Monday, February 18, 2013

Ahhh India

My 12-hour flight went by quickly and proved to be an opportunity to catch up on recent Oscar bound films. From the air Abu Dhabi Airport looks huge and spreads out over a large swath of land, punctuated by a series of low buildings. The control tower curls up toward the sky and looks as if Dr. Seuss had designed it. Once I arrived it took me over twenty minutes to make the trek to my next gate. I passed several “Duty Free” shops where prices of imported items, (like huge Hershey bars, perfume & alcohol), were insanely expensive but that didn’t stop people from stocking up. At the boarding gate we were herded & crammed onto a single bus, then driven to the steps of our waiting plane which was resting on the tarmac. After four hours, distracted by yet another meal, nap & movie, we finally arrived in Trivandrum, India Wednesday at 3:15am. By then I had lost all sense of time since leaving NYC at 10pm Monday night, just 18 hours earlier.

I walked out of the airport and was shocked to see hundreds of exuberant Indians of all ages excitedly waiting outside the Arrivals exit. Many local people work in the Gulf States for a few months before returning home into the loving arms of their families. Most flights from the Gulf arrive at ungodly early morning hours but that doesn’t seem to dampen their happy spirits. It felt like New Year’s Eve in Times Square. And there was my family, my brother Teddy waiting with Faizal, the local taxi driver. Only then did I notice the humidity engulfing us.


I woke to the loudspeaker of the local mosque calling men to prayer at 5am, then drifted off again. Over the days I’ve become accustomed to his sing-song voice several times each day. The sound of nearby pounding surf finally roused me out of my twilight existence. Each day we’ve begun with strong coffee and a gigantic bowl of fresh fruit salad. Yoga is available at 8am on the shaded rooftop of the “hotel” next door. Most "hotels" are composed of just a few simple rooms, set along narrow dirt roads adjacent to the Indian Ocean, or technically the Arabian Sea on this side of India. The surf is constantly in action but the water itself is warm & crystal clear, with no flotsam or jetsam in sight.
I’m staying at “The First Place”, an ecological small hotel within view and just above Odayam Beach, offering an almost private expanse of sea, sand & solitude. This is the home of Aryuvedic medicine and practitioners, massage therapists and treatments are available everywhere, and  inexpensive by Western standards. A Swedish Day School for children occupies two rooms here and it’s always delightful to see little blonde kids giggling & chattering away in Swedish. Some of their parents are working here as part of international exchanges with local hospitals and other institutions.

Breakfast & lunch are available, based on local Kerala cuisine, which is spicy & vegan/vegetarian. There are lots of restaurants around featuring cuisines other than Indian. At dinner time many restaurants prominently display their fresh caught fish & seafood outside on ice. A dizzying list of fresh juices is usually available everywhere, while a limited number of places offer beer & alcohol. This is the perfect place to spend some time if you want to get away from the hectic world and experience life at a slower pace. You can get more information at their website

Life here operates on "island time". First you plan something, then you might or might not do it depending on what else pops up. No hurry. And sometimes no electricity & internet. Local transportation is via scooter, car, bus, train and autorickshaw. This last one is my favorite. It feels like a jazzed up enclosed golf cart on speed. Drivers like Faizal whiz around at roller coaster speeds barely missing on-coming traffic...and everybody honks at everything! Personally, I think they should be considered as one possible answer in our quest to find transportation around the downtown Bradenton venues.

While coming back from a little shopping trip in the next town our autorickshaw, driven by Faizal of course, was suddenly forced to stop when we almost collided with the oncoming Adiyam Hindu Festival. Dozens of men drumming in matching bright outfits, fireworks, costumed dancers and three elephants provided the assembled crowd a reason to cheer. I'm told that the quality of a Festival is judged by the number of elephants participating. If that's the case, Bradenton better start looking for paciderms before the next Blues Festival in December.

Last night we ate dinner overlooking the Indian Ocean. I've had to be careful eatMy meal of freshly caught fish, prepared with garlic, lemon & butter was outstanding. But I really fell in love with the naan being baked in a tandoor oven a few feet away. It was awe inspiring and although I don't have a tandoor oven at home, I'll be figuring out how to make something very worthy.

Enough for today...more tomorrow about our trip via a gondola-style boat to Golden Island.

Hugs from tropical India,   Bonni

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