After a few minutes the owner arrived and both he and the driver carried our bags up to the third floor. It was a great little apartment with a balcony that nestled in the boughs of a tree and overlooked the street. We ventured out on the first evening to get the lie of the land and find a place to eat. We made our way to the main street and after a short walk we came upon the bars and restaurants. A number of establishments had not reopened after covid, I guess they were unable to ride out the storm (no covid payments here). But there were still many places open and they served every cuisine you could want but all I wanted was a steak. We hadn’t realised that Sri Lanka was in such dire straits, economically until after we had left but you could feel a quiet desperation in the air. Everyone was desperate to get our money. Don’t get me wrong no one was trying to steal from us but there were so few tourist that everyone from tuk tuk drivers to restaurant owners were aggressively vying for our business. So we find ourselves in a very up beat restaurant with the type of food I was looking for, Róisín would eat anything and enjoyed new food experiences but not me. Our food had just been placed on the table in front of us when there was a power cut and we found ourselves in total darkness.
Luckily, this establishment had a generator, not common as you may remember from our visit to Fort Galle, candles were brought to the tables to cast light on our fare during that power cut. I had googled to see why there were so many outages and discovered that the country was zoned for power cuts at different times in the day or evening. This place was a bar restaurant and I could imagine it would have been queues at the door to get a seat then but now there was just a handful of tourists there. Róisín and I had taken a table upstairs by the balcony that over looked the floor below. Of the 20 or so tables only two were occupied. Róisín and I at one and a group of four French tourists sat at another. Below we could see an English couple and in a far corner a small group of Irish, the staff outnumbered the customers We finished our meal and strolled slowly back to our accommodation.
Early the next morning we located a shop nearby and bought a few supplies for the apartment, snacks and lunch we would eat in and venture out in the evenings for our dinner. I was very surprised by the price of just basics groceries, milk, bread, eggs were comparable to European prices it was working out more expensive to eat in rather than out and it was getting harder to haggle with tuk tuk drivers as the price of petrol was raising daily. Desperation hung in the air and everyone seemed hungry for our money just short of aggression. This part of our trip was in February 2022, just a month or so before the riots started. I had heard of hyper inflation but reading about it and seeing it play out really brings home its full impact. We felt like voyeurs in someone else’s tragedy and could only justify our presents to ourselves by knowing we were at the least bringing in much needed foreign currency. The people seemed positively defeated and hopeless. We didn't venture out much other than to stroll on the beach at sunset and find a nice place to dine each evening.
Sunset on Negombo Beach
On our final evening we did manage to find a very lively bar/restaurant. It was run by a very friendly English man who had relocated to Sri Lanka 20 years ago and set up his business. As a side line he also ran a dog rescue where most of his profits from the bar went at this time, he told us he had 49 dogs living in his home. On my travels through India and Sri Lanka dogs were very low down the pecking order, the vast majority being strays. You would see them on dumps or rummaging through bins only rarely did you see one attached to an owner. Besides being dirty they mostly seemed in good health but for those that became sick it was a whole other story. I wont describe the state of them because just remembering them is stomach turning but these were the dogs this man was helping and for that he has my admiration. He had only reopened that week and had pulled out all the stops. Pre-covid, I imagined, this bar would have had queues around the corner or perhaps even invitation only, it had everything. Live music, great food, very professional staff, and a wall of those pedicure fish. The fish tanks stood on the ground and ran in a semicircle just to the side of the bar. Low benches straddled the edge of the tanks so that patrons of the bar, if so inspired, could have their little drinky-winks while the tiny fish feasted. The benches could hold approximately 12 people very comfortably. I did try to give it a go but never got further than dipping my toes in the water before rapidly removing them, no fish came close. Roisin gave it a go as did others. It was so funny watching the fish swarming toward the new entrants to the fish tanks. Lords Restaurant Complex was the liveliest bar on this strip and like ourselves it seemed to have drawn every tourist in the district all eager to party and have fun. You entered from the street down a very long hallway before arriving at the club, it was utterly removed from the world outside and remenistant of clubs and bars you would encounter in any of the Spanish resorts or notorious Ibiza. This was the closest to holiday vibe I had encountered since leaving home. Easy atmosphere and friendly people and on that note big HELLO to Angela! A lovely English lady who we ended up chatting with for a time before Róisín and I called it a night and headed home.
