Our First Stop: Palolem, South Goa
We arrived in Goa on the 16th November and headed straight to Palolem Beach!
Out of recommendation from friends who go there every year, we stayed at Papillon Beach Huts on the south side of the beach. Our intention was to stay for a week or two until we found a house to rent. As it was the beginning of the season, we stood a better chance to find one available before all the holidaymakers get there late December and January.
Our first few weeks were enjoyed on the beach waking up to the sound of the waves crashing onto the shore and having coffee served to us on our hut’s porch overlooking the ocean. It was bliss and as the beginning of an exciting adventure we really enjoyed just being and relaxing.
Papillon was fab as it had the restaurant and chill-out sofas just downstairs from our room. We went for early swims and spent most of our time on the beach. Matt found some Frisbee buddies (the massage guys from Papillon), although I did play with him on occasions, in-between sunbathing.
We spoke to Papillon’s owner, who’s name is Heaven, and he mentioned he could have 3 houses to show us the following week. That same day we met a really nice guy from Birmingham who was there waiting for a friend. He got talking to us and as we spoke about our plans, he mentioned that his friend D has a house to rent, but it wasn’t ready yet. Funnily enough, this ended up being one of the houses Heaven was going to show us!
The following week, after meeting D and viewing the house, we loved it and sealed a deal.
After 2 weeks at Papillon, we moved out to head to the house. Once we got there we soon all realised that we needed mosquito meshes before we settled in, as the house was full of them. D’s parents live 6 months of the year in Palolem as they run a guest house and they let us move into one of the bungalows until the house was fitted with at least the first few meshes. We ended up staying there another 2 weeks, as we were to discover the concept of time in India is somewhat fluid. They put the Spanish ‘Mañana’ to shame!
As luck would have it, D’s mum’s cleaner had a bike (in perfect condition) to rent for only 200 Rupees per day (just over £2), so we used this for our 4 months there!
Whilst at the bungalow, one morning we decided to get up early (7am) to go to an ATM in Chaudi (next town near our house) as the earlier you go the less likely there is to be a queue. We hopped on the bike and drove off. As we took the corner there was a pack of dogs standing in the road and started barking and running after us. I had to raise my legs quite high in the air to avoid one of them reaching my left leg! It was like bike-yoga and that definitely woke us up.
Goa is dog land; there are around 100 dogs, if not more nowadays, in Palolem alone. The thing is that during the day most are harmless, but at night and early in the morning they gather in packs and seem to change their behaviour. The funny thing is we opted for not having rabies shots before coming out here (well done us!) One just needs to be vigilant, always look behind you if a dog is nearby, and not walk at night without a stick or a bottle of water. Apparently they don’t like water thrown at them!
India had a Cash Crisis!
Unbeknown to us, we arrived 1 week after the cash crisis or money problem (as they call it here) began in India, where the Prime Minister Narendra Modi banned the 500 and 1000 Rupee notes (the country’s 2 biggest bank notes) to crack down on black money. Banks were short of cash, low earners were struggling and the economy was hit hard. Not to mention a hit on Tourism at the start of the season!
To give a bit of context, half of the population of India don’t use banks or have bank accounts, many are illiterate and live day to day for cash (such as taxi and rick shaw drivers, shop traders and waiters) The rich have a lot of cash that goes undeclared, so Modi found this the best way of getting them to declare this money and pay tax or lose it!
Modi issued a new 2000 Rupee note the latter part of November but no one had any change, so this was hard for everyone as tourism and spending was down. Bars/Restaurants ran tabs to overcome the problem, but this didn’t end here as there was also a limit on daily withdrawals from anyone accessing an ATM; not to mention endless queues of 4-5 hours. Only a 2000 Rupees (£24) withdrawal limit was in place, which then went up to 2500 (£30), however you could withdraw up to 4-5 times, but as the queues grew larger, you weren’t very popular if you took ages with many attempts.
We were lucky as Papillon exchanged money for us – we used some pounds and dollars that we had. We ran tabs to eat whilst out and paid some on our credit card. We also went to the ATM either late in the evening or early morning and managed to avoid any queues.
From January the money issue seemed to have been resolved with banks having made the note switch – 500 and 2000’s are in full swing. ATM withdrawals are up to 10,000 Rupees (£122) and you can withdraw more than once.
After moving into the house we had a deal with D to dress the place with nice bits, as it was a blank canvas in need of colour (he deducted this from our rent)
So we had a bit of fun playing house by buying cushion covers, candles, bed covers and some art for the walls!
So far we have been here coming up to 4 months and love it. We have used the house as a base whilst we travelled the surrounding areas in Goa, as well as venturing down to Gokarna and Kerala in February.
Our trip to the Paul John Whisky Distillery
We tried a lovely whisky made in Goa, which I had never heard of. Matt is a lot more knowledgable about Whisky than I am, but I do enjoy drinking the stuff! Never used to, but my taste buds must have changed!
We met a guy at the shop who was a representative of the Paul John Whisky Distillery, an hour and a half away from Palolem, so after convincing us to visit, we decided to do this on the next available date which was in January.
Meeting new friends
We were pretty busy meeting people and it was fun! D was in Goa with some friends in November and we had a few days on the beach and a few nights out. One of the evenings we gate-crashed an Israeli gathering of travellers who were in a circle playing music and Poi (a performing art; it involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns) so we naturally joined in on the Poi action as we know how to use them.
