A typical day

A typical day in Goa kicks off around 8am. Sometimes it’s a bit earlier. I do manage to get to the gym every second day and when an Aussie friend was here, we would swim between the lifeguard stations which is probably around 800m. But otherwise it’s a routine of getting up to a strong Nescafe. I’ve managed to adapt in some ways to awful instant coffee. Had I been a bit more on the ball I could have tracked down a plunger but on some days, I venture to the German Bakery or a local franchise called Coffee Day Café for a half-way decent brew.
Our apartment is a rather spacious two bedroom one with a study that serves as the open suitcase room. It has two bathrooms with one including a bath that has been claimed by Jackie. This works well as the shower is rather pathetic, with a flexible tube and an old fashioned style telephone type shower head. Very English in every way. While my bathroom is somewhat more utilitarian, it has a decent shower.
Our kitchen is spacious and well equipped expect it doesn’t have a proper oven. Eating out is very cheap here so apart from fried eggs for breakfast most days, simple pasta dishes and experimental Indian cookery learned through cooking classes.
We have ample ceiling fans and air conditioning however power cuts are frequent. Sometimes many times a day. It generally comes back after a few minutes. There are backups in most modern places. When ours cuts out we lose the air con but not the fans, We lose the fridge and microwave but not the tv. It is generally no more than a mild annoyance. More annoying is the internet. There are virtually no landline connections so a mobile modem is the only way. The internet is usually ok in the morning but tends to get worse in the evening. I hedge our bets a bit by having two mobile modems on different networks and some data allowance on my mobile (on another network again). But sometimes all three are rubbish and you just have to suck it up. I’ll complain less about the internet in Australia when I get back.
We hire a scooter as main transport as taxis are very expensive by Indian standards. Buses are reasonably frequent and cheap but the convenience of our own wheels is too tempting. The rental for it is about $A6 (£3 a day). The traffic is mad of course and takes some getting used to but as in all these countries with virtually no discernible road rules there is a kind of etiquette. I’m sure it would bamboozle most in the West but it is helpful that traffic is relatively slow. There are the added hazards like cows, dogs, poorly marked speed humps and people who aren’t too fussy which side of the road they drive on. Nuts, but you kind of get used to it.
Path to the beach 1So, to resume the daily routine. We usually head down to the beach at the first opportunity. While Candolim is a fairly developed part of Goa, the beach is very large and so pretty uncrowded. With a mostly European and Indian tourist population, they barely venture into the sea. Many are English and Russian so sit or lie on sunbeds doing anything but actually engaging with the sea itself. They look at me strangely when I emerge from waves that they consider far too rough to even think of going in. Of course, by Australian standards it’s all pretty mild. I do impress some of them with my body surfing. Path to the beachSomething they wouldn’t even think of doing. Indians are even stranger in this situation. They have quite a different way of swimming. “Men in drawers walk the beach or dive into a resort pool while their fully clothed women frolic in its shallows..” says one Indian website describing the new age of Indian tourism. The article is an apt description of local tourism in modern India: https://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-when-the-twain-shall-meet-2691391?fbclid=IwAR1h7mWRsBYLdKGhnQAyNq9yKxyVHnOI1g15DnkPzRnosbEaHWoHkvhGoMc. Indian tourists are on the rise in Goa as Europeans increasingly retreat in the face of over development, higher prices and annoying, expensive visa regulations. Indian tourists are not particularly popular with locals. They tend not to spend money in restaurants and bars and often are to be found roaming the streets in packs (males especially) inebriated on cheap and strong beer. Booze is cheap in Goa – much more so than other states in India, some of which are completely dry. With large groups of Indians comes the inevitable: noise. They are not a quiet people. This article sums up how tourism is developing here: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/society/the-ugly-indian-tourist
This is not a racist rant, Indians like all others on the planet, some are lovely others certainly not. The people are amazingly diverse, ranging in colour from the white to the deepest black. This is a country that swarms with crowds, noise, colour and chaos. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for those of us who embrace it, it is life affirming. To have lived here month on month and lived it every day, it is wonderful.
But I digress again. The beach is lovely and the swim is like having a bath as the water hovers close to 29°C. Some days the surf is great for a frolic, others it is rather too calm. On those days the English will venture in for a paddle. The walk to the beach takes around ten minutes. It is a pleasant one down a dirt track that wends through the palm trees and old Portuguese villas. Strange and exotic bird noises fill the air. On many days this short walk fills me with the invigorating essence of what travel is for me. I suspect it would be like all of Goa was twenty or so years ago. But on the way back when you hit the main road that vision tends to vanish.
Our daily walk to the beach has brought us into contact with our three main furry friends. Ashley, Stumpy and Tyrian. Ashley loves to lie in the ash residue of the frequent rubbish fires that are lit in our street just over the wall.

