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Beaching it in Kovalam

Kovalam Travel Blog

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Lighthouse from the Malabar Restaurant

7/2/07
I went down to the front desk to sort out the whole reward certificate issue and the brilliant girl who awoke us last night was there and said I would have to go to the business center.  Luckily, the one helpful guy at the hotel walked up just then and said that I could print the certificate without getting charged in the business center.  Finally someone who is helpful!  Not only did he take care of the problem but he helped us with train schedules and grabbed us a taxi whom he told to drive like a maniac since the next train was in about 30 minutes.

The taxi guy took a “shortcut” through some back alleys and drove like a crazed speed demon getting us to the station in record time where we got tickets on the next train out in “Sleeper Class” which is a euphemism for six crowded, hard and dirty benches.

Mosque and Boats in Kovalam
  This was the Trivandrum “Super Fast” Express train which races from Cochin to Trivandrum at the breakneck speed of thirty miles per hour.  We spent the next four hours casually cruising through the lush, green jungles of costal India, occasionally chatting with some of the locals and finally watching “The Usual Suspects” on my PDA.

One of the men we were talking to insisted on helping us get a pre-paid tuk-tuk to go the 16km from Trivandrum to Kovalam which did end up being exceedingly cheap - guess he got the “local” price for us.  We eventually found the place that we had called out of our book and, in this case, reality proved to be a bit less spiffy than their web-site.

Fish Market in Kovalam
  The place was pretty much a dive although our room did have a balcony overlooking the rocks crashing onto the ocean below and the lighthouse on the point.  The people were really nice but Cindy was a little unhappy when she opened the fridge (not plugged in) and found a large, dead cockroach.  We went for lunch and then wandered around the boardwalk and back alleyways of Kovalam looking for another place to stay tomorrow.

We eventually stumbled on a nice looking little place called the Royal Sea Blue Hotel set back a few hundred yards from the beach that was spotlessly clean and looked nice.  We met the older man who works or owns the place (we are not sure which) and in fairly broken English, he said he would be very happy if we stayed here since it is off season and he doesn’t care about “business money’ only “eating money”.  We asked what the rate was and he said in-season it is 3-4,000 Rupees a night ($75-100) but anything would be good now.

Fishermen in Kovalam
  We told him that at our current place we were paying 1,000/night and would pay a little more than that and he said “No.  1,000 is fine!” and he hoped to see us in the morning which would make him “very happy!”  Needless to say, we will be heading there tomorrow.

Since we had a huge lunch, we just walked down the boardwalk which looks like it has potential in-season but is currently pretty deserted and a little moldy/grimy.  The weather during the Monsoon can get pretty severe and there have been big waves that have made the beach virtually disappear.  It isn’t pouring rain constantly, but the sun has yet to show its face. We ended up having beers served in clay mugs at a place called “Malabar“ that is right on the boardwalk.  No one has a liquor license and thus the restaurants have to bribe the local cops.  Part of that includes “hiding” the beer from the public.

Fishing Nets in Kovalam
  We ended up going back to the Rockholm Hotel and watching “Jacobs Ladder” pretending we were in a nicer room and looking forward to moving in the morning.

7/3/07
After breakfast, we packed up and checked out to the dismay of “Johnson” the manager at the Rockholm and headed over and were greeted by a very happy and smiley Royal Sea Blue manager.  The room is really nice and clean plus has a TV with HBO (good for the rains) and a balcony overlooking the jungle from which you can hear the waves pounding the beach.  A series of tiny pathways leads through the back alleys of Kovalam and it seems like a really nice, fun place.  Best of all, the kid who cleans the room said if we gave him money, he would stock our fridge (no cockroaches in this one) with cold beer.  How much better can it get?

We went for a long walk down the beach and ended up meeting a man at a small Ayurvedic massage place.

Shandy the dog at Royal Sea Blue Hotel
  Cindy had said she wanted to get a treatment so we booked “rejuvenation massages” this afternoon before walking over the point to the next beach.  All of the beaches have Red Flag conditions although the surf wouldn’t even qualify for Yellow Flag at home.  If it gets sunny ever, perhaps we will go swimming.  We had lunch at another one of the beachfront restaurant’s called Coconut Grove and ended up talking with Suresh, one of the guys who works there.  He was telling us about what Kovalam is like in season (Oct-Feb) when the sea is blue and calm, the beach stretches far with golden sand and the place is generally packed with vacationing Europeans.  There is something to be said for visiting places off-season but this place is damn near deserted (however still fun and relaxing of course…)

After seafood for lunch, we went for our massages, mine from Maheen, the funny guy we talked to originally, and Cindy’s from an older Hindi woman who didn’t speak much English.

