India, for real this time
Pt 2 Kerala and Goa
We made our way back from Jodhpur to Delhi to catch our flight down to the beaches of southern India. Our first stop was Varkala. A cliffside town full of backpackers, massages, cheap, excellent seafood and pervy Indian guys. This place was a welcome change of pace and might as well have been a different country from northern India. There were still touts and all but they all had beach spirits. They wouldn't bother you all that much and wanted to relax as much as anything. So we found a great place to stay about 100 meters off the beach with a huge room, clean bathroom and a little private veranda. The beach itself is at th bottom of a 80 foot cliff that you stair down to hit sand. The top of the cliff lined with restaurants, shops, massage spots and Internet cafes. The beach is full of sun worshiping westerners and peeping Indian creeps. There are policemen on the beach patrolling the beach with the sole purpose of keeping Indian men from walking around perving on the women in bikinis! There is something askew when you have a society so repressed that men get their jollies by taking a peek at woman's arm or leg, but that being said there are plenty of guys on the Jersey shore doing the same thing. I guess the staus of women in India and the false front put towards human sexuality was one of my biggest problems with India, but hey I'm just a visitor. So the beach town wasn't spectacular itself but the respite it offered us was incredibly important and vital for our sanity!
We'd heard of this local massage that they offered in Varkala and decided that we should give it a go. We found a place near us and scheduled a time. We get to the "spa" and we each get masseurs. Nicky and woman and a man for me, they made it an extra point to assure us that we would each get same sex masseurs, sure whatever I thought, I would figure out why soon. So we go to our rooms and there is a table and a stool and some oils, all looks fine. Ok so I'm asked to get in my underwear and sit on the stool I'm getting a head and neck massage, cool. He guy then proceeds to take off his shirt and wraps his little skirt style thing into a sumo-esque diaper, a little disconcerting but I'll go with it for now. The guy starts by pouring a shit-load of oil on my head and starts-a-rubbing for a good 15 minutes. I'll be honest it felt pretty good and the guy was working hard and it we hot in the room, so that explains the shirt-off. So the head massae is done and he says ok take off he rest of your clothes and lay on the table. Now I see a sheet on the table but don't see a towel to cover up with. He sees me look around and gives me a nod towards the table. Well shit I got nothing to be ashamed of so off come the drawers and I hop up on the table, when in Rome and all.
So out comes even more oil and this guy is is taking this seriously and proceeds to give me a thorough if not slightly awkward massage. By the end I was relaxed and greasy as hell. I shower off with their "organic" soap and shampoo and still feel as slippery as an ell. The towel is more like a piece of cheese cloth and it's all a bit comical but fun none the less.
Our next stop is up the coast to a small town whose name escapes me at the moment. Anyway we're on the train when we run into these 2 young locals asking if we're on our way to town and they tell us about this place that they play music at and work etc. We're a little weary of the pitch but one of he guys reminds me of Luke back in NY. I'm not sure why but he looks a bit like him and plays guitar and sings. So we agree to check the place out and has a bit of a hippy commune feel and we dig it so we stay. Anyway we're in this town to find out about the backwater tours that they run through the little villages etc. Most of the houseboats are a couple hundred bucks so we find out about the local paddle tours. These are run by local villagers and they paddle you in their dugouts around the little back channels of heir villages. We figure that we'd rather give our money to a local guy rather than a tour company so we book it for the next morning. We head back to the hippy spot and sure enough Indian Luke shows up and gives us a big smile and chats a bit before he gets his guitar out and starts playing. It seems like everyone that works there plays an instrument and they all join in. We got drums, bongos, guitars and singers. They're singing Beatles, Oasis, Stones everything and we feel a lite surreal sitting and watching but we had a great time.
Next morning and our guy is there to pick us up for the boat trip.
