Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Great Charade and Bones of a Saint

You left me in Palolem some days ago, feeling slightly burnt but otherwise on top of the world. What a difference a few days make.

The very evening of my last post was the beginning of the fun, and eventually the trouble. On said night, myself and Trev headed out for dinner and beer, though we figured we wouldn't bother to go for spirits after the over-exertions of the first night in Palolem. So we headed to a few bars, eventually winding up in the badly-titled Cafe del Mar at midnight, at which point it was pretty darn busy. Soon enough we were spoken to by a loud Aussie (are there any other types?), and so began an evening of roundly mocking him and his country, and speaking to a wide variety of amusing characters. There were some Englishmen, a Scotsman (tried to get involved in the England v Australia debate on the Antipodean's side and was shouted down with repeated cries of "Andy Goram"), a crazy spiritual German, an absolutely wasted Indian, some Swedish girls and some more Englishmen (Mancs, to be precise), to name the main characters. Here is where our genius/insanity kicked in, though. You see, in a moment of inspiration/stupidity we up and introduced ourselves to all of the above people as the brothers Napoleon (that's me) and Hercules (that's Trev) Salas. And of course, they all loved our names, and said how memorable we were etc. And a hilarious night was had, as we were there until about half four, with them all unaware just how hilarious it was for us.

This formula was continued, with restaurant and bars followed by del Mar until very late (or early depending on how you look at it) for the next two nights, with us regularly bumping into those we'd met out in the evening during the day as well. The trouble, though, when you lie about something like that, is that it begins to take over your whole life. No longer could we sit having dinner in a restaurant and casually talk about our respective families - we're brothers, remember? No longer when in the sea could one of us shout to the other by their actual name. You have to remember all the time. And that's where the drinking really causes problems. Waking up in the morning and thinking "With what other details were the Salas family life embellished last night?". You start to feel generally vaguely edgy...

On the third night, we left del Mar early (at four am instead of five) and went to have a night swim. The swim itself was great, but after we got back to our hut, we couldn't sleep, so we lay awake talking. At the end of the evening we'd been introduced to yet another Scando broad by an English friend of ours who'd said "Their names are difficult to believe", or words to that effect. We thought it was a suspicious comment at the time, though with hindsight it seems fairly innocuous. Anyway, during our bedtime chat, this was one of the things we discussed.

Next morning I awoke at about 10 feeling pretty rough. Went to go to the public toilet in our beach hut village. On the way back, I was accosted by the English bloke who lived next door to our hut, with his Irish girlfriend.
"Can you keep the noise down at night, please?", he requested.
"Yeah, sorry", I blearily replied, thinking that we were pretty noisy walking back to our hut from the beach.
"Yeah, well, you woke us up last night talking to each other in your hut. We heard everything you said about us," he countered, extremely aggressively. Which was news to me, as I couldn't recall talking about the pair - they weren't acquaintances from del Mar, just our neighbours. But wait... everything we said? Suddenly I felt super edgy. I made more weak and bleary apologies, answered with a "you don't seem sorry", due presumably to my chemical imbalance detracting from my sincerity, and went back in to the hut.

We spent the rest of the day in an extremely nervous frame of mind. How much had we said about the couple? How rude had we been? Had we been rude? More worryingly, what had we said about our names? And who did the couple know that we knew? In the face of all these questions, we did what any pair of true men would: we ran and hid at the top (more deserted) end of the beach, edgily scanning the sands for anyone we knew.

Sure enough, that day everyone we knew was at the top end of the beach (thankfully except the couple from next door). Which meant a day of talking to people, every moment expecting an angry conversation along the lines of "Why did you lie about your names, you dicks?". Eventually, night fell. Having nervously checked my e-mails (no way I was writing all this while in Palolem!) and having dinner in an out-the-way restaurant, we skulked back home under cover of darkness, and scuttled to and from the communal showers and toilets getting ready for bed, all the time nervously casting glances at the balcony of the hut next door and praying not to see anyone sitting there.

After a troubled night's sleep, during which time every noise outside was sinister to my immensely tired (due to three very late nights in a row and an exhaustingly nervous day) and paranoid brain, we awoke at 7 in the morning and got the bloody hell out of Palolem.

The moral of the story is that what they say about truth being the best policy is actually truer than I'd thought. Needless to say, where we are now (Baga, in north Goa), we are back to being Sam and Trev again. I'd be surprised if Napoleon or Hercules were seen again for a very long time...

Baga is ok, we are in a lovely hotel room this time instead of a beach hut, and last night (our first) we had an early night so as to recharge the batteries. The area is a lot less backpacker-filled and a lot more like the Costa del Sol, which should be amusing, at least for a few days.

Today we went to Old Goa, formerly Goa's capital (now it's Panaji) for a long time during Portugal's rule of Goa (which only stopped in 1967, years after the rest of India had been liberated from the British), and said to once rival Lisbon for it's splendour. Now it's a collection of actually fairly underwhelming (though Lonely Planet disagrees with me there) old Catholic churches, cathedrals and convents. The kind of culture we needed to see after six days of beach (and lying-related madness). But this year, for ten days only, starting from the 21st November, there was an extra special reason to go: the chance to see the corpse of Goa's patron Saint, Francis Xavier.

St. Francis Xavier was a Spanish missionary sent by the Pope to Goa, in order to keep the faith of those natives that the Portuguese had converted, and of course convert more. His conversion rate (as I assume it's called) was apparently legendary, as was his ability to curb the supposedly-decadent and disgusting excesses of the Portuguese soldiers. He travelled all around Asia, but frequently returned to Goa, where he held several important high-ranking church positions. He eventually died on an island off the coast of China. He wished not to have his body return to Goa, or something (this part of the story is a tad vague) so his assistant poured quicklime on the body, attempting (as all Fight Club fans will know) to chemically burn it up. But the body remained untouched by decay, and so it was sealed up in a coffin and sent Goawards.

It took a couple of years to arrive, during which time it was buried briefly, and one of the toes was stolen, but when the corpse finally turned up at Old Goa it was still amazingly unravaged by the effects of time. Foul play was suspected, and so the Church got a doctor to inspect it. He reported that the corpse had been in no way embalmed or chemically altered. The lack of decay was declared to be a miracle.

Over the following years, various parts of the body were stolen by relic hunters, but throughout history doctors were brought in to examine in and all reported that it was incredibly well preserved. Only relatively recently, in the last hundred years or so (the body is 400-500 years old) has it decayed. These days, to protect it from more organ-pilfering, it is kept locked in an ornate tomb in the Se Cathedral in Old Goa, except for a ten day exposition, held once every ten years. And today, as part of said exposition, I saw it. A wizened, dessicated corpse not unlike those of the ancient Egyptian mummies in the British museum, but unliek them, according to every historical doctor's testimony, entirely untreated to prevent it's being more decayed. The toenails and things are still visible, as (to an extent) are the nose, mouth and ears. I don't know what a 500 year old body is supposed to look like, of course.

So, was this a genuine miracle? That, boys and girls, is the question I leave you with today. Oh, and this: "Does lying about your identity until you go crazy mean your own body is unlikely to be singled out for similar special treatment by any God(s) when the time comes?" Answers to the usual address, please...


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