We landed from India into Europe, exhausted facing a cold, grey, wet Barcelona. Brrrrr.
Was it really necessary to pay the extra premium for the apartment with an outdoor pool? It certainly seemed worth it when we were booking it, sweltering in 40° Indian heat. But now we're here in drizzly 19° European spring, it feels rather foolishly optimistic.
Thankfully the rain was just a brief shower, a slight drizzle, a mere sea fret (I do love how many noun phrases we have for precipitation). Whatever you called it, It didn't last long and we enjoyed some serious seconds in the pool. I think that's about how long it took the kids to swim to the side and haul their soft selves out of the chilly waters having jumped in at the deep end. Brrrrr again.
The following day we flew to Ibiza, after checking the job vacancies at the English School we passed on the way to the airport! Are we ready to give up this amazing life and settle back in the UK. Time's running out for the jury on that one. We were meeting up with Riles and Lizzie in Ibiza, well to be precise, me and the kids were meeting Lizzie and her kids,, whilst the Dad's attempted to survive a stag do on the party isle.
We'd last seen the Riley's in Sydney, where they had kindly lent us a car and their camping gear for an awesome trip to Treachery Bay.
Camping in Treachery was just a tiny bit different from the villa in Playa d’en Bossa. Perhaps a wee bit quieter. But as it turned out both were fun! We'd hired a villa just a short walk from the beach complete with an outdoor pool (solar heated, brrrrr….) and four bedrooms so for the first time in some months we had the luxury of a separate room from the kids.
One thing we've certainly gotten used to during our time away together is a closeness that comes whether you like it or not from spending every waking hour and most of your sleeping hours together. No snore goes unheard, no trump goes unblamed on Otto, except Donald, obviously.
Now, Ibiza was not high on my list of European family destinations, but circumstances had brought us here, Kaney, and we, the left behind mums, were going to find the alternative to the club scene and attempt to have a fun family filled holiday, albeit for only six days.
Fun with old friends, Oliver, Otto, Charlie and Jess, Ibiza
The white isle did surpass my expectations and many of my fears were allayed. Turns out, it doesn't have to be horrendously expensive and there is stuff to do for kids. Even the party beach of Playa d'en Bossa was pretty peaceful, at least in the mornings. The afternoons on Bossa beach did see a slightly unusual sight. From about 2pm onwards there began a parade of single sex groups, walking up or down the beach with a purpose. Elsewhere beaches are generally populated by people laid prone, impersonating starfish, most definitely stationery and thoroughly relaxed, soaking up the sun, but not here. Everyone seemed to be going somewhere although it wasn't obvious where. Perhaps there were some secret party destinations at either end of the beach and the revellers were marching between them or perhaps it was an en-mass desperate search for a spot on the beach free from the seaweed that kept ruining those perfect selfie shots. Whatever they were up to, it made for some fun people watching opportunities for those of us who were contently sedate. Or at least it did, once we'd put aside our anxiety that one of the groups of posing pedestrians might just be the stag party, tiny pink briefs and all!
Thankfully no contact was made and when we weren't building and burying with sand on the beach, much of our days were filled in games of hide and seek and tiggy off ground around the villa. It was lovely for the kids to all meet up again. One of the sad truths of longer term travel for the kids is despite meeting hundreds of friends of all different nationalities, they often never see them again, so it was wonderful for the children to call catch up with Charlie & Oliver again and to see them all getting on so well together, plus it allowed Lizzie and I to have a holiday too!
Another highlight was the kids arena on the way from our villa to the beach. Inexpensive, and replete with trampolines, electric cars, indoor soft play and a great high ropes course for 4yrs and up. It was great!
Low ropes fun at Gran Piruleta park, Playa d'en Bossa, Ibiza
Once the dad's arrived, somewhat broken from the stag, we ventured out and about a bit. We hit the nudist, gay, family friendly beach (only in mainland Europe can all these coexist). Plus, we found sanctity in the old town where a storming of the fort led by balloon swords was the rowdiest thing by far.
The old town is beautiful, full of windy cobbled streets and great restaurants. The freezing boat ride around from Bossa was definitely worthwhile.
All too soon our six days of fun was at an end and yet another goodbye was on the cards. The Riley's were flying back to London, ironically our habitational town before our adventure begins and we were back to Barcelona.
