Christmas and New Year

I had booked my hostel in Varkala a month previously as Varkala was only an hour away from Trivandrum airport, where I would be meeting my family for the new years.

All I knew of Varkala was that it had fantastic beach’s. It seemed a great place to enjoy an Indian Christmas.

Varkala is a small town in southern Kerala which is a tourist trap, its fantastic beach’s were set along some stunning beach’s. Within hours of arriving I knew I had chosen the perfect place for Christmas. I befriended a fellow brit, 2 Germans, an Australian, and American and an Indian and got ready for Christmas.

We went every morning to a lovely little restaurant that sold good coffee and did amazing juices, however the main draw was its bacon and sausages! Its strange what you crave after 2 months when it becomes available. Ok the sausages were chicken but the bacon was pork, my first taste of red meat in 2 months. Needless to say I had a meat filled breakfast each morning.

Spending Christmas with Germans meant I got 2 Christmas days as in Germany Christmas is celebrated on the 24th. A nice meal followed by drinks and cards back at the hostel. Good fun with good company, what more can you ask from Christmas.

Christmas was spent on the Beach, playing in the sea and sunning myself to the point of burns. I got a cracking reading burn, the skin on my inner bicep pasty white while its surrounds were lobster red, but it was worth it.

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I spent much of Christmas hiding from the sun after this in a café with friends and had a lovely day, there were no presents, the first Christmas song I heard was on Christmas day, I saw very few decorations and the only Santa’s I saw were young Indian boys who wore sinister Santa masks and would annoy you with a troop of drummers until you paid them to go away. Kind of like an Indian version of trick or treat.

I had a skype with my family which made me a tad homesick however I knew I was seeing them in a matter of days so that certainly took the edge of off that. There was no turkey for Christmas dinner. My Christmas dinner was some Spinach Momos, a Tibetan food which is similar to a Chinese dumplings, and some Palak Panner, a spinach sauced curry filled with Panner cheese. It was lovely. Not traditional but fantastic.

Boxing day saw me going for a long walk along the cliff tops and beach’s with my new Australian friend, a young lady called Hilly who was coming to the end of her year long adventure. I fear my excitement of my impending luxury 5 star holiday may have become quite irritating to listen too!

A nice swim in the choppy, wave ridden seas saw me ignore Hillys, a trained lifeguard, advice and hurt myself. She told me to dive under the big waves and not try to ride them or go over them. Well of course Dan always knows best, so when I saw the big wave approach, saw Hilly die under it, I thought, to hell with this I’m going over…. I didn’t go over, Infact I went over, under and through the damn wave. It culminated with my knee being scrapped along the sea bed and the skin covering said knee going missing! To top it off when I surfaced I got battered by a second wave. Lesson learnt, listen to Australians when it comes to the sea!!!

The was time for one last adventure before family time, a 5 am start and a cramped Tuk Tuk to the beach, where we got on a small rickety boat in search of a sunrise and some dolphins. Both seemed unlikely I was just happy to be out on the ocean! Well after 30 minutes of staring at a hazy horizon with no dolphins in sight we were quite ready to head back in, but you know what they say, wait for a bus and two come at once. We saw 5 or 6 dolphins swimming past at the same time as the rising sun broke through the pollution and clouds. The result was a magical experience of watching these fabulous animals swimming around on a sea surface which boasted some amazing colours.

I rose early again the next day to get myself to the airport to greet Tom, Beth and Mum. I needn’t have bothered! Their plane was delayed by a cool 2 hours! When they finally emerged from the airport it was wonderful. I’m very close to my mum and so had missed her terribly, especially during my week of ill solitude!

They were all exhausted so we went quickly to our hotel in nearby Kovalam for 10 days of holidaying. I must say it was wonderful to be able to unpack my bag and settle in somewhere for a good few days. Add that to the luxury of a toilet with loo roll and a warm shower and I was a happy camper. While the hotel wasn’t quite the Luxury 5 star I had previously experienced in Mexico and Egypt it was still a big step up from some of the hostel I had been living in!

We spent some time relaxing and catching up before exchanging Christmas gifts. Mum had got me a bunch of toiletries, which were gratefully received as in my rush to get to the airport id left my toiletries in Varkala! Beth had got my some wonderful business cards to help promote the website and Tom a amazing t-shirt from the TV show Archer. They also came bearing cider, chocolates and shortbread. I made quick work of all 3 of them.

They had a sleep to get over the jetlag before heading out to do some exploring and catching up. Mum has bought along some games so we spent an evening playing Yahtzee and a lists game, exactly as we would have had it been Christmas at home. It was great!

The following day we decided to relax in the best way possible, by getting a massage package. A 4 and a half hour package! There was a face treatment thing followed by a Thai massage and finally a body scrubbing thing. I must say the beauty treatments didn’t do much for me, especially when I had to change into some tiny paper tighty whiteys but I really did enjoy the Thai massage, I’ve never had a massage which manipulated the body in such a way (que happy ending jokes) but I honestly didn’t realise my legs or ankles stretching in the way they did during the massage! The lady doing it was a tiny slip of a girl but she had incredible strength to find the knots in my back and shoulders!