Stumpy is fairly obvious. We meet her near the beginning of the track to the beach. Sometime in her past there was an unfortunate accident with her tail. Finally as we progress down the track is Tyrian. A strange looking dog. The picture does not convey his diminutive stature. When you see him you would think he should be bigger. He has the rumpled and loose skin that should be on a larger beast. He is a pleasant creature although a bit doddery. We greet each other everyday when we pass and it is unusual not to find them in their customary places.
The days never drag. It always seems to be a surprise when we mockingly ask: “Where has the day gone?” Of course, typical days are not always typical. Some days we have errands to fill. Sometimes there are things to find like clothes, medicines, bags etc. We have out rides into the hinterland or to other beaches north and south. Sometimes we venture into the state capital Panjim and walk through the old Portuguese quarter. Others we spend time with friends we have made here, usually at some musical event. Life is hardly hectic but not really empty either. This is some sort of practice run for retirement It would be hard to understand for many friends back in the world of work. A rigid adherence to the protestant work ethic would probably fill me with guilt most days. But it does so less and less. I am aware however time can be wasted so it is best to try and fill it with creative things if possible. Work does loom on the horizon as we haven’t retired and realistically can’t retire for some time. For now, typical days are very pleasant days.

Urban cows in India

Goa cow (3)From my kitchen window I have seen this calf come into the world and take its first steps. I have walked past it on my way to the beach or the supermarket and watched as it wobbled on its brand new legs. This soon turned to sadness as the poor thing had a rope fixed around its neck and it has lived in this stifling hot shed, often tormented by flies. This has been its life so far. Anyone who has been to India will have seen the sacred cows wondering the streets. These create more than a few problems: https://www.odditycentral.com/animals/indias-sacred-strays-millions-of-urban-cows-living-alongside-humans.html

It is sad to see the young calf spending its short life at the end of a rope. I have watched it trying to prance about but the rope won’t let the poor thing move more that a few paces. Goa cow (1)Its young legs have never felt real freedom. I must say that is upsetting to me as I think freedom is the greatest thing any creature can have. It makes me think how nice it would be to see this calf prancing and playing in green fields and wide-open spaces. To let the young animal roam the streets would probably expose it to impossible danger from the anarchic traffic.

There are many scenes of suffering in this huge and enigmatic country and some of them you are forcibly confronted with. This is one of these things. I can only hope that this young animal will eventually realise its freedom from its oppressive rope. It will never live a life of frolicking in rural splendour but will eventually be free to roam the streets and graze on the piles of rubbish that is the fate of the Indian urban cow.

Street cows

Into the final month

Final month in Goa that is. It’s getting near the time I should describe a typical day here. After all there is no work involved and it is an interesting experiment in how to keep occupied when living this way. But more of that with the next post. The trip to Hyderabad was a nice one. It was almost perfect in that Indigo airlines took off and landed at precisely the times they advertised. That was a good start and finish to the trip. The only annoying part was the tedious trip to the airport in Goa. It’s expensive and takes well over an hour depending on the traffic. We go to Pune for the last excursion in mid-February and so I make that three trips to the airport left. Two there and one back.

Hyderabad was pleasant, far less manic than most Indian cities. The airport is really new and there is an expressway which whisked us into town in pretty good time considering the distance. We stayed in Abids which is the older part of town and away from the new and upcoming Cyberabad, the new hi-tech part of the city that is taking it forward. There were virtually no tourists although we did befriend a couple from Yorkshire who were fairly constant travellers living most of the time in Cyprus but managing to be regular visitors to Kerala over the years. There were some lovely buildings in this part of town. The famous Charminar, the four pillared mosque that is a famous landmark. It is surrounded by a market area with many lanes. It was a bit more Muslim than we had been used to but as a male I could still get away with shorts and a tee shirt, something not so readily available to the ladies. We never even got close to getting into the enormous Mecca Masjid mosque nearby but it was enough to admire it from a distance. The Sarlar Jung Museum was a wonderful collection of all sorts of stuff. My favourite sort of place. I was especially drawn to the amazing walking stick gallery that had a fascinating collection. Having been reliant on a walking stick for a while I had my own collection but this was phenomenal. There was a wide collection of art, toys and all sorts. The Chowmallah Palace started off as a large garden at the front but there was a fabulous ballroom with huge chandeliers and further collections of weapons and vintage cars. As is frequently the case you have to pay a fee to bring a camera and take photos which is usually 50 rupees ($A1). I duly paid this but was then told I couldn’t use my good camera, only my phone. Outrageous I thought, but managed to get a few good sneaky shots away with the SLR. It would have been good to have had the time to compose them better.

