Monday morning in Kovalam, I woke up with a cold and the distinct feeling that I had had too much sun the day before. Instead of heading to the beach, I opted to head to an ayurvedic treatment center first for some R&R. I opted for three treatments lasting one and half hours. First, an hour-long massage. This one was far better than my first ayurvedic massage in Kumily in June, mostly because I had not one, but two practitioners! It felt kind of like going through a car wash, in the best way possible: four hands doing a variety of strokes, rolling up and down my body. While my massage preference is definitely for deep tissue, painful body work, this was very nice and relaxing. Next, because I had mentioned my chronic low-back pain, I had elakkizhi treatment, in which “fomentation is done by the application of medicinal leaves processed in medicated oils.” Basically, they take little sacks of herbal leaves, dip them in hot oil, and alternate thwacking them against your body, or scrubbing your skin with them. It was actually really nice, and I liked it better than the massage. There were two downsides though. First, in the great tradition of all things medicinal, the oil absolutely stank. This was no aromatherapy massage. I don’t understand why grape Dimetapp is the only medicinal product out there that has a decent smell/taste (so good that when I was little I used to pretend just to have a cold… strangely it’s the only thing with an artificial grape flavor that I’ve ever enjoyed). Second, they told me to keep my underwear on, which was very different than my first massage in which the woman demanded that I not wear anything, and then watched me undress. It was nice to feel like I maintained some modesty, but my underwear was drenched with the disgusting smelling oil, and stained an awful brown color. It went straight to the trash, along with the clothes I had to put on afterward, which had hems with dark brown stains and heave-inducing smells. Sadly, Siri, this included your star shirt. I tried to keep it in a plastic bag, but the smell was permeating through the plastic and it had to go. At least it will get to live in Kerala… My third treatment was a quickie, to treat my cold. In nasyam, they first do something magical with steam and a really soft cloth. It felt like all the comforts of a bubble bath were butterfly kissing my face. And then I had to snort medicinal oil to clear my nasal passages. It was fine until the oil began sliding down my throat and into my mouth. It tasted absolutely awful, and vaguely of idly, my food nemesis (fermented rice flour cakes… need I say more?). It also made me want to sneeze uncontrollably. The lead practitioner insisted that I leave the oil in my nose and on my body for at least twenty minutes, but the moment I hightailed it out of there, I blew my nose and spat relentlessly, and took and immediate shower. And then I had to buy a Coke to wash the nastiness in my throat away. It was very un-ayurvedic. The practitioner would have been horrified. Regardless, the oil up the nose did seem to improve my quality of life. And my total bill for all three treatments? 800 rupees, or about $18. Not too shabby.
Feeling better, I spent the rest of the day on the beach again, this time staking out my own space and paying for a lounge chair. It became obvious how wonderful my bargaining skills have become when the girls next to me paid 300 rupees each; I paid only 40. While it took a while to get used to, I’m going to miss the bargaining bit. It’s really helped me get in touch with my inner curmudgeonly old man, muttering “that’s too much, I get it for less all the time!” and other such grumpitudes. And then getting my way.
It was said to say goodbye to Kovalam yesterday, since it was there that I really found my solo-traveler stride. I’ve discovered the serious virtues of getting to call all the shots. It’s been nice to set my own schedule, and to not feel ashamed when I really just want to eat in the same two restaurants over and over again. And apparently when you travel alone as a woman in India, the offers roll in. I was offered hashish five times in 24 hours, and was sincerely asked to have a date with an Indian man (who incidentally is only the third Indian man I’ve ever found attractive, not counting a certain Bollywood star who has two thumbs on one hand, though that part is not attractive). All offers were declined. Traveling by myself has also allowed me to explore and expand my new favorite hobby of lying to Indian men who ask too many questions. Over the course of the last few weeks I have been engaged, Canadian, traveling with my dad, on my way to Delhi, hurrying to meet my friends, and a professional writer, among other things. It’s great fun, and makes being stuck in conversation with pesky people far more enjoyable.
I had one of these conversations on the bus from Trivandrum to Ernakulam yesterday. For much of the five and a half hour ride, the bus was nearly empty, and I and my backpack both had our own seats. And then came the creeps. The first kept poking me. At first I couldn’t tell if it was purposeful or not, as it seemingly coincided with the lurches of the bus. I slid over as much as I could. The poking continued. I remembered a passage from my Lonely Planet guide about how as a single female traveling in India, if you feel like someone might be invading your space, they probably are. I gave him a sharp elbow to the ribs. It continued. It was a creepy kind of poking too. He didn’t want my attention or anything, it was just like he neglected to remember that I actually have nerves and am capable of feeling other people touch me, and he wanted to try to get away with touching me as much as he could. Eventually I caught him with his finger out, so I pointed and snapped “STOP TOUCHING ME” in a very harsh way, audibly enough that passengers around us could hear. He pretended not to hear, but looked somewhat embarrassed and the poking did stop. Asshole. After he left the bus, another man squeezed in next to me, despite my blatant spread over the two seats, and numerous available seating options. This one gave me my personal space, but pestered me with questions. I made up stories. I ignored him. I pretended not to understand what he was saying. I put on sunglasses and tried to read. He wouldn’t stop. It was a terrible hour. Eventually he got off, and not much later I arrived in Ernakulam.
Ernakulam and Kochi are basically one in the same. Ernakulam is the mainland and the commercial center, and Kochi is it’s historical and culture island counterpart. While Kochi is known for its better accommodations, my hotel is in Ernakulam because that’s where I’m arriving and departing from. This morning I took the ferry to Kochi and have been wandering around. It’s a really cool place, with lots of fun little independent cafes and bookstores. The two big draws are teh Chinese fishing nets, these massive contraptions that require multiple people to operate, and St. Francis Church. St. Francis Church is the oldest European built church in all of India, constructed in 1503 by the Portuguese, following Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama’s arrival in India. Vasco de Gama died in Kochi, and was entombed in St. Francis Church for fourteen years, before his remains were exhumed and returned to Portugal. The church, aside from being impressively old, is not that interesting to look at, though I did see Vasco de Gama’s original tomb.
Chinese fishing nets:
St. Francis Church:
Vasco de Gama’s former tomb:
And now, not particularly interested in any of the other historical sites, I’m spending my afternoon wandering around Kochi before I need to check out from my hotel in Ernakulam this evening. Tonight I take the night train back to Madurai. It’s really difficult to comprehend that my time in India ends the day after tomorrow!