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Ewan Macaulay in Goa
'We were trying to avoid the all-night parties in the north, full of hippies and wannabes, drugged up to the eyeballs in Goa'.

Coconuts in India are not brown. At least, theyare not brown when they are sold to you. They are green. In most places, coconuts are a cheaper option than water, more readily available - and less likely to contain cholera bugs. They are also extremely difficult to open with a pen-knife, as opposed to the professional approach: the machete, or meat-cleaver.

I was discovering all this on my third week travelling down the West coast of India, with my girlfriend Sarah. We were in Colva, in southern Goa. Colva is a fishing village, slowly taking advantage of its beautiful beaches to attract tourists who want to enjoy the calmer joys of southern Goa, away from the club culture of the north. The beaches are lined with restaurants serving the fishermen's catch each evening. Dinner for two and beer for the night will cost you no more than £6. A couple of hotels offer tourist standard accommodation, with showers en suite and the convenience of a western style W.C. Being able to sit down in comfort instead of having to balance precariously on two concrete footprints above a pit which is cleared only by the force of gravity is an important consideration when travelling through Asia.

Clubbing is big business in northern Goa, with affordable packages offered for those bored with Ibiza. Hippies hit northern Goa on the first leg of their search for enlightenment, fall into a trance at all-night parties and settle for a life of smoking, although the Indian government is now cracking down on this.

For a true taste of India, you need to travel inland or further south.
Colva is a short taxi ride from the nearest railway station in Margao, an overnight train ride away from Mumbai. After the culture shock of landing in India - not the west-meets-east culture shock, but the shock of Mumbai 's urban frenzy; coming as we were straight from a nearly comatose Cornish fishing village in winter. We wanted somewhere we could relax. We were trying to avoid the all-night parties in the north, full of hippies and wannabes, drugged up to the eyeballs in Goa.

In Colva we had found a guest house / family home/ internet cafe where we could stay with a double room and the essential en-suite bathroom ,which also had the advantage of in-house communication with home and friends. It was everything we needed, all we had to do was relax and enjoy the sunshine, the warm sea, the beach fringed with coconut palms . . .

Waiting for a free coconut to fall is hazardous and boring. We purchased some coconuts from a stall owner, who was very surprised to hear that I would open them myself later. Thus we sat on the steps of the guest house where I was running out of attachments for sawing, filing and clipping, the aforementioned coconut. After exhausting the selection of large, small and serrated blades that were part of the arsenal of the Swiss Army Knife and with increasing frustration I stabbed the green fleshy nut. Then - as the colour drained from my face, I realised that the penknife had folded and closed almost completely closed around my pink fleshy forefinger.

I looked down. I could see the ominous gleam of bone through a mess of flesh. My finger was not completely severed, but held on only by the bone. The family who owned the guesthouse were upstairs, with an infinite number of uncles, aunts, grand-parents, great-grandparents, cousins, second cousins and many other obscure relations, celebrating the seventeenth birthday of one of the daughters. At this moment there wasa most impolite knocking on their ornately carved door. Doing her best not to panic, Sarah explained the urgency of the situation to the mother of the household, who immediately dispatched numerous family members to aid us in our journey to the hospital.

I held on to the finger to make sure it didn't fall off. Losing my finger was a terrifying prospect. After the most stressful, frightening and bruising taxi ride of our lives, dodging everything from cars to cows, we swung into the hospital reception, decorated in lime green and institution grey. I worried about infection because of the hot climate, and remembered awful warnings about the inadequacy of third world medicine compared with the National Health Service in Britain.

A few swift words from one of the brothers, who turned out to be a hospital clerk, and we were ushered through into a side room with no waiting whatsoever. My finger was a mess when I arrived. Sarah later confided that she had thought she would faint while it was being sewn back on. I was too scared to look. The needles were sterile, the hospital efficient and the nurses unsympathetic.

Returning two weeks later to have the stitches removed, with no brother available to pull strings, we had to wait two hours. The family gave us a lift back to the hospital as one of their cousins had been bitten in a field by a snake. They were worried about him losing his leg. It must have been a big snake. I began to feel embarrassed to be worrying about losing a finger, it seemed a bit feeble compared with losing a leg. Perhaps that's why the nurses were unsympathetic they see so much worse each day. But even once it was sewn on, I continued to worry about losing the use of my finger. As a musician I need all the fingers I can get.

My finger still works, although there is an element of Frankenstein about it. I was sent on my way by the hospital with a two-month supply of painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics. I spent the next week enjoying my status as invalid drugged up to the eyeballs in Goa.

© Ewan Macaulay 2002
Ewan is a muscian with an interest in film composition

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