"There shall come a time when this world of ours will be flooded with peace. Who is going to bring about this radical change? It will be you - You and your sisters and brothers, who are an extension of your reality existence - who will spread peace throughout the length and breadth of the world." Sri Chinmoy
3-19 May 2016
Greetings from Panaji, India
The big news in this part of the world right now is the killer drought affecting more than 300 million people, mostly the dirt poor. Many farmers have been devastated leading to a shocking epidemic of suicides in those parts of the country most affected! While it is very hot here in Goa, the drought does not seem to have effected this region.
On Friday, 29 April I took a bus north to the capital city of Panaji to check out several hotels found on the Internet. Of those checked, the four star $63 Fidalgo Hotel looked the best. The premium class room they showed me met all my basic requirements, including a walk-in shower. Based on that brief day trip of exploration I decided to move up to this city with its significantly more developed infrastructure and better hotel offerings.
The old rattletrap bus from Vasco to Panaji is a 37 Rupee (55 cents) adventure all its own as the roads are narrow and the traffic heavy and erratic. Everyone plays the dangerous adolescent game of "chicken," passing on curves with four abreast on the two lane road.
Checking into the Fidalgo they initially assigned me a room with a tub shower and I complained such an arrangement would be dangerous in my wobbly advanced age condition. Still only mid-afternoon, they searched their records to find an available room meeting my needs, finally ending up with room #112. It did have a walk-in shower, but also older decrepit plumbing. Expressing my displeasure the next morning, they switched me to one of their now available recently remolded rooms #212 with modern bathroom fixtures. None of the rooms have carpets. The hotel's pleasantly convenient location is in the center of the city's business district.
One afternoon while people watching from inside the cool hotel lobby, a two car accident in the intersection directly in front of the hotel's entrance created some excitement for a while. As no intersection in the city seems to have traffic controls and people drive as if they are late for a dental appointment, such accidents are inevitable. In the arguments following the collision, both drivers screamed accusations of responsibility at one another, oblivious to the traffic snarl building up while they argued.
Most of the Fidalgo Hotel staff are charmingly polite and helpful, especially the duty managers. Luncheon buffets are a gourmet delight and only $10 with the hotel guest discount. Towards the end of my stay one of the waiters insisted I try a local delicacy called Aam Ras. It turned out to be a shot glass of custard-like mango puree; smooth, sweet and delicious.
Breakfast is less lavish and there is only instant coffee displayed with the other tea and milk breakfast drinks, though I did get a tiny cup of espresso after some pleading. Late in my stay, after learning my preference for "real" coffee the waiters made something in the kitchen that may have been actual brewed coffee; not Edward Arbuckle gourmet but, not bad.
Internet WiFi has been troublesome, requiring a new sign in for every use with passwords that expired after 24 hours until I complained and the IT guy setup a special account for my Galaxy which only lasted three days. Having difficulty using the WiFi file transfer utility to move photos from the Galaxy phone to the laptop prompted me to reactivate the Dropbox service which I had abandoned last year in China where anything Google is blocked.
There are plenty of mosquitoes flying around, but hotels have people spraying all the time. I've had no bites in this hotel so far. However, my last sip of cool coffee included a drowned fly. Oh my!
There are a few western franchises like Dunkin Donut and Domino's Pizza plus a sort-of super market behind the hotel where prices pretty much match those back home... not cheap. Because the store is air-conditioned, mobs of people linger with their unruly kids while taking their time "shopping." The limited range of products include a few food items and a hodge-podge of clothing. Nowhere in the city I've checked is there anything like a real shopping center, other than the few offering only expensive luxury items.
One of the best hotels in the city is the 5 star Crown Goa situated on a hill a few blocks from the city center. I discovered it has great views of the harbor nautical traffic and excellent deluxe rooms. The food I saw being available for breakfast is no better than that in the Fidalgo, but the ambience is more sophisticated. I met the manager, "Bobby" who admitted his birth name is Robert. Room rates are comparable to the 4 star Fidalgo Hotel where I spent all of my time in the city. During one of my walks I came across the elegant Vivanta by Taj Hotel near the beaches, but could not find an entrance! It may well be the best lodge in the city, certainly the $140 room rates suggest as much.