By then I had tried and loved the local Fenny (Goa’s local alcohol like Grappa to Italians) and was enjoying it with lemon Mirinda (similar to Lemon Fanta)
Another time we travelled to a pretty much deserted beach (Turtle beach, known as Galgibaga beach) and 7 of us crunched into a car, when a 30-minute journey turned into fits of giggles. We ate Oysters on this beach at a shack that specialises in fresh seafood, called ‘Santosh Beach Restaurant’
The couple that recommended Papillon, were coming out here late December with friends, so we spent some time with them drinking Spanish Red Wine that they had brought, going on a sunset boat trip for one of their birthdays and shouting ‘Underpants’ every time fireworks went off. Don’t ask! (but I do want to explain; many Indians that go swimming wear their underpants and its not a pretty sight!)
A different type of Christmas!
We spent Christmas day on the beach, just to be different! Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t realised that I was sunbathing at the worst time of the day without a hat, so unbeknown to me I got sunstroke. I hadn’t ever experienced this so didn’t realise, but as we were going to head back to the house to get ready for the evening celebrations at Papillon, I started being sick. I was about to get on the back of the bike when it happened, so I ran to a bush. It happened every half hour on the dot but only lasted 5 hours. Sleep and staying at home for a couple of days after saw me through it. Guess what I bought after that? One piece of advice is always wear a hat between 12-3pm.
For New Year’s I wasn’t going to make the same mistake! We met up with our friends in the evening to have dinner and watch the fireworks on the beach. We had heard that Xmas and New Year’s is a bit mental in Goa and not to be missed – bear in mind there is no health and safety whatsoever here! Fireworks can be bought and launched by anyone, so restaurants and other people had fireworks on the beach. It was mayhem, with firework boxes going off at the edge of the shore in all directions as one of the boxes caught fire. We ducked at one point haha!
As January went on we did the usual beach hopping, going to surrounding areas of Palolem such as Cola Beach, Agonda Beach, Patnem Beach, Rajbag Beach, Talpona Beach and Galgibaga Beach.
Rajbag, Talpona and Galgibaga are much more secluded and undeveloped, probably what Palolem used to be like 10 years ago. With just a few huts and restaurants to enjoy a nice coffee and something to eat, these are the best beaches if you want to avoid crowds.
Restaurants & Cafes to keep everyone happy!
The restaurants here are plentiful and as coffee lovers our first mission was to find a decent cup of coffee! We found 3 or 4 of them that have proper espresso machines so happy days! Best coffee is at ‘Café Inn’ on the main stretch of the beach (North Palolem), owned by 3 Israelis; they also do Crepes – best one is the Banana and Nutella with Ice cream!
Other places such as ‘Little world’ (also on the main stretch), Sabinas (just behind a restaurant/Huts called ‘Found Things’ and ‘Ferns by Kates’ (which we just call Kate’s, running parallel to the South side of the beach) and ‘Salida del Sol’ on Patnem Beach, have good coffee and food. There is really everything you would want here, from proper Indian food to continental choices. If you love Pizza, Magic of Italy specialises in these and is run by an Italian woman who has lived in Goa for 17 years!
Although Palolem has many small shops where you can buy veg and other food, we get our household supplies from the local supermarket and other shops in Chaudi (closest town to Palolem, about 10 mins from the beach) To me this place is hell as too busy; roads full of traffic, people shopping and very hot. I try and avoid going there if I can, as am more of a beach gal after all! Matt tends to go up there on the bike to buy anything we need. When we have to buy heavier things, then I will go with him and get a tuk-tuk back.
If one needs clothes, there are plenty of beach shops with Indian trousers, dresses and tops, or running parallel to the beach on the back road there are plenty of other shops and boutiques to choose from.
Post office: same same but different!
Things are definitely done differently down here and it takes a bit of time not to fight it and just go along with it, even if it makes no sense.
For example; if you go to the post office to send a package back to your country of domicile, they will expect you to get a box yourself to put your things in, then you have to go to a Tailors (also in Chaudi) so he can wrap the box with white fabric.
We went with some friends and found out the hard way; at first they told us to get a box, no mention of wrapping this box, so after going back with the box they told us we had to go away again (in sweltering heat) and get it wrapped by the tailors, whilst he pointed in the direction of the road (not so friendly or polite) Matt and our friend went on a 40 min hunt for the tailors. Finally, they sent the package! For 2 Kg it cost them just over 1000 Rupees (£12)
It makes sense if you want a lighter load on your backpack or if you buy nice things to send back. So many travellers we have seen have gigantic ruck sacks compared to our 40L hand luggage ones!
As we planned to come out here we decided, after much research, to travel the world with only hand luggage (and Matt’s Guitar that would go in the hold) I had spent time reading and watching videos on YouTube on how to choose what clothes to bring and how to pack with only a small wardrobe (carry on rucksack)
Read my blog here about Carry-on Travel (how to travel with hand luggage only)
Goa Elections – we elected to leave to the next State!
As February approached, Goa had their first local elections in 6 years. The elections were very odd; the local police were confiscating alcohol in some restaurants as they banned the selling and consumption of alcohol leading up to the date. There is a real alcohol problem in Goa, so they probably wanted to keep everyone’s heads clear?! We avoided all of the fuss and politics by getting a train down to Gokarna, which is in Karnataka State about 1.5 hours by train. I wrote about our time there on Goa to Gokarna
Holiday from holiday!
We also went down to Kerala a few days after Gokarna – a 19-hour train ride in sleeper carriages (we had to experience it, but next time we will fly!) I covered our experience on Our Trip to Kerala
In Kerala we met a lovely young Israeli couple who we befriended and invited up to Goa to stay with us in the house. We spent a week with them going to the beach and travelling north to Anjuna market, which was a busy but fun experience, before they travelled down to Chennai in Tamil Nadu State to volunteer on a farm.
We had a lovely time, both in Kerala and Goa with them and still stay in touch!
We thoroughly enjoyed our 4 months in Goa, but it’s time to look forward to other adventures. Next destination Sri Lanka!
See other blogs to find out what else we got up to! Thank you for reading.