Royal Sea Blue Hotel
  The massage was pretty good but not particularly deep.  Neither of us opted for the traditional treatment that involves pouring warm oil over your forehead for 45 minutes (sounds boring) but Cindy did get a facial mask.  Afterwards, Maheen was telling us how many of the local Indian tourists like to show off by paying to stay at the five star hotel around the corner (previously Le Meridien) but will then come and bargain with him over a 500 Rupee massage ($12).  On the walk back to the hotel it started pouring rain and we got completely drenched but there is something comfortable about getting soaked by a torrential downpour in the tropics.  We ended up visiting our buddy at the Malabar restaurant for dinner where we had a tasty meal of grilled shrimp, salad and jeera rice which is rice sautéed with cumin seed, garlic and other spices.  There was a group of tourists from Oman or UAE who were grinding the poor guy at the restaurant hard, bargaining on fish and shrimp which they have lined up on a table out front in display for people on the boardwalk.
Shoreline from Lighthouse
  When I mentioned that to him he laughed and said he didn’t mind it and that they weren’t very good at it anyways, bargaining hard on some things and overpaying on others.  We were just happy to get the local price for the shrimp.

7/4/07
Well we are easing into beach life and there is not much to do or write about.  After breakfast, we went to the internet to research hotels in Goa and Alleppy where we will probably head next to do a backwater cruise of Kerala.  The weather has actually cleared up and we saw the sun for the first time since Tibet.  If this keeps up, I may have to go swimming (although the water is really churned up and looks pretty similar to the Pacific if a little more polluted).

Seafood in Kovalam
  Not having much of anything to do between breakfast and lunch, we relaxed in the room and watched HBO for a bit before trying out a new restaurant called Beatles where we had fantastic grilled, spiced Keralan fish, Keralan chicken curry and, of course, Kingfisher Lager.  Afterwards, we walked over to the lighthouse for our “touristy” event of the day and climbed the circular steps up 35 meters for a great view of the Keralan coastline.  The day ended with dinner at Coconut Grove with our new friend Suresh where we had more grilled shrimp, Keralan fried Calamari and salad.  He was very happy to sit and chat with us as we were probably his only customers the whole day.  Things are REALLY slow here during the monsoon.  One of these days, we are going to have to figure out where to head next and how to get there but not today…In the meantime, we will hang out at the beach, enjoy the seafood and play with Shandi, our new little puppy friend at the Royal Sea Blue hotel (you can see him in the picture below).

Guess it is the fourth of July at home and everyone is out celebrating at home.

Seafood in Kovalam
  Traditionally, we would walk across the street to our neighbors David and Leah’s house for their big, annual Fourth of July party - hopefully Brenda will act as our surrogate this year…

7/5/07
This morning we woke up early and walked about 30 minutes to the local fishing village which is in a very poor looking, Muslim area.  As you can probably guess, Cindy was feeling particularly out of place, in fact we didn’t see a single woman for at least 15 minutes or so.  We walked around the point past a big Mosque and towards a small harbor absolutely packed with colorfully painted wooden fishing boats.  Hordes of men were sitting around painstakingly repairing their huge fishing nets (which looks insanely tedious - luckily we just go to Santa Monica Seafood and buy our fish…)  We saw a huge crowd across the bay and figured that must be the local fish market so decided to walk over that way along the shoreline.

Kovalam Lighthouse
  Unfortunately, the shoreline also doubles as the fishermen’s bathroom and there were lots of men squatting and taking care of business ride at the water front.  We tried to make a quick escape towards the inland road to the market but not before the group of fishermen in the picture approached us and motioned for me to take their portraits.  They seemed very nice and polite and were very excited to see themselves on the LCD.   

The market itself was crazy and crowded and we were the only two foreigners around.  One man struck up a labored conversation with us as we watched the boats pulling in to sell their catch.  After a few minutes, some little local girls came over asking for candy, money and pens.  They were very cute (and knew it), one of them about 6 or 7 with a completely shaven head and the other a little older with beautiful green/blue eyes.

Mosque from Lighthouse Beach
  They were very persistent, following us around for the better part of an hour.  Eventually we headed back towards Lighthouse Beach and decided to try a place called the German Bakery where they actually have really coffee and pretty good food.  You have to be very specific about coffee if you want the real thing (called Filter Coffee here) because the waiter’s will all tell you they have “brewed coffee from powder crystals” which is more affectionately known as Nescafe or shit at home…

We spent the rest of the day wandering between food and beers on the boardwalk, the intenet (nobody is responding from Alleppy about our houseboat inquiries)  and watching Wimbledon on the tube in the hotel.  We did have a tasty dinner of Crab Masala, grilled fish and all the fixings at the Malabar restaurant.  We finally decided to take off the day after tomorrow for Alleppy where hopefully we can see a bit of life on the backwaters of S. India for a day or two before heading to Goa for our last stop.

