Once we were free from dental appointments we hired Nitin, our taxi driver, to take us out for the day. Although we’d been to Goa several times we’d never been further north than Morjim, just over the river from Chapora. The beaches of north Goa beckoned.
We headed first for Arambol, the northernmost of Goa’s beach resorts. Arambol has long had a reputation as a hippie hangout, and the hot, dusty road behind the beach was packed with shops selling clothes and colourful fabrics. It reminded me of Palolem, although it was only half the size. The beach there could be an attractive cove, but it was rather spoilt by shacks constructed on the beach – at least in Palolem the building line is kept to the tree line. It was quite busy even in early December, and I didn’t feel that it was somewhere I’d want to stay, especially without my own transport – it was a long uphill hike from the beach area to the main road where the bus stopped.
The next beach south was Mandrem. Nitin dropped us at the top of some steps that led down to the northern end of the beach, where a few shack restaurants waited in vain for customers. The beach was long, straight, shadeless and virtually deserted, cut off from its hinterland by a lagoon. An occasional rickety bridge led to guesthouses and hut camps beyond the lagoon. Two young British guys stopped us to enquire about eating places – we couldn’t answer of course, but we chatted for half an hour despite the scorching sun. The beach was a bit livelier at its southern end, where it was cut by the outflow of the lagoon. Inland were guesthouses, restaurants and a few shops aimed at tourists, but its quiet, leafy lanes were nothing like Arambol. Scenically, I found the beach boring, but as a place to stay I would far prefer it to Arambol.
Aswem, the next in the string, is home to La Plage, one of the best known restaurants in those parts. In peak season reservations are essential, but we thought we’d chance it. The drive there was interesting, down a rough track that didn’t look as though it was meant for motor traffic. Clearly Nitin had been there before – we’d never have found it. Arriving at the back of La Plage we cut through and found ourselves in the restaurant, but there were no customers – just a couple of chefs and a French guy tasting dishes and discussing the menu. That’s the trouble with Goa outside peak season – a lot of places are closed.
We stepped over the barrier blocking La Plage’s entrance and walked along to find lunch at Gopal, one of the shacks that was open. The rocks at either end of the slightly curving beach made it prettier here than Mandrem, and the not-too-crowded sprinkling of shacks and sunbeds put me in mind of Patnem (or perhaps, how Patnem used to be). But there didn’t seem to be much of a village and the beach was a long way from the road. However, looking at the satellite map on Google, we were perhaps some way south of the main centre.
We didn’t stop in Morjim this time – the beach there is wide and clean, but the village is sprawling and lacks character. And last time we went there for lunch we had to eat under the gaze of Putin, who glared down at us from a picture on the wall. The place isn’t known as Morjimagrad for nothing.
All in all, I didn’t feel particularly drawn to any of the places we visited, and if I return to the area I’d probably pick Chapora again, or Vagator if I wanted to be nearer a beach. Vagator’s main disadvantage is the cliff behind the beach, although it’s not that big a climb to the main car park area, and motorbikes can get down there.
For self-catering, the presence of the Savitri shop and the ease of getting to Oxford Arcade at Anjuna (on the bus, or a long walk) make Chapora so convenient – I don’t think there are any stores north of the river that compare with even Savitri, never mind Oxford. And of course Chapora is an actual working village, not just a tourist resort. In fact, it’s not a tourist resort at all really – it has no beach, no hotels, few guesthouses, and most visitors rent their accommodation for several weeks at least. The only concession to tourists is a handful of restaurants. That’s probably why I like it.