Marari Beach, Kerala

Sent on January 16 2016

Well, dear reader, you will be relieved to know that things have improved a good deal since our somewhat erratic and expensive journey here. The hotel (Marari Beach) is perfect – comfortable yet simple, and the food is bloody marvellous. And even the fact that it has no gin (what?) hasn’t really dampened our enthusiasm. It’s been a splendid place to start our trip. Apart from being charmingly laid out (villas spaced out under named trees and thatched with banana leaves in traditional style) it’s an eco-hotel and everything is super-organic and planet-friendly, which is a marvellous way to feel smug after travelling approximately 5,259 miles to get here…. Er…

We have done a good deal of lolling and reading and swimming, and we tried the Ayurvedic massage which was terrific for my arthritis, but also quite odd as we were massaged in a sitting position for the first 30 minutes. I was so tired from the journey I kept falling asleep and luckily my masseuse caught me before I fell head first on the tiled floor.   I think they must have taken pity, because I was placed on the couch and two masseuses swooshed up and down and marinaded me with such quantities of oil that I felt like a piece of ready-to-barbeque chicken. Then my sore balloon knees were gently pounded and rubbed with hot cloth mushroomy things containing healing herbs. Brilliant.

Our activities here have been minimal. You’ve no doubt heard of the beautiful backwaters of Kerala. Since we got here, we’ve spoken to a few fellow tourists who wax lyrical about their glorious backwater journeys. So naturally, we were excited about our boat trip which promised “an opportunity to see remote village life that is untouched and removed from the modern world.”

Our departure point was just behind this spot.

Breezeblocks are clearly more historical than I had previously supposed. In a home stay house about 500 yards from here, we were given lunch. This was a bit of a surprise, as it said nothing about lunch in our itinerary, and caused us no end of a dilemma. First, we tend to eat a mountainous breakfast which does us the whole day, so we were full. Second, this is India and the prognostications and warnings and looming threats of dysentery are enough to make you nervous about ingesting anything that hasn’t been boiled to bejaysus in front of you. But there was our lunch, served on a banana leaf, by smiling cook, husband and translator who watched every mouthful with hopeful faces and as you can see, his Nibs looks a little nervous. But Yours Truly tucked in – ever the adventurous gourmet – and it was actually delicious. And no harm came to us.

A long wooden boat bound together with coconut fibre awaited us, complete three simply adorable plastic chairs and a gondolier in a dhoti. (John is quite keen on adopting this form of dress for reasons I can’t possibly put into print.) Two of the chairs had been lovingly draped with elderly, greyish towels which meant that our touristy bums didn’t have to endure proximity to plastic but our translator had no such luxury. Ah well. That’s what you get on a luxury holiday.

We had checked our personalized tour brochure the day before. It promised the following;

During this cruise, you will have an opportunity to see village life, which is untouched and removed from the world. No trip to Kerala is complete without witnessing the beauty of the backwaters.”

Hmm. Our backwater was a muddy canal about 3m wide, and we went for an hour in one direction and then back in the other direction. I can say that we saw a wide variety of untouched and remote delights including:

 

  • a cormorant fishing and drying itself
  • several kingfishers or one busy kingfisher pretending to be a colony of kingfishers
  • fabulous dragonflies
  • a water boatman (exciting for me as I have entomological sympathies)
  • women making coconut ropes
  • a woman plaiting a banana leaf mat
  • a toothless gentleman washing his armpits
  • another gentleman washing his spare dhoti
  • a goat
  • a cornucopia of plastic bottles most definitely removed from the modern world
  • a disused fishing net
  • a satellite dish
  • a 4x4
  • some ducks
  • a good number of breeze block houses
  • a water snake
  • a cow
  • some more cul-de-sacwaters (sic) blocked up with vegetation and litter
  • a lot of washing lines
  • some truly terrible fencing falling into the water.
  • two buses
  • various bicyclists

We also heard some very loud Hindu prayers being chanted via some powerful amplifiers in which the cones were clearly busted. Hmmm. Remote and untouched? I don’t think so. Actually, I felt sad about the trip, because we will have to tell our travel agent how dreadful it was, and our translator was just charming and spoke terrific English. She needs the work, but the trip was a doozer.

And then we went back to our hotel. Incidentally, I with my woefully slow eyesight, saw the kingfisher only three times, John saw it many many times. So imagine my delight on the way back when I pointed out an elephant, which he missed. Sometimes life is generous like that.

Last night we tried the Farm Kitchen. There are three restaurants here – the buffet, which is cheapest but full of yummy food. The seafood grill, where they don’t understand what you say and bring you what you did not order, but it’s mouthwatering anyhow and rather more expensive. And the Farm Kitchen, the most expensive, where you pick your dinner and help to cook it, and it only takes a maximum of about 9-10 diners.

As we advanced through the huge, impressive, but untidy kitchen garden, our hearts sank. The table was laid for four – which meant we would definitely be stuck talking to the other guests. They arrived, and turned out to be Swiss. Our hearts plummeted farther still. You could hear John’s heart bouncing along the bottom as we were taken on a tour of the garden and shown gourds, beans and herbs and more gourds of various sorts. My, you’d be amazed at the variety of gourds you can grow. Good gourd, I marvelled. Of course, that’s great for me, but John is not one of nature’s gardeners. He still thinks our hedge is planted with pyracanty… it reminds me of Dorothy Parker’s quip – “You can take a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.

And the best bit about this story is that we were wrong wrong wrong. The Swiss couple were funny, nice, intelligent, warm, and completely delightful. The cookery was fascinating. In spite of himself, John (who does love a cookery show) was utterly compelled, and we had a fabulous evening. Yummy tastes, GORGEOUS food, and email addresses exchanged with André and Michaela at the end.

One more day here (boo hoo) then we move on, hopefully to somewhere with gin. I feel a loll calling me. I tried to interest John in a visit to the bio gas plant, sewage treatment plant, vermin compost cell, solid waste management system and solar panels that this hotel is so proud of and wants to show us, but he has resisted. So I suppose it’s another day of lolling beside our private pool ahead of me. Oh well…

But if I’m asked if it’s worth coming all this way to this hotel – er… I’m not sure. Serene Pavilions in Sri Lanka was better. So was Sandoways hotel in Ngapali Beach, Myanmar. The swimming was infinitely superior at both resorts. And they both had gin.

Oh, gin! Where have you gone?