Shopping in Jaipur does entail some planning, otherwise you risk ending up in a driver’s choice of shop, which means overpriced shoddy tat that they get an 80% cut of the final price. I had a list of stores I wanted to visit, ahhh interweb, you are not all evil and trolling, you do serve up some naughty but nice options.
Day 1 proper here was picking up where it left off last time re sightseeing, first up to the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, set near Amber Fort, showcasing the history, tools and techniques if block printing. The pieces in the restored haweli are stunning, and the setting of the renovated building is perfect.
Amber Fort was heaving with tourists, guides, touts etc. I’d been before but had only a vague recollection of it and that we had had a guide….left a lasting impression clearly. Nahagarh Fort, aka Tiger Fort has had a bit of a makeover, which was good to see, as the rushed last minute viewing as it was closing (back in 2013) involved being shown all the hideous graffiti left by tourists. The guide was palpably upset, and at the end of our whistlestop viewing refused any money for having taken his time up.
I had kept the day to a 4pm stop, so a quick Sweet Lassi at Lassiwallah with Imran, my impeccable driver and I was home in time for a quick explore to Anokhi. By explore, I mean a mad purchasing moment.
Anokhi has been around for about 40yrs, creating high quality block print products across a wide range of homeware and clothing. The men’s shirts are a win for me, as I can actually fit into them. The homeware is a joy as I don’t need to fit into any of it, however that makes you (me) become slightly irrational in the purchasing dept. Therefore one quilt, bed sheet, 4 curtains, 2 shirts later I staggered out into the night, after an early supper in the cafe, planning the posting home of my recent acquisitions and promising myself no more shopping…in Jaipur…Still, no harm in looking…right?
So I made a plan for day 3, post office, and a ‘stroll’ a long MI Road, visiting a number of particular stores, oh, and maybe a lassi at Lassiwallah too. When I say stroll, I really mean a forced march, avoiding the traffic that sweeps up behind you, horns a-blazing, and the taxi drivers, rickshaw wallah’s, and cycle rickshaw wallahs asking where you are going.
I was doing pretty well, I was on MI Road for a start, so that was a win, I’d divested myself of my parcel, win 2, sun was shining and I was pretty oblivious to the traffic when I heard a well mannered voice say ‘Madam, hello, what are you doing today?’, and I turned round to be greeted by an immaculately dressed cycle rickshaw driver with a shock of orange hennaed hair. Normally I’d brush off anyone who approaches me but he had a calmness and gentleness, can’t really explain it. ‘We are going for lassi’, I said. ‘Would you like one, I’m buying?’
Jaipur, the Pink City, I first visited in 1992, I don’t remember too much other than spending a lot of time near or on the toilet after a dodgy masala dosa in Jodhpur. The unhappy stomach was a trend that reoccurred in 1997 too, where the world fell out of my arse after I was given well water to drink by well-meaning hosts. A hospital trip with suspected typhoid and then a night spent wrung out and ill at the family home, I was dispatched back to my hotel to the news that Princess Diana had died.TBH I was past caring, I just wanted to be reassured that I’d be returning to normal bowel movements, as opposed to ones that were like a tap exploding water everywhere when a hose pipe comes detached due to too much pressure.
2013 was the last visit, cold weather and a ‘guard’ (aka driver) we acquired at the station who seemed to want us not to wander off anywhere on our own, in case he dipped out of any potential commission. Also, me and my travelling companion nearly came to blows about my lack of negotiating powers when in the clutches of shop owners (it’s something I’m crap at, and hate with a passion).
We had shivered in our hotel room, I slept in my sleeping bag in bed, our shower head pointed straight into an unfinished electrical socket, which someone had stuffed with a bit of plastic in an attempt to waterproof it, and the hotel manager told us that, in time, they’d be able to install a lift where the big hole running through the center of the hotel was. A window in our room adjoined the kitchen, so we could hear them cooking. I’m still not sure why we stayed there, it was, with hindsight, very odd.
This time I stayed in Hathroi Fort area, at Kalpana’s Homestay & Yoga, a lovely home off the main road, beautifully looked after by the owners. It’s pretty quiet, if you discount the call to prayers, the revved up motorbikes, random screechings, late night wedding fire crackers -normal, you know? Yoga took place in the room next to mine, so I could fall out of bed and fall onto my rug (makes for some interesting moves as it’s on a marble floor…). The practice is Hatha, so lots of breath work (always fun with a cold, and a very blocked nose) which turns out to be hard going for the fatty foreigner, whilst the salwar kameez’d ladies next to me seem to just take it in their stride, only occasionally stopping for a lil’ rest if there’s something they can’t / don’t want to do. Afterwards is a hearty breakfast and amazing chai, sugarless, I’ve rediscovered a love for a cuppa.
I’d like to say there’s been a pattern to the days but there hasn’t really, except that each day has had something that’s really made it special, and Jaipur a pleasure to visit (and not just because I’ve avoided the screaming abdabs).