Bar in Negombo
We had booked our accommodation for a day more than we needed as our flight wasn’t leaving until midnight. The owner of the apartments and now our driver picked us up at 8 pm that evening and deposited us at the airport in plenty of time to get our flight. Check in opened at 9 pm and we were about sixth in line. Unbelievably, we stood for the best part of an hour while those in front tried to argue the most bizarre items on to the plane. A woman who had about six small children and a 35 kg bag for each of them refused to accept that the children didn’t have the same baggage allowance as her adult ticket allowed. A man with a Buddha statute equal to the size of a 35 kg bag and a bag of his father's ashes stood his ground until the check-in staff gave in and let him pass. People with cardboard boxes held together with string lobbed them into check-in. After an hour it was our turn. We showed our phones with the PCR test and flight details to the attendant who asked us for a hard copy. It was unbelievable especially after the stuff I had just witnessed being let through. Moreover, this was Covid so no other airport was accepting paper copies of anything. No point in arguing we had to wander the airport looking for some way of printing our papers. The problem was we had no cash and no way of getting to an ATM which was on the other side of the security we had past through coming in. I was fit to cry. Róisín did manage to convince the bag wrapping people to print our papers and take a card payment but by the time that was done we were now at the back of the queu. It was eleven thirty by the time we got back to the check-in desk with the same mean faced sullen women who had sent us off two hours previously. She turns the papers over. Read every detail. Asked totally unnecessary questions which included where we were staying in Thailand. I was now really fed up and her supervisor sitting at the next counter was listening to our conversation. When she asked where we were staying, I told her it was none of her business as she could clearly see from the papers she had in her hand we had our thai visas. The supervisor instructed her to print the boarding passes and let us go. It was now 11.45 our flight was leaving in fifteen minutes, so we ran. When we got to the next floor, we had to pass through another security check I really thought this flight was going without us but with minutes to spare we arrive at our gate and board the plane. Sri Lanka I will see you again hopefully in better times. On to Phuket!
The journey took us 40 minutes and was twice the price of the 3 hour drive from the airport. So I call that "swings and roundabouts". Perhaps it would have been cheaper if they had let me pay for the curtain damages.
Weligama and Mirissa
This leg of the journey was going to be rest and relaxation. We had been on the go constantly so decided to take a few days to catch our breath and this was the ideal spot. From the bedroom you can see the sun set on the horizon. I used to spend my evening watching the sun go down while bobbing up and down in the waves. Never too old to splash about in the water, forgotten what fun it was to just mess about, no skill required. Should add that this beautiful white sandy beach was pretty much ours so no point in showing off my sychronised swimming strokes. The location was perfect with just a few guests staying in the hotel. I noticed that there were a number of young people staying there. They would spend their days sitting in the garden overlooking the beach. Maybe go for a little swim before lunch and then at about 6 pm they would disappear. I eventually figured out that many of these travellers were remote working. When it was 6 pm in Sri Lanka the work day was just starting back in England, where most of them seemed to be from, I couldn’t help but admire them and envy their fortune. The perfect way to explore asia is with a reasonable european income. The euro or dollar go a long way here and cash is King!
Sunset in Weligama
Finding a Tailor
Our hotel lay just feet from the beach but it is approximately an 8 minute drive from the town centre. So if we wished to explore we needed to hire a tuk tuk and this always entailed a vastly shifting price point. We booked a taxi through the Grab app which cost 180 Sri Lankan rupees in an air-conditioned car with windows and doors. When we went to make the return journey we were asked for 300 rupees from a windowless, doorless vehicle with as much finesse as a ride-on lawnmower. I really put my haggling skills to work and mostly got the price point I wanted. We needed to go to the town to get some laundry done. In our travels we had discovered that the hotels charge by the item which can very quickly run to big numbers. But the laundries will charge by the kilo usually around 2 to 3 dollars for a wash, dry and fold. So, we have taken to organising our laundry whenever we plan to stay in one place for more than 3 days. A quick google search brought us to a little side alley off the main street in Mirissa. The reviews had been mostly good with only one complaint that the clothes hadn’t been washed but rather kicked around the shop aggressively (you could see the foot prints in the pictures he posted). This appeared to be the worst transgression. Perhaps the big USA underwear brought out the dark side of the worker being asked to wash them, we shall never know. There were only one or two complaints of clothes going missing. So off we went hoping for the best, honestly if they had asked I might have paid them to loose some of my wardrobe, it really was starting to look sad. Realising how much I wanted to upgrade my wardrobe I decided to check out local tailors. I had been told by everyone that tailoring was so cheap. So again I did the google search for tailors and found a few. After sifting through the many reviews I decided on one who had over 200 reviews and only 1 bad review. It was really bad but I decided that it was possibly just some disgruntled shopper who could get the price down to Primark levels. We moved from the laundry and made our way down a number of side streets. We were heading deeper and deeper into suburbia and people were starting to stare which led me to believe we were lost and lost we were! We flagged down a tuk tuk which brought us up and down every by-way but still could not find the tailor. At this point we decided to call and see if we could get direction to the shop but the shop had closed pre-covid. The lady who answered told us she was working from home so we handed the phone to our driver and he brought us to the location. From the street we could see a neglected garden and what looked from the outside as an abandoned building. The taxi driver told us to go in and that we were at the destination but I honestly thought we were going to be mugged. I negotiated with the driver to wait which he was happy to do. I had every intention of running out the house if anything seemed amiss. The madness was thinking of going into a house where things might be amiss! The house was very dark and had a cluster of cats, some on the floor and others on every available seat. The entrance porch had bolts of material from floor to ceiling, so I started to feel a little more confident that we may be in the right place. I was invited to sit down on the couch occupied by the cats which were not asked to move. I obliged rather than cause offense to any cat lovers but hugged close to the arm of the chair. Trying my best not to draw attention to my nervousness around cats. ‘Cat’ I can do but gangs of them pushes the boundaries of tolerance. Thankfully, after establishing what I was looking for I was asked to stand to be measured and no one ever moved as quick as me in that moment. Measurements taken I was then asked to pick out the material I wanted from the large selection on the porch. We were leaving in three days and I was assured that everything would be ready. I returned to the hotel glad to be shut of the cats.
