The journey from Heathrow to Goa was very smooth. The stopover was in Doha, and according to the reports I had read on the web, it is one of the world’s worst airports. I still cannot understand why the reviews are so derogatory. I had about three and a half hours in Doha and found the airport to be much the same as any other international airport, in fact better than others I’ve been in. Luggage was colour tagged at the check in desk at Heathrow and all the instructions were very clear as to the procedure to follow on arrival in Doha. The transfer to the next aircraft was effortless.
I arrived in Goa at three thirty local time, and the gentleman whose apartment I was renting for three months was there to meet me. Although I had never met Cedric before, as my accommodation had been arranged by a friend, he was there to meet and greet me even at three thirty in the morning, which is so typical of Goan hospitality.
I never stay in hotels. I could not afford to stay in India for three months paying hotel prices. I stay in a village in South Goa called Betalbaim. I have been going there for the last six or seven years, and I’ve made many friends both Goan and Europeans’. It is still very much a tradition fishing village, or as close as you are able to find in this day and age. It consists of a town hall which I watched being built a few years ago, two internet shops, two wine shops, one travel agent, one pharmacy, two hardware shops, two grocery shops, one café and two small restaurants’, one being vegetarian, the main village church and one small chapel. It can also boast a beautiful sandy beach which goes on for miles and miles in both directions, lapped by the warm Arabian Sea.
There are three hotels on the outskirts of the village along with some great restaurants.
I settled down in my apartment quite quickly. Not too far from the village and not too far from the beach. The accommodation was very basic, but I had everything I needed, and as I ate out quite often the kitchen wasn’t important. It had a working fridge to keep the beer cold, which is always one’s first priority.
Wifi isn’t widely available, so I had to make use of the internet shops. It’s best to get the job done as fast as you can before the next power cut accures. This can be anything from two to six times a day, and will last a few minutes to a few hours, so you begin in a normal state of mind and gradually become more manic trying to beat the next blackout. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
The first internet shop I used was okay until I discovered the substance in the old plastic coke bottles was in fact petrol being sold to the boys for their scooters. I found about a hundred bottles being stored in a back room, and I never saw the owner without a cigarette in his mouth. All part of the local colour.
I quickly settled down into a sort of routine, enjoying the wonderful warm temperatures after the snow in the UK.
The great thing about Beltalbatim is that it doesn’t change very much. It was great visiting old friends. The Goan people are incredibly friendly and invite you into their homes at the drop a hat, even if they do not know you very well. The whole place has a 1950 feel about it. Children play out all the time in safety. The girls still have their hair platted and tied up with ribbons, and all the children go to school with the school satchels on their backs. It’s not unusual to see dad taking his three children to school all on one push bike.
There are many pigs running around. Every home has them. They are an important part of the family economy. When pigs are killed, it’s usually on Friday, ready to be sold at the market or from street carts the next day. There are no slaughter houses and they are killed where ever the owners are able to catch them. The noise they make is pretty horrendous, and when I saw one of my friends sons standing over a screaming pig with his mobile, I was horrified.” Your not filming this are you?” I asked. I was relieved to hear him say “no, of cause I’m not”. I was about to walk away when he shouted after me,”it my new ring tone”.
To be fair, the pigs have a good life whist it lasts. They are free to roam where ever they choose. Although they all look to same, every owner can recognize their own pigs.
My greatest pleasure in Betalbatim is going for long walks down the seemingly endless beaches.
There are plenty of beach shacks along the beach, but not to the same over crowded extent as North Goa. Many of the shacks have very long stretches of beach between them, which are completely empty except for the causual beach stroller like myself. The whole beach area is backed by coconut and eucalyptus trees, without a high rise in sight.
Many miles down the beach is a large white building which I believed to be an exotic hotel. In fact, it turned out to be a cement factory. Things are not always what they seem.
At the week end, many of the local youngsters spend most of the day swimming and playing cricket. It’s a game which is very popular in India with no less than five TV channels devoted to it. My neighbourgh has a two year old son who can already bowl over arm. The game is almost an obsession to most of the male population, although, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many woman and girls turn up to the cricket tournaments in India. They are just as enthusiastic and noisy as the men. The stadiums are very large and modern, turning these matches into a great party with people arriving in fancy dress and many of them bringing their own bands with them. Even cheer leaders are present, strutting their stuff every time their team hits a boundary or gets a wicket. It’s a unique experience to be at one of these matches. The noise is phenomenal with ever one having a great time. Many of the games are at night, so as many people as possible can attend.
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