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Goa – like another country in India

After breathing few days the smog of Delhi and Agra, we were quite pleased to move on. The improvement of air quality could be noticed already through the airplane windows and when exiting the plane it felt just great to breathe in.

Majorda Beach was waiting us

Our hotel was located at Majorda Beach, around 16 kilometers from the airport. As it would be a way too long walk in a new place after dusk, the plan was to get there by train or bus. But this plan quickly turned sour. We had a very weak signal on our Airtel connection, so checking bus and train schedules were a pain. However, we found that there are only three trains stopping at Majorda daily. And the last one had already departed at 5.30 P.M. Nad we quickly found out that travelling by bus was not that simple either, as there was almost no information online about Goa buses.

So we were left with the taxi option. But the taxi operators outside were asking for 1300-1500 rupees (16.5-19 EUR) for the 16 kilometer ride, which sounded absurd after the prices of Delhi and Agra. After talking with a few drivers we found one guy that offered the ride for 1000 rupees and eventually agreed to go with 800 (10 EUR). Still we felt we were overcharged, but as our internet was not working, we couldn’t check it online.

We walked outside the Dabolim airport area where the driver asked us to wait until he gets his car. He was a friendly guy, but he decided that the best way to drive would be by putting the pedal to the medal. After few minutes, he picked up his friend, which we considered to be a bit weird, and quickly thought about the slight chance that they might try to rob us. So we decided to start the Maps application and check whether they were driving the right direction (yep, they were). Quite soon he asked if we could save his number to our phone for future rides, and this was a slight relief to us (it would be one of the weirdest questions from a robber). After getting closer to the destination, the driver asked us to provide directions towards the hotel from Maps. We did, and ended up a bit lost. Gladly the hotel owner answered his phone, and we found the place a bit after 8 P.M.

The first hotel in Goa had a balcony, Yeehaw!

The room was fine, and we had a nice balcony, Yeehaw! As we had run low on water, we decided to visit Rylan Supermarket, which should be near the train tracks less than 1.5 km away, and should still be open. Only, after walking around 20 minutes we didn’t find the whole place. At least we learned something, never to go walking after sunset in Goa without headlamp, as the roads are not made for it. Gladly there was this another store, which provided us with water and soft drinks.

Long walks and sunsets on the long beach

Each time on a new place we have the same problem, what is the best place to spend time. And we have learned to be quite skeptical about reviews by both fellow travellers and travel guides. They give some indication about what we might like, but there have been great misses as well. So usually we only know what are the best places for us when we leave the place.

This time we decided not to even try to visit every place on Goa, as the taxi prices seemed unreasonable, but just selected the longest beach of the place by watching satellite images. So we came in the conclusion that would move around the 26-kilometer stretch starting from Sankval railway station south of Vasco da Gama and continuing all the way down to the Betul beach. This would be the perfect place for evening walks.

Golden sand in Goan beach

And the beach was certainly not a disappointment. Officially it is not supposed to be one beach, but around 15-20 smaller similar ones. The beach was wide, clean and had good quality sand. You could easily walk the beach as the high tide has hardened the sand. Water was also clean.

Men working to keep beach clean

One of the major positive surprises was seeing that locals hanging out on the beach easily outnumbered the western tourists. Even the beach shacks had many middle-class Indian groups and families eating, drinking and having fun. And this will get even better in the future. A GDP growth of 7 percent means, that the size of economy doubles every ten years. So twenty years from now, India could be roughly four times richer than now.

Locals and tourist enjoying together sunset

We had booked 5 different guesthouses for the two week stay:

As the period between Christmas and New Year is the highest season, the prices were pretty inflated (10-100 % extra). A night in Elegant studio, which cancelled us, would cost 943 INR / night between 10th and 11th January.

Christmas time in Goa will inflate the hotel prices

As we didn’t wan’t to lock-in the places before we got into Goa, we had only reserved Jes Guesthouse for two nights to see the area. But as we noticed that the prices had started climbing and some places were already sold-out, we decided to book the remainder of the stay. And as we have so often noticed, the sand is always whiter on the other beaches. If we had to do the trip again and miraculously knew what we now knew, but hadn’t visited the area, we would do the following:

  • One week in South Goa just relaxing. We would probably select Benaulim area, as it offers both affordable places to stay near the beach and some kind of town center with reasonable selection of restaurants and two larger (yet tiny) supermarkets, Kader and Cyrus. Madonna Guesthouse was probably the best of our stays in Goa price, location and quality wise, yet we would select some place nearer the beach. Cavelossim area would be otherwise great, but it’s too expensive for us.
  • One week in North Goa. We would stay in two places in the 7-kilometer beach that consists of towns of Baga, Calangute and Candolim. The beach would be long enough for walks, but offer better selection of shopping, eating and maybe even night life than South Goa.

The two weeks went nicely anyhow. Our daily schedule was quite limited: wake up, go to the beach, select a quiet shack that didn’t try to harass us in, order some drinks and maybe something small to eat. After that walk back to hotel, take a shower and return to the beach to watch the sunset. Then dinner and bed.

Pre-paid internet and a lens cover from Margao?

Other than beach activities, there was not that much to do in South Goan beach towns. And our Airtel sim-card had weak signal, so we decided to visit the second largest city in Goa, Margao, which has a population of around 90 thousand. It offers some, although very limited shopping possibilities.