Róisín always seemed to find those out of the way places which required a mile walk in the dark, my nerves would be fried by the time we got there. But in fairness the food was always exceptional and a beer or two would always take the edge off the return journey. Transport would always quote 300 rupees and I would always say “Ah Lads, will you get real. I want local prices not tourists prices”. They would drop to 200 but I would do a Maggi on it and say the lady’s not for moving. Róisín used to get really embarrassed and we became a bit of a double act, me being bad cop and Róisín good cop. I think they used to take pity on her as she would always end up calling me back saying they had changed their minds and were now willing to take 100 rupees.
Whale Watching in Mirissa
One of the great adventures of this trip was the early morning whale watching trip we booked. We were required to be up at 5:30 am so as to be at the pier for 6 am. These early morning trips really kill me it makes a great day out feel like work but I reassure myself that I can sleep on the boat. I have become a dab hand at sleeping upright, between cars, buses, and ferries nothing daunts me. We arrive at the pier to find there are hundreds going out. This is one of the big tourist attractions in the area and I am assured the crowds are small compared to pre-Covid days. This is also another one of those locations where each man helps his neighbour so that not all boats go out on the same days. There isn’t that dog eat dog competition that is so familiar with everyone vying for the same few tourists. They take turns so that everyone has a few shackles to take home at the end of each week. In this instance its fair to say crisis has brought out the best in these people. We are hammered onto the boat, no social distancing here. Only about 6 of the 20 or so boats docked here will go out today. When we are all packed in off we head on the high seas chasing the illusive whales. We are bouncing around n the waves for about 2 hours before we see some dolphins. The dolphins start to chase the boat and weave over and back in front of us. This is enough for me, dolphins are such fun creatures just don’t get that feeling from whales. There’s a Russian guy just in front of me and he starts making noises like I dolphin. He’s leaning out over the side of the boat making those whop whop and click click noises I believe he believed the dolphins understood him. Six hours we floated around and not a whale to be seen anywhere. The captain gave us a choice of either heading back to port or we could head up the coastline to enjoy the views as a compensation for the no show whales. Amazingly, everyone with the exception of an American couple voted to head back to port. The American couple were ignored as everyone on the boat could see the added value being offered in a jaunt up the coast and back. Personally I don’t care it has been a beautiful morning looking at the scenery and taking in that beautiful sea air. I have travelled enough in Asia to say at this point in my trip that everything is an ‘ish’ time and I like it. Constant time keeping really wears you down. I appreciate that time schedules for work are a particular matter but we are on holidays, I do believe we have to be that bit more flexible. But clearly the Americans are always on the clock and of those I have met there are few exceptions. Just in case anyone is wondering they had no pressing engagements that precluded them from the extended boat trip at no extra charge. So off we went up the coast with our happy Russian friends, our scowling Americans and of course the Irish contingent of the “I’m easy, no bother” brigade. Suddenly, there is a buzz of excitement spreading through the crew and the captain sends a guy to climb up a flag pole to survey the horizon. Jack Sparrow would have envied the moves of this guy as he shielded his eyes from the sun while holding onto the pole with ankles and one hand. He points out into the ocean indicating that there was a Whale there. Now, we are talking one whale and what he is describing is a change in the texture of the water which indicated that a whale was under the water rather than visibly on top. He also knows that we have no chance of even seeing a glimpse of this creature if we are focused on the specific location. By now there are around 10 boats loaded with upwards of 100 passengers. The passengers on the boat all move toward one side of the boat to get a better view (if any) of the elusive whale when the captain starts roaring for everyone to sit down fearing the boat might capsize. Thankfully everyone followed the instruction, returned to the seats where they stood in anticipation of the majestic whale. It was a whale but not your blue orca or basking or even a great white. The little fellow we and all the other boats were chasing was a sperm whale, one of the smaller varieties of whale in the ocean and honestly not much bigger than a dolphin. But contract complete, I as well as many others on the boat saw the tail end of the whale so we could now return to shore and back to the hotel for some R&R.