I’ve also now officially become ‘madam’, aka ‘old lady’, I can’t now say ‘I’m not a bloody madam, I’m a miss’, because I know anyone would just shake their heads sadly at my misapprehension. Plus, I have been known to have an afternoon nap, at least once so far, because it’s all been a bit tiring. It’s fun being back though.
Indi-aaaaaaahhhhhhhh! Jaipur to be precise. Hathroi Fort area, just off the main road so there’s minimal hornings, barkings, and general shenanigans. There is a mosque nearby, and it’s comforting to hear call to prayer, even if it’s first thing in the morning of your first full day back in this car congested, smog filled, fort filled pink city. My feet were black with dirt but my cheeks were hurting (the face ones) from smiling at being here, despite the stinking cold and blocked ear.
Apart from the 48hrs of sneezing, my snoring at Mumbai domestic airport, and general deafness all the way here, it was ANOTHER uneventful process from start to finish. Although I did leave a fiver in the blooming shoe scanner box at Heathrow, the plane was unaccountably an hour late departing, but arrived practically on time, and the same thing happened out of Mumbai domestic (is this a ‘thing’ now? You lie about your real departure time, leave late, then arrive on time so people are even more impressed than if it’d just been business as usual…?)My bag was only 14.5kilos – that’s 3 x the cat….he’s a portion, but not a rucksack sized one, my plane neighbours were really friendly and chatty, but not intrusively so, and I was door to door Woking 925 to T5 duty free in 45mins.
What was then even weirder was, having been geared up for a 3hour marathon wait at immigration at Mumbai International and arranging 6 hrs between arriving and departing to final destination to avoid the mad dehydrated scramble to find my bag that was removed from the luggage carousel 2.5hrs before, then hightail it to domestic, all whilst desperately needing a pee, there was NO-ONE, NO-ONE (okay 6) at passport control. And when I say NO-ONE, I’m referring to foreign arrivals and not the customs officers, who usually are nowhere to be found. It was bizarre, eerily so. 30plus counters, nearly all manned and by awake and engaged officials….what was going on? Turns out a daytime arrival is where it’s at, as it’s at 2am that all the flights come in from left and right and fill the hall to the brim. Even the e-Visa process only required the one finger….my right index, as it turns out. I was done in 5mins and for the first time in living history was actually at a Mumbai International carousel before my luggage. Through and out in 20mins. It had taken longer to walk from the plane to the hall, than it did to get through and to my bag. I was stunned. And mildly put out that I now had a 5hr wait to get my connection.
Still, it meant that I could leisurely wander my way out and actually see what the arrivals part of the airport is like, as normally it’s a blur. Taxi drive was a blur, as I avoided looking out the window too much as it was total chaos, as per. The ceiling was a good distraction.
Luckily check-in at domestic is a handy 4hrs in advance, although that didn’t deter too many turning up last minute, or else sitting around at the airport, chitchatting with each other and taking random photos with the foreigner with the red nose and unbrushed hair because she is ‘so pretty’ (couldn’t offer any free eye tests, sadly) before realising the calls for their flights were coming through the tannoy and them and their luggage needed to be at a check in desk sharpish.
One airport masala dosa later and I was ready for my Jaipur flight. Once the airline put the actual seats on my seat and 2 others we were strapped in and ready to go nowhere, in order to leave late and arrive on time. Again. And so at 19:15 I touched down into Jaipur international airport, out into a cool night and into my car to head to my home for 5nights. Good to be back.
Starigrad is a UNESCO world heritage site, and more of a tourist stop off point for those coming from Split or other parts of Hvar or Croatia, which is a shame really as it risks becoming a town in aspic, there for the convenience of the tourist dollar dollar. It is improbably beautiful, dating back to Greek times, c385BC, with historical buildings every which way you turn down narrow pathways of stone worn smooth by tens of thousands of shoes.
I can imagine the little streets can get very congested extremely quickly, full of tourists in quick dry wick-away shorts, socks, and walking sandals, with mahoosively lensed cameras, bumbags and hats. Yes, I have been there done that, without wickaway or a sock/sandal combo but not, to the best of my knowledge, into a living, breathing town. You’re always mindful of whose home it is you’re noseying at, who’s door that is, and what is going on behind it. Often you can tell, as music, voices and general living can be heard. So, not everything is in Disneyland picturesque unreality .
It’s easy to fall into a routine of whiling away time. Breakfast at home, then out to the town for coffee, watching the world go by, along with the locals, particularly the men, who gather together to drink, smoke and gossip. Then it’s a meander off in one direction or another along the shoreline, through forests of pine that smell fresh and somehow comforting, to find small pebbly beaches where a few folk are laid out, catching the rays, and a few more hardy souls who have braved the chill of the adriatic and are swimming in the brilliant blue waters.
