x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Fond memories of Goa's fauna

'Look! A pig on a motorcycle!' shouted Calvin excitedly. Hurtling down a narrow, unlit road between Goa's Dabolim Airport and the state capital, Panjim, in a minivan taxi at three in the morning, this was the last thing we expected to see.

'Look! A pig on a motorcycle!' shouted Calvin excitedly. Hurtling down a narrow, unlit road between Goa's Dabolim Airport and the state capital, Panjim, in a minivan taxi at three in the morning, this was the last thing we expected to see. Peering out of the window, we saw a young man on a two-wheeler whizz by with a loudly protesting pig strapped to the pillion. They were going at at least 100 kilometres per hour and quickly disappeared into the night, leaving behind the echoes of a quavering squeal. Even my cranky, sleep-deprived husband managed a smile.

"Cool," said Calvin fervently, sinking back in his seat and propping his feet on a suitcase. "Although it should have been wearing a helmet." Then: "Hope I get to see a few kingfishers tomorrow. And more pigs." So, armed with the kind of enthusiasm only an eight-year-old can muster, Calvin embarked on his Goan holiday. First to my parents' home in Calangute, where he high-fived his grandparents then ran straight through the house and onto the balcony in his quest for animals.

He wasn't disappointed. Stretching as far as the eye could see were emerald fields full of buffalo and heron. Fully absorbed, Calvin spent the rest of the afternoon glued to his binoculars, occasionally turning around to inform us of his subjects' doings - "That bird just ate a frog! Yuck!" - while we settled into comfortable armchairs, sipping rose tea and eating sandwiches filled with home-made mango preserve.

Because the whole point of a holiday is "to do nothing", as my husband repeatedly pointed out, we spent our days lying on the beaches, or lounging in quiet restaurants under old, whirring fans, drinking gallons of watermelon cooler and watching Calvin sitting still in the hot sun, surrounded by the butterflies and bluebottles that seemed to be everywhere. In the evenings, we would walk by the Mandovi River, ride a ferry or pay a visit to one of the bustling markets.

The nights found us enjoying long meals at O'Coqueiro in Porvorim, a restaurant as famous for its spicy fish curries as it is infamous for being the site where Charles Sobhraj, a convicted killer, was rearrested after escaping from a Delhi prison (my husband was fascinated to find a statue of Sobhraj on one of the balconies). It was only on our last morning in Goa that we spotted a kingfisher. The bus we were on had stopped for a few minutes when we saw the briefest flash of blue. Calvin's cup was finally full.

For me, visiting my home state after more than 10 years brought on a sudden rush of memories of family holidays - the smell of wood fires at dawn; the splash of a bucket in a well; the low mooing of cows as they returned from grazing in the fields; the fragrance of grain, ripening papaya and coconuts in the cool, cavernous storeroom of my grandfather's ancestral house. For Calvin, unfortunately, Goa will always conjure up visions of motorcycle-riding pigs. travel@thenational.ae