Finding a Place to Live

We got stymied.I would usually find a place to live on Craigslist (for a large or medium sized town or a city), through the newspaper (smaller towns but big enough to support a paper of their own), or from posting boards at places like supermarkets (any of the above, but especially small towns). Craigslist was a bust for us in Kerala. We found two things – the guesthouse in Varkala and a house in southeast Alleppey. Neither one of them worked out. But still that was more action than we were getting from our other venues! Before coming to India, I ran searches on rentals. I found one site in particular that seemed promising – with a fairly healthy number of listings in the Rs. 1000-3000 range, it made me think that once we were here, we’d be able to find things for even less. That hasn’t worked out at all – there’s not a hot community gossip forum with all the dirt on good homes for cheap…or at least not one speaking English. Riiiiight. The language thing. I can forget sometimes how limited we are by the need to find people who speak good English. For simple things, we’re okay. When we walk up to a hotel reception desk, they already pretty much know what we want – the conversation is about AC or non-AC and price. Still, we’re having this check-in chat in English. A little better at a restaurant – if they understand “veg”, we’re usually happy with what we get. Also, the only words we know in Malayalam are food words, so we can request specific dishes – thali, masala dosa, paneer, chapati, naan, vada, idli, garam (or masala) chai. If they start asking us about other things, we have to revert back to English –[…]

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Kollam is Better

We got hijacked on the way to the bus station. No, really. Okay, not exactly. We flagged down a rickshaw, dickered for the price, and settled on something I was okay with. As we were doing this, a car pulled up behind us. After some talk in Malayalam between the drivers, the car’s driver came up to us with the rickshaw driver. The offer was a taxi ride from Varkala to Kollam for rs. 300. That sounded pretty good to me, though I really have no idea what it should have cost. We accepted the offer, and took the easy ride to Kollam. Except for the usual hundred near-death experiences, it was a very easy trip. The driver is very fond of the “Hugging Mother,” a woman who has an ashram around there. As near as I can figure out, she believes in hugging people. Yep. We managed not to get sidetracked to stand in line for a hug and made it to Kollam in the early afternoon. We had the guy take us to the Government Guesthouse, a 200 year old mansion in a park area. After walking around with raised eyebrows at the twenty-foot ceilings and enormous rooms (including the cavernous bathroom), we wandered out to the Amusement Park. We were more looking for the jetty (you know, boats and water, we like that kind of thing), but it was only rs.5 each, so we said what the heck. The concessionaire waved us in with a “Happy Onam” and we replied in kind, surprised and tickled that he didn’t charge us. It was more or less a kid thing, of course, so maybe he just knew we weren’t going to stick around for long. Nice guy either way. We wandered along the stretch of shore inside the park,[…]

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Take Varkala, Please…

Do you remember that scene in “The Baron Munchhausen” when they finally find the rest of the Baron’s gang of heroes and they’ve all been stuck in the belly of a whale playing a stupid card game for YEARS!? And then the Baron, as if under a spell of some kind, sits down at the card table, gets dealt into the game, and from that point on he starts growing old, do you remember that? Well, that card game is Varkala, Kerala, India and the belly of the whale for us was the Sky Lark Guesthouse!!! I mean, from the outside Varkala looks like a fun card game, with all the right elements like a beautiful warm black-sands beach on the Arabian Sea littered with coconut palms and big breaking waves, a cinder-block walkway along the red cliffs 40 feet above that aforementioned Sea and a ton of beautiful old guest houses and eateries to choose from but what we didn’t notice right out of the gate was the absence of the most important elements of our travels in India so far… The beautiful, quick-to-smile-and-welcome-you Indian People! What we got instead was the white, underdressed, over-intoxicated, chain-smoking European elite and a non-stop barrage of carnie-style (mostly child labor victims) sales fanatics in front of every shop and restaurant on the strip along the cliffs! It was such an incredible drag that we just had to stay for almost a week… (What-the!?) I know, I know, I make it sound so good I bet you’re asking yourself, “Why stay at all, why not just move on for christ-sake?” Well, I’ve thought about that quite a bit over the last few days of being back in “the real” India and my knee-jerk response to a question of that magnitude would have to[…]

