Friday, 14 December 2007

**India {Part One} December 14th 2007**

Hello everyone from a hot crowded internet office with the slowest connection and the drowsiest fan in India.
I keep trying to imagine the cold and I've forgotten already the madness that is the Christmas build up.

The only concession to Christmas here is the sudden appearance of paper stars in all the shops. Bright epilepsy inducing crowds of colour hanging from every tree, cafe and straw hut. Thinking we could escape the seasonal madness I was worried when I found out that Kerala is mainly Catholic imagining that we would be in for a festive overload. If the stars are all they do then I can live with that. They are delightful and Meghan is already planning her import industry based on them. She has been to the factory and instigated international relations already. That's my girl.

For the first five days we were staying in sleepy Fort Cochin. It's faded Colonial architecture and dusty streets and culinary richness were just what we needed and we set about eating our way through the incredible menus and drinking beer covertly from teapots as it's impossible to get an alcohol licence in this state. There are government alcohol shops for people to buy to drink in their own homes though. Funny to see my girls, squiffily being 'mother' pouring beer for the table and looking in the photos like genteel ladies from back in the day. And just to throw salt onto already fresh wounds, dinner for 5 people (actually a small medieval banquet)and enough beer to allow Siobhan to let me take her photo, cost 10 of our finest English pounds.

We hired two auto-rickshaws for the day to take us to the elusive Cherai beach. An uninhabited stretch of sand on the Arabian sea that was about 28km away via a short ferry ride. A fiver a day for rickshaw and driver. Seemingly a bargain...


28km in an auto-rickshaw is a feat. They all drive like lunatics hellbent on their destination. Seemingly mild mannered laid back dude types all turn into wild white knuckled avengers on the road. Siobhan was terrified mostly but now has accepted that this is the way it is. I was terrified too but had to keep my cool. We arrived at the beach with our bodies but had left our minds frozen between a thundering bus on one side and a huge truck on the other. Near misses are common but the vehicles don't look too battered so they must all fly through on a wing and a prayer. Each auto-rickshaw is decorated according to the driver's religion. It's one of the first questions that an Indian will ask you as well as your 'good' name. I've decided I want a naughty name. And just to rub salt in to your frozen wounds the beach was just hot, the sea was warm with waves and a selection of staff ran around after us with drinks and food galore. One of my favourite things I
 ate was here. Ginger fish curry. 40p. I will dream about it when I'm hungry.

A few days in Fort Cochin and the girls were ready for moving to the beach. We caught the train to Varkala. A hippy town on top of a red cliff with a steep drop to the sea with a very tantalising beach below. We rented beach/cliff huts and stayed there for a week. It was very hippy with a huge spiritual supermarket of yoga, reiki, astrology...Nothing wrong with it but it was everywhere and it just seemed overspent. I even saw a sign for 'philosophical discussions'. How can a price be put on what we all have managed to do drunkenly at 3am for years? 
The food, swimming and lazing about was great though and we did do some day trips out to towns and made sure we saw the real (ish) Kerala. The touristy thing drives me mad but without it, we would struggle to find beds and language would always be a problem. There are only so many ways to wobble my head in Indian style (yes, no, maybe?)when I haven't got a clue what they are talking about. Oh, and we have discovered that 'no' is a word they don't use. They must hate the negativity or not want to disappoint or something but if you point and say 'station?' or 'telephone' 
(with appropriate mimes and best Oscar performance of a train) 
they say 'yes'. Every time. Even when it's quite clearly 'no'. It's so frustrating but in the end it's just funny. 

Until you miss the train or get on the wrong one as we all did this morning and ended up jumping off a moving train like cowboys. I am supervising the fruit of my loins, and other people's children, as best I can under duress. I got them off first though. I had to chuck my luggage and it reminded me of a great film 'The Darjeeling Limited'. There I was hurling all my baggage. About time too.

It's easy to get used to things here. I don't want to be immune to poverty and destitution but it's here and all around slightly hidden behind a 'holiday' facade. It just takes a slight detour off the beaten tourist trap to see what is really here. A lot of the staff in the restaurants sleep on the tables. I only know this because the screeching murderous crows wake me up at 5am every morning and so I go to see the sunrise over the cliff reflected on the sea like a foamy mango lassi. And all these bodies are all over the tables. In the open air, under rags. I suppose the staff come here for seasonal work but I can't imagine what there is for them to do for the rest of the year. The security guy at the beach huts earns 45 quid a month, lives with his mother at 36 (he looked 76) and says he will never have a wife because he can't afford it and has no prospects.(Up in the nearest town I saw shacks and tarpaulin villages. The drains are always full of greasy
 grey water and rubbish is collected and burned in the drains constantly, when they're not throwing it off a nearby cliff. The overriding smell of India is 'warm green, burning rubbish and petrol'. The saving grace for these people in Kerala is that they are near the bountiful sea. Full of fish. The lights of the fishing boats at night stretch all the way out on the horizon and if I squint I could be looking at {sniff***} the lights of Southend Pier.

And I could go on for pages and pages about the wildlife, the people that we have met, the amazing journeys by train (this morning, the Mumbai Express, we all had a huge bunk each to sprawl out on and watch India go by, got served breakfast and lunch, and I spent half the journey hanging out of a door taking action shots, giving myself dreadlocks in the process)the scenery, the dolphins leaping and playing in the sea right beneath the cliff on which we were having a group breakfast,the food glorious food, the mango daiquiris, Siobhan's failed elephant ride,(it was too cruel so she abandoned) Meg's business ventures, my aches and pains and mysterious boils (i know you're on the edge of your seats for that one),O and the shopping (fraught with misuderstandings)

The last two weeks have been full of stories and adventures and my girls have been just fantastic. Full of spirit and adventure and so grateful to have had this experience. I am sure their memory banks will retain this trip and I just wanted to have a nice time with my two beautiful grown up daughters and it's been just woooooooooonderful. I'm a happy mama cat this evening.

Tomorrow the girls and Stephen and Sophie (meg's boyf and Shiv's bessie mate) fly back to the UK. It's the end of one story and the start of another. My friend Lynn aka fluffydreadful is flying in at dawn tomorrow as the girls fly out. On Monday morning we travel by train into the mountains in Tamil Nadu to begin our two week yoga/Ayurvedic retreat. I thought you couldn't put on weight eating fish but apparently I do. Must be the Whole Barracudas I am demolishing. So, two weeks lentils and early morning yoga will hopefully sort that out. All of our stomachs have been fine. We only drink bottled water and brush teeth with it too. The food is always good and hot so that's probably the trick...O no I don't want those to be famous last words.

And despite everything I have to tell you
{there aint no place like home}

**I really miss you all**


Love and Lotus positions