After the New Year mayhem in Palolem, we headed down to Patnem, the next beach along, in search of somewhere quiet for a few days of detoxing.
Although it’s just a few miles down the road, peaceful Patnem is much quieter than Palolem. It’s just as touristic but in a different way – less sunbeds and burnt bellies and more yoga schools on the beach and hippies in homemade banana hammocks. Indian tourists seem to prefer the busyness of Palolem, but Patnem seems to be the spot of choice for the many European expats out here.
The perfect place to unwind for a few days and our favourite stop so far!
We checked into the Funky Monkey Guesthouse, which was refreshingly chilled after the Summer Hostel and on a much quieter road with fewer scooter horns. Apparently the guesthouse gets its name from the resident monkey who hangs out in the coconut trees above it. He’s very peaceful, according to Bobbi, the manager, until he sees either a Macaw or a mirror. They used to have a huge ornamental mirror in the garden but the monkey smashed it up and threw the pieces all over the guesthouse. The residents nearby all apparently have to cover their motorbike wing mirrors or the monkey will attack them. Poor guy obviously has some self esteem issues…
A peaceful few days on the beach and we caught up on some much needed sleep. Lots of long walks over into the neighbouring Rajbaj and Talpona beaches. Talpona, accessible by a little fishing boat across the river, is definitely the most beautiful and unspoilt beach so far, with just one very good beach shack restaurant, and miles of sand all to ourselves.
We also tried our first Indian yoga, opting for a gentle introduction with the chilled Yin sunset class at Lotus. We’ve never tried Yin before and came out feeling very relaxed and very smug and wholesome. (Don’t worry Grandad, we didn’t have to breath through our feet).
After the yoga class, we headed to an amazing little restaurant next to the guesthouse where, during the painful two hour wait for food, we met a photographer and his girlfriend from Amsterdam.
Jele is putting together a photography project that centres around a game he has created, based loosely on the film Lost in Translation. He showed us a series of cards with Japanese writing on and asked us each to choose one, which he then translated for us. I chose ‘wonderful’, Jamie chose ‘hard’ (clearly finding the wait for food a challenge) and he then used the cards as a starting point for a conversation (do you think life is hard, what’s your most wonderful memory etc).
Afterwards he took a Polaroid of each of us, the idea being that he will eventually put together a book with snapshots of travellers from all over the world and a brief snippet of their story. He’s also hoping it will make for more interesting conversation than the standard ‘where are you from, where are you going’. He showed us some of the other Polaroids, including a picture of an Indian guy they had met alone on the beach on New Years. The guy had chosen ‘sad’ and when asked if he thought life could be sad, he answered ‘Yes, I’m very sad. The girl I love is married to someone else. I have no money, no girl and no family’. A heartbreaking story, especially when you are feeling emotional from hunger already!
We were taking it very easy in Patnem, but we did have one hilarious night drinking with Bobbi, his wife Sharon and their friend Tomas, a Czech entrepreneur who used to be based in India where he met Bobbi five years ago.
We’d been out for chicken masala and prawn biryani in an incredible local restaurant, recommended by Bobbi who, along with a friendly tuk tuk driver, kindly informed us that the beach restaurants we’d been enjoying were rubbish, didn’t serve proper Indian food and were also more likely to make us have ‘the bad motions’. Apparently the chefs try to get too wide a variety of curries out too quickly to please the tourists, when really they should be slow cooked for an hour. Guess that explains the two hour wait from the night before.
We’d left the others drinking beers in the garden and came back a few hours later to find that they’d managed to make their way through a further 35 bottles!
Insisting that we join them, Bobbi cracked open a bottle of some kind of lethal Czech spirit that Tomas had given him. Apparently Tomas used to send packages of clothes out to Bobbi, who was born in an orphanage and has completely turned his life around, but now that Bobbi is a successful businessman they joked that he only sends bottles of booze.
They were pretty inebriated (to say the least!) and were ranting about some American girls who had just left the guesthouse but had refused to pay the standard Goan 28% tourist tax, claiming they weren’t informed about it beforehand. Goa upped their tourist taxes last year and now has one of the most expensive in the world, meaning that Bobbi was left having to pay 4000 rupees to the government in their place. He also told us that he’d had 19 tourists running away without paying at all over the last two years – even more disgusting when you think that a room for one night is the equivalent of a couple of beers in London but could feed a family for a week in India. Never mind, he said, he believes in Karma and told us that they have a saying in India which loosely translates as ‘if you rob someone of a 100 rupees, you’ll end up spending 1000 more in hospital’.
Bobbi finds it mind boggling how much money tourists spend out here, particularly on yoga which is crazy cheap by UK standards but still the same price as a meal out for two with beers. He says it’s particularly expensive in Goa because most tourists prefer a foreign instructor so they are given priority over Indian teachers even if they are far less experienced. He says that, in India, Yoga comes from the ancient art of yuj (pronounced ‘yoge’) which, he says, is always supposed to be free. Apparently if you can do yuj it is your duty to pass the lessons you have learnt to other people. Quite ironic when you consider that it’s one of the most expensive and fashionable activities in the West – I’d love to see his face if he saw one of the swanky London studios which charge £20 a class!
