In 1995 I went to Goa in India. It was one of the craziest adventures of my life. This is the story
Where is Goa?
Goa is a small state on the west coast of India. It is a former Portuguese colony and predominantly Christian. It is India’s premier beach tourist destination. These days, it is quite developed and full of yoga retreats. Back in the 1970s, however, Goa was a major hippie hangout. Hippies would roam around naked and throw their passports into the sea. With the emergence of electronic music in the late 1980s, Goa became an underground party destination. Parties were diy – just a generator and sound system. Djs would play using DAT tapes as vinyl records were impractical due to the heat and dust. Popular was a particular type of trance music, known as Psychedelic Trance (Psy Trance for short). According to Wikipedia, psy trance was invented in Goa. I am not so sure about the true origin, but certainly, a specific sub-genre of psy trance emerged from Goa, which came to be known as, you guessed it, “Goa trance”. The main DJ in the scene at the time was Goa Gil.
Why did I go to Goa?
In 1995, I arrived in India follow a year teaching English in Japan. I had been to the Full Moon party on Koh Pangan in Thailand and loved it. Everyone there told me, if I liked Koh Pangan, I should go to Goa in India, as the parties there were notoriously longer and crazier. To be honest, I had never heard of Goa, but fancied the idea of stopping over in India during the European winter. After a year of putting my head down and saving hard in Japan, I was keen to let off some steam and experience again the pure ecstatic feeling of dancing in the open air on a tropical beach surrounded by beautiful people. However, I was completely unprepared for the intense craziness of what I was about to experience!
Low season in Goa
I arrived in Goa in September of 1995. I flew from Japan to Bombay (Mumbai), stayed one night and took a domestic flight straight to Goa. I had no guidebook, there was no internet and I had no idea what I was doing. I naively assumed Goa would be similar to Thailand, with one beach and year-round parties. What I didn’t realise was, India has a monsoon season which had just ended when I arrived. Almost everything was closed and there would be no parties until Christmas!
I had gotten in touch with an old school and university friend of mine, Tim, who was heading back to New Zealand after year working in Scotland. Tim and I had been travelling together in Thailand after meeting randomly on Koh Pangan at the Full Moon party. In Chaing Mai, we met 2 crazy English guys while trekking, Scott and Mark. After Tim left for Europe, I went back to Koh Pangan for another Full Moon Party and met up with Scott and Mark again.
So, here I was on the beach in Goa in the low season and who should I randomly meet, but Scott! He was on holiday with his girlfriend Sam. Small world. Remember, this is in the days of no internet or Instagram, where we can track everyone’s movements anywhere in world at any time. When backpacking around South East Asia, you tend to meet up with the same people over and over, but randomly on a beach in a completely different country after a whole year. That was a coincidence.
Best acid trip of all time
As there were not so many tourists there, we formed a solid group of friends and spent the lazy days getting drunk and stoned on the beach all day. There were some lost souls there – dudes who had arrived backpacking and were still there a year later – but overall with no parties it was quite quiet.
One night, we all decided to drop acid. I was a bit apprehensive, as I didn’t really know most of these people and wondered how we would “gel”. In the end, everything came together perfectly. We were sitting on the beach with no-one around. Whenever someone would crack a joke, everyone would burst into hysterical laughter. The stars were incredibly beautiful and I was in awe of the cosmic nature of the universe. In the distance, we had a spectacular electrical storm. To top it off, the water was lit up by a green phosphoresence, which would shoot along the top of the breaking waves. I found out later, the light was caused by a type of algae, which only appeared once in the blue moon.
Road trip around the south of India
I was so settled and comfortable in Goa, I really didn’t want to leave. I kept hearing horror stories from other travellers arriving in Goa. These tourists had been on the typical tourist route in the north of India. I heard nothing but stories of horrible food, dysentery, rip-offs and robberies. Tim was keen for us to travel together in the north, but I just couldn’t face it. Instead, I did a loop of the south of India, starting in Karnatika, doing the backwater trip in Kerala and looping around through Tamil Nadhu, Hampi and back to Goa. This trip will be the topic of a future blog post. Needless to say, it was crazy. Travelling in India is the holy grail. I described India as “organized chaos”. Absolutely mental. That said, travelling in India is actually quite safe and there are a lot of solo female travellers.
