I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t really have a fucking clue what canyoning was when I purchased the extra insurance necessary to allow me to do it and have my medical bills paid should I end up in a full body cast or missing a body part or two. I just knew it was doable in Nepal and I wanted to do it, then I found out it was also doable in Palolem. Awesome. Sign me up please, slightly abrupt Frenchman. Turns out it’s basically following a river downstream but it wouldn’t make for a lovely afternoon stroll with the dog and the kids unless you were planning to drown them on account of the fact that rivers sometimes flow over sheer drops. But there’s only one thing better than relaxing by a waterfall with a six pack of beer and a picnic and that’s jumping off the top of the fucker into the plunge pool. Yes! Let’s go canyoning!
We were advised in no uncertain terms that we had to be prepared to jump a minimum of three metres because it was compulsory and the only other option was probably to curl up on top of the waterfall in the foetal position and cry. We readily agreed to this, handed over a deposit then spent the rest of the evening trying to gauge exactly what three metres looked like. Yeeeaaahhh… we could probably jump that with minimal damage to our general bone structure, right? On the day we showed up to Crunch Bar where Emmanuel, the aforementioned abrupt Frenchman, seems to run his operations from and were kitted out with a wetsuit and a bag containing a helmet, a harness and a bottle of water. You can either wear your own trainers or rent shoes from them which cease to be your problem once the day is over rather than spending the next day maneuvering your sodden footwear into direct sunlight so they dry enough to be able to pack them away without making everything you own smell a little bit like damp dog. We opted to rent shoes. Obvs.
We were driven for what felt like a million miles to the start of a walk which would lead us to the river. Twas a lovely stroll made ever so slightly treacherous on account of the fact it was lined with some manner of death plant called kartay or some shit whose sole purpose in life was to embed itself into your flesh and refuse to be removed without taking half of your limb with it. We walked single file as Emmanuel’s staff shouted, “Kartay to the left!” or where ever it was and the message was passed back through the ranks and we tried not to snag an eyeball or something, before we came to the river and shit got real. I’m never quite sure I feel about abseiling. On one hand I think I should enjoy it because yay adventure, but on the other hand, leaning back over a fucking cliff then proceeding to walk down it, backwards, at a right angle, is not the natural order of things. Plus there’s the whole controlling your descent with a rope all by yourself. If you slip or fall you can let go of the rope with your left hand but under no circumstances should you let go with your right hand because that’s your brake, that’s what’s stopping you from falling backwards onto whatever happens to be below you. Probably rocks. Or sharks. Or something else with sharp parts. So the whole mantra on the way down in my slightly petrified brain was, “Don’t let go with the right. Don’t let go with the right,” which is fine in theory but I know for a fact from indoor bouldering in the UK that if any manner of falling occurs my natural reaction is to grab wildly at the surface in front of my in the vain hope that I can beat gravity at its sadistic game. This rarely ends well.
Jumping from a cliff into water however, I’ve done that shit before. Me and cliff jumping are buddies from way back. Unfortunately this meant that I had a technique for cliff jumping which kinda contradicted what we were meant to do for the first jump. Some of the jumps were shallow. Not like 20 centimetres of water or anything death wish related like that, but some of them required we hit the water with “soft legs” and the first one required us to land on our arses. Right. This required actual thinking as opposed to pure instinct. Tarrant jumped before me and as she hit that water Emmanuel nodded approvingly and declared, “Perfect!” Then it was my turn. What they do is put their hand near your arse so if you slip or your legs go, “what the actual fuck are you doing you fucking nutter?!” and crumple, you won’t fall off the cliff too close to the rocks because they’ll be able to push you. You have to call out, “One, two, three!” then jump and as you jump they’re ready to help you if necessary. So this bit all went fabulously but in the seconds between leaving the cliff and hitting the water I’d utterly failed to get myself into a seated position and landed feet first. I landed on the riverbed, not in any dangerous kind of way, but yeah. An arse landing would have been better. As I surfaced I heard Emmanuel shout, “Not on ze bum!” Yeah yeah, I know. I know.
