Tubular Dude! – Varkala, India

Four days of constant merciless rain beating down on the saturated earth. Charred sky, lightning ripping across, it was upon me.  I thought I lost the race to the south, the monsoon got here early. Wading through the submerged streets of Kochi for food alone, I remained close to shelter. A leaking bus down to Alleppey and within a couple days the hurricane I learned of passed and Kerala lit up as the jewel of India.

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Fresh Karimeen

The leaves still damp, pale and lucid, the smell of wet earth in the air, the humidity beginning to creep up. The sun had just risen, my eyes still clouded with sleep and I was on a painfully loud boat on my way for breakfast in the backwaters. Rush hour on the canals in the morning was one of the most peaceful looking backdrops penetrated by a cacophony of bells, motors, shouting. Pulled up to port and walked up a dirt path to a local house just up off the bank. A table awaited us with one of the many styles of dosa, a potato curry to ladle over and fresh chai.

67              School boy error, I forgot to bring toilet paper. I got to play woodsman and gather some foreign leaves hoping for the best, that I wouldn’t be awkwardly itching my ass for the next week. Our guide, scrawny as can be showed up and my main thought was, how will this guy paddle us around for six hours, but he was a machine. Ushering us to the canoe, we sunk into the seats and embarked on the timeless escape through the small interlocking canals blocked off from the noise of the main routes. We disappeared under the shaded canopy, brushing by coconut and banana trees. The tranquility was soothing, the sounds meditative. The birds above, the gentle lapping of water on the sides of the boat. Simplicity with enormous beauty. Floating by the village life, everyone had their daily chores. One women fishing, the other cleaning them, washing clothes, transporting goods and building barriers for the coming monsoon. Some houses seemed doomed to the inevitable rise of water looking as if they were already sitting perfectly on the surface.

The canals of Alleppey
The canals of Alleppey

The opportunity had arisen, it was time to try ‘Toddy’. The locally distilled coconut palm beer. The palm sap ferments quickly due to natural yeasts, up to four percent within a couple of hours. The longer it is left the stronger and more acidic it becomes until your drinking vinegar. It was eleven in the morning and the locals were not being shy about slamming the sweet nectar back. Tucked away in the back room it was poured out of old petrol containers through a sieve into large blue bins, similar to a rain catcher. From there siphoned into washed out wine/liquor bottles or into half liter measuring cups for your drinking pleasure. It tasted almost like a cider with a clean finish of coconut water. Refreshing in the heat, explaining the copious amounts consumed through the day.

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Varkala, Varkala, Varkala… what to say? Only missing a couple criteria, a personal beachside hut and white shimmering sand and I would potentially never leave. The food so fresh, vibrant, the fruit selection incomparable. Jackfruit falling from the trees there for the taking, bananas in the thousands and mangoes and coconuts taunting from higher above. The beach stunning when the sun sets lighting up the cliffs behind bright red. The cliff top lined with restaurants and shops with the waves crashing below, the strong current throwing one though the washing machine a bit making things interesting.

Just picked Jackfruit
Just picked Jackfruit

Time to get gnarly man, this will be tubular bro! I was going to ride some waves and drink some salt water. This was the only remotely productive activity while here. Dragged myself out of bed at the crack of dawn while the waves were prime, it was thirty minutes to our location. It was a battle against the water, paddling myself out and once there it was a waiting game. Patiently judging which one would be it. It could take seconds or minutes, but it seems that you don’t find them. Respecting the force of nature and the serenity of the ocean, the right wave will find you when the time is right. Picking up as much speed as I can while the mountain grows behind me, it picked me up with exhilarating speed launching my forward with it, and most of the time off the board into the churning depth. The few I managed to remain on the board was such an adrenaline pumping, addicting feeling. Similar to carving a mountain for the first time or crossing the wake behind a boat into choppier waters or springing back like a ragdoll after the stomach lifting freefall of a bungee. It’s that feeling of knowing you’ll be doing that again, but note to self, wear a shirt to prevent serious nipple chafing.

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First time surfing

I was running out of time to legally be in this country, so slowly I managed to climb out of the black hole, my sweet little nest embracing me tight, pulling me further into the abyss of paradise. I had a vision of my past self. He walked up and kicked me, “You just got out of Goa, don’t do this again.”

I packed my bags and left the next day, looking back the whole way. Onwards to Kanyakumari, the tip of the iceberg, where three seas meet and my turning point back to the north following the east coast.

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