The Keralan coastline is long and flat, edged by endless beach that unwinds like cream ribbon with a frilly, surfy edge from north to south. Behind the beach, coconut groves dotted with a few family houses and homestays are crisscrossed by sand paths that provide a shady respite from the glittery white heat of the beachfront. Our first homestay is situated in such a grove, around 500 m from the nearest road but only 50 m from the door of our room in a direct line through palm trees to the sea.
Colourful fishing boats are pulled up along the beach; they put out to sea in the early morning and evening, returning with some impressive catches – fish curry here can mean prawns, mackerel, crispy kingfish or great steaks of creamy tuna bought off the beach that day. The constant presence of fish attracts birds of prey, and at any time kites, short tailed eagles and many huge white headed fish eagles can be seen wheeling over the trees or swooping down to the smooth sea to snag up a surfacing fish in their great claws.
After a few days we moved a couple of hundred yards along the beach to a different homestay. Marari Beach Paradise only has three rooms and belongs to Mary and Martin, who is also captain and part owner of one of the local fishing boats. They are very friendly but speak almost no English so we generally communicate through their manager Rinjo. They are a happy and helpful bunch and we had great fun shopping with them in Alleppey for Christmas decorations at the market and then visiting a restaurant for lunch together.
Marari Beach Paradise is situated just behind the main fishing area on the beach. At first we weren’t too happy about this as we thought it would spoil our beach view and be noisy and smelly. In fact it has been really interesting as we’re in a prime position to see the boats come in and watch the men bring in their catch.
Rinjo is planning quite a big celebration at our homestay on Christmas Day for which the guests get to help with the cooking and preparation. There will be three guest couples, us from the U.K. one from France and one from Germany. The French couple speak a bit of English and the Germans will probably be fairly fluent, so we should all be able to muddle along enough to enjoy Christmas Day together. One thing that all of us Europeans would like is a beer or a glass of wine over Christmas. However, alcohol is very difficult to buy here, even though Kerala is not officially a “dry” state. Rinjo took us to the local booze shop – to access the counter you have to pass behind a screen wall and through a bizarre narrow section of metal barriers. The shop was manned by some very severe older men who did not seem happy that Paul asked for 6 bottles of beer – Rinjo had already vetoed asking for more than this. They also seemed disapproving of me being there at all. Although it is common knowledge that some Indian women drink, there is apparently an absolute taboo on them actually buying alcohol themselves, and any women being seen in such a place runs at the very least, the risk of damage to her reputation.