The colour of the water is something I haven’t seen in a long, long time. It’s dazzling in its intensity and the way it changes colour as it reaches depths further out. The other thing that hits you is the quiet. Even on a Friday or a Saturday, there is nothing to be heard except for the slap of the water on the shore, the wind in the trees, and the occasional bird. I wonder how it compares to the height of season. Although as it appears to be more of a day visit kind of a place, maybe not so much.
At Alternative Tourist Board I talked to one on of the owners, Kresimir, who told me that a lot of the property here is bought by Norwegians as second homes, consequently house prices are rocketing. Still, it doesn’t stop me having a nosey online at prices and momentarily dreaming of buying a house with a plot of land attached to turn into a retreat / B&B / home yoga spot.
If I were here longer, or if I were not having to juggle a project that’s midway through right now, I would have explored further afield. Got a bus to Hvar town for the day, gone to lay on the beach till I got stiff and uncomfortable on the pebbles or burnt. As it is, the ability to create routine of doing nothing, except decide on the ice cream flavour for the day or where to eat of an evening is quickly established and maintained. Starigrad is a saviour for the frazzled of mind in need of beauty and not much thinking or doing. I think I may have found my home.
First night in the town of Starigrad, Hvar. The fat boy is at home with a TrustedHousesitter and her son. He soon made friends as he saw they had food. Unfortunately for him it was vegetarian. He is a persistent little bugger though and tried again, but not sure dhal is where it’s at for cats….
I had done the classic of booking an early morning flight to make the most of the first day in a new land. Forgot that bit that meant you were waking up in the middle of the night practically jet lagged before you started. Faffage also meant it was gone 11 before I crawled into bed, still half dressed to take the pain out of dressing at dark o’clock. It didn’t matter how tired I actually was, my inveterate fear of not being late meant I never really slept and was up, albeit not really awake, at 2.20am.
The journey turned into one of the smoothest I’ve ever encountered, what was actually going on??? No panics about forgotten bags, no creating near carnage on the roads, no losing and refinding and relosing items….heck, was I actually finally getting better at being organised at travelling? Jury’s out, let’s stick with fluke for the moment, or maybe the universe is saying to skip that long haul malarkey…
So Luton, so easy peasy. Car parked, bus to LLA – Welsh for Airport perhaps, or the new funky logo for (not)-London Luton Airport. Bit of a queue at security, but, they proactively opened up another lane. Breakfast was bob on, then time to go to the gate. No EasyJet hassle about having a big bag, too many bags, not enough bags, nothing. By this time I was thinking that maybe I could have taken some time to a) brush me huur that morning and not tie it back in two bunches, b) put some make up on so I didn’t look as if I’d packed my luggage under my eyes, c) dressed for the occasion, as opposed to like a bag lady smuggling her extra clothes on her body than risk a bag in hold incident by the airline. Consequently, I looked on in amazement at the big traveller family who were travelling on our flight. The girls (and they looked like girls, you couldn’t tell who were the mums of the smaller ones, and who were the smaller ones) were impeccably made up in that fresh orange fake tan way, tan so orangely toxic it’s not actually stored in plastic, in case it melts, false eyelashes (that once batted can cause a hurricane to happen on the other side of the Atlantic), newly dyed hair so jet black that you knew even Jon Travolta was going to struggle to get a dye job this month, and so much makeup so you didn’t know if there was a 60 or a 16yr old under it. Actually you could tell who were the older crew, proper battle axes, with dyed blonde hair tied back with scrunchies or with those hideous 80s clips with fake pearls on, with walking sticks that’d take your legs out at 20 paces and a voice that could cause a crack in Etna. They took over the plane with their bags, babies, and fast paced babbling, it was non-stop, and very entertaining. Even better was the EasyJet stewardess who kept them all under control in a schoolmarm-ish firm but funny way. Thankfully I was so tired, I actually slept through some of it but did hear one of the guys asking a woman where she was from and I heard a vay nice Home Counties voice say ‘I’m from a small place in Hampshire, and what about you?’, he replied at a million miles an hour ‘We’refromIrelandbutwetravelaroundEnglandwe’retravellers,goalloverwhereaboutsinHampshireareyou?’ Then I fell asleep.
I woke, surrounded by fellow mouth breathers, nice to know I had been in good company with others looking like they were audition for best Alyssa Edwards impersonation and then just passed out whilst parodying her tongue click. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DghOSByt6gg
Off the plane, out into SUNSHINE, yes people, it’s still out there, just waiting to be found. The airport was one of those where you walk off the plane and next thing you’ve literally hit the customs cubicle and then a spit away is baggage reclaim and a set of doors brings you out into h’actual Croatia itself. And right into a full on meltdown / screaming session being had by some worked up British gal doing us proud as a nation, as she screams, cusses and generally works herself up into a fit of Olympic proportions. Her and her patently bored partner built up quite the following as she verbally assaulted him from one end of the airport car park to the other – admittedly, not that long but long enough for us to watch and try and figure out what she might have been on and what had actually happened – had they missed a bus to a resort, or missed a flight, or did she lose a shoe, and not just her mind. Couldn’t figure it out, and didn’t really care.
