Archive | January, 2008

The Life Epectancy of Clothing…

30 Jan

…is right around six months if you wear the same things everyday or every other day. 

How do I know this? 

Because I’ve tested it and so has Astrid.  We bought new things to wear on this trip to India and as we come to the end of our trip, they are in shambles- broken zippers, tears, fraying, holes, you name it.  Astrid is talking about dumping her clothes in Mumbai before we get on the plane as she swears she will never wear them again. 

You see laundry in India is cheap to do- pay 100 rupees ($2.50 US) and you get most of your clothes cleaned, dried, pressed and returned to you.  Except everything that you send out gets beaten to a bloody pulp on rocks, floors, walls, wherever and what you get back is a sad representation of what you sent out.  We’ve passed laundries where they have traveller’s (and our own) clothes hanging out to dry on power lines, cyclone fences, and barbed wire.  It is disconcerting to walk by and see your underwear flapping in the breeze while people walk by.  And although your clothes get trashed, you ARE helping put food on some families table by paying to have your laundry done, so I don’t feel too bad about a faded shirt.

So, when you go out travelling, try it out yourself , see how long your clothes last.



Our Last Night in Varkala

29 Jan

Last night was our last night in Varkala before heading off on the 6:55 a.m train to Fort Cochin (Kochi) 165 km north early this morning.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset over the Arabian Sea, the best one since we have been here (see photo at left)– with deep reds and purples over a HUGE fleet of fishing boats that came out like the stars every night. and a great dinner with Chris, a really good friend that we met in Auroville and then met up with again in Varkala. We realized last night that we had hung out almost everyday for the last one and a half months! Chris owns a backpacker’s camp in Kabak Valley, Turkey called Reflections Camp that purportedly has the finest toilet in the Kabak Valley, let alone the entire country. We may take a little time next year to go check out Turkey.

Here is a picture of Me, Astrid and Chris in Varkala:

Here’s to good friends! It’s nice traveling with good people.


Indian Fashion Accessory of the Year…

27 Jan

Three words…Ali Baba Trousers.

The fashion fad of all fashion fads for the 2007-2008 India travel season is the Ali Baba trousers…also affectionately known by us as genie pants, diaper covers, grungy hippie premium denim, and load in the pants. They are made with billowy material usually with an elastic waist and about two yards more fabric from the waist to knees than you actually need. In fact most of these pants hang well below the knees and this- in essence- is what makes it look like the person has taken a dump in them.

And they are EVERYWHERE…I challenge any of you to go to any Western travelers haven in India- be it Goa, Hampi, Puri, Mamallapuram, or Varkala and NOT see these pants on someone. Male or female- it doesn’t matter- although in my humble opinion, men should NEVER wear these pants unless they are very comfortable with their masculinity and don’t mind looking like a big dork.

So to be an completely individual traveler in India, get your Ali Baba Trousers, sport your Om tattoo, carry around the Lonely Planet guide, read Shantaram, do yoga while you are just standing around, buy a drum, stare off into space and wear your hair in dreadlocks and you will look just like every other twenty-something backpacker that I have seen for the last six months.

Ed note: I am not knocking Shantaram- it is a great book and I would recommend it to anyone. Read it now before Johnny Depp ruins it on film.

Varkala, life on the edge

24 Jan
Well we arrived here in Varkala almost a week ago and I find it a very nice change from the normal beach scene in India. The imposing cliffs (see photo at left of sunset from the cliffs) stop the buildings from pouring onto the beaches like most resort towns and that makes the air and environment a little cleaner and more relaxed. The state of Kerala understands that the beaches here are an important resource and they take care of them and their tourists accordingly. There are teams of women in olive-drab sari uniforms that come and clean the beach daily, lifeguards that actually make sure people are not drowning and police that chase off the ever popular gawking Indian males and drum salesmen.

They fail on one area however and that is what to do with the massive amounts of garbage that accumulate on the cliffs. There does not seem to be a dump anywhere around so garbage ends up being swept off the cliff onto the cliff sides on the approach to the beaches. The cleaners only clean the beach itself and will not clean the cliff sides. The result is very sad; potato chip bags, plastic water bottles, leaflets, and lots of other garbage end up on the cliff sides everyday- and nobody does anything about it. The prevailing theory is that as long as it is not on the cliff top, it doesn’t exist.