We stayed for a few days with a fun family in the hills north of the city in Terrassa, famed for the Castellers, these are the death defying human pyramid towers popular in the region. I do love the cultural traditions that involve human endeavour, bravery and an element of physical risk. I'm a firm believer that we humans don't push our bodies enough to fulfill our potential (me, massively included in this). It's great to see the risks of human towers standing five rows high! Bravo!
A brief return to Barcelona for us to ponder again the possibility of making it our permanent home. In other words, Mikey checked the late night transport back from the Nou Camp and I chatted to parents in the park. Undoubtedly, we fell in love with Barcelona, after having a passion for Spain in general. Maybe one day….
The Riley's and the Newitt's enjoying the more sedate side of the White Isle in Ibiza town.
Utterly deserted, Kalapather beach, Havelock Island.
There's never a good time to get ill, but it felt particularly annoying for it to happen, as it did for me and the kids, in the middle of the remote but paradisiacal Andaman Islands.
I was first to be struck down by the fever and aches of what felt like a really bad cold. Flu seems a ridiculous idea in the tropics but maybe that was it. Anyway I was knocked out for a day before Jess was struck with the same ailment and Otto followed shortly after. All of us taking it in turns to lie motionless in the sanctity of an overpriced air-con room or to sweat it out on the beach blanket.
My views on the Andamans is sadly tainted by our illness but one thing I cannot deny is that aesthetically it is stunning. White sands and turquoise seas abound. And thankfully no crocodiles were sighted.
My paranoia on that front was thanks to the lonely planet guide and the terrible incident 7 years ago (look it up if you want my fear). My phobia saw me carrying a knife with me to the beach most days. I'm not too much of a scaredy cat but if there's one animal that freaks me completely it is a crocodile. Those beasts are ruthless predators and I didn't want to be fighting with my fists (although I don't fancy my chances even with my knife: Mick Dundee I am not).
Scaling palms near Govind Nagar beach, Havelock island
We stayed initially on Port Blair as everyone does, it's where you fly in and out of from the mainland and where you wait to get your onward ferry (which can get sold out for a few days in advance). We also stayed on Havelock and Neil islands and visited Ross and to summarise these were my impressions, (sorry I can't give more detail but my sickness has tainted me somewhat).
It's expensive for India: I'd say nearly double mainland India (except at a few exceptions, Garden Village on Neil).
The beaches, however photogenic they are, are not great for swimming. Mostly rocky reef beds means unless it's high tide you find it hard to swim at most of them.
Ross island is well worth a visit, Jess, Otto,Mikes and I all loved clambering over the reclaimed ruins, pretending we were Indiana Jones.
The best beach is Radhanagar on Havelock island, here you can swim at all tides and the waves are perfectly formed A-frames: great for bodysurfing. And although it's busy by the parking area, you only need to walk 50 metres in either direction for solitude.
It is full of honeymooners (look out for the gold and red bangles).
The local ferries, although they are cheap are not easy to book. Unless you are willing to wrestle in queues for hours at a time, days in advance you may struggle to get them. We were lucky moving from Havelock to Neil and Neil to Havelock, it was super easy but we wrestled to and from Port Blair. We had to wait two days and Mikey took on the scrum in line on Port Blair before we could get leave for Havelock and our return back to Port Blair was almost a disaster. I queued for 3hours in a bunfight which even the police couldn't sort out only to give up and book a private ferry.
The private ferries are lovely. Take them. They're ace. Enough said.
Don't expect to find much in the way of culinary delights. Unlike the rest of India, the food was disappointing on the islands. We only found two restaurants that we liked and even they were not a patch on the food of Kerala and Goa
Beer is hard to come by, beware of bars offering beer, we went to one, it was a store shed with a bare light bulb that was peddling 6month old Kingfisher.
Anyway, not to disparage it further, I have no regrets going there. It was stunning and often we were the only ones on the beaches which gave it a remote desert island feel unlike any other we've been on (with maybe the exception of the Corn Islands). However, we won't be hurrying back.
We left Port Blair for our mammoth journey back to Europe, almost looking forward to the night train from Chennai. We would be disembarking in beautiful Kerala albeit at 4:20am!!!
