baby steps in India


on April fools day i flew from Bangkok to Trivandrum (the capital city of Karela). this included an all night layover in the Mumbai airport. Then a 45 minute drive north brought me to Varkala – a long strip of guest houses and restaurants along a cliff overlooking the beach. time seems to stand still here and if i’m not careful the days could turn into weeks.

i booked a simple room with limited power at a guest house slightly set back from the cliff with a private bathroom, mosquito net covered bed and porch hammock. this would be my home for the next week and in my weary state i was excited to not be on the constant move for the first time in almost a month.

after a long rest i managed to find a bar (not an easy thing to do in Karela) near the main beach road tucked behind a wall out of site. i ordered a Kingfisher “Extra Strong” and looked around the place to survey exactly how sore of a thumb i was. i was the only white guy in a room of 30 Indian men all getting very drunk. the ones that weren’t talking loudly were staring at me and smiling in a most gentile way. before i had the chance to feel awkward i was invited to sit.

20130403_143159meet Hasah and Vipin. Hasah is a lifeguard on Varkala Beach. he explained to me that the strong current takes the lives of several travelers each year and in the 7 years he has worked this beach he has saved over 80 lives. Vipin is a soldier in the army and owns a bit of beach front real estate. he is also on the prowl for a wife. it didn’t take long for Hasah to insist on bringing me back to his home to meet his family and be properly fed. with nothing but yes in my heart i soon found myself enjoying my first Indian meal in a real Indian home. mother prepared fresh fish (sardines?) on rice while me, Hasah, Vipin, Hasah’s father, brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew watched an Indian action flick. we ate with our hands. Hasah’s brother was both newly married and suffering from polio. he, his Italian wife and his two children live in Rome and were visiting to have their wedding on Indian soil.

20130403_174044the next day i headed to the town temple to check out this “Elephant Festival” i’ve been hearing so much about. this was not your typical fourth of July froo-froo. this parade consisted of 20 marching elephants with chained feet and gold plated head dresses accompanied by men with sharp sticks which they used to ‘coax’ the elephants into praying to Krishna when they passed by the temple. this was followed by floats with animatronic Indian gods in various killing positions. one depicted a man getting his belly eaten by a lion while blasting the sounds of pure insanity at an ear-piercing decibel. in between each link in the procession were groups of men beating tribal drums and chanting. hoards of locals gathered around to spectate, pray, dance… and whatever else it took. in addition to all this mayhem i had the pleasure of witnessing one elephant fully relieve himself right there on the street (with 20 elephants it’s bound to happen). i was dumbfounded by mother nature’s mechanics when a basic procedure such as this gets applied to elephant-sized proportions. the dirt road where i stood quickly became a muddy river. after witnessing this multi-minute process start to finish i was once again reminded that mother nature has an elegant plan for all the things. none of my senses were spared at this festival. i was giddy because i was overwhelmed by 100 new stimulations all at once and pushed to extreme discomfort because i was overwhelmed by 100 new stimulations all at once. it took me about 12 hours to feel normal again.

P1020441oh… and i made some friends! meet the multi-culture crew: Dani from France, Irantzu from Spain and Luna from Chile. three very unique and genuine individuals. over the next several days we were almost inseparable as we swam, ate, shopped, relaxed, drank chai, and rode trains and tuktuks together until we nailed ‘our’ Varkala down to a routine we could execute with our eyes closed. our conversations were a constant dance that covered a wide variety of subjects both emotional and spiritual. they all spoke several more languages than i which left me feeling generally inadequate, but i was able to impart a few English gems of knowledge onto them which redeemed me a bit. we also decided to assign each other animal-likenesses (because why wouldn’t we?). Luna was a mouse (a moon mouse), Irantzu a squirrel (specifically the one from the movie Ice Age), Dani was a praying mantis, and i turned out to be a dolphin… yeah, it took me a while to warm up to that one. anyway, here is a snippet of the conversation verbatim:

Dani: i think your animal is a dolphin
me: no… i’m pretty sure it’s a sloth
Dani: oh no, it’s a dolphin, i’m quite sure of it
me: really?!… but… dolphins are kinda gay
Dani: are you a little bit crazy?
me: yeah

P1020452on my second to last day in Varkala i took a day trip to Trivandrum and purchased this guitar. his name is “Escapo” and with the proper MacGyver modifications i think he could prove a most useful companion. this of course ups my sore thumb factor by 10 and now i can’t take a train ride without entertaining some of its passengers. my calluses are returning and my musical intuitions are becoming familiar once again.

it’s extremely hot and humid here this time of year. water is paramount and sleep is very nice to come by.

it’s now time to head for the hills…

  1. #1 by Diane on April 10, 2013 - 2:04 pm

    Thank you for the entertainment during my afternoon break. Great stories! It sounds like you are having many memorable experiences. Don’t get stuck in any elephant pee rivers. Where are you going next?

  2. #2 by roarkb on April 10, 2013 - 9:44 pm

    you are most welcome!.. next stop is Munnar to cruise around some tea plantations.

  3. #3 by pete on April 15, 2013 - 11:03 am

    way to live & tell the dream those in other lives can only dream about!

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