My India Travel Funk

travel funk

This blog is much delayed because there was not Internet in Varkala and when we got back last night to Ernakulam a huge thunderstorm had wiped out our Internet there. It’s still down and so I am sitting in a tiny cube in some Internet Cafe with somebody smoking what Max calls an ewee-cigarette right next to me. Oh well.

Anyway here goes the “we-arrive-in Varkala” blog:

I knew it would happen and I expected it to happen earlier but here it is – the India funk. I am sure I am not the only one to get the occasional funk when traveling in countries where everything is unfamiliar and nothing ever easy or straightforward.

I know it happened in China – just not sure whether it was in Szechuan where we basically couldn’t eat any of the food – German country-pumpkins that we were and unused to more than a hint of pepper – or when I was sick as a dog in Beijing. I remember it happening in Hanoi the day I took a blouse I wanted to wear out of my suitcase to find it had gotten moldy over night and in Laos where we had more than 40 Celsius and the “best hotel” in Vientiane was a dump.

A Train Ride From Hell

Anyway, this is the India funk. The day started with Uli not feeling well and so I had Mister Max chatting my ear off all morning while trying to pack for our trip to Varkala, prepare some food for the train ride and wash (by hand, the washing machine never got resurrected) the sheets of Max’s bed after last night’s “accident” (they do happen). The driver picked us up 45 minutes late for the trip to the train station which is unheard off, they normally show up early.

We made the train no problem but the tone for the whole train ride was set. Our reserved tickets said Coach 1 seats 22 and 23 so we did what good rule-following Europeans do, we positioned ourselves near the sign that said “Coach 1”. I should have gotten suspicious by the scene that unfolded as the train was driving into the station: forgotten were all good manners, any form of politeness and dignity: as soon as the train halfway stopped – with a hundred people trying to disembark – the crowd started pushing and kicking its way into the coach. Elbows were used, feet and whatever tools were handy to gain an advantage and not the slightest consideration was given to little old ladies or mothers carrying their baby boys (that would be me) on their backs. We sort of made it in the train, not into the actual compartment but the front portion – mind you, no doors. No sooner had we gotten in did Max start to whine that he wanted to have is lunch now, as in this second, and I was yelling at Uli that under no circumstances would I be traveling crouched on the floor of a filthy compartment with no doors for almost 5 hours. People were everywhere, like you have seen in movies or documentaries, only I didn’t ever think for a second that these documentaries had anything to do with the reality of the India we had seen so far. But here we were, in the middle of it. 

It turned out that Coach 1 wasn’t really Coach 1 or at least not that Coach 1 and that our Coach 1 was a reserved A/C coach somewhere halfway down the train. With 1 minute left we ran, me pulling Max along and cheering him on – which was hard because he was asking me questions the entire time:
“why do we have to go to another coach, Mama?”, “Did somebody take our seats?” , “Why did they take our seats, Mama???”
“No , honeybums, we just got into the wrong coach, we thought it was Coach 1 but it wasn’t”
“Yes it was, I saw it myself, it said ‘Coach1’ – “Mama, where are we going?”
“Max, don’t talk, run, else we are going to miss the train!”
“Mama, why do we have to go to another coach?” – put this on an endless loop – at least that’s how it felt.

Uli was huffing behind us with a huge backpack and one of these wheely-duffles that always decided to start gyrating when you least expect and least need it. We made it to our Coach and our seats with seconds to spare but at this point in time the day was lost for me and “the funk” was about to build. Needless to say that I found the fancy reserved A/C coach not quite up to German standards, I think “in need of a really thorough scrubbing” might begin to give an impression. 

When I am alone I actually enjoy train rides, occasionally, one looks out the window, sleeps a bit, looks some more, eats a sandwich, reads a girly-magazine (otherwise only permitted when waiting for a dentist appointment) and idles away the time. This time I was watching “Thomas the tank engine” and “Diego, Animal Rescue” for four hours with an increasingly tired and ill-behaved toddler. I can sort of tolerate Diego and his silly puzzles but abhor Thomas and his idiotic stilted- speaking tank engine friends. It’s hard to argue with a toddler wanting to watch Thomas during a train ride, though. 

Varkala – Not all we had hoped it to be

At least the sunsets are nice!

We were supposed to reach Varkala at 5:50 pm and as the train left Ernakulam about 10 minutes late I didn’t expect to get there until 6 ish. By about 5:30 the train slowed down and we were just wondering how many more stations there where before Varkala when I saw a tiny sign saying “Varkala” passing right before my very eye. We tore down the luggage, screamed at Max to get up and start moving – now, get going, come on now or we’ll miss our station. 

Pick-up was flawless and the guy recognized us before we recognized that he was holding a (folded) sheet saying “Mr. and Mrs. Tina”. We got treated to our first and hopefully last ride in an “Indian Ambassador” those iconic white cars of days gone by that are about as comfortable as the Russian jeep I once rode for 10 hours in northern Vietnam. 

Strolling along the tourist mile, T-shirts and other tourist stuff available everywhere

The rest is just me being in a funk. The room at the fancy resort that has but one light high up – so all both sleep or all don’t . The pizza at the Italian Café that the Kerala guide describes as authentic was anything but; the pool with water that is too warm even for me – and I refuse to enter our pool until the temperature reaches at least the mid-70s –; the room with the ever so slight smell of pee-pee; the tourists wearing ultra-short miniskirts and backless t-shirts in a country where the women go swimming fully dressed; the “ayurveda clinic”, meditation this, yoga that, Tibetan whatever (Tibetan?? We are about as far away from Tibet as Sweden is from Sicily) at every corner wouldn’t normally bother me – amuse me, puzzle me, maybe – but today it bothered me. I wanted a decent pizza, a US/European style (whatever) bungalow and a bottle ice-cold Prosecco. That wasn’t to be had so I am sitting here, typing away while finishing the second large bottle of Kingfisher beer – fortunately readily available here – and starting to feel a little better, or at least tired enough to fall asleep and try again tomorrow.

Fortunately, I now know its only me having “the funk” and that comes and goes and one never quite knows why and how but at least now I know it will go again – hopefully over night.

Such is the nature of the travel funk.