Boarding the train was traumatic, having just finished reading Lion, the situation we found ourselves in with two big bags and two young kids negotiating a path through thronging crowds all scrambling to get on many trains about to traverse the lengths and breadths of the country freaked me out a little and involved a lot of me shouting stay close, hold my hand, where are you. But we made it and the train was bliss. New, clean, quiet and on time! It was like India knew we were leaving and was desperate to leave a lasting good impression.
Our journey was thankfully totally uneventful; a sleep filled night followed until 4:20am when we arrived in Kalicut on time. We checked into the immaculate Raviz Hotel where we were given an enormous suite. We only stayed one night but managed to eek out two breakfasts and 38 hours of 4-star bliss.
India, Oman, Turkey and we landed in Barcelona. Back on European soil.
Petrified trees at Ram Nagar beach (no3) Neil Island
Well we'd decided to visit the remote Andaman Islands. But to get there we first had to trek East, through Tamil Nadu to Chennai to catch a flight. We'd certainly not considered Chennai as somewhere to hang out. Formerly Madras, it is India's fourth largest city and does not share the good rep of the Southern States.
Yet here we were on an overnight bus, something else we swore we'd never do with the kids, on our way through the Eastern state towards the city of Pondicherry.
The bus was ‘interesting’. We certainly knew we'd left the friendly states when at around 2am we awoke to the sickening sounds of a fight. Peeping out, I could see three or four of the passengers throwing punches at the driver! Great. Thankfully we were stopped at the time and thankfully Jess and Otto slept through the whole thing. The beds on the bus would have been quite comfy had it not been necessary to constantly cling on to avoid falling 5 feet to the aisle below. I'm not sure which of Mikes and I got the worst deal. Mikey got the unusual experience of sharing his double bed with a complete stranger and I had the discomfortable experience of sharing my double bed with two under fives. A long, overnight bus journey with no onboard toilet took it's toll and my double bed was decidedly damp!
To top it all off we spent three hours stuck down a narrow street which we'd detoured into. No matter how many times we reversed and ploughed forward again, no matter how many houses we smashed into, no matter how many power lines we pulled down, we still couldn't get free…
16 hours in and still just about smiling
When we finally disembarked in Pondicherry, (7 hours late) we still had a five hour train journey before we'd reach Chennai. So we treated ourselves to a night in a boutique hotel with swimming pool, some lovely food and a cold beer. One bonus to the crazier eastern side. You can drink beer!!
And give credit where it's due, Pondicherry was lovely, the quiet tree lined streets and the cooling sea breeze at dusk promenading along the front was tonic for the soul.
Not quite the Raviz but amazing service at the Four Seasons, Kollam
We arrived in Kollam ready to embark on a backwater cruise or head to Munroe Island.
The hotel we stayed in had arguably the best service we'd experienced anywhere in India. It also had a very welcome rooftop infinity pool, which was enjoyed by everyone. After being bashed and scraped by the waves in Varkala, it made a nice change to be bashed and scraped by the broken tiles instead. We whiled away many hours in competitive pool action.
We dined aboard the hotel's houseboat for Dan's birthday (complete with balloons and bejewelled spirit bottles). And we opted for the canoe tour around the backwaters of Munroe Island instead of the overnight houseboat tour.
The adults could have easily whiled away several hours talking nonsense and drinking toddy but ten kids may have gone stir crazy after the first hour imprisoned on a boat. The canoes provided more entertainment: helping to paddle, trying not to capsize them, ducking under ever decreasing bridges and spotting kingfishers (the birds not the beers). We even got a chance to swim (an impossibility in the backwaters of Allepey) and practice the newfound sport of human shot put as dusk set, before returning to our lovely land based hotel.
A visit to the resplendent lighthouse on Kollam beach and the ghost tunnel in Mahatma Gandhi park and we felt we'd exhausted Kollam and were ready to move on.
Kerala's communist ideology was in full force the next day, with a show of power from the people as shops, offices, restaurants and transport shut down all over the state. The protest was against the police treatment of the mother of a student who died under suspicious circumstances. We could have risked travelling but decided against it, partly in solidarity to the cause. We definitely made the right choice, as the papers the following day were full of stories of stranded foreigners.
