What a difference a beach makes.

Our first day of lounging at Vagator Beach in Goa. We’ve been here for six days and the last day while waiting for our bus to Hampi we’re spending chilling at the beach (although it’s more like frying than chilling…).

Our first day here in Goa we didn’t really do much at all, just looking around the Vagator area, eating and having a few beers. We’re very surprised about how quiet this place is, bearing in mind its reputation for being a partying Indian version of Spain’s Ibiza or Costa del Sol. But after a bit of research we realise that due to stringent noise-pollution laws the big Goan beach parties that goes on for days at end are no longer happening. They still try to arrange some beach rave-parties here but because they have to shut the parties down at 22:00 they don’t seem to properly take off at all, and it leaves many tourists here very disappointed. Apparently in the very high season – leading up to Christmas and New Years – they still go on. The Lonely Planet did mention that the club-scene in Goa was winding down a bit and it’s not like it was in its heydays – this information is really out of date though unfortunately, as it’s now pretty much dead. The new noise-pollution laws must have been disastrous to many local businesses and the employment in the area. With signs of many closed guesthouses and shops, it looks like it used to be a very thriving place and it now is trying to clutch at straws to stay afloat. It has been very nice with a bit more relaxing quiet atmosphere, but we’re disappointed with the nightlife here. There are good sides to the fact that the party paradise is no more of course. One such is that the locals can have a more normal life and get some sleep. Another is of course that the now much slower pace of life makes it a very relaxing place to visit, and we’ve sworn to come back again.

After some recommendations from other travellers we decided to hire a scooter while in Goa. I’ve never driven a scooter before, so naturally I was a bit reluctant to just hire one and shoot off into the crazy Indian traffic without first a little practice on the local small roads. Found the scooter really weird to handle and it took me a little time to get used to drive this weird little thing (quite big and awkward actually), especially with a passenger on the back. It gave me a bit of hope and boost in confidence to see many others having the same problems. Many near crashes later, as in about 30 minutes and as many near-crash-experiences, we got to our first destination with our new vehicle of freedom – my nerves were by this time slightly frazzled… The trip back was however much smoother and easier – also because by then I knew the way back of course, and we didn’t have to navigate by inadequate maps. The first test of fire had gone well (we didn’t crash), so I was sort of confident enough to take the next leap of faith and head out on the main roads to get down to the capital of Goa, Panaji. Leap of faith indeed – the traffic here is nothing like I’ve ever seen before, and driving in it can be a hair-raising experience – not recommended even if you have a strong heart. From the back of the scooter I had a running commentary mostly consisting of “crazy bus driver”, “use your horn Tom”, “Watch out for the cow/dog/goat/massive crater of a pothole/crazy bus/mad tuc-tuc driver” and so on. We finally get to Panaji – thankfully in one piece – and try to find our way around to the government run Goa-Tourism office in order to book a couple of sightseeing tours. This turns out to be quite difficult with the poor maps of the Lonely Planet guide (we’re seriously starting to become tired of these not-adequate maps). By the time we find the office it has closed for the day and the sun is about to go down – we decide to come back next day and start to head back in the midst of rush traffic – bad idea! What earlier seemed like mad traffic now appears quite tame in comparison all of a sudden. The commentary from the back was more or less consisting of the same phrases as before, only now much louder and more frequent…

Next day we went straight down to the Goa-Tourist office and booked our trip for a sightseeing tour of South Goa. We also wanted to book a tour to see the Dudhsagar Falls, but had to give up on that idea as it only run on certain days – none that fitted our schedule obviously. Once that task was done we headed out on our trusted scooter to see one of the spice plantations. It took some time to find the one we were looking for – Savoi Plantations – but at the end of a very long detour we finally got there with very numb bums after shaking about on the scooter for God knows how long. The tour of the plantation was very interesting and informative so it was definitely worth the numb bums. We also got lunch included in our tour and it consisted of a huge serving of various dishes – about as much food as you might be able to finish off in about a week.

On our way back from the spice plantations we sort out our bus tickets for going to Hampi. We can’t seem to get exactly the type of bus that we would prefer, but by now we’re starting to get used to the way things work here – or not as the case may be. All sorted out we manage to leave Panaji just in time to beat the mad rush traffic – result!

The tour we booked with Goa-Tourism isn’t quite what we hoped for. As it’s a government office we thought it would be of the same standards as the RTDC (Rajasthan Tourist Development Company) sightseeing tour in Jaipur. To our surprise they only act as an agent for another travel agency, who in turn is an agent for yet another travel agency… We get onto the bus and hope for the best. The guide seems perfectly able to speak English and promise to first do briefings and info in Hindi before translating into English for us. Unfortunately he becomes very lazy and decides to make it one of our fellow passengers’ tasks to translate for us, which we find is very rude of him. This poor little girl of only about maximum 13 years old get the responsibility for looking after us around the sights and translate instructions for when to get back to the bus and such. We feel very sorry for this poor little girl who probably wants to enjoy her tour she’s paid for, and we try to be of as little of a burden as possible. One thing, and the thing that annoys us the most with the tour is that the most interesting scheduled stop (for us at least) – Ancestral Goa – gets dropped off because the majority of the passengers doesn’t want to spend the extra 100 Rupees for the entrance fee to the site, and because the vote for this was all done in Hindi we weren’t able to object to this before it was too late. Even with some disappointments along the way we had a good day, and it’s nice to get a little bit sightseeing done. But when at the end of the tour our guide tries to sell us another trip for the day after, we secretly chuckle to ourselves (what a joker…) and tell him we can’t as we’ll be travelling towards Hampi.

After our beach-session on our last day we’re so docile we forget to check our ticket for departure time, and we both have it in our mind the bus leaves at 21:00… We realise as we sit down in a cafe in Panaji and are about to order that the bus leaves at 20:00 and according to the ticket we were already supposed to be at the assembly post… In full rush – waving our oversized backpacks around in this little cafe it’s a miracle we don’t knock anyone over or break something – we start running to get to the bus on time.

The bus to Hampi would have been much more comfortable if we had some leg-space, and the couple in front of us didn’t recline their seats to the max. With crushed knees we arrive in Hampi about 07:00 in the morning – what met us there woke us up pretty sharply…

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