Pills, Thrills n Bellyaches
Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
74Trip End Oct 22, 2004
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Welcome back to the next installment of The Corderys on Tour.
Due at a bookshop near you in late 2004. RRP £9.99
We packed our bags in record time on the morning of Thursday 27th November, put our running spikes on, and shot out of Keralayeem, probably the first bit of exercise we'd done in India.
The driver was waiting at the end of the riverbank, bags were bundled into the boot, Soph slid across the bonnet, I dived through the open window shouting "GO, GO, GO". In a cloud of dust we zoomed off . . . at 20mph. Relief was plastered on our faces, the escape had been a success, minimal tips and handshakes had been administered and we'd left a damning verdict in their visitors book
Ahead of us lie a 3 and a half hour inland drive from Alleppy to Thekaddy (pronounced Deckadee), almost to the Tamil Nadu border. In the distance we could see the mountains looming and after about 1 and a half hours we hit base camp where our little 1000cc jallopy began it's slow ascent complete with crampons.
It was a twisty-turny road which twisted and turned like . . . a twisty-turny thing. We passed busy little towns, working elephants, smartly dressed schoolchildren, tea plantations, buses packed to the gills and the remnants of head-on crashes on blind corners.
At one point I smelt geraniums which meant we were passing through the ozone layer (little known fact that ozone smells of geraniums, ooh get me). The temperature was getting cooler, and the peaks were shrouded in mist.
After 2 hours of climbing we arrived in the town of Thekkady and drove through the gates of Spice Village - wrong resort! Our driver then had a chat with the security guard and was informed that we'd have to backtrack for fifteen minutes until we saw signs for Shalimar Spice Garden
The guard rang a bell and immediately the welcoming party came bounding along: 2 bellboys, front-office manager, back-office manager, middle-office manager? and head waiter. They ushered us through the main gate and we were faced with a jaw-dropping view of a wooden bridge spanning a small valley surrounded by forest with well-built lodges scattered here and there. Across the bridge lay the main building and as we made our way across, beneath us was a pond with 6 geese following each other. Inside, the reception was very tasteful which led Soph to remark: "Ooh, very Elle Décor, put that in the travelogue", so I have.
Apparently it was designed by an Italian lady, an architect named Maria Tagliatelle-Fernhof (or something like that) who, with her Indian husband, Shaji, a chef, found this little bit of India and created the ultimate escape.
We were shown to our cottage, and, because of lack of guests, we had been upgraded from 'ordinary cottage' to 'elegant cottage' at no extra cost
"I think we're going to be happy here" I said with cheesy grin.
"I do too" replied Soph with equal cheesiness.
And we gazed at each other inanely, caught in the moment, until in the distance a local cleared his throat of 2 pounds of phlegm, and the moment was gone.
The following day we booked ourselves onto the 4pm boat trip around Periyar Lake for a spot of wildlife-watching.
The weather was a bit murkier today and the temperature around 30 degrees cooler than what we had become used to
Our boat (I think it was a boat) then reared it's really ugly and rickety head and ploughed straight into the bank where we were standing near the front of the queue. About 200 tourists, mostly Northern Indians, started jumping off emergency-style until the driver woke up from his slumber and put a battered iron runway between the boat and the bank. What seemed like 20 minutes passed as all sorts of shapes and sizes slid, scrambled and tottered off.
Then, game on.
It was our turn to get on, and our once orderly line suddenly turned into The Harrods January Sale queue. We were standing one second off pole-position for one of those all-important front-row seats on the top deck. The red lights went out. The old Indian guy behind me tried to make a sneaky passing move up the inside. I then became possessed with the tactics of Eddie Irvine and proceeded to cut him off with a well placed elbow. Formula 1 then turned into American Football as I shielded my quarterback of a wife with an enveloping bearhug as we made our way up the gangplank.
We had made it, front row of the circle, for what (we thought) was going to be a fascinating cruise into the middle of Periyar Wildlife Reserve.
Two hours later, teeth chattering like castanets, all we'd seen were a few wild boar, some deer and a couple of foxes (with black tails, oooh). I'd seen more life in a tramp's vest. Apparently the Reserve has about 37 tigers, but the last sighting was in the mid-70s! At one point when about 100 people were on one side of the boat taking snaps of foxes, I had the wicked urge to shout "TIGEEEEEEEEER" pointing to the opposite side, but a capsize would have been a certainty, and with 200 juicy humans floating to the shoreline I'm sure we'd have seen our elusive tigers after all.
With frostbite setting in, we slid off the boat and while walking back to our taxi a crowd had gathered in front of us looking out across the lake. As we approached we saw in the distance a mummy elephant and her little baby, aaaaaaaaah. A little further up the road were about eight monkies swinging around in the trees. We began to wonder why we didn't just stay in the warm car where we'd have had a great view of some 'real' animals.
Back at the resort that evening we tucked into the tastiest fish curries we've had since Rick Steins in Padstow (oops, name-dropping).
That night the rains came, and they stayed for 72 hours.