Dolphins in Mirissa
Final Day in Mirissa
My dressmaker contacted me the day following my visit. They were wondering if I had a pair of trousers I particularly liked and they would copy the design. They even offered to come to the hotel and collect the pants which I felt was above and beyond but happy that I didn't have to haggle another fare to town which was by now beyond a joke. We were leaving the next day so I needed and received reassurance that the clothing would be ready by the time of our departure and that they would deliver them to our hotel before our departure. They arrived not long after and took the trousers with promises to return prior to checkout the next day. That sorted, Róisín and I headed out for the evening with a detour by the laundry on our way. The laundry seemed a bit chaotic. It didn't add confidence that we looked through the contents of everyone’s washing to find our own. We nearly left one bag behind as it was only by chance that I spotted a familiar pattern in another bag on the way out of the shop. The reviews did say they lose stuff so figured we had headed that demon off. Dinner complete. Tuck tuk haggled. And we returned to our hotel to pack our belongs for the journey to Tissamaharama the next day. It was easy packing as most of our clothes were packed, ironed and folded from the laundry.
My tailor returned as promised just before we were leaving. I had intended to try everything on but our taxi was waiting and we just didn't have the time. Besides she was a lovely lady I couldn’t see her cheating me. Paid the lady and thanked everyone for looking after us, hotel staff included and off we went to our next destination.
After the agent left I took a look around. We had been promised some provisions but none could be found. I opened one of the kitchen cupboards and, to my surprise, I found a giant cockroach lying dead. I was grateful it was dead but not impressed that it was there.
It was getting late and we had no way of getting to the local supermarket, so I texted the host asking where the supplies promised were hidden and told him about the cockroach. Our host sent a man immediately around with the groceries we were promised before arrival and this man removed the dead cockroach. When he left I set to making food. Nothing exciting, just eggs and bread but it would see us to the next morning. The kitchen was very grubby and everything was in a really bad state. Dishes looked like they were barely wiped and put into the press and the fridge looked as if it had never seen a cloth. The table cover was covered in cigarette holes and breadcrumbs. The bed sheets had holes and generally looked like they should have been on kitchen duty as cleaning cloths at this stage. This was clearly not the standard I had expected when I booked an AirBnB property which claimed to have signed up to the COVID cleaning protocols. However, It was too late to do anything about this place now, instead I would deal with it in the morning. Róisín was taking it all in her stride. She had seen bigger bugs when doing her J1 in the USA. So giving full gratitude for her bravery and refusing to go into the kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom until it was first inspected we settled in (as best we could for the night). We boiled the eggs to eat with our bread as it required the least use of equipment. I was o grateful for the sleeping bags which backpackers revert to for just such occasions. I did wonder if my 5 star living had raised my expectations to a level that I could never return, but no, the place was a tip. I decided that in the morning we would find a shop and buy some cleaning products. Crazy I know! But the next day was New Years Eve and I knew it would be impossible to find anywhere else to stay.
View from balcony of AirBnB
New Years' Eve
We got up the next morning and headed out to explore the area and to find a shop. It was about a ten minute walk to the beach from our AirBnB and along the way we passed a few little shops but nothing like a supermarket. The beach was pristine white, beautiful and stretched for miles with nobody else around. I hated the thought of going back to the dirty apartment and we failed to find a shop that sold any kind of cleaning products. I could not understand how this guy had managed to get a 5 star rating on AirBnB and a cleanliness badge with his apartment in such a state. I had been an AirBnB host for a few years and cleanliness was my highest priority. To my surprise I learned that buried deep in the small print was a statement that the reviews listed for this property were actually from another property the host owns. I had been an AirBnB host and never knew this could be done. I was so mad when I realised and resigned myself to leaving and taking the loss. I got back to the apartment and started looking for another place to stay. It was the 31st of January and there was no room at the Inn unless you were prepared to pay over €300 for 2 nights. I had stayed at the Marriott for 50 euros per night so this was a huge inflation. I understood it was business. No one was preparing a room on New Years' Eve without being well compensated.
We found a resort further up the cost which we could book for €300 plus an additional €80 for the mandatory New Years' Eve party. I text the owner of the AirBnB we were staying in and told him I was leaving as his property was filthy. I told him I would appreciate a refund of remaining days as the property he had rented to me did not meet even basic cleanliness standards. I put it to him that if he gave me a refund I would not review, as in any real since the booking had been cancelled. If he chose not to give a refund I would be reviewing his property with pictures and I would not be glossing over the state of the place. Having to book alternative accommodation at this late stage was costing me a fortune and I was not going to take this hit alone. I was giving him a chance to get out of this but he claimed I was blackmailing him. He claimed that the apartment was not as bad as I was saying and that the problem was that I had expected "European" standards of cleanliness and not Indian. I sent him the full collection of pictures taken and he returned with an apology. He was quite good about things in the end and offered to compensate us for the alternative accommodation which I told him was very generous but not necessary. I knew it had been very difficult in the tourist industry for the past two years and I had no intention of making matters worse for this man. I knew a review from a European could make or break a business this part of the world as things were opening back up since the pandemic. I was happy to get the remaining days refunded and not review his property at all, good or bad which I felt was fair. We managed to book a taxi to our next destination, which again because of the day was now being charged at €40 and an hour long wait to be picked up. Beggars can't be choosers, so within the hour we were collected and driven to our new accommodation.
