“Do your tyres feel funny on this road surface or am I having a punct…” at this point the Sena intercom lost range and I lost comms. I slowed to a halt in the hope that it was just the road surface rather than a flat tyre. No sign of Mags meant she’d ground to a halt so I whizzed on down the empty dual carriageway until I found a break in the central reservation to make a U-turn. A couple of minutes later we’re both scratching our heads looking at a squidgy back-tyre. A spin of the wheel revealed a thick piece of wire had made itself a most effective harpoon.
We’d left Diveagar only a few hours ago for a relatively easy day’s ride south into Northern Goa. It was a beautiful ride, our first quietish roads in India, whooping through the Western Ghats on the NH 66. Nice surface too, a ribbon of liquorish black tarmac lined with beautiful palms; a real Jungle Book road. Before long I’m totally in the zone, loving my bike and admiring the road holding abilities of the new Metzeler Karoo tyres we’d had fitted in Dubai. Then a left-hander and the exit view opens up to reveal a ginger cow standing right in the middle of my side of the road. I jerk the bike upright, brake to a halt, clinch the seat with my sphincter and find myself looking into the deep brown eyes of this cud-chewing Indian mobile chicane. Throttle on I circumvent the bovine restoring my breath-rate (and sphincter) to normal and chant the mantra I must never forget, “this is India; normal rules of the road no longer apply…”
An hour or so later and we stop in the shade of some huge trees for a bite to eat at the Ashray Hotel; golden puff-bag Puris with melt-in-the-mouth pinto bean curry sauce. The family run business had smiles aplenty, serving dollops of wholesome hospitality, enquiring about our trip and wishing us well on the road as we left with pleasantly full tummies. Then it was off to Candolim, North Goa, for a stint of life at the beach. A look at the clock shows us we’ll be there in an hour so the day is looking good for an early beer. Then the puncture…
This, believe it or not, was our first ever puncture on a big trip! I always change tyres sooner than later, regularly check tyre-pressures and this maintenance has paid dividends. Saying that if misfortune places such a missile in your path, set in the right orientation, then there is no way to avoid a flat and such was the case today. I quickly had the back wheel out and wrestled the tyre off the rim. Did I mention it was baking hot? 2pm with the mid-afternoon sun high in the sky and us stranded on the side of a big quiet road. This first effort had me dripping in sweat, which proved a natural adhesive for oil and brake filth off the back wheel and turned me into a seasonal ‘Zwarte Piet’ (my Dutch friends will get this one…)
The inner tube removed was shredded in two places where it had been harpooned and was scrap. I fitted our one spare tube and with great care (or so I thought) and managed to get the tyre back on. I then attached the little electric pump we carry but for some reason I couldn’t get any pressure in the tyre. Maybe the little pump was only good for topping off the pressure rather than inflating an empty tube? There had been a police roadblock not far from where we were stranded. A couple of the cops wandered over to see if we were OK and told us there was a tyre shop only 2km up the road; maybe they could inflate the tyre with a proper air line? I took the back wheel on my bike to said shop where the owner pronounced the tyre to be punctured. “Yes but I just fixed it. It should be OK now? Just get some air in?” He shook his head, no doubt wondering where these idiots come from…
A few minutes later he submerged the extracted tube in a water trough and showed me how my roadside repair had managed to puncture the new tube no less than five times all in the same area… It was also scrap. Even worse, I knew that tyres of our size are just not available in India and the tyre man confirmed he had no replacement tubes of this size in stock. As my heart sank at the implications of this, he disappeared for a rummage into the back of his little shop-cum-shack and emerged with a 17” tube albeit for a much smaller tyre size. “This will get you home…” With the wheel fully inflated, we hobbled on into Candolim for our first taste of Northern Goa.
The roads became thickly congested as the gentle saunter of our planned mid-afternoon arrival was supplanted by a session of full-on, Indian rush-hour combat, holy-cows ‘n all. To make matters worse our hotel, the Saikunj, was located up a little dead-end side street whose entrance was obscured by a clutter of bar and night-club ads such that we overshot it and had to make a further detour for about a mile or so before we could do a U-turn. All the grime and despair of today was quickly washed away in a hot shower, filthy clothes were left to soak in a bucket of soap suds and another bucket of beer suds, imbibed at a welcome watering hole called the Fisherman’s Cove, did wonders to restore moral.
Candolim at first glance was a weird hybrid of Brits abroad and Russian resort. The main drag, Fort Aguada Road, is about half a kilometer back from the long beach, which it parallels and is littered with souvenir shacks displaying their wares in English or Russian depending on who the owner thought likely to be the biggest spender. Ads for ‘Full English’ breakfast and ‘Meat and Two Veg’ cafes intermingled with those for Vodka shots. There was no real footpath so our first foray on foot down that main dusty drag was a slow progress through the stalls, their owners politely inviting us in for a peruse. Now and again we had to circumvent overweight, burned-pink, white people many of whom were over 6-foot tall with buzz shaved haircuts, presumably Russians. These were interspersed with a dumpier, frumpier folk, equally pink but dressed in appallingly bad-taste beachwear. These we presumed were Brits whose accents suggested that most of them were from the northern part of our island home and therefore, on account of the cool climes in those parts, not accustomed to wearing beach apparel, which forgives them for the fashion faux pas forced upon the poor Indians of Goa.
