A Sunday Travelogue

Today we went to the beach. Name of the beach? Hmm. I just don’t know.

We decided to just head out and try to find it. Looking at the google satellite view of the area (a while back), I thought there seemed to be a relatively straightforward route. But the roads that the maps choose to mark don’t necessarily look any different from other roads. Like in Seattle – sometimes a road will be marked Arterial, which I would think means it’s a more major road than the others around it. But you can’t always tell the difference without the little signs.

Here there are no signs. James and I both thought we remembered a through road that left from the school, so we turned left out of the lane and then left again after the school. We found the first thing we were looking for deep in the neighborhood lanes – a chai wallah. Yay! Deliciously caffeinated, we set off again.

We felt safe just wandering because there’s a major river that meets the sea just south of us. If we crossed any good-sized bridges, we had gone too far! Well, we meandered for quite some time before suddenly realizing that we were paralleling the water. James turned off at the next opportunity so that we could take a look from the edge and figure out what part of coast we were on.

What a reception we got! Boys poured out of every building around. Little boys, big boys. Boys who thought they were men and boys who hadn’t started thinking about that yet. They all said hello and all shook our hands. A few even had decent shakes!

Just so happens that we turned into a little fishing community with a…yes…a christian church. Denomination? Um, I have no idea, but there was a glowing picture of a white Jesus and a cross on top of the building. Everyone automatically assumed we were christian as well. When we said no, it didn’t compute – I could tell that the kid in charge (the one quickest to try out his english) thought he was misunderstanding us or that we were misunderstanding the situation. Oh well…

The little boys wanted “school pens”, but I’ve been going on the give-nothing rule and had no pens for them. For the first time, I wished that I did. It didn’t seem like a random “see what I can get from the rich white people” kind of request, though it was said kind of reflexively. I got the impression that it was about all they ever said in english, but I also got the impression that there was a lack of pens. A couple of the boys had sunday school books and they really looked like they needed pens to write in them! Maybe I was just feeling especially susceptible today…I don’t know…

James amused the small ones by letting them try on his sunglasses and getting them to make badass faces. Their “mean” looks were great – mostly cute with a couple of bullies that were too good at it. Heh.

While James and the little boys played around, I talked to the older boys. They were very indulgent with the little ones, laughing at their funny faces and telling me that James was a good man for playing with them. They asked me all kinds of questions about where I was from, why I was here, etc, etc. I admitted that I knew no Malayalam and, once again, was nicely, politely, curiously (though it felt accusing to me) asked why I came to a place where Malayalam was spoken but didn’t make any effort to learn. I’m sure I blushed. I tried to redeem myself by telling them that we went to the north part of India first and that I had learned a little Hindi in order to get by up there. But that we liked Trivandrum better and so now I have some Hindi in an area that speaks no Hindi, by conscious, stubborn design.

In the language wars of India, the southern parts that speak Malayalam and Tamil (and others I’m sure) fight the assumed hegemony of Hindi by pushing for English as the officially recognized second language of every state, leaving each state their own language as first. They would rather (and I see their point) learn their own language at home then English at school to aid them in business, law, and general communication since it’s more international than Hindi. The people pushing Hindi are usually native Hindi speakers who claim they want to get rid of the last major vestige of British rule.

Anyway, speaking Hindi wins me no points here, and I don’t actually speak it anyway. Just a tiny bit.

So after a little while, I decided I wanted to leave. I did get some good information out of the guys – we were about halfway between Valiyathura and Kovalam…What?!? I thought Kovalam was farther away!

And it is, by road. On the water, you can see one from the other – hardly any distance at all. But we could also see that we hadn’t yet passed the river, and that’s where we were headed.

After a bunch more slow riding through narrow lanes, staying along the water, we reached a place from which we could see the narrow strip of land that separated the sea from one fork of the river. The river splits in two just before the sea, going around a piece of land and turning it into an island – though there are places from which you can walk one side to another. We could see the peninsula formed by this river and the sea, but there were houses and a bunch of guys staring at us. We figured we could probably walk there from where we were, but it didn’t feel quite comfortable.

So we backtracked, taking a different fork in the road when we got back to a three-way “intersection”. I put that in quotes only because, while it fits the official definition of the word just fine, it’s not what I imagine you imagining when you hear it…

Well, we crossed the river. I started feeling a bit cross because we seemed to make so many trips to the water without actually getting to swim.

Very soon, we saw a large bridge. It was a steep upsidedown U, though the river was not very wide. We stopped across from it and discussed it for a moment. Sure, it goes to the island. Sure, it looks like it can hold a motorcycle. I pantomimed “can we go across” to an old man sitting with a bicycle next to the bridge and he waved us on. Okay then – over we go!