Ramoji Film City which is apparently the largest film lot in the world is the centre of Tollywood. This is the Telugu language film hub. It also produces films in Tamil and even a few in Hindi. This maybe a powerhouse in the movie world but the trip to it was underwhelming to say the least. It is obviously trying to emulate a place like Universal Studios but has some way to go. To anyone visiting this lovely city you can safely give this place a miss.

Hippy dance party 3Before leaving for Hyderabad we were invited to a birthday party by a long-term Italian resident who we often bumped into at one of the few good coffee shops in Goa. Definitely the realm of older hippies but there were some younger ones there. Apparently most of them are followers of Ohso better known to most as the Sri Bhagwan Rajneesh who was very popular in the 1980’s before his Oregon commune imploded and his fleet of 99 Rolls Royces were repossessed. I failed to see quite what great enlightenment they had gained form their various journeys. Some of these had involved long sojourns in ashrams here and there. For one Australian there, it had involved a long stay in Pune before he talked about freeing himself. Anyway, they were good at chugging back the red wine and puffing on the fags.

Northern adventure

Goa was fun at Christmas despite being a bit tacky. A piss up at the Hard Rock café in Calangute was the ticket for us and friends. A large of gathering of largely English expats spent time hoovering up more alcohol than food. There were only a few isolated scenes of public disgrace. Then back to some friends’ place to party on into the early hours. All jolly fun really and very pleasant. New Year was a bit more low-key. This was seen in by a suitably anarchic fireworks display on Candolim Beach. Never respecters of timetables, the Indians let rip from at least 11:30 onwards with floating lanterns and what was ultimately quite a number of entertaining pyrotechnics. These became a little more dangerous as freelancers joined in the festivities with their byo incendiaries.

It was now time to head north. An annoying three leg plane journey was required to get to Kathmandu. Of course, the plane left Goa quite late and threatened our connecting flights. Jet Airways excelled themselves on this occasion by whisking us off the plane in Mumbai to the flight to Delhi. No security check required. We got off on the tarmac and were the first to board the plane. It was a long day as expected and we didn’t make it to Kathmandu until after midnight. The visa on arrival process was long winded with the soon to be familiar standoff about paying by credit card. This became a common theme in Nepal as they were always keen to get their hands-on cash – US dollars preferably or failing that, Nepalese rupees. Reverting to the cash economy has become a bugbear of the Indian sub-continent, as for years I had become so used to paying for even the smallest things with plastic.

Nepal, Kathmandu and Pokhara especially, was not really recognisable from my last visit. This is hardly surprising given that I was last there in 1976. The worst aspect of this was the air pollution. Kathmandu was grim in this regard. The smog from increasing numbers of cars and bikes made it sometimes hard to breathe at street level. We also encountered in other places, such as Pokhara and Chitwan, a talcum powder-like fine dust that, quickly covered all footwear and inevitably forced its way into the lungs. In India we have to deal constantly with dust, smog and garbage. The management of all this may seem like a first world luxury but it really is very serious. When you see the air pollution in Mumbai it is truly shocking. Delhi is reportedly even worse and was bad the last time I was there nine years ago. Reports of increasing levels of lung cancer in younger people in north India are becoming increasingly common. It’s a tragedy and something that must be addressed on an individual level as well as at a state and national level. Much of this must start with a serious public education campaign. There was a time in western countries when littering was not particularly considered such a bad thing. The longer I stay in India, the more I am gobsmacked at the indifference to rotting piles of garbage and other detritus strewn everywhere. In such a magnificent country, with incredible natural beauty and centuries of the most fantastic art and architecture, to be confronted constantly by the simultaneous environmental desecration everywhere is almost heartbreaking. India cannot be completely singled out in this regard as it happens at some level everywhere but when there are a billion plus people acting in this way, it brings home the level of environmental destruction in the world. It is harder to retain the same level of optimism that humanity can invent solutions to our impact that we can in our smaller, richer and tidier homelands. My attempt to clean up the entire Arabian Sea by myself has of course ended in failure. I love the chaos and swarm of humanity in India. The sensory assault is exciting and I will never lose my love of it but at times I am saddened by the mess left in its wake.