Coconut Creek Resort even as a 3 star was an enormous step up from what we had just left behind. Between finding new accommodations and trying to find a taxi it was 6:30 pm by the time we got to our hotel room. By 7 pm the reception were phoning the room to say we had to head over to the New Years' Eve party. The mandatory party that we had to attend because we were being charged whether we went or not. The hotel bar and restaurant were closed for the evening so if we wanted to eat we had little choice but to go to the party. Now party attire was not something we had considered when packing our rucksacks so I had little choice but to go in what I had. Oh my god! what I had was fine for hoofing around street markets but not for a New Years' Eve party. But luckily I was born with the gift of “brazen it out” as the gran used to say. Quick shower, brushed the hair, no drying as I was going for that "don’t care" look as nothing in my bag could challenge that persona. We were guided along some sandy paths and through some sand dunes to arrive at a beach bar where everything was set up for a fab night of festivities. There was entertainment, great food, table service and drinks included so the €40 ticket wasn’t looking too painful after all. They had participant games which I joined in with (if your doing the "I don’t care wardrobe" you need to be in the thick of it to pull it off!). There were a lot of English families which I hadn’t expected. I later discovered that they were all employees of the British consulate working in India and I suppose it was cheaper to put them up in India for the holidays than fly them all home. Róisín and I had our own table near the back of the room. Where other guests may have seen each other around the pool or at breakfast we knew no one and no one knew us. The owner of the club had, just a short time earlier, placed a bottle of wine on our table and said it was for an activity that was happening later. So when the request for volunteers from the audience to come to the stage to take part in a game went out, I put my hand up immediately. I figured if we didn't get with the program we would be out in the wings for the night. So in my not inspired t-shirt and ill fitting pants I took to the stage and I had a fabulous time. The game required that we had a set time to get particular items and return with them to the stage. As everyone on stage with the exception of myself had large groups or family with them to help, the host very kindly asked the audience to help me as it was only Róisín and I. It was great fun running among the audience asking people for whatever object we were required to get. It was also a great ice breaker. When I returned to our table the people at the next table started chatting and then asked us to join them. That turned out to be a 4 am party and one of the best in memory although it still doesn’t beat Vicars' Street Dublin New Years' Eve 2017. The resort was fabulous with some great craic! (Irish for fun, pronounced crack). The other hotel guests there, as well as an Indian party, kindly invited us to join them into the wee hours. The food was exceptional. I hadn’t had steak since leaving home and was surprised to discover that Goa didn't have the same reverence for cows compared to the rest of India. I had my first steak in this fabulous establishment and it was so good. I don’t usually eat a lot of steak but its extraordinary how we crave the things we are not allowed. We were relocating to a less expensive hotel the following day but for now it was new years day and we were treated ourselves to some spa treatments, good food and any other facilities available to us before our departure.
New Years' Eve fireworks
We checked out of Coconut Creek the next day and relocated to Palmieri’s Dourado, a little further down the coast and on the edge of a tropical forest, only minutes from the beach. This was more within our budget at €182 for 4 nights. We had gotten lost a few times on the trip there and at one point we pulled into the forecourt of the wrong hotel and were told by the owner that the place we were looking for was closed down. I figured he was lying as I had only booked the hotel the previous day and our taxi driver agreed saying he was just hoping to get our booking. But we did eventually find the correct location and this place was a real little find. Our room was on the ground floor with a balcony that lead onto the pool deck and to the restaurant. New Year was over for most and the hotel was empty except for Róisín and I. I think this must be what its like to own a fully staffed private villa with everyone there just to ensure every whim is answered. The restaurant had two members of staff and someone was in attendance at all times.
Goa Beach near hotel
Bike Tour of Goa
We took the opportunity to go on an electric bike tour of the area. We arrived at the place to get bikes and to meet our guide. We were given a little lesson on how to operate them and they checked that we understood the rules of the road. I was confident I could handle this and so off we went. The tour took us out of the village and along a quiet busy road for a stretch before turning off into the narrower roads along the paddy fields and into the jungle. When I went to turn left off the main road and onto the side road I employed my rules of the road training, right arm out and moved to the center of the road, whereupon a motorbike swerved across the center line and just missed hitting me. So the lesson was take everything you know about the rules of the road and forget them. In India. rules of the road are an aesthetic aspiration but nobody really uses them and you are likely to get yourself killed if you try. Any junctions I came to afterwords, I pulled the bike to the side of the road and ensured there was no traffic near me before crossing. Our guide was great stopping along the way to point out interesting things to us like the touch me not plant which curls up when you run your finger along the leaves.