Party season in Goa
After 2 months of travelling around India, I got back to Goa in December of 1995. The place was completely transformed. Vagator beach, which had been completely deserted, was now full of travellers and people on their xmas vacation from Europe, there for one purpose only – to party. A whole ecosystem had emerged to support these tourists – ramshackle houses had been converted into small stores and guest houses. Old ladies would serve chai to the party goers. Needless to say, the parties were mental. I remember one party at a bar on Anjuna beach, on the top of a cliff. In the early morning after the sun came up, one girl decided to go skinny dipping, then came back to the party and danced around naked. I remember seeing a group of Indian tourists who had arrived on the beach staring up at the craziness – the look on their faces!
Beach life – a “Paradise”
During the day, people would lounge around the beach smoking hash from “chillums”, a type of pipe for smoking hash, popular in India and typically used by Sadhus or holy men. Around sunset time, the drums would come out. It was a great time to be alive, surrounded by gorgeous people, all topless. Although this was great optically, I was also disappointed by the blatant disrespect for the local culture. Sunbathing topless for women is highly offensive and strictly forbidden in India. All it took, however, was for one woman to get her tits out and this triggered a group instinct and next thing, every single woman was topless.
I spoke to a local guy about it and he described going to Goa on holiday as visting “paradise”, just like in Europe! It was not uncommon for groups of guys to hire a van, get on the piss and drive to Goa. Then walk along the beach and surround a woman sunbathing in a bikini and perve shamelessly at her. There had also been cases of women being raped by such gangs when sunbathing alone along deserted stretches of beach. Of course, I am not condoning sexual assault or suggesting somehow these women deserved to be raped. However, I am constantly amazed while travelling of the total disregard for the local culture by some tourists. Either out of ignorance or some sort of colonial arrogance – I am rich and if I want to sunbathe practically naked, I will do what the hell I want.
Drug abuse on an epic scale
Coming from New Zealand, where drugs are scarce and very expensive (due to the fact that it is an island nation so far away from the source of manufacture), the sheer scale of the drug abuse in Goa was a complete shock. In the almost 30 subsequent years of travelling the world and attending some of the biggest parties on the planet, I have yet to experience anything like that comes close… only the Oktoberfest in Munich would top it.
I was staying at a guesthouse in the middle of nowhere. Every single guest there was dealing, including the Indian owner! It was quite common for hippies to travel to the north of India, for example to Manali, which is a famous hash-producing region, buy huge quantities of hash and transport it back to Goa to sell at a healthy profit. Petty theft was also a problem – many dodgy English tourists flew out with a back of ecstasy pills shoved up their arse, intending to sell them to pay for their holiday. All guesthouses, let you run a tab. But the best laid plans often went awry when the dealers ended up munching all their own pills and then resorted to stealing cameras to pay their debts.
Goa in the 1990s was also a popular destination for junkies. Heroin was cheap and freely available. It was not uncommon for junkies to travel to Goa especially for this reason. One German family used to come into our guest house from time to time. A couple in their 30s with 2 small children. The parents were always stoned and completely incoherent. The poor children were often left unattended and had to fend for themselves.
There was a group of young English people at my guest house. They had been to Goa before and had come out for the party season to temporarily escape their life in London, where they were unemployed, living in the most dangerous council estate and drinking a bottle of vodka every day. They were dealing ecstasy pills to fund their trip. A friend of theirs, Barry, would drop round in the evening for dinner. He was a real loud mouth arsehole and I couldn’t stand him. For a while he was quite sick and would sit in the corner by himself. On new year’s eve, I met him in the morning at a party. It was in “disco valley” and I was sitting on the hillside. He approached me and I called his name. He was so wasted, his eyes were popping out of his head and he couldn’t find where I was, even though he was standing right in front of me.
Later in the afternoon, the Indian owner of my guesthouse put on a special lunch for guests and their friends. He had bought a bottle of Jack Daniels (rare in India at the time), passed around big basket of pre-rolled Manali hash joints and then a bottle of acid punch.
