19th – 23rd December – ‘Last Christmas I gave you my heart’

Well, firstly can I advise you all to never travel by bus in India, especially an overnight sleeper one. It was hideous, we were knocked about like a crash test dummy, I still feel sick and my neck aches several days after. Lesson learnt!

Arrived in Madagon, South Goa, in the middle of nowhere only to pay a small fortune for a rickshaw to get us to our hotel. Okay, not much compared to UK cab fares, but expensive when travelling on a budget. To our disappointment Uber, and the Indian equivalent Ola, is banned in the State of Goa. So tourist vehicles and rickshaws are the only mode of transport, none of them have meters, so can charge what they bloody well like. Time to barter I guess. As the hotel manager said to us when checking out of our first hotel, ‘you’re white, they’re going to charge you a lot more’ … stating the obvious, though my response to that is that we have spent a month here already so know the cost per journey in a rickshaw! Ah well.

So far I can say that South Goa is a must, a delightful and surprising treat. All the tour guides said South Goa was the quieter area, so we decided to start here first and then head north after a few days. Quiet is an understatement, its dead! I’m not sure if they have seen a fall in tourism this year, but it’s not as touristy as we expected. Lonely Planet said there isn’t much to do in the Betalbatim/Colva area and lacks charm etc… utter rubbish, I say. The photos below will prove my point. Yes, it’s not the place to go if you want to party every night but it’s a much-needed reward after a month in the mad cities of Mumbai and Pune. The pace of life is a lot slower, hardly any beeping on the road, and the locals are incredibly friendly (even taxi drivers who rip you off!). Lets hope the North is similar.

One interesting piece of history about Goa is that it was still under Portuguese rule until 1961, some 14 years after Independence from the British. The locals celebrated Liberation Day on the 19th December, being the date that Portugal surrendered to the Indian Army. We were told that the UN still does not recognise Goa as being part of India, because it was an illegal military intervention undertaken to ‘take it back’, which seems odd. Due to the Portuguese influence (they traded and ruled here for almost 500 years), there are numerous churches dotted around, Christianity is a big deal here as well. Statistically there are more Hindus in Goa but I find that hard to believe! I imagine most are in the outskirts. A lot of the locals have Anglo/Christian names too. So far I’ve met a John, Sherry, Martin and Susannah – plus seen surnames like Gomes, Fernandes, De Souza, Ronaldo etc … easy to pronounce at least! Safe to say the Christmas spirit is well and truly alive in Goa, not sure if that’s a good or bad thing yet.

Places

San Juao Resort – one night here after the bus journey, this was one mile away from Benaulim beach, very basic but perfect. Good WiFi too!

Jasmin Inn By Mango – nice resort a couple of miles from Betalbatim beach, lovely grounds with butterflies and birds making it a perfect location to sit in the garden and write my blog 🙂

Beaches! – South Goa has a coastline of roughly 26km, not sure if you could walk along it all, but we certainly tried a small chunk of it this morning (resulting in us looking like lobsters now). Apart from the occasional café owner wanting your money it’s a beautiful peaceful beach and seeing the fishing boats on the horizon made it even more idyllic.

Roger’s Shack – time for some Goan cuisine. Prawn for the lady, Kingfish for the man. Both delicious, the addition of coconut milk takes the spice level to a comfortable temperature, could have had more but was just too filling. The waiter told us off for leaving so much… OOOPS.

Martin’s Café – ‘legendary’ restaurant in South Goa, they flock for miles to come here, and even on a Monday evening it was buzzing. Didn’t think much of the food though, considering it was almost a third more than Roger’s which was just a beach shack, it wasn’t near as nice. However, all was made up with the traditional Bebinca dessert served with a dollop of ice cream, ruddy lovely. It’s usually made for Christmas and it tastes amazing. Oh, and the Indian rum called Old Monk came in around £1 a double –  goodbye Kingfisher lager, hello to the shorts! They had some bloke singing all night long, he did a wonderful/cheesy rendition of Last Christmas by Wham, have to say I had a tear in my eye! First time I genuinely missed being back in the UK.

Fisk Ka – cool little restaurant just a few yards down the road from Martin’s Café, food was brilliant. Shrimp Papads, best thing I have had all holiday, followed by a Sea Bass, pan fried with garlic and butter, ideal with a roti to soak up the butter. The only thing with Fish Ka was that they tried to charge us extra for drinks, obviously noting that we had a few already and may not bother to look at the bill! This was actually mentioned on Trip Advisor by a previous reviewer, so bad ending for these guys, would have come back but didn’t in the end.

Casa Nostra – as there isn’t any easy way of getting round Betalbatim you are limited with where you go and eat, so we stopped by the restaurant opposite our hotel. It was okay, Steve made use of the Old Monk cheapness again, the only saviour was the starters, spring rolls with prawns in, yes please! The music was all over the place, half an hour of Adele *rolls eyes* followed by an hour of Miss World 2014 show being played on the big screen *loud tutting*

Da Tita’s – Pizza place, I don’t need to say anymore except it had a woodfire pizza oven, the grub was goooood, lasagne was fantastic, and the ice cream was the icing on the cake, belissimo! Also I’ve lost count of the numerous amount of restaurants we have been in so far, but this was the first time we were served by a woman!

PS – I wrote the Wham reference before the tragic news on Boxing Day. RIP George Michael always a fave of mine when growing up 😦

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