Bus stop in Majorda Beach

We went there by bus from Majorda (Busses in Goa post). After a 40 minute ride, we took off in front of Margao municipal council and walked into a Vodafone store. Everything went well, and we got a 1,5 GB / day sim card for 260 rupees (3.3 EUR), which should start working the next day (except it didn’t). After Vodafone we decided to take a third sim as well, just to make sure we have coverage everywhere in South Goa. We tried to get a sim from Jio, and they would have sold us one, but the shopkeeper told us that it will take seven days to activate, which was a no-go, as it was already 21st December and we would be leaving on 31st. After this we visited an Idea store. They would as well have sold us a sim, but we didn’t have copies of our passport and visa available, they didn’t have a copying machine, and the nearby photocopy store was having a lunch break or something. We also visited Airtel store and tried to activate our 3GB/day package, which we bought from Agra, instead the 1,4GB/day which we had on until January. The shopkeeper told us that it’s not possible, and that was the end of the discussion.

After all the prepaid-hassle we needed something good 🙂

After getting the Vodafone sim we tried to find a new 72 mm cover for our lens. After some failed attempts in electronics stores and a so called Big G mall, the guy at Canon store told us that they only have 67 mm covers, but a famous Electronics store Margao Electronics would probably have one. They would re-open at half past three, so we had time to visit Domino’s Pizza. Boy it tasted fantastic. And Margao Electronics did sell us a lens cover for 350 rupees (4.4 EUR).

So Margao was a mission somewhat accomplished. Yet, we would suggest everyone to buy the needed items before coming to South Goa, as the city seems to have very limited selection of stores. Getting back to Majorda wasn’t as easy as we had hoped, as the bus didn’t leave from the same place that it left us and bus drivers near the police station on the east side of the park told that we need to get to a bus station two kilometers away. We took a ride to the bus station (8 rupees per head) and found a Majorda bus there. Later we heard that there should indeed be a bus leaving to Majorda in front of the police station.

Christmas Eve in crowded city of Margao

We visited Margao second time on Christmas Eve as we were moving from Majorda to Carmona, and our Vodafone sim card hadn’t activated after three days. The shopkeeper sent some email with our sim details in it and promised that it will be activated in the evening. We didn’t really believe, and we were right. The sim was finally activated on 30th December, but without data plan. Next time we visit India we know to bring a pile of passport and visa copies with us, as well as passport photos. If we are not flying directly to Goa we will get the Sim Cards from some other place in India. And we will take sims preferably from 3 different operators to maximize the luck with signals.

Our booking was cancelled again – good bye India, never again OYO

For the last night in India we had booked an OYO 9810 Home Elegant Studio for inflated price of 2104 rupees. But it was near Majorda railway station, from which we would be able to leave to airport easily. And the place should have a gym and swimming pool. Something we have not had so far during our trip. Previously we had a bad experience with OYO, as OYO 12754 Royal Marina / Hotel Best in Delhi tried to scam us. The hotel manager told (lied?) us that the place is not an OYO hotel anymore and our reservation is not valid, and the price would be much higher than what we had booked. But surely we can’t judge the whole chain due to one rotten place.

Walking and taking breaks on Goan beach

We had decided to walk to the trip from Madonna Holidays in Benaulim to the OYO hotel in Majorda. The distance would be roughly 13 kilometers through the beach. We would walk slowly and enjoy cold drinks in the beach shacks. We left at 9 A.M. and after many breaks arrived to OYO at 2:30 P.M.

This OYO hotel didn’t accept any foreigners

Hotel manager was friendly, but could not find our reservation. We found an OYO contact number from the booking confirmation, and heard that our booking had been cancelled, because we hadn’t paid the 50 % reservation fee. On Booking.com confirmation there was no notions about the pre-payment, nor had they informed us in any way about the policy. As we were pretty tired, we asked, whether we could reserve a room straight from the hotel. Unfortunately the place couldn’t accept foreigners, how nice. Then we sent a message through booking.com assistant, that we can’t get into the property nor cancel the booking (cancelling fee was 100 % of the stay).

After walking over 13 km we needed a break

Maybe 30-45 minutes later, while walking towards the beach, someone called from booking.com. We didn’t hear much what the lady said (traffic blocked her voice), but we concluded that they would offer us another place to stay in around 60 minutes and booking.com would compensate the price difference. We decided to wait at a bus stop. After around an hour, we an email from Booking.com that they have an alternative for us, another OYO Hotel, which would be around 3 kilometers away. We booked it, but were afraid that this would turn out to be another disappointment, and started walking there. This time we got a message from OYO, that we should pay 50 % upfront. Well, we tried, but they didn’t accept foreign credit cards. How considerate of them. And as the hotel was having last minute new year price hikes and would cost 3882 rupees (almost 50 euros), we didn’t have the money to pay for it with us. So we turned back to visit an ATM. Now we just had to hope that they would not cancel us before we reach the place, and that they can accept the whole payment in cash.

Next last OYO Hotel

After another hour, we found the place. And they hadn’t cancelled us, and accepted cash as well. We got a pretty nice room (although not remotely worth the price), and were happy to get rid of our backpacks after an 17.5-kilometer hike in the heat. We visited a nearby shop to buy something to drink, and had dinner at the hotel. The food was tasty and inexpensive.

New hotel had a pool, sadly we didn’t have time to try it

Next day we would take the train from Majorda to Vasco (10 INR / 0.13 EUR each) and walk to the airport. See you next time India.

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