We were once again confined to our room, to read, play Uno, learn French and play golf on the laptop, our only solace coming in the shape of our very own conveyor-belt service of chilled Kingfishers. We had planned to go trekking in our new (and still unused) trekking shoes and the bamboo-rafting had been recommended by a really nice couple from New Zealand we got talking to.
One lunchtime we went into the restaurant for a bite to eat: fish 'n chips twice. Sat next to us was a 'non-resident' who had come to sample the cuisine. She had been travelling around India for a month. A Dubliner who was now living in Paris, but had now somehow transformed her dialect into that of a member of royalty. I think she thought she was Sarah Ferguson, I thought more like Alex Ferguson. My toes curled under the table as a stream of cringe-worthy phrases spewed from her over-glossed lips.
"Ooh-la-la, that's tooooo much."
"I have to ring my Doctor in Paris tomorrow, I have nausea."
"My waistline's expanding, I usually do kick-boxing in Paris"
At one point she said she was followed by a rickshaw driver for one and a half hours in Delhi while out strolling. You don't get many blind rickshaw drivers, I mumbled to myself.
That evening we took a taxi into town and after an hour or so in an Internet café (where I subsequently found out Chelsea had beaten United and were top, hoorah), we went next door for dinner at Spice Village, the resort we were mistakenly taken to before. We asked the receptionist about dinner and it was an all-you-can-eat-buffet-fest for 500 rupees per head. All-you-can-eat is one of my very favourite sayings. "Let the cat see the mouse" I beamed.
The restaurant was very busy and decked out in a Safari theme. Apparently this place is well promoted in France and Italy and it showed. Suave Alain Delon lookalikes dined with bejewelled classy ladies in Gucci, Pucci and Fiorucci.
Halfway through my third plate (mountain) of curry it started.
A slight spasm in my usually iron-plated belly.
I tweak the nose of Vindaloos. I tickle the tummy of Phalls. But something strange was going on down below in my engine room.
In the taxi on the way home the rumblings were becoming louder combined with a feeling of light-headedness. I was in for a rough ride.
For the next three days I endured 5-minutely stomach cramps, constipation, forced vomiting (hope you're not eating) and vice-like headaches. I had never been so ill. It was Delhi-belly with avengeance. In bed for 90% of the time but unable to sleep.
We then put on our detective hats. Was it the anti-malarials? Was it the Kingfishers? Did I have an Alien attached to my face last night and now it was trying to force it's way out through my belly-button a la John Hurt? Was it the buffet at Spice Village where me and Soph ate exactly the same food?
Ah-ha, but did we really eat the same food? I went back, back, back to that fateful trip along the buffet line. Did I see Soph miss out the Mutton Rogon Josh, whereas I dolloped it on school-canteen style? I think we'd cracked it.
That staple diet of many a wide-boy in the curry-houses of South East London was the accused. What was usually a safe-bet on an Indian menu had kicked me in the ribs and
spun my brain around.
By the third day I was getting over the worst, and we still had 3 nights here, honking down with rain, unable to go on any trips. A decision had to be made. We would leave the next day for Trivandrum and hopefully some sunshine by the sea and had a couple of hotels in mind with swimming pools. We told the front-office manager, Thomas Noble (nice name), and felt really guilty about leaving them in the lurch because at that time there were just two couples at the resort including us.
Then he came up with an idea. We should go back to Kovalam and stay at their sister resort Surya Samudra, the very same resort we had refused to spend 1,800 rupees at, just to sit by their pool. We said we couldn't possibly afford to stay there, with a nudge-nudge wink-wink give-us-a-discount look in our eyes.
After a quick phonecall he came back and offered us a 10% discount. It would cost the same as what we were paying here.
After shaking his hand clean off his wrist we set off to pack like excited little chipmunks.
The next morning at 8am, Tuesday 2nd December, I still had some lingerings of stomach-cramps, and ahead of us was a 6 and a half hour drive on one of the bumpiest, twistiest roads in the world back to Kovalam where it all started over 3 weeks ago.
Our driver began very talkative pointing out everything he possibly could, stopping every 10 minutes to see if we wanted to take any snaps of scenery. The scenery was stunning, but it was the last thing on my mind as the tumble-dryer in my stomach started on another cycle. "We'd rather just get there." We smiled through gritted teeth.
It seemed to do the trick and the journey finally ended at 2.30pm at the gates of Surya Samudra, otherwise known as Paradise-on-Sea. We had driven by the hotels in Trivandrum we had been looking at staying in, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as we whizzed past the flaky Costa del Sol concrete carbuncles on the 8-lane road right beside them.
After dumping our bags in the beautiful cottage overlooking our old beach we used to go to, we headed for the pool, this time as legitimate paying guests.
And after sinking back into our luxurious loungers with ice-teas to hand, to the left of us reclined a couple of Sloane Rangers of good stock playing Travel-Scrabble. The guy suddenly exclaimed: "Wow, triple-word score, 64 point (pronounced in Gallic style 'pwah' with hint of Lloyd Grossman), thaaat's disgusting."
We had arrived.
Arrivaderci mon petits dejeuners.
Lord and Lady Cordery