Barry decided he would tell us his story. He began: “I might call my girlfriend. She finks (thinks) I’m in Eyebeefa (Ibiza)”. He had abandonned his girlfriend and 3 kids in England without letting them know – just walked out, withdrawing their life savings from the bank (6 thousand pounds sterling – at least double that in today’s money). He spent all the money on heroin and owed local dealers. One day, he was out and about and parked his motorbike (to get round Goa, you rent a Royal Enfield). Suddenly his dealer appeared with a gang of thugs brandishing clubs. He managed to get away, but had to abandon the bike, which was trashed by the gang. A week or so later, he was walking around the countryside tripping on some really strong acid. He said jet fighters were flying overhead and chinese dragons were appearing on the trail in front of him. Suddenly the guy from whom he rented the bike emerged from the shadows demanding his Enfield back! He grabbed Barry and started assaulting him. Barry pretended to be Swedish and not speak any English – a case of mistaken identity. Luckily a passer-by intervened thinking a poor tourist was being harrased and Barry managed to escape. He then told us he started munching ecstasy pills to get over his cold turkey – the real reason why he had been sick, not because of food, as I had mistakenly assumed! At the New Year’s party he said he had taken 10 pills (a heroic dose). She finks I’m in Eyebeefa, he sighed at the conclusion of the story.
Goa is really popular with young Israelis who go to India or Thailand after their military service to let off steam. In September, I met a guy called Udi who was hanging out in our group, although I didn’t really have much to do with him. I did notice that he was getting fucked up every day – drinking heavily. When I returned to Goa in December, I went back to Baga beach where I had been staying and met up with one of the local waiters whom we had befriended. He asked me, did you hear about Udi?? I said no, and he proceeded to tell me the story. After I had left Goa to travel round the south of India, Udi had gone completely off the rails. He threw his passport into the sea. He was a small guy, but on one occasion picked up a chair in a restaurant and smashed threathen to smash a big guy over the head with it. He had befriended another Israeli guy there and one day gave him a quite substantial amount of money in cash for safekeeping (the guesthouses had no safety deposit boxes or receptions with a safe back then). He then later accused his buddy of stealing the money and threathened to attack him. And so on and so on. How did this happen? I will give you one guess – Udi was not only drinking heavily, but had started taking acid on a daily basis and lost grip with reality. In the end, some people had to go into his room, find his address book (there were no smartphones back then), call his family in Israel and his brothers had to fly out to Goa to take him home.
Over the course of the next weeks, not a day would go by when I would be in some random restaurant in the middle of the countryside and overhear a story about how some young traveller lost it completely and their parents had to fly out to Goa to rescue them. There was even a drug rehabilitation hospital in the middle of the countryside! The issue was, the acid was very strong and many of the party-goers were inexperienced. Many times, I left a party and some dude came out of the shadows freaking out on acid, not knowing where he was, where he was staying let alone how to get back there or even what his name was!
Let this be a lesson – psychedelic drugs are extremely powerful and need to be respected. Set (being in a calm, relaxed state of mind), setting (being in a safe environment with sober “sitters” to look after you) and dose are absolutely critical to ensuring a positive experience. Most bad trips happen when these 3 factors are not aligned – you feel nervous and this is exaggerated by the drug; you are in a hostile environment and are not equiped to deal with external challenges; and, the dose is too high, you don’t expect it and start to panic, which sends you into a downspiral and a possible panic attack or psychosis. These bad trips are rare, but can happen even to experienced psychonauts. By following these simple precautions, you can dramatically reduce the incidence of a negative outcome.
While in Bangalore, I found out by chance that I was entitled to an Irish passport due to my grandfather being born there. I changed my plans and went back to New Zealand to arrange the citizenship and passport at the Irish embassy. I arrived in Auckland and stayed in the flat of a good friend of mine. In the evening, we went out and met friends of his. He always introduced me as: “Steve, my friend who just got back from Goa!”. This elicited amazed stares and wide-eyed looks: “Wow, you were in Goa! OMG how cool! I was quite bemused – you mean, you have heard of Goa? Later I was browsing magazines in a store and found the music section – several mags were featuring Goa Trance on their covers. It seems that 1995 was the year that Goa Trance blew up internationally, completely unbeknownst to me! Of course, like any trend, it was fleeting and in 1996, drum & bass was the next big thing, in1997 speed garage and so on.
