The Fountains in the Arabian Sea

Something about Varkala stunted my ability to write. James is writing an epic piece on what is wrong with Varkala. He’s right on. And I am pretty sad that I stumbled – I was feeling so creative, planning the edits on my book, thinking through ideas for my next one.

But not everything in Varkala was a drag. Here’s what I liked:

Swimming. The Arabian Sea is big, though not like the Pacific (nothing is). It is a real body of water with real waves and wave-like reactions to the shallowing as land is approached. We swam on 3 of the 5 days we were in Varkala, and the experience was stunning each time. Black Beach is at the north end of the cliff, and we were very close to it – maybe 5 minutes from door to water. The beach is not broad, and there is very little sand that doesn’t get wet at some point during the day. We left our clothes and shoes on the rocks piled along the top edge of the beach and tiptoed down the dark sands to the cooled wet portions. The sea itself was chilly compared to the hot, muggy air, but I never felt chilled while swimming. Maybe that was because I was exercising so hard!

See, the ground underwater had several ledges within a couple hundred yards of the beach. The first made the big waves – the crashing, almost surfable waves. The second was bowed, and it created a new line of peaking, tipping waves, smaller than the first batch but with great power. This is the farthest out we went. These waves actually pressed into each other because of the bow of the ledge, like a V the crashed into itself, creating an I. But of course, since the whole shebang was moving at varying speeds with varying amounts of water and varying levels of power, it was never an even crash. The third ledge was strange – it shallowed abruptly very close to the previous shallowing, which took the breaking waves and frothed them. Again strange, the next level was actually deeper, a five foot trench in the sand that took me from thigh-level water to chest-level water in one step – and then back again in another couple steps. I’m not sure how that really played into the waves’ behavior – anyone else know what that would do?

The combined effect of these forces was an ever-moving, greater or lesser, exhilarating and frightening meeting of waters. The clap of the V meeting its other half was only at its most exciting when it was met by returning waves from the rocky areas to each side of the beach. Yep – these were waves so powerful that they ran the water up the beach, onto the rocks, and then still had so much power that they became real waves again going back out. When you get this kind of action, rip-tide isn’t the word. It’s not pulling you under – it’s breaking backwards.

And often, the waves would meet. When two waves met, there would be a bang and some spray. When three waves met, a boom and a fountain. But when four waves met, north and south coming in and north and south going out, the center of that X was a roar and a watery explosion. Sometimes the forces were evenly matched enough that the waters would mingle there under the salty rain for a moment before being caught in the next waves. Usually, though, it wasn’t so still, rushing the beaten waters along one direction or another.

Swimming here is labeled “dangerous” and is certainly to be done with eyes open. James and I exultantly got the shit beat out of us in that water. I hunted the meeting points of the waves, getting good at predicting where the fountain would occur, but not really good enough to be there when it happened. A few times each, one of us was pounded from several directions, caught up in a bursting world of refracted light and salt-burned eyes, sinuses clensed without consent, losing touch with the ground. For the very first time in my life, I had a moment in which I didn’t know which way was up. I’ve always been proud of my swimming, and I just rested underwater until it became obvious (probably 1/10th of a second, but a very long moment). I was back on my feet, laughing and blowing my nose, shoving my hair back from my face and clearing my eyes. I was in love.

Oh, if I could only take Black Beach away from Varkala! If I could transplant it somewhere I’ve enjoyed, like Trivandrum or Kollam. I’ll just have to try the beaches in those places – maybe I’ll find one just as exciting and beautiful.


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