Our trip report 2nd Feb – 23rd Feb 2013.
Here we go, not as diverse as previous trips but a truly memorable holiday anyway. We flew with Monarch and the journey took less than 9 hours which was very acceptable. No problems with cramped conditions and I managed to have a 5 hour sleep much to the OH’s dismay!! Also in and out of Dabolim airport within 15 minutes which was a bonus and when we stepped out into the Goan sunshine we knew we were “home”. We decided to get on the transfer bus to commence our new no taxi policy and arrived at the Santana around 9.15am. It was a bit of a pain waiting until 11am for our room but hey that’s life, not that keen on our balcony view (room 608) so we were moved to the excellent room 303 the next day with no fuss and this was home for the next 3 weeks so thank you very much Trevor.
I cannot praise the hotel Santana enough, great food (obviously more expensive than outside) the rooms, the immaculate gardens, superb location and the fantastic splash pool which our daughter loved along with probably the friendliest staff from the gardeners, room boys, security guards, bar staff and management etc that we have ever encountered in Goa. It was the best hotel we have stayed in and the big difference was the staff being very happy and it showed. A full hotel review will come at the weekend.
It was a lazy uneventful first week after the flight fiasco with Spicejet so we took the decision to just recharge our batteries and totally relax which we all needed. Most days consisted of fun filled mornings at the pool and then walks,sunbathing, jumping the waves and eating on Candolim beach at either Monicas shack or Ganesh’s shack (delicious prawn toasts with lots of lemon grass and ginger) which were both faultless and very cheap. I would not eat or drink at the Calamari as it was a rip off but it was packed every day and night. 30ml of Honeybee there was 70rps when you can buy the bottle in a shop for 135rps!!! Needless to say that we really enjoyed the beach at this end of Candolim and found it very clean and not congested at all compared to the last holiday in Baga and it helped with the beach just being a short walk through the hotel gardens. We also had a walk down to Fort Aguada by the Taj hotel and took some great panoramic pics and videos here but was very disappointed with the way the supposedly 5 star guests or visitors this end treat the place as Sinqerim beach was full of bottles and rubbish which was a great shame indeed.
On the Tuesday we got the bus (again!!) to Mapusa and had a drink and a very good and cheap lunch indeed at The Pub overlooking the market and then jumped a tuk tuk to The Tree House (www.primatetrustindia.org) run by John and Jo Hicks and as the only visitors on a pre arranged visit we spent over an hour and a half here and were totally blown away by their dedication, commitment and devotion to their rescued primates. What an amazing house they live in with over 40 monkeys here that sadly cannot be released back to the wild. The birdlife is truly wonderful with tiny humming birds and sky blue and emerald green kingfishers visiting feeding trays only feet from where we stood in this dense, colourful and humid jungle like setting. We met Dennis the rescued orphan macaque monkey who was so cheeky and funny climbing up and down my daughter’s back and front and then sitting on her head and trying to steal anything that was removable and then Foster the baby langur monkey that Jo was giving around the clock care to. He was quite poorly and they were unsure whether he would actually make it despite many professionals having had a look at him and many tests having been done also. I have some great video footage of us feeding him small titbits of coconut and we are checking on his progress all the time on their website. This visit was absolutely amazing, educational and a definite highlight of our trip so obviously we left them with a decent donation. Our daughter is now doing a full report and presentation on her visit at school so thank you both John and Jo for inspiring children as well as adults.
We visited the following restaurants in the first week: Kalinga, Flambe’e, Tuscany Gardens, Horizon Bar & Grill and Shivers which were all superb places with great quality food and very reasonable prices indeed. The one exception was The Mermaid where we had to pre book. I just don’t get this place as the food was not up to scratch at all and was overpriced but was full of Brits but just not our scene. Also met up with TonyManchester at the Mango Grove for a few jars, I had a lovely seafood platter Goan masala style and the OH a beef Chilly Fry and we had a great catch up on events. Still a shame our trip to Jaipur and Agra never worked out Tony! One special mention must go to the awesome Himalayan Bar & Restaurant just past Tuscany Gardens as their food, prices and attentive staff exceeded our expectations.2 starters, 3 mains including my Tibetan thali which was huge, 1 dessert and quite a few drinks and coffee came to less than a tenner. Needless to say our security guy at the Santana gratefully received a huge doggy bag that night!! I also visited Tony and his wife Eileen at their shack the Red Lobster on a couple of occasions but failed to spot Bazz at Dreamers, has anyone heard from him??
