Saturday Night: Six Chicks Go Crazy In Goa. I join them

IT STARTED in the Travelex queue at Heathrow. A sudden commotion, the sound of frantic rummaging through handbags, as six young women made a desperate bid to buy foreign currency. 'Get dollars, fifties. Only big notes,' said Debbie, in black flares and a red top that said 'Hysteric's Angels'.

Tokyo clubwear, I thought. Very pricey - must be a serious party crowd. Debbie looked up and caught me smiling at the idea of Six Chicks Go Crazy In Goa, and that's how I met 'the Birds'.

Still surfing a wave that had started at Christmas parties the night before, they had no intention of coming down until we reached the subcontinent. On the plane they partied with the stewardesses in the galley. At Bombay they adopted me, and I became an honorary Bird.

The Birds knew all about Goa, or where to find out double-quick if they didn't. Kyra had travelled extensively through Asia, knew the pitfalls and how to avoid them. But having just fallen in love, she was counting the days until she got back home.

Veena, whose parents are Indian British, was soon infuriated by the Bombay boys who roam the beach, ogling topless Westerners. The sight of an Asian woman among the peachy-golden bodies always aroused extra interest. But it worked both ways: Rachel said that at the flea market, Veena always got the best price. 'They just don't even bother trying it on with her, because they think she's Indian.'

Michelle and I half knew each other through various friends and their romantic exploits. Like Kyra, Kathy and Debbie, she drank the local brandy, a deceptively sweet spirit called 'Honeybee', with an appropriate sting. Rachel, apparently the quietest, would often ride off in search of mythical parties at four in the morning. Kathy, it was whispered, had just broken up with 'a real bastard'.

Saturday night in Goa starts with a cold shower, after-sun and some hair product. You pull on your silk shorts ( pounds 1.75 in Mapusa market) and a suitably cryptic T-shirt (mine said 'Every Dyke Is A Hero'). Adjusting your Kashmiri velvet cap, you stuff a wad of rupees in your money belt, jump on your Honda Kinetic scooter and head for Tito's, where the Birds are already 'puffing' and gargling Honeybee and Coke.

Despite Goa's reputation as a hippie hangout, places like Baga, Calangute and Kandolim are on the verge of becoming international beach-nightlife resorts - although since this is India, they'll probably never quite make it. Tito's is the place where connections are made and intelligence gathered before setting off for the party. The trick is to avoid the local police, who shake down tourists for drugs, or their papers, or driving licences. The cost of getting rid of them is usually around pounds 30. Locals say that policemen from all over India pay up to pounds 2,000 to get a posting in Goa.

I went up to buy a round. 'Indian money is like toilet paper,' the Tito's barman pointed out. 'It goes very quickly.'

Gareth and Tina, friends of the Birds, had been in Goa for three weeks already, and brought us up to speed on restaurants, transport, police checkpoints, and jellyfish.

'Alix, never let your guard down on the jellyfish front,' said Gareth. 'Walk in slowly up to your waist, look all around carefully, then quickly duck under to cool off and get straight out.'

I would have laughed if I hadn't seen some poor sod in a near catatonic state earlier that very day. He'd been swimming at sunset when someone had poured burning chip fat over his back. That was what it felt like, he said. That was what it looked like, too.

Rachel introduced me to Del, whose T-shirt said: 'All Men Are Liars - And That's The Truth.'

That night's party was in the jungle, behind the beach at Vagator. We left the Hondas at Tito's and shared taxi-bikes, riding three-up on a 150cc motorcycle, past palm trees and paddy fields, under a sky full of stars, through sleepy villages whose palm-thatched roofs were decorated with fairy lights. Christmas is eagerly celebrated in predominantly Catholic Goa. Even Tito's, full of greasy, tanned tourists, had its own little nativity scene in the corner.

Hundreds of people sat and lay outside on mats, drinking tea, eating cakes and biscuits, smoking and laughing. Each little group huddled around the 'mama', who brewed the tea by the light of a hurricane lamp. Hebrew, French, English, Italian, Hindi, German and several other tongues fluttered on the night air.

Techno pounded out from the jungle, where maybe two or three thousand people - too dark to be sure - were jumping up and down in a clearing. Somebody had painted the trees in fluorescent blue, orange and yellow, and ultraviolet lights made people's face-paint leap out at you. Rockets and firecrackers exploded.

Full-on ravers danced by the speaker stacks. These are the so-called 'hippies' who stay for months, maybe years at a time. Unlike the tourists, they look curiously native, with dark skins, long dark hair, nose rings, arm bracelets, beads, beards, abstract tattoos, Indian clothes and sandals. And yet they dance, trance-like, to the same 'tribal techno' sound that powers clubs like the Omen in Frankfurt.

They danced all night - greeting the dawn with a mighty roar - and on into the morning. Everybody was covered in red earth, kicked up by the all-night stampeding of 2,000 party animals. It wafted in great clouds over the dancers, diffusing the morning sun with a rosy tint. People staggered around laughing, the chai ladies stirred their kettles and poured the scalding liquid into glasses.

The Birds regrouped and organised taxi-bikes. We rode home through the sunshine, past women drawing water from wells, men working the rice fields, and family groups in Sunday best, on their way to first mass.

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