Meanwhile, Croatia has it’s public transport schizzle down to pat…there’s a bus waiting for the flights (amizzin’), and it then takes you all for £4 all 25kms to Split town, right by the ferry terminal, where…dun, dun, daaaaah – your ferry is also waiting so you can hop right on. None of that ‘I’ll best allow a good 4hrs for connections’ that comes with arriving into India….
So, there I was, an hour after I had got out of the airport on my ferry to Hvar, on a comfy sofa, listening to a man talking on his phone, which was on speakerphone so we could all hear. I thought he was ‘doing business’ but he was actually drinking beer from a plastic 1ltr bottle and was probably deaf. This whole having no consideration of others in a public space appears to be the ‘thang’ right now, have your phone on speaker SO LOUD we can all hear about the AMAZING TIME YOU’RE HAVING IN CROATIA RIGHT NOW. Plus we also get the lowdown on what the person on the other end of the phone is also doing, ‘OH SO YOU’RE NOT GOING TO THE CINEMA NOW? YOU’RE JUST WALKING DOWN THE STREET, LIKE I AM EXCEPT I’M IN CROATIA – LOOOOK….’, as they swing their phone around, because, yep, gotta FaceTime too, so you can see their ugly mug as well as hear it all. Seriously, what happened to awareness of others….???
Coming into Starigrad was magical, with the bluest of blue seas sparkling in the sun, and the sky so clear. In the distance was pine forests. It looked stunning, and as we decamped into the port I wasn’t disappointed. Even walking along the main road to town was a joy, albeit one that kept you on your toes so you didn’t lose your wheelie to an oncoming car.
My Airbnb is perfection. A balcony that overlooks the little harbour , where all the yachts moor up. The host was Jesus in socks and sandals, coming up with grilled mackerel doused in olive oil and salt, fresh red wine, and a cheesecake. I sat and ate it overlooking the harbour soaking up the sounds around me. I think I might like me this Starigrad.
Wine. Croatian wine. Not two words you’d put together readily I guess, but it’s a thriving industry, based on the stacks of it available in the shops and the wine shops selling it. Bottles seem to be about the 30-40kuna level, e.g. an embarrassing £3.75 to £4 for an actually drinkable bottle that doesn’t leave you with a pounding sulphite headache. There was a wine shop that opened about 11am and appeared to have once been someone’s front room, now converted into a bar, with 3 metal ‘still’ type contraptions at the back that held the home-made stuff – presumably white, red and rose rocket fuel. Occasionally you’d see someone in there with the owner early doors, mind you, there’d be people with beers at 11am sitting outside cafes so why it should seem a bit odd to be doing it indoors a
Alongside wine, the other big seller is lavender, in all forms, as a lil’ ol’ lady sachet (as in something you’d put in your chest of drawers, not down yer lady knicker drawers), to a liqueur, to ice cream, to any ol’ gubbins as long as it could be contained in something suitably garishly purple, that was also, ideally flammable. I didn’t try any of the options, except in a lil’ lip balm courtesy of Hag Made beauty products store, without a hag in sight except yours truly.
There is a gorgeous delicatessen Za Pod Zub nearby that sells a myriad of items, mainly in liquid form, and all the things that make you think ‘dammit, should have not been so tight and wish I’d paid to put my bag in the hold.
From barrel aged vinegar (ok, I bought one of them as it was 100ml and was ready to sacrifice a sunscreen if I got questioned with my placky bag of bottles), to locally crafted gins, to olive oils, and beers, then there was the cheeses, the meats, sausage, nuts, seeds, and crisps, as well as the flavored salts, the fish, the ice cream, coffee. You name it, you could have it, and then display / serve it up on local olive wood boards alongside hand-made ceramic bowls, and then when you were seated, you’d wash up with a local tea towel. It was a dangerous place to visit for a magpie like me. The carry-on bag thing did keep me in check, which was a pisser as my bag ended up in the hold at Split airport, due to ‘people having bags’…. Argh!
Next on the top (food and beverage) ten things to love about Starigrad is the ice cream….to die for, ok, I exaggerate, but good enough to leave your sunglasses behind for. My lunchtime routine became ‘make salad’, ‘eat salad’ = good, stroll down to town = exercise = thumbs up, go to Specials, buy ice cream (a cone, obvs, with 2 flavours, he’ll yeah) = even better. Pootle back feeling sated and ready to crack on with work. What’s way to start an afternoon. Spoilt for choice, however am now thinking I’d like to visit ice cream parlour ‘Bolic‘which is in anotherStarigrad, to see if it was as nuts as all that.
My one disappointment of a meal was my last night’s, which was at Heritage Villa Apollon. A stunning building that also housed a B&B. Of course, it pissed with rain on the last night, and threats of it blowing a hoolie meant everyone had ducked in to the nearest eatery as early as possible, so I was stuffed for a table till 8.30 (practically bedtime). Wandering back, it had stopped raining but was a bit parky, and they had seats but only outside. Foof. Should have given up at that point, but I persisted. I ordered the cheeseboard starter and the squid ink risotto. The cheeseboard was stunning, and big enough for two. It came with bread, olives, a jam, and enough cheese to set up as a rival to Za Pod Zub.
