Trip Start Aug 28, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2013

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Monday, September 24, 2012

22nd-23rd – All the travelling

We set off at 3:30 to make sure we were there for the 4 bus...the 3:30 bus had just left, and the conductor, having seen us, or more likely our bags, called the bus back up the road and on we got. So we arrived in Madgao for a 8:40 train at 5...

Opposite the bus stop, very conveniently, there was a cafe so we treated ourselves; I had a caramel mocha frapacino which was sooooo good – cold coffee is starting to become my friend (obviously cos frapacinos are so sugary and refreshing, not because of the coffee part!)  We were here for a good hour and a half just playing on our phones, then we ordered some food and just as we got it this Indian guy came and asked to sit with us...  Obviously neither of us are rude or that judgemental, so we begrudgingly said yes and off he went, telling us all about him and his family and where he was going.  Then the questions started – who are we, what is our surname, where are we going, do we want to change our plans to go with him, can he have our email. 

After an extremely awkward 20-30mins, Laura bravely said "we need to have a private chat about what we're doing... so if you wouldn’t mind leaving us".  His response was interesting, “Oh, ok... so you want me to go, right ... ok, um....” and he just sat there! So we had to say it again.  He finally left and we had a good giggle and hoped he wasn’t going to waiting outside for us (he wasn’t thank God!).

We’d ask the people in the cafe and some locals how much the tuk-tuk to the station should be, the cafe people said 300, the locals said 200, and to our big surprise, the first man we asked said 100 – SOLD!  So off we went.  Bit of an uneventful train really compared to the rest, sharing the 4 with some locals, one of whom was there snoring away when we got on, and the other who came not much later.  The snoring got louder, the other had an awful sleep didn’t really happen til 5ish when they got off!

We arrived at Ernakulam station in Kerala at 12ish, shattered but went to get onto our next train straight down to Varkala (beach) which left at 2:30, SHOULD have arrived at 6:30 – we got there at midnight!!!  The train that left minutes before us had hit a car of 5 people (one 3 year old) on a level crossing (the car not knowing a train was coming because there was no guard at the crossing).  The locals had covered the tracks, stopping anything from moving, and the police had to come all the way from Trivindem (4 hours away) to sort it out (we found all this in the newspaper the next day).

Thank God on the train we paid the extra to sit in AC (which didn’t work though whilst the train had stopped) because we met Hannah and Chloe – 2 girls travelling India for 3 months – who knew where they were staying and rang the place to ensure we had somewhere too.  After the first tuk-tuk charging way to much to get us there at midnight a local took us for 150IR when a friend of the person who owned where we were staying convinced him.  All very lucky / conincidental / fate / whatever – we had been travelling for 33 hours and were very happy for a quick cold shower and bed!!!

24th Sept – Varkala, Kerala

We woke up surprisingly early considering the previous days escapades.  We made a matter a metre down the road to our breakfast destination, and soon coincidentally Kiah and Jon walked past.  So breakfast turned into more of a brunch into lunch thing and we went back to our room to sort out what we were wearing and where we were going.  We were told Hannah and Chloe had gone to “black beach” to the right of our hostel so off we went on the 5-10 minute walk / hour if you’re shopping – opps: may have done a bit, but only to get a new “travel bracelet” for us as Laura lost the one I made for her :(

For a late lunch we got some take away chicken mayo salad rolls which we amazing.  The beach was not so amazing... it was actually black, there wasn’t much “beach”, the majority of it was rocks.  The sea itself was pretty cool though – I have never been in a sea with such strong currents; there were waves coming into the beach, across the front of the beach and crashing into each other, creating loud, high waves and a pretty impressive scene!  You literally couldn’t go in above waist height and at this height, sometimes you were only to your knees, the next you were up to your chest – crazy, and pretty fun.  We tried sunbathing on the rocks to no success so headed back to our favourite shop and ordered our bracelets.

Dinner consisted of meeting Jon, Kiah, Tom (who they bought along from their accommodation), Chloe and Hannah.  We did message Kev and Yas but didn’t hear back from them.  Me and Laura took the healthy (and slightly not western) route of salads; I have prawn and tuna, Laura had tandoori chicken.  A few cocktails and a good laugh, they all left at 11ish and me and Laura made the most of the internet.  Then, as if by complete chance, Kev and Yas sat down a few tables in front of us – BRILLIANT :)

Good catch up with them and then off to bed after making dinner plans for tomorrow.

25th Sept – Varkala, Kerala and a change of plans, onto Amrithpuri

Again we met Kiah, Jon and Tom for breakfast at 10:30 but soon we were running back to our room, packing up our stuff to go with them to Amrithpuri to visit one of the few woman guru’s in the world, Amma.  I didn’t really know what the deal was with Amma or what an Ashram actually is (a lot of people seemed to keep mentioning these but never thought to ask) but Laura seemed keen to go and Tom, Jon and Kiah were going, we were fed up of being to western and beachy and thought, “yes!” lets do something Indian again!

After our small exploration of Varkala, it is without a doubt the most touristy and resort-ish place we have been too.  Here we actually saw the hotels we were expecting in Palolem and the sort of resorts along the cliff front.  It seems a rather weird location to be so popular considering the one beach we saw was crap, and the other is rumoured to be bigger but not so much better.  Kev and Yas are planning on staying for 6 nights and somehow Kiah and Jon managed 4 days :S

So off we went, doing it the easy way this time, a taxi (that somehow managed to fit all 5 of us and our bags in) to the place for 260IR each.  On arrival, it was a sight to see!  There were a lot of people walking around in white sort of saris, from every ethnicity from the world.  A lovely girl soon started talking to us and sent us in the correct direction to the International Office.  We soon found out that in 2 days, it was actually Amma’s birthday, so we had arrived at an extremely busy time.  Only planning to stay for 1 night, we soon started discussing staying for 2 so we could see some of the birthday celebrations.

