Sitting on the breezy deck of my 'surf ashram club' in Karnataka, India, looking out on palm trees fringing the backwater, our little surf island just in front, I finally have a bit of time and inspiration to do some writing. I'm taking a short break from the Himalaya, checking out a few places to surf (longboarding, from my Maui days 20 years ago), practice some yoga and attempt to relax after leading treks and cycling trips back to back throughout the year. Writing this blog and editing some photos, I'm realizing what a great, diverse journey it's been these last few weeks though Kerala, finishing in Karnataka.
Although I used to travel solo for years at a stretch, I've spent the last 17 years leading trips with (mostly) wonderful people through the Himalaya, and (as always) traveling alone during Christmas and New Year's can be a bit lonely. It was a real challenge to shake off the stress that compiles itself in my brain over the year, and (re)learn to relax. I'm not quite there yet, but think of my solo travels as an expanding and learning experience ...
Kerala + Karnataka Photos
Along the way I've met some wonderful people, including Hayley, who leads yoga and meditation retreats and will work together with me to create some great yoga treks. And here at the surf ashram Sushant, who runs a small kayak company and will work on improving the functionality of my website, much needed!
Taking photos keeps me centered and inspired by travel, and although I only brought my small Sony DSC-RX 100 V with me, it took great photos. I missed the zoom of my other new Sony (DSC RX-10 3), especially as there were so many incredible shore and jungle birds around, it was great to be compact.
I've not taken too many photos of the beautiful, palm fringed beached of Kerala and Karnataka, but they are pretty amazing, sun baked, full of local color and culture and highly recommended for a Northern hemisphere winter break. As I'm finishing writing this blog, I'm listening to the soft, atmospheric and soothing sounds drifting across the backwaters from the Muslim mosques, a fitting ending for this trip.
Fort Cochin (Kochi) | Kerala
I started my vacation at Fort Cochin (Kochi), Kerala, by far the most photogenic part of the trip in southern India. Fort Cochin is all about fishing and trade, and as an ancient port town, has an incredibly colorful history of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonialism as well as the local Christian, Hindu and Muslim cultures. Every morning and evening the fishermen bring their catches to the local markets, where they are sold locally as well as internationally.
Pictured a grandmother and her daughter-in-laws in a colorful, traditional wooden doorway and sorting pepper in the old Jewish trading quarters of Fort Cochin, some young boys playing in the back streets, a scene of the local streets and some shots of the morning fish market near the jetty. The iconic Chinese fishing nets on the Arabian Sea below the jetties of Fort Cochin at sunset and a man milking a cow at the local dairy (couldn't find yogurt unfortunately). Mattancherry Museum, once a palace, was super interesting for understanding the layers of history surrounding Fort Cochin and Kerala. I stayed at a lovely, heritage hotel (The Old Courtyard) right in the middle of the still charming town, and found a place to have seafood and beers, until then not allowed, just next to the jetty.
I also rented a (very clunky, 1-speed) bicycle one day and cruised about 12 or so kilometers down the coast on a small road, pure heaven! Photo of the church is near the beach where I had my first swim in Kerala, mid-day, jumping into the ocean in all of my sweaty clothes.
Ernakulam (Cochin) Market | Kerala
The local fruit and vegetable market in Ernakalum was very colorful and lively, incredible for photography as there were no other tourists around, and the locals with the stalls were friendly and open, showing me what they sold when I asked (everything from curry leaves and fish to beet root and meat). I didn't love the bustle of the other side of the bay from Fort Cochin otherwise, and moved over to scenic, calm Fort Cochin right on the Arabian Sea, with the iconic Chinese fishing nets on the shore and interesting, century-old architecture.
Marari Beach | Kerala
Next, an auto tuk-tuk to beautiful, relatively tourism free (what?) Marari beach about 50 km south of Cochin, where I stayed at a lovely homestay (Raju Villas) just off the beach. I met a wonderful family, the husband a 'coconut man' as his wife, who rented out beach umbrellas, told me, and two young sons who spoke a bit of English. The only downside to Marari was the shit on the beach for 3 kilometers above our beach area (and 2 dead sea turtles), but the fishing villages were certainly scenic and bustling with fishing life, especially at sunset! I made great friends with the local kids, who spent much of the day with me at my shady beach chair under a palm tree ...
And amazing to meet some Steamboat, Colorado folks, Heather + Jim, at Marari Beach and spend Christmas with them at Raju Villas, as well as a sunset sundowner on the beach!
Allepey Backwaters | Kerala
I had to check out Kerala's iconic backwaters after 20 years, but even though I hired my own covered canoe and asked to get into the smaller backwaters, I ended up on the tourist route, only saved by a few short walks through the villages tucked away between backwaters and rice paddies.
Varkala Beach | Kerala
Soul & Surf was a really great place run by a British couple, right on the cliffs of Varkala overlooking the Arabian Sea, a spot for surfing, yoga and just relaxing. I spend 5 or 6 days enjoying their wonderful cafe, watching some great documentaries by a visiting longboarder Sam, and meeting nice people. The surf was very small except for the last day when we had larger, glassy waves at the end of the session (my Maui longboarding skills weren't in full function just yet, so didn't really appreciate the waves), but it was lots of fun driving to the two surf spots about 15 minutes from Varkala, both next to Muslim fishing villages. I didn't get many photos as only brought my camera on the last day, but it was scenic looking back onto the beaches!
Varkala Cliff was a bit of a traveler' scene, but the seafood just below the cliff was amazing, and they even served cold beers (in ceramic mugs)! When I arrived it was a Hindu 3-day holiday as well as New Year's, so the main Varakala beach was packed with pilgrims and Indians on vacation, as well as a few thousand Westerners.
Road Trip Kerala to Karnataka
After a long, hot train trip from Varkala back to Ernakulam, I opted for a private, AC car (and driver of course) to take me to Mantra Surf Club in Karnataka. After the first 5 hours of driving on a highway, the drive ended up being a real road trip through small bazaar towns and villages, mostly along the coast on small roads. We didn't stop much as the drive ended up being 13 hours, but we did stop for photos at two colorful fishing beaches en route, the last at sunset.
Surf Ashram | Karnataka
After a long but scenic 13 hour drive from Ernakulam, I ended up at a 'surf ashram club' in Karnataka, where by far the most fun day was a Sunday surfing knee-high waves with the local kids and meeting single mom (of Nickil), Reshma, from Mangalore. I also met Sushant, who runs a small kayaking company and bases himself here, but is originally in IT. He's going to help redo my website! I'll include the link to his website as think it's a great way to spend a couple of days in Karala. I wish I'd known about this kayaking earlier! I've finally tried SUP (stand up paddling) just out of the door here, incredible to be so still to paddle up right next to electric blue-green Kingfisher, herons, egrets and other shorebirds.
Mantra Surf Club isn't a teaching ashram, and the boys here are all super nice, not all part of the ashram, some from the local community. But one thing I'm sure of is that the ashram experience (in any form) isn't for me! Looking forward to a beer and some seafood tomorrow night in Mangalore!
I ended my winter trip in Manglore, half a day to wander through the city, unremarkable except for the exotic wet and dry fish market, and the woman posing in front of a carved door at the Kudroli Temple ...
What adventures are you planning for 2018?
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