The Jungle Book tour in Goa, India, truly is one of a kind. With so many new activities and experiences that the average tourist would never normally encounter this is, for many, a one off opportunity! I will tell you about it now. We were collected from our hotel in the resort in the morning and after picking up all of the other tourists we drove for around 2 hours to the spice plantation.
The spice plantation was just as expected -- an area where they grew lots of spices! They gave us a talk about how each spice grows and we got to smell/taste them. They showed us a particularly small and innocent looking chilli that in reality turned out to be aggressively hot! When offered, a bulshy, over-confident middle aged British man (as much as I hate to admit it these types of tourists always seem to be British!) said he would taste this exotic chilli, and much to my, and others’ amusement was rather taken back from the strong spice! ‘Serves you right’ I thought! We all laughed as he jumped around screaming from the spice!
While at the spice plantation they demonstrated how many of the spices are collected. As some of the are very high up in the trees an Indian local showed us how they would climb to the top, collect what they needed and then encourage the tree to sway from side to side until it reached close enough to the next tree for the man to climb over. It all seemed very skilled, but also very unsafe! This is something you would never see in England!
After all the excitement of seeing the spices we were given some lunch where we were able to sample some of them. Lunch was mushed up combination of soggy rice, salad (which I was a bit dubious about eating in India) and some sort of fish in breadcrumbs, or perhaps it was chicken? I wasn’t quite sure! All of this was served on a banana leaf, and we were expected to eat in the traditional style-with our hands!! Well, with the lack of soap and mushy food-I went on a search for a fork, and was very glad when I found one!
After a somewhat interesting meal, we continued on our journey towards the jungle. We drove for around another hour before we arrived. We were staying in the thick of the jungle. There were huts made from elephant dung that were arranged in a circle around the outside of the clearing. In the middle was a camp-fire and a bar/eating area (OK so the bar is not very authentic but clearly going to be a money earner with the tourists!).
Wandering around the clearing were elephants. It was incredible to have them freely roaming around you in such a way. And they were beautiful! There was also various other nature as expected in the jungle-HUGE spiders, leeches, cockroaches and a very large amount of mosquitos included!
I expected the accommodation to be basic-but this was actually beyond basic! Inside the hut was a double bed with a mosquito net. There was also a basic wooden open wardrobe. Inside the bathroom was a western toilet, a shower and a bath. The shower was cold and only a dribble of water, with ants and various other small creatures crawling all over the surrounding floor area and walls. The bath was a concrete box that you actually couldn’t have paid me to bathe in. But hey, were not here for luxuries-were here for the experience!
Soon after checking into our huts we were taken on a walk to an ‘authentic’ local village. We walked through the village to see the traditional houses the jungle people lived in and the people. We got to walk through the chief’s house to see how the most important person in the village lived. We then got to meet the children. We were told to teach the children some nursery rhymes. We tried things such as twinkle twinkle little star, Jack and Jill and many other, but the kids knew them all word for word-not bad for people that don’t speak a word of English!?
I knew then that this was not as authentic as they made out! I guess the children will see tourists coming through their village every day like this. And the flat screen TV I saw through the window of one of the huts gave me the impression they weren’t quite as poor as they made out too! Having been studying sustainability in tourism at the time as well, I was rather sceptical and not fooled-like the rest of the naive tourists! But this is not a discussion of authenticity.
After our walk to the village we were taken for a ride in the local means of transport -- the BMW! This was basically just a cart pulled by a cow/bull type animal. Were taken for a 5 minute ride which was a little bit of a disappointment as it was literally to the end of the road and back, but again it was an interesting and amusing experience!
Next we went for a trek on an elephant! This was by far one of the highlights of the tour. We had to climb up some stairs and onto a platform to get onto the elephant because it was so high. Then we sat on the top and were taken for a trek through the thick of the jungle. It was great fun! Our elephant was 40 years old and was the oldest elephant they had there. It seemed so happy and healthy looking which was lovely. And it was great to think they had the freedom to wander around the area most of the time, which is sadly not the reality for many elephants used in tourism in India. The ride was great fun and a great experience!
The evening in the camp was an interesting one. We had some curry dinner and then all sat around the campfire watching the traditional Indian dancing and drum playing. I even treated myself to a well-deserved couple of G & T’s! They also put on a show with the elephants where the dressed them up and we got to feed them-it was very cute!
I retired to bed relatively early as it was quite cold round the campfire and I had had enough traditional dancing for one night! Unfortunately it was not a comfortable nights sleep! Before getting into bed I spotted a huge leech on the floor next to the bed! I was too scared to attempt to move it so left it there-although I was worried about it all night! I was also worried about what ever other bugs there were around me! The mosquito net had bugs on the top of it that freaked me out too! Eventually though I did manage to get to sleep, and was glad to wake up and find that I hadn’t been attacked by giant leeches or any other jungle bugs in the night!
