Heat exhaustion, added-value taxis, & aliens in my beach-bag

megoa4Pretty much every day I forget how old I am. This causes me to do silly things like exploring on foot in temperatures of 36°C. So I wasn’t too well yesterday evening and this morning, and had to get stuck into the anti-dehydration salts bigtime.

I do not doubt that many of you will find this amusing, but – perhaps trying to remind me that the 8th decade beckons – the managers of Pedro’s Beach Shack have determined that I shall hereinafter be referred to as PappaJohn.

Life after 55 consists of trying to force back the march of time and the law of consequences. Time ravages our bodies, and misbehaviour along the way speeds up the process. I didn’t have a misspent youth, but I did have a hell-raising middle age. Too many free lunches prove, in the end, that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

These days, I eat tons of salad and fruit, do Yogic exercises every morning and walk briskly for an average of 50-90 minutes a day. [Do please bear in mind that several vices are still in play, otherwise I wouldn’t need to be so virtuous. It’s all about life balance in the end].

The great thing about most beaches is that they’re flat, full of scantily clad girlies, and have salt water to keep the feet cool and clean. So the exercise is made more pleasurable by being low in challenges, but high in sensory stimulation. This alleviates the inevitably boring pain involved in all exercise.

So the day before yesterday, I decided to walk south to the neighbouring village of Baga, see what was there, and then walk back along the beach to Calangute.

As a word, Baga is pronounced in the same way as George V pronounced ‘bugger’. On his deathbed, the King’s wife told him, “You”ll be well soon enough darling, and then we’ll go to Bognor”.

“Bugger Bognor,” her husband replied, and promptly expired.

I suppose the best summary I can therefore give, having now been there, is “Bugger Baga”. It is a ghastly place which, unexpectedly, then gives way through various unspoilt coconut groves to a relatively quiet beach with spectacular views of the headland. But on the whole, my advice is that if you’re ever offered a bus tour – the highlight of which is a visit to Baga – don’t bother. Choose the one marked ‘Chernobyl’ instead.

Talking of transport in general, Indians don’t actually go on tours, they go on travels. All the coaches one sees hooting and careering about on the main roads are called ‘Ashram Travels’, ‘Tata Travels’ and so forth. In a way this makes eminent sense: travel agencies are not tour agencies, and travel writers are not tour writers. The act of travelling comes from the French meaning ‘travails’ or troubles. This too adds up perfectly, because in the days before motoring and aeroplanes, travel was indeed a long series of problematic connections, very bad roads and stagecoaches not renowned for Citroen levels of suspension….which is not a bad description of Goan travel today.

The one question you’ll be asked more than all others put together in Goa is whether you want a taxi. But for some reason, the tone of voice used by those offering the transport form can best be described as surreptitious. It’s the same style adopted by people selling ganja in Jamaica, porn in Singapore and illegally obtained tickets at big soccer games.
I don’t know why this is, because all the drivers have to be licensed. Yet somehow, it comes across as if there might be more to the experience than meets the eye.

“Pssst!” the voice seems to say, “Taxi home sir? Jiggy-jiggy in back? Feelthy postcards? Front row seats for big cock fight?”

Very little is as it seems here. I’ve taken to collecting certain types of exotic twirly-whirly shells on the beach. Spotting an excellent specimen last week, I wrapped it in my towel. An hour later, I was enjoying a Kingfisher beer at Pedro’s, when a hermit crab emerged from the towel, took a brief second to check the coast was clear, and then legged it across the table.

It was all a bit John Hurt in The Alien. Thankfully, The Thing wasn’t emerging from my chest….and of course, by now I was suffused with guilt. So as the escapee tumbled off the wooden surface, I picked him up by his home and chucked him back into the plentiful Indian Ocean.

Fish is big in Goa. And the fish are big in Goa. I know this because I’ve watched the fishermen unloading the mothers – and let me tell you, a kingfish makes a full-grown salmon look like a stickleback. Without getting all five-a-day and noble savage about it, there is something very satisfying about watching Pedro’s staff buy straight off the boat, and then eating a lump of the catch an hour later.
They also grow a lot of cashew nuts in Goa. In fact, the cash crop was introduced by the Portuguese here, and then spread quickly to the rest of India.

Every third shop is a wholesaler in “Kajus”, and all of these outlets have to be Government Approved. You can buy five kilos of cashew nuts in a bag. That’s a lot of cashews. The enormity of the cashew crop – India exports over a billion tons of them a year – disguises the fact that some of it is the shells (used to decelerate soil erosion) some of it the kernels for restaurant trade use, and some for snack manufacturers. But the stat misses out the 40% that stays in India, where it adds protein to the vast vegetarian-diet sector.

The Cashew export promotion Council of India is quite interventionist, ensuring that prices for indigenous family consumption stay low. Cashews as a snack tend to be bought by the rich or foreign tourists: so if you buy a normal sized bag in the supermarket – as opposed to a lifetime supply at the wholesaler – they cost the same as they do in Europe.

The Indian State is about intervention more than ownership, but however you define it, it is yet another one in the eye for hardline neolibs. India is the 6th largest economy in the world, and the fastest growing – such that it is forecast to overtake the UK in 2018. It is still dogged by corruption, fiscal deficits and wealth inequality….but as we have seen over the last forty years, that tends to get worse once barmy Friedmanite ideology is brought into play.

Today, India is a success run on similar lines to classic 1950s ‘mixed’ economies…..and that period between 1952 and 1972 saw economic growth rates that have never been equalled. Like Iceland and banking, or the EU and illegality, the Indian economy is yet another awkward truth for the ideologues.