Apologies for the fact that there no photos on this posting as we have not found a PC terminal in Valkala that will let us download photos from our camera.
Some days you just have to go with the flow. This was the case on Monday 22 Feb. We had planned this day to be a transport free day after our trip into the mountains in the jeep. This was not be the case however as we learned from a rickshaw driver that on Tuesday there was to be a bus strike. The only way out of Munnar is by bus and we really did not want to wait until Wednesday to leave for Valkala.
We checked the strike story with the manager at the bus stand and learned that it was true. We decided to get the 16.30 bus to Kotayam and then get a connection to Valkala. We packed our stuff in record time under thirty minutes and then checked out. The guys at the SMM guest house were so helpful. They let us leave our packs with them and we went to the local working mans cafe (tin shack) where we had a lovely Thali lunch. This place apart from the Indian Coffee house in Alleppey was our favourite place to eat. Good honest Indian food at realistic prices, lunch was Rs78 for both of us. Dosai and porrata prepared and cooked in full view. Lovely.
So, we waited for our bus, it arrived, it was very full. we struggled on wearing our packs and then as soon as I had my foot on the step the bus was off. We were falling all over the place thanks to the weight of the packs on our backs, thank goodness Indian people are so patient and tolerant. I lost count of how many times we said sorry for stepping on someones toes or falling into someone. It is hard work trying to keep your balance and hang on when the bus is going full pelt down twisting roads. We thought ok when the bus stops at the next stop we will take the packs off and sort ourselves out a bit. Um, the theory was good but was actually a rubbish plan. We had not taken into account the people getting off the packed bus and those also getting on factored in with the drivers zeal to not waste a nano second.
Eventually, several stops later, and now feeling exhausted Rae bagged a seat with the help of a kindly gentleman who helped her stow her pack. I continued to stand and when the bus became slightly less busy I too took my pack off and eventually sat next to Rae. The drive down the mountains was a white knuckle ride. It beats any fair ground ride we have been on! The scenery though was magnificent and we saw a couple of monkeys!
There was a beautiful sunset. As we descended to lower altitudes so the air became hotter and more humid. We started to drive in built-up areas and after a five hour ride were were at Kotyam bus stand where we discovered the connecting bus was not due to leave until 06.40 the next morning! We stood looking bemused, tired, very sweaty when a couple of Indian guys asked if we were ok. Rae switched on her charm and explained the situation to them. One of the guys got his cell phone and rang the train station and said that there is a train to Valkala at 01.30. We thanked them for their kindness and we found ourselves a rickshaw driver. Within 20 minutes we were at the station where we now had to wait until 12.30 before we could buy a ticket. We sat outside as it was cooler than inside the station. I went and bought us some coffee and Indian sweets, they are so delicious. We struck-up conversation with Indian guys also waiting to buy train tickets. This turned out to be hard work as they wanted to know everything about us and the UK and our thoughts on Iraq and Afganistan and on Brown and Obama. One guy was amazed that we did not have coconut trees or banana trees in the UK.
We talked for ages and shared food. Time soon passed and we were now able to buy our train tickets. I thought the lady who sold the tickets had made a mistake as the train tickets only cost Rs76 for two of us, she had not the price was correct. Travel in India is so cheap. We waited on the platform which was busy. We were travelling ordinary class and we were nervous about this. We chatted to a couple of University lecturers who were on their way to Thailand to present a paper at an Education Conference.
The train was one hour late and when it arrived we got on. It was packed!! same problem as on he bus but at least it was a smoother ride. We stowed our stuff and eventually got a seat. Rae chatted to her neighbour who told her to get off at the station after Kollam. We did this and yep, it was the wrong station, we were 10KM away from valkala!
No probs though as we found a rickshaw driver to take us there. It was a bumpy drive in the dark but we did not care as we would soon be at the homestay, or so we thought. We arrived in Valkala and the driver asked some other rickshaw drivers the way to the Keratheeram Homestay. It was now 05.00ish in the morning and the temple music was just beginning and we were very, very tired. We felt sorry for the rickshaw guy as he drove round Valkala in circles. We shone torches on signs but could not see the homestay. He asked more people and they gave directions but we still drove round in circles. Then he rang the homestay and they gave directions and we still went round in circles.
Eventually a scooter was dispatched and it found us and led the way to the Keratheeram resort. Happily the owners were very pleased to see us, this was a bonus as we had not booked a room! They helped us with our packs and made sure we had everything we needed. We paid the rickshaw driver and gave him a good tip. He was so relieved to have eventually got us to our destination. The resort owners made us tea which we drank on the veranda listening to the approaching dawn.What a journey we had been traveling for a total of 13.5 hours and we had not slept since Monday night but all this paled into insignificance as we sat drinking our delicious tea listening to the waves crashing onto the nearby beach.
Since arriving in Valkala we have had a good time relaxing and swimming twice a day (early morning and late afternoon). From about 10.00 it is too hot for us to venture onto the beach. Valkala though is a small tourist resort and is nothing remotely like India. There are plentiful restaurants and souvenir shops which are expensive by Indian standards. The restaurants seem to want to cater for every nationality apart from Indian which means the food is not very good and is very, very expensive! We were looking forward to eating plenty of seafood but have only been able to afford to do this a couple of times. Indeed the seafood is a real rip off and sad to say generally badly cooked.
We feel very sorry for the fishermen who catch the fish and then sell it to the restaurateurs for a pittance who then cook it badly and flog it to Westerners for an absolute fortune. Bear in mind a typical Indian meal for two comes to about Rs100-200 maximum and last night our bill was Rs500 and the food was nothing special at all, in fact, I hate to say it, but we would have cooked it a damn site better. All fish dishes unless you clearly state otherwise come with chips and a poor excuse for a salad. We find this strange, I mean, would you really want to travel nearly half-way across the globe to a beautiful country like India and eat in an open air restaurant overlooking the Arabian sea and eat chips with your marlin, red snapper, tiger prawns, barracuda, shark or tuna steaks? The tourists we have spoken to hear all say the same thing, give us good quality and sensibly priced Keralan food please!
On Thursday morning we had our first upset stomach since being in India and I am not sure where to point the blame. Still it only lasted 24hrs.
The owners of Keratheeam are a lovely family and the accommodation is only a couple of minutes walk to the steps leading onto the beach. Their rooms are very sensibly priced and comfortable with hammocks on the veranda, so luxurious!! We found out yesterday that they would have been very happy to cook us proper Keralan dishes, so I would strongly recommend to anyone coming Valkala to stay at this guest house and eat in rather than go out for food.
Apart from these gripes we have enjoyed a week just chilling out meeting people, walking, reading, swimming and lazing on the beach albeit only early morning and late afternoon as it is now getting very, very hot and humid here.
We leave Valkala on the 18.00 train tonight for Chennai where we fly back to the UK 04.00 Tuesday morning. We have had such a wonderful time in India and look forward to coming back again in the not too distant future. Next time we would like to go to North India, Nepal particularly to the Himalaya.
Ok, We will post pictures as and when we can.
Marc and Rae XX