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Trashed Beauty of Varkala

India is tough to encapsulate in one sentence. We learned this within our first three hours in the Subcontinent..

Ambassador TaxiMy $2.20 wrist watch began hemorrhaging a series of awful beeps. It was 2:30 AM already? Within a half hour we were aboard the first bus to Kuala Lumpur’s distant international airport for a dirt cheap Air Asia flight to Thiruvananthapuram, India. Still half asleep upon arriving in the world’s second most populous nation, we negotiated a ride with fellow backpacker Rob to the cliffside beach town of Varkala on India’s southern tip. The aging white Amabassador taxi dodged pedestrians, dog carcasses, and sacred cows. After one hour of ingesting India’s uniqueness, we disembarked at Varkala in the dual use parking lot / hospital helipad.

Cliff with Trash Cliffside Shops

Floored best describes our first impression. Eighty foot cliffs giving way to the glistening Arabian Sea. A wide beach beckoning with equally appealing restaurants high above. Blue skies coupled with an intoxicating charm along the clifftop footpath fronting quaint guesthouses, bending palms, and welcoming shops. Befuddled was our second impression. How on earth could a place this enchanting be littered with so much trash? The beach, upon closer inspection was strewn with waste. Bar operators, citizens, and shop keepers lazily toss aside rubbish on the cliff’s edge assuming that when it falls, it is no longer their worry. Ash became frustrated by the mess cluttering the otherwise breath taking canvass. I was pissed and wanted to find out how and why this happens. We came to find out, after several conversations and first hand observations, that Indians in general don’t subscribe to the idea of waste baskets.

Fresh Pineapple Why Not Pee On The Beach Gawkers

The day was heating up so we hit the beach where Ash wrote in her journal (an incredible account of our RTW trip) while I was reduced to an eight year old playing in the Indian Ocean surf. Then a friendly Indian woman came by offering squid and fresh pineapple, which of course we inhaled. Squid grilled over an open flame on the beach is tough to beat. While Ash continued to pen her travel accounts, I surveyed the sand and cliffs on a leisurely walk where I witnessed a man in his early 30s drop his drawers and urinate beside a boulder in full view of all beach goers. Zipped up, he meandered on his way as if my jaw hadn’t hit the sandy floor. As I hurried back to the beach blanket to tell my tale, a group of teenage school boys were openly gawking at Ash. Pride overwhelmed me, so I proceeded to document the moment with a photograph.

Varkala Beach View From Cliff Varkala Beach Cliffs

Shopping, She was a Good SalewomanAs the sun disappeared into the sea, we met up with Rob (backpacker extraordinaire) who led us into the shadows of Varkala for a $1.30 dinner. Distinguished guests at the meal included a swarming brood of blood thirsty mosquitoes. After burning more calories swatting the nagging mossies than consumed, a cliffside “illegal” bar drew our attention. Alcohol sales are prohibited in Varkala for Hindu reasons so beer was consumed in solid vessels with the glass bottle hidden near our feet. It felt good to be such renegades. The next morning was spent browsing the multitude of shops sitting high above the crashing tide. T-shirts, wooden elephants, colorful mirrors, and beach wraps were among the purchases. Ash and I gravitated to a young girl who negotiated like a seasoned trinket saleswoman. Her English was impressive as she explained how she goes to school only three months per year. In between urges that she attend school more often, we forked over a king’s ransom for authentic Indian goods.

Varkala is blessed with incredible natural beauty yet sullied by indifferent locals. Many of the peculiar nuances we noticed here became themes of our time in incredible India.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Even the most experienced fliers should allow extra time at unfamiliar airports. At the Thiruvananthapuram Airport, the outside curb to departure gate process took over one hour after a convoluted process. To even gain access to the airport terminal, we had to show our tickets, which we did not have due to our online booking. Once that was straightened out, we patiently waited in line for our boarding passes only to be told our bags had to be screened first. Two separate queues later, we were in yet another line to gain clearance to the waiting area for the flight.
2) When in a new place, being slow to criticize is simple courtesy. Each country, heck even different regions in the same country, have unique quirks. We do our best to embrace the good and understand the bad.

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