The branch behind was one of the low bridges. Munroe island, backwaters
We did leave, eventually, for the mammoth journey into the jungles of Periyar National Park. A 28 seater bus was hired, complete with huge base bins and neon lights, and we were off. Two of our party were still ill (Delhi belly was still hanging around) so it was with some apprehension that we began the 6 hours on windy roads.
However, it was much better than expected. A slight disappointment at the waterfall stop which turned out to be a dry rock with no trace of even a trickle but we found some good coffee and nice cakes instead so all was good.
All aboard the party bus!
Periyar was great. Again we'd lucked out on the hotel and had a beautiful swimming pool (with slightly fewer broken tiles) to cool off in after the day’s travel. Although the stay was only brief (just two days) we packed it in, and for many of the swarm, this was the highlight of the holiday. The first morning we set off predawn, awakened by the cheap, sweet coffee bought from the bicycle seller. We were squeezed into two open topped jeeps and we drove in convoy through the darkness into the National Park.
As the light began to dawn we spotted two wild elephants up on the ridge, followed a short while later by an enormous Goar (like a large Bison), followed shortly after by a whole herd of said beasts grazing in the hillside beside the road. Monkeys and giant squirrels were also spotted but sadly no tigers. We took a hike through the hillside where the views were spectacular but no wildlife was spotted, much to the relief of some, who had been terrified by our guide's graphic description of the death of two hikers killed by a wild elephant on the very same path we were walking.
One hospital visit later, unrelated to wild elephants, instead more sickness returning (thankfully half an hour on a saline drip was all that was needed) and the swarm was back in full force for a boat trip followed by an exhausted jeep ride back to the hotel pool.
Hiking in Periyar National Park.
The following day we went to Elephant Junction, where we had a great morning feeding and washing elephants. The elephant shower was a particular highlight for me. OK so not the most natural thing in the world for the elephant, but it's still fun to get the full force of a trunk full of cold water full in the face. What a blast!
Otto loved the elephant shower at Elephant Junction
Another six hour bus journey and we were back in Varkala. This time with a pool that turned you orange as well as the obligatory broken tiles, but no sea breeze. We made the most of our last days settling into true holiday mode with sun shades and body boards aplenty. Beach cricket at sunset was added to the itinerary. More hennas, more shopping, a visit to the surprisingly impressive aquarium and more great food. Our favourite restaurant made a tidy packet from us and even got treated to a show featuring all ten children.
One minor hitch when jumping on the bed saw James bounce his way to four stitches at the local hospital at 11pm one night. James took it all in his stride, wearing his bandage as a badge of honour and retelling the tale often and with great vigour. He was a trooper throughout as in fact all the children were and despite the two strikes, two hospital visits and numerous bouts of sickness, everyone agreed it was a great fortnight. It certainly was very, very quiet when we shrank back to just the four of us again.
Three more weeks in India, what to do next? Monsoons approaching, heat rising. Only one thing for it, board a plane for the Andaman Islands..
The logistics of travelling with two under fives is surprisingly simple. Our toddlers have now reached the grand old age of 3 & 4 - we've been travelling with them for 18 months now; they are (thankfully and finally) both out of nappies, yet still small enough to sit on our knees. They eat pretty much anything (unspicy) when they're in the right mood and they sleep wherever we squeeze in their tents so in terms of planning we don't really need to consider anything more than if it were just the two of us. But that all was about to change with the very welcome arrival of three families from home. The GBs, the Davies and the London Newitts were all set to descend on Kerala meaning our small family of four had rapidly morphed into a swarm of 18!
We had two weeks of fun adventures ahead and despite an ominous start - we woke on the morning of their arrival to the news of a statewide transport strike - the fortnight went off without a hitch, well there was the two trips to hospital but more on that later!! At least no-one had to walk from the airport, although they did face a death defying race against time in taxis trying to deposit them to the hotel before the strike was set to start at 6am.
We met in Varkala, as good a place as any to begin a tour of ‘God's Own Country’, especially since the new Keralan state ruling means outside of Varkala it is pretty hard to buy a beer anywhere. Not so in Varkala though, normal state rules don't seem to apply.
