Sunday, February 24, 2013

In search of Coconut Bay...

My Slovenian friends M and R suggested last week that we make a day of Coconut Bay - a glorious beach just a hop and a skip over the Muslim town and fishing village. The weather thwarted us three times - heavy rain brought mud, and then, twice, we were too late getting started and stayed home to avoid the heat. A couple days ago we made the trek, even though we started after a leisurely breakfast of puttu at Hotel California and left around noon.
Entering the Muslim Village. Observe the goats on the roof.
We walked out of familiar Kovalam to the cliffs of the Muslim village.
We covered up and started sweating.
The village is a world away from the developed tourist trap that Kovalam, dear Kovalam, has become. In fact, the village is rather stark:

We came upon three mosques:

A couple houses in the village.

Okay, not a mosque, but it captures the feel of the place.

I have to say, not the cheeriest of places. 
This man was frying dough in oil  - he sells the salty snacks in bags.

Besides several vendors and a few children peeping out of doorways, the village seemed deserted. Even though they were setting up for what would be a four day festival (which we heard loud and clear back in Kovalam) the place didn't seem very, well, festive.

Electrical set up for the coming festival. It was very loud. 
Next was a more nautical part of town.
These men were playing a card game. Silly hats were involved. My kind of game. 

Boats. They are waiting for fresh coats of paint.

Some boys were playing with a toy they'd made out of a milk carton and cans.

After the Muslim village we came to a Christian village and fish market. 

A cemetery in front of the church.
I would not advise you purchase these fish.

"Gangnam Style" was blasting from this shop. 
I've been to fish and meat markets before - in India and in Greece (in Thessaloniki in July, in the middle of a 40 degree afternoon) - and I have never smelled anything like what this market had to offer: millennia of flesh rotting in the searing heat. The fishmongers, immune to the smell I imagine, did not try to sell us any of their clouded eyed stock. We rushed through quickly, holding our breath.

We walked to the main church in town, planning to grab a rickshaw from the top and head to the beach. 

My photos don't capture it well, but this village was much livelier than the Muslim village. A group of youths followed us through the winding street children ran after us. Women sat in the open, talking with each other, drying their children's laundry on the ground. 

At the church, a rickshaw driver said it wasn't possible to drive to Coconut Bay because of a nationwide strike protesting fuel prices - rocks were being thrown and a man from the village had died in Trivandrum the previous day and his body would be arriving at the church shortly. We walked back to the base of the village but none of us wanted to go through the fish market again. It was safe enough to drive to Kovalam so we caught two rickshaws and drove back. 

I haven't seen as much poverty on this trip as I did three years ago - fewer beggars, no obvious slums. But these villages, I think, are places where dreams do not come true. Perhaps some of the villagers escape to jobs in tourism - they become mango sellers on the beach, or they hawk shawls, or they clean rooms. Or perhaps not. The caste system here is intricate and, to me, unknowable. These people's poverty seemed raw. It's something that I, in all my privilege, only brush up against, only walk through, glance at, photograph, and leave behind. Later I feel rattled and guilty, but mostly I feel relieved, and then I feel terrible. 

We never made it to elusive Coconut Bay. Maybe next time. 


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