There was a miniature town just on the other side – a couple of stores and some people milling about – and then just homes, palm trees, and fern-like shrubbery. Oh – now bananas and coconuts, mangoes and jackfruit…

We drove slowly for a while, but the bike was heating up (air-cooled) and we were both itching to explore. We pulled off the road into a bit of a hidden parking area. Sure enough – it was too good to be made up by us…because there were a few logs creating steps up the small hill and then a shrine of some sort. A couple more flat rocks with circles of flowers on them and we began to get the picture. In a country of cremation, we’d stumbled into a cemetery.

Weird.

And of course, people often have a “thing” about their dead. So how likely were we to insult someone by walking through to the…is that?…yes…a gorgeous, palm-shaded, blue-watered beach!

We did it. We walked through the graveyard and over a very strange palm walkway to the beach. I guess it is only an island during monsoon. Today, we had an easy walk across a hummock of land created by topsoil conserving qualities in the root structures of a line of palm trees.

I wandered south, trying to avoid the areas where there were a bunch of people. I was a bit shy of disrobing to swim among a bunch of fisherman – it’s not their way for women to get so exposed in public. When women do swim in the sea, they often do so in their saris…which I just can’t imagine.

James, however, walked right out there and quickly became the focus for a magically growing group of young men – ages 17 to 24, we were to find out – who were all fishermen. They told him about the difficulty of catching fish when the big ships come close to shore and sweep huge numbers from the water. They told him that they were forced to fish closer to land and that the fish they catch are small and hard to sell. And of course, though they didn’t say this, the more they catch them when they’re small, the fewer fish are left to grow older and repopulate the deeper areas.

Sigh.

But once I gave up and joined the boys, we had only talked a little while when the group’s unofficial leader asked us if we wanted to swim. We, of course, said yes, and I figured that this group of guys wasn’t going to be offended by my one-piece swimsuited body. So we stripped along with the leader and another guy and went for a swim.

Wow – those waves were powerful! They didn’t look that big on the shore, and they didn’t look that big when they were on me, but damn, did they shove me around!

The guys lured us out beyond the breakers and it was so lovely out there, bobbing in the super-buoyant salt water. I just waited a minute for the relaxation to set it, then I looked around. James wasn’t nearby, and I could see that he was still in the surf. By the time he got out to us, he was saying that he needed sunscreen and I groaned. Oh man – the fishers had distracted me and neither James nor I had any sunscreen on whatsoever. It’s a sure and painful burn that results from saltwater + sunshine, so we slogged our way back out of the water and slathered on the sunscreen and stood for a few minutes giving the stuff time to dry into our skin a bit before going back out.

We only ended up swimming for a very short period of time, but it felt great.

Getting dressed again was an athletic exercise in modesty. I went behind a fishing boat, but the guys didn’t get the point that I wanted privacy. I did the arms out, shirt on, suit to waist, wrap around waist, suit off, dry under wrap, pants on, wrap off routine. But with a salwar kameez, it’s much easier than with jeans…

The only thing I couldn’t get on subtly was my bra, so I squeezed with my elbows every time we went over a bump from there on – and these are Indian roads we’re talking about…

That left us hungry and thirsty, and we wandered the coastal roads for another 15 or 20 minutes before we found a hotel. Meaning a place that serves food, not a place that rents bedrooms. It’s a thing. I don’t know why, though I think it’s probably a British remnant.

We stopped at a random place, walked in and sat, poured ourselves water from the pitcher on the table, and proceeded to have our usual conversation. Meal, veg only. No, no chicken, no mutton. Veg only. Yes, veg. Great!

And it was. We ate a ton, the two men running the place refilling James on the rice, dal, vegetable curry, and lemon pickle and refilling me on the vegetable curry before I could signal no-thanks. I didn’t eat all my food, but James did! It was a total of 60 rupees (or about $1.30) and did I ever enjoy it!

After that, we just headed home. Of course, that was exciting too, because we surely couldn’t have retraced our route. We headed off the direction I suspected we should go and just winged it. We went farther east than the house so that when we got on Kovalam Road, we had to come back a short ways, but hey – I think we’re going great!

Loving it. Oh yeah.

And on a side note – James had done a bunch more writing (he’s writing now or I’d ask him how many pages he has) and so have I. I’ve added another six pages by putting a little here and a little there to fix it up…

I’m so happy!

We’re going to head to Anandalakshmy because we don’t have internet at the house yet. We’ll go over there about 7pm, since that’s when the power goes out (for a half hour). Next week it’ll be 7:30, then 8pm…that reminds me – we need to get a lantern!

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