But aside from that Varkala is a beautiful place. Watching from the cliffs as the waves and swells on the Arabian Sea roll in while fishermen in small boats along with their helpers bobbing up and down in the blue-green waters, pulling in the days catch is something that can take up hours. The sightings of dolphins in the area are frequent and amazing- the sight of them gliding and jumping through the water stop people on the cliffs dead in their tracks.

We are staying in an interesting place- I don’t know if I would recommend it or not, but the name in itself is something to write about. You see we are staying at Santa Claus’ All Seasons Village and Ayurvedic Resort. Yes, you read that correctly because as we all know when he is not making tiny elves slave over toys in the North Pole, Santa and Mrs. Claus spend all their free time in Varkala, India having Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments and eating continental food. The room is cheap at Rs. 500 per night and there is a “swimming pool” of which I use the term loosely as it is more a place to wash off the sand from the beaches nearby. The lock broke on our door the other day, and in typical Indian fashion a man came to oil the lock with lavender-scented Odonil, a room freshener. That lasted for a half day and then the lock went out again. Luckily there is another door that leads out to the pool which we can use. The coconut palms around the property are painted with all kinds of interesting scenes including traditional Keralan Kathakali dancers and St. Nicholas. It kind of makes you scratch your head and wonder…

Getting past the hawkers on the cliffs is another story- every shop owner lurks outside their business which looks EXACTLY like the one next door imploring you to “Yes, have a look my shop?” Some are more aggressive than others and I simply try to ignore them. The restraunts on the cliff are very similar- as the dinner hour approaches the workers lay out the days catch to try to entice you. When that doesn’t work they get in front of you while you are walking and lure you with promises of “strong drinks and chilled beer.” When that doesn’t work they ask you questions like; “You walk by here every night and you never come eat here, why not?” Last night a man asked me this question and I turned to him and said with a smile, “I only eat in restaurants where people don’t attack me as I walk by.” He seemed so confused by this statement as if people enjoyed being hounded by restauranteurs as they take an evening stroll.

There are a few good restaurants where they won’t attack you- check out Kerala Coffee House, which doesn’t serve very good coffee, but has great food, Clafouti- who boasts Thai food and a Pumpernickel Bakery-which doesn’t serve pumpernickel bread, and Trattorias (notice the random plural)- which also serves Thai food and has- you guessed it– a German bakery- that only sells croissants and other French pastries.

We are trying to decide what to do with only three weeks left in our trip- do we want to continue travelling or do we want to take it easy? We’ll let you know.



21 Jan

It is known as “God’s Own Country” but it is really just India.  We arrived fresh off the train the other day in Trivandrum and decided to try to go directly to Varkala, about 50 km north of the city.  I tried many different places by telephone, but either could not find anything available or felt like they were being dodgy about prices.  After about 45 minutes of calling guest houses and trying to hear anything over the roar of trains, people, PA announcements, (why do local telephones in India all have to be outside where you can never hear what is being said?) and all other loud things, we decided to stay in Trivandrum for the evening – easier said than done…

You see EVERYTHING affordable near the train station was taken by early afternoon.  I mean EVERYTHING!  We ended up spending way too much at Wild Palms Home Stay which was actually very nice and included a typical Keralan breakfast the next morning which consisted of rice noodle patties with shaved coconut and a coconut curry that was reminiscent of a Thai coconut curry- very delicious.  We tried to go to a movie in Trivandrum and that fell through as well- it just wasn’t our day.  So we had some dinner and went back to the room to go to bed.

On first glance, Trivandrum is a very clean city- full of the normal hustle and bustle of other Indian cities, but somehow different.  People are more educated here and most that I talked to speak at least some English.  Kerala’s government has been Communist since the 50s and that may account for the push for literacy- which is amazing for a developing country at 91%! A strange thing about Kerala that I have notiiced is the absence of street dogs- I mean they are gone in Trivandrum itself.  I think I saw one street dog the entire day.

