Timeless Memories of Goa

In Hotels, Uncategorized on 13 February 2011 at 18:54

Holidays evoke all sorts of wonderful memories and over lunch today my wife and I were having some laughs about a first magical trip to Goa in 1993.

Having duly arrived on Boxing Day after a gruelling charter flight from Gatwick it seemed to take hours before we were eventually shunted, tired and weary, through the immigration sheds at Dabolim airport to be ‘processed’. As we waited in the car park amidst grazing cattle we could have had stepped onto the set of some bizarre television sitcom.

It was here that we met Daren and Tina, a couple from Berkshire who were as bemused as we were by the activities surrounding us. White suited, buttonholed holiday reps clutching clipboards looked totally out of place as they rushed about like headless chickens to shunt their clients on to a fleet of buses.  We were with a different tour company and our rep was late arriving so we sat on the kerb watching local families cramming, nine or ten at a time into Ambassador taxis. As it turned out Daren and Tina were heading for the same hotel, the Penta by name but not to be confused with the chain of the same name. Eventually the four of us boarded an ageing bus but turned down the offer to put our bags on the roof for fear they would drop off somewhere en-route.

Next day, having acclimatised to the regular power cuts and a mysterious trickle of water that appeared in our bathroom ceiling that created a hole, we bumped into Daren and Tina relaxing by the pool. We struck up a conversation, swapped information about the peculiarities of our rooms and laughed at discovering that the restaurant windows contained no glass and the bar had ran out of drinks. We hit it off and have remained firm friends ever since, although we still do not know if it was something we said that caused them to later emigrate to Brisbane!

It was one of those holidays when all you want to do is absolutely nothing. The balmy days spent around the swimming pool were interrupted only by the four o’clock water polo match between the Brits and the locals and, because I cannot swim, confined me to the shallow end. This enabled us to forge acquaintances with a mixed band of other guests who, like us, did nothing but sit around with our heads buried in a book while we drank warm Kings beer or slept.

Middle-aged Tom, brown as a berry, had arrived from England and decided not to leave.  The only time he stirred was to make up the numbers in the polo game. This was soon joined by Adrian Mole a young lad holidaying in Goa with his parents who we assumed was about 14-years of age – or if he really had been the creation of Sue Townsend was really 13½. Mole was assigned the job of ball fetcher shouting “I’ll go Tom” every time the ball sailed out of play irrespective of whether it was Tom’s turn to muster the energy to fetch it. Mole became the subject of much jocularity as did Levine, a henpecked Jewish husband in his mid-fifties who claimed to be a mature student. Levine became our entertainment as we watched while eating breakfast in the windowless restaurant as he attempted to organise towels and sun beds for his lazy wife to occupy on the far side of the pool. He would meticulously spend half an hour carefully positioning the loungers ahead of his wife’s arrival but never ever got things right. After being chastised publicly for not placing the loungers just-so he would sulk away to the games room returning an hour later to complain to anyone prepared to listen that he had once again been short changed for a soft drink. At breakfast one day poor Levine was at breaking point when he sat out our table to eat his Kosher bacon. Pouring his heart out, we feared we were about to hear his confession to murdering his wife, but she appeared and he shuffled away from our table like a lost soul to resume his daily sun bed arranging duty. That evening he came second in the weekly quiz at Zee Bops – the beach bar where we spent our evenings. He won a ‘willy warmer’ but he was far from pleased. Levine really hadn’t enjoyed his holiday.

There was also the ‘Castaway’ – a bearded, elderly explorer in a desert suit who appeared to have arrived from Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Lost World and spent his time showing us love letters he claimed had been written to him by the tour representative. But we guessed he was not from the Lost World at all and was merely a lonely heart and had written the letters himself.

One afternoon the dozen of us that sat around the pool were whiling our time watching the staff cutting the lawn with scissors when a motley crew of strangers appeared over the horizon and were heading our way. Time stood still, mouths dropped open and even the Indian water polo team stood frozen where they stood. The strangers, clearly from Essex we assumed to be bank robbers. Even Tom roused himself from his half slumber to take notice. Nobody spoke. Were these really a gang of train robbers away on a jaunt? Then, one called Ronnie(who looked like a getaway driver) shouted across to his brother – who I swear was called Reggie (the safe cracker?) – “Oi, do you fancy a pal’ ale?” They were out of place. Surely there had been a mistake and they had missed their turning somewhere on their way to Westcliffe-on-Sea, but now they were here they stole the show. The women, overdressed and out of place, cluttered about on heels that were too high. A younger girl sported a bright pink fake astrakhan jacket over her bikini and looked as if she was bound for a fancy dress party. Their arrival caused such a stir that the water polo had to be abandoned as observing the interlopers took priority.  We were speechless. All anyone could do was eavesdrop on the interlopers’ conversation. It turned out they were fairground owners and not here to plan their next robbery after all.

We returned to Goa a few years ago. Dabolim airport had changed. The sheds had been replaced by a modern terminal although the Indian obsession with paper stamping was the same but the cattle had gone from the car park. The Penta was under new management and  had evolved into a 5-star resort. We searched for Tom by the poolside, quite expecting him to still be there. But he had gone but we suspected his sun-tanned ghost was not far away and I swear I heard Adrian Mole shrieking “I’ll go Tom” but it was just the wind blowing through the palm trees.

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