We spent three days on Odayam beach just 2km north of the main clifftop strip at Varkala. Waking up to the sound of the waves pounding mere metres from the door and looking out through the coconut palms to the warm seas was heavenly. We had Odayam beach almost to ourselves; in our annex we had a large garden strewn with hammocks which made a great late night hangout for the adults to unwind and the beach in front was like our private beach to get thrashed around in the waves.
Mornings of yoga, afternoons of body boarding, and evenings of fine seafood were not so hard to get used to. Throw in some cooking classes, henna tattoos and some serious souvenir shopping and you had the makings of an excellent start to a great holiday. We even had dolphins swimming by one morning as we sat on the beach eating breakfast. Sublime!
Our garden by the beach. Odayam, Varkala.
April in Southern India is hot and sweaty, air con is definitely recommended, most days it must have been late 30’s so the sea breeze was a godsend as was the odd thunderstorm which also made for a great natural fireworks display. Watched from the (safety?) of the clifftop, the almost nightly belligerent storms were quite something; fork lightening assaulted the sea, amongst the lights of the hundreds of fishing boats. The storms were exhilarating to witness from land, but we were all grateful we weren't out there. One strike seemed so close to the boats that it drew a gasp of horror from the clifftop voyeurs. A small reminder that even in the laid back, easy going Southern state of Kerala, life can be harsh.
From Varkala, we headed north up the coast 50km to Kollam, a few rode in AC comfort by taxi with the mountain of bags, whilst the rest of us raced them by tuktuk and train. The intrepid train travellers rode in no style and nothing like comfort, apart from the kids who got lucky enough to sit up on the luggage racks. For those unlucky ones left stood by the toilets the ride was less than pleasant, a stomach turning, pallor inducing, endurance test that was possibly to have lasting consequences over the next few days. Cue the arrival of the infamous Delhi belly.
Jess and Otto watching the Chinese fishing nets, Kochi
We had just ten days to kill before our next visitors were set to arrive. Just enough time to check out Kochi
With it's famous fort area and Chinese fishing nets, we had high hopes for the city. And yes, they were very nice but nothing on Wonderla!
Wonderla is Kerala's best water park in fact there are a few Wonderlas elsewhere dotted around India but the one near Kochi is ace. It's big, clean, has loads of slides and also has some small land based rides as well. We spent a great day here, cooling off from the southern heat. My only complaint was they were a little too cautious and wouldn't let our two kids on any of the bigger slides, which is a rarity on our travels. Everywhere else from Bali to El Salvador they have allowed us to take responsibility for them but not here. We got whistled at constantly as the life guards panicked to see our two swimming on their own. The wave pool attendant nearly had a heart attack as they were diving underneath the waves and swimming for ten seconds underwater.
After Kochi we stopped briefly in Allepey with the thought of checking out a backwater houseboat cruise. But the more we priced it up and took a look at it, the more we realised it wasn't for us. Ten children imprisoned in a small space for hours on end with no chance of going for a swim even. Not ideal. So after a couple of slap up meals at the Ramada hotel, we left our cheap dive next door and headed down to Varkala.
Varkala beach from the clifftop
Varkala lived up to its reputation. Firstly, we could sit in a restaurant and have a beer! Albeit disguised in a clay mug bit still a beer. And they served cocktails as well.
If you're heading to Kerala and plan on straying from Varkala be aware you may find it tricky to get any alcoholic beverage. The state government have been piling restrictions on top of restrictions which makes it pretty difficult and time consuming. In fact Gokarna was equally facing restrictions so it is happening in other states too. Even way out here in the Andamans (where I'm penning this post from) there is no beer anywhere but one 5 star resort.
But not in Varkala. The weight of tourism or the remoteness of the cliffs mean it is a safe place to chill with a beer and watch the sundown. The beach is also beautiful for a morning run, it stretches for way further than I could ever hope to run. And at seven in the morning it's still shaded by the mighty cliffs so cool enough to attempt some exercise.
Next post, the arrival of the swarm: the GBs, the Davies and the Newitts arrive. When four became eighteen. Yikes!!
So when I posted last, we were leaving the jungle clad hill tops of Wayanad heading back to the beaches. This time Northern Kerala, specifically Thottada and Kozhikode (Calicut) where we would bid our farewells to the grandparents.
