Tuesday 28 April 2020


Calangute beach 
Easter 2020 came and went in Goa with barely a whimper thanks to Covid19 and the accompanying lockdown. Easter Balls and entertainment fests are par for the course in Goa this time of the year. But Covid19 has shut down the tourism hotspot, lock, stock and barrel.

Almost 3500 tourists – both domestic and foreign - remain stranded in Goa. Only shops selling essential items like groceries and vegetables and pharmacies are open for limited hours. Covid19 has caused much concern and uncertainty over Goa’s most saleable commodity – tourism.

Calangute beach North Goa

Goa tourism minister Manohar “Babu” Azgaonkar told me that the pandemic has hit Goa tourism hard. “Right from the omelette-pao stall to the 5-star hotel, this has caused a huge financial loss to everyone and to the state. We are not even certain when this will end. Goa is lucky that we are not affected by the virus itself, thanks to the measures initiated by the chief minister (Pramod Sawant) and our government.”

Azgaonkar lamented that the nature of the pandemic was such that there was no certainty when it would end. “Roads, airlines, waterways and trains are all closed. But it’s dangerous to open up as the virus can kill people en masse. I think our tourism will take a long time to recover. When we are sure the danger has passed, we will meet with all stakeholders and discuss the way forward. We will succeed,” Azgaonkar said.

Menino D’Souza, director, Goa tourism department, laments that the pandemic has shut down not only tourism, but all allied activity like local taxi business and small guesthouses. “It’s difficult to quantify the loss we have suffered. We suffered earlier due to the collapse of Thomas Cook and its cancellations. Now this pandemic has affected every sector, but Goa tourism is the worst hit,” D’Souza said.

Reacting to criticism from some quarters that the Goa government has shown panic, D’Souza said “things are so unpredictable” and though “the government does not want a lockdown; it is forced to do it. If we open our borders, everyone might pour in and we do not know what will follow,” D’Souza said.

“It is zero tourism in Goa right now,” says Savio Messias, president of Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), an NGO comprising hoteliers, airlines, tour operators, casinos and event management companies. “This will continue for another couple of months. Things may improve in Goa because the outbreak has not affected the state much. But that will not help us because the source markets are affected,” says Messias.

Source markets on the domestic front - Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, etc. are affected. Train and air connectivity to these markets is shut down. Messias is looking at the overseas market only post monsoon, which is October 2020, because overseas tourists do not visit India in the monsoons.

Never has the state been as silent, ever since the hippies discovered Goa in the 60s and the state burgeoned rapidly into a global tourism hotspot. In India’s smallest state, boasting 43,148 rooms and 73,667 beds in all categories (Goa tourism department figures), the pandemic has brought the rush-to-the-sun to a grinding halt.

Even without Covid19, tourism had declined in Goa. In 2018, the state received 80.15 lakh visitors. Till May 2019, the tourist footfalls had crossed just 27 lakh. Goa has a resident population of 15.15 lakh.

Beach shacks - Bosco's and The Hangout

All 18 rooms at the 3-star, 18-room Kingstork Beach Resort on the iconic Calangute beach (North Goa), are empty, except one. That room is home to an elderly British couple who are stranded in the resort due to the lockdown.

The loss of business is one thing, but the resort is now also stuck with 10 non-Goan staff who cannot travel to their home states. Retired British couples form a large part of Kingstork’s guests. These usually fly on Thomas Cook charter flights but book their long stays directly with the resort. At the beginning of the tourism season, the closure of Thomas Cook caused about 25 per cent cancellations at Kingstork. Covid19 has shut business much before season-end. With no income coming, Kingstork has to still pay costs.

The (Empty) Hangout Beach Shack
The Palolem Guesthouse, one of the oldest guesthouses at Palolem beach in Canacona taluka, the southern tip of Goa, had its last guests in the end of February. All bookings for March were cancelled. The 25-room guesthouse gets domestic and foreign tourists but new bookings are on hold due to the current uncertainty.  Palolem guesthouse feels that in all the 17 years of their operations, this is the worst tourism season ever.

Jewel of the Goan beach, the shacks are shut too. Built with wooden rafters and palm fronds, these offer tourists food and booze as they lounge on cane chairs in sinful states of undress, while at the same time, relish mouth-watering views of the ocean. Their idle staff now play football in the sand to pass the time. When this scribe visited Calangute beach two days ago, Bosco’s Beach Shack, a popular haunt for seafood lovers, had its tables all piled-up. The shacks on either side, The Hangout and The Buckingham Café, have removed all their tables.

