WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG, the Brits call it “going pear-shaped.” I don’t know the origin of that idiom, but I’m guessing that if everything is going fine, it’s shaped like a circle or round. When things go awry, maybe things get loopy and elongate into a pear shape. That’s my American take on the British vernacular. I could be way off on this.
This pilgrimage—we’ll call it a pilgrimage if only to discover who I’ve become—was actually designed as a pear-shaped loop: Abu Dhabi—Maldives—India—Abu Dhabi. I left Abu Dhabi and flew to the Maldives. Languished about a bit in the sun on the sugar-white sandy beaches. OK, OK…mostly, I hung out on the deck and in the Jacuzzi of my over-water bungalow and dealt with snot and a hacking cough. I did look at that sand a lot, though.
“Travail” is a relative term. I have very little appreciation for most Jacuzzis. If the nozzles don’t hit the spine and neck and shoulders, or some part of the body, for a deep massage, it’s a worthless endeavor. What’s the use of sitting in a hot tub of bubbles. What’s that about? Well, wait. I suppose if you’re on your honeymoon, or with a lover, fine: then, it’s more about sensation and romance than medicine. A hot tub of bubbles in your over-water (and highly over-priced, yet romantic) bungalow while sipping a flute of Australian Yellow Tail champagne will make a fine memory for a couple. If you’re a lone curmudgeon and reluctant sojourner with a headful of snot…maybe not so romantic.
The next phase of this pear-shaped circuit begins to loop us north of the Maldives to South India, to the state of Kerala at the southern-most tip of India. It’s a one and half hour flight from the Maldives but seems longer because Kerala lies in a time zone that’s ½ hour ahead of the Maldives, so you lose a half hour of your day during that short flight. And really? A half hour? Just who thought that was a good idea?
The plan was to fly into Trivandrum, check out the beach at Kovalam, one of India’s newest hot-spot tourist destinations. But remember, this is India, and also remember that not only is travail a relative term, but so is “tourist destination.” If you’re thinking Atlantic City or Las Vegas or Hawaii, your thinking is… well… going a tad pear shaped, or maybe closer to banana shaped. Think more like, say, Cuba. Or Puerto Vallarta. And you’re closer to apple-shaped thinking. The natural beauty is there to enjoy. However, the ability to enhance the natural beauty does not exist. So what begins to spring up is a mish-mash fusion of stalls and ugly buildings. “Clutter” is a word that comes to mind, right along with “trash.”
From Kovalam, the sojourn cycles up to another beach town, Varkala, which has become, perhaps, the “Goa of Kerala.” The place where the backpacker crowd now hangs their hats, and shawls. Here, you can find a good breakfast for 100 rupees ($1.50) and a dang good cappuccino—for 150 rupees ($2.25). You can find fairly nice and cheap digs to sleep, or you can spend quite a bit more (nothing’s really expensive yet) if you want a place on “the cliff” with A/C and a view of the waves breaking along the shore, and sunsets off at the horizon.
This morning, I’m sitting in my second-story room in a new and fairly nice B&B, The Lily Pad. One reason I chose it is because it has its own generator, and India is notorious for electricity black outs. The Lily Pad sits a few-minute walk into the jungle just beyond the cliff above Varkala’s seashore. I have a huge balcony with a view of the pool below and the jungle beyond. I will not use the pool. Kids pee in there, and in Hindi, there is no word for sanitation. I have A/C, but only use it at night to sleep. Right now, the balcony door and windows are open and fresh air breezes in; a rooster crows; large black crows caw (is that the word?); various song birds call from the dense foliage. That’s the good part of the jungle. The bad part of the jungle is this: hump nose vipers, scorpions, and the poisonous hammerhead worm, which doesn’t bite, but whose poison lies in the mucous trail it leaves behind.
Next, I will continue the sojourn north to Kollam, a drowsy, little non-touristy town where you can rent a houseboat to sleep on and cruise Kerala’s famous backwater canals of Munroe Island and sail across Ashtamudi Lake. Along the way, you may visit local villages. This sounds fairly cool, but I’m assuming by now—curmudgeony cynic that I have become—that the “local village” will have turned itself into a song-and-dance-for-tourists type place: selling cheap trinkets and I-Heart-Kerala T-shirts, and performing drum dances for tips. From Varkala, budget travelers can take a local bus for pennies to Kollam. Or you can hire a taxi with A/C or without A/C for the one-hour ride. I will be taking the taxi with A/C because like the skin cream (or is it hair shampoo?) advertisement says: “I’m worth it.”
From the houseboat in Kollam, the pilgrimage takes us to Amritapuri, the ashram of the famous female guru, Amritanandamayi, known as the hugging guru. Even curmudgeons need a hug every once in a while, eh? And if you get enlightened along with it, bring on the hugs is what I say. From there, we take a ferry along the backwater routes up to Alleppey, a city with canals that someone has called ‘The Venice of the East.” The Kerala guidebook says that’s a bit of an overstatement, but does state that Alleppey is “graceful and greenery-fringed, disappearing into a watery world of villages, canoes, toddy shops.” So, it looks like it’s warm hugs, water, and toddy shops in my near future.
The trip after Alleppy is rather hazy at this point. I will ultimately fly home out of Cochin a bit farther north, which will bring me full circle back to Abu Dhabi. What happens before I reach Cochin is up in the air. I may head off into a wildlife sanctuary. I may head off into the hills to watch tea grow on a plantation. I may hang out at Fort Cochin, a Portuguese fort from 1503. I had a plan, a real good plan, for this part of the trip (is that cheers I hear from the peanut gallery?). But something happened, or rather, didn’t happen, and the plan just sort of went pear shaped. This is always what happens to me when I plan. Always. But then something else always saunters onto my path. Always. I’m expecting those travel angels to sprinkle some fairy dust on the road ahead.
Have you made any circular (or pear-shaped) journeys in your travels?
You can find more entries in the DP Photo Challenge here: Circle
You can find more entries in Lucile’s Photo Rehab here: Photo Rehab