He also used to work at an upmarket ‘detox’ resort where, he says, people paid £2000 a week to do yoga, have enemas (ew) and be put on a diet of coconut water and soup. ‘Can you believe it, they actually pay that much money to be starved?’
He’s got a fair point..
Bobbi’s wife, Sharon, comes from a rich family in Bangalore. She had a successful corporate career and has worked in Dubai and Malaysia but, after she stayed at the guesthouse and fell in love with Bobbi, she gave it all up (against the wishes of her family) to move to Goa. Bobbi is very proud of his wife and how much she can drink for an Indian woman! He’s also very proud to be half Punjabi and showed us some videos of his beloved Punjabi music. Apparently the secret to Punjabi dancing is to ‘screw the lightbulb out, put it away’.
Despite the bad reputation of Goans in India (according to Bobbi and Sharon they’re seen as unreliable and untrustworthy), Bobbi is clearly also very proud of his home state. He told us about all the expats staying in Goa who live here for six months of the year, as long as their tourist visa will allow, and in their home countries the other half. They have a South Goan Community Facebook group and Bobbi said it makes him very sad that even though they call Goa their home, they use the group to moan about all the things they wish they could ‘improve’.
‘I mean, come on, they say they’d rather there weren’t any cows in the road! This is India!’
The next morning we said our goodbyes and headed to Agonda Beach for our final stop in Goa. Another beautiful beach, with some wild horses to keep the cows company this time. It’s a 2km stretch, much bigger than Palolem and Patnem but it feels quieter because it’s more spread out. There’s also surprisingly some decent surf here – as I write this I’m watching Jamie having the time of his life body bodysurfing the waves. Also watching a heavily overweight older Indian man who, for some unfathomable reason, has been covering himself with sand and then rolling over and over face down in the shallows without stopping for the entire two hours we’ve been here.
We’re staying in the lovely Saturn Cottages, nestled just back from the beach amongst the palm trees – hot water (yay!!) and no scooters, just the sound of coconuts falling into the river at night.
More relaxing, playing in the waves, some barefoot jogs along the beach and yoga. Vinyasa this time, which we’re more familiar with but still hilariously bad compared to the seriously impressive yogis here who all emerge at sunset for photo shoots of handstands and all sorts of crazy poses.
We’ve had plenty of time to catch up on some reading – both sticking to the Indian theme with Shantaram and The God of Small Things. I’ve just finished so looking for good recommendations for the next one!
We’ve also got our heads around a bit of life admin and finally managed to get through the bureaucratic headache that is getting an Indian SIM card. Hopefully now we’ll be able to call ahead and get decent rates on rooms as everywhere has been surprisingly expensive so far. No luck with the trains still, so we’re stuck on the overnight ‘eight’ hour bus to Hampi tonight. There’s still a waitlist in a week’s time for the train down south so we’ve decided to stop over in Bangalore for a few days before Mysore and have booked another overnight bus in advance. Lesson learnt – book well ahead in peak times!
We’ll miss the beautiful beaches and our (very) easy going lifestyle here, but we’re both definitely ready to do some proper exploring. The next post will be coming to you from so-called ‘real India’ – over the border into Karnataka!
P.S. I almost forgot the latest food update…
Here are some highlights of new dishes we’ve tried over the last week!
- Veg Makhanwala – a spicy red sauce with lots of cloves – not a fan
- Goan Fish Curry – a more authentic version this time with small pieces of mackerel
- Calamari Chilly – the Calamari isn’t cold, but it is quite spicy
- Thalis – a typical lunchtime meal consisting of rice, poppadum, chapatti and a selection of curries. We’ve had a veg one which comes with dal, some kind of celery and tomato soup, spicy beetroot, something we think was bitter gourd, pickle chutney and yogurt; and a fish one which comes with fried mackerel and a coconutty fish curry.
- Masala Dosa – South Indian breakfast pancake stuffed with curried potatoes and veg – delicious!
- Kadai Chicken – pretty sure this is the equivalent of what we call Chicken Karahi/Korai at home, lots of peppers and onion
- Veg Pakora – fried veg cakes
- Aloo Gobi – just as meh as the version back home
- Pork Vindaloo – apparently Vindaloo was born out of a dish Goans used to cook onboard British ocean liners. It’s typically served with pork, which isn’t normally on the menu here, and Goan chefs were chosen in particular because the high percentage of Catholics in the state means most people had no aversion to cooking with pork, beef or alcohol. Far less spicy than the British version and quite a vinegary taste.
- Veg Pulao – what we call Pilaf, aromatic rice with veggies
- Lassi – Indian yogurt drinks, so far we’ve tried sweet, papaya and banana. All great!
- Choco Pancake – worth including just because of Jamie’s sheer delight when we spotted in on the menu!