We went up a mountain to see a church and free wheeled down on the bikes. It was mighty craic (even more fun!) and the guide enjoyed my sense of humor. He brought us to some very off the beaten track locations, one being through a village in the forest and down to a beautiful river bank. As we cycled through the village children hung out the windows shouting “Hello” and laughing when I replied. I said hello to everyone I passed and everyone without exception returned a smiling "Hello" back to me. I cannot fault the friendliness of the Indian people. We Irish have a repetition for being friendly but you can still meet the odd grump, haven’t met any here, very pleasant people. Our guide told me that most of the tours he does, the tourists don’t talk and just want to take pictures so he cannot tell whether the group are enjoying themselves or not, ergo he sticks to the program and ends the tour as planned. So if you want to see the road less traveled and less commercialized, be nice to your guide and show them you are interested. Our 10 km cycle with numerous pit stops ended back at the starting point after 3 hours. It was getting pretty hot now so we headed back to the hotel to lazy by the pool for the afternoon. Oh what a wonderful life, Ahhhhhhhh! We spent a relaxing few days in this hotel. Found our way eventually to the beach through a coconut grove where deserted white sandy beaches stretched as far as the eye could see. This hotel was the perfect location to catch a breath and recharge. We had one more location to see in India and then we were on to Sri Lanka. We flew from Goa heading for Kochi after our week long break.
Rather than wait for confirmation of refund we booked the Indigo flight immediately. We figured that if we missed this flight we would just be compounding our losses with our accommodation and connecting flight that are already paid.
We got into the queue for check-in and waited our turn, as you do. We are used to making sure that our bags weight and size are correct, Mr. Ryanair has us trained like circus seals. But India seems to have very few restrictions other than the usual, no guns, explosives, nail scissors or battery items in your bags. So, a couple turn up with 6 bags between them and they get a bit miffed when the check-in staff want them to remove their laptops from the luggage. A battle ensued where they insist that they are not going to remove their laptops because the laptops were in the bags when they arrived three days earlier. Now personally, if I had been lucky enough to get away with a breech of packing requirements I would take the win and keep my month shut (those of you who know me that’s a big ask). But this couple are hysterical and shouting “I want to see your supervisor now!”. Wow, even to facially express your dissatisfaction with European ground staff you risk being grounded. Here the supervisor arrived and calmly and respectfully told them they needed to remove their laptops. I have no idea what was in the bag and as it was a domestic flight I’m guessing it wasn’t drugs. Yet, they refused to remove the laptops and so voluntarily left the airport. I was surprised to see every make and shape of cardboard box or plastic bag being presented as check-in luggage and not an eyebrow being raised. Anyhow, after waiting and finally getting our turn we are turned away because our bags hadn’t been screened at the entrance to the airport.I was so grateful we had allowed loads of time to get through the airport and pick up the bags and quickly had them screened. Absolutely painless and was returned to the top of the queue with no objection from others waiting as they seemed to appreciate our time served in the queue.
Bags checked in and off we go to our terminal gate. I had wrongly assumed that we had completed our security screening but as we approached the gate there were passport and hand luggage checks. I didn’t think I had any illegal contraband with me and was surprised when I was taken aside and my bags were taken apart. The security officer insisted I had electrical devices in my bag and I insisted it was my mobile phone and laptop in the tray. Item by item were removed and put to one side. Eventually I place my vape out and that is when he hones in on this as the criminal. I’m absolutely baffled. I have managed to stay off the cigarettes for over a year now with the aid of my vape. I had bought additional batteries and cartridges so as not to be tempted to go back on the cigs and now I discover vapes are illegal in India? Every device is taken from me, about two hundred euros worth and I am disappointed but grateful I’m not being fined. I look into this and later discover that India is a tobacco producer. They also have a strong tobacco lobby who managed to convince government to outlaw vaping based on the argument that younger people might take up vaping rather than smoking. It’s a logic I have failed to rationalize but I am now without vapes which have been my crutch for a long time. It was very straight forward after that we got the flight to Mumbai and arrived with plenty of time to get to our connecting flight to Goa.
I was directed to go outside the building again and was told I could get a taxi if I headed right at the exit doors. I could not see any taxi rank and could see on google that terminal 2 was some distance away. We stood around trying to figure out how to work this but nothing was clear. Started walking the length of the exterior of the building as indicated by google maps but it just looked like we ran out of path. Two foreigners looking lost and bemused drew the attention of an official who was directing traffic. He very kindly approached us and asked if we needed a taxi guessing it was for terminal 2 and pointed across the road to a tuk-tuk station. Over we went to discover a very efficient system. There was an endless supply of tuk-tuks and no fighting over the price. You were given the next available vehicle at a fixed price. In we climbed into the vehicle, stacking our bags on the seat in front and off our driver went.
