I am loving South India so far!
The flight from New Delhi to Trivandrum was pain free - I even found a place in Delhi airport that sold a vegan frappé with vegan whipped cream!
In Trivandrum I shared a taxi with Theresa to hotel Fortune, which turned out to be a luxurious 4-star hotel with a spa and swimming pool. And our orientation meeting with the leader wasn't until 6 pm. So I started out my South India trip with an amazing facial in the hotel spa. I then proceeded to watch Netflix for the first time since leaving Denmark, before meeting up for the lunch buffet at the hotel with Theresa and then John. The only time I went out was when John and I took a look around the supermarket (an actual legit supermarket with aisles and stuff!) just across the street. Otherwise I just spent the day in bed, tired after only one hour of sleep.
At 6 pm we met up in the lobby with our new leader, Chandra, and no new team members - so our group had diminished noticeably to just five (John, Theresa, Analyn, Richard and I) and Chandra.
We went on an orientation walk around Trivandrum, which turned out to be a very modern big city with no cows and a lot of western shops. We ate a really cheap and delicious dinner at a local place before going to bed at the hotel.
I unfortunately had a terrible night - I kept waking every hour and I had the absolute worst headache. So when I crawled out of bed at 8 am the next morning and met up with the others for the breakfast buffet, I only managed to eat a piece of bread before going to bed again on some painkillers (that was the most expensive piece of bread I’ve ever had). I slept through the alarm I had set at 9.15 am and only woke at 9.30 am (where we were supposed to be standing downstairs). I made it down in a couple of minutes though, feeling better after the painkillers had kicked in, and we were quickly off in our private vehicle to Varkala.
Two hours later we stopped in front of Dreams Beach resort in Varkala and checked in, before going to the beach side for an early lunch. It was a beautiful and green place with shops and cafes lining the edge of the cliff in front of the beach. And although it is much more humid in the South, the temperature is only around 35 degrees and there's always a nice breeze.
After lunch Theresa and I braved the stairs down to the beach and sat ourselves under a parasol, John joining us shortly after. We stayed on the beach for a couple of hours - joined by a sweet little dog - before climbing back up, Theresa and I stopping at coffee temple to get a drink.
Around 5 pm we met up for an orientation walk around Varkala, stopping for fresh mangoes along the way and going to a temple for a while, Chandra telling us about hinduism.
And we reached the beach just around sunset and walked back along the beach to eat dinner at skylounge on top of the cliff. It was a really nice evening and Chandra seems incredibly kind and genuine, not to mention knowledgable.
The next morning John, Theresa, Analyn and I met up for a late breakfast at coffee temple, which has a separate vegan menu and free water refills!
We stayed at the café for a while, using their internet, before walking to a nearby fishing village (minus Analyn).
Halfway there though I found out that I had forgotten my phone at the café and so John and I walked all the way back to get it. The walk to the fishing village was nice though and on our way back we took a break on the grass in the shade of a tree.
I was feeling a bit weak and ill so I went back to the hotel and rested for a good while.
Around 3.30 pm I went to coffee temple for a smoothie, now on a mission to get as much nutrients and water as possible - I have a suspicion that my continuing sickness might be due to a lack of nutrients and dehydration.
The smoothie helped a little, but after a while I still went back to the rest in the hotel, staying their until 6.30 pm, where we met up for dinner (minus Richard). We went to restaurant Cafousi, before turning in early, having to wake up at 5.30 am the next morning.
In the morning I was feeling slightly better as we took tuk-tuks to the train station and boarded the train for 2 hours to the mainland of Kerala backwaters.
We ate breakfast at a local restaurant before jumping on a boat for a beautiful 1.5 hour ride through the backwaters to our homestay.
There we were greeted by V and his 13-year-old son Kanah, who showed us inside their home. It was a lovely place that felt lived in, although we still had our own rooms like in any hotel. I read in my room for awhile, before lunch was served upstairs - it was a delicious Keralan meal prepared by the helper in the house, V and Kahan.
V and Kahan ate with us and talked openly about Kahan’s future plans and the Indian culture. Chandra taught me how to eat like an Indian: in a special way with your right hand (the left is dirty), no cutlery, which took a bit of practice, but I got it eventually. I helped take down the food, but V wouldn't let me do the dishes, so I stood talking to him in the kitchen while he cleaned. He is a really lovely and genuine man and he told me about his wife, who is an HR manager in a big city, but is coming back home permanently the day after we left, to take over most of the homestay business.
After lunch I went for a walk, Theresa joining me for the first couple of hundred meters. The island was incredibly tranquil with no shops or motors or crowds. It was simply a long narrow green piece of land, at times dotted with small houses. I followed the path until it looked like it was turning into someone’s backyard and then went back and over a bridge to do the same thing on the parallel piece of land.
Coming back towards the homestay I found a spot in the shade, where I sat down to read for a bit.
We met up for tea and biscuits at 4.30 pm and afterward V and Kahan took us on a two hour walk in the other direction from the one I had taken. V told us everything there is to know about the history, nature and everyday life of the backwaters and we ate tamarind and black tamarind fresh from the trees. Chandra and a local guy crawled into the mango trees to find fresh mangos and three local women offered us salt to dip the mango in, which tasted surprisingly good.
We came by a gathering of women, a self-help group, as well and Theresa was laughingly invited to sit down for a photo.
All in all the walk was fantastic and we ended it in V’s paddle boat that took us back to the homestay slowly in the light of one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen (the pictures doesn't do it justice).
Back at the homestay I helped carry the food upstairs, before sitting down for another amazing meal. Most of the things have been vegan, and even the dessert was vegan (and absolutely delicious. The typical Keralan dessert is not something you can find in the restaurants: toasted coconut, molasses, flat rice, and cardamom mixed together).
This time some of the others tried eating like Indians as well, but I was a pro by now, even Chandra was impressed - although mum probably wouldn't be very impressed if she saw me eating like that.
The next morning we ate a typical Keralan breakfast before waving goodbye to V and Kahan and taking the boat to the mainland again. Back on land we hurried into a local bus, where John and I ended up being squashed together with an Indian man for most of the journey because he had ”reserved” the seat by laying a pink folder on it. And so instead of just choosing one of the other seats (the bus was half empty), he squeezed in on the same bench to prove a point. It was a very sweaty two-hour drive and the driver was keen on giving us as many near-death experiences as possible, but we made it to Kochi in one piece none the less and crawled into a couple of tuk-tuks to go to our next hotel.