To explain 5 days of travel is as tedious as the travel itself. We were in the middle of the airplane and, on the train, we had the only fogged up window and couldn’t see anything. We didn’t really experience the travel on that wide-eyed brilliance level. Just plane, train, boom.
Of course, the day before we took off for all this travel, the Indian PM, Modi, recalled all the 500 and 1000 rupee bills. This created long lines at every single ATM and most of them ran out of hundreds and twenties before we hit the ground. We used our last $8 to tip the taxi driver in Mumbai. Good tip, except the hassle involved in changing it. We figured it was no big deal since the train ticket included food.
It seems that’s only on the Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains, not the Netravati. We didn’t find this out until we’d already eaten 6 meals and the porter came to us with a request for Rs. 685.
Um. Sorry, dude, got no money.
That was the wrong answer, of course, but he did us a solid and agreed to pay the fee himself if we paid him back once we arrived in Trivandrum (officially Thiruvananthapuram, but I’ll use the local version: TVM).
Two empty bank machines later, we finally got him his money, got in Prakash’s car, and were whisked away to the not-quite home of our dreams.
Prakash, who paid cash for this apartment in 2006 before it was built, intended it as an investment. The investment went tits up. The builder went broke, transferred construction to another company, which went broke twice before not quite finishing it. This is a 16-story building quite literally in the middle of nowhere planted on top of a blown-up rock. Which is only better than our sinking suspicion that it was placed on marsh, since we’re staring over a clogged up lake.
He’s in the middle of a lawsuit over the shoddy construction, which makes it unlivable. Yep.
Don’t get us wrong. It’s got beautiful marble tile floors, solid teak doors with matching teak trim (in the traditional Indian fashion), lovely views, and three bedrooms, each with their own baths. We have 1 large round table and 4 chairs, 2 beds, and what we brought with us on our backs. It is more than adequate for our purposes here in India.
As we discovered last time we were here, some neighbors live like this:
While just the other side of the building is another neighbor living like this:
Those purposes: to get James’s dental work done and to write our next bestseller.
Day 1. Get our shit together.
Prakash borrowed a car from his sister to pick us up because he thought we’d have more than two backpacks and one shoulder bag. We dropped the car back at her place and she fed us appam and stew. That was the exact kind of meal we’d wanted and never gotten last time we were here – a traditional meal, home-cooked by a gracious and lovely chechi (Malayalam for sister, used fondly for women roughly the same age and pronounced chay-chee). Both our hosts were fantastic.
We went from there to a super-store – kind of like a mall – 6 floors of total outrageously priced insanity. Shell-shocked, jet-lagged, and battered by sound (oh, and a bit hungover from the fun we had with Prakash), we made that trip as short as possible (aka not short enough). We got out with 3 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of underwear, 1 churidar, and some household odds and ends…and without a significant sum of money.
Get used to this, America. This is your future. You might not know it, but here’s what the people of the world think about T-Rump’s election: “The white people are very happy.” –Rita chechi
Prakash went to his club to see friends and we utilized the pool. After the long, sticky day, it was wonderfully refreshing in the middle of the night. We do live in a jungle, after all, and it’s nearly 80 degrees at night.
Day 2. Dentist.
The short walk to the chai-wallah’s place is studded with flowers of various types, including this lovely thing.
Last time we lived here, Prakash and I never quite met, but became excellent friends anyway as email penpals. We have some things in common – atheism, drinking, and politics, to name a few – and some great things as differences that are useful and make for stimulating conversations. He’s our landlord and we couldn’t be luckier.
Prakash asked around for a couple months through his childhood chums to find me (James) the best price of dental work. He gave us a list of 3 names. He never saw any of these dentists, so it was pure guesswork. The dentist’s clinic had a long line of terrified-looking patients. Babies crying, dogs barking. It was exactly what I was afraid of.
When we went into the office, the doctor had put another patient on hold so he could examine me. He set me down in a chair and, without gloves, reached into my mouth and started yanking at my teeth. It was incredibly painful. Personally, he was a bit gruff and abrasive, but that’s par for the course. What bothered us was that he didn’t look at xrays or anything and immediately came up with a plan to remove 3 teeth and then everything would be okay. We said yes to a lot of things and got out of there as quickly as we possibly could, dedicating ourselves to never going back.
The only good thing about the office was the architecture.
And then we walked. Yay, epic walk!
First thing out of the dentist’s office, we saw a really cool maze of a market.
We walked through a couple turns and were suddenly in the meat. Slaughter, blood all over the floor, smells we couldn’t handle, and people yelling at us to buy their goods. For the first time in years, I was overwhelmed by all my senses and almost lost my cookies right there in the market. Serious hand-over mouth near-retching necessitated a quick escape.
In other news, this is how bananas are born!
We figured we’d walk for a while and then pick up a taxi, but we enjoyed being with each other in India so much that it went on and on.
Stopped for a quick thali along the way, then made it back home and started doing more research on better dental options. We faded out early and slept.
Day 3 (today). We’ve been wound up and there’s so much to do and settle. Sleeping is hard in those circumstances. At about 1am, I (Dena) had my first wake-up of the night. We both dozed, but by 3:30, I figured I’d take the chance of a groggy day by taking another Tylenol PM. It got me through until the chai-wallah was open for business.
Caffeinated and ready to start our new routine, we used the gym downstairs, which consists of one of those jungle-gym type multi-weight things, a few dumbbells, an ab machine, and some cardio stuff we skipped in favor of climbing the stairs to the 6th floor apartment and a long, epic walk.
We went the other direction, heading toward a nearby unnamed junction in hopes that we’d find a place with the following sign: Pure Veg. These places do exist, but not in our vicinity. Instead, we dipped into a hole-in-the-hill kind of place and asked for idly sambar. No go. And no menu. And no English. Pointing always works, so pointing at the other diner’s plate and asking “veg?” got us a nod and two plates. The mystery crumbly white log seemed perhaps rice based while the subzi (dry vegetable preparation) had some dark brown round things that might have been the product of a one-night-stand between green peas and black-eyed peas. It was improved immensely by the dish he brought later, something with a gravy to it, when he saw that I wasn’t eating most of the white log.
Okay, there are bound to be some misses.
After a walk of more than 5 miles, we were too hot, too thirsty, and too hungry to keep going. Just in time, we spotted the Hotel Aryaas, a chain of pure veg restaurants (though they’re called hotels here…just go with it). We stepped inside, went to a table, and asked for thali.
The guy offered us idly or dosas or…
But we want thali!
We were too discombobulated to realize it wasn’t yet thali-thirty. We knew that the “Meals Ready” sign was the big signal, but we didn’t really absorb the fact that no such sign sat out front. In a truly gracious move, they set us up with the traditional Kerala thali, which comes on a banana leaf with 3 side curries, a pickle, and a heap of rice with ladles full of dal poured over it. Or sambar. Or both. We had both, to our complete and utter satisfaction. We will go back, though it’s so far away. This time, we’ll show up when they’re ready to serve, returning kindness for kindness.
Then we discovered what works in India really well…Uber! Who knew? Probably a half a billion Hindustanis.
More swimming, and you’re all up to date.