We spent a day and a half in Thiruvananthapuram, a good amount of time to get a feel for what the capital of Kerala has to offer. To be honest, I didn’t feel the urge to visit one of the many museums or temples, I just wanted to feel the sea breeze and breathe in some fresh air.
As soon as our train passed into the state of Kerala I could instantly feel a difference from the India I have experienced so far. The roads are slightly less chaotic and much smoother in surface, good for us cyclists. There’s an abundance of fruit sold on each corner including cups of crushed watermelon which puts a massive smile on my face. There’s also fresh fish, again a big bonus for me although maybe not my wallet.
I was surprised to find so many churches in the area, counting 15 on just one small stretch of road. I’ve just noticed that my water bottle says “water from God’s own country”, another reminder that Christianity is just as common as Hinduism and Islam here. Along with grand churches, the communist symbol can be found everywhere, mostly painted on roadside walls. I’ve been told this part of Kerala is the only place in India which has a communist society.
In Kerala, everything seems a bit more relaxed. Ahhhh.
Talking of relaxed, our first Couchsurfing (CS) hosts were just that. We stayed in their pleasant bachelor pad near the centre of town for two nights. It was Hugo’s first experience of CS and my first where the host hadn’t had a big impact on what I do and where I ate. In a way I liked this because we were left to do as we please but I did feel a bit as if I was using their house to stay and not actually giving much back in return.
The lads took us to our first Bollywood movie in Hindu which was surprisingly enjoyable, despite not having subtitles. The story was similar to ones I’ve watched from Hollywood but more complex and dramatic, not a bad thing at all. There was an interval half way through the film and certainly not as many popcorn munchers than in the UK.
We cycled the 40km round trip to Kolavam beach where I spotted my first western holiday maker! I had seen a handful of backpackers in Varanasi but apart from that I’ve only come across Indians. It made me feel like I was on holiday so I splashed the cash on some western-priced coconut fish which was lovely but so over-seasoned I couldn’t taste the fish.
That’s the thing about some Indian food. You know when you go to your local curry house and you accidentally bite into a bit of saffron hidden amongst the pilau rice? Well times that by a hundred. I dug a whole forest of flavoursome leaves out of my curry and my roadside corn on the cob was smothered in so much masala that I couldn’t taste a single grain of corn. Ah well, too much flavour is better than none at all, right?
The next morning we cycled 50km to Varkala which was recommended to me by my friend from Argentina. Varkala is a typical beach resort with western bars and fresh seafood bbq’s. I was surprised to find so many tourists and equally, find myself enjoying my first beer in India. An ice cold beer with my Couchsurfing host Alsim and his friends was just what I needed. I love the heat but cycling in this humidity is insane. My eyes sting from the salt that soak them, my skin is constantly sticky.
Feeling gross from the heat, oily food and India’s questionable hygiene standards, I treated myself to a dress and got my eye brows tinted. I felt like a woman again! That was until I washed the dye off my eyebrows and the stitching on my dress started to come undone. Bah. The sea was vicious and I laughed how the coastguards went crazy with their whistles every time an Indian went deeper than their knees.
Surely they would want to protect the tourists more with their income relying on us, but no one battered an eye lid in what we were doing. I later found out from my Couchsurfing host that locals are prevented from going too deep because “Indian’s can’t swim”.
The road up the coast was perfect for cycling, smooth and lined with palm trees with the sea on one side and Kerala’s famous backwaters on the other. Sadly there isn’t as much choice in street food than in Uttar Pradesh but that does mean I rarely find myself on my tenth heart destroying samosa. We had reached Kollam, the gateway to Kerala’s most talked about backwaters.