Calangute beach, Goa’s most popular, is allotted the highest number of shacks by the tourism department. But many shacks have been pulled down prematurely, others are to be flattened soon; an economy gone bust.

Ernest Dias, Goa chief operating officer, SITA TRAVELS, is busy coordinating the repatriation of foreigners stranded in Goa. So far, SITA (Goa) arranged 5 flights to evacuate stranded Brits and 4 flights to Germany. There are tourists of several other nationalities stranded here and their evacuation is being planned. “But these tourists are happy to stay in Goa, they feel safer here,” says Dias.

He points out that the corona positive cases in Goa have fallen from 7 to just 2 and there is not a single Covid death here. Dias laments that the Goa government is “jumping the gun” by unnecessarily predicting poor tourism footfalls in November-December. “They should look at the immediate scenario and promote Goa’s safety record. The summer destinations like Turkey, Spain, Italy, Portugal have gone bust. I advise my agents to send people to Goa from September itself,” says Dias.

He admits that SITA revenues took a hit with Covid19 and the cancelled charter flights. Confident that Goa itself will remain safe, he however fears for the conditions in the source markets. “If the pandemic persists in the UK and other parts of Europe, and if their governments have long lockdowns, then we will have a problem. The Russians are bolder and if things are better there, they will be more than happy to travel. I am very confident things will improve,” Dias says.

Bosco's - tables, chairs stacked up

Like Dias, TTAG president Savio Messias also sees a silver lining in the Covid19-inflicted shutdown and is confident that tourism will flourish in Goa in the next season beginning October 2020. Said Messias, “Goa will bounce back. It is still a strong beach destination. Some people have posted pictures of Goan beaches on social media. For example, Calangute beach now looks like it looked 30 or 40 years ago; miles and miles of pristine beach with not a soul in sight. It’s beautiful.”

Thursday 21 June 2018

Christine Weber - a Swiss writer dreaming in our Blueberry room

Christine Weber - Swiss Writer dreaming in our Blueberry room

As the monsoons descended over Goa in early June, Swiss writer Christine Weber came riding the rains all the way from Switzerland to cosy up in our Blueberry room with open terrace. (Joe and Marietta’s Guesthouse, Calangute, Goa).

Christine - outside the Blueberry room

She had booked for 4 nights (June 6 -10), but was so charmed with her stay, she extended it to 10 nights. “I see your guesthouse; it is so wonderful. I have seen dirty rooms in other places,” she said. By the way, she judged us a "EXCEPTIONAL"  and gave us 10 out of 10 in her review of our guesthouse on Booking.Com. See screenshot -

Born in Berne and living in Lucerne, 48-year old Christine describes herself as a “journalist-writer” and runs her own “small agency” called WORTUNDOHR, which she says translates to WORDS AND EAR. “It means speaking and listening,” she said.

“I am a journalist-writer. I write short stories about drama in life. What I observe in real life, I fictionalise. I publish my stories in a literary blog www.zentralplus.ch. (Alas! It’s German!) Now I am trying to publish a book – compilation of my short stories”, said Christine.

Putting her dreams on laptop
She is in India with a friend - a lady who is a Swiss national of Indian origin. She was given for adoption to a Swiss couple at birth. Now, 28 years later, and for the first time, she has come to the land of her birth. She has no clue about the woman who gave her birth. Nor does she hope to find her parents. She is here on a very private pilgrimage of sorts.

Christine said, “She knows nothing about her mother but she wants to know more about India, its people, its culture and how the city Bombay moves. She was very happy to see Bombay; she loves India. I will write about her India experience and publish it in a Swiss magazine.”

Monsoon mojo for Christine
Before turning to journalism and writing, Christine got a degree in teaching. Her father Paul (82) and mother Evi (77) were both teachers. Now retired, they live in Lucerne where Christine visits them sometimes.

Christine never married. “I had no time. I am married to my business and my stories are my babies. Now I can do many things that I would not have been able to do if I had married,” she said.

She came to India 10 years ago. Besides Bombay, she remembers visiting Agonda beach (South Goa) and Hampi in Karnataka. She enjoyed her visit then. Among things Indian, she likes mushroom curry, vegetable biryani and paneer but is rather pained about the garbage situation in India. “Juhu beach was very beautiful then. Now there is too much garbage,” she said.