Next day, we took the state bus from Trivandrum to Varkala- which does not go straight there by the way- just ask at the bus station which bus to get on- people are very helpful in Kerala.

So here we are on the cliffs of Varkala overlooking the Arabian Sea.  I’ll post more about this beautiful place later.


Leaving Auroville

15 Jan

Well, it had to come eventually…we leave Auroville this evening after over a month here in Tamil Nadu and one month in Auroville to head off to Trivandrum in Kerala. It has been a good month though, some great bodywork including Thai Massage and Reflexology, great dining-aka salads and healthy food, great exercise- like an Olympic sized pool and many walks, good people- including some new friends, and lots of freedom.

What I think I’ll miss especially is our little cottage that we rented for the last three and a half weeks. It was so nice having our “own” space, free from the rules and regulations of the guest houses. We had a small kitchen where we cooked our own food (exciting when you haven’t done it in months!), a seating area, and an upstairs bedroom. Our bathroom facilities were in an outbuilding, but it was doable. The place was set deeply in the forest in the Revelation community of Auroville with the croaking of frogs, the mournful help, help, help of peacocks, the barking of geckos, and many more woodland friends like a family of mongeese, and a little calico cat that adopted us and brought us “surprises” in the mornings- like half a shrew and some other unidentifiable bloody thing. The cottage was built almost 40 years ago when the land that encompasses Auroville was just a dry, parched plain with very little vegetation. The man who built the house was one of the many that reforested the area and he told us that at one point he could see the Bay of Bengal from the second story of the cottage.

Now all you can see are trees- it is beautiful. Hard to believe that an entire forest can grow in 40 years, but it did. When people complain (as I have heard many do here) that nothing has been achieved here in the last four decades- that the city has not been built as promised-I tell people to look around them and see this lush jungle that just didn’t exist before. I call that an achievement.  The intention of Auroville may take a little more time to realize, but I think that they are heading in the right direction.  I would love to see the vision come to fruition.  If you want to learn more about Auroville check out their website, plan a visit, and come see for yourself.

There are also things that I won’t miss:

  1. People who are more spiritual than God and ask you to bask in their golden glow.
  2. The thin layer of red dust that accumulates on EVERYTHING and works its way deep into your toenails and molars.
  3. Forest friends (e.g frogs and bugs) that find their way into our bathroom.
  4. Cold showers.
  5. Dampness and mildew smell on all our clothes, backpacks, books, pencils, etc.

We had a great time while we were here and we may come back at some point, but for now, we have one month left to go on our adventure and many things to see and do, so onward and outward!

See you in Kerala!

Driving in India

13 Jan

When I first got here four and a half months ago I thought to myself; “Aw, hell no am I going to drive in India. Its way too crazy.” And for all intents and purposes it is crazy. However I reached a point a couple of months ago where I didn’t want to rely on crooked rickshaw drivers or get gouged by taxiwallahs anymore. I wanted freedom damn it and you just don’t get freedom relying on other people to drive your ass around.

So ever so slowly we got used to driving in India, you know, rent a bicycle here, hire a scooter there. And slowly you get used to trucks and buses driving head-on toward you honking and flashing their lights all the way- forcing you to drive out onto the dirt shoulder to avoid a collision. It becomes kind of a game.

Well here in Auroville the only way to get around aside from walking and cycling (which we do quite often) is to rent a motorbike and drive your own ass around. It is all about awareness and defensive driving- trying to avoid potholes, speed humps, dump trucks, buses, cars, other motorbikes, cyclists, pedestrians and cows in the process.

I wanted a way to show you all how crazy it actually is to drive in India, so Astrid took a couple of videos from the back of the bike to show you. In the first video, you see a sequence of the road to Pondicherry while in the next one you see how it is to drive in Pondicherry itself. Woohoo!

BTW I was as safe as possible the whole time…I promise…and, yes, that is a dead dog in the first video- keep watching.


NH32 Auroville to Pondicherry


Balaji Theatre to Ambor Salai