HCMC Dining Guide

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Goa: A Day of Motos. And Beer.

The travel of the previous day had taken its toll on me, and somehow I slept in until 11am, which is rare for me. We got going right away and rented three scooters - Ryan didn't want to drive so he rode pillion with me.
The plan was to drive down to Panjim, where we would have lunch and check out the sights, before heading over to Old Goa, where some significant leftovers of the Portuguese era remain. Finding our way down to Panjim wasn't exactly easy, at least at first. The area we were staying in was full of narrow roads slicing through dry fields, and there was little in the way of directional help. With the aid of nothing but the occasional sign and instinct (or dumb luck) we ended up on the main highway through the state, which runs straight down to Panjim. The road was good, and we were in the state capital in no time.

After parking in Panjim we wandered around for a bit. At the center of town stands the impressive Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which was completed by the Portuguese in 1541. 

We got lunch (Kingfish curry rice) and then ambled through Sao Tome and Fontainhas, two old Portuguese-style neighborhoods located behind the church. This area was fascinating: full of winding alleys and colorful houses, and it reminded me a bit of the French Quarter in New Orleans. The heat of the day was in full force though, and as the sun blazed in the still lanes we worked up quite a sweat. Most of the houses appeared to be occupied, although some were crumbling in obvious ruin.

After that fascinating walk we retrieved the motos and hit the road towards Old Goa, just 10km further inland. Up to this point we had been doing well with the whole 'traffic going in the opposite direction' thing, since India drives on the left, like the UK. However, as we turned onto the main road leading out of town Jobie turned into the wrong lane (a perfectly natural turn if you've lived in the U.S. your whole life) and was suddenly staring down oncoming traffic. I watched in my bike's mirror as Jobie freaked out, cars began honking, and Ryan shouted. Fortunately the barrier between the two lanes had openings in it, and after a hair-raising 30 seconds Jobie was able to swing into the correct side. Stupid British influence.

We were soon in Old Goa, which features several magnificent reminders of the area's colonial years, when the town had a larger population than London and was considered the 'Rome of the East' thanks to its collection of religious institutions and buildings. The two most prominent sit in open areas straddling the main road through town.

To the right was the Basilica of Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), an imposing red-stone church that was completed in 1605. The basilica houses the remains of St. Francis Xavier and is still active; there was a wedding taking place when we were there.

Across the street was a complex including the Se Cathedral (the shortened name of the Se de Santa Catarina), the largest church in Asia. Though not as visually striking as the basilica, it is still impressive, even to a non-religious person like me.

After a group of young guys from Mumbai asked to take pictures with us we checked out the nearby Church of St. Cajetan, a much less imposing building than the previous two.

We then headed further into Goa's interior in search of temples, but the confusing road layout and waning sunlight left us with just enough time to visit a small one before turning around for the ride back to Anjuna.
This segment of the day's drive was far less enjoyable than that morning's. It was rush hour, and traffic on the main north-south highway was awful. Fortunately we could squeeze by the cars and trucks when they backed up at intersections, although I had to repeatedly remind myself to slow down to let the others keep up since, even with Ryan on board, I was much better at maneuvering than Kevin and Jobie thanks to all the time I've spent on bikes here in Vietnam. At one roundabout we went the wrong way, and after I pulled a quick U-turn and dashed across traffic we realized Kevin wasn't behind us anymore. As the most experienced driver I felt responsible for Jobie and Kevin, and at this point I was imagining him splattered on the road somewhere. Thankfully Kevin pulled up after a few minutes and said that I had turned too quickly, so I made sure to take it easy after that. Even so, there were still a number of close calls with batshit-crazy bus drivers and kamikaze autos.

Once we pulled off the highway near Anjuna we were back on the winding, confusing roads, and in the dying sunlight there was a good chance we would get seriously lost. There were few signs at the numerous forks in the road, and our nerves were fraying as we survived more near-misses on the narrow lanes. Once again I was going on nothing but instinct, which is apparently excellent because we somehow made it back the guesthouse just before it got completely dark. Mentally exhausted from the hectic last hour of driving, we immediately walked to a store down the street and bought ten big bottles of Kingfisher beer. (The national brew of India that dominates every bar.) We planned to get stupidly drunk.
Thus began the Night of Kingfisher. As we left the store an Indian guy offered me every drug imaginable; I said no, no, we're fine with lots of beer. We plopped down at a table on the guesthouse's lawn and Jobie, Kevin and I went to town, since Ryan doesn't really drink. We hadn't even eaten dinner, but after downing the beers we decided to find somewhere to continue the party. Ryan wasn't interested so the remaining three of us headed out to find Curlie's, apparently home to Anjuna's best scene once the sun sets.

We attempted to walk there, but at one point a pack of barking dogs nearly surrounded us, so we scampered back to a taxi stand and got a ride to the bar. The taxi let us off near a bunch of parked motos, and the driver said we had to walk down a dirt path to get to Curlie's. As we made our way down the darkened path the sound of music grew, and we eventually stumbled upon a massive establishment right on the beach. With a huge downstairs and equally expansive upstairs (which featured a disco room), as well as tables on the beach, there was room for several hundred people, although there wasn't anywhere near that many people there that night. We grabbed a table and ordered a round of Kingfisher, and from there things get a little fuzzy.

A constant stream of beer accompanied us as we went back and forth between the two floors, the disco (which was, sadly, mostly full of Indian dudes), and the beach; having short conversations with random people, wondering how the white people working there got such a job, and eating a couple of small meals that did nothing to stem the tide of the alcohol. I remember pissing in the ocean at least twice, and there may have been a couple of shots thrown in at some point, but the overwhelming memory of the night is Kingfisher. So much Kingfisher.

We regrouped around 3 (I guess?) and staggered back down the path to the parking area. Kevin and Jobie could hardly stand up, but somehow I was able to gather up enough wits to tell a taxi driver where we were staying, and we were soon passed out in bed. Thankfully no photographic evidence of the night exists. The following day we would be moving on to another part of Goa.

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