It was lovely to see the beauty of Nepal. The backdrop of the mountains is phenomenal. No, we didn’t do any trekking which I now have to confess would be to see it at its best. The beauty of some of the temples and other structures was a joy to see even as the 2015 earthquake had taken a dreadful toll of many of these. Foreigners were asked to cough up substantial admission fees with the promise that this was part of the restoration project. In that case I can’t complain. What I had forgotten from my previous visit was the preponderance of beautiful women. I probably shouldn’t remark on such things in this day and age but I can’t divorce that from the overall natural beauty of the country.

Not being able to face the bus ride from Kathmandu to Pokhara, we splurged out on a fight. Despite the chaos at the airport we finally got on our rather small plane and were rewarded by fabulous views of the Himalayas on the 25 minute flight. It sure beat a bus trip of up to ten hours on bone rattling roads.

Pokhara had grown out of all recognition since my last visit. The only point of reference was the lake. It is still a pleasant place, bearing in mind we were there in the off season. We were afflicted by cloud covering the spectacular mountains on a couple of days which was a pity as it is a lasting memory of the place last time I was there. We climbed to the Peace Stupa which I’m sure was not there last time I was there and got beautiful views of the lake. We walked down the hill and visited the Devi Falls and a Tibetan refugee village. We hired bikes to ride around but they were fairly uncomfortable and that diminished some of the reward from that venture.

Off to Chitwan next. The bus journey was unpleasant and uncomfortable but we got to the the park at around three in the afternoon. Our first walk to the river yielded some good views of the rhinos which were far bigger than expected. I expected some Asian midget ones but they were huge. It was worthwhile doing the elephant safari. Off in the early morning mist was great and avoiding the noisy Indians and Nepalese on the other elephants was peaceful. I did some research on the way elephant were treated before undertaking this. Apparently it is greatly improved and they are managed very well. You can’t help thinking they would rather be doing something else. Three of us come in at over a quarter of a tonne so it can’t have been too much fun. The jeep safari later in the was disappointing by comparison but the boat ride down the misty river amongst some respectably sized crocs was also a highlight.

Then it ended and we were back to Mumbai, so often the hub of all our activity. We stayed near the airport in the suitably noisy (that is a given really) and mad Andheri area. Not many foreigners around there but I barely raised an eyebrow when I walked down the street. Max unfortunately was afflicted by a vomit inducing stomach complaint which blighted our last day together and wasn’t much to fun to take with him on the flight home. A tearful goodbye at the airport and our boy (or should I say 6’5” man) was once again gone. What a joy to spend that time with him. Six lovely weeks and then heartache once again.

And so the days pass

Time goes on. Things change but also remain the same. The good changes are that Max arrived. We went up to Mumbai and stayed a couple of days after he arrived before taking the train to Goa. I’d heard that the train journey was quite scenic but it seemed nothing too spectacular. I did have the disadvantage that I acquired a case of Bombay belly and was not in the best of condition for the trip. Luckily, I was able to lie flat out all day in an AC 2 carriage that was comfortable enough. We stayed in the Fort area of Mumbai this time which I remembered correctly was quite pleasant and relatively quiet. “Quiet” is not a term usually associated with Indian cities.

Life in Goa has become routine. We drag ourselves to the beach each day for a morning swim and often return later in the evening. Daily conundrums include where to go for dinner. We have socialised with a group of English long termers. That is, those who have returned year after year. Most are sheltering from the British winter. It’s not quite the same for us. Rather pleasant, nevertheless.

We went on anther venture to Hampi (a large site of ruins) that is around 300km to the west in the neighbouring state of Karnataka. Hampi was once a great city and capital of the once great Hindu Vijayanagara Empire from the 1300’s and by 1500 was the world’s largest medieval city after Beijing. It was a focus of traders from Asia and Europe. It was pillaged and destroyed by a coalition of Muslim sultanates in 1565 and been in ruins since then.