The beach at Thottada was nothing like I was expecting, often when you travel following the guide book you head to places described as 'deserted’ and 'off the beaten track’ only to find lots of tourism has developed (usually during the two or three years since the guide book was edited and you arrive, places catch up to accommodate all those intrepid travellers who set out to find the undiscovered place). So we were expecting Thottada to have a smattering of accommodation options and restaurants to choose from and maybe the odd souvenir shop. But much to our disappointment there was next to nothing there.
We like a bit of tourism, we're tourists after all; we are definitely not the ones who revel in finding a deserted empty beach. We're not into eeking out a holiday, we like it a bit easier than that. Turns out here, we were the only people on the enormous beach. Well that is until our arrival sparked some curiousity amongst the young local men who parked themselves, rather unnervingly, in two groups just behind where we'd set our towels down. As it turns out they meant us no harm but were just surprised to see 7 white people of three generations on their beach.
Punting on the backwaters behind deserted Thotthada beach
The waves were smashing, quite literally, so after five minutes of survival all that was left to do was sit and read or build sandcastles. The lack of restaurants meant we ate every meal at our guest house, the cooking was lovely but the serving left me feeling a bit uncomfortable as the owners and two staff would sit behind us and watch us constantly so they could advance and refill any part of the meal which we were near to finishing. Mikey's beer run helped a bit but we all felt ready to move on.
We did get to visit a Theyyam which was our main reason for staying here. Mikey stayed home with the kids and me and the grandparents squeezed into a tuktuk and headed off into the villages inland. We got there just as the first dancers were on: three huge men dressed in magnificent scarlet and gold costumes with red makeup all over them. They were frighteningly menacing to look at and quite accomplished in their act; their hopping their enormous weight on top of tiny stools whilst fire was lit all around them, was particularly impressive.
There followed two more dancers again in voluminous costumes, some wielding big swords and some dancing on fire. It was a sight to behold and although we stuck out like a sore thumb as obviously not one of the villagers, many people spoke to us, although not in English, so I've no idea what they were saying but the tone and gestures and smiles all lead me to believe it was all friendly.
Theyyam near Kannur
Exhausted by the late night Theyyam, we left the next day by train to Calicut (Kozhikode). India is still in the process of renaming cities, a process which started with independence from Britain in1947. Now, I’m aware there are a lot of cities in this huge country, but seventy years on and still some places are so newly named they go by both names.
Kozhikode was a breath of fresh air, despite it being a city. We had found a gorgeous mansion right by a beach ten minutes north of the city to stay in for three days and it could not have been more perfect had it tried. The Jackfruit Tree Inn was right on a clean, almost private beach, where the water was calm for swimming and there were dolphins not twenty metres from shore every morning. The owner and his sister came to meet us when we arrived, she heavily pregnant and really interested to hear our outlook on travelling with young children. They couldn't have been nicer and Jitesh, the day manager was a godsend. He took us shopping, rang for takeaway for us. We even had wine with dinner! Indian wine. Indian wine that was drinkable!
We enjoyed our last three days of luxury in this enormous house, Mikey making pancakes for breakfast, desperately trying to swim with the dolphins and generally relaxing with Ayurvedic massages and hammock hanging.
It was bliss. Exactly the way to end the trip for the grandparents.
Blue band all the way, Otto, Mikes and Grandma, Kerala festival season
We made it to another festival whilst here, Jitesh knew of one happening locally which was coming to an end. He warned us it may be very busy but we went for it.
Nothing ventured nothing gained.
We taxied round the backstreets till we came right to the back of the parade. We squeezed past the drummers and joined the throngs of dancers. Looking round, just two minutes out of the taxi, all of us were already jigging away a little. It was truly infectious.
The blue band village adopted us and wouldn't let us walk any further ahead than their group. We all had blue ribbons tied around us and were well and truly welcomed into the parade. Otto was the star on Mikey's shoulders or dancing to his own beat he had an entourage that sometimes seemed to be keeping even us at a safe distance from the mini demi-god. He loved it!
A fitting end to a great three weeks with the grandparents. Three states visited, seven hotels slept in, two wild elephants spotted, two festivals attended, many temples and palaces visited, two cameras lost, 1,000km travelled and lots of great memories to take home. We're all missing them for sure.