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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[…]

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Intense Conversation

So it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. My method up to this point has been to keep daily notes in my notebook (the paper kind) and then to write a blog entry using the notes and date it for the day the events actually happened. But I haven’t written anything at all in my book since coming to Varkala, and there are some things that don’t involve any specific day’s thoughts or actions, so…today is the 12th, and that’ll be the date on the blog entry. We’ve had so many amazing conversations since moving here. One of the things I’d read more than once was that Indian people think nothing of coming up to you and starting up political, religious, and social-issue type conversations. James and I have had a few stunning examples of this, but it’s so incredibly common that I could call it typical of our Indian experience so far. The first question is where are you from, and that one comes in a myriad of formats. After that, all bets are off. Two of the more in-depth conversations we’ve had occurred with small groups of young men. Exactly the people I feel like I have the least in common with, but these guys seem so much more idealistic, idea-oriented, passionate but non-judgemental, etc, etc than the bored kids who make me more uncomfortable than bad neighborhoods. There were the chai boys – students of the Axis College for Economics and Commerce. I’ve mentioned them before. We talked while drinking Hasim’s chai on the corner opposite the small campus. The first day, we just got the basics – where are you from, what’s your name, do you like Bush. Ugh. I’m really tired of that question. But I knew I was in for it when I[…]

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Party Time and the All-Onion Masala Dosa

I’ve talked about morning and noon – chai and thali. Can you tell I’m all about food?Well, it’s not completely true. The rhythm that we’ve gotten into this week also includes a rest, perhaps a nap, in the heat of the day. Our room is nice and cool, with a fan to create the breeze and shaded windows to let in fresh air. Usually, I write or edit photos or organize our old photo archives; James sleeps. After the rest time, getting on towards dark, we walk. This place is happening after dark! This is an exciting time in general because the whole place is gearing up for Onam. The short version of the story is that the gods and demons fought for control of Kerala and the demons won. The mother of the gods was totally upset and talked Krishna (?) into interceding, which he did through a trick. He came disguised and humbly asked the demon king for three strides worth of land. The king agreed. With two strides, he crossed the entire land, then asked the king where he might put the third footstep. The demon king fatalistically suggested his head, and Krishna shoved the king deep underground with the last step. People were pretty bummed out (I guess demons make good kings) and Krishna felt bad, so he agreed to let the demon king come back one day a year. The people of Kerala spend 10 days preparing for this – and the preparations I’ve seen look suspiciously like partying to me – before they have a more-or-less private celebration in their homes where they eat like mad and celebrate the free day of a demon. It’s a nifty reason for a 10-day party, eh? So on these walks of ours, there’s music, light, and people.[…]

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Valiathura Beach – a long sunset walk

So, I’m well enough to walk. With my boots on, my foot and ankle hardly even get fatigued during the course of a day. (I’m also taking morning and night doses of something called Lyser-D, a painkiller consisting of diclofenac sodium and serratiopeptidase. All I can find about it is that it’s a painkiller – duh.) I put myself to the test today. We laughed off a couple of cabbies before finding one who would take us to Valiathura Beach for 50 rupees. The first guy started at 200 – one way! – but as we walked away, he came down to 300 both ways with an hour of waiting. Mmmhmm. We’re not as easy to target now as when we first got here, though I still feel like we overpay for such things more often than not. Anyway, back to the walking. The driver dropped us off at the beach, asking if he should wait for us and suggesting that we should go to the “Important” beach up the road instead. James was already out of the rickshaw and taking photos of the fishing boats, so I politely told him to bug off and gave him an extra 10 rupees. Why did I argue so hard for a lesser price if I was just going to give him more? Well, I don’t really know. It’s a habit of tipping and I’m really afloat on the whole thing here in India. I’m constantly getting huge smiles or slight frowns – hardly ever the regular old “yep, it’s a tip” response. Perhaps all the frowns are faked and I overtip all the time. I don’t know. Sigh. Was this about walking? Okay, back to that… It took James and I about five minutes to get from the road to the waterline.[…]

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