Mum had bought with her my DSLR camera, I had initially decided against bringing it due to its size but upon getting here I instantly regretted it! I was amazing to have it back and I was snapping photos freely everywhere we went! We went to a nice restaurant and ordered freshly caught fish where I had my first taste of Blue Marlin, its a very meaty fish and was delicious having been cooked in the tandoor!

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After the relaxing of the first day the second was to put people out of their comfort zones. The hotel offered a free pool dive for new divers. Some persuasion coaxed Mum Beth and Tom to give it a go! I documented it all on my camera and Go pro! They seemed to be sold and agreed to have a go out in the sea the next day!

Despite some reservations we got to the dive shop and suited up before heading to the beach. As I am a qualified diver they took me out first so we could go a bit deeper and see some more. It wasn’t the best dive of my life but it was a learning experience. The visibility was pretty poor and there wasn’t much in terms of fish, but I have never dived so shallow and in such currents, so it was quite a challenge to traverse them all without inadvertently surfacing.

Mum Tom and Beth all went out on 1:1 with the instructor and despite a few mask issues they all seemed to really enjoy the whole experience of breathing underwater! I really hope they all get many more chances to explore underwater!

Before we knew it, it was time for new years celebrations. The hotel was having what they billed as a gala dinner. Hmmmm they played techno music at ridiculous levels from 2pm to 7pm. Right when we were trying to get some sleep in! We weren’t impressed, considering most patrons at the hotel were old or families Techno at Ibiza levels didn’t really seem appropriate.

However despite the techno build up the gala event was good fun. They had various acts and dancers on stage and some great food. They even had a topless fire breather who came up to our table, gyrating his hips while looking me In the eye and running lit sticks across his body. It was very homoerotic and Mum Beth and Tom found it hilarious.

As is standard for a new year celebration much champagne and beer was consumed and on the stroke of midnight we were all dancing. Holding hands doing Auld Lang Syne while getting some very strange looks!

We booked a couple of day trips to the Backwaters, Kanyakumari and the Nayyar Dam. First stop was the backwaters, Id been to another set of backwaters previously so was quite surprised at the speed boat that greeted us. The loud engine took away the tranquillity of my previous trip, but as the driver explained, it was too deep to have pole boats. We saw lots of birds, a water snake and some amazing scenery. Thanks to my DSLR I managed to get some cracking photos of them aswel!

The next morning we awoke at 3am to head on the 3 hour drive down to Kanyakumari, Indians southern most point. We left so early to get there for sunrise. The drive down was an interesting one. Indians driving to fast with their full beams on meant no sleep! When we arrived the place was packed. The sunrise must have held some religious significance as there was hundreds of devotees there for it. While we didn’t see much of a sunrise due to the cloud cover, it was great too see the Arabian sea meet the Indian ocean. The confused waves didn’t know which way to go! It created a great affect of a criss cross of waves.

We went to a local temple while there, a tour from a local guide showed us the wonders of the singing pillars, stone pillars which each had a different sound when hit. It was a great tour, if somewhat soured by the amount of people asking for money for arbitrary services. Despite signs saying free or watching locals do the same with out handing over cash. I’ve mentioned to people that I’ve seen very little genuine kindness out here. While I’ve met amazing and nice people, I classify genuine kindness as someone doing something kind while expecting nothing in return. Many people I’ve met in India have been kind or done nice things, however most occasions have ended with them wanting money or something in return for being nice. It is something that has really got to me. In speaking to others this isn’t something they have found, perhaps its being male, or my own cynicism that has highlighted it so much to me, but regardless its a pattern I keep seeing.

I was pleased we went to Kanyakumari as it gave Mum and Beth a bit more of a picture of India. Tom has been here previously so can understand a lot of my frustrations and gripes, but I have a feeling Mum and Beth may have though “it cant be that bad” Kanyakumari was a very typical Indian town. Very busy, lots of litter, lots of beggars and poverty and the smell of urine in the background.

Kovalam as a tourist area is a lot more watered down so it was nice for them to see that side of India.

Our last excursion was out to the Nayyer Dam. An eco tourist park that has a huge lake and animals. We went on a lion safari were we were fortunate enough to see 2 Asiatic lions on the side of the road, close enough to touch. I swear one was staring straight at me. It was amazing and such a privilege to see such rare and beautiful animals up close. We got too see some Deer, Monkeys and Crocodiles as well. The crocodile sanctuary having been set up by the late great Steve Irwin.

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All of this was topped off by a lovely boat ride on the lake. Some amazing views in this protected place, the lake was the first body of water out here I’ve seen that wasn’t clogged with litter and it showed what a difference it can make when people recycle and manage their waste.

Not that I’m blaming the Indian people entirely for the litter situation. While for many it seem ingrained to just throw something to the ground when its finished, there are a shortage of bins and rubbish collections. As an avid recycler at home it breaks my heart to see all the litter strewn everywhere, country wide. Its a situation that very much needs addressing and the responsibility for that lies squarely at the governments door. They need to help change peoples attitudes towards waste, encourage recycling and develop an infrastructure to handle the millions of tons of litter created in India.

Its been so amazing to spend time with my family and I am so grateful that they have come out to visit me, it will be very hard to say goodbye and go back to travelling solo again. But a new adventure awaits me. A break from the chaos of Indian and on to Sri Lanka for a month.

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