I had to smuggle bits out in my bag (I say, ‘I had to’, but in reality I thought ‘great, that’s breakfast on the boat sorted tomorrow ‘). Consequently I was Harry von Stuffers. Thankfully a 45min delay for my main meant I had a bit of room it when it finally arrived. However this space was soon gone as the over-salted, over cooked, very starchy risotto hit my gut like a Guinness turd hitting the bowl after a night on the lash. Thud….The next thud was the disappointment leeching from my body. I managed about 3 mouthfuls or so it looked like,the bowl it came in appeared to be Starigrad’s answer to The Magic Porridge Pot, nothing was making it diminish any further, except to throw it in the harbour. I was worried if I laid down I’d never get up again it had been so heavy.
Luckily my bed proved to be uncomfortably helpful that night in ensuring I was up by 5am for the ferry, however I think the starchy O’D of risotto ensured I zonked straight out on the car ferry, only awakening 10mins before we docked, all disoriented and wondering if I’d drooled, snored, or both.
Hvar won my heart, it was a gently low key introduction to Croatia but a warm and fuzzy one, so next year I’m trying Dubrovnik on for size, we’ll see if they have what it takes.
My routine of wake, ensure I hadn’t time to get to yoga, breakfast, beach, shower, dinner and bed was broken up on the Sunday with a morning of photography at Mapusa market, learning to use my Fuji camera and to shamefully ‘fess up to the mahoosive scratch on the lens, which was definitely not from overuse.
My photography lesson was with Francisco De Souza, settled in Goa running his photography business. We eventually met by Mapusa market, once I had a driver who’d been woken up and driven like a demon, doing the usual 40min journey in 25. Thankfully it was a Sunday and early so traffic and risk to life was reduced somewhat.
Sidestepping a most colourful vomit I met Francesco who was radiating energy and passion at 8.20 in the morning. A love of photography and of India was immediately apparent. My camera was up to the job, despite the scratch and after some work recalling the details of aperture, iso and shutter speed we set off to practise. Or in my case cower and go ‘wtf’. Actually, that’s not totally true. You can’t. When you’re focussing on trying to remember ‘big aperture, little aperture’ (insert 90s dance move here), shutter speed up or down and then be all artistic in the moment you kind of have to focus on technical and forget getting the photo to look too perfectly pretty. My brain however did turned to mush as I fumbled with the settings, things coming out too dark, too light, and trying to figure out the fix.
However practice does indeed ‘make getting nowhere near to perfect but certainly small incremental improvement’ and after sizing up some flower garlands we moved to the bus station to photograph passengers, sellers and stall holders. I was still Sally Slo-mo but I was getting the hang of the techie stuff, and slowly figuring out how to adjust the settings.
Cisco had a natural ease and seemed to know all the characters working in and around the bus station and the market. I was introduced to Didi (older sister), a fruit seller who’s slightness belied her bad-ass street seller persona. After the offer of a chai, she offered to pose for photos, much to the amusement and interest of those around her as well as herself. I would have loved to have known her story as there is a lot behind her lively eyes.
Once we had finished at the bus station, we moved into the flower market, and into another challenge of light, shade and asbestos. The asbestos roof was being removed, and it lay around broken and in piles next to the sellers. It goes without saying how unsafe that exposure was for all of those moving around, working amongst it, or even worse, clearing it up.
The colours, the vibrancy were pure India, it’s what draws you back repeatedly to this country. The richness from the smallest details. I don’t know if it’s because it’s ‘other’, and I’m from a dull and overcast country but having the opportunity to capture those moments was hugely appreciated.
Hair garlands for sale
‘Tools’ of the trade
We moved into the fruit and veg market where the veggies were piled into spectacular displays in the shape of pyramids, rounds or just tidy heaps for customers to peruse and for me to practise my aperture settings. Meanwhile Cisco was exciting the stallholders with the magic trick of the removable thumb. He left to cries from those watching to repeat it, and a hurried flurry of attempts to work out how he had detached part of his thumb.
Across the way and standing by the entrance of the fish market to capture the comings and goings of the shoppers It was picking up pace, in terms of customers now and it was a non-stop flow of humanity, whether it was shoppers, sellers or porters carrying fishboxes on their heads, weaving amongst the crowds, negotiating a wet and slippery floor. Walking amongst the sellers you could see baby shark, and other small fish for sale. Some fish were covered with sand, seemingly to ‘prove’ the freshness of the haul. Outside was the fishmongers who would gut and clean your purchases, mesmerising to watch the dexterity of the knife handlers.
We watched a roaster of nuts sitting barefoot next to a fierce heat, toasting peanuts.