It was nice in the night though to lay there listening to the sounds of the jungle. You could hear the elephants outside and the owls and various other animals making their own noises. It was very calming and peaceful, like one of those CD’s you play to help you to get back to sleep!
So we rose at 5am ready for the trek through the jungle to the waterfall. When we set off it was pitch black. It was adventure to trek through the thick jungle with only a torch light to lead the way, and it was beautiful to watch the sun slowly rise. It was quite a challaging up hill walk-but I was ready for it! The only problem was my lack of sensible footwear- jellies didn’t suffice very well at all!!
The trek took us through thick bush to the top of a hill, it was very steep at times and a I was very tired and out of breath by the time I reached the top. However the view from the top made it all more than worth it. We all sat down to admire the beautiful clearly in the jungle, whereby in the middle was a lovely waterfall. I always have been a bit of a sucker for waterfalls too.
After a few minutes rest we began the decent back down, this was even more tricky than the climb! We had to walk along a very picturesque pebbled stream at the bottom of the waterfall, it was lovely but I wasn’t getting on too well with the jelly shoes keep slipping off! But nevertheless I reached the end and completed the trek.
By this time it was about 10am and we greeted with a little clearing housing a small temple. Here we had a go at doing some Indian yoga. It was the perfect setting for yoga; a clearing in the Indian jungle, at the bottom of a waterfall, in the morning when the heat was just right, in front of a temple. It was incredibly tranquil. India is the birthplace of yoga too; making it even more perfect.
The only thing that wasn’t perfect, was actually me! I wasn’t terribly enthused at the time as I hadn’t yet developed my passion for yoga. And me and my friend did giggle quite a lot. However, how many people can say their first attempt at yoga was in such a location? Not many!
The last part of the tour was by far the highlight! We were taken in the bus down to a local waterhole where we spent half an hour or so chilling in the water and sunbathing. Then the fun began! We were met by a stampede of over excited elephants running into the water, playing and splashing around! It was absolutely amazing to watch. The elephants looked like they were having so much fun!
After watching them play for around half an hour, one cam walking towards me. When it got towards the water’s edge I got up and stepped back cautiously. Then to my surprise, the elephant pointed its trunk straight at me and squirted me with water!! Everybody there was watching and they were all laughing in hysterics at me. It was absolutely hilarious and I didn’t stop laughing for ages! I don’t know what drew that elephant to me that day-but it certainly was funny!
Once the elephants had calmed down and were a bit less playful we had the chance to wash them. We got to get into the water with them and scrub them-and you could see that they clearly loved this! It was an amazing experience that I shouldn’t think I will get the opportunity to do too many times in my life! You also had the opportunity to sit on the elephants back in the water and have the squirt you, which most people did and it looked like so much fun! However I was all ‘squirted out’ so decided just to watch this part.
So this was then the end of the tour and the begin of the journey back to the coast. What a fantastic couple of days!! We got to see and do so much-its was incredible! But one of the nicest things for me, was to see how healthy and well treated the elephants were. Many wild elephants in Asia are killed as they are a nuisance to farmers etc and many are abused through tourism and badly treated. Knowing this, it was such a pleasure to see how well looked after these elephants clearly were. So although it was a tour, and it was a little inauthentic in places, this trip enabled me to have some incredible experiences- and I would certainly recommend it!
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According to Catholicism, Santiago de Compostela is the place where the remains of the Apostle Saint James are buried. According to legend, the burial place was found by a shepherd in the 9th Century and since then Santiago became, together with Rome and Jerusalem, a popular destination for pilgrims. The building of the Cathedral, where the remains were eventually re-buried, began in 1075 but was not wholly completed until 1211.
Nowadays, people make the pilgrimage to Santiago for different reasons. There are those that do it out of faith, and why not say it, maybe a bit of self-interest, since if they walk a minimum of 100 kilometres they receive full or partial remission of the punishment for their sins. Others make the pilgrimage as a challenge, to get away from it all or as a cultural trip. The different routes are known as The Way of Saint James, which pilgrims, or at least those that wish to obtain indulgence, have to do on foot. Along the way, you can stay at special hostels reserved for pilgrims for which there is a nominal charge of 5 Euros per night.
When you arrive to Santiago it may well be raining, but this is to be expected and many people would be disappointed if it were not. The Plaza del Obradoiro is the heart of the city and in this square you will find the Cathedral and the office that attends the pilgrims arriving to the city. Here you can also find the Parador of Santiago, housed in what used to be a hospital for pilgrims founded in 1499.
Santiago and the whole region of Galicia have a well earned reputation for good food. Amongst the local specialties, there is a wide variety of seafood, including the typical pulpo a la gallega (octopus), empanada (a large filled pastry) or caldo gallego (stew). All of which taste much better if accompanied by the local wines, Albariño or Ribeiro. For dessert, the tarta de Santiago (almond cake) and filloas (pancakes). At the end of the meal you may be offered an orujo, but careful this is liquor with high alcohol content.