Goa, a region on the west coast of India, 500 miles south of Mumbai, is the original hippy hangout. A party destination which is known for its music (Goan Trance), it is to Russia and Israel as Spain is to Britain. It’s laid back beyond belief. As our good friend Lesley said, after a week there we would be so chilled we would be virtually horizontal. She was nearly right; just wrong about the virtually bit! That’s why it’s taken us nearly 3 weeks to get round to writing this blog. Days just seem to disappear, one merging into another. Each day we seem only capable of doing one thing – going to the shop (about a 10 minute walk), doing some emails, meeting people for lunch or an evening meal. We both agree we have never been so relaxed in our lives. 🙂
Hostel life and hostel people
We are staying in Asterix Hostel, amazingly the only hostel in Goa, possibly all of India. It was opened less than a year ago by a couple of Indian lads in their 20s who had been working in Singapore and wanted a change. The rooms are mainly dorms for 6 or 7 people and there is a communal kitchen and common room with plenty of beanbags to lounge about on. It’s great for socialising and has such a relaxed and easygoing atmosphere. People come from all over, but mainly UK, Europe, North America and Oz/NZ. We’ve met a South Korean living in Prague; a bloke whose dad was a political prisoner in Kosovo and some lads from Barnsley!! It helps that everyone talks in English (even the Indians). Peg’s downfall is a little tuck shop, run on honesty lines: beer, crisps and little tempting bars if Bourneville perfect for a late night munch. Just pick up and write your name in a book. Finding a spare plug point for charging can be tricky. Everyone has a laptop or iPad and smartphone.
People tend to get together in groups and go off to the beach or visiting places, then team up for a meal and drinks later on. Wednesday night is the big party night and the entire hostel goes to a club where women get in free and it’s free drinks all night. One night Claire from Glasgow met a russian man there. The next day everyone was laughing about how they had communicated using google translate on their phones. Because we’re here for a month and Asterix has a 1 month max stay, we’ve waved goodbye to quite a few great people. Some have moved nearby but still pop in daily: others we hope to stay in touch with as they go on their travels. Our Facebook friends lists are growing rapidly!
That’s one of the strange things about hostel life – people come and go often with little notice. You make friends easily here and people tend to group up quickly as most people are travelling on their own. With a few minutes notice your best mates might leave. (Literally as I’m writing this, Shane, my breakfast pal from Ireland & moving to Oz, has just come up and said goodbye. I didn’t know he was off so soon). The vibe can totally change on a daily basis. One day most people can be young party animals and really open and friendly, then a day later you find it’s mainly men in their 20s playing cards in a closed circle. At the start we didn’t get invited to things on a few occasions. Peg found this really hard and started to get paranoid. Some people would be part of the gang within minutes of arriving, yet on a few occasions everyone went to eat leaving us behind. Now we’re fixtures we’re tending to do the inviting! A couple of weeks can make a huge difference.
Most people here seem to be here for the partying and most are on long trips, most heading next to Thailand. Goa is the party part of their trip. People head off for a few days, mainly to hippy out on either Arambol beach further north or an overnight bus away in the ancient area of Hampi, then come back, returning to the family fold like prodigals. A few people are, like us, on personal journeys and there’s a few writers; Mitch from Glasgow has a sabbatical and is writing a sex/drugs & aliens novel, Cristina, Portuguese/Canadian and living in Dublin has given up her job and is here for several months to write a Mills and Boon.
There’s always someone in the hostel who is sick. And often someone with an injury. When we arrived here we met Mitch who had cut his feet badly (no shoes allowed in the hostel); yesterday Millie from New Zealand fell off her scooter and badly injured herself. Iodine soaked yellow bandages seem to be the thing here. Everyone has scooters; we don’t dare.
The daily routine
Breakfast at Asterix is brilliant and the best time to meet people. We have our routine – up about 10am taking an hour for breakfast. Pat eats the hostel offering – boiled eggs, cold samosa, bread and bananas; Peg makes her own fruit salad with nuts and yoghurt. There’s 2 tables with benches and the chat it brilliant. One morning a new woman arrived. We never caught her name. She had arrived the night before and was asking Julian, a Mumbian, how to translate some words into Hindi. “How would I say ‘I see my soul in your eyes. You are my soulmate’ “?. We were all transfixed as she explained she wanted to say this to her Indian boyfriend. How did you meet him we asked. “On a train platform. We just walked towards each other, both stopped and stared at each other. That was that!”. God this is so romantic I thought. Where is he staying we asked? “He lives in Goa” she explained, then “with his girlfriend.”. We all looked surprised. Don’t you mind we asked? “Of course not” she replied. “His girlfriend makes him happy and if he’s happy I’m happy” she said with a smile and wafted off to make the call to tell him how she felt. Later that day she made an appearance. She hadn’t been able to get him in the phone….
