Big Pimpin’ at Kovalam Beach
January 19, 2008
This morning I decided to spend the day at the beach. I’ve been working hard (don’t forget I’m in India on business) and I really needed a reboot and defrag. So I did just that; after rolling out of bed and enjoying a fine authentic Kerala breakfast I caught a $5 auto-rickshaw to Kovalam.
I don’t remember that much about the ride to the beach. I might have left my laptop back in the hotel but my mind was still deep in the matrix. Fortunately that all changed when the rickshaw stopped.
As I strolled onto the sand I spotted a street vendor pushing coconuts. Having recently acquired a taste for the local delicacy I had to stop. For a mere 15 rupees (30 cents) an old lady with a toothless smile cut me some fresh coconut water and threw a straw in it.
Before sipping my tasty beverage I removed my shoes and tossed them in my attaché bag. Then I closed my eyes welcomed the salty sea air with a smile. There are few things I enjoy more than the feeling of sand between my toes and the smell of the sea. Add a sweet coconut and the list is even shorter.
I wondered aimlessly along the shore with a Zen-like satisfaction, letting the hot sand work at my sore feet, occasionally cooling them down in the surf.
Eventually I gave that up and basked on a rock until I was hot and hungry. About a hundred yards from the water I spotted a restaurant on the sand and made a b-line for it. After being seated I ordered King Fisher Premium (the local beer of choice) and some garlic Naan (soft thin Tandoori bread). I don’t think establishment had a license to serve because they poured my beer in a coffee mug, put the bottle under the table and told me to leave it there.
Maybe the consequences are less severe here? Maybe competition for tourist dollars is so critical the consequences aren’t taken into consideration? I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I didn’t care. The sea breeze was blowing on my red sun-kissed face; I had a beer in one hand and garlic bread in the other. I’d earned this moment and I was going to enjoy it without analyzing life.
From my table this was the view to my right…
And this was the view to my left…
All around me were babbling tourists speaking what sounded like everything but English. I could make out German, possibly Dutch and Korean, but I wasn’t sure about the rest. Even though I couldn’t understand their language the smiles on their faces and mixed laughter told me we were all enjoying our day in Kovalam.
After polishing off two plates of garlic bread and a liter of Kingfisher I went for a walk along the boardwalk. After a few minutes the zealous trinket-pushers got the best of me. I decided to chill out under an umbrella for a while and enjoy the sound of the breaking waves.
Apparently I was being watched as I approached one of the reclining chairs. An attendant rushed to beat me there, picked up the chair and beat off the sand for me. He put it back on the sand with a smile and asked if there was anything he could do for me in broken English. I told him he could have a nice day and threw a few rupees his way. Then I stretched out on the chair and drifted off into a nice nap to the sound of the sea.
I awoke to the squawking of some large British ladies waddling past my umbrella. Realizing it was getting late I decided to head back to my hotel.
Exiting the beach I found myself being surrounded by a heard of taxi drivers competing for my business. I spent about a minute haggling over the price, but I wasn’t really looking for a deal. I was planning on paying a lot more than I bargained for, but I wanted to give my money to the person who needed it most; the desperate low bidder.
I had to focus to suppress my smile while I tried to get the locals to go from 300 rupees (7 dollars and 60 cents) to 150 rupees (which is what I’d paid to get here). The lowest I could manage was 220 rupees (which I later learned is the going rate due to extra taxes in Kovalam). Moments later my rickshaw roared to life and we were off.
I didn’t mention this before, but Kovalam beach is at the bottom of a steep hill. The ride down had been easy enough, but now I could feel the rickshaw struggling to crawl up the hill.
Finally we cleared the top and started picking up speed, soon were racing along at a good clip. I decided this was a good time to take some photos so grabbed my camera and started snapping away. A few minutes later I ran into this lovely family of four riding a Honda Hero…
Notice that everyone was smiling at me except the little boy in the front. He’s undoubtedly angry his dad wasn’t paying attention to where he was driving, can you blame him?
All along the road I passed countless fruit peddlers. Seeing the watermelon salesman below a thought struck me; if he doesn’t sell all of those he’s going to have to pack them up later tonight. That’s a lot of lifting. Of course, Indian’s aren’t afraid of hard work or lifting. And this isn’t only a trait of the young adults or those in their prime.
Checkout this seasoned citizen carrying a big metal tub filled with bananas. I’ve seen women that looked ancient doing all kinds of hard work here. It sort of makes me wonder if American seniors haven’t gone soft.
I’d expected to see a lot of bananas in India, but I hadn’t anticipated the variety. The stand below only had 7 different kinds, but there are even more. On the right those are red bananas, they’re not over-ripe that’s simply their color. I’ve also seen and tasted black ones. There are also a lot of various sizes; the tiny ones make great bite-sized snacks.
This is what a fruit laden banana tree looks like. …Technically they’re pseudo-stems not trees, but everybody here (including yours truly) calls them trees.
One of the odd things about Kerala is the stark contrast between rich and poor families. Below is a typical rural home…
But every so often I’d pass one that looked like this…
This mixture of wealth and poverty is also quite evident in the market. Below in the distance you can see a posh retailer. In the foreground a much more typical fruit stand is being setup.
Yeah, the ride from Kovalam was full of all kinds of sights. Seeing a second person riding side-saddle on a bicycle is very common here…
And checkout the cripple below on his moded moped, someone added an extra wheel. He looked like the king of the road as he smiled and raced past us. …I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever had a cripple smile at me in the US? …I don’t think I have, most of them come off as very bitter.
Actually, if a countries worth was measured in smiles rather than dollars India might top the list. I’m really going to miss that back in the US. I think we have a lot to learn from our Indian brothers, I wish everyone in the US could spend a month here.