Palolem, South Goa: 14th – 19th July 2019

We travelled to South Goa in a 3AC train that took about 17 hours, sharing a berth with an older couple who had brought all their meals wrapped in banana leaves which were wrapped in newspaper. The people closer to our age just bought food on the train. It was our first experience of having seats “Reserved Against Cancellation (RAC)” (more on that in a later post, train nerds), and we were very excited to read through the actual paper print out at the station to find our names listed against our seat numbers.

We’d not had a lot of sleep when we arrived at the station around 4am, in the rain and the pitch darkness. We were about to set off, but there were no lights on the track that led away from the station, and we could see people were around out there, so we decided to stay put until sunrise just after 6am. We made a meagre breakfast of crackers and peanut butter, and then excitingly a stall opened at 5 and a man gave us black tea. The counter was littered with trails of rat poo. Inside the glass display unit were samosas, also littered with rat poo. Some had been nibbled, but they were still there. For sale. We didn’t buy any.

We left as the sky lightened, and thankfully had put the rain covers on our packs, as there was a torrential downpour just after we left. We sheltered under a bridge along with a couple of guys who appeared to be on their way to work on push bikes, until it eased off (it never actually stopped). After a fair walk of a few kilometres we arrived at the airbnb apartment we’d booked and sat in the covered car park in our soggy clothes to wait for the property manager, who we’d arranged to meet at 7.

The guy never showed and eventually a security guard called him for us. Around 8 we finally got into the apartment, sweaty, wet, and exhausted. They showed us a flat which wasn’t the one we’d booked and also had a dodgy washing machine. They agreed to move us to the top floor as arranged, where there were incredible views across the tops of the palm trees to the green hills beyond. The property manager said the flat wasn’t as clean as it could be because they weren’t expecting to use it (although it was the one we’d booked), and he directed a young guy with him to “clean” around us while we checked in. The guy swept the floors and mopped the bathroom, then wiped down the toilet, sinks, kitchen surfaces and fridge, all with the same filthy tea towel! Needless to say, the moment they left we started cleaning properly, before showering and collapsing into bed. We both really enjoyed the ‘normalcy’ of such a homely activity after so many weeks in hostels and hotels.

Later that evening we walked to the local shops, excited to buy groceries to cook for ourselves after weeks of having to search for places to eat out and invariably having far more oil and salt than we would normally choose to. We were ecstatic to find one shop that had Marmite! We bought supplies for the next few days then headed to the beach. It was in a shallow, curved bay with an island at one end that looked like you could walk to it at low tide. A dozen people splashed in the shallows but no one was swimming and there were red flags placed periodically along the beach. Luckily there were some lifeguards on duty, and they confirmed swimming was fine, demonstrating the depth it was safe to go to by whether you could go up to your knees, thighs, or stomach. It was quite late so we went back to the flat, and had the most bland thing we could make for dinner to give our stomaches a rest! Pasta, tomato sauce and pepper. Perfect.

We stayed in South Goa for 5 full days making regular trips to the beach to swim in the very warm, shallow and turbulent waters. As the area heavily relies on tourism and it was the off-season, there was a lot of competition for our attention.

One day we caught a bus to the Cotigao Wildlife Reserve. We had a short walk from the bus to the entrance and the “Nature Interpretation Centre”. At the desk a ranger told us it was pointless to try to go on foot through the reserve and we should return the next day after hiring scooters. But we’d come for a walk so she gave us a terribly printed map with innacurate distances scribbled on it in biro. We meandered around the butterfly garden before heading into the jungle. It felt exactly like a butterfly house in the UK, except there were no glass walls. The heat and humidity were just the climate. The paths were laid with red gravel, and among this were tiny red frogs no bigger than our little finger nails, which were so well camoflauged they could only be seen when they hopped out of the way. The butterflies were beautiful, and some were enormous, but they rarely stayed still long enough to photograph! It was lovely seeing them in a garden they were able to choose to remain in or to leave.

We set off along the road toward the ‘treetop platform’ a viewing platform 30m high in the trees above a watering hole. Of course we weren’t expecting to see any wildlife there, as there was water everywhere – it hadn’t really stopped raining for any length of time since we’d been in Goa. Luckily we were here as much to enjoy a walk, and be among the trees and landscape, as to see the animals.

Along the way we spotted various insects, including a giant pillbug! We passed downed electrical cables that swayed strangely, and later found it was two guys with no safety gear wearing flipflops, pulling the sodden cables through with their bare hands. It was around 7 more kilometres to the viewing platfrom and we were struggling with the intense humidity a little, so when a reserve van passed us we waved it down and hitched a lift further along the road. The distance was huge to where the track left the road and we’d never have made it on foot in that weather. It was lovely getting off the tarmac on to the earth trail, and we saw a lot more butterflies and birds, as well as hearing other wildlife such as languors whooping in the distance. We saw a small mammall ahead of us with massive ears but it disappeared before we could get a good look, and we’ve been unable to identify what it was. Maybe a small long-eared fox, or a very small deer.

After a few kilometres a sign to the treetop hide directed us down a narrow jungle path. Although mostly a distinct path, it disappeared in places, particularly where a waterway followed it’s route making it hard to distinguish the way easily. We had to clamber over fallen tree trunks, and ford some more deeply flooded areas. Once our feet were wet – during a crossing where the water was over a foot deep – it was much easier going as we weren’t worried about it any more. We were a bit concerned about leeches though, but didn’t see any. It felt very different being ‘off road’, more adventurous, like we were finally actually seeing the jungle. At one point the path was completely blocked by fallen branches. According to google maps we were less than 100m from the platform (although of course no paths were visible on our phone), so Maeve went into the undergrowth and found a way around, using an umbrella to bash her way through and deter nearby snakes.

We arrived soon after and found a steel green ladder that shot vertically up into the tree tops, which we reached by climbing tiered steps that were puddles in the monsoon rains. Being hot and bothered Jay decided not to go up the slippery rungs, but Maeve wanted to see the view and headed up, gingerly. At 30m she passed through a hatch into a wooden tree house which was soaking and covered with mould. It was a little bit of an anticlimax as it wasn’t high enough to see over the trees, and the platform was surrounded by dense foliage giving little view of the watering hole below.

It started raining heavily, and we set off to avoid the path becoming any more indistinct, making our way back to the track. The noise and humidity in the jungle were overwhelming, and the heat sapped our energy, but it was an invigorating and incredible experience which we were glad to be able to have.

We hitch-hiked back to the main road and caught a bus back to Palolem, absolutely shattered from the beautiful and etherial walk, soaked to the skin, and very happy.

The following day we went to Madgoan where we discovered the joy of potato vada! Very lightly battered and fried balls of mashed potato with chilli and a few spices. Incredible. We visited the Chitra museum, which was basically a personal collection of things relating to wheels. It was very, very strange. It did also house collections of farming equipment and old colonial artefacts from the time when Goa was invaded by the Portugese.

We spent the remaining time in Goa mooching around and enjoying relaxing in our own flat, which even had a pool. We managed to wash everything we’d brought with us, although getting anything to dry in the monsoon was a challenge. After a few more trips to the beach, we said our farewells, and set off into the torrential monsoon rains for another early train to our next destination, Hyderabad.

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