Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Coffee plantations, mountain tops, houseboats and beaches

Things have gotten out of order somehow, and days go by and I realize that significant experiences have been left out. Like our home stay experience in Wayanad (with an amazing hike up the second highest mountain in Kerala) and our houseboat down the backwaters of Kerala from Alleppey.

We find ourselves now in the beach town of Varkala where we are staying for three days and there is simply no excuse for not catching up except sheer laziness.

Today we spent the morning on the beach and even took two swims in the Arabian Sea, paid for an umbrella on the beach and really enjoyed the sun and surf. We managed to do two shifts (morning and afternoon) of laundry by hand and marveled at how quickly clothes air dry on an outdoor line in the amazing warm temperatures we are enjoying in Southern India. Tonight we chose a beautiful red snapper from the abundant cart of fresh fish outside our favourite restaurant, and had them prepare it for us in garlic and lemon butter. We both commented more than once today that we could get used to this!

This is the first time we have been anywhere for three days in our almost eight weeks in India. The idea that we still have another full day and night here has made us all a bit giddy. And what a beautiful spot it is. All of the hotels, shops and restaurants are situated on a cliff with several sets of steps leading down to the gorgeous white sand beach below. No one bothers you there except the sun lounge and umbrella boys. Amazingly, all of the hawkers of wares you don’t need are too lazy to take the steps down to the beach, so you are really able to enjoy the pristine beach and the amazingly warm salty water.

Aside from enjoying ourselves, and relaxing, we are also realizing that the organized part of our trip will soon be over and we will have to start giving some serious thought to our next adventure. There are many ideas afloat which all require research and planning which, at this point, seems quite overwhelming to me. So even though I have been procrastinating about catching up with blogging, I much prefer chatting with you than spending my time doing Google searches for flights or accommodations.

So let’s start with our home stay.

Home stays in India are sort of like bed and breakfasts in our part of the world. Except better. It is a chance to get to know a family, have them cook fantastic meals for you and take you on tours of their coffee plantations (or whatever other activities they are involved in). The accommodations are luxury from an Indian perspective and the experience is amazing. Maybe they are not all like this, but our group was divided between three different home stays in Wayanad and we all had similarly memorable experiences.

In addition to the home stay experience; the area offered a number of optional activities that were enjoyed by all. Marc and I took two hikes that tested our "out of shape" bodies, and reminded us how much we enjoy the outdoors — and a challenge! The first hike was to two beautiful waterfalls. We got started late-ish in the afternoon, so we had to keep up a good pace to get both waterfalls in before nightfall. The walk proved to be a challenge, due to the heat of the day, the steep down hill climb and the hoards of Indian tourists with the same idea. As I described in an earlier post about the Indians accompanying us to the other side of the river in Hampi, they seem to have a habit of swarming and have no problem pushing and shoving even if falling off the side of a cliff into a rushing waterfall may be the final result. Add to this the fact that they were all very excited to see a group of white people, and you have complete mayhem!

We made it to both waterfalls and up the steep incline before nightfall all in one piece, and had time to shower and clean up before dinner. Those of us not interested in  hiking were treated to a tour of the coffee plantations and a description of the process of picking, drying, husking, grading and selling of coffee. All of us were treated to taste of steaming homegrown coffee as well as a delicious home cooked meal.

The next morning a small group of us set out to climb the second highest peak in Kerala, a mountain called Chesma, which stands at 2100 meters. Our portion of the climb was about 1000 meters, which traversed seven peaks to hit the top. Most of the climb was straight up, and, combined with the heat, was indeed a challenge. Reaching the top and taking in the 365 degree view was worth every drop of sweat and every sore muscle. Marc and I took it very slowly as he had been ill just 24 hours before, but I knew that the outdoors is always the best medicine for anything that ails us and it was in fact the case. I was pretty stiff the next morning, but Marc was feeling great!

This hike took us through tea plantations, down to a heart shaped lake, and up seven rolling peaks covered in green foliage. The sky was perfectly blue and the air clean and fresh. The difficulty of the trek kept most other tourists (foreign and local) out of our way so we were able to appreciate the solitude of this very special spot.

As we traverse the subcontinent of India we are finding that this is a country of many colours, flavours, aromas, and experiences. Some that suit us and some that rub us the wrong way, some that irk us and some that leave us awe struck wanting more. We can see at this point that it would take a lifetime to experience it all, and 82 days is just a drop in the bucket.

We left the comfort of our homestay the next morning for Cochin which proved to be another type of experience altogether.

But that my friends is a tale for another post!

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