I was surprised to learn that Mumbai is bigger by population than Delhi and very different. Although we just drove through the city it didn’t seem to be any bit as crazy a Delhi. The driver drove with a reasonable level of caution, or perhaps I was becoming more accustomed to the driving, whichever it all seemed more in control. That feeling quickly disappeared when another tuk-tuk comes along side us as we are driving and asks if we are going to terminal 2. He then went on to tell us that our driver wouldn’t be able to take us to terminal 2 as only taxis were allowed there and tuk-tuks were prohibited. Our driver noticed him speaking with us and although our driver had little to no English he knew this guy was causing trouble. Our driver started shouting at the other tuk-tuk driver as we continued driving on the motorway. The road rage made it feel like we were in an action movie. I was more worried about that shouting than anything the guys were saying to each other. The interloper was so cheeky and told us not to worry as they were brothers and his brother didn’t understand the rules. Now our driver starts shouting "liar!" and pulls across the traffic, reigniting memories of Delhi to park at the side of the road where he gets out and starts to take picture of the other guy's vehicle. At this point the other driver gets back into his vehicle and takes off. I never cease to be impressed by the scams that we are regularly presented with. We may have believed the other guy if we were tight for time and in a panic to get to the other terminal. As it was, we had plenty of time and knew we had been directed by an official at the airport towards the tuk-tuk in which we were traveling. But I imagine this scam would work a treat on anyone in a rush and panicking that they might miss their flight. As it was we made our flight. Security was a breeze. I was confident and oh so sad I had nothing to declare. We had a comfortable and uneventful flight to Goa. All we needed now was a taxi to our apartment.
We land in Goa to a crammed and chaotic airport. The place was packed but it was the day before New Year's Eve and I got the impression that Goa was the expat and party capital of India. Just an impression, I’m basing that purely on my observations. Everyone was dressed up and ready to go lounging by the pool or walking on sandy beaches. So as we enter the arrivals hall and we are assaulted by taxi drivers asking where we are going and do we need a taxi. Róisín went to ask at an information desk how we go about getting a taxi. To her discovery, there are independent controls at Goa airport so that tourists can avoid getting ripped off. Personally, I believe there are controls on airport taxis because the prices bear no relation to any other taxi fare anywhere in India. They are through the roof. Not by Irish standards but defiantly by Indian standards. We had been getting 4 hour drives for €30 to €40 whereas Goa was looking for €16 for 30 minutes which made me wonder if we were still in India or were we in a totally different country? Anyway we hop into the taxi and make our way to the AirBnB that we booked along the Goa coastline.
Umaid Bhawan Palace
Our private tour cost €72 for both of us. This included our driver, our guide, a lovely air-conditioned new SUV and all entry tickets. Entry tickets are substantially more for tourists than for the locals, so having these included in our tour takes a lot of inconvenience out of the day. The car picked us up at 8:30 am and brought us up into the mountains to see Umaid Bhawan Palace Museum which was beside the Umaid Bhawan Palace. The palace was the wedding venue for Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra (f you are interested) and the Grand Royal Suite there cost €1500 per night which includes full board. Bet I would have gotten a turkey dinner there at Christmas if we hadn’t chosen to stay in the uncle's place. So yes the guy who owns our hotel is the uncle of the present king. Anyhow, we had a little look around the museum and while there we were told that palace construction was started in 1923 as a generous famine relief project for the stricken people of Jodhpur. This naturally brings to mind the many wonderful follies built around Ireland during our similarly stricken history. I’m not quite sure if this fall within an analogy of "every cloud has a silver lining" but never ceases to amaze me that nobody thinks of giving starving people food! Moving on, the museum was interesting and the car collection a little more so. The car collection included a few Rolls Royce cars and a few MG sports cars, a collection 007 would have be proud to feature in any movie.
Front of Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur
On we went to Jaswant Thada, the cremation site of the Royal family. Here was constructed another palace type structure for the care of the ashes of these royal personages. I have come to realize that what is impressive about the Taj Mahal is not its uniqueness but its size and its considered architecture of perfect symmetry. By contrast this marble cenotaph monument is a retreat of tranquillity and beauty. It is approached through beautiful tiered gardens by a red stone walkway over looking a beautiful lake. The wealth and power these royals controlled seemed limitless. This structure was built in 1899 just on the heels of the 21st century. There is nothing in Europe to compare to these huge and intricate structures of memoriam even for those European of similar royal standing.