The whole thing was a fuck tonne of fun though. Emmanuel completely changed, when you first meet him you’re not too sure what to make of him. He seems gruff and a bit angry but once you get him in the river he becomes a big kid. He’s got 30 something years of canyoning experience and he’s lived in Goa for, like, twenty years or something. He says he was the first human to lay eyes on this river, he cut all the paths himself just by randomly exploring the jungle. He obviously has a genuine passion for nature and for his sport. He also has an obsession with snakes, he loves them, if we’d seen one he would have jumped on it Steve Irwin style and waved it around. He reckons the only snake he wouldn’t attempt to molest would be the king cobra because they’re proper fucking badass and if you get bitten by one you’re pretty much going to die.
So we made our way down the river, jumping from heights of up to 8 metres, wading and rappelling. There was a slide where he got us to go down in twos in the 69 position for no other discernible reason other than his own amusement, but then there was a slide just before the second abseil which a few of us hurt ourselves on. I landed pretty hard on my left butt cheek and thanked whatever deity was knocking around at that point that it wasn’t my coccyx, but an American chick stubbed her finger pretty hard. Like, she was in a serious amount of pain. No one did anything. One of the guides, Sam, an English guy, told her to just ride it out but she was in so much pain she was close to passing out so I nudged Tarrant and asked her to go and see if she could do anything. I’m meant to be vaguely first aid trained but I’m squeamish, if her finger was at anything other than the acceptable angle for a finger to be at I’d probably need more medical attention than her, but Tarrant knows about this shit.
This was probably the only problem here, out of the three guides no one seemed to know what to do about something that should have been a basic thing to deal with. It’s not like people don’t get hurt doing this kind of thing, it’s why you have to up your insurance premium, surely at least one staff member should be first aid trained rather than having everyone just kind of staring awkwardly whilst the client tries not to lose consciousness. Tarrant laid her down and strapped her finger up then the rest of us headed to the second abseil. Ha, so yeah, the chick that was at the top of the abseil telling us what to do totally failed to mention that the rope was too short and that the last two metres would involve letting go of the rope and starfishing backwards into the water. Tarrant got to the end of the rope and looked up. “Oh, just let go!” was the instruction. “Wait, let go?!” was the response. Apparently yes, you simply had to push back off the wall as you let go of the rope and land in the water and all without any manner of spinal damage, please.
Actually it’s not that bad. It’s just the thought of it. Any kind of jumping backwards just makes my brain go, “Wait, what?!” but it’s totally safe and painless and all of those good things you hope that plummeting onto a surface you can’t see will be. If you’re ever in Palolem and you fancied a spot of adrenaline to break up the days of sprawling on a beach being fed cocktails and deep fried food products, definitely give Jungle Goa a shout and spend the day wrinkling all of your extremities up in suitably refreshing water.
If you leave your mrs unattended on the beach for long enough a man will accost her and convince her that she needs a 40 minute bird spotting boat ride with eagle feeding in her life. We had a shit tonne of time to kill so eventually we ended up on one of these boats on a river or a lagoon type thing round the back of the beach which we never knew existed. It’s all very pleasant and our driver was pretty knowledgeable, as in he could name every bird we saw. We saw lapwings, egrets, cormorants, common kingfishers and a tiny little thing called a bee eater. Because it eats bees. Double hard bastard. At one point they feed chunks of meat to the eagles which results in loads and loads of them swooping down or fighting with each other for tasty morsels of dead stuff. Kinda shits all over feeding the birds at the duck pond back home ay. And despite the talons it was still less intimidating than feeding the seagulls on Brighton Pier where you have to fear for your soft bits and any body part in close proximity to anything edible.
Palolem is definitely my favourite part of Goa. I was pleasantly surprised. Goa only really happened because Tarrant was visiting and I didn’t think she would like India so I figured I’d take her to the least Indian part of the country. Anjuna wasn’t really my thing but that’s just because we didn’t want to listen to trance music whilst we ate and no, I have no idea at what point I became my mother. Everything else was fantastic, right up until the end as we killed time waiting for our bus to Hampi. Catching buses in Brighton generally involves a good soaking, mild hypothermia and being excreted on by various gull species. If it usually involved stuffing one’s facehole full of chicken wings and sipping piña coladas then I’d probably catch way more buses.