Friday, 17 February 2017

Thoothukudi~ volunteering at Aqua Outback

As part of my travels i had chosen to volunteer in a few places and  Aqua in Thoothukudi was where i stayed for roughly a month in December 2016.

Aqua Outback is a privately run resort that desires to focus on Eco-tourism & Eco-sustainability. It's located at the Gulf of Mannar- first marine biosphere established in India. The biodiversity in the waters are unbelievably rich and yet protected by a long stretch of relatively shallow shore-line and blessed with luck. Like for example, a few miles further north there are high waves that often disrupt operations of various salt pans plus there are salt water crocodiles in the water bodies, fortunately life at AQUA is truly a piece of heaven with gentle waves and no crocodiles in sight (no far)- perfect to swim in except for a huge amount of seaweeds & rocks that does tend to spoil the mood. However the CEO of Aqua is a handsome, very fit fella that kinda makes up for the drawbacks of the place: which is virtually nil. Lol. (why does only girls get to be eye candies? Guys can be eye candies too) (Sorry but not so-sorry for pointing the obvious, Boss)
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CEO, Aqua Outback. (picture by Annie de Silva)
Sufficient to say, i truly had a blast volunteering in Aqua (not just because of the CEO, get your head out of the gutter), it is by far one of my most memorable experience of helping out an organization. Very little was asked of me despite the long hours that blurred the line between professional working hours & personal time because i was having such a blast! 

I ate delicious food, took afternoon siestas & kayaked on a daily basis & oh yeah worked too. heh. Given my expertise in hospitality (lol, shameless bragging...), that is what i offered in skills in return for food & board. Most morning was spent either sleeping in or kayaking.
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 The lady in the pic above is not me. Just in case anyone was thinking of the same, wish i was as beautiful as her. She's part of AQUA (err..board member??). is just an example of my mornings...kayaking (without the dog) either up the estuary or along the coast. Looks fun does it not?? IT WAS! The few times when i managed to wake up in time to catch the sunrise it was mesmerizing to say the least.
My work basically consisted of check-in/check-out, welcoming the Guests, ensuring their requirements are met in terms of food/drinks/games/activities with a little bit of PR thrown in.
One day there was a creative interpretation of Jenga rules. Straight up, curved, sideways~ anything goes as long as it doesn't tumble.
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At least 1-2hrs of my days were spent in a hammock pondering on useless matters, like why are the crabs so tiny here- else i could catch them to make some crab chilly or why there were no mussels growing on the thousands of rocks lining the shore. Lol.
There were times when we ate the leftovers gifts left by guests. Purrrfect with coffee. i am not even going to attempt to downplay our actions.
 As the sun got brighter in the day we would rest in the shade, watching the waves/reading/drawing/singing (some of us) or interacting in general....wifi & network is spotty so this means Quality Time with you ever you are stuck with. Hahhahaa..
If you are lucky & the resident philosopher is in residence, besides teaching you all about the marine life in & around Aqua, a basic course in guitar (if you ask nicely), do have a chat with him- philosophical or otherwise. He's a cool dude to hang out with. (which is a big compliment from me to actively point out someone is cool)
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Allen~ Resident Philosopher. . .  (picture by Annie da Silva)
Collecting shells was something we took seriously.
Whenever we (Aqua staff & volunteers etc) saw a fishing boat, we always bitched about the fishermen who were ruining the marine life by over fishing & how to overcome the challenge etc..every single time. lol. 

Then soon enough it would be time for some food and the topic promptly forgotten because the food takes priorities (99% of the time). A little repetitive but that's expected after 3 weeks in... initially in the first 2 meals i was like~ the food is so meh, why is everyone raving about it?? Then i started kayaking, going for walks, babysitting etc, resulting in a complete turnaround of opinion- "Woah the food is Delicious!!" hahahahhah. Btw the chefs are experts in Sri Lankan dishes. 

