Saturday, January 3, 2009

January 3rd, at the beach of course

I remember back to our New Year's celebrations in Manila. One year we went to a water park, and I just really liked the idea of it being warm enough in the first week of January to merit time outdoors and in the water. This year we went back to our "roots" as we made our way finally to the GRT Temple Bay resort (for lunch) and Ideal Beach resort (for play).

We've lived in Chennai for 2 1/2 years and it's the first time we've been to either spot. Temple Bay is right in Mahaballipuram, a temple town. There are those in our extended community (Consulate, school, etc.) who go to the beach, a beach, any beach, every weekend and yet this was our first time. How is that even possible? We chose Temple Bay for lunch as we'd heard it had better food than Ideal Beach, and it didn't disappoint with it's Lobster Fest... lobster bisque, lobster pasta, yum. We sat by the beach with the wind whipping around, and not far in the distance the Shore Temple was visible.
The Shore Temple
Folks meandered by along the beach, with the surf crashing on the shore. It seems that none of the resorts "own" any part of the beach, so locals wander the beach, hawking their wares and chatting up the visiting Europeans. There's one thing I can't wrap my mind around, and that's the tourist ability to wear bikinis and tight little Speedos even in a conservative area as Tamil Nadu. I wouldn't go so far as to enter the ocean fully dressed, as the Indians we see in their button shirts or full saris, but I also prefer to stay mostly dressed while watching the kids. But then I also don't walk around the city in shorts or skimpy tops, and there are plenty of foreigners who do.
Anyway, the food was good. We were "daycationing" with our neighbors, so there was plenty to chat about. Temple Bay, as I said, is a popular spot, especially for those who live on the East Coast Road (ECR) which a lot of school families do. The resort is roughly an hour from our house, so for many of the families it's just a hop and skip. One family (teacher at the school and a microfinance guy) had a lovely bungalow right by the beach. One of Katherine's friends arrived just as we finished lunch. And the same thing happened at Ideal Beach (5 minutes away) when Nicholas found a friend from school. There are only so many places to go, it's no surprise we run into so many familiar faces.
Since we weren't guests at Temple Bay, the pool and beach access weren't open to us. The pool is lovely, though on the small side, and you already heard my thoughts on the beach. Temple Bay had a yellow flag up and Ideal Beach had a red, so swimming isn't really an option anywhere along the coast. The riptide is quite dangerous all year round.
Ideal Beach is covered with palm trees with hammocks strung between them, and thatch roof cabanas. My biggest issue was that rather than beach chairs or loungers, the beach is littered with blue and white plastic chairs, like what you'd see at a picnic. Not comfortable for watching the kids, sunning or sitting for more than 10 minutes. There were loungers by the pool, but none on the beach. Of course none of that mattered to the kids who were just thrilled to be on the sand again. Our kids adore playing at the beach. If they could spend every vacation at the beach, they'd be happy as, well, clams. They dash in the waves (just up to their calves and even that knocked them down a few times), dig in the sand, bury people, the usual.
They don't bat an eye when passing Indians stop to take their photos.
They also pick up dead fish that wash ashore and treat them like pets, try to catch the crabs that dare to poke their heads out of their holes, and ask to pet the goats that wander by. What's not to love about the beach?
We visited the pool for a bit too. The kids swam then washed up, and it was time to go home. We'd like to go to Temple Bay for an overnight stay before we leave Chennai. It's a lot nicer overall than Ideal Beach (which has a run-down feeling, though the rooms at Ideal Beach are in lovely old style buildings), and Temple Bay seems to have an enormous amount of construction going on.
The trip down the ECR has attractions as well, some old, some new:
-Of course there's Dizzy World and the Crocodile Bank. Rebecca has been to Dakshina Chitra numerous times on class trips. I would still like to go.
-We passed something called a "Tiger Park" which, from the road, appears to be exactly as it's named... an enclosure with large mounds as a tiger home, and absolutely nothing else around it but a parking area, some scrub and off a ways the beach. Odd.
-Another spot was marked off as an archaelogical dig. Nothing on the sign about what was being dug up, and as Ian noted, it was right next to a thatch roofed village... a conflicting expenditure of cash as we're glad the history is being preserved and yet people live in relative squalor right next door.
-ECR has loads of plant nurseries, one of which we'll be visiting soon to buy roses. Katherine has asked to grow roses for her birthday and I'm thrilled to comply. She can keep as many as she wants on the enclosed porch. She saw the painted pots along the road as well, so we'll try to pick some of those up for her roses.
-An antique shop called "Treasures" caught my eye. We bought a piece from Collections Unique further down the road a while ago, it carries large and heavy pieces. Gorgeous, but heavy. You know how we feel about heavy in the State Department. But Treasures seems to have smaller pieces and the shop looked inviting.
Our last stop was at Emilio's Gelateria, right across from the VGP Golden Beach Resort. Apparently there's one also in Mylapore, which would be a whole lot more convenient! We stopped for some much needed gelato and it did not disappoint. I was worried the place wouldn't get much business where it's situated, but several families came in after us so it looks like it might survive. That's a good thing as the store was clean and bright, the gelato was tasty and cheap (Rs532 for 4 waffle cones with mint chocolate ice cream, 2 waffle bowls with double scoops and toppings), the staff was pleasant and competent, and they had a cold stone. I don't even know what a cold stone is for, but it was nifty.
Emilio's Gelateria
The worst thing about the trip? The drive. Driving on ECR is harrowing, terrifying, nerve racking, etc. It's not a nice drive, it's not a fun drive. Several times we drove into oncoming traffic. Ian buried his face in a magazine and tried his best to ignore it all, and I don't blame him one bit. Have I mentioned how awful it is? We did make it back in one piece and had a thoroughly enjoyable day for the hassle. The best way to spend the 3rd of January... at the beach, eating ice cream, with friends.
Sunday we had our normal day until walking back from lunch and haircuts at the Park Sheraton, a bright yellow Lamborghini drove past. A year ago we were happy to have speed bumps put in around our neighborhood. Then mysteriously they were removed a few months later. Have you seen the clearance on a Lamborghini? It's about 6 inches. It's now apparent why the bumps were razed... a moderately influential somebody or other got a new toy and didn't want it scratched, which means people tear through our neighborhood again. Priorities people. Honestly, there's no way I'd drive a car like that in Chennai in the first place.
Off to bed for me. Tomorrow I'll update the front page. If I remember.

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