We wondered if we had strayed into an Indian ‘Altincum’ but the next day revealed this not to be the case when we saw the majestic cinnamon beaches of Goa for the first time. This really is a paradise coast. Goa was part of India settled by the Portuguese, who held it as a colony right up to 1961 when the Indians marched in and took it back. The Portuguese influence here is clearly visible in a number of old colonial buildings and in the plethora of brilliant white churches and crucifix-topped shrines that dot the landscape. Our first day’s walk took us down to the remains of a red-stoned, ancient Portuguese outpost that flanked the beach. We wandered on around the headland and sat for a while to admire the aerial abilities of a convocation of magnificent white-headed Fish Eagles soaring in the thermals above our perch. They mixed freely with a kettle of Black Kites such that the sky was a boiling mass of hooked beaks, eagle eyes, sharp talons and feathered plumage. One juvenile had collected a twig from the ground and was practicing aerial interceptions, dropping it to then ‘wing-over’ and clutch again it in a single spectacular swoop.
If Candolim represented Northern Goa, we would find a second, very different side to Goa when we moved south to Agonda Beach. The move was a mere 50-miles but that short journey continued to show us that every day in India would present so many wonderful surprises and delights. It was a fairly congested start through Panjim, the grubby capital city, and the ride was mainly processional through the morning rush hour. Congestion continued in Margao, another of Goa’s major towns. We were just getting all hot and bothered when our frustrations were blown away by the roadside sight of a tiny young girl around ten-years old, high on a tightrope suspended between two poles about a metre and a half off the ground while hefting a huge balance shaft. She was mid-rope and motionless and on her head she was perfectly balancing a tall silver pot.
Agonda Beach moved the notch on the notion of paradise up by several degrees. We had reserved a spot at the ‘New Common Home’, a collection of little hobbit huts that run down through a forest of palms to an eternally beautiful beach, the little avenue turning to gold in the afternoon sun as we unloaded the bikes. We took a walk through town along the shack-lined road tailing a rather splendid white holy-cow and allowing the swaying of hindquarters and the swish of a tail to set a lovely slow pace to our ramble. This peace lasted about ten minutes when the moo stopped to graze on some mangos on a fruit and veg stall. The irate grocer emerged from behind his pitch to chase the holy-thief up the road. To cap it all, on this one magical day, we heard a hell of a racket on reaching the far end of town to find a huge tree that was home to a colony of hundreds of enormous golden-furred Fruit Bats. They were slowly coming awake and we watched in awe as they took off to perform warm-up circuits round the tree, making grappled landings to once again hang upside-down.
Walking back along the beach to take in the sunset, we watched curiously as a team of men dragged something from the sea. Closer inspection revealed one end of a huge fishing net and the men worked in pairs, tying on cross-poles to the net and then setting these across the back of their legs to walk the net up the beach and haul it out of the sea. Every now and again the guys on the end pole would untie it and move down to the shoreline to tie on again and work would resume extracting the next section. About half a mile further along the beach, a similar team worked the other end of the net. We sat up the beach in the middle and watched the slow, methodical process. Women, children and tourists from town began to congregate in expectation of a good catch. It was a bitter disappointment with only a few immature mackerel and a couple of little gudgeon type fish. We felt really sorry for the dozen or so fishermen as their task involved an incredible exertion in setting and hauling the net for such a poor yield.
So we are in South Goa; we are in paradise. Mags is up early each morning for yoga and I am enjoying this table at the beach for my writing. Agonda Beach is one of the most utterly relaxing places we’ve ever been. The staff at ‘New Common Home’ keep appearing like genies to supply us with Masala Chai or beers as appropriate for the time of the day. The food from the kitchen is so deliciously tasty we simply haven’t bothered sampling the other eateries in town and all of this dining is ‘al fresco’ down by the beach just after sunset where even the waves crash gently, a mental massage as we unwind even more. Maybe, just maybe, we might never leave this paradise…
As to the puncture crisis? We put a call out on Facebook to see if anyone local could help us source a suitably sized rear inner tube. Within minutes we had an inbox full of phone numbers, people and places offering help. Big Thanks here in particular to Akshay Tendulkhar and everyone at GEARS (Goan Enthusiasts And RiderS) for all the support in helping us obtain the replacement tubes and for popping in too see that we were all OK! One of the reasons we relish in being motorcyclists is the sense of international brother & sisterhood that exists worldwide in the motorcycle community. We have found this in every country we have travelled but nowhere is this sense of belonging more strong than right here, right now in Incredible India.
The accompanying photogallery for this blog may be accessed by clicking “Two Sides of Goa”