A story of…mistaken bathrooms?
1994. I was in Goa for a while, until New Year, then like all the newcomers I joined the mass Exodus of partied-out foreigners, jumped (pushed) onto a bus in Panjim bus station with about 50 locals and rode the six hours down to Gokarna in Karnataka, then onwards to Kerala, arriving back in Goa some three weeks later for the start of the REAL party season.
It is at this point that this short tale begins.
It’s Tuesday night somewhere towards the end of January. I’ve just arrived back in Baga, middle of Goa, and discovered that my previous guest house DOES have a room, but tomorrow, not tonight.
I’m a little surprised but not unduly worried. It’s night time, rooms are always full at night.
I head for Baga beach and speak to one of the many room owners there. He DOES have a room…but… “Don’t leave anything valuable in it,” he indicates the flimsy, badly-fitted shutters on the window. “Take your passport and money with you if you go out.”
Well, the Wanderer had just returned to Home Base, so there WAS no 'if'! I was off out to share my Traveller’s Tales with my Baga homies.
They were quite a varied crowd, mostly musicians and craftspeople and artists, all lived there six months of the year and in Europe or UK the rest of the time, all worked on the weekly Anjuna flea market and all were a/older and b/enviably cool. Except one, a young boy named Dylan who was a limpid 18 to my 28, with whom I’d had a little 'thing' before and who lived out there with, but not the same house as, his (also hot) Dad, whose name was, I think, also Dylan!
I went to the beach - kind of difficult not to, since I lived on the beach and all the bars were on the beach. In one bar would be one group, another bar another, and I, loving freedom and connection at the same time, flitted and floated from one to another, chattering and drinking a bit of this, smoking a bit of that…
In one bar I somehow met this Indian guy from Kashmir. We were chatting, I can’t remember his name but we got on really well and suddenly found out that we had the same birthday, 8th November!
I have met several people with the same birthday as me, and…they are all barking mad! Not stupid at all but completely off the wall kind of unstoppable nuts. As am I.
This guy’s name began with G, I remember, Gulnar or something so we’ll call him that. I’d by now also met up with Dylan the Younger, so he was there too, along with a few more of our crowd. I’d been around the musician group earlier so I think I’d kidnapped Young Dylan from them for a roustabout. Gulnar and I were genuinely so astounded at having the same birthday that we ordered a large Caju Feni each to celebrate. Then another. And then another. Three in total.
Let me explain Caju Feni. Feni is a local Goan drink made from either coconut, or Caju (cashews to you Westerners). It is somewhat in the style of Raki, the Greek or Turkish local alcohol, except that they appear to have used rocket fuel as the binding agent. 'Large' in Goa is not the same is in UK. LARGE here is two thirds of a small beer glass.
We decided this birthday thing was so awesome (both Scorpios, man…) that we needed to go skinny-dipping in the ocean. We did, therefore, taking off all our clothes in Vicky’s Bar, where our regular crowd hung out all the time, leaving our bags unattended through trust, and running down the beach to jump naked into the warm night sea. Goa beach shack owners, long used to nudity from the 70s, never turned a hair at such behaviour.
We all splashed about a bit, then began to realise what we were doing, sober up slightly and head back up the beach to dry and dress. Dylan was firmly accompanying me everywhere , knowing my flirty and rather erratic nature, and shortly he and I said goodnight to Gulnar and agreed to go to Dylan’s place for a…nightcap!
Dylan lived down the beach somewhere. The 'somewhere' bit is kind of important…
We were in his room for a while, listening to some music and pretending to be cool, spiritual and knowledgeable and not just with each other to have sex, when I got the urge to go to the toilet.
Now here in Goa they have…different kinds of toilets. Pigs are bred widely and used for food, including the famous Goa Pork Sausages. If you go to Goa on holiday in the future, remember this story before buying them…
Pigs eat anything. Literally. So, Goans have invented a special kind of a toilet.
You open the door. There is sometimes a lock, sometimes not. There is usually a jug, sometimes a tap or sometimes a bucket filled with water. Hopefully.
There is a squat system of some kind, and a long sloping toilet pan which leads back…
…to a hole in the earth with entrance from outside for a little way in for a snout. Of…a pig. Or, pigs.
There is NOTHING more surreal, trust me on this, than having a poo whilst a pig is making slurping noises a metre or two away!
So I head out to the toilet. Dylan is trying to say something but I, drunk as a skunk, am not really listening…or hearing, as I happily make my way to this pig toilet.
I’m assuming I found one somewhere. Baga beach used to be a veritable WARREN of bungalows, rooms, fishing shacks, nets, chickens and pig toilets, and no-one had boundaries outside their houses, all flowed into each other.