Otto and Grandma enjoying sunset at Jackfruit Tree
Jess & Otto (now 3&4) presenting their latest home: Varnamhomestay
Yesterday we travelled up into the jungle, here to Wayanad. What a contrast from Mysore. Absolute silence except for the wind in the trees and the birds calling.
It was a relief to leave the tooting of tuk-tuks. Here, lush green jungle, gardens and farms replace the dust and rubbish of the city. And lazing in hammocks (or watching the grandmas fall out of the hammocks) replaces cooling off in the hotel pool. This place is utterly restful, once you've mastered the art of clambering into the hammock. But not being ones to get overly rested, we all got up at 6am to take a wildlife drive!
Mother and calf crossing behind us in roadside safari, Wayanad National Park.
It was worth the early start as we saw many deer (spotted and the large Samba), three types of monkey, many huge bison and what we were really here to see, elephants. A mother and calf right by the roadside. They crossed within feet of our jeep, the mum driving towards us with a protective look in her eye that saw our driver accelerate away to a safe distance.
The homestead we are in here is an organic farm where they grow everything you can think of, literally you could name a tropical fruit or herb and I'm sure they grow it here: avocados, mangoes, pomegranates, passion fruit, pineapple, figs, coffee, vanilla, chillies, mint, cinnamon, coconuts, cashew nuts, pepper, Jack fruit, kiwis, grapefruits, and 14 different types of banana to name a few!.
Turmeric, jack fruit seeds, figs and coffee to name a few. Varnamhomestay
We tried to make it to the circus whilst here, but a huge hailstorm prevented us. Until Wayanad, we have had nothing but sun and searing heat whilst in India, so it was somewhat surprising to be pelted by freezing hailstones whilst lying on our hammocks. My flip-flop were nearly the first casualty as they went sailing off in the torrent of gushing rainfall down the monsoon runoffs, thankfully I rescued them just in time.
It's just cricket!
We leave tomorrow back to the beaches, this time those of Northern Kerala, where my Fidel Castro hat seems to fit right in - there's large support for the communist party in this state, stencils of Che Guevara adorn every lamppost. Let's hope we like it more than we did Cuba, and pray we've seen the last of the hail!
From Agonda, we moved south by train - just 2 hours late - to the hippy hangout of Gokarna and Kudle beach (aptly pronounced cuddly, I don't know if the hippies named it).
Here we stayed for a few nights just lazing on the beach, being harassed by hawkers to buy necklaces and watching the antics of the hippies at sunset gathering on the beach to drum, chant, twirl fire and sticks and balance on each other in various poses.
The walk to Om beach was a welcome distraction from the sellers despite the heat and also provided us with more cows on the beach shots. My one regret would be we didn't realise how close we were to Gokarna town, which looked worth a wander to buy cheap beach clothes and souvenirs.
Sunset at Kudle beach with a cuddly hippy vibe
Our whistle stop tour continued with a 14hour train ride overnight up to the city of palaces, Mysore. The train ride was fairly uneventful, unless you count Otto having a major malfunction around 9pm just as most passengers were getting off to sleep.
Tantrumtastic was kicked off by not wanting to wear his pants! And continued for about 20 minutes of full scale screaming, hitting and stamping up and down.
The situation was not helped by our pre-ordered food turning up, after we'd long since given up on it and filled up on crisps and biscuits. The vendors (in typical Indian bureaucracy) insisted I produce the SMS verification code before they'd hand the food over. Screaming child in one hand, phone in the other, a coach load of Indian passengers looking mightily irritated at being kept awake…Perfect!
Ah, the joys of travelling with toddlers!
Mini Maharajahs in Mysore
We reached Mysore on time (unfortunately as it meant 5am). The city vastly surpassed my expectations. Despite my initial intimidation at our first taste of an bustling Indian city, by the time we'd left I was really rather taken with it.
Yes, it was smelly and the traffic was chaotic, but it was also beautifully serene in part too. Crossing the roads took nerves of steel as did ignoring the many street sellers and beggars, but in retrospect, apart from one particularly pushy tuk tuk driver , everyone else was very friendly.
We whiled away 4 hours at the clean and well run Mysore Zoo, which had everything but polar bears and penguins (at 37℃, I'm guessing housing Arctic animals would be ill advised).