7/6/07
So it looks like today is our last day in Kovalam and we figured we would branch out and try another new place for breakfast.  We walked all the way to the end of the boardwalk and tried the Swiss Café which did have strong, real filter coffee.  From the second floor open-air restaurant, we watched a hilarious spectacle of about 50 young Indian guys doing lifeguard training.  I have to say that I have never seen a less coordinated, less fit looking group of guys doing something vaguely athletic.  All in all it was pretty entertaining.  The “senior instructor” guy had a huge mustache and huge attitude and spent most of his time walking up and down the rows of students berating them for not working hard enough.  Mostly they did spastic looking calisthenics. We never did see them actually swim (although at break time, a few of them actually got their ankles wet).  Later we did talk to one of the guys, Jimmy Fernandez (can you tell the Catholics spent a lot of time here way back???) and he told us a bit about the program.  He is hoping to lifeguard for the winter season, then go to the UK where he has friends who own a restaurant.

When they stopped for a break, I thought I would take a swim and headed out into the relatively mild surf.  Suddenly I heard a whistle frantically blowing.  I knew I should have ignored it and just dove in but turned around to see a portly little man come running at me in his official pale blue uniform to tell me that I couldn’t go swimming.  I tried to tell him that where I live, the waves are three times this big and it wasn’t a problem but he said that it is “wery dangerous” and, mostly I think because his boss the senior trainer guy was there, he couldn’t let me swim and would have to arrest me if I continued in.  Not wanting to test the waters of Indian Jail, I said OK, figuring that I can swim in Goa.  I did quickly dip my head in which he didn’t seem to mind - you can’t visit the Arabian Sea and not get wet!

We spent the rest of the day similar to yesterday, wandering the boardwalk, visiting the internet and watching Wimbledon on the TV.  We saw our usual cast of Kovalam characters throughout the day, all of whom I meant to snap with my camera and only one of whom I actually did, including:

  • Pineapple lady - we see this older (60’s) sarong clad woman trying to sell us the same pineapple and mango every day.
  • Dope peddler Man -  we see this guy at all hours of the day.  After about the fourth time he approached me and asked “something nice to smoke?  Marijuana?  Hashish?” he finally gave up.  We are convinced he is a dealer and DEA agent who would sell pot to you, then bust you and make you bribe your way out of it…
  • Sun Glass Man -  This guy had a Jerry Lewis shtick going on and is super annoying, wandering the boardwalk and trying to sell overpriced, shitty glasses from China.
  • Astrologer Guy - This man was less polite than others, walking directly into the restaurants along the boardwalk, grabbing your hand and trying to read your palm or your face.  We politely declined…
  • Map man - We saw this guy at all ends of the boardwalk and actually, once, stumbled on his shop.  He carries around maps of India - big wall maps - and we aren’t sure who his target customer is.
  • Sarong guy - This guy wins the persistence award, trying to get Cindy to buy the same overpriced, not that nice, sarong days on end.  His starting price was 350 rupees.  Business must not be so good as, his last offer was 75 rupees…
  • Annoying Flashy Light Guy - This guy showed up after dark, wandering the boardwalk with those lame, flashy LCD necklaces, glowsticks and flashlights.  Apparently he thinks if he shines them in your eyes, you will buy something from him.  We didn’t.

The rest of the day was spent watching more movies and Wimbledon followed by one last big and tasty shrimp dinner at Malabar where we had to run through the suddenly pouring rain.  Tomorrow, we have to drag our lazy asses to the train station and head north to see the backwaters of Kerala.

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Lighthouse from the Malabar Restau…
Lighthouse from the Malabar Resta…
Mosque and Boats in Kovalam
Mosque and Boats in Kovalam
Fish Market in Kovalam
Fish Market in Kovalam
Fishermen in Kovalam
Fishermen in Kovalam
Fishing Nets in Kovalam
Fishing Nets in Kovalam
Shandy the dog at Royal Sea Blue H…
Shandy the dog at Royal Sea Blue …
Royal Sea Blue Hotel
Royal Sea Blue Hotel
Shoreline from Lighthouse
Shoreline from Lighthouse
Seafood in Kovalam
Seafood in Kovalam
Seafood in Kovalam
Seafood in Kovalam
Kovalam Lighthouse
Kovalam Lighthouse
Mosque from Lighthouse Beach
Mosque from Lighthouse Beach
Kovalam
photo by: lrecht