Settling in a bit

Now over two weeks in India. The good news is we found an apartment to live in for the next few months. After searching for a bit, we settled on it as it was the one that suited our needs best. It’s about five minutes stroll to the beach which is fine. There is a busy main road to cross first then it goes to dirt roads that converge quickly into paths and becomes green, pleasant and quiet. The apartment cost more than we really wanted to spend but life is too short to be paying for what you don’t really want. To get cheaper we would have had to go inland further which may have been quieter but there would be the constant need for transport. Probably false economy. Where we are now is close to a lot of amenities, restaurants and shops. It would have been nice to have got a quaint Portuguese villa but those come with their own problems. This place has two bedrooms and that will be great when Max is here.

Now that we have sorted out our immediate issues there will be the challenge of filling that spare time. So far little has been done about that. We met an English couple who live here half the year and they invited us to a bar where one of them plays acoustic guitar solos. He did it well, had a great choice of songs and we drank too many beers and had a few jolly conversations with other members of the English expat community.

There are at least two long trips to the beach every day. There are huts down there and endless sun lounges. As pleasant as it is, I am sure there will need to be some excursions soon. We fly up to Mumbai on 4th December to meet Max. We’ll stay there a couple of days and take the train back to Goa. We are completely excited about seeing him again as we have missed him like crazy. Despite not all things not going to plan on this big trip, it was leaving him behind that has been the only thing that has made me ever think twice about the wisdom of it. I’m sure he’ll enjoy it here too.

I finally hired a scooter and we ventured up to Fort Aguada on the hill to the south of Candolim. It was a bit of a hazy day but the views were nice. It was good it was a public holiday today as the roads were slightly less chaotic. Indian traffic sometimes beggars belief but having experienced Mumbai, this is a scaled down version. Of course, it travels relatively slowly given the general congestion. Apart from having to deal with the general chaos there are the mindless dogs that stroll into the road and the itinerant cows that roam everywhere. Given that they are a largely protected species they aren’t too worried about wandering into the general traffic without warning. Like all things you get used to it.

Walking presents its own interesting obstacles too. Paved surfaces have unique protrusions designed to trip the unwary and cow shit abounds. You see the occasional tourist stepping in it much to the amusement of local taxi drivers. Other vile unidentified substances also litter the walkways.

I wouldn’t mind a small trip in between heading up to Mumbai such as taking the bus or train to Hampi, on cooler and higher ground. But maybe we’ll drag Max into that one. Preoccupation with logistical things has meant little time for photography so that has to change. The fabulous sunsets on the Arabian Sea are always tempting. Yesterday as I walked to the beach I saw a mongoose run out of the bush and promptly disappeared into a neighbouring patch of bush. Keep catching those snakes. When I was in the sea there were a few fish jumping and a fairly large manta ray did a flying leap out of the sea. It landed quite awkwardly for such a graceful animal. These are lovely things in a quite lovely place but it is very touristy and that can have its own annoyances.

One of the worst blights on this magnificent and beautiful country is the rubbish. Indians are generally appalling litterbugs. I continually remove any rubbish I see in the sea or beach. The Goans have proclaimed endlessly to me about how all this is caused by the invading hordes descending over Diwali. All of this is caused by drunken yobs throwing rubbish everywhere and they are such an embarrassment to all Indians. I suspect everyone is guilty. There is some rubbish collection on the beach but it is inadequate. It seems to me the businesses (especially based on the beach) could make a small contribution to the collection and disposal of rubbish even if that meant employing people directly to do it. India is in dire need of a large education campaign on the subject. These have been undertaken in countries like Australia and did change people’s behviour over time I’ve seen more than a few people just discard rubbish. Then there are the fires to burn piles of it where they do collect that adds even more to the smoky haze that hangs around everywhere. The sad thing in India is the huge increase in the number of people consuming more disposable items, like plastic water bottles, and the environmental impact is huge. I think the world will strangle the oceans and land with plastic before the changing climate will get us. 1.2 billion Indians are contributing a good share.