Inside the room was sweltering, despite the fan blowing. However the roaster seemed totally at ease with the discomfort, focussing on ensuring the toasting didn’t progress to burning, monitoring the flame and the heat accordingly.
Back out into the sun, and it was becoming a fiercely hot day, our time was drawing to a close. We were approached by a young man wanting a photo. The last shot of the morning.
It was time to say goodbye and a massive thank you for the lesson. Whilst not totally competent, I was feeling more content to use the camera on manual and set up to practice, practice, practice over the rest of the trip and those occasional ‘lucky’ shots would serve to make me feel a bit better about my ability. Now just need to figure out if the scratch can be removed….
The baker boys with their bicycles and their horns hee-haawing letting you know they’ve bread rolls (poi) for sale.
Rain, it spitter spattered on and off all day till about 3pm.
Fishermen and their catches. Crows, instead of gulls, hanging around for scraps.
Boats dotted among sun loungers, defiantly so. This is still a fishing place after all.
People staring out to sea.
Porpoises or maybe dolphins. Lots of them just out not far from the shore.
A lot of people wearing hats seemingly made out of horse hay bags, ugly is the new f’ugly in the headgear realms.
Bob Marley, everywhere in Arambol. I mean, not literally, I know he is dead an’ all, but Arambol isn’t Arambol without a Rasta o’d. That means….
Dreadlocks worn by trustafarians called Trist, hemp waistcoats, mud brown harem troos, bare feet walking through cow shit and the practising of hula-hooping and fire-eating on the beach.
Lots of tattoos and bum cheeks peaking around swimwear.
A little boy drawing the sun in the sand. Then covering the sun’s eyes with a towel because the sun was asleep.
A Tibetan sound bowl that brought tears to my eyes when it was struck – the vibration touched my soul.
People streaming up and down the beach enjoying the cool.
A Western man with hennaed hair, his bright orange locks making it look like Ronald McDonald was on a hipppy break.
Hawkers trailing back and forth forlornly, the sunseekers weren’t out on the loungers today.
Dean in the shop looking well, passing me the phone to talk to darling Patrice. Keeping everything crossed for the green card and the Hawaii shops a reality.
Little herons patrolling the estuary shoreline, camouflaged against the sand.
Packs of dogs coalescing and dispersing as they ran along the beach, barking, yapping, fighting, racing. Flowing around tourists, teeth bared, wanting to wrestle, play, nip.
A Russian couple with matching right leg and hand bandages. A result of a moped accident.
A Russian couple with chest and leg scrapes doused in iodine. A result of a moped accident.
A sunset without the sun, the most beautiful yet.
A British couple talking about garden centres. FFS. To a Dutch couple.
A pregnant little cat begging for food, just as I got to the end of my fish curry. Sorry mate.
People driving like cunts on mopeds or motorbikes. Lights off in tbe dark because you can hear it coming, right?
My rock hard bed covered in my new purchases – sound bowls, a scarf and Dean Alan top.
A good day. A Goa day.
Monday in Ashwen. Sleeping alot. Like old lady in bed at 8 to the roar of dance music bedtime. Dead to the world. Waking for a moment around the witching hour then sleeping and dreaming till 5am. Time for old lady pee and a stretch as I am sleeping on an Indian mattress, aka board covered in cotton padding, aka torture….Today I forced myself back to sleep, skipping yoga and aiming for sleep olympic medal in the hope of making it to 10pm tonight.
It was, of course, trauma-town to get here. The first leg, home to Heathrow, involved some bus shenanigans, as the Heathrow Connect wasn’t running that early. A bit of a fib to the National Express coach man got me to T4 gratis. Thank you v much 😊.
Despite checking in online my need to not be late meant I still needed to arrive 3hrs before the flight. And thus I arrived 3.5hrs early. Time for some random hanging around, observing the excess baggage overload that was happening at Air France check-in desk for flights to Africa. I was allowed to check in 4mins earlier than my allotted time and thus get through an uber efficient security process and sit down for a breakfast before you could say shashuka for one.
KLM was super efficient and Schipol was bustling. The connecting flight was practically next door to where I arrived so no painful superdash across the airport – that was to come later in Mumbai….of course.
I had read online about delays of up to 3hrs at the airport as a result of e-visa introduction. Surely not still the case…but taking no chances and despite us landing 10mins early I muscled my way off the plane pretty sharpish and pegged it halfway around the airport to immigration. Time to get in my 10,000 step, elevate my heart rate whilst being dehydrated and needing a wee…winner.. .
It seemed fairly quiet, which seemed pretty hopeful. However the airport is huge, with plenty places for people to hide. However the reason for the quiet soon became apparent…all the passengers from other flights were already queued halfway out of immigration. Shit. E-visa queue was the worst with not even half the desks were open. Snail’s pace would be over-egging it as a description. I had 2.5hrs to get through, get my bag and get across to the domestic terminal. Seeing this tired, polite queue of sweaty folks I realised that I was potentially fucked.
