INFORMATION DESK; YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR PANEL OF TRAVEL EXPERTS

Wash those exotic foods well before you tuck in

My friends are always bringing back food from the subcontinent where they live. A friend of mine apparently caught giardia from some foodstuffs her son had brought back from India - something like peanuts, or cashews. Does this mean it is not safe to eat food brought back from abroad?

M Snook

Middlesex

Dr Larry Goodyer: Only a small proportion of travellers overseas develop diarrhoea due to organisms like giardia, so catching it from food imported into this country would be a pretty rare event. Giardia is most often contracted from drinking contaminated water, but it is also possible to catch it from uncooked foods. It would generally be a wise precaution to cook or wash well any fresh foods obtained directly from overseas.

Giardia is an organism which can be contracted almost anywhere in the world, particularly where there is a poor standard of hygiene. Having said this, the water supply in Sydney, Australia, was recently found to contain unacceptably high levels of the organism, despite having a newly upgraded modern water purification system.

The diarrhoea resulting from giardia can last for many months unless treated, producing a smelly frothy diarrhoea with a great deal of flatulence. Fortunately it can be cleared up quite quickly with a short course of antibiotics.

If giardia is a possibility, travellers should treat fresh water by boiling. If chemical water treatments are required, then iodine is believed by some to be more effective, but it should be used in a somewhat higher concentration than usual.

n Dr Larry Goodyer is a lecturer in clinical pharmacy at King's College London. Contact the Nomad Travel Health Helpline on 0891 633414 (calls cost 50p per minute).

Packages to south India are fantastic value

I have never been to India before and am a little nervous about plunging in at the deep end. One idea I had was to take one of those cheap package holidays advertised for Goa or Kerala, but then again I worry about the possibility of not getting a "true" Indian experience. Please advise.

Rodney Ballard,

Wakefield

The travel editor replies: It is probably true that you will not get a "true" Indian experience if you book a package holiday in Goa and then do not venture outside your resort. But bear in mind that neither Goa nor Kerala are anything like as heavy-going as, say, northern India, and life outside your resort should hold no terrors, even for the first time India visitor: Goa is a Christian culture while Kerala, also largely Christian, is pretty, tropical and generally easy-going.

One idea I suggest, is to take one of the very cheap package deals to the region: these are so inexpensive that it is perfectly feasible to book say, a fortnight's package - which gives you the reassurance of somewhere to go on arrival - then spend most of your time staying in characterful hotels of the sort you can find in your guide-book.

There are only two real white-trash zones where I wouldn't want to hang around at all if I could help it - these are Calangute and Colva. But an example of how cheap an off-season deal can be is fourteen nights in Goa, including flights and b&b accommodation, for pounds 339 if you travel on 4 December, or pounds 379 on 11 December, available through the Holiday Place (tel: 0171 435 8071).

To Kerala, try Inspirations (tel: 01293 422800) which can offer pounds 279 flights to Trivandrum, plus a fortnight's "dorm-house" accommodation, travelling in early November. Treat these as flight-only prices and they are still a huge bargain, considering how cheap it is to live and eat in India once you are there.

One company highly recommended for Goa if you want an authentic Goan experience is Lazy Days in Goa (tel: 0114 2864798). The company rents out old Portuguese-style houses and apartments by the week or month. A house with two double bedrooms would be about pounds 480 per week (not including the flights). Incredibly, this price includes a car and a chauffeur for the whole of your stay. Lazy Days can also arrange seats on charter flights for about pounds 380 per person, depending on the season in which you travel.

For relatively upmarket holidays in the area an interesting operator is Somak (tel: 0181 423 3000) which does various specialist things, such as Ayurvedic Health treatments. You get to stay in luxury hotels with swimming pools, sports and treatments. Prices off-season for two weeks' half-board can be as low as pounds 850.

I dislocated my knee water-skiing. Can I claim compensation?

I have recently returned from a disastrous all-inclusive holiday in Spain, booked with a well-known tour operator. In the brochure it said that all drinks, food and activities, such as water-skiing, were included in the price. The promise of water-sports was one of the main attractions of the package. Four days into the two-week holiday my teenage sons and I got the hotel to book a water-skiing lesson for us. We were given no training at all by the instructor and I was not even told how to put on the skis. I recall being thrown the tow rope, trying to get my skis in line with the boat when, without warning, the driver of the boat took off, pulling me sharply forward. I immediately felt a wrench in my knee and was in a great deal of pain. It emerged that I had dislocated my knee and damaged my ligaments.

the holiday was ruined as a result of the accident and I still have problems with my knee. Can I now claim compensation?

Trevor Sears, a lawyer specialising in travel problems, replies: People always have great sympathy for holidaymakers who have suffered an accident early on in the holiday, ruining the rest of the trip. You have not mentioned whether you had a holiday insurance policy. If you have looked at it, you will have found that the insurers normally cover you only against very serious injuries involving death or loss of a limb. That said, in order to make a claim for an injury you have to satisfy three tests. First, you have to show that the person you hold responsible owed you a duty of care, secondly that the person failed in that duty of care, and thirdly that an injury was caused as a result of that failure.

It is well-established that people offering a leisure service, such as water-skiing, owe a duty to make sure that their customers are as safe as they can be. The first test is easily satisfied. From what you say, the driver of the boat failed to give you any instructions at all about how to water ski and also failed to check whether you were ready or warn you he was about to set off. This should satisfy the second test. The third test, that you were injured as a direct result, would appear to follow from what has happened and you will need to show the extent of your injury by obtaining a medical report.

But does this mean you are going to have to take proceedings against the hotel or water ski operator in Spain? Fortunately not, because by reason of the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992, you should be able to make a claim against the tour operators through whom you booked your holiday. It was specifically stated in the all-inclusive package that water sport activities were included in the initial holiday cost and the regulations state that the tour operators should have made sure that any person in the company supplying the service under the holiday contract did so in a proper and safe manner.

The obvious advantage of pursuing the tour operators would be that you could conduct the case through the English courts, and a further benefit would be that the damages awarded in England would generally far exceed those awarded in Spain for similar injuries.

Trevor Sears is a Partner of Kingsford Stacey Blackwell, 14 Old Square, Lincoln's Inn, London WC2A 3UB (tel: 0171-447 1200). E-mail: tsearsatkingsfords.co.uk

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