Varkala, Mamma Champos’ Once Upon A Time

We know it’s been just about a week since our last post, but you haven’t really missed much… just 6 days of relaxing at the beach here in Varkala, enjoying the warm Arabian Sea water, reading the many cheap books we have picked up, paying around $3/night for our reasonable hotel room, and eating all sorts of delicious food. It’s really rough, being plagued by the endless “to read or play Yahtzee” debate!
Varkala is, it should be mentioned, suffering from the tourism-buildup that much of India’s beautiful coastline is currently undergoing, and in this case the last 10 years of construction have created an entire clifftop row of souvenier shops, restaurant/bar/clubs, and internet/bookshop/travel centers. Fortunately, we are staying near the “old” beach, which was Varkala’s beach up until around 1997, and is still where most locals come to enjoy the ocean here. While the clifftop is just a short walk away, our relative isolation brings peaceful evenings (devoid of loud Europop music) and lower prices. A fresh coconut (full of juice) is only 10 rupees, and there is a delicious restaurant kitty-corner from our hotel that serves great-tasting food with larger-than-usual servings for average-or-below pricing. We’re not sure it it’s the fabulous name of “Mamma Champos’ Once Upon A Time,” the wonderfully nice owner and staff, or if it’s the food alone that keeps us coming back, but regardless, after trying numerous other places around town, our stomachs have found their true Varkala calling! To give you an idea of things, real quick, it was the Shrimp Dumpling Soup that first attracted us. Not only was the bowl of soup over twice as big as most, but it had numerous shrimp in the soup, as well as dumplings that are actually stuffed with shrimp!
Most of the restaurants here serve seafood-heavy pan-Asian fusion food, which is great, though obviously more than a bit inauthentic. But it’s nice as a brief break from the all-Indian food scene most places, and there is a wonderful local restaurant right up the road from us, overlooking the temple water tank, that serves a delicious lunch thali (an all-you-can-eat spread of a variety of vegetarian dips/dishes, served with bread and rice) – all very delicious and quite cheap, at 40 rupees. Just like Egypt, the beverages often cost almost as much as the meal itself, whether you’re drinking bottled water, the overpriced sodas, or a pot of coffee or tea. But when the total bill for two people never exceeds $5 or $6 (including drinks and tip), it really is rather difficult to complain, isn’t it?
We plan on staying here in Varkala for at least another day or two, maybe longer; it’s very relaxing here, and we haven’t really felt the urge to rush onwards yet, and therefore we haven’t. People are friendly here, and there is something to be said for the small nicety of being recognized at the restaurants and coffeeshops that we frequent, though at the same time we can only stay out of real India for a little bit longer – after all we are here to be travellers and not tourists, and Varkala is definitely a tourist town, albeit with an amazing beach.
We want at least one more real day at the beach, so hopefully today’s rain and clouds will give way to sunshine tomorrow, since reading oceanside is much more relaxing (and why we came to Varkala) than sitting inside our hotel room, or at a restaurant, admiring the downpouring rain.
In our semi-immediate future, however, is a journey north to Alleppey, which leads into the backwaters of Kerala, where rural/real Indian life still thrives, though tourism is obviously making headways, for better or worse. But rather than book a tourist-trip, we plan on village-hopping by local ferries, which will hopefully give a more authentic presentation of how life really is for the majority of people who live here. Afterwards we are then headed to Kollayam, on the eastern side of the backwaters, and from there we will continue east to the Periyar Wildlife Preserve, in the hopes of seeing some exciting fauna (in our wildest dreams a wild tiger, but probably spotted deer, boars, and maybe an elephant). Of course, that’s just the plan, so we’ll have to wait and see what actually develops!

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