A little kerfuffle of ‘you pushed in’, ‘no we didn’t’, soon kicked off in front of me. The lady who had instigated it rightly pissed off having spent 45mins (along with other fellow passengers from Toronto) in the wrong queue, then was told there had been a mistake and now was at the back of another. A sudden rush of people as a couple more desks opened…doing, as the best sheep do, I followed. Can’t say I really moved much further in line overall but my swollen ankles and potential dvt got a chance to move around a bit. I managed to pick out Toronto lady a bit further back and called her over and we chit-chatted. Tanzanian Indian her family had moved to the UK and 40yrs ago she had moved to Toronto as a new bride. She was back in India for a puja, husband or father or brother it wasn’t clear and I didn’t feel it my place to ask.
It was fairly low key in the queue, although many had connecting flights at 5am. A few people had family with OCI who were impatiently waiting the other side. Standard visa was also moving a lot quicker. We shuffled our way forward. Time ticked by. An hour gone and maybe halfway there, maybe not. Final corner of the queue to join the counter queue. Go behind the wheelchair or not? Not. Chose wrong…argh. Now getting agitated. Over an hour and a half going not very far. Immigration man chat chat smile smile to the woman in front…all the time in the world. Me next. Finally. Smile ‘yes, all good, flight to catch, please be quick’. The fingerprint machine is slow and not working well. ‘Left 4 fingers’…’Again’, ‘Ok?’, ‘Waiting for machine…’, ‘Ok’, ‘Right 4 fingers?’, ‘Wait for machine.’…all the time rictus grin of ffs and I need to get my bag. Finally thumbs…’ok, all good’. Hurray. ‘Thank you SO much’, quick hug to Toronto lady and running through duty free to baggage and queues all the way back to duty free for customs….ahhhhh shit.
The flight was gone off the board. And the bags were not at carousel 7 as we had been told. ’10 madam’….scan of the bags piled up…’KLM??…no not 10. ’11 madam’. Fuck, run to 11. I hadn’t had a workout like this since the Turkish Airline debacle at Istanbul that ended in missing my connection there, missing my flight to Goa and overall total fuckuppery thanks to that thwarting airline. Nothing personal, just never flying with them ever again.
Not in that pile by the belt. WTF. ‘Here madam’, a few bags left stacked in another pile. Of that is all that’s left then how did those other feckers get through so bloody fast??? Grabbed it and ran past the red channel, ignored the green channel queues. Headed to a moustachioed man in uniform ostensibly in charge of the queues. He looked at me ‘connecting flight’ I hoarsely explained. I queue jumped to x-ray hand luggage then out to prepaid taxi. 700r for a 625r ride which wouldn’t really be that in a normal taxi but hey it’s an emergency. Didn’t really listen to instructions as to where to find the taxi, muscle memory took me downstairs. The lifts few and far between, designed with space for a wheelchair, a man and a mop and one carry on bag. Perfect for an international airport then.
Outside I hit the heat of Bombay and a row of taxis. Found my way to the prepaid. 3.50am. 300rupees if you get me there by 4am. Challenge accepted. Seatbelt was working. I checked before I laid out the request, not a total nincompoop.
We got there with 4mins to spare. Check-in desk was calling for all passengers to Goa. ‘Madam, this is your ticket?’…well it was in my hand, so….’Yes, not this counter..this is Indi–Go. You need Go…’. Obviously at the other end of the airport. Nincompoop.
Bag dropped. Departures is obviously upstairs and obviously there’s people just standing on the escalator and not engaging their lower limbs to ascend it. The stairs it was. My beautiful shade of beetroot only served to accentuate my rapid dehydration. If I had gone to the loo likelihood is I would have pissed sand.
Not allowed in tbe short security queue because that was for men only. No…join the longer lady queue and mandatory frisking up on a podium but behind a curtain.
Discretion is everything after all. Through that rather understated check, ‘ underwired bra?’ ‘Beeep’….’Bob on for getting that right aye?’ and after a rather long wait as the security guy’s job didn’t extend to utilising his arms to move the x-rayed items along the belt it was off to the gate and onto the plane IMMEDIATELY. No hanging around and we took off 20mins early. Not a flight for slackers.
An hour later we descended into Dabolim still in darkness. The flight a mix of early morning business men, Bombayite bachelor boys on a weekend away from mum, Bombayite single girls on a weekend guaranteed to be more debauched than that of their male counterparts, families utilising every piece of luggage allowance and finally the tourists.
My case was there and so was my driver and we headed off in the morning gloom and cool to my accommodation in Ashvem. It was a tad nippy out. As evidenced by business man running with a balaclava on his head that exposed his eyes and his bald head. Further along there was someone actually in running gear, and not office attire, in a similar mask – seemed to be an anti-pollution thing not abalaclava after all.
As we drove along it was evident there had been some progress on the road works that headed north. In 2015 it was mayhem, causing tailbacks to the airport. There was more of it on more stretches of the road and it was all very much work in progress. We wove past and through it creating two, three and sometimes four lanes of traffic in space designed for one. No overtaking signs acting merely as a suggestion rather than an actual requirement. Yep, I was definitely back in Goa.
