23October2017

Goa's Spirited Online Weekly Magazine.

Putting his money where his mouth is

 

May 6- 12, 2013

Pushpa Iyengar

It’s a paradise on earth. Clichéd as it may sound, particularly because in Goa many places market themselves as being so, in the case of Garca Branca, it is literally and figuratively true. And that is because, the owner, Carlos Mascarenhas, has put in his blood, sweat and tears to create this Garden of Eden, all the way to the river, some 500 metres in his backyard.

 

It is evident that it is a labour of love – that sentiment rings out loud and clear in every plant he has nurtured and every bird he has flying around in their cages. Geese, turkeys, pigeons, peahen, you name it. And it’s not the pigeons that make guttural sounds on the ledge of high-rise buildings that annoy you, not least because they are generous with their corrosive droppings, but exotic, beautiful creatures that could have been painted with streaks of black and white to look the way do.

And the bird cages are scattered over the property to melt into the flora and fauna. There are the cages as you survey the property from the top and suck in your breath as you witness the lush beauty below, then there are the emu chicks (his new passion) and as you take the two flights of steep steps all the way down, there are the catfish and geese on your right and the exotic-turkeys, peahens and pigeons on your left along the paved pathways.  “Pigeons come in all types, shapes and names.  The Black-Nun-Pigeons we have were both pleasant to the eye and are rare hereabouts; so I bought a pair. The other unusual ones we have are the Sparrow-beak pigeon pair; and several other inter-bred, multi coloured, feathered feet pigeons,”, he says.

 And then are the full white and full black fan tailed pigeons named so because their colouring makes it look like this duo is wearing a nun’s habit. Did Carlos go looking for these rare birds for his aviary?  “Yes, I did. The birds did not just happen to be exotic. I chose each and every one of them,” he says as he puts out a reassuring hand to the emu chick which very clearly is used to being petted every morning by her master.

Far from the madding crowd

You can tell Carlos was trying to position his bed and breakfast – there are two suites upstairs and one downstairs for all those who are out of breath after the steep climb down and back up to explore the botanical garden which is a virtual treasure house for adults and kids looking for a botany lesson – as a country house in the beautiful village of Loutolim in south Goa, far from the madding crowd looking for shacks, lounge bars and rave parties in touristy Calungute/Anjuna/ Baga in north Goa where supposedly the “action” is . Meticulous is the word that comes to mind as you take a tour because every plant has stuck in it a name plate carrying the name (also botanical name) and their uses. There are several plants including   Bilimbi - (Averrhoa Bilimbi), Tezpur Chilli - Raja Mircha - (Capsicum frutescens),  Sapodilla Plum - Chikoo - (Manilkara Zapota), Pepper - Kali Mirch - (Piper Nigrum), Cassaava/Yuca - (manihot esculenta) and  Vanilla Creeper - (vanilla planifolia).

Carlos is not in it for the money. Else why would anyone trim an almond tree (instead of selling the health-giving nuts for as much as Rs 900 a kilo) to create a canopy so guests can rest up or grow luscious figs in abundance, but which is not meant for the dining table because the watering of the plants and the lush lawn surrounding it has led to the fruit being bland as it’s sugar content has been diluted.  And this, Carlos tells you matter of factly as you recall paying big bucks to pick half a dozen in the super market nearby. “No pain, no gain” is a sentiment that comes to mind as one gets wide-eyed at the aviary he has created or the pond where he has made a home for catfish, or even the nook he has created by the river where you can kick back and snooze to the sounds and smells of nature.

The rat race is behind him

Garca Branca, which dates back to the early-1800’s and got its name from the Portuguese translation of the Konkari word for “White Heron” (Bokem), did not always look like this. In fact, there was a time Carlos was willing to give away his inheritance to stay back in Vancouver, where he had spent 35 years in the corporate world, for personal reasons. But fate willed otherwise for this man whose profile is as interesting as the place he has created – he spent 15 years as a policeman in Uganda where he was born and raised. When he moved to England in 1967, after Uganda increasingly began to like the country one should move away from, he put himself through night school to get degrees that helped him enter the financial world. Now Carlos has left those worlds way behind. “I am very happy now”, he says looking contentedly at his young wife, Merlyn (“I married a local girl”) and his 16-month-old daughter Giselle.

The garden is virtually concealed from the main road where his boxer and Rottweiler growl you in. “Many guests come here expecting an expanse of garden in front and are even disbelieving that there is a botanical garden”, says Carlos, fit and athletic-looking that has come not only from creating the garden but his love of sports. “I am 76 later this month but feel like 55,” he says.

Emu, his new passion

He is now onto his next crusade – tempting the Goan palate to change from the cholesterol rich beef/ pork to emu meat. A man who puts his money where his mouth is – literally – Carlos tried every Goan dish – sorpotel, xacuti, reachado, caldin, solantulem – by substituting emu meat with what is used traditionally.  In his endeavour to popularize the meat – eight outlets are in discussion with him to stock it – he’s had three or four groups over including one where 10 chefs from different hotels came together at a well-known restaurant in south Goa, as part of a Goan Culinary Club event. “I went with my solantulem and the chefs were amazed at how soft the meat was, how tasty it was”. But so far all the oohs and aahs that he has got at all these events have not translated into something concrete. His motto is “emu meat for the heart” but as he realisatically puts it – “You can’t sell something just because it’s healthy.” Chefs turn out dishes for the commercial value – it’s the way the world over.

“It blew my mind”, he says when he realized that emu meat has 2 per cent fat and low cholesterol in their meat as opposed to beef (42%), pork (29%), mutton (27%), chicken (17%) and turkey (14%). He got four emu chicks from a farm in Mahatrashtra (one died a few weeks later) and they occupied pride of place in his aviary. The chicks – they are strapping 14-month-olds now – were for show and tell not to eat. They were there not only to entertain visitors to his bed and breakfast and the picnics he organises for non-resident Goans hoping to also popularise it by word of mouth, but also for the kids he regularly gives botanical lessons to.

However, in early June, one of the emus had broken its fence and broke free. It took Carlos – and other helpers including wife Merlyn - the better part of one day to get the emu back in her cage. After that tense experience, Carlos decided to give away the birds. In June end, he shipped them off to the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary. The birds, being rare in this part of the world, are bound to be a big attraction. He’s hoping their meat will be too in time to come. Despite the experience, he is still a big fan of emu meat for its health benefits.

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