Christine and Marietta - Alamanda Eves
What makes Christine tick? “I am hoping to find more free time to write. Now I have to do other work to put food on the table. My dream is to be a famous writer. That would be great! To write a best-seller that would be translated into Hindi and made into a Bollywood film…..(laughs heartily).”

Incidentally, she has already chosen (tentatively) a title for her book – one of her short stories. It’s called “The Dark Space”.

If Christine hires me to translate her book into Hindi, I have already chosen a title for the movie – “Anderi Raat, Pakda tera haath!” (Too good, nah?) O Bollywood! Here we come! Christine and I!

Friday 15 December 2017

A rock musician with a sage soul

A rock musician with a sage soul: Roque Lazarus is a man with an entrenched passion for music. Having spent most of his life with music in different capacities, the man is synonymous with rhythm. Café takes a peek into his life

Monday 15 May 2017

Pine Tree shack, (Gaura Vaddo - West), Calangute, Goa


Now, wine and dine at the Pine Tree shack, Gauravaddo (West) Calangute beach, Goa through the year. You can shake your booty too, as Savio Gonsalves, owner of the Pine Tree shack provides an eclectic blend of music to his guests.

As if the sea, sun, sand (and sin) from October to May-end, as dished out by the Pine Tree Shack was not enough his guests, Savio says the shack may not shut shop during the rains from June to September. It appears, he wants to give the good life to his clientele of gourmands, gluttons and other pleasure seekers, all through the year.

Savio first erected his shack under the pine trees way back 2001. Since then, he has cooked and served good food for 16 long summers. He claims his speciality is Goan food – chicken and beef xacuti, pork vindalo, fish and prawn caldin, fish recheado, Ambott tik, drool, drool, etc. He also serves continental and Chinese. Among his drinks, the Pine Tree Special – a cocktail of caju feni, coconut feni and fruit juices – is a big hit on guests.

Among the celebrities who have savoured his cuisine include singer Katy Perry (Savio says she binged on prawn balchao), Bollywood actor Anushka Sharma and politician Salman Khurshid. The last-named owns a home nearby.

“I am very happy with my clientele who are very happy with us. So I may decide to keep the shack open right through the year,” says the young bachelor, who is also a ward member in the Calangute Panchayat. Before that, he was the deputy Sarpanch.

Savio earlier screened movies at the shack but has now stopped. Now, he offers karaoke and can set it up instantly for his guests. Also, barbeque can be set up in a jiffy. Plus, Savio offers cook-your-own-meal facility to demanding guests. Or guests can instruct his cooks to cook the way they (guests) want. Making everything a breeze for guests, are Savio’s dozen disciples – faithful staff.

Another service the Pine Tree Shack offers is home delivery. If you are living in Calangute or around and want to enjoy Savio’s delicacies, order his food on the phone. Savio says Pine Tree prices are on par with other prominent shacks in Calangute.

The only problem with the Pine Tree shack is the narrow access. To reach here, you first come on the Calangute-Candolim road. After the Tarcar Ice factory, you take a right turn near the small Piedade chapel and go straight down towards the beach. Then you walk on foot for 3 minutes or so. “If I get a wider access, I will make it a very happening place – have a live band, fireworks and all that jazz.”

Yours truly and friends partied at the Pine Tree shack recently. We sang, we danced on the tiled flooring inside the shack, we played games in the sand and we ate, among other things, Savio’s chicken xacuti.

When will he marry? “When I meet Ms Right,” said Savio with a wicked smile. Katy Perry and Anushka Sharma came and went. Who knows? The next diva who comes along may just choose to stay; at the Pine Tree shack and its genial owner.

Monday 27 February 2017

Our friends from Yorkshire

“Joe, would you have us here back again?” asked Stephanie Waterton.

That line, or its variants, spoken by our guests at Joe and Marietta’s Guesthouse, are delightful to hear; it means our guests were happy with us and would like to return.

Tanya Miles seemed equally delighted to have stayed with us. English Roses Tanya and Stephanie (Steff), along with their respective spouses and their sons, stayed at our Palm 3-bedroom apartment for two weeks this February. They left for England on Sunday, February 26. The two families hail from Leeds in Yorkshire.

Craig, Tanya’s husband and Patrick (Paddy), Stephanie’s husband, were gracious and very profuse in thanking us. We cannot but think the same way about them, especially Tanya, who was thoughtful enough to bring us biscuits all the way from England, even though she had never met us earlier. It was Tanya who did the booking and communicated with us all along before their arrival here in Goa.