Jaswant Thada, Jodhpur
Our next stop was Mehrangarh Fort which was built in 1459 and sits on top of a mountain overlooking the city, particularly the Blue city immediately below its walls. It was a bit of a trek up to the fort as the road to it is very steep but I made it with just a few breath catching stops. The guide was very informative as to the defenses and the use of elephants in warfare. The gates are broad and tall to allow for elephants to pass through, the mode of transport at that time. But your enemy had elephants too so how they prevented the enemy pounding down the great gates with their elephants was to put spikes protruding out from the gates at just about elephant head height. Surely once the elephant was stabbed in the head with the spikes it would turn and run? “Nope!” said our guide, apparently in the good old days before elephants became cute they were the best war machines, especially if they were drugged. According to our guide, elephants were routinely drugged with opioids so that they would not feel the spikes sticking into them. The solution to this was to add poison to the spikes which would eventually kill the elephant before they got through the gates.
We walked from the road toward the steps which clung unrailed to the exterior of the building and this brought us up to the living areas of the fort. The steps were packed with people waiting to take the elevator up to the next level. I was sitting on the wall opposite posing for a picture. Suddenly, there was an audible intake of breath from the stairs opposite followed a second or two later. The wails of a small child, perhaps about three year old could be heard. It wasn't difficult to figure out what had happened. The child had fallen from the stairs onto the stone ground below, about six feet, but luckily no broken bones. It was shocking and an accident just waiting to happen. I am confident it had happened many times before, health and safety are a personal issue in India. I daily think it was a miracle that I have not had an injury. The fort had many ornate rooms and a view from the top out over the countryside. There was an open courtyard where the king would do his kingly work and settle local disputes or meet foreign dignitaries to discuss his kingly thoughts...whatever they may be. The queen was not allowed out of the palace but did like to see what was going on, so the king had built lattice windows surrounding the court where she and his many, many wives or consorts could sit and peep out through the holes but no one could see into them (concealing the queen and consorts from the public). Our guide told us that the queen had the last word in judgements as the King valued her opinion. I find this a difficult concept to accept, that a women who spent her life looking at the world through tiny peep holes in a window had more power than the king.
The Blue City
There was a walkway from the far end of the fort which went directly to the blue city below. I knew nothing of this place other than the buildings were painted a beautiful azures blue. The fort gives the best vantage point from which to view the blue city and to appreciate the name. From a distance it looks very beautiful with the sun shining down intensifying the jewel like blues. We made our way down a narrow winding path from the fort to the back of this ancient city. The streets became narrower and steeper. Houses seemed to be stacked tightly together with barely room for to people to walk abreast. As we went further into the city the streets seemed to close in and at some points we were walking down alleys that only one person at a time could pass through. There were dogs everywhere. I’m afraid of dogs at the best of time and these confined alleys were not helping. The blue city is an ancient city dating back over 500 years and everything seems to have been an add onto what was already there. On the higher elevations an open drain flowed just below the front door step of each of the houses. As we progressed further down and toward level ground I noticed manholes, some leaking onto the streets. Add to that the bustle of people, tuk tuks and motor bikes, dog crap everywhere. I turned and I couldn’t get out of the place quick enough. I really found the whole experience stressful. The closest comparison I can make is to ask you to imagine Merchants Arch beside the Ha’penny bridge in Dublin, now pack, lets say, a hundred people in there, some motor bikes a couple of stalls, a dog or three and some leaky drains. The guide could clearly see I was not coping and didn't understand why I was acting like a mad woman. He did his best to continue the tour and so brought us to the Stepwell and we concluded the tour at the clock tower. We finished the tour early and I claimed illness as I really did not want to cause offense. These were peoples' homes and place of business, a very far strength from the highly sterilized zones we in Europe have become used to living in. I'd still remember the smell of the Liffey running through Dublin city and the dirt of the streets but how quickly I had put those memories behind me and I have no desire to re-enact them. The guide kindly delivered us back to the hotel and later sent a video of the parts of the trip we had missed. I truly feel bad for the turn of events and perhaps if I could have pushed on through I would have enjoyed the remainder of the tour, we shall never know.
After the tour
We organised a driver through the same tour operator for the next morning. Tara (our driver) arrived as arranged and off we went on the 4 hour drive, over the mountains to Udaipur, our next destination in our India adventure.
The Mehrengarh Fort in Jodhpur was fascinating. Our education in elephant warfare was nothing short of mind blowing! but I am really disappointed with myself for my reaction to the Blue City. It was beautiful and presented as a tourist attraction but clearly I have become too used to my modern comforts and do not want a return to what might be considered simpler ways of living. Let me know what you think.
Hi, I'm Olive and I am the writer of this blog. I am traveling the world with my 22 year old daughter, Róisín, who has just graduated University. I wanted to document this journey because it is unusual for a woman of 58 years old to go on adventure that most students do on a gap year. I will try to share my insights into this epic journey with you along the way and maybe inspire more people my age to go on these crazy adventures too.