From the tea plantations and coastal mountains, I bused to another bus to another bus (?) and finally arrived at Varkala, the serene beach town full of hippies and yoga enthusiasts. I found a room, after lugging that trusty old backpack up and down the beach, and got some seafood on the beach, though the electricity goes out in the town between 7:30 and 8pm, so I ate by candle light til a flowing current returned, meeting a nice group of four British girls who I hung out with for my whole week in Varkala.
My routine consisted of coffee mornings up on the cliffs, looking down on the delicious beach and reading a book or the terrible local newspaper that passing salesman would hock for four times its price. I spent mid morning on the beach, trying to find friends or new acquaintances who had sunscreen to share, then an afternoon nap after lunch and a sunset on the beach. I watched the 6pm yoga performances as the sun set, but never participated. I guess my British friends' lack of enthusiasm for yoga spread, thus I never jumped into a class.
I did run into my friend Martina, who I had met one summer in Siberia, thus completing my trip goal of running into someone I knew. She was studying ethnomusicology in Tamil Nadu and had some interesting stories about Auroville, the intentional community of foreigners and Indian built just south of Pondicherry. We had a fine time reminiscing and sharing travel stories and beers at a seafood restaurant on the cliff street lined with stores and foreigners. Varkala has really grown in the past five years, meaning restaurants get put up but not necessarily staffed, frustrating many travellers with some of the poorest service I've encountered in all of India. Not that anyone was in a hurry, so it was hard to get upset when fine young bodies and perfect weather combined with Keralans swimming in their pants and saris. My last night, the Brits and I ate at Funky Art Cafe, and my tuna steak sat heavily in my gut as I tried to join the over-exuberant locals on the dance floor. I traded shirts with one fellow (another trip goal), though ended up putting on a sweaty fake Liverpool football jersey.
My last day was spent touring Kochi, the large city with an airport, which the girls and I roamed through, occasionally cramming five into a rickshaw. We saw a tea shop under construction, the fruit bazaar, and a nice tourist park with masala popcorn and all. After I rode a rickety ferris wheel and some guys on horses tried to chase us down so we would go for a ride, we saw another beach (hard to resist in Kerala) and then called it a night. The girls took a train back to Varkala after we said goodbyes, and I failed to sleep, not because I was excited, but rather due to the untiring mosquitos. Hopping my flight after finishing 'White Tiger' I faced a twelve hour layover in Mumbai. I met a San Franciscan and two girls from Boston, who offerred to share a taxi and off we went into the city. We all shared travel stories, laughing with our shared sense of humour, and after dropping some bags at the Salvation Army Guesthouse, went off wandering, shopping, and finally for a Leopolds, a famous spot in the ever entertaining novel Shantaram. I ran out of money, was treated to some chocolate cake to escape some begging children, and then napped during our hour taxi ride back to the airport during sunset. Passing the outside of the Taj Mahal Hotel and the nicer streets in Mumbai, I was impressed to see a pretty city and one that wore some history and culture on a clean sleeve. I sat in the airport until three am, then finally reached my cruising altitude of 50 thousand on my way back to the motherland. Arriving in New York, I tried to get into story telling mode with the police officer checking passports
PO: "You went to Pakistan?"
Me: "Yeah, there's actually some really great hiking. Nice place. I actually rolled my ankle while surrounded by seven thousand meter peaks..."
PO: "So you speak Urdu?"
Me: "What? No."
I got in to the country and even negotiated my way to my uncle's place with no problems.