The next morning we set out to make our way south from Kochi to Varkala. I was glad to be leaving Kochi, and not only because it has such scary mosquitos. Kochi had been somewhat disappointing. I still think Kochi was worth seeing; it was just that I had expected it to be so much better.
There were now three of us. Somewhere the afternoon before, while walking through a park, Daniel and I had met Stav, a young amber headed Israeli girl. I hadn’t spoken to her much at the time, but Daniel had told her our immediate travel plans and she had wanted to come along. The night before, she had invited us to some Christmas dinner they were having in her guest house, but we had declined. I did not want to go because I have a well documented aversion to Christmas. Daniel declined the invitation because he wanted to go the Kathakali play that was on the same evening. I don’t really know why it was the case, but when we had met Stav, there was a mild iciness between her and I. She seemed to be a bit lacking in self-esteem. I’ve often found girls with low self-esteem avoid conversation with me. Again, I’m not exactly sure why this is, but I think because I have a kind of dark sense of humour that they might find unsettling. I know this probably sounds trite on my part, and maybe it is (your feedback is welcome), but I don’t have any other explanation.
I didn’t know exactly how we were getting to Varkala. I had left it up to Daniel’s excellent navigational and planning skills. The morning bus we boarded at Kochi was close to being full. It was a regular day bus, as opposed to an overnight bus, and thus most people did not have large bags, unlike us. And unlike an overnight bus, the bags did not go underneath the bus nor on the roof, but had to be taken on board with us. There was a section up the front of the bus to dump out large packs. However, this presented a bit of a dilemma. There was only one spare seat close enough to the front to allow one of us to watch the bags. And then there was a spare double seat way down the back. One of Daniel and I would have to take the single seat, and the other would have to sit with Stav up the back. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, it was better to have a guy watching over all of our bags than a girl – this was not sexist, just realistic. Secondly, it was safer for Stav to be sitting with a guy than by herself, in respect to drawing unwanted attention from local males. Not having much of a conversational history with Stav, I volunteered to take the loner seat down the front and watch over our packs.
After a while, Daniel came down the front to pay me a visit, and offered to relieve me of my post. I was fairly bored, and thus didn’t refuse his offer. I walked up to the back of the bus and sat down next to Stav. Somehow we got into a conversation about how she didn’t like her name. Stav means autumn in Hebrew. “Why, do you want to change your name? I think it’s a nice name, but tell me, were you named Stav because you were born in Autumn or because you were conceived in Autumn? ….Hey, have you got a sister named Aviva (spring)? …. So, what would you prefer your name to be?”
“I like Alice. Alice is a nice name.”
“Alice? Alice is not really a sexy name, you know…”
“Well, I like it.” She then revealed a small tattoo of Alice from Alice in Wonderland on one of her limbs…I forget which one. I have never liked tattoos. It’s far too much commitment to a graphic for my liking. Nevertheless, I started to see a more likeable (sort of) side to Stav. She was just a young girl struggling with her own self-image.
After a day involving various buses and rickshaw rides, we finally arrived in Varkala, very sweaty, and rather exhausted. It was now the late afternoon. We were just starting to discuss finding accommodation when we were approached by a couple of touts. They offered some overpriced accommodation, and tried to persuade us that everything else was sold out due to the holiday season. We largely ignored them until they eventually became discouraged. Daniel and Stav started discussing about how we were going to go about getting a room. Daniel was saying to Stav that I was the fussiest of the three of us when it came to room standard, so I needed to go on the search party otherwise I would be unsatisfied with the accommodation chosen. It was a wise suggestion from Daniel. On the other hand, they recognised that they both had tighter budgets than I did so if the decision was left purely up to me, it might be more than they wanted to pay. Fair enough. They were also in agreement that only a true Israeli (one of them) could be the negotiator when it came to price, as everyone else in the world gets taken for a sucker. One of them would wait with the bags, while the other one would go with me and walk around the village seeing what accommodation was available. Somehow they decided that Daniel would be the one to wait with the bags, and Stav would come with me to search for a room. Perhaps Daniel, being the gentleman, didn’t want to leave Stav alone by herself to mind all our bags while being hassled by touts.
Stav and I set off around the windy red gravel roads of the village. The roads seemed to be surrounded by jungle-like terrain, and I was a little concerned, given my poor spatial orientation skills, that we would get lost and be unable to find our way back. At one stage a huge elephant and its handler passed us. I noticed that the elephant did a giant shit – it was literally the size of a watermelon.
