July 1, 2012

Undoing it in Kerala, India. Eco on the beach.


Marari Beach: CGH Earth Experience        


      There is a cow grazing outside of my door with a calf on her teet. The cows have been grazing all day with a slight tinkle to their bells, giving that bucolic sound so sweet for a nap. 

The fan spins and blows the air in my room, and I can still hear the crickets outside. It reminds me of my childhood summer holidays on the south coast of Alabama, where the day began and ended with telling stories. In between, we caught crabs for making gumbo and enjoyed long stretches of white sand beaches. We loved the heaviness of the humid air. It helped us to relax and made cutting into a watermelon that much more inviting.

Here in south India of all places, I have found a slice of the good life, like something from my childhood. A place that gives me simplicity, authenticity, good food, and the solitude I need without being totally alone. I wanted to write, commit to a meditation practice, and be near the water. And so I fell into the arms of a CGH Earth Experience, not knowing what I would find.

I found, first of all, a warm greeting and a detailed description of what I would find and what I wouldn’t. The things I would not find were a relief. CGH Earth is not your average resort hotel. Just ask the guests, of which 80 percent of them return every year.

I was taken to my thatch-roofed bungalow, complete with an open-air, yet private, shower and toilet. There are many ways to be one with nature here—it's at your fingertips at all times. 


At least where I come from in the United States, the idea of green architecture, operating with sustainability in mind—recycling, organics, and so forth—was a concept developed only 30 years ago. Here, it has naturally been a way of life. Taking those ideas into a resort setting—bringing consciousness to water consumption and the unnecessary washing of sheets and towels, creating shopping bags out of recycled newspaper—fits hand in hand with the local profile of keeping Mararikalum (Malayalam for “Marari Beach”) unspoiled. Here, you will find no beach umbrellas, just a fishing boat or two, and the occasional fisherman eyeing a catch with his finely tuned intuition and skill of how to read the water.

What goes on behind the scenes is even more impressive. The entire property is sustainable. From bio-gas produced from kitchen leftovers, to recycled waste water, these practices put back what nature has given us and continues to cycle. Nothing gained (wasted) and nothing lost (re-used).

Here, signs quietly speak to me wherever I go. When I'm in the bathroom a sign might say, “If you need more amenities, tell us and we will bring them straightaway. We are trying to avoid plastic. “ Or, “we don’t spray for bugs or mosquitoes, but we do bring around ‘church smoke’, which smells quite good (frankincense). We prefer not to use chemicals.” The more exotic trees are named in English and Latin.


Only the most valiant eco-warriors in America are able to preach and practice these methods, and most people think they are extreme. To find this in a business setting is encouraging. The need to pay attention to this way of life is imperative, especially in the public sector. Our oceans are suffering immensely due to unhealthy trawling practices that wreck our reefs to the point of no return and the amount of garbage that makes it’s way to the sea is making a cesspool in the pacific. “The nature of our future depends on the future of our nature.“ This is the first sign that greets you as you walk to your bungalow. It made me stop and think, a heightened sense of awareness and appreciation arose knowing that these practices are in place.


CGH Earth holds hands with the local culture and integrates it well. Most of the staff originate from no further than 50 miles away. They call on the locals for guides and transportation and sightseeing, even though they could offer it themselves.

Sanity breathes in and out on the property. Nothing is static. A smile and a greeting by name is on every meeting. “We treat our guests like a god.” It was not necessary to tell me, as I felt it was also natural. I’m convinced the Malayali are like that: soft, gentile and sweet as jaggery. Even the breeze is gentle and the sea, warm. All was elementally ambient. 

I took a cooking class in the organic outdoor kitchen garden. Young Chef Rinto took me through the garden. He was playful and delighted in quizzing me on things that he thought that I wouldn’t know, even though I surprised him with a few. I found his questions engaging. As the night noises grew louder and darkness fell, someone came around with the ‘church smoke’ and set us up for the evening. It works, I tell you and I was grateful.  It was wonderful to get my hands on the food, as well as eat a splendid meal. 


Menu:

Raw papaya and basil soup
(We picked the papaya and the basil.)

Plantain curry in a yogurt sauce
(Plantains were growing also.)

Whitefish with a ginger, green chili, coconut paste cooked on a banana leaf
(Just caught fish from the morning, green chili, coconut.)

Red spinach and cabbage thenga with grated coconut
(We picked the red spinach and cabbage, and grated the coconut. We did not however, climb the coconut tree to get the leaves.)
A steamed rice flour dumpling with jaggery and grated coconut inside, called Kozhukatta was for dessert.


It was simply delicious and not even hours old. This meal is indicative of how specialized a stay in Marari Beach can be and a good way to start my self-imposed Ayurvedic diet.