I am now about 80% vegetarian and almost exclusively sticking to Indian food. I have the odd plate of chips or we have cooked up pasta dishes at home but we have yet to tire of eating Indian everyday, several times a day.

So the new challenges are what to do next, both in terms of travel and in day to day things.

First world problems in the third world

Coming up to one week in Goa and it hasn’t all been as easy as we might have thought. Goa, if you didn’t already know, is one of India’s smaller states and up until 1961 was ruled by the Portuguese. The Indians are to be commended for kicking out the Portuguese who were always takers and gave little in return. Portugal was run by an awful fascist government at the time and were one of the last European powers to be dislodged from their significant colonies after that government was deposed in a military coup in 1974. Portugal is now an altogether nicer place and the disparate international lusophone community is an interesting legacy. Anyway, the Indians had little patience in showing them the door and the rest is history. Geographically the state is spread down the coast with the capital, Panaji (or Panjim) more or less dividing into north and south Goa. Legend has it that in the modern tourist world north Goa is party town and south Goa laid back and quiet.

Map of GoaAs usual, the real world is not that simple, but we based our decision to spend time here on the basis that we would head north first before looking at the south. Not that we were looking for Ibiza style rave parties but were keen to find a vibrant place and like-minded people to pass the time. Accommodation ranges from the extremely high upmarket resorts and downwards.

So, we have been staying in a place called Calangute. This is a fairly busy place compared with some of the other beachside towns but is reasonably closer to central Goa and has a lot of amenity. We have now completed short tours of the north and south and in some ways are none the wiser about where to set up a more permanent home. We went as far south as Palolem beach which is very nice but undergoing rapid development and dropped by at others like Agonda, Colva, Majorda and Cansaulem beaches. The lush south is lovely (around Palolem and Agonda) but kind of falls a bit short of our needs a bit by being quite far from long distance travel infrastructure such as airports and train stations. By the way I stupidly did not visit Goa on my first trip to India in 1976 but the downside of that is I may have been grievously disappointed by its current state. As we moved north, towards Panaji, the beaches got a bit awful but some of the hinterland wasn’t too bad. I was hoping for more from this area as it would be more convenient for the airport and long-distance travel.

Panaji is a pleasant enough city but doesn’t really attract as a base to live. Being near the beach is part of the reason for being here. There are city beaches in Panaji but not really very nice. I’m not too sure about the water quality there, being next to a port.

North Goa was more crowded with tourists. Morjim being the stand out beach in terms of beauty. But to be honest they start to seem much the same. Russians are multiplying everywhere. They can be seen splodging on most beaches like bloated white things gradually turning into lobsters. There are the few very hot exceptions of course. At first, we treated them as potentially not people you want around but after the raucous sound of loud Americans trampling around Iceland still ringing in our ears, they seem largely unobtrusive and quiet. A taxi driver told us that they had “evolved” over the years. The first of them being known for being incredibly rude and condescending but they had changed as they morphed into mainstream tourists. For the most part they are in family groups and there are the occasional twits walking down the beach with their ghetto blasters blaring.

Complicating the picture now is the Diwali holidays have brought in huge numbers of Indian tourists. Other concurrent festivals such as the Guajarati new year have swelled the number of badly-behaved groups of blokes blokeing around town and annoying locals with their behaviour. This is their tendency to drink to excess and leave a trail of litter throughout the local towns and beaches. Many of them are friendly and impeccably polite it must be added.

After the week we are not much the wiser. We may well stay in the area but will seriously start looking for longer term deals. This will also be an iterative process no doubt but the serious searching begins this week. We are looking for a two-bedroom apartment to accommodate Max, who arrives in three weeks, and itinerant festive friends.

Now is the hour

So now the time finally arrives. Three and a half months living in Britain starts to make it seem like home again. Comfortably ensconced in a quiet suburban four-bedroom house with spacious garden, it is now time to go where we were always going in the first place.