Taxi touts/drivers never miss a chance to let you know they are ready to be of service, but none have been impolite or aggressive. The 45 minute bus ride up from Vasco da Gama is not uncomfortable and the bus terminals are easy to find on both ends. The airport is another twenty minutes out of Vasco by bus.
The presidential primaries have dominated my TV watching. Donald Trump is a worrisome phenomenon and Bernie Sanders continues to make his ethical positions an influence for the Democratic party's platform.
I find I must be ever vigilant when walking, as stumbling has become an ever present possibility. My eyesight has dimmed and more frequently contains the little squiggles of macular degeneration... which I'll address the minute I get back to Bangkok where my Thai ophthalmologist is located. Working at my tiny Asus Transformer screen is a strain. I've been wondering if Salvador Dali might also have had macular degeneration as some of the things I now see occasionally look like the distortions he imposed on the famous images he created.
The last few days of my total nine day stay in the Fidalgo Hotel ended on a sour note and convinced me to spend the last week of my time in India somewhere other than the Fidalgo. Someone decided to cause my room keycard to fail repeatedly each time the housekeeper had finished servicing the room, requiring another trip down to reception to have it reprogrammed. The duty manager sent a technician up to diagnose the problem, but without success. No one felt obligated to explain possible causes of the repeated inconvenience when I asked several times, though I'm sure anyone could have. The hotel since booking the five day extension is now over priced at $75... compared to $63 for my first four days. For short stays the inconveniently located 5 star Crown Goa with its magnificent view of the bay is a cheaper and better choice in my opinion.
My Bangalore-Bangkok flight leaves near midnight on the 19th, but I will leave Panaji early in the day on 12 May for a Goa-Bangalore $40 Air Asia flight that will allow a comfortable and unhurried connection. In Bangalore I'll try to change my BLR-BKK flight to that same night I leave Panaji on the 23:45 Air Asia FD138 Bangkok flight from the presently booked 19 May. There is a new Day Hotel right in the Bangalore terminal for short term stays ($15/2 hr) which should make any wait tolerable.
The story will continue when I reach Bangkok.
Fred L Bellomy
PS: The Goa airport departure lounge is poorly air conditioned, if at all. So, the two hour wait for my flight allowed my body to demonstrate its ability to provide sweat cooling! Reaching Bangalore I discovered to my horror the fee for changing the date of my connecting flight to Bangkok had doubled! So, it is another night here... which also turned out to be an adventure as the old reliable Elanza Hotel managed to be fully booked for just this night.
A half block back down the street is the five star $73 Melange Astris Hotel, a bit more than I like to pay. But, this night that seemed like a bargain, so in the Elanza's lobby I hastily made an online booking and dashed back in the fading light for some pampering. Boy, was I in for an unpleasant surprise!
Save for the impressive architecture, interior design and furnishings, nothing in this hotel justifies a five star rating. Of all the staff encountered, only the doorman in his spiffy uniform made me feel welcome. Reception staff definitely need some serious guest relations training. While the #1601 room they assigned me deserves the 5 stars and the WiFi is perfect, limited English TV channels tarnishes some of the stars!
Breakfast, always important in how a lodge ranks in my book, is awful: inept staff ignoring guests for trivial maintenance tasks, the coffee is weak and tasteless, all hot dishes are cold and of limited selection, the juices canned and bake goods stale... and I spotted a dead fly in one of the sauces!. With so many detractors, it is apparent this hotel is badly in need of a major management review.
As my plane doesn't leave until Friday the 13th midnight, a late checkout allowed me to use the room until 1PM to finish this postcard. After that I'll be heading back to the airport on the 210 Rupee BMTC bus for a long wait until departure time at 23:45. FB