Your holiday disaster: Peter James on the sightseeing trip that turned into a marathon
Sunday 06 December 1998
I had read that the journey from Benaulim to Old Goa would be charming and, more importantly in India, pretty straightforward, with just one bus change at Panjim. I set off in the morning sun to catch the bus at a nearby crossroads. A bus soon rolled up to the makeshift stop. Squinting to read the bus's destination, I forgot to look where I was going and promptly disappeared down a 4ft hole.
As my rear hit the bottom, sending up a puff of dust which made my disappearance all the more mysterious, I heard shrieks and cackles from the young and old assembled at the stop. I clambered out and a beggar in a skimpy lungi came over to congratulate me. I was just struggling to escape his demands for money when, over his shoulder, I saw the bus trundle off.
A couple of hours later, another bus arrived. Carefully avoiding the hole, I boarded it. The vehicle was the size of a Bedford Rascal, and with about 50 people crammed in, I found my right cheek pressed against a weeping Virgin Mary, part of the driver's personal mini-shrine. (I am not sure what the Blessed Virgin would have made of his window sticker: "Love for sale - 100% discount".)
The bus soon came to a halt at a river. While I congratulated myself on knowing this was not the bus-changing part of the journey, Panjim, everyone else got off the bus, bar one man. He must be heading for Panjim too, I thought. I decided to ask him what we were waiting for, but he was asleep. I rushed off the bus and saw all the other passengers floating across the river on a ferry. I finally located our driver, nonchalantly sipping his Thums Up Cola, who told me that the bridge had collapsed, and the ferry had taken its place.
I waited an hour and a half for the next ferry. When we were halfway across the river, everyone gave up their hard-won seats and moved towards the exit doors. Not twigging why, I stuck to my seat. But before the boat had even moored, most of the passengers had already disembarked and were sprinting to a waiting bus. Last on, I was stuck at the front of the bus again, part of the Holy Trinity on another mini-shrine.
A couple of hours later, we arrived in Old Goa. I rushed around with my camera before the sun set. I had promised my Catholic mother that I would take some pictures of the churches in what was once known as the Lisbon of the East.
I decided that I would not, however, tell her that in the crush on the way home, I had inadvertently leant on and snapped the driver's crucifix.
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