The trip was only for a couple of days. We went there overnight in a sleeper bus. It must be said this is not the best way to travel. It was not helped by the awful bus company, Paulo Travel. We had to go out to meet the bus at a place near here. It was a place by the side of the road which was not clear exactly where the bus left from. Eventually a woman arrived on a scooter and herded us up the road. There we were left to wait for a bus to take to Panjim where we were catching the long-distance bus. It was an awful sweatbox with no air conditioning on a rather hot day. It dropped us at a dusty car park with no toilet facilities. More of a hassle to the women.  Passengers were mostly foreigners with a large group of Geordies. One of them went into a meltdown on the bus as she thought she could smell diesel fumes. It was a bit smelly but not very bad. But she shouted to the drivers and got them to stop for a bit. By that time, she had puked into a plastic bag. Eventually it settled down but it was like sleeping in washing machine and I didn’t get much sleep that night. It didn’t help that our return train, which we got up at 5:30 to catch was six hours late! Such is the stuff of travel in India. You just have to go with the flow.

Our hotel was out of town and they had arranged for a tuk tuk driver to pick us up. Another driver already thought he had our business and scuffled with ours. A bit of a spectacle after all those hours on the bus. It was a fairly modest place but quite nice in other ways. The owners were very friendly and chatty. They also provided nice food. We powered through the day by hiring a driver to take us round most of the important sites. We were tired by the bus journey but the place was amazing. Not just so much for the ruins as the surrounding country which was covered in large parts by huge boulders. Some of these had been used to create some of the magnificent carved monolithic statues. It was an extremely impressive set of ruins and a quite massive site. We stayed the following night in the neighbouring town of Hospet in a less modest hotel. It was very close to the railway station. We checked out early only to find the train was very late, Luckily we were able to occupy our room again while we waited.

So, into the barely noticeable festive season. Goa, with its Portuguese history, has a fair number of Catholics but still Christmas is pretty low key. We will celebrate with our merry band of expats. Off to Nepal in early 2019 with a couple of other short trips planned to Hyderabad and Pune in January/February. We’ll make the decision where to go after that.

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.

Iceland

A lovely few days spent in Iceland with more than a few photos to mull over. The beauty of the place is undeniable with its bizarre volcanic landscape contrasted with stunning snow-capped peaks. It seems very prone to rainy weather, which we certainly encountered. But we got some absolutely beautiful sunshiny days as well and that certainly made up for anything else. I can imagine winter there would be especially grim. Possibly it brings a better chance of seeing the northern lights, which we didn’t.

The downsides? It is horribly expensive. This may be a matter of knowing the place better and how you could find the cheapest possible alternatives for food. Accommodation is dear and while there is Airbnb, it is also pretty expensive and some of the places would be in some studenty spare room. These days I’m not really interested in that and our dumpy Airbnb in Dublin made me think I should be a bit more discerning.  Not that either of us need luxury, basic comfort is fine. We stayed in hotels which were by and large fairly bland and a little disappointing. The Base, near Keflevik airport, where we first stayed was very good and by getting a free upgrade we were pleasantly comfortable. It’s an old army base but they have converted it very well. It is first and foremost a backpacker hostel, which these days would make me run a mile, but it is not all dorms, so we managed to get a comfortable room and as cheaply as you could hope for.

The trip was not a triumph of research and organisation on my part. Thinking the Golden Circle (an abbreviated tourist route taking in some geothermal stuff and the stunning Gullfoss falls) would take over a day to explore, I booked two nights at a dull place called Selfoss. In the end it didn’t matter too much as the rain would have put paid to the best sightseeing plans. We still did some interesting exploring on that extra rainy day with a visit to the Kerid crater and photographed some of the interesting beach houses down on the black sandy beaches around Stokkseyri. As it was, we were fortunate to enjoy mostly good weather days and made the most of them.

The drive out to Diamond Beach was a bit of an epic in the end. It was a 320km return drive from Vik and it took a bit of effort to fit that in to an afternoon. I probably drove 450km that day which you might not have thought possible in a place like Iceland. But it was certainly worth it! We were wowed by the amazing backdrop of glaciers and massively towering dark volcanic and weirdly shaped green hills.  The light on the golden grass, the moss-covered volcanic rocks on the ground and the black sand beaches with crashing waves on the other side of us. We had to drive back the same way but the light had completely changed by then, so we were treated to a different version of the same spectacle. But the place itself with it’s stunning lagoon full of icebergs and those on the beach were also quite breathtaking. There were a few tourists around but enough space to escape them.