Arriving at the accommodation about 7.30am I was entirely unsurprised to see anyone on reception. I was technically 5.5hrs early. Settling down for a snooze on the bench by the desk I just started to drift off when I felt rather than heard someone next to me. One of the staff, looking less awake than me. Without any preamble and presumably to remove the untidiness that was me cluttering up the space he shifted me up the road to their other site, a house. My room was looking out to the beach, there was a tele, spacious bathroom and a comfy mattress on a mahoosive bed. Heaven. Mine. For all of 2hrs. Then at breakfast I was informed I was in the wrong room and needed to move. Bugger.
Shifted back to reality of an Indian mattress (a paradox if ever there was one) and a room that smelt faintly of sewerage once the fan was turned off. Bollocks.
Mentioning it at reception I was told it would be sorted. It was. I was moved again. Turns out someone had thought the bucket next to the loo was purely for decorative purposes only and had thrown loo roll, plastic and all manner of rubbish down the toilet. Bell-ends. Thus I had arrived back, now it was off to go exploring and reacquaint myself with Ashvem / Mandrem.
Wowzers! Or more accurately I say nothing at all, as we are watching an Olive Ridley female just going about her reproductive business in the dark of a clear Costa Rican night.
Having not seen anything, but had the opportunity of a robust walk up and down the beach on night one, then completely missed a 6ft Costa Rican guide at Las Olas on night two, we managed to finally meet up again on night three, along with another colleague of Turtle Tours for another walk. Maybe it was going to be third time lucky – well, obviously it was, otherwise there wouldn’t have been this post. For some shots of turtles in the daytime, post hatching check out the Tico Times article.
The night was crystal clear and full of stars. The night before there had been a meteor shower, which I’d completely missed, and been completely unaware of. So absolutely no excuses, usually I’m aware but can’t be arsed.
Luckily there were a few Sally Slow-boat shooting stars bringing up the rear, and as we pootled along the beach enjoying the ‘avoiding the waves’ dance I caught sight of one and made my wish to see a tortuga laying her eggs on the beach. And then, and then…
Not 10 paces on, and our guide veered left up the beach toward a nearby hotel. In the dark he’d spotted the pattern in the sand of a female turtle hauling herself up the beach to lay her eggs. As he’s down there every night he soon gets to know what are old tracks and what are the new, and these were new. We followed and behind a branch laying across the sand like an enclosure we found her. An Olive Ridley Green Turtle just arrived on the shore to lay her eggs….
She was digging her nest, in a particular way. First her left back flipper digging down and grabbing the sand, the flipper curling around the sand as dexterously as a hand, before depositing to one side, then down went the right flipper, repeating the action on that side. Side to side, she dug down, until satisfied. At this point she began laying her eggs. We sat and watched as egg after egg landed into the hole. I posted a little video of it on Instagram, here.
I’m not sure how long we stayed there transfixed by Ms Tortuga. She seemed unaware, and we’d used a red light so as to reduce any potential stress she may have had by being watched over 3 randoms as she went about her private egg-laying business. Once she had finished, she then began the task of filling the hole back in. As she couldn’t see behind her, no rear view mirror to hand, she failed to see that we were being covered in sand as she attempted to return the sand back into the hole. The reversal of the hole digging process wasn’t as neat and tidy seemingly, but eventually she was content, and then began to knead the sand between her back flippers as if she was kneading bread. Apparently the Olive Ridley is the only turtle to do this, it’s not clear why she was doing it but it was a particularly mesmerising activity.
Once she was done, it was as if she was taking a breather, so we shifted away from the site, and went down the beach waiting alongside the route that had brought her to the beach, as we expected her to retrace her steps. She, however, was a few steps ahead of us, and circumvented us, taking a different route behind us, back to the sea. We realised just in time to see her heading into the waves. They move fast when they want to.
We went back to the nest, and took at look at it, you could see the indentation where she had laid and dug, which made it an obvious spot for a poacher. The eggs are stolen and sold to bars in San Jose, to be eaten raw. They are full of protein, and viewed as an aphrodisiac. Also, a haul of eggs provides a quick and easy way to make money. Luckily, she had also created a depression next to the actual nest itself and it was here that a fake hole was dug to make it look as if poachers had already got at the nest and stolen the eggs. A stick left in the newly dug hole completed the look, and we wandered back to Las Olas, avoiding the high tide that was making its way in.
The tour are plannig to work with the local public school, to educate the children of the poachers in the benefits of protecting the turtles, and hopefully turn potential poachers into gamekeepers of the future.
The eggs take about 45days to hatch, so it’ll be any day now that those lil’ eggs should hatch and the turtles find their way to the surface and out into the sea….fingers crossed. It was truly a magical end to a beautiful experience that was Costa Rica, and all that it had to offer.