Friday, March 27, 2009
Kudle, not so cuddly...
Kudle Beach, India
After an eight hour pucker-fest of a bus ride and just over 10 hours of train travel, we found ourselves on sandy swampland with angry shores. We arrived expecting to find the typical lot of greased up tourists wearing cheap sunglasses and expensive suntans. But somehow we drifted right through that mess and found ourselves in quite another. All it takes is a quick glance up the shoreline to gain a full understanding of this place. It’s as if a freighter en route to Eugene, Oregon wrecked In the Arabian Sea and the survivors managed to save only the most valuable of their possessions: patchouli oil and hacky sacks. I’ve experienced the scene countless times during Phish tour and Festival season, but this was different. Something was amiss in these people’s Kool-Aid.
Our enormous packs, swollen with climbing and photo gear draw guffaws and disapproving nods from these seemingly half-starved creatures who apparently have only been living on yoga practice and bean curd. We continue down the beach for more of the same. I was sure of our immediate doom. A Frisbee goes sailing to my feet. I lean over to grasp it hoping to return it to a friendly face. Then my weight combined with the 40 + lbs transfer to my sprained ankle and I nearly topple into the surf. I recover and toss the little red ‘bee back to the owner, without even thanks in return.
I remember receiving a welcoming of this sort at a Wal-Mart set in some backwoods Adirondack town this past winter. Carhart and flanneless, I entered the building only out of necessity – we were out of beer. I remember strolling past the gun department after selecting a twelver of microbrew, and walking down the aisle just fast enough not to appear nervous. A few of the local boys, donning their mossy-oak camo, were standing at the glass counter. Talk about a recent 4-inch lift that one had done to their Chevy pick-up was keeping the pack pleasantly entertained. Out of habit of forever being a casual observer, I glanced over and accidentally made the mistake of making eye contact with one of the brutes. This “eyeballin’” was not taken well by the big fella who felt that it was his duty to puff up his chest and screw his face to the appearance of someone that wanted to carve his initials into my forehead. I decided it was best not to look up again until I made it to the checkout line. While smiling at the customer before me, the kindly old cashier began to greet me with pleasant “Hi there.” And when laying eyes upon my out of towner appearance, she finished with “Oh, hand me your I.D.” Word to the wise, leave the puffy Mountain Hardware jacket in the car when venturing into this sort of backcountry.
The crispy noon sun turns our naked heads crisp and the searing sand is doing the same on our bubbly toes, but we continue to hump our packs down to the very end of the beach. Surely we will be handsomely rewarded for having to endure such a gauntlet. We continue on, thinking of the Shangri-La that awaits us at the end. Turning our heads to the right, we notice that we are walking parallel to some sort of liquid nastiness. Earlier, we observed a small channel opposite the surf when we first stepped foot on the beach. We dismissed it as a stream. But here, it opened into a large festering pool of sewerage and jungle rot. We stop and watch as people wade through the dank sludge on their way to restaurants. We make an oath to avoid the mystery liquid no matter how good we hear the food is on the other side.
Reaching the end, we trudge up the concrete steps where we are informed by the smiling Thai ex-pat that all the rooms are full, but we should try next store. Ducking under a paisley tapestry, we make our inquiry at the Ganja Café (eyeroll). It was a cursed little shack that resembled more of a tomb than a shelter. Four concrete walls, a sporadically operational fan, and a soggier than usual cotton mattress. Looking at Lisa, I feel she is about to cry. I don’t blame her. But after I tell her that the mosquito netting will keep the nasties at bay and the waves will sing us to sleep, all is well and we head to the surf.
Due to the raw sewerage that streamed from the faucets in Ooty, it’s been four very humid days since we last bathed. Our plan is to first swim, then shower. Stripping down to our bathing suits, pasty skin blinding all those around, we run into the sea where we are instantly taken out at the knees. “Jesus, this place will kill us yet!” I yell. We stand up and give it another go. The sea grabs us, and sucks us into the party. Pummeled by breakers and pulled at by the rip tide we give up the fight and head back to shower.
After a few minutes of searching around the hybrid tree house/fortified compound for the bathroom, we decide to ask a guest for directions. He was a tall, stringy, dreadlocked German with crazed grey eyes. There seemed to be a little too much pupil showing for this time of the day. I would have just kept walking but it was already too late, Lisa had already intiated the conversation. At first he looked at us like we spat on his mother. Then his thin lips pursed to a smile when Lisa repeated the question “Where can we shower?” “Oh no showaz?! Therz no showaz since zee storm came through yesterday.” Well that explains the beachfront sewer, I think to myself. Then thwarting a plastic water bottle in our faces he shouts, “You must take cat shower! Like zees!!” He splashes the water over himself, hooks his veiny wrists like paws and uses them to spastically wipe down his torso. “See, like cat!! You try!!” From the corner of my mouth I lean to Lisa and ask, “Holy shit, do you think Shultz needs to chill on the acid a bit?” Without words we agree that we have to leave this scene at once, so we slowly back away while the tall German finishes his feline grooming.
We decide to try our luck at some lunch. I’m hoping for a piece of Tuna and a cold beer. Instead, I get a doughy pizza and a mineral water. Should have known, “there ain’t no liquor in this town.” These people are ritualistic tokers, not casual drinkers. We decide to leave immediately the following morning.
We arise early the next morning, visit the squat toilets, pack up our gear and grab some breakfast. We take the walk up the beach, back to our point of origin. Happy to put this beach in our rearview, smile brim our faces. From beach, there is a short jungle approach to the drop off point atop a bluff. We ask the rickshaw drivers how much to the train station. Unsurprisingly, transportation inflation has set in over night. It has a funny way of doing this when you are stranded 20km from nowhere in blinding heat. Lisa’s usually quiet demeanor instantly takes a back seat as she berates the drivers for doubling what we paid to arrive - cursing them all as thieves. One driver calmly replies, “Madame, your taxi takes cheaper gas than our two-stroke auto rickshaws.” And another “Madame, followed by more mouthfuls of lies.” These people are so polite, even when they are screwing you.
We decide to find some shade beneath swaying palm until a cheaper driver comes along. But with every vehicle that rolls up, the drivers inform the newcomer not to go charge anything other than 300 ruppees for a ride. “Goddamned pimps!” I shout. “They’re all in it together!!” I want to slap one just to teach the others a lesson. But I figure the rest of them would be on us like jackals. I could probably only take a few out before being dragged into the jungle, kicking and screaming as they politely say “OK sir, we kill you now. OK mister?”
We decide to take an offer of 240 rupe’s, only because of our desire to put this place behind this. We climb into the 3-wheeler, and we’re off – cursing the tout at every mile that passes.
Next stop Panjeep - Wish us luck.