After breakfast it’s showers, get dressed, put on sun cream & mossie spray and then decide what to do. Goa is so hot – about 35 degrees most days – so we don’t go to the beach where most of the residents go and often return with bad sunburn. Instead we tend to hang around on the bean bags, reading, chatting, facebooking. When we do go out it’s hard work avoiding people trying to sell thungs like clothes and flip flops, often with this strange mockney accent! “Hello gorgeous. You want to look at my shop. Only cheap crap here” honestly said. Or at the beach to Patrick. “You want clothes?” No. “Marijuana.” No. “Charlie?” !!!
Lately we’ve had lots of power cuts. As a sign on reception explains Goa has a population of 1.5m but gets 2.7m visitors each year. Christmas and New Year is the busiest time as loads of Europeans and Mumbains come here. The infrastructure and utilities just can’t cope and we often lose power and water.
Thankfully Asterix is in a shaded wooded area so if the ceiling fans are off it’s not too bad. It’s deceiving about the heat. We can be cool in the hostel and then if we walk just about 100 yards to the main road it’s like a furnace. In the evening we’ll generally find a gang to have a meal with, sometimes followed a bar session here in Vagator or elsewhere. Generally we are the earliest to bed, a set of bunks in a dorm of 6. There’s always someone rolling in around 6 or 7 in the morning. You can’t stop the partying in Goa! 🙂
Insects, animals, funny dog tales and those darn mosquitos
At first we were wary of all the insects but not were just used to it. There are little crawly things everywhere; even in food and on clean dishes. You just can’t avoid them and now we are totally blasé. So far, thankfully, we’ve not had any unwelcome visitors in our bed. People have told us stories of frogs jumping on them and sticking to them, and massive cockroaches. One night we had a giant grass hopper in our room but thankfully Malik, a French neuroscientist dealt with it! The mossies are the worst we’ve ever known. Between 5 and 7 it’s almost impossible to sit outside, so Peg often takes to the comfort of her mossie netted bunk bed for a little siesta then. We both can’t wait to not have skin sticky from constantly being totally slathered in the local Odomos.
Goa, like all of India, is full of cows who stalk the streets forlornly looking for food. Someone drops some cardboard and they all descend on it. They are big and most have horns and block the roads as you walk along them. Peg is scared of them – with reason as a number of people have been tousled.
Then there are the dogs. They laze in the sun all day but roam in packs and go feral at night, especially on the beaches. The noise is unbelievable when, during the night, all the dogs start howling together. They have, however, provided much amusement. Asterix has 2 buildings. The West Wing has its own adopted dog. One night resident Mitch allowed the dog to come with us all to a beach bar. He dutifully followed us on the 20 minute walk, sitting at our feet in the bar. Then we got a taxi to go to another bar. Dog (as he’s been named) wasn’t having it. He ran after the taxi keeping up as the taxi went at 40, 50 miles an hour, only losing him when he came across other dogs. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast.
Dogs obviously also mean puppies. One evening we had been at a a local bar when the owner honestly asked me if I wanted to look at some puppies. :-). They were the cutest ever, and have become a favourite with Asterix residents. I may have inadvertently started something tho. Early in the trip we met this bloke who told us how he stroked a half dead dog in Albania, came up in hives, and so had to have rabies jabs; you have to have rabies jabs within 24 hours of being infected. After stroking the puppies one night I joked back at the hostel about not having had a rabies jab! A day or so later, Jason who owns the hostel put on his Facebook: “No…for the 10th time…you cannot get rabies because you got licked by a dog”. Later that day someome else posted “So… Girl at the hostel got licked by and dog and is convinced that she had rabies. Went to the doctor and got a shot and is now convinced she has aids from an infected needle at the hospital and is bawling her eyes out in the middle of the hostel…entertaining”. It was terrible that we all laughed, particularly as the next morning she was still at the computer googling with tears still flowing, according to gossip now worrying that the rabies jab wasn’t a rabies jab.
Hopefully Christmas at Asterix will prove to be just as interesting. This morning’s excitement is a rumour of a bar what does a proper English roast dinner! We will let you know.