Life here in our jungle-fringed pink house between Varkala town and Varkala beach drifts gently by and feels more like home as each day passes. Our location between real India (town) and tourist India (beach) affords us the best of both worlds.
Last night we ate Butterfish Tikka and Tibetan Momos while I watched Arsenal play Villa in a clifftop restaurant, yet the evening before we nipped into town on the scooter and ate delicious Masala Dosas and Vegetable Subji for 30p in a local joint. The large, three-day Hindu festival being assembled in town promises to be a riot of noise, colour and spectacle, yet we’ve slipped easily into the evening ritual of meeting friends at the beach as the sun heads for the horizon for a swim as the scorching heat subsides and the reddening sun seeps into the sea, its pigment bleeding into the sky.
Our two nearest neighbours maintain the homogeneous polarity. Below us live our landlords, the most wonderfully warm and welcoming local family. We share little common language but through gestures, smiles, head waggles and regular gifts of coconuts, eggs and bananas we are made to feel welcome and completely at ease here. Behind us, across cobra and funnel-web infested scrubland and shouting distance from our terrace, is a household of assorted Europeans who have been equally welcoming and accommodating, helping us with the myriad idiosyncrasies of Indian living and extending invites to us whenever they “make party on the roof!” With each friendship – Sadji at the local shop, Umesh and his son Abhi at the Juice Shack, Zoe and her twin boys Jem & Jelly – we feel less like holiday-makers and more like residents, which was always our intention before setting off on this expedition. We would much rather get a taste of real-life in a handful of places across the globe than have ticked-off a hundred ‘sights’ before our return.
Mornings begin early with a solitary surf session in the silky smooth Arabian sea. I’ve picked the smallest surf season (December/January) to be here, but there have been waves every day ranging from waist- to head-high, and looking south from Varkala cliff the mass of sand-banks and small coves creates break after break – almost reminiscent of the view south down the western Bukkit peninsular – producing small almond-eyed curls up to proper lip-pitching barrels depending on swell size and direction. These super-fast lefts are exposing my backhand weakness as I struggle to race ahead of the crashing lip. When a bank produces a rare right the dissonant capability of my left and right side becomes jarringly obvious as I have the speed, balance and technique to make a quick bottom turn and to snake, for speed, up and down the sinuous mirrored walls before pitching back off the brink as it finally breaks down in knee-deep water. As our next destination is Indonesia, the land of lefts, the next few weeks’ practice in the forgiving sand-bottomed waves of India will, I’m sure, pay dividends as the sand becomes knife-edged coral and the power, size and speed of the waves intensifies.
We breakfast on porridge laced with coconut shavings, bananas and wild mountain honey from our friend Sadji, washed down with a spicy aromatic herbal masala tea, and either begin work on one of our many plots and schemes in the offing or just laze on the terrace with a good book and contemplate lunch, or a swim or a pootle down-coast on the scooter. The heat of the day produces a languid tropical malaise by about 2pm but my Northern-European-trained bodyclock doesn’t usually allow me the orthodox afternoon doze. Instead I tend to slow to a crawl and wait for the relief of the receding sun and for the onshore breeze to dissipate before heading beach-ward once more.
There’s interest among some locals in this surfing game, but none here can actually do it. I’ve promised to give lessons to a couple of lifeguards and our friend Abhi before I go, but the scarcity of decent learner-boards is a problem, as is my inexperience in teaching! I’ve begun practising for my new-found role with Jake and Lisa, our friends from Brighton who, to our delight, leapt upon the offer of our spare room and a tropical festive sojourn, yet the bruises on Lisa’s head and thigh and my egocentric tendency to nip off to catch waves leaving my pupils floundering in the impact zone exposes my early shortcomings as a wannabe surf guru.