Anyone interested in seeing a map of where I’ve been so far can have a look at the new Where Is Cameron page I’ve set up. Note that unlike the one for the Mongol Rally, this one is updated by me entering in places by hand, so it’ll only get updated at about the same rate as this blog. But it’s still interesting to see the tiny area that I’ve covered in the last three and a half weeks compared to the vastness of India.
One final morning hanging around the ashram and wandered out to catch the 3:30 ferry to Kollam. Arrived at Kollam just as the sun was going down, waved off all of the rickshaw drivers who wanted to spare me the 10 minute walk from the jetty into town and went straight to the cheapest hotel listed in the Lonely Planet. Kollam town looked completely empty as I passed through it, with most of the shops shut. This was apparently because there was a strike happening. There seemed to be nothing in particular to do in town so I stayed in my hotel room, reading books and soaking up the internet.
Slept in, had brunch at the Indian Coffee House – a chain around Kerala that serves excellent and cheap coffee, as well as mediocre and cheap food. In all of the ones I’ev been to, the decor is very bland and near-identical, the menus just a plain list of what they serve and what it costs on an A5-ish piece of paper, and from the outside the cafes are very unassuming. This starts to make sense when you consider that it’s run by the State Coffee Workers Collective, i.e. the communists. I actually rather like the place.
After lunch I wandered down to the beach to see what it was like. Now Kollam isn’t really much of a tourist destination, and the beach is a 1-2 km walk from town, so when I got there I was the only non-local there. Unfortunately the beach was very polluted and rubbish scattered everywhere so I decided to make a quick getaway. As I was leaving a few local children came up to me and introduced themselves and wanted to know all about me – or at least, as much as possible with their limited English and my non-existent Malayalam.
Then it was time to catch the train to Varkala. Now most of the trains passing through Kollam to Trivandrum don’t stop at Varkala. My choice was either a couple of early morning trains – before 9am, so not going to happen – or the 4:55pm. Obviously, I went for the latter.
Eventually I was off the train and once again all of the rickshaw drivers in town wanted my custom. I knew from my map it was about a 2.5km walk from the railway station to the beach but the rickshaw drivers all wanted Rs.80 – Rs.100 which was about double what I was willing to pay, so I walked. Healthier that way anyway. Checked myself into a guest house recommended by a guy I met at Amritapuri, and then had dinner at an expensive (by Indian standards) restaurant on the top floor of a hotel, overlooking the beach.
Varkala Days: Saturday 18/2 – Wednesday 22/2
Varkala is one of those places where time seems to stop having much meaning. There’s a beautiful beach – certainly by Indian standards, but honestly I think it’s up there with a lot of Australian beaches – and a lot of foreign tourists on the beach, including myself. The general vibe reminds me a lot of Broome in northern WA. The difference is that Varkala’s beach is lined with shops – lots of cafes and restaurants, lots of little shops selling hippy clothes and souvenirs, and lots of ayuverdic treatments and massages and so on.
On Sunday I bumped into the group of two Germans and an American who I’d met over a week ago when getting off the bus at Pollachi. We hung out at the beach for a while with them and some of their friends, and then had dinner at a restaurant which provided the worst service I’ve ever experienced in India. The others who had seafood thought the food was good, but the mutter paneer I had didn’t do anything for me.
But overall, Varkala is a place where not very much happens, but is a very pleasant place for not very much to be happening in.
Monday night was the Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri, a night-long festival in honour of the God Shiva. I went to the local temple with a couple of others I met on Sunday to see what was going on. We arrived a little bit late to see the main attraction – a massive chariot float being carried around in procession around the temple grounds. But the celebration goes on all night, literally: apparently many people stay up until the next morning. There were dance performances in front of the temple with ridiculously loud (nightclub volume) music playing. After an hour or so we left and had dinner. At the beach there were a whole lot of shrines with candles lit and people paying their respects.
As I write this it’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m sitting in a cafe overlooking the beach drinking a pineapple milkshake. Not a bad spot for writing up a blog and sorting through photos. This evening I’ll be catching the overnight train up the coast to Mangalore, and from there the connecting train to Udupi. In all that’s a distance of almost 1000km north along the coast, maybe two thirds of the way to Goa.