South Goa shall forever remain ingrained in my memory as The Place Where Homesickness Kicked In. It was bound to happen, given the following:
The Way I Arrived
Night buses: I hate them. There is always something slightly dodgy about the staff, and the drivers keep their foot down the entire way. Although they are called “sleeper buses”, I never get a wink of sleep, instead spending the night wincing, believing it’s my time to die each time the bus swerves, brakes sharply and the horn blasts.
The night bus from Hampi to Palolem was all of the above, with extra creepy staff. The conductor had PERV written all over him, deliberately standing in the aisle making me squeeze past him whenever I needed to get to the front, and randomly opening the curtain to my berth. I didn’t feel safe at all. When I had initially booked my bus ticket, I was advised that I would arrive in Palolem at about 5am; I wasn’t very happy about this as turning up somewhere alone in the middle of the night is never fun, but was reassured that the bus stop was right outside a hotel so I would be able to sit in there until it was light outside. Here’s what really happened: the conductor at first insisted that the bus doesn’t stop in Palolem, and then at about 4am made me get off in “Palolem Agonda 10 minutes”. What? Am I in Palolem, Agonda, or 10 minutes away from one of them? “Palolem Agonda 10 minutes” is all he would say. Another two people, who wanted to go to a beach near Palolem, got the same response so all three of us piled off the bus, groggy and frustrated. We had no idea where we were, and we had been dropped off in a little street with no lights, not a hotel to be seen. Nice.
A man on a motorbike gestured for me to get on the back with all my stuff. Not happening. I was really lucky that the couple who had got off the bus with me could sense that I was nervous to be alone and waited with me until a rickshaw came along, then accompanied me to Palolem. It was a similar story there: everywhere was shut and sunrise wasn’t for another two hours at least. We decided to sit on the beach (luckily the dogs weren’t as aggressive as the ones in North Goa had been) and while they tried to contact the hotel they were aiming to get to, I wondered what on earth I was going to do with myself. I was approached by a tout/guard offering me a room and my automatic reaction was to say no. But then I realised – what else was I going to do? And that’s how I ended up in a 900/- per night beach hut, feeling very alone and very homesick.
The Time of Year
I arrived in Palolem the week before Christmas. Families were starting to decorate the trees – that’s right: one week before Christmas, not two months; as it should be! – weird country music Christmas songs were played in the bars every evening, and I even saw a group of carollers. Even if I had pulled up in a diamond-encrusted, horse-drawn carriage in the middle of the day, with a group of people awaiting my arrival, it would still have been natural to feel a little homesick.
I spent my first two days in South Goa cooped up in my hut, feeling sorry for myself and looking up flights home. I was lucky enough to be in a place with free wi-fi so I got to chat to my friends and family back in England, Ireland and Malta; if it wasn’t for them I probably would have ended up booking that flight back and regretting it within a few days. As it was, I just moped around and cried after crackly Skype calls home, but realised that as bad as I felt it was, I was still in a beach hut in Goa. Homesickness is a bitch – you’re in a place people would fight to be in, and all you can do is sulk. I did venture out briefly on the second day in an attempt at being a bit more proactive in getting myself out of the funk I was in and found a fantastic little cafe called Little World. I spent a while there chatting to the owners and customers, who seemed to sit drinking chai for hours. After two months in India and plenty of it, I can safely say this place has the best chai of anywhere. I was also invited to a cooking class. You can read about how I learnt to make Aloo Gobi here.
On day three I decided that if I was going to stay in Palolem, I would need to find cheaper accommodation. I had met a guy the day before who told me about a room going for 350/- a night, and I followed that up. It meant giving up the free wi-fi and staying in a place tackily named Cupid’s Castle, but so be it. It was clean and comfortable enough. As luck with have it I bumped into the same guy, whom I found out was called David, and his friend Shaun. Human contact – hurrah! I spent the next few days drinking chai, meeting David and Shaun and generally chilling out.
I learnt two important lessons in South Goa:
- It’s okay to be lazy. Just because you are travelling, you don’t have to do something amazing and wonderful every single day. At first I found this idea hard to digest, thinking instead that I must be doing something wrong but I gradually eased into a slower pace of travel. I found that it can be just as enjoyable as being in a new place every night.
- It’s okay to be homesick. No matter where you are in the world, at some point homesickness is going to catch up with you. It’s absolutely fine to wallow in your misery for a while. If you don’t let yourself have those down moments, you won’t fully appreciate the rest of your adventures. So have a good old cry as you flip through photos of your friends back home and keep in touch with your loved ones as much as possible. It will pass. My bout of homesickness lasted about two weeks but got a lot easier after those first few days.