We were the only white people in there on a busy Saturday before Holi (the religious holiday where the paint throwing happens) and as such were inundated with selfie requests. But it was all in good spirits and I couldn't fault the zoo, the animals were well cared for in carefully thought out large enclosures and even the canteen was good!
We took in the other sights of the city of Palaces, of which the most impressive was undoubtedly the Mysore Palace by night. Lit by thousands of individual light bulbs, the huge Palace glows with a Midas touch that is well worth seeing and it's free! But only on Sunday's between 19:00 - 19:30.
Mysore Palace at night
And we found a new method of transport.
Enormous Nandi at Chamundi Hill
On wandering the city, I got happy Holi'd much to the amusement of the market stall owners when some young lads asked if I would take part. The boys offered me some paint dust to throw first, so I took a tiny amount and sprinkled a little on one of the boys and in return got a huge handful from them hurled smack in the face. Bleurghh. I was eating paint all the way to the bookshop, where I then had to leaf through the books with green paint stained hands.
The staff just laughed and wished me 'happy Holi'.
Next stop the communist state of Kerala and some animals at Wayanad National Park.
Holi festival where it's custom to throw paint dust and water at anyone game.
Patnem was all out of mopeds sadly. So we got the VW bus instead! I wish! We are not quite living that dream yet but some lucky campers were on Agonda beach. Meanwhile, we had a meet up planned with Julie from my university days so we made a move to nearby Agonda beach and the family Newitts got back on the mopeds
This time we were with the grandparents….look out! Five adults and two kids squeezed onto two mopeds and a Royal Enfield Bullet (apparently a classic Indian motorbike). The bullet rumbled and roared behind me as I putt putted solo for a change - Shirls was in my usual spot: desperately clinging on the back of the moped for 4 whilst telling a billion stories.
Agonda beach is pretty much our favourite Indian beach so far. It looks true Goan paradise, even comes complete with VW camper vans parked up amongst the palm trees. Much wider and longer than Patnem so you feel you have loads of space. We shared the beach with a few tourists, quite a few cows and a renegade horse who kept wandering into restaurants to steal people's breakfast!
The accommodation is more varied on Agonda than on Patnem and we split our time between a clean and bright budget beach shack at Nana's Nook on the Southern end and a more expensive AC option on the Northern end of the beach. There are tonnes of great places to eat as well for all budgets and tastes from the European upmarket Kopi Desai to the low-key but reportedly excellent Fatima's Rest.
The one downside to great restaurants is we ate so much, I felt compelled to get out running again and my calves had a good workout on the never ending sands of the longer beach. As a place for a run though, it's hard to beat. Barefoot, at sunrise, in such amazing surroundings, it almost negates the pain.
Cows on the beach, Agonda
Five minutes ago when I started this post, I was sweltering in a hammock in the beautiful gardens of Varnam Homestay in Wayanad, now I've just had to make a mad dash to shelter as the driving hail has nearly washed my flip-flops down the irrigation system. It's still beautiful but at 1000meters above sea level, I've actually felt cold for the first time here in India!
Anyway more on Wayanad later, the thunder and lightning may try to distract me but I'll soldier on through. What a hard life I have…
So where was I, still in Goa.
We briefly visited Panjim the state capital which is remarkably quiet and clean for what I imagined from an Indian City. And also has great restaurants. Other highlights of Goa were: 1) Cabo de Rama: a quiet fort near Agonda beach which has beautiful views and makes for a good moped excursion if you want a break from the beach.
2) Splashdown water park: where both kids (Otto is 3 now, and Jessica, 4) managed to get on the extreme slides on their own. It helps that both of them can swim, but they do look tiny on the big slides.
3) The dolphins. We caught glimpses of them whilst in Patnem but decided to get up close with them on kayaks from Palolem beach. After an tasty vegan lunch at Little World, where the kids were dressing up in cushion covers and playing in the toy kitchen, we paddled out to see a dozen or so dolphins fishing in twos and threes probably about 300 metres from shore.
Sadly no pictures of the dolphins.
Overall, Goa is nothing like I expected. At least not the bits we've seen. No sign of package holiday resorts, only a scattering of hippies and mostly beautiful beaches and quiet luxury. Definitely, a place to recommend.