About the second place we looked at was the very groovy house that I think might have been called “Johnny Cool’s.” The lady who came down to speak with us was a Kiwi. I felt a vibe that she was very trustworthy, and it wasn’t just my ANZAC bias. It was a two-storey house and she said they were looking to rent out the whole top floor. On the top floor there was a bathroom and two bedrooms, one with two single beds and the other with only one single bed. There was also a gorgeous large balcony area with some pot plants, straw mats, a table, various other pieces of cane furniture on it, as well as a fourth bed which was protected by a mosquito net. When the Kiwi lady told us the price, I had to make a great effort to not show how inexpensive I thought it was. Only 600Rs for the whole top floor! That’s 200Rs each or if we find a fourth person, 150Rs each (about US$4!) There were some other people who had apparently booked it but they hadn’t shown up yet, and she was fairly sure they were not going to, given how late it now was. The Kiwi lady said she was going to give them until 5pm to turn up, which was under half an hour away, and then it would be up for grabs.
I communicated to Stav that I thought we should definitely take this place, and that we should ask the Kiwi lady to reserve it for us assuming the no-shows never turn up. She responded as if I was so naïve to jump at one of the first good places that came along. She forced me to come along with her as we checked out all these other dreadfully dingy places, most of them working out more expensive per person too. The more places we looked at, the more obvious it was to me why we should take Johnny Cool’s. It was really pissing me off, and I started to question her basic mathematic ability. We had the chance at this gorgeous house for next to nothing and she was weighing up various places that had rooms which reminded me of that shit-hole in Queens where the Prince of Zamunda stayed in order to convince everyone that he was a poor student from Africa. Stav reluctantly started to admit to me that she had never been very good at maths back in school, but the point of logic seemed lost on her. I responded that “I’m practically a math teacher” and that she should leave all these decisions up to me. Eventually I somehow convinced her to agree to take the beautiful house for next to nothing and give up her quest of finding a putrid room that was actually going to cost her more money! If I hadn’t been there, she’d have probably ended up renting something that looked like a solitary confinement cell and paying handsomely for it too. We went back to the funky Johnny Cool’s guest house. I was relieved to hear that the guests who had booked had failed to turn up, and no one else had got in ahead of us either. We told the Kiwi lady we’d take it.
We had been gone close to an hour by now and I was feeling bad for Daniel. I know that if I had been left for that long, I’d have been getting very impatient and edgy. I think it is because I live in the mobile phone age. Back home, if ever left waiting too long, one can always call the person they were waiting for to see what is taking long. Here though, none of us had a mobile phone, so there was no way to contact each other remotely.
All this walking around the windy roads of the village had left me disoriented. I have rather poor spatial orientation abilities. Thankfully, this was one area where Stav’s abilities actually seemed to exceed my own, and she was able to quickly retrace our path back to where we had left Daniel.
We got back to Daniel, and to his credit he was not pissed off with how long we had left him, or at least he didn’t show it. He was just sitting on his bag, calmly reading a novel I had leant him – The Great Gatsby. I was excited to tell him what we had found - what I had found! “We found the best place, it is so nice, and what’s more, it’s an absolute metziah! The greatest metziah you’ll ever see. I had to twist Stav’s arm a bit to take it, but…” The three of us set off down the windy red gravel road, on our way to the groovy guesthouse.
While we were walking, a guy with a backpack was hiking up the road from the opposite direction. As he got closer, I could see that he had wire rim spectacles, dark curly hair, mildly dark skin, was probably just a little younger than Daniel, and was almost unmistakably Sephardi-Israeli. The fact that he was wearing his large backpack was a good indicator that he might have just arrived and was looking for a place to stay.
As we got within speaking distance, I took the initiative.
“Hey, are you looking for a place to stay?”
“Ah…. yes, I guess so”
“Well, we have just rented out the whole top floor of this great house. It sleeps four, so you are welcome to share. And with the four of us it’s only 150Rs each!”
“Cool, well come with us then. Hey…Mah Shimkha?”
“Hey Amit, nice to meet you. I’m Anthony, this is Daniel and this is Stav.”
When I think about it, it’s so funny that we had resolved to share accommodation together before even exchanging names, but there was something immediately disarming about Amit, and his broad smile.
We arrived again at the guesthouse and the Kiwi lady briefly showed us around the place, for the benefit of Daniel and Amit who hadn’t seen it before. There was beautiful recorded jazz music that could be heard throughout the house. The music only added to both the groove and tranquillity of the place. I noticed under the stairway a laptop computer connected to a sound system, as this was obviously the source of the music. Downstairs in the kitchen was a guy with olive skin and dreadlocks who I gathered was the partner of the Kiwi lady, and together they ran the guesthouse and attached café. He was preparing to cook. His movement seemed to be in time with the music.
We didn’t hang around at the guesthouse for very long, however, as they were all in a hurry to get to the beach for the sunset, which was now seemingly only a few moments away. We dumped our bags upstairs in the bedrooms, and the four of us excitedly strode down to the beach. After a frustrating day of swinging from branch to branch of the local transportations systems, there was now an amazing unspoken feeling amongst us that it had all been worth it.
The scene on the beach cannot be conveyed with mere written words. Or at least I am not a skilful enough writer for the task. Nevertheless, I will attempt this in my NEXT blog entry.