Somehow, though, when I emerged, clean and ecological, having just fed a pig or two some Goan curry and ladels of caju feni, I had lost the focus on what I was doing. Nights are not cold in Goa, but days are hot and it’s easy to find the contrast chilly. The comparatively cool air combined with the alcohol to give me completely no idea of what I’d been doing previously, or where I’d been going. I was out visiting friends on the beach, right…? Now, which friends had I been with before the toilet trip?
And more importantly…where was my bag? Yes, my bag…because that contained all the valuable bits and pieces which I’d been warned not to leave in my room!
Shortly I found the musical crowd, sitting at a table making music. Hi! Had they seen my bag? Bag. Looks like… (describes scraggy cotton hippie bag bought in a shop somewhere in Gokarna Main Street for maybe 20rs…)
Er, well no, but maybe you left at Vicky’s?
Oh, I was there? Ok.
Goes to look, returns shortly ( they are in the Hard Rock, Vicky’s is two shacks down). No.
Oh, well, never mind, it’ll turn up… do you want a drink? And some of this joint…?
Maybe another hour or so passed before I left for home, wandering down the beach to my new room…
But where exactly WAS my new room?
As I said earlier, the Baga beach of that era was a jumble of huts containing dried fish and nets, rooms, bungalows where Goan fishing families lived, chickens, a goat or two, and pig toilets. So…which one of these salubrious dwellings was MY temporary home?
They all looked alike in the dark. I DID remember that Young Dylan lived nearby… But WHERE exactly? It was dark, everything looked alike!
Finally I found a balcony which looked a little familiar. But now I had another problem… where was the key?
Oh. Right. In my bag. The one I hadn’t got.
Undeterred, I went to ask the owner, but didn’t need to actually as he had heard me trying quietly to break open my own lock with a hairpin or something and came out to see what was going on.
Like I said, Goan owners are never phased by this sort of thing. With much hindsight I can say that even in those days at the cheaper rates, they made a bomb out of us, renting out rooms only really fit for their cows (pigs?!) for 100/150 RS per night, a pittance for us, and renting tourists their old, clapped out motorbike whilst using the rental to buy themselves a nice new one…
So, yeah, they were tolerant. Waking them at 4.30am because you’d lost your key was nothing new to these people. They kept a hacksaw handy for that very purpose…
He brought it and I was already visualising my (not-so-nice but welcome) bed.
But after a while he put down said hacksaw sadly. “I think this is a very important lock,” he said gravely.
It’s true. I’m a Yorkshirewoman and my lock said quite clearly, “Made in Sheffield.” Unlike the flimsy tin ones out there, no Goan hacksaw was cutting this baby.
It was then that I had a flash of enlightenment. I just KNEW I had not been robbed and that my bag was SOMEWHERE in the Universe, safe and waiting for me.
“Tell you what,” I declared. “Just give me some Pani (water) and a blanket, and everything will be alright in the morning.”
He did so, and a pillow for good measure, I curled up on the handy straw mat on the balcony and fell sound asleep…
…and in the morning (three hours later, 8.30am) I awoke, head throbbing like a boat motor and feeling like a vampire had drained me, but otherwise alright. I was in the same position as I had fallen asleep some few hours back, but one thing was different…in the curve of my arm, below my neck, was a ratty hippie bag, and inside it were my passport, Traveller's Cheques, and room key to Very Important Lock.
I silently thanked the Universe since I didn’t know who else to thank at this point, opened my room, had a shower (probably in the Pig Toilet, considering the state I was in), dressed, thanked the owner and slowly moved my luggage across to my former room across the street. All the while I was thinking, “What exactly happened…?”
After I got settled in the imaginatively-named Baga House, I went wandering again to see who was awake and might be able to explain my lost-and-found bag situation.
Eventually it began to piece itself together. I had 'gone off' with Young Dylan, it seemed, and he had brought my bag around. He hadn’t been able to wake me (not surprised!) and it was Anjuna Flea Market day so he had gone off to work with his dad!
I moaned and groaned and hangovered my way through the next few hours until I felt able to go to the market. We cool foreigners who stayed long-term in Goa had this thing that we would go to the market only after 4pm, troll around being cool and visible for a while, sneering at the tourists who had spent all day in the hot sun, buying up bits from the Karnataka ladies in their amazing costumes for a song because it was nearly closing time, and then going off to the Shore Bar to pose, watch sunset and catch up with everyone we had ever met on our travels in the last three years!
I think I went on someone’s bike, I never took bikes myself, and was taken immediately to The Dylans' stall.
“What happened?” the young man repeated, mock-indignant. “You came to my place, supposedly for a shag, went out to the toilet and never came back.” He paused. “I’ve no idea why. I have an attached bathroom but you insisted I had a Pig Toilet…”
THE END. FOR NOW!
Tune in soon for more travelling and other tales!