We have a mediocre breakfast and ask our way to a private bus stand, board a bus and are on our way to Marari beach when it hits me; I feel more confident here than when I'm in Pune. Having English for your primary language is not a problem here. Everyone - from your local grocer to the bus conductor speaks English. More importantly, English fluency doesn't mark you out as a sheep worth fleecing; here, you're just another guy. Our vacation has just begun, but I am quite optimistic about this place.
The bus has no window panes; a closer look reveals no window sills. I can't say it's intentional, but I can discern a few benefits: no windows equals easier heat loss, better ventilation and simpler maintenance. Perfect setup for a tropical clime.
The beach is picturesque. Few people are here, and I see stretches of open sea without people getting in the way. Crabs dot the beachline, scrambling for little holes in the ground as we approach. We walk upon white sand in an unending line sandwiched between coconut palms on one side and blue waters on the other. The surf crashes against the sand in a slow, rhythmic beat and I can't help but wonder if this is what paradise looks like.
On our way back to town, I am accosted by the bus conductor who who asks us for a tip. I oblige him with a fifty, and Riyaz recalls the look on the driver's face as we got to the hostel yesterday, and we paid him the exact fare. Apparently, tipping culture is a thing here.
We have lunch at Thaff, a budget restaurant that comes highly rated on TripAdvisor. The fresh lime soda is too sweet, the beef is less than stellar, but the fish is delicious.
After asking around, we negotiate a fee of 5000 for a boat ride. We pay 1000 as an advance, and agree to be there at the jetty at noon tomorrow. We will find out if we have been too trusting.
An hour's worth of a siesta later, we make our way to Allepey beach. All town has descended here, reducing what might have been a beautiful piece of turf to a raucous, dirty patch. We make our way back to Mullakad road, where the Allepey festival is in full swing. We are carried by the crowd from one end of the road to the other, tasting coconut water and a chickpea salad on the way.
A budget meal at a hole-in-the-wall (Kyela's term) restaurant and coffee at a slightly more upscale joint later, the perfect south Indian coffee continues to elude us. May tomorrow bring us more luck.