We take the ferry to his town and we walk to his house to pick up his canoe. The whole village is criss-crossed with canals instead of roads and it is awesome. We meet his wife and two cute little girls along with his mother and father and brother. They all share this 2 room house that can't be bigger than a NYC studio apt. They are the epitome of hospitality and are all smiles. The girls are smiling and hiding behind their mother's skirt feigning shyness. So off we go on the tour and he paddles us around pointing out interesting landmarks along the way. It is quite beautiful and as it is in a small village everyone knows everyone. He waves and chats to his neighbors as we float by and we're as happy as can be. Lunchtime comes and he takes us back to his house for grub. His wife has prepared a hell of a spread including fried fish (tiny little silver guys) fried chicken, rice, chapati and some other curry. This is all served on banana leaves on their bed. That's right, they don't have a dining room so they lay it all out on their bed. I feel this weird mix of warmth and guilt as we eat this feast. I'm worried that we are eating more than they would in a week but then I figure that we are going to pay for the meal so it works out best for them. It's funny because they are so concerned that we are enjoying our meal that they keep coming in and checking on us to make sure that we are ok. It's true that the people that seem to have the least
material goods are the most generous and richest in spirit. After lunch we noticed that he girls had dressed up in their Sunday best. We asked and were told that there was a wedding taking place and pretty much the whole village was going. I took a bunch of pictures of the cuties and while they
pretended to be shy they quickly ran up to take a look at hemselves in the camera. So now it was time to head back to town, we thanked them all for their hospitality and off we went.
We took a bus to a port town called Ft Cochin. A surprisingly cool little town whose claim to fame are the Chinese fishing nets that line the coast. We found it to be much more than that though. We arrived late and only had a chance to grab dinner and get some sleep. The next day we found that the town had a great Italian eatery run by and expat and had an amazing pizza and pasta! Total surprise. We walked around looking to replace my terminal flip flops and stumbled across a good footy match takingplace between two kid's teams and the impressive part was that it was hot as all hell. It was in the upper 90'a and we could barely walk around let alone sprint. Anyway we stopped into every shop that had AC and discovered that the town had a bunch of little boutique shops with great stuff. Outside one of these places was where we met David Allen the best tuk tuk driver EVER. We explained that he had friends in Chicagothat come to visit every year, he proceeded to show us their number in his cell. He had named his tuk David Allen because after a couple of years visiting his friends from chicago David and Allen had bought him the tuk tuk! Well this guy was super friendly and he told us that he would take us around for the rest of the day for like 150 rupees which was way cheap. He said not to worry about the price, if we liked the job he did we could tip him at the end, fair enough. Off we went to explore Cochin. We saw a fort and the port and Jew Town, apparently there used to be a small enclave of jews that had lived in town and we visited the synagogue that by now had a congregation of about a dozen chosen people. Our last stop was the spice port. Ayurvedic Medicine is a big deal in those parts and we were shown the warehouse where a huge variety of the essential herbs and spices were kept. This place was great, it smelt like a candy shop, perfumerier, kitchen and health spa from room to room. He would reach into bags and pull out some twigs, shake em and break a couple and he would have us sniff these amazing aromas. Some familiar and some totally alien. He would explain what each was used for and give us their western names. He knew it all, this David Allen and we appreciated it. The last room had golden raisin! Natures's candy. I'm a bit nuts for raisins and golden ones are my favorite. I had to have some so I got David Allen to ask the guy to sell me some of his wholesale stock and I was as happy a a kid in a candy store. If I could have bought the whole bushel I would have. So he dropped us off at our hotel and needless to say we gave him a great tip. He just opened his shirt pocket and said "I don't need to see the money just put it in here". So we did. We ran into him
later that night and he came up to us and said thank you and gave us a lift to wherever we were going.
Next stop Goa
We stayed in a beach town called Palolem in a great place run by a Brit and Swede couple called Home that had great food and an awesome beach that even the cows loved. We spent a couple of relaxing days there and finally got to do some yoga! We recharged our batteries there before heading to Mumbai
Mumbai is like a cross between South Beach and Delhi. A real interesting city. Out of all the places in India it is the only place that I could imagine living in if that tells you anything
We got to be a little metropolitan and had drinks on a hotel rooftop with the "pretty people" of Mumbai. We did a little bit of shopping here and had a great breakfast at the Taj Mahal hotel near India gate. This was the same hotel that was attacked last year by the islamic fundamentalists and the work on it has pretty much been completed. Security was pretty tight as it should be but the service was impecable. Elephant island had a bunch of ancient caves with carvings and statues all over, but to be honest we were a little burnt out and really needed to rest, plus it was hit as Hades. overall it was a good final stop in India. So with that we say goodbye to India. Quite an amazing country and obviously we only got to scratch the slightest bit of it, but enough to make us want to come back. Off to SE Asia, first stop Thailand!