The wind was as good as anything Wellington has dished up I think. Firstly, at Dyrhólaey on the cliffs and then at Jökulsárlón, as we approached the icebergs. The gusts could sometimes be outrageous and knock you sideways but there has always been wind in my soul and this kind of weather made me smile and laugh. My £15 Primark winter jacket was brilliant for the conditions. It provided protection for some of the bitingly cold wind blasts and was waterproof too.

Hörse. You can’t help but be struck by the number of horses in Iceland. I have read that they eat them but that is not their primary purpose. Which is for riding it seems. Apparently, part of their unique attributes is that they have an extra gait. This is beyond the normal walk, trot, canter and gallop. They add a lölt to this which is some sort of fancy lateral step or something. Of course, they came to international prominence in 1955 when a team of Icelandic horses stunned the world by sweeping all before them at the England Ballroom Dance Championships in Blackpool. But seriously, they must be hardy souls as they can be seen standing out in the fields in the most cold and blustery conditions. There are cross-like fences in many fields that would provide some shelter from the freezing winds.

On the last night in Reykjavik we finally treated ourselves to a decent meal. This was a bit overdue as even the most awful food was costly. Iceland supposedly has the healthiest diet in the world, but I can’t say much that was unique seemed to be available. No pots of Icelandic yoghurt with rolled herrings. We largely snacked on supermarket food and even went to a KFC one night.  Our final night’s meal was delicious and not too bad really for about ISK9,770 ($A110, £52) for two mains and a beer. The bonus was that it came to the exact amount of Icelandic krona cash I had. Reykjavik also appeared to be overrun by tourists – loud American was the main language that could be heard in the streets. It was a struggle to get a table at most restaurants in the city and there was a weird way they liked to make people queue for them. We managed to get in a on a table by co-opting a young American woman to share ours. She, like more than a few people had dropped into Iceland to visit the Blue Lagoon.

Ah yes, the Blue Lagoon. On our way back to Reykjavik from the south we visited it, that is we had a look at it. Jackie is not a huge fan of thermal pools and after a lifetime of sitting and swimming in them in New Zealand (of course), Indonesia and Japan, I am rather underwhelmed by them. We could see what was on offer, the place is built nicely but it was a run through of the usual lot ticking things off the bucket list. Interestingly, no one seemed to be walking out with a big smile on their face. The basic entry price of $100+ just didn’t seem worth it, especially as would have paled into insignificance after the other sights we would have seen. Even our young dinner companion had said the whole constant push to upsell stuff to the tourists there was a turn off. Clearly it is on some must do tourist circuit somewhere. I would think New Zealand is a better bet for that stuff.  To give everyone their due as well, many would never have seen anything like it before.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of visiting Iceland was the lack of insight I really managed to get into the place itself on a social level. We tended to have little conversation with locals. I always like to talk to people about their country and what life is like for them. From my own perspective I think if I grew up in a place like Iceland I would have wanted to get the hell out of it. With only 350,000 people it is tiny. This is also its charm of course. There is a bit of similarity with New Zealand here despite that country being larger in area as well as population. There is always the opportunity to talk with staff in hotels, restaurants etc but most of these were foreigners – large numbers of east Europeans who are found everywhere these days, so little interaction with locals.

Iceland interested me as a small island that is relatively isolated and how plays out in the lives of ordinary people. It must be stultifying on one level as everyone would always know your business and there would be limited opportunities in many areas of work and life. But it one of the wealthiest countries in Europe by GDP per capita and wages are high. That flows into prices too but with most things needing to be imported and a small market with limited competition that it always going to be a fact of life. I never knew any Icelanders in London, I’m sure that’s where I would head first off if I had grown up in Iceland. So, I never really got the chance to understand the thinking that pervaded those who did.

While I have spent most of my life out of New Zealand, it still exerts a strong influence on my consciousness. The physical memory of the country never leaves you and of course the childhood memories. For Icelanders I would expect this would be very much the same with even a stronger influence of the very small population and the unique language. It would be in many ways hard to just leave it all behind. As we drove around we would often see houses standing alone in a huge, imposing area of green fields interspersed with black volcanic rocks and earth. There was a haunting beauty in the absolute desolation of it. But I always asked myself: could I stand living there?