Our rooms were 250IR each and we headed to these after filling out some forms.  The rooms were extremely basic, not even offering a bed stand, just some thin mattresses with a sheet, pillow and pillow cover.  There wasn’t even a mirror in our room!!!  But we soon went to the Western cafe and had the best burger ever!  I can’t actually explain how good this tasted, which was probably helped by the fact we were having lunch at 3!

At 5 we had our “induction” – this included a lady in white greeting us, asking questions that no one answered and then showing us a video for about 45 minutes.  The video showed all the humanitarian activities that Amma has helped; the work she has done for the world is actually phenomenal – though at the end of the video, I was expecting a “Please Donate” sign to pop up.  After more unanswered questions, and the lady being unbelievably happy we had a little tour to the main hall (Massive!) where we sat down for chanting... this was interesting and meant to go on for 1 and a half hours!  We managed about 20minutes of it, all of us reading the intro booklets we’d been given rather than chanting, giggling a bit at a guy dancing a bit crazily, and then snuck off in pairs to shower before food.

With our money, we were entitled to 3 free meals a day, the dinner being at 8.  We got there at that time and the chanting was still happening ... so we waited at the sideline more of less in silence before everyone started scurrying around to sort out dinner.  Dinner was interesting ... very starchy, watery rice and a veg curry sorta thing.  I asked for little rice then got given more curry than the boys!  The curry was relatively spicy and rather nothingless, so I gave the majority of it to Tom!  After a very unsatisfying meal (even though it was free) we moved over to the Indian canteen (not free) and me and Laura went mad and got some Indian things we had no idea what they were.  We managed a good, non-spicy selection and were soon satisfied.  Being all “spiritualised” enough for one day, we moved back to our rooms to watch a film.  To (I think) all our a relief’s, Kiah and Jon suggested we go back to the original plan of 1 night, and we all sighed relief and agreed it was very cultish and not really our thing!

We watched the Change-Up and then “went to bed” at 12ish – I say “went to bed” because I spent the whole night itchy, half asleep, dreaming there were ants crawling over me or over the others.  We had 2 ants nests inside or just outside our room and we sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor – not a good night :(

26th Sept – Moving on...

Laura and I woke at 6:50 to make 7:30 yoga on the beach (Kiah bailed due to lack of sleep) but Laura and I strived on and made it!  We lasted about 20 minutes before Laura felt unbelievably sick and my back and ankle hurt.  Back at our room I managed the best sleep I had in the place, and we were up at 9ish to go for breakfast – pancakes from the Western Canteen – missed the free stuff – so not bothered!

After breakfast we attempted to get Darshan – this is when you go and hug Amma (or she hugs you).  She has hugged over 32 million people!!!  OMG.  Because we were leaving today it meant we should have go priority or so we were told, but when we tried to speak to anyone they didn’t really know what was going on and ultimately we got told to come back in half an hour.

Half an hour later we did go back and we were put in the (extremely badly organised) queue to see Amma.  No when they say she hugs you / you hug her, this is a bit of a lie!  3 people ask your nationality for what appeared to be for no reason at all, then your head is shoved into her shoulder, your hands are held back if you actually try to hug her and she mumbles something in your ear before passing you a banana and some sweets – best bit!

We were then all a bit confused as we were told to go and sit on stage.  Me and Laura managed to stay together, but Kiah got sent to the back, Jon and Tom to the other side!  I was instructed to sit in the smallest space on the floor that not even my hips would fit in and Laura was told to sit by me in a not much bigger space.  We were worried we had to stay here for ages, but luckily just before we sat down she did say you can leave in a few mins.  Thank God, or Amma...

We got up, got to our rooms and packed so we checked out by 12.  We had another burger before escaping, I mean leaving to get a bus.  On the way out we bumped into Hannah and Chloe who both seemed a bit shocked and Chloe a bit apprehensive about staying at all!  We were told we had to get 2 buses, but managed to find the only bus that took us straight to Alleppey – the day just gets better and better.  Getting on the local bus though with 5 of us, all of us each with a bag more or less the equivalent of a chubby teenager, was interesting.  We ended up with bags around our feet, me and Laura taking us a 3 seat space – much to the annoyance of the locals – and the others managing to squidge up into a single seat.  I felt a bit travel sick along the way so dozed a bit, at the deepest point being prodded by a lady telling me to move my handbag so she can sit down then pointing at my big bag under my feet and saying there was no wrong.  After a lady shouting at me from behind me about me not moving up, I said “Big bag” which they all seemed to find hilarious!

On arrival on Alleppey we got bombarded by people offering accommodation and we took a few and looked at the one we saw in the Lonely Planet that was full then Dream Heaven where we bartered 2 rooms for the 3 of us for 100IR each – get in!!! That’s 1.20 each.  Haha

We went in search of Kream Korner for dinner which was a bit of a disappointment on food terms but had an amazing iced coffee.  On the way we wandered down the main “strip” which was like a mini Las Vegas then got back to google Houseboats.

By far the weirdest experience so far – I understand the charities and things she runs and helps and completely understand people giving up their time for free to help causes such as earthquake and tsunami sites, but what I don’t understand is people giving up their lives to live in the ashram for years on end (we met 1 lady who had been there for 4 years!) to help run the ashram – like a nun I spose, but to Godify (If anyone knows what word I mean here please comment) 1 person who is alive and give up your life for them is something I don’t understand and most likely never will.  She has opened an orphanage in Nairobi which we’re hoping to visit and maybe volunteer at though :)
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