The start of the second week began with our trip down to Agonda and sadly we had to get a taxi there as the OH’s back was really playing up and she couldn’t face the train. Anyway we arrived at White Sands around 12.30pm and had homemade hummus, falafel and lots of salad there and then. We knew we were in for a treat with that first meal. We had the hut at the front facing the sea and the interior was absolutely spot on although the OH was not keen on the open roof bathroom and the possibilities of invading wildlife!! The next 4 days were spent totally chilling in the most peaceful, beautiful and idyllic surroundings possible which is why Agonda is our favourite place in Goa and in my opinion it hasn't changed hardly since 2009. What better than allowing and not worrying about your child skipping through the village interacting with the local village children without a care in the world and with no fear of traffic or cycling from one end to the other as we did passing groups of happy smiling school children on their way home.
We had lunch and health drinks at the Blue Planet Café which was beyond description it was superb and also watched as a troop of monkeys bounded across the luscious green fields towards us. We also came across a illuminous green snake whilst watching them which gave us a fright!! The visit to the Bat Palace just before sunset was a real treat as hundreds of large bats prepared for the evening’s feast interrupted only by 2 playful monkeys swinging from branch to branch in their trees whilst beneath them a family of pigs foraged in the undergrowth. The family who own the shack are really lovely and we spent a good hour with them and their daughter eating and having a nice chat. One afternoon we could hear the intriguing sound of frantic drumming and chanting in the village which culminated that evening in a riot of colourful outfits, masks and the noise of many firecrackers as the local Christians celebrated at the shrine just at the entrance to White Sands which I caught on video. Another great place to eat was called Romya where I had a seafood platter including crab, squid, tiger prawns and a whole pomfret for just 550rps!!
We as a family could not have found a better place to stay in Agonda and that end of the beach is deserted with dolphins slipping in and out of surf on the shoreline each morning yet again as we walked towards the creek watching the fishermen unload the day’s catch watched over by the hungry birdlife. The sea was actually clear enough you could see the bottom and experience lots and lots of fish in the shallows swimming around your ankles which was great fun. Chasing crabs and collecting shells was also a favourite activity. We spent each evening at White Sands enjoying the best food (and I mean that sincerely) we have eaten anywhere in Goa listening to the subtle sounds and chimes of Tibetan and Indian music, the sound of frogs, crickets and of course the power of the Arabian sea thrashing against the shoreline. It was cool to sit in an empty fishing boat just where the beach meets White Sands and gaze at the heavens above and wonder at the clarity of the stars. I did actually say on our first night that I don’t think I have even been so happy on holiday before so once again we have bonded as a family brought together by the sheer beauty and tranquillity of Agonda. The staff and ambience at White Sands are second to none and they really help you enjoy your stay there.
We also visited Patnem beach again early one morning and had a lovely breakfast before exploring the beach which is really nice at the north end.
We returned back to Candolim for Valentine’s night and ate at L’Orange which in all honesty was very disappointing and overpriced again! The wife had fillet steak which was so tough and dry that we bagged it up for Alfie the dog at the Santana and even he refused it!! Lol I had beef shashlik which again was dry and tasteless we were very disappointed.
Other restaurants we visited in Candolim were Chocolatti Superb paninis and salads but let down by really dirty toilets. Top Nosh: King fish very dry and inedible so not good at all. Stonehouse: Great food and on the evening we went superb live music too. Bomras: Seared beef salad, beef on bamboo skewers, Lime and chilli cured snapper with cucumber relish, Red snapper with lemon grass, chilli, Chicken with shitaki mushrooms cooked in banana leaf. The food here was truly amazing and although more pricey it was well, well worth it and definitely worth a visit. Went to Inferno again and loved the meal there and spent another hour with Eileen (TonyMancheter’s wife). We also had to go back to Baga to satisfy my curiosity and have a few at Bharat’s bar and then a lovely steak at Fire & Ice on CSM road but the area is just too crazy now and we would not stay down that end again which is something I never thought I would say but I understand that Goa and all its different areas has so much to offer each and everyone of us in different ways and that is what makes it unique. Also hardly any shopping done on this holiday either just the usual Honeybee, masala teabags and spice mixes as again we couldn’t be bothered and the buses are there so use them instead of taxis and you will be very surprised just how much money you can save for other things.
Conclusion: The Santana is an absolutely fantastic hotel that we would have no hesitation in staying at again and we loved the beach there and that quieter end of Candolim and it made for a fantastic holiday but I think of how Agonda makes us feel as a family and what is does for the soul and when we return in Feb 2015 we will more than likely spend the entire holiday there (definitely if we could find somewhere with a pool) or at the very least half and half with the Santana.
I will review the hotel and restaurants etc later this week so it’s over and out for now and I hope this doesn’t bore you too much.
St Alex and family