I had the feeling that I just got to Goa in time while it was still underground. But that was all about to change. That year, European tour companies had just started direct charter flights from Europe and the local authorities had decided to prioritise middle class tourism. This meant that parties no longer used to run for days and days and were often shut down by the police asking for more “baksheesh” (bribe). The hippies were every year being forced further and further north, as the central beaches became more “family friendly”. Still, I am glad I got there when I did and experienced this unique moment in history.
The Pig Story
Needless to say, this experience travelling round India really changed me. Extreme poverty, the caste system, patriachalism and religious pluralism had all affected me deeply and I was keen to share my experiences when I got back to New Zealand. When anyone asked me about my experience in India, I would start to tell stories of my experiences and was always interupted – “Tell us the Pig Story!” they would say with glee! This simple story which I had told my family when I got back to New Zealand had somehow hit a chord. It was something universal that everyone could relate to and enjoy. It came to be known as the “Pig Story” and spread like wildfire around my family. I still tell it to this day all around the world – once in a hostel in Buenos Aires, a guy insisted I stand on a table in the bar and tell the story. It is without doubt, my most popular story of all time.
Here is the story (note, it is better told orally and with actions to truly similate the real action :-)). One day in Goa, a group at my guesthouse (the crazy druggie guesthouse) decided we would rent a land rover and make a day trip to a Palolem beach in the south of Goa. Palolem is a beautiful long beach and is these days developed with many guest houses and restaurants. Back then, however, it was completely deserted, except for one restaurant. We spent a lazy day there on the beach sleeping in hammocks and taking the odd dip in the sea (while smoking hash and drinking beer of course). The restaurant kept a few animals and there were some chickens and pigs wandering about the place.
At one point, I had to use the rest room. Note, in Goa in the 90s, there were no inside toilets, only outhouses. The odd newer one had a western style flush toilet, but most were Asian style squat loos with a long drop. This toilet, however, had a unique design which I had never come across before. It was squat style, but you had to squat on an elevated platform and there was no long drop – only a chute from the elavated platform which lead to a hole in the wall of the outhouse with a big open sewer out the back! Needless to say, for those not used to squat toilets, there is certainly a trick to getting the balance right and being able to relax the appropriate muscles to perform the required action. This new contraption took even more skill and concentration as I worried about toppling off the elevated ledge and injuring myself. Finally, I managed to get into a comfortable position and began to do my business. Then, suddenly I heard a strange noise from behind me. It was coming from the hole in the wall at the bottom of the shute. Hard to describe, but sounded like a rough gulping or munching sound. With trepidation I tried to turn round and there it was – a pig had put its snout through the hole and was waiting in great anticipation with mouth wide open of another morsel of the equisite delicacy flowing from my rear end! This completely freaked me out, but I was in mid-stride and couldn’t abort now. I didn’t want to deprive the poor pig of its sustenance!
Later that afternoon, no-one had used the rest room for some time and the pig had wandered off a distance away. I had to go again and the pig clocked me and started eagerly trotting at full speed to back to the outhouse. This time, I was too quick for the pig and cut it off with me between it and the toilet. The pig stopped, too scared to approach me, but not wanting to miss out on a delicious meal. It was a mexican standoff as the pig and I stared each other down in a battle of wills, neither wanting to give ground. Eventually, I backed down. The pig was the winner on the day.
The moral of the story – no-one wants to know your travel experiences – just keep in simple and stick to the classics! If there is one legacy I will leave when I am departed from this world, it will be the Pig Story!
Disclaimer: The Earlybird does not promote or condone substance use of any kind, legal or otherwise. The Earlybird does, however, support the right of the individual to experience altered states of consciousness which are part of the human nature of experience. This story is strictly for educational and harm reduction purposes only.
Photo credit: Alex Rice Saxton