Naturally upping stakes and moving on brings with it not so much trepidation but the realisation that a new comfort zone has been built and needs to be broken down and left behind. But that is precisely the reason we have embarked on this whole venture and so it needs to be embraced. The logistics of moving arrive with frightening rapidity. Boxes of nostalgic stuff from this house combined with purchases inevitably accumulated since we have been here, must be packed and sealed, customs forms filled in, the shipping company consulted on how it must all be done. Addresses for UK driver’s licences must be changed as must those for the banks. We have quickly built up the infrastructure of residents and now it must all be dismantled.

But in all this there is excitement! The teeming hordes and chaos of India awaits and with it all the wonder and splendour of its natural treasures, civilisation and history. What really outshines this of course is that we will see Max soon. Our greatest treasure.

But of course there is an element of sadness and regret. I do love this country and our ties will weaken even further when we leave this time. To walk into it is to walk into an old home. Instantly familiar and easy to integrate back into life here. It does have the bonus this time that there is not the work a day trudge of crowded tubes and the general hurried flight through the crowds. That has its own attractions but it is also eventually draining.

It seems so long since we have been here, and the fantastic thing is to have caught up with so many friends and seen how their lives have progressed, their children have grown and, sometimes unfortunately, how tragedy has taken its toll. We have been blessed by the weather as the sun has shone and even now as the autumn gets colder and the days shorten we are still able to see the sun every day. But I haven’t forgotten what a British winter is like.

To have sat down with old friends with whom we have shared so much in the past, and while faces are a bit more weathered and waistlines expanded, it is a sublime pleasure to meet people who are still as they have always been. Time takes its toll in many ways but melts to nothing when in a moment of meeting, nothing has changed and there is the realisation of what brought you together with such great people in the first place. This is a joy and life affirming. In essence this is what this trip is about.

Since returning from Iceland there has been more catching up with friends, demonstrating against Brexit, watching football and seeing more of London’s wonders. The trip to north Wales was wonderful with glorious days and autumnal colour.

Being part of the nearly 700,000 who marched through London to protest the idiocy of Brexit was wonderful. There was no particular “type” of demonstrator but when you looked through the crowd there was everyone – young and old as well as clearly those from the conservative middle class to the “lefties”. There was little shouting or chanting and not a hint of trouble. It was dignified but its power was in the sheer numbers who marched and who had made the effort to come from all parts of the country. I don’t know where Brexit is headed or what it will bring but clearly more people have had the time to think “why are we doing this?” It is hard to see who it will help but the trouble as much stems from the fact that the European project has marched forward, usually under the auspices of faceless bureaucrats, while politicians have failed to communicate the benefits of peace and integration that the EU, imperfect as it is, has brought. Politicians through lack of principle and leadership have failed to neutralise the fear and ignorance that has fuelled this ridiculous situation. We can only hope that some sensible arrangement can be reached that doesn’t blow all the benefits of years of membership to nothing. At the moment the victory appears to be going to the angry and disempowered who are easily exploited by the self-interested and opportunistic nasties who see the possibilities for power and wealth to be gained from this mess. Sadly, the clock is ticking on a sensible solution and the cliff edge no deal Brexit is a stronger possibility. It will be costly, and it is difficult to see who will benefit from the damage. I grieve for the UK on this one. Maybe there will no longer be a UK if it pans out badly.

So, as I sit in the pre-packed mess that precedes the next chapter there is a strong feeling of nostalgic sadness at leaving old Blighty. This is probably in the knowledge that it is unlikely that we will return for such a long period again. But the decision to embark on this venture has proven the value of our journey so far. Not another year of sitting at a desk analysing data but reconnecting with old friends, wondering thought the glorious streets of old Italian and Maltese towns, the hustle and bustle of airports that is annoying but pulsates with the adventure to come, seeing the wonder of huge icebergs, beautiful snow-capped peaks and weird volcanic hills of Iceland. For me this is the essence of my existence and despite the problems and hassles that have happened on this trip, I’m loving every minute of it. India – bring it on.