Tanya and Craig Miles are avid travellers; they have toured Cuba, Mexico,
Greece, Cyprus and other tourism hotspots of the world. Curiously, the Miles have never been to other parts of India, though this is Tanya’s sixth visit to Goa. Asked what brought her to Goa, the accounts manager from Leeds told me she loves the people, the freedom and the food. “We feel safe when we are out and we enjoy the beach shacks,” said Tanya.

For Craig, “the food is very, very nice; the people are very, very nice.”

“The pools,” quipped Frankie, Tanya’s six-year old son. Tanya had enquired and ensured that the children would get access to swimming pools during their stay here in Goa.

“It’s been perfect,” said Stephanie, a first-time visitor to Goa, who works in account administration in Leeds.

They also stayed at the beaches of Agonda and Palolem in South Goa and Arambol beach in the north. The group also splashed in the pool of Froggy Land”, a water park at Nuvem, South Goa.

Tanya and her family have a special affinity to Goa. Tanya’s mother has lived here for many years. And around this Valentine’s Day, Tanya’s sister Amy married a Calangute boy, Justin. It was a beach wedding in Calangute; memories of which the group will relish for long years.

You may think that the two families were in Goa only for the beaches, the food and the nightlife. No. In the middle of their holiday in the sun, the families also took the trouble to spend time with the less fortunate. They took their four small sons to visits the Mango Tree, a home for disadvantaged children in Mapusa town, about seven kilometres north of Calangute. There, the two couples and their sons gave their time and clothes to the children of the home.

All we can say is - it was lovely meeting you Tanya, Craig, your sons Frankie and Logan; and Paddy, Stephanie and your sons Jake and Ashton. Marietta and I wish you all happiness. Deu Borem Korum (God bless you).

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Joe and Marietta's Guesthouse, Calangute Goa

Friends, foes and Donald Trump,

Happy to announce the launch of the new website of Joe and Marietta's Guesthouse, Calangute, Goa, today.


Our new website is complete with online booking facility and online payment facility. All photographs, text, captions given by me - Joe and I have Marietta's permission to say so.

Also note that Joe and Marietta's Guesthouse is ranked no. 2 out of 216 speciality lodgings in Calangute on Tripadvisor.


There is more to come....watch this space!

Friday 11 September 2015

The Aguada Fort

THE AGUADA FORT: So what is there is see within say 5 km of Joe and Marietta's Guesthouse other than the beach? That is one frequently asked question we have to answer. This post seeks to adress that query.
The fort atop the Aguada hillock about 4 km south of Calangute is worth seeing. A board displayed near the entrance tells the fort's story and reads like this:
The fort Aguada built in 1612 comprises the lower fort with bastions all around and an upper fort. It skirts the seashore and ascends the summit of the bare rocky, upland called the "Aguada Point." The upper fort was built as a vantage point to serve as a fort and a watering station to the ships, while the lower fort offers a safe berth to Portuguese ships. The upper fort comprises of moat, an underground water storage chamber, lighthouse, gun powder room and bastions.

ENTRANCE: Bridge over the  moat
The word "Aguada" means watering place in Portuguese. The storage capacity of water tank is 23,76,000 galons. It has five divisions with a support of 16 huge columns and a staircase to descend. A lighthouse at initial stage used to emit light once in seven minutes. In 1864, it was updated to emit light creating eclise every 30 seconds, however it was abandoned in 1976. (Archaelogical Survey of India).

The Old Lighthouse

This old lighthouse is no longer in use. They have built a new one just outside the fort grounds, almost on the edge of the hill, overlooking the expanse of the Arabian Sea. From there, its beams of light sweep the ocean, guiding sailing ships. But the odd courting couple seated on the hill's edge could not care less. 

The new lighthouse

The site offers mouth-watering views of the ocean, the Mandovi river and Panaji town - Goa's capital. On the northern side of the hill is Goa's first 5-star hotel, Fort Aguada and on the hill's southern side, down by the water's edge is Goa's first jail, the Aguada jail, from where, many notorious inmates escaped with ease, including the infamous smuggler Sukur Narayan Bhakia. And on the eastern side is the church of St Lawrence. 

St Lawrence church
Army of Angels

Christ the Redeemer

The Aguada fort is where a number of Hindi movies have been shot including the Amir Khan starrer Dil Chahata hai. There used to be peacocks roaming on the hill some years ago. Now, there are tourists by the busloads, coming to watch a piece of Goa's history.