Friday, 26 November 2010

Guardian Travel Writing Competition

I was rather more disappointed than I probably should have been to discover that I was one of the runners up in The Guardian's recent travel writing competition. I sent in three pieces, one of which was about surfing at Cape Wrath, one about Orkney (carefully avoiding any mention of surfing) and one about idling around a beach in Goa (ditto). It was the Goa one that made the runners-up list - though inevitably it was the one I wrote last, in least time, and almost didn't bother submitting. Some kind of lesson there, perhaps.

A heavily-edited version of my piece is on the Guardian website HERE.

It's the piece at the bottom, with the heading (not mine): Goa before it's packed away.

My original version, twice as long, follows below. Maybe I'll post the other two pieces I wrote at some point.


Go to most resorts out of season, and you find empty restaurants, silent hotels and an air of bored anticipation. Go to certain villages in Goa, and all you find are palm trees. By law, everything else has to be dismantled and packed away before the monsoon.

Luckily we arrived two weeks before the season ended. There were plenty of beach cafés, but they were disappearing at the rate of at least one a day. Each morning we were confronted by a fresh gap in the row of shacks, as the beachfront began to resemble a child’s smile.

Pulling down a resort every year is an effective way of preventing runaway development, though this doesn’t stop the nearby resort of Palolem from throwing up a thriving town every autumn, with dozens of shops and discos, yoga centres and massage huts attracting the gap year crowd. Patnam is quieter, more restrained, with no more than a dozen beachside cafés, each serving a similar mix of East and supposedly West: chai and something resembling cappuccino; curry and something similar to pizza.

Behind each café, a few steps from the beach, sit a handful of simple but clean wooden huts to rent among the palms, with plumbed-in bathrooms and bamboo walls. They’re basic but clean, and for around 600 rupees a night for a double, a bargain.

At low tide you can wander round the rocks at the end of the beach to see how the other half live. A Bollywood comedy was shooting at the Intercontinental, so the beach there was full of actors, film crew and European crusties drafted in for background colour. When filming stopped, teenage security guards were left in charge, armed with sticks and disarming smiles, eager to chat to while away the boredom.

As the days passed, the number of tourists dwindled. The waiters weren’t too bothered – every afternoon they played raucous cricket on the beach; every evening, they kept one eye on the Indian Premier League. If there weren’t enough customers, they would close for the evening. At my favourite café, they once did this after they had taken our order and let us sit expectantly for 20 minutes. After that, we always checked that the chef would be sticking around long enough to cook our dinner. But it was well worth the gamble – his succulent, spicy fish, cooked in a banana leaf, was by far the best on the beach, and his shack exerted a magnetic pull whenever we tried to go elsewhere. When we did, we were invariably disappointed, and always swore never to abandon him again – hoping he wouldn’t abandon us either.

At sunset, we walked along the beach, keeping pace with a lone dolphin that swam lazily across the bay, until the sun had turned from gold to blood, and dipped behind the sharply silhouetted palms like a clichéd photo of the paradise it was. If they hadn’t packed up the resort around us, we might have stayed forever


ScottishK said...

Nice work, Pegs.

Anonymous said...

hey, well done on last year's comp! did you enter this year? How did they let you know you were runner up, did you get a call ahead of it being printed?