Wednesday 31 January 2007

Allepey and the "Secret Beach"

I had a great night. This must be the first place where there was total calm all night, plus an efficient mosquito net. Only downside: no hot water, so I washed my hair in cold - not very successfully, so the massage oil is still conspicuously present.

We somehow spent the morning hunting for somewhere to write my photos onto a DVD. I thought I had found somewhere, but eventually they made a complete mess of things and I got my money back. I should have done this in Varkala, as I'm running out of space - just enough for tomorrow's boat trip.

Frustration in the morning was replaced by bliss in the afternoon. We had arranged for Johnson's rickshaw driver to take us a 25-minute drive to what he calls "The Secret Beach". The rickshaw took us as far as a hotel near the beach, run by a friend of Johnson's. We heard the food was good, so we decided the best way to spend the hot part of the day was to eat. What a good decision; I reckon this is the best meal we have had so far. It is amazing how many different ways coconut can form part of your meal here; there was delicious okra in a coconut source, something like coleslaw containing grated coconut and a dish of chopped up things with what looked like small bits of cheese, but turned out to be coconut, plus of course other spices which I am incapable of identifying. The flavours were all delicate and individual. Afterwards we ate yummy chunks of a water melon in perfect condition.

We walked off lunch on our way through the local village to the beach. It was unlike other villages we have seen: very calm, organised, with a grid of dusty alleys between the houses, which although small looked unusually prosperous, with solid walls and often with the distinctive Keralan tiled roofs. We passed mainly women busy about various domestic tasks, including collecting water from standpipes. At one point we came across half a dozen women sitting in what looked like mountains of rubbish. It was indeed, and what they were doing was sifting through to sort out all glass, which they take to a bottling factory. Labour-intensive though this seems to us, it is good to know there is some recycling. As always all the women and children we saw were incredibly good-natured and friendly.

Then suddenly, just past a little church (with loudspeakers blaring - the first noise in this calm place), we reached the beach. Apart from a handful of fishing boats, and a few groups of fishermen sitting in the shade, there was nobody there: just miles and miles of beautiful yellow sand, fringed by palm trees, as far as the eye could see. Later we discovered there was another couple from the hotel, but they were out of sight.

There was a picturesque cabin - rather like the kiwi 'bach' - where we could leave our clothes safely. The water was deliciously warm, though the surf was a bit scary for me, more than I am used to, and difficult to get through without being pounded to the ground. AFter our swim we sat for ages on the beach, revelling in the sun, made kinder by a light breeze, and continuing our detailed study of crab behaviour. They pop out of their holes, with two eyes on the ends of long stalks apparently able to see in all directions, as the moment a crow lands or a wave approaches their hole, they scuttle back incredibly fast, each one clearly knowing exactly where to locate its hole.

As the sun moved towards the horizon, there was more sign of fishermen going out to sea, in their picturesque pointed boats. Interestingly there was not the ogling that you tend to get at other beaches. Johnson explained later that his friend, the hotel owner, is the big shot in this area. His father built the local school and so the family is held in much respect.

Apparently the hut next to the one we used is the home of an Englishman, Danny, a 35-year-old friend of Johnson's who seems to spend most of his time drinking local beer (we too like our Kingfishers) and smoking hash, with the occasional trip as a motorbike tour leader to finance these habits, and if really pushed to it a return to England and a spell as a courier rider.

Waiting for the rickshaw driver we talked to the other couple, Italian speaking Swiss. They are not going on a houseboat, the woman explained, because her partner was scared of crocodiles!

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