I’ve developed this annoying habit of starting sentences with, “When I was in India.” I can’t help it.
I had zero interest in ever visiting India. You know those movies where the foreigner arrives in India and they’re driving around in a taxi and kids are banging on the windows? Yup, not my scene. So the split second decision to go to India came as a surprise to everyone, especially me. (Twenty-four-hour turnaround between deciding and booking. No jokes.)
I stayed in Varkala, Kerala for two weeks and people keep telling me I didn’t do ‘real’ India. I’m fine with that. ‘Real’ India terrifies the hell out of me, even now still. But at least now I have more of an idea of what to expect and I’ve already planned my next route. So if you’re heading to India for the first time, I highly recommend this little bubble as your first stop. Give you a few days to find your feet, get some tips from the great locals who work there and from other travelers who are passing through.
Soul and Surf is a beautiful, colonial style house set on the south cliffs of Varkala. The hotel is owned by a lovely young British couple called Ed and Sofie, and run by a large staff of mostly British and Indian kids, who are there to surf and have a good time. My room was mid-range, a “Nice” room and was large and comfortable, with a private bathroom. I didn’t have an air-con and I didn’t need one.The hotel is only open during winter season (From November to May), as summer brings the monsoons. In December the weather was hot and sticky during the day and cool at night.
My days were leisurely and lazy. We met at 6:15 am at the cafe in the garden for coffee and the tiniest, sweetest bananas imaginable. Then we clambered into the back of the old jeep , which was piled high with surfboards, and took off on the perilous journey to the beach at North Cliff.
I say perilous, because any journey involving Indian drivers can be labelled as perilous. There is a lot of hooting involved and very little observing of road rules.
The walk from the car park to the beach was the second hardest part of my day. The first hardest part of my day, was the walk back. The boards are big (for beginners) and don’t fit neatly under your arm. It’s nothing like Blue Crush. So you hold your board above your head and when you’ve spent the previous evening in downward dog, your arms start to take strain. A very steep flight of crumbling stairs stands between you and the beach.
But I made it up and down every time. A few hours of surfing, with help from various (hot) surf instructors, before heading back to the hotel for a quick shower and breakfast. A plate of fresh fruit and a lassie of varying flavours, followed by a plate of either Indian curry or British eggs. Sundays is the best banana pancake you could imagine. I have dreams about those pancakes.
The rest of the day is spent shopping along the cliffs, tanning on the beach and swimming in the sea. All of these are quite exhausting activities. The current in the sea is pretty strong so you get in a good workout and if you’re not careful, tanning on the beach can be interrupted by curious Indian teenagers who have heard that Westerners are easy.
My friend had at least one penis waved in her face.
Lunch was eaten either at the cafe (they make the most phenomenal cakes, washed down by an icy glass of fresh coconut water – best) or at one of the many restaurants which line North Cliff. The menus are all pretty much the same and the food is excellent.
And so cheap. One dinner involved a seafood platter which included calamari, prawns, grilled fish and tandoori fish. Including drinks, my bill came to 500 Rupees. Which is about R70. We later discovered that the the restaurants in town were much cheaper and had a full, delicious meal for 35 Rupees.
With our Rand, India is a great option. Really.
We spent the afternoons exploring town, having Ayurvedic spa treatments, cooking courses, sari shopping and seeing what Varkala had to offer. The days were ended off with yoga on the roof, while the sun was setting. A quick shower and then off to the Cliffs for dinner and drinks. Drinks which were served in tea cups or with newspaper wrapped around them, because liquor licenses in Varkala are expensive and complicated. So most restaurants don’t bother.
I highly recommend Soul and Surf. Tucked away from the chaos of town, it was a little sanctuary to escape to.The staff were great and it was a very sociable atmosphere, every night a group of guests met for dinner and I met some really amazing and interesting people.
My one and only regret, is not taking the time to travel further into Kerala. There is so much I want to see and do still. Although, having said that, I probably wouldn’t have felt so refreshed had I spent my two week holiday running around trying to see everything India has to offer. The country is too big and too complicated.
It was a short trip, only two weeks, but it was a trip that has had a huge impact on me. My perspective on everything has changed, particularly on my future and what I want to do with it.
(For part one, click here).