Ten Things I Learned From Our Southern India Trip

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Going on a backwater tour of Kerala.

I’ve  had some time to reflect on our 17-day sojourn to India, and the word that has been resonating in my mind is endurance. What was intended to be a unique Christmas holiday became a true test of character. This trip also became the setting for a love story that is now reinforced with a deeper understanding of what that four-letter word really means. Even though this vacation didn’t quite turn out as planned, I will always be grateful that I got to experience something new.

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See the world in a quiet way on one of Kerala’s houseboats.

1 NO means YES – I first came across this cultural conundrum when we rode our first taxi in Kochi. We hopped in a taxi and asked the driver if he knew our hotel’s location. He said yes, but strangely, shook his head. “Was that a yes or a no?” After a few more days of confusion, we learned that Indians accompany an affirmative response with a head bobble, very similar to the gesture most people make when they say, “No.” So in that sense, Indians are like women when they’re pouting. They say “No” when what they really mean is. “Yes.”

2 When you see a nice toilet, use it. That goes for any country you may be visiting. There will also be good toilets, and really bad ones. When you’re in transit, and have the chance to use a nice bathroom, take it.

3 Book your December holiday in advance. I am a Type A person. I thrive in planned activities and cringe at spontaneity. So you can imagine my anxiety when Mike suggested to that we travel across Southern India extemporaneously. In fairness to Mike, there was merit to his suggestion. A holiday on a strict schedule didn’t sound so appealing, and since there were so many places to see, his idea to keep our travel options open sounded like a good idea. So we flew to India with just the first 3 days planned. Everything else was to be determined.

This intrepid approach towards traveling proved beneficial on the first leg of our trip, which was spent traveling from Kerala to Tamil Nadu. There were so many unpredictable factors that it would have been more stressful to try to make it to a specific place, at a specific time. Not committing to a location was working out for us… until we reached the Andaman Islands.

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Beach #7 or Radhanagar beach is a 30 minute motorbike ride from Havelock Island.

The Andaman Islands were not part of our itinerary. However, after a week of trying to immerse ourselves in the Indian way of life, we both felt like we needed a break, and by break, we meant the beach. So from Chennai, we made a last minute decision to fly to a remote destination, out in the Bay of Bengal. This is where our “fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants” strategy started to backfire. We were able to book for our first night on Havelock Island, and were quite confident that we would find a place for the week. Wrong. We walked into each resort along a 3-4 kilometer stretch and were turned away, just like Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve. Luckily, there were good Samaritans on the island who helped us find a place to stay for a week. But we were moving almost everyday, from one resort to another.  It also didn’t help that checkout time everywhere was at 9am. It wasn’t fun, but we learned to roll with it. So during our stay on the island, we moved five times and stayed in six different places.  That’s all right, because Beach #7 was absolutely worth the holiday hustle.

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Beach #7 of Radhanagar beach is on Havelock Island, Andaman Islands. I’ve seen many beaches, but I’ve never seen one as beautiful as this.

The moral of the story: December – January will always be busy, no matter what country you’re in.

4 Always travel with a tablet and a credit card. I can’t tell you how many versions of that “Priceless” Mastercard ad we came up with during this trip.  We made a lot of our last minute decisions with the help of technology and our credit cards. We logged onto Agoda, Trip Advisor, and Air Asia numerous times, wondering where we would go next. We would joke about it, but there was some truth to it, that at one point, money was buying us happiness and our sanity. In the end, we charged everything to experience.

5 Separating a Filipina from family on Christmas will cause tears. This was my first time away from my family on Christmas. And to be honest, I didn’t think it would be a big deal to be away from them, especially since I was going to be with Mike. But I missed them so much. I missed the chaos that would ensue around our Christmas tree when it was time to open presents. I missed the food my mom would make for Noche Buena. I missed my loud family and wanted to talk to them so badly, but I couldn’t even bring myself to get on Facetime because I didn’t want them to see me cry. So now, Mike and I both know that I need to be with my family on Christmas Eve.

6 Request for a wake up call.  If there is a even the slightest doubt that you might not wake up early enough to catch your flight, request for a wake up call! If you are not in a hotel, set two alarms. Waking up to the painful reality that you only have 15 minutes to get dressed, get to the airport, and check in, is not something you want to experience. EVER. My stomach still turns every time I recall that moment. Travel trauma, I tell you.

7 Travel with your partner. It’s one thing to travel with your partner on a lovely honeymoon, and another to go on a backpacking trip. Try both and see how you both are. If you still want to be with the person after both trips, then you will be fine.

8 Acknowledge what makes you happy.  Not all people are happy with sand between their toes, and not all people appreciate the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s important to know what kind of places make you happy. Knowing this can play a big part in the success of your holiday. We are beach people, and the moment we set foot on the beach, we were more than fine.

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We are beach folks.

9 Shit happens. Everyday. More than once. And when it does, it’s best to just go along with it, rather than wallowing in the fact that a handful of crap was thrown your way. Part of the wonder of traveling is its unpredictability, and its spontaneous nature. I am learning to live with that, and am enjoying the ride immensely.

10 Always be grateful that you got to see another part of the world.  Not every holiday will be the holiday of your dreams. There will be duds. And if you do come across these lemons, realize that at that seemingly horrible moment in your life, you have still been given the opportunity to travel.

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Famous fishing nets of Kerala. This walk around Fort Kochi was one of my favorite things to do in Kochi.

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Waiting for the ferry back to Willingdon Island.

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Always be thankful for the opportunity to travel.

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5 thoughts on “Ten Things I Learned From Our Southern India Trip

  1. Hello, Mai! Thank you for sharing these gorgeous photographs. I have always wanted to try Kerala’s houseboats but assumed the place would be too humid or that there will be lots of mosquitoes. I hope you intend to write about your own experience.

    Have a great evening!

  2. Hi, Nadia! Mosquitoes did come at night, but nothing mosquito repellant can’t fix. Our trip started out humid, because our houseboat was going really slow. It eventually became cooler as the day progressed. Will write another post on the houseboat experience, and will keep your concerns in mind. :)

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