After a grueling journey of nearly 30 hours, we’re happily settled in at our first destination: Kuzhupilly Beach House, near Cochin, in the state of Kerala, South India, where we’re spending the first leg of our 99-day adventure. This is a good place to introduce Riccardo to India: Kerala is pretty relaxed and groovy, especially as compared to the chaotic street scenes of his imagination. There are no signs of opulence in this neck of the woods, but certainly no signs of abject poverty either: life seems comfortable here. Tall coconut trees line the roads, locals break into beaming smiles as you pass by, and you can walk down the beach for miles without seeing a soul except the odd fisherman or two.
We’re starting our trip here because Ric’s best friend Bevan and his wife Eliza, who currently live in Bangalore, have rented a lovely beach house to ring in the new year with a slew of other visitors: Eliza’s wonderful parents, from Connecticut; her cousin and his family, from England; and some friends of theirs, visiting from Ireland. Another friend of ours from Montreal, Rick Tran, has been visiting them for the past week as well. We couldn’t have asked for a better group with whom to embark on our odyssey!
The voyage itself was relatively painless. Highlights included lunch in the Munich airport (Bavarian sausages and a pretzel); persuading kindly flight attendants to seat us together, citing Riccardo’s “fear of flying”, and a hilarious scene involving a bratty kid kicking the seat of a surprisingly combative hippie we deemed “Aggro-Hippie”. Our long (nine hours!) layover at the Bangalore airport was spent admiring sarees of every colour and description, the rather common socks-and sandals look (popular with men and women alike), and some impressive mustaches that would put Oates (of Hall & Oates) to shame.
We had an enjoyable first night in Kerala catching up with friends (we are a group of 15 in total – lots of fun!), eating a fantastic Keralan meal (grilled fish and assorted curries), drinking semi-cold extra-strong Kingfishers, and listening to the waves from the third-floor verandah of the beach house. Yesterday, Riccardo, Rick Tran and I ventured into the pretty seaside town of Fort Cochin by auto-rickshaw and ferry, and it was a rather eventful outing. Here’s a brief synopsis of the day’s activities:
- Sampling Portuguese grilled calamari and Kerala chillie fish (seafood is big in this coastal region);
- Cooling off with illicit cocktails (restaurants can’t openly serve alcohol in Kerala, but some will make you a cocktail as long as it’s disguised with juice – some even serve beer in teacups);
- Meandering through dusty streets lined with crumbling buildings built in the Portuguese colonial style;
- Helping to reel in the giant fishing nets which were first erected by Chinese traders in the 15th century (we were invited by a clever fisherman to whom we afterwards made a small donation in exchange for the opportunity);
- Stumbling into a very exciting motocross rally along with about four hundred enthusiastic young men and one other female – yes, one;
- Watching a pair of temple elephants get suited up for a celebration with gold headpieces and colourful paint (although the chains on their feet seemed decidedly un-festive);
- Pretending to be guests at upscale hotels in order to use their facilities;
- Politely declining offers from about eight million vendors of various products and services;
- Learning the hard way that if you leave even an inch between you and the person in front of you in a queue, someone will cut in front of you. And he will likely bring his family of 14 along with him.
Another of the day’s high points was getting married! Sort of. Many South Indians are generally shocked when encountering people in their thirties who haven’t yet discovered the joys of marriage. We joked around that we should wear wedding rings in order to avoid having to explain that in fact, we’re not actually unmarriageable losers – but a band on one’s finger doesn’t mean anything here. Instead, women wear two anklets and two toe rings to proclaim their wifely status (men, of course, are exempt from having to display their standing). I’m now wearing a lovely anklet Riccardo bought for me after a particularly romantic bargaining session with a scowling jewelry-wallah. Mazel tov!
Yesterday was Eliza’s 30th birthday, and some of the group spent the day cooking up a celebratory feast that included pasta, lentil soup, and piña coladas. Everyone wore the nicest clothes they had with them, and the girls wore bhindis on their foreheads – it was all very festive! I sadly missed most of the evening – including the ensuing bonfire on the beach – as I took a Benadryl which knocked me out for the night. I even fell asleep on the tuk-tuk ride home, which is no small feat (the roads here are almost as bumpy as ours in the spring). Tonight is New Year’s Eve, so more merry-making is surely in store. In fact, Chris has just declared that it’s right about beer o’clock now.
It’s raining today, so a refreshing coolness has replaced yesterday’s scorching mugginess. We’re actually getting the residual effects of a massive tornado that swept across South India and even killed a few dozen people in Chennai (we watched the sad report on youtube over breakfast). Members of our group are variously napping, reading, working, and playing bridge. Riccardo and Eric are learning to play carrom (a board game popular here in Kerala) with Sajimon, the incredibly kind, knowledgeable, and chatty cook. It’s nice to relax as I don’t think we’ll be doing much of that in the coming months. We’re easing into India and it’s lovely so far.
More soon! In the meantime, a few images: