#13Not Exploring Palolem

Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2001 10:22

The bus drops us off in Arambol at the end of our 55 hour marathon trek from Mount Abu and we follow the arrow marked 'Arambol Beach' pointing away from the village centre down a little lane.

The journey since we stepped down from the Mumbai to Goa Konkan Express has been through a landscape very different from Rajasthan. Goa is a tiny state, sandwiched between the sea and the Western Ghats, a line of rugged jungle covered mountains running roughly parallel to the coast 50kms inland. The majority of the terrain is hilly and everywhere, particularly now at the end of the monsoon, everywhere is bountifully, voluptuously, deep dark green. So green that you can hear it in the swooshing of branches, swaying in the breeze and groaning under the weight of so many spreading leaves each dripping with the fresh monsoon rain which feeds the abundant streams and rivers.

Rice paddies are almost everywhere but the omniscient plant is the todi, the coconut palm, whose long slender, giraffe's neck trunk can be seen everywhere, reaching upwards before exploding into plumes of coconuts and foliage which look like hundreds of fruit fireworks photographed in mid-explosion. Todi trees line the roads, divide the fields, climb the more gentle hillsides on man-made terraces and patrol the spacious, airy groves lining the back of all but the smallest beaches and coves. The trees are worked hard, tapped three times a day for their sap and regularly climbed and stripped of their fruits.

But the niceties of our new environment are invisible to us as we walk down the lane toward the beach. All we know is that the humidity has somehow managed to render onto us all the effects of standing under a hotel power-shower whilst maintaining the impression that it isn't even drizzling. After a fully laden, sodden kilometre we reach the beach which spreads out before us to our left, broad, very gently shelving and populated with wooden fishing boats receding into the distance for a kilometre before a slight bend in the landmass creates a hazy corner. I sit a soaking Sausage down in one of the rag-tag collection of bars at the junction of the road with the beach and, following the directions of a typically terse Israeli we stopped on our way down the lane, walk out onto the beach and turn right, away from the broad expanse of sand and set off toward the rocky headland on a narrow path.

I round the point of the headland and see another identical outcrop 300 metres in front of me as the crow flies. Between these two sentries are a series of tiny boulder-strewn coves where the sea crashes noisily onto the rocks and pebbles. The land shelves steeply from a cliff-top 50 metres above the sea but is just, only just, far enough away from the vertical to allow crazed Indian entrepreneurs to fulfill the dreams of increasing numbers of visitors to sleep with the sound of the ocean crashing in their dreams. I inspect two rooms and pick the larger, which is spacious and airy and spoiled only by a bed which is an utterly unforgiving topographical representation of the Peak District and by the pervasive atmosphere of salty damp which we choose to believe will dissipate imminently. I round a corner and walk straight into Tom and Petra who we had met in Udaipur, proving what a small place traveller's India can be.

Our journey from Panjim (first stop after the train station and Goa's state capital) involved 2 buses, a ferry and another bus and cost us a grand total of 15 rupees each (20 pence). We had jumped on the bus in Panjim having failed to get the taxi driver to lower his final offer of 325 rupees (4.65 pounds) for the same journey. So imagine our shock when the couple in the adjoining room, with whom we share a verandah, emerge, introduce themselves as Bee and Olly and tell us that they had paid 600 rupees (8.65 pounds) for the same taxi journey!

As the evening draws in the four of us sit nattering on the verandah and feel smugly unaffected by the torrential downpours that come and go. When a storm comes in from the ocean that lies before us cloaked in the pitch black of the starless night we hear the storm long before we see it as the rains thrash the surface of the sea producing a roar like an approaching helicopter which is inevitably followed, firstly by the drumming on the roof, then by the parallel and equidistant rivulets of rainwater pouring off the tiles creating a night-time black and rainwater-silver striped curtain.

Our smugness is revealed as vastly premature when we go to bed. We are on the top floor of two and the roof leaks. Not only in a 'look there's a damp patch on the wall' kind of way, but also in a 'raindrops keep falling on my head' kind of way. We drowsily move the bed out of the way of the biggest holes in the roof and drift in and out of sleep as occasional fat drops and frequent mists of rainwater splat or drift across our legs arms and faces.

We get up the next morning and everything is dampened, including our spirits, but the natural beauty of the setting is confirmed as we walk Northwards around the second sentry headland and onto another wonderful beach, backed by a freshwater lake with sulphurous springs where you can bathe in the hot mud, a treat we promise to give ourselves as soon as the weather improves. Our first, favourable impressions are dented somewhat as we pass a number of discarded syringes amongst the rocks at the back of the beach.

We scan the verandahs of all the neighbouring rooms searching for signs of a vacancy but, seeing none and feeling optimistic that there can't be another night of torrential rain we decide to stay put.

Sausage has acquired a new mozzie bite on her right thigh, unlike any of it's predecessors and over the course of the day it blooms spectacularly, spreading outwards in a perfect circle like one of those paper flowers that expand when you put them in water. By the evening the skin looks at maximum extension, every follicle clearly visible across its' 3 inch diameter. But through the second night it continues to grow and I can feel the heat if I hold my hand 2 inches above Sausage's thigh. By the morning the swollen virulently red circle is 5 inches across but the worst has past and it slowly recedes.

Throughout day two in Arambol the weather remains resolutely the same and the day passes under leaden skies with the only excitement occurring when the HUGE 4 inch spider who lives in the bathroom leaps off the wall at shoulder height, lands on the floor and starts scuttling ('as fast as a rat!' she says) towards Sausage who is next seen stood on the bed, screaming.

After another night of ferocious storms that confound our optimism even our souls are wet and during a day spent riding through the rain on a hired moped we decide to take the hike South in search of better weather. It feels like giving up, but we are two very damp Sausages and we need to get to somewhere where our clothes, lungs and aching joints can dry out.

The big successes in Arambol are the company and the food. We learn from Tom and Petra how to ensure a harmonious relationship by displacing all conflict into games of backgammon and resolve to take it up, but only after we've left Arambol where we can let the hours drift by chatting happily but damply with Bee and Olly who will be back at their London desks within the week and who kindly offer to ferry home a parcel of things that have proved to be useless, so useless that I've already forgotten what they are.

The food is gorgeous, tandoori shark, big meaty tiger prawns, great butter chicken. If we can find similar food in Palolem, our next stop, then we will be very happy bunnies.

But one last disaster awaits us. On the evening before we depart we go to collect the washing we had given in 2 days before. It still isn't ready but we are promised it, dry and ironed at 6.30am the next morning. It eventually appears at 7am 'completely dry' according to the laundry man, which would only be true if it were a synonym for 'still soaking wet.' So we pack it away still soaking and the final coup-de-grace has to wait until we unpack in Palolem where we find garish purple streaks across all the whites which feels like final confirmation that we had correctly interpreted the portents telling us to move on. Things can only get better.

Lots of Love
The Travelling Sausages