halt I found myself caught short and needing to head into the undergrowth for cover at the double, unceremoniously dumping the bike at the side of the road. As I relieved myself I noticed a small pond of water like an oasis in the baking heat, which begged to be investigated. It’s residents were at first glance sickeningly slimy mutations writhing about in their cesspit. Closer inspection revealed the privileged sight of hippos in the wild, basking in their cooling bath, looking over at me suspiciously with disapproving glances. Another of the many special moments Goa had gifted me.
The fuel light flashed just as I happened upon a petrol station. As I pulled to a halt at the pump, another taste of the unexpected. I was ushered from the bike like royalty, the attendant removing the fuel cap for me and proceeding to fill her up. Once again, I told myself “this is India”, where you were made to feel good even with a task as mundane as this.
Vagator was predictably underwhelming, the main attraction of it’s main strip seeming to be the ‘Mango Tree’ restaurant which I planned to visit for dinner. I arrived at a large car/coach park. which overlooked steep craggy, dangerous-looking cliffs down to a fairly inaccessible beach below. A crowd of youngsters were gathered toward the edge which I hoped would ignore me, but alas I found myself surround by them.
The conversation started off civil enough with the usual prodding of names/background, through to casual and then more aggressive sales technique regarding the usual bracelets or wot-not. Not only were Indians the best waiters in the world, they were also the best salesman. To have the sort of techniques they were using on me drummed into them at such an early age was frightening, but I guess for them the only way out of poverty. From there the conversation descended into mockery when they got the impression I wasn’t buying. A young girl in particular pretending she could not understand me, “You Unglish?”, “From NoCastle?” before miraculously figuring it all out to the rapturous approval of her peers “English!”, “from Newcastle”. I didn’t get it, I didn’t care, but things were now about to take a much more sinister turn. The oldest of the girls were barely in their teens, but wore the colorful dresses of their elders, with full makeup amateurishly applied. They continued with the incessant questioning, “What do you want?” as if I was actually there for something. “I don’t want anything” raised concerned expressions.”I’m just here for the view”. With that, they played their final card. “Do you want a good time?”. With that I stood up to leave in disgust. Part of me was sad that such a young girl needed to do this, but I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for this particular gang. As I headed off ,a few more venomous, childish insults were thrown my way out of frustration, just as the heavens opened.
Behind the coach park was a wood of sorts that looked like decent shelter for now. As I stood under a tree I noticed a small bright orange hut with no obvious markings that nonetheless looked inviting, and on closer inspection revealed an opening.There where three people crammed inside a square area not a lot bigger than a bus-stop. As I approach they waved me in. “Come inside my friend”. As I squeezed my large, ungainly frame in, a man was stood behind a wooden counter with his two friends the same side as myself. They were smoking cannabis of course but the man behind the counter’s gaze had not left me. A tense moment passed before he asked “What would you like?”. For a moment I froze, remembering the last conversation I had in the coach park, but looking past him I made out a fridge and the penny dropped. “Kingfisher please!”. I actually found myself in the smallest, most primitive ‘bar’ I’d ever seen. But as the kingfisher (stubby) flowed (for the grand sum total of 20Rs) and the locals engaged me in Test match chat, I may as well have been in the Dog and Duck back home. Only here, there really weren’t any, and I mean any, superfluous features, if any features at all.
As the sun steamed off the rain amongst the trees, I was waved off by the three guys after my second stubby, thinking that I’d just experienced the worst and best of Goa in less than fifteen minutes. Out of the undergrowth I noticed establishments geared for the high season’s cool kids. Internet cafe’s, gaming rooms, bars, cafe’s and restaurants. All closed , lifeless and in disrepair. Back towards civilization was a bookshop, open, surprisingly. Not being a big reader myself I only managed a small glance around the neat but sparse shelves when the shopkeeper, an old, grey, friendly-looking man advertised that also buy books. As it happened I still had a couple of books lying around back at Anjuna Palms so I promised him I’d bring them before I left for home. He seemed over the moon with that.
After what seemed like an age I was back in the saddle, and heading towards Chapora. What followed was undoubtedly the steepest hill I’d ever descended, and pretty scary on a moped with Indian traffic. At the bottom, in contrast to the stress and noise of the road was a tranquil stretch of coast, still and deserted, which begged you to stop and look out to the milky sea and mountains beyond. Other than that, there was nothing here of note or worth stopping to investigate.
After a horrendous moped hill climb, I confidently pulled up outside the Mango Tree and ordered a Kingfisher. The bar-stools were almost on the road and was a great spot to watch the world go by. I perched myself up, safe in the knowledge I was doing something not possible back home. Had health and safety gone too far? does it really improve our lives? Not from where I was sitting. The Mango Tree was a haven in the middle of, lets be honest, a pretty dead town, at least this time of year. There were a few ex-pats present, with the usual newspaper in hand. I couldn’t imagine living here. I was bored in a day, but strangely time passed by quickly that day and before I knew it, it was getting dark.
Eventually I hauled myself up from the stool I’d gotten far to comfortable in, and investigated the main seating area, which was completely deserted. I took a seat at a table designed for at least six, yet still a waitress appeared immediately. Only one choice here, Chicken Byriani. This was bit special though, as it came with a few side dishes that really hit it out the park, chief of which was an absolutely delicious Marsala sauce accompaniment, which was literally a pot of spicy joy that can’t be justified with words. The pickles and the naan bread deserve a mention too. As I tucked in I felt sad that maybe I wouldn’t taste food this good ever again, or at least not for a very long time,so I took my time and savoured it. I noticed a sign advertising a film about to start, so I settled in with a few more kingfishers to enjoy Troy.
The road back was pitch dark, and as I neared Anjuna Palms another site you don’t see everyday. Cows, and lots of them, lying in the road asleep. These sacred animals of course can’t be touched, you’ve got to go round them. Yes, even the buses.