Nothing hurts like losing 4-0 at home to Hull City. Especially when you’re trying to convince an Indian waiter that Derby County are the English team that he should support – not Man United or Chelsea! An opportunity to form an Indian fanbase in Goa was lost last night, and I imagine after his shift was over he went straight out to buy one of the fake Man United or Chelsea shirts that are abundant here, having been convinced by the Rams utterly abject performance that there really are only two teams from England worth supporting.
A commiseratory breakfast was held in a roadside cafe near the bus station. This went down a treat – we ate idli, a kind of steamed rice bun which is dipped in dahl, and vada – a deep-fried, savoury donut kind of thing filled with mild spices. This was washed down with a lassi each, and we quickly forgot about the indignity of the night before. We then boarded a bus which took us to the state capital, Panjim.
A very brief history lesson. Goa was colonised by the Portuguese in 1510 and incredibly, they didn’t leave until as late as 1961, when the Indian army kicked them out. As a consequence a lot of the architecture, culture and religion in Goa has a distinctly Portuguese flavour to it. The old town of Panjim is probably the best example of this – we wandered round through streets full of balconied houses with colourful walls and whitewashed doorways. We visited a large basilica called Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceicao, or Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception. This was quite a cool church but we spent limited time in here because an over-officious warden kept “shushing” us if we so much as breathed.
We moved on, taking another bus which took us along a narrow road surrounded on both sides by mangrove swamps. We disembarked outside the walls of the old city. There were more western tourists here than anywhere else that we’d been on our trip – a testament to Goa’s popularity as a holiday spot. As we entered the front gate, a woman sat with her back against the wall. She was missing her nose and lips, her teeth set in a perpetual grimace that she had no power to stop. I’d read that leprosy was still an issue in India, but this was the first time we’d encountered anybody with the disease. I remember Blue Peter running a campaign to help kids with leprosy in the 1990s – even back then it seemed ridiculous to me that such a disease could still exist.
Old Goa was once home to 200,000 people, but malaria and plagues took their toll over the centuries, to the point that it was more or less abandoned in favour of Panjim. What remains is a collection of cathedrals and basilicas dotted around an area of about a square mile. Some are grander than others, and each have their own stories, but there are too many to tell and I don’t want to bore you. The one story that did stand out though, was that of the Tomb of St Francis Xavier.St Francis Xavier is entombed in the Bom Jesus cathedral – a stunning baroque building which was my favourite to look at. St Francis was a Roman Catholic missionary who pottered about India, Japan and China converting the locals to his own religion. He died on a voyage to China, and was originally buried there. Somebody then decided that he’d be better off buried in Goa, dug Francis up and had him shipped back. At some point during this time somebody took a peek into his casket and discovered that Francis’ body was “Incorruptible” (Which means it hadn’t gone mouldy). This was taken as a sign of his sacredness. Now, what is the natural thing to do with the incorruptible body of a sacred man? If your answer to this question is “Chop bits off him and put them in other churches” then you’d be correct. They chopped his arms off and took them to other churches in the area, perhaps thinking that this would make the other churches holy too – because what says “This is a Holy place” better than an ornamental box containing the severed hand of a dead man? The main bit of what’s left of poor Francis is encased in an impressive silver casket in the Bom Jesus cathedral. 32 silver plates around the casket depict scenes from some of the deeds that he allegedly performed during his life. My favourite of the 32 is the one where St Francis drops his crucifix in the sea, only to have it returned to him by a friendly crab – a story which surely could only have been dreamt up by someone who had taken acid then watched The Little Mermaid.
After looking around the various cathedrals we walked up a hill to the ruins of the Church of St Augustine. This was built at around the same time as the Bom Jesus cathedral, but whereas the Bom Jesus has been looked after, the church of St Augustine was allowed to fall into disrepair. Over the last 150 years it has gradually fallen to bits, which makes it all the more interesting to look at in my opinion. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with me, but the more trashed and abandoned something is, the more it appeals to me. I found the same when Hollie and I were in Cambodia looking at the Angkor temples – the overgrown, dangerous looking ones always captivated me more than the ones that had been looked after.
We descended the hill and took the bus back to Panjim. We walked the half mile or so from the bus stand where we’d been dropped off to the main terminus. As we were crossing a bridge over a putrid stream we glanced a kingfisher sweeping over the water – always a treat for the eyes. We took a connecting bus back to Margao. Upon arriving went in search of food and the alcoholic variety of kingfisher which has been less rare during our trip. As this was my last supper in India I was determined to find something exquisite.
We found a restaurant near the hotel which advertised a speciality of “Goan crab masala”. It sounded like exactly the kind of rustic local dish drawing on local produce that would go down a treat with me. When it arrived though, it looked like there had been some kind of crab genocide. The shell-clad corpses of around five crabs bobbed around lifelessly in a maroon masala sauce. I don’t know what I’d expected for 100 rupees, but when I’d ordered the meal I had envisioned that the crab would be removed from its shell so that I could lazily spoon it into my mouth. As I stared at the monstrosity in front of me I imagined a crab emerging from the depths of the sauce wielding a crucifix for me, in much the same way that one of it’s ancestors must have done for St Francis Xavier.
It’s impossible to eat crustacean with cutlery, so I spent a lame ten minutes picking bits up out of the sauce and attempting to extract the meat. By the time Luke had finished his meal, I was still hungry and my hands were stained with the masala sauce. I gave it up as a bad job. We returned to the hotel and I spent half an hour attempting to wash the sauce off my hands, before giving up and accepting that for the next few days my fingers would look like I’d poked them up a cow’s arse.
The next day I would be flying home.