The Goan exchange
Chartered clients, Andrew and Barbara McGregor, have found a unique way to travel; it allows them to soak up local culture, indulge their love of pets and have an affordable vacation. Here is their account of their stay in Goa with Beamer, the black Labrador.
It’s April. Trees are donning their orange and burgundy attire and the sun disappears behind the Magaliesberg noticeably earlier. Barbara decides that winter at Harties is not a great idea.
Where, she asks, can we go for three months that’s warm? We don’t want to live in hotels – too expensive, and we want to meet locals and experience living in a community, rather than visiting as sight-seeing tourists. But we don’t want to be stuck in one place for too long. And, it must be affordable – our sad ZARs don’t last well on the global stage.
With that bar set, she turns to her best friend for advice. Never one to let her down, Google produces a couple of house- and pet-sitting opportunities – one in India, the other in Malaysia. It’s very simple – get yourself to the house and live in it free, utilities included. One of them even includes a car for our use.
The rest of April is a blur of organising flights, visas, meds, travel insurance and researching the ins and outs of living in foreign countries. All is quite happily done online from home, provided you dodge the Indian visa scammers. Just to add spice, Barbara takes a tumble, resulting in a total hip replacement. Committed to our hosts in India, with tickets booked and paid for, delay is not an option.
Airport and airline staff at ORT, Mahe and Mumbai are amazing, conjuring up extra legroom seats, wheelchairs and queue-jumping porters to smooth and expedite our passage to India. Two nights in Mumbai and a daytime train trip (much more interesting than flying) to Goa completed the first part of our travels. We settled into our home for the next five weeks with Beamer, a delightful black lab. Having recently bid a sad farewell to our 21 year-old Fudge, it is such a pleasure sharing walks and playing fetch with Beamer.
India is such a diverse country (think: over 400 languages) and Goa, the smallest and by far richest state, boasts even more diversity. Having been a Portuguese territory for 450 years, it adds that heritage to the diverse mix of religions, cuisine, place names, sport (soccer is the main sport in Goa, not cricket) and susegad, a word derived from the Portuguese sossegado, meaning quiet. It is used to describe the contented attitude to life, perhaps best described as ‘laid back’, that characterises Goa.
Our beautifully furnished home is in the Goan capital of Panaji (although the locals remain more comfortable with Panjim, its colonial name). Atop a hill that dominates the city, we are welcomed into a small gated community of delightful neighbours, with whom we socialise every evening as the light fades. A five-minute drive in our little smart car takes us into the middle of town, with cars, bicycles, scooters, motorised rickshaws, pedestrians all teeming around each other as if dancing as they move around the city, hooting as they go with no hint of malice.
Indians classify food as “veg” and “non-veg”. Goa has a lot more non-veg (pork and a lot of fish) than most other parts of India. We fell into a mainly veg habit and enjoyed excellent meals at restaurants recommended by locals, and then shopping at the wet market for ingredients and recreating dishes at home for the next few days. We have come to really enjoy the freshness, lightness and flavours of the veg meals we learned to cook in Goa.
Apart from food – for us and Beamer, our days are taken up with walking the narrow streets in Panaji, and driving to the beaches, small towns, farmlands and markets outside of it. Some days, we are content to relax in the coolth of home. It is the end of summer and the monsoon is brewing as the heat and humidity rise.
They say “time flies when you’re having fun”. Having left home not knowing what lay in wait, our time in India disappeared in a flash and, all too soon, we’re bidding our old friend Beamer farewell and heading off to Malaysia.
Don’t miss out on the next leg of the pet-sitting trip for the McGregors: click here to travel to Malaysia and meet two quirky cats.