For the next five days, I surrendered to Ayurveda. There is a time and place for everything and the moment for me was now. With a traditional Ayurvedic center located just two steps from my bungalow, I raised the white flag. After eating my way through North India with a group of ten, and half of the South by myself, my body was telling me to take it easy. Here at Marari, I could unplug.

For a change, I could focus on my own mind and body. I set up a meditation alter and made a commitment to get up and practice everyday before dawn. I would do yoga, write, take walks on the beach and take a series of Ayurvedic massage treatments, and go to bed early.
What a relief. Even with a restricted diet, no meat or alcohol, coffee or black tea, I welcomed the change. I could have green tea, local Kerala rice, and a piece of steamed fish in the evenings as well as several vegetarian curries. I even forfeited the fish. A glass of freshly pressed pineapple juice came with every meal for digestion. I could eat three tablespoons of something and feel full. It was if my digestion was on holiday too. I seriously had no appetite at all, so I asked for smaller portions. When they brought me my meal they would laugh and say, “Here is your pussycat meal,” with big pearly smiles. A sense of humor goes a long way. After five days, my dosha (body type and tendencies) felt more balanced and restored. So did my appetite.

From swimming every day, walking, eating well and getting amazing ayurvedic spa treatments, my body-mind started to shift. My mind loosened up and I began losing weight naturally. It was a pleasure to meet the girls in the center everyday. Their warm smiles and hands were alchemical, and melted away hidden blues I wasn’t even aware that I had.

Before each full body treatment came a sitting-up head massage with their special oils, which I found to be as valuable as the main treatment. The head is the gatekeeper of stress and first this commander must be disarmed. In a treatment room that opened directly onto the garden, I was cared for like a baby.
The treatments are designed to bring relief to joints, nourish the skin, and eliminate toxins and stress. Their massage strokes worked up and down the body, increasing circulation to bring new blood flow to regenerate the cells. A few of the treatments included the “steam box,” which was my personal favorite. My body drank the moisture and the oils. My skin never had it so good. And then I was washed with a special plant scrub, my hair shampooed and then patted dry in a fluffy towel. The girls' bright smiles lovingly sent me on my way, and as an adult, I have never felt so young and rejuvenated. I felt radiant.

It will be hard to have other Ayurvedic treatments in other places, now that I know “the real deal.” I have already decided to come back. A lover of natural and alternative medicines to begin with, the value of this gentle way to rebalance, blows away all western reasoning that we should be filling ourselves with senseless synthetic medicines and mood stabilizers. Not only does Marari Beach grow their own food, they grow their own medicinal plants. Growing, brewing, and using the plant infused oils from the premises increases the energetic benefit. 

Most age-old systems will tell you that sickness comes from being out of balance. Treating a symptom does not get to the root. Therefore, popping pills and not changing one’s diet or lifestyle drives the problem deeper. Our organism wants to be healthy, but it needs our help.

What a good idea it would be to bring my daughter here with my two grandchildren, I thought to myself. They would have a wonderful time. I could be with them while my daughter took treatments. The staff seemed to love children, making them feel at home and giving them the ultimate positive cultural exchange. I want to bring other friends too. My sisters would benefit from this special touch. The affection and warmth of the Malayali people is healing in itself.

To have a center of this quality along with the other amenities makes me feel like I can have my cake and eat it too. Freedom to wander, spend time with others, and, most of all, not feel like a patient. I am a person choosing to have a purposeful vacation of tuning in, instead of just sitting with a relaxing drink in my hand. I can take the time to take care of myself in a different way, a way that will have lasting results.

I wanted to do everything listed on the activity list: take a country boat ride down the lagoons, getting a good look at local life. A sunset cruise would have been stunning. Never in my life have I seen sunsets like I have here over the Arabian Sea. A bike ride would have been terrific. But I couldn’t make it out of the hammock. What I want to say, is that I didn’t want to leave the property. There was enough to do here for me. I thoroughly dropped in to myself.

As a cook, what I look for is to find a balance of what is “not too much, not too little.” CGH Earth Marari Beach has offered just the right amount of something and nothing. It is a sanctuary, not only for birds and other creatures—but for all of us. We are safe here. The feeling is, we are more than welcomed and we belong in balance with nature. There is a resonance when nature recognizes itself. When there is no fear, there is nothing to be afraid of. 
 

At one point, I wanted to make a daily flower offering to my altar, but I was shy to take a flower off the tree, so I didn’t. But when I left the room for breakfast and came back, there was a new flower in my bowl. The girl looking after my room understood right away that she could also refresh the altar. This sensitivity and attention to detail is unique. 

Sunset on the beach is a party for sand crabs and spindly-legged sand pipers. There is life, movement and rhythm as the waves roll gently up on the beach.

The sun sinks behind the horizon leaving me with a rare sense of equanimity. Peace is more precious than pearls and the moment is to be savored.