FIVE MONTHS LEFT!

Past half way…. How absolutely shocking!

Today we left Kovalam, (semi-reluctantly) and took the train a few hours North to Alleppey. Kovalam was a great beach, and we spent a week and a half there! (Instead of the four days we originally planned.) The guide books we had read labeled Kovalam as becoming quite expensive, but we found accommodation there as a rule to be quite a bit cheaper than Phuket in Thailand. It was similar to Nai Young beach (on the Northwest end of Phuket, by the airport) in being relaxed and very uncrowded though. The hotels here were all on the sidewalk as opposed to most of Phuket where a sea view is very unlikely due to typically being set back from the road, across from the restaurants, in front of the beach. At the high end resorts in Phuket, every room gets a sea view, (and a private pool with some) but who can affourd a few to ten grand per night!?!? There are many hotels at lighthouse beach in Kovalam, that are set back behind the ocean front hotels that offer considerably cheaper rates. For a second floor large AC room, with sea view and a nice large balcony and hanging swing, we paid $54/night. In Phuket, we paid $30/night for a kinda gungy, very basic fan room, and was a five minute walk to dip your toes in the ocean. At the same place there, we also paid $80/night for a semi-gungy AC room, same distance to the salt water. A nice AC room was $110/night! and all of these rooms were only two beds, (so we needed two rooms) while in India we got three beds and one mattress on the floor. Here at lighthouse beach, an AC room set back behind the beachfront hotels is only about $30/night, and a four minute walk to the ocean. Restaurant meals were slightly cheaper in Phuket, and alcohol was far more readily available, but the accomodation in Kearla, India gives more bang for the buck overall. If I were wanting to vacation with just the purpose of relaxing on the beach and nothing else, I’d hafta choose India. Yes, even with the craziest driving we’ve seen yet and all the filth & refuse everywhere.

The street vendors in India were far more plentiful and wickedly aggressive than we were used to from Thailand. I got bored with the t-shirt vendors and put together almost an impossible request for a shirt. I said I was only interested in the local beer logo (Kingfisher) in a L or XL tank top. I spent a little over an hour one afternoon going from shop to shop making this particular request (all in the name of my neighbor Dallas). I did actually want a shirt like that for him if someone actually came up with one, but wasn’t in a rush to get one. The purpose of spending this time initially was so that when I was walking by each of them the next day and the harranged me, I could glare at them and remind them that they didn’t have the one I wanted. After two days, I was no longer bugged almost at all. One guy cheekily suggested that all tourists looked alike, and of course I can’t blame him for such an observation. A few of them remembered me and still asked me to come inside and look at all their other stuff. Looking to make myself stand out even more, I began quizing them about their most popular t-shirt. It was the famous semi-profile of Che Guvera with his first name at the bottom. To any vendor who forced me to come in for a second look at their store, I promised to buy twenty Che shirts for a high price. The condition was that they had to tell me anything about who he was: his profession, his ideals, country he was born in, what he did in Cuba or South America or specifically Bolivia, or what happened after he died. Needless to say no one had a clue. Well, one guy knew that Che was a Commie, since the local star & sickle party uses his profile as their logo. (Quick note to Craig or anyone else planning a trip: taking twenty minutes and getting the kids (and the parents) to brush up on a little of his history will serve you all well in similar situations in South America and throughout Asia. Che seems even quite a bit more popular on shirts in Asia actually.

Alex and I also collected some clothes together to take to one of the many tailors around for some repairs. Various rips, holes and weak threads at seams and on buttons just seem to happen more when you’re only wearing two (or three sets of clothes) it seems. My suitcase handle (nylon webbing on cordurra) also needed a corner strengthened a bit after some airport handler had obviously reefed on it a little too hard. So we went for a walk down the beach and found one guy who gave me a pretty reasonable price, ($2.20 for about 25 minutes work on seven pieces). He couldn’t do the suitcase though, and pointed me in the direction of a couple of cobblers who had sturdier machines. The cobbler also charged $2.20 but he had to take apart a dual liner to sew it inside properly, so it was about a half hour of work. Well worth it to me anyways. At the first tailor, I aksed him to try and sew a secret pocket in my Eddie Bauer shorts identical to the one in my Tilley shorts. That was out of the question and far too much work apparently. When I returned to pick up our stuff he said he could make me the secret pocket after all. I was pretty excited and asked how much. He replied that he’d do it for $17. I thought about how much stitching he’d have to carefully take apart to do this propperly and agreed to what I thought was a fair price. Then he takes me in back of the shop where there are rolls and rolls of various material. I told him just make it a close match to the existing shorts. He looked at me funny and suggested that maybe I’d want a different color to have more variety. I was puzzled, but then he also commented that he wanted me to pick the thickness of the material from the huge variety of rolls. I told him to just pick some smaller sized left over scraps from a previous tailoring job. Now he really looked at me funny and picked up a piece the size of which was perfectly suitable for a pocket. He’s semi-excitedly (in a freaky, worried way) shaking the piece and saying, “I can’t build shorts out of this!!!” The light goes on! He had quoted me $17 for a whole new pair of custom designed shorts, copied from the Tilly’s complete with a secret pocket! Wow! I explained the communication/perception problem and we both got a chuckle. He also made sure to let me know that even for that price he wouldn’t take apart the existing ones and add the pocket. Still way too much hassel and work apparently. The good news is that I have a new, very well done pair of custom shorts (complete with secret pocket) for a great price! He even brought the waist in 4cm to fit me better than the Tilly’s. Life is good…

The train ride this morning was nice but pretty uneventful. We paid extra for an AC car, so it was pretty uncrowded. None of the stops were announced or had signs outside as Malaysia & thailand did. Thus we had to keep pretty good track ourselves or miss out. Our room in Alliepey is really basic, with a bathroom, a fan and no AC. It is also only $23 for four beds though. The main purpose of tourists coming here is for their famous houseboat tours. These are quite large boats, fairly wide and with wicker and thatched superstructures, (by looks from the outside). On the inside though, they are pretty delux mansions to tour around the backwater canals and see country life at a relaxed, pastoral pace. I looked at several before agreeing on one for tomorrow, for a two night cruise. They are about $125/night for four people for fan rooms and three meals a day. AC rooms run about another $40/night. Some of them were decorated more sumptuously than the nicest home I’ve seen, with crafted wood cupboards and wardrobes, and marble finished bathrooms. Those run about $300/night, (including AC of course!). We shall see what tomorrow brings!

In the meantime, I secured a fantastic deal on flights from jet Airways while scouring the net a few days back. This was the same airline we flew business class with just after Christmas, and Claudette had also found that deal on the net. We were planning on a 22 hour train ride from Kochi up to Mumbai, but I found a 100 minute flight for only $10 more each. Hmmm, not a tough decision!

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