Behold the dinning room where the glorious food awaited our vicious appetite..
(warning: following pictures may will induce hunger, sorry ^_^'' )
However no matter how delicious the meals were, i longed for the evening starters-chicken, prawns...& prawns
Look at these prawns!! Am salivating & drooling just remembering the taste. The best part of volunteering in Aqua is that the CEO loves to overfeed everyone-including the staff. Which meant that i usually ended eating at least half or more platter of prawns! the prawns are a major reason why i will go back to volunteer again. :D #shameless... In fact whenever there was prawn starters my fellow volunteers Anna & Annie would sweetly let me know just in case i didnt notice them.. (snort, as if i could not smell prawns a mile away...hehee)
Other than prawns i like this plant which grows only in the salt marshes...i have forgotten the name but it is superb. I think it might be the next big thing in the food industry as it has a unique aroma & taste- a whiff of the sea, naturally salty with a nice crunchy firmness. And since it grows near salt water- very important to note & remember as the sea level rises. Possibly the NEXT BIG VEGETABLE PRODUCT! Move over the humble beetroot & millet seeds.
Post lunch it was always an afternoon kayak/kite-surfing/nap or best of all; back to staring at the sea...
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(picture by Anna-lee Ramsurrun)
till it was late afternoon when we would typically end up either playing games or going for walks.
the point of the walk through the salt pans, besides creating some room for starters was to watch the migratory flamingos & sunset from a vintage point of an old bridge across the river, where few oysters are still harvested. Sometimes we managed to come across a herd of goats during our walks.
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(picture by Anna-lee Ramsurran)
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(picture by Annie da Silva)
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(picture by Annie da Silva)
While i could only offer hospitality assistance, another volunteer (Anna) left some tangible prints behind.. .

With music blaring, hot coffee at the side she painted murals..what was initially bare white washed walls soon became focal points..

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(picture by Anna de Silva)
Even a little something for the wonderful sweet chefs.
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Surreal right?? (picture by Anna-lee Ramsurrun)
Christmas was also spent in Aqua...In fact it was the first time in many years that i celebrated Christmas! Got gifts, hugs, love, danced, drank & be merry. ^_^
Woke up early to leave reindeer hoof prints for the kids... yummy Christmas cookies...
Attempted to make some DYI Christmas gifts for Aunty...not sure what she truly thought of the fugly potholder/breadbasket....hahha
My first Christmas gift after ages! A heart warming card, hair bands, clips & to top it off~ Chocolates!! Thank you Anna for the surprise!
Drank & danced away after a long time..oh i even sang. (#cringinginrecollections)
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Was too distracted to take pictures of the festive authentic Christmas buffet spread but these were the side plates. How cool is this? (note to self- must purchase asap if i ever see these in future)
Was also invited to a schools' Christmas program. It was hilarious, they had balloon dance/tango/Chinese fan dance & what not but the best part was the Christmas Nativity play. It had Aliens joining in the fun. It was a riot.
 Our expressions throughout..well not really, but you get the grist of it.
One of the few times we went out of Aqua to stock up on stuffs~ it was like entering an alternate universe. Too many people, too much traffic & above all WTF WHY is it so Noisy??? We did try out a few strange items like this fruit salad juice. Yup, it's a mix of various fruits semi pulverized in a blend of weird connotations of juice & unidentified syrup. We drank it. We did not get sick. lol..
She is Annie btw a very sweet charming lady. She's a multi talented person who sings/writes/draws/bartends/nanny/lifeguards!!! Spent hours just chilling out with her. <3

When it was finally time to leave Aqua Outback, on one hand i hesitated to leave the warm cocoon but was also excited as my journey was just starting off... 
An acquaintance of mine asked me if i found some answers to some questions in my mind during my travels. Well... i did find out something, i might love the water but i am not a water baby. Got too spooked, too much by the sharp rocks, gazillions seaweeds & even the darn corals; forgetting the main point of snorkeling which is to see corals up close, it was way too close for my comfort. Those darn things were 6 inches from my face, surrounded by a forest of dangling seaweeds wrapping around my legs and any attempt at moving away only resulted in scrapes & cuts in my elbow, knees & foots. Even the presence of a certified lifeguard could not tempt me more than 10 ft into the sea. I will stick to swimming in safe waters of a swimming pool, Gorkarna & Varkala.

I feel so lucky to have met many amazing ladies but mostly Anna & Annie my fellow volunteers whose names i kept mixing it up. Sorry darlings! Sweet & sassy, but both very very impassioned about loving all living things including ants & geckos, even if they didn't quite understand on my love for prawns. . . crabs ... & chickens.

Information/Contact details:

AQUA Outback;
Aqua Outback is truly a slice of heaven. At first glance it might seem very meh but you soon realize that the price/effort is worth it. One of the few affordable isolated commercial beach properties in Tamil Nadu along the rich Gulf of Mannur. It has soft beds that rivals 5star properties, an array of activities from snorkeling/fishing/kayaking/bird watching & even kite-surfing! The food is worth every calorie. Perfect for a long weekend getaway, check them out here or contact them here to book.
Ann Taylor Annie da Silva ; 
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She is a singer/songwriter/activist/photographer/bartender/nanny & passionate animal lover. Her soft spoken voice belies her amazing clear vocals. Check her out here & her chart topping single here. Buy her album!!

Anna-Lee Ramsurrun;
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With a larger than life bubbly personality, she not only creates works of beauty by painting murals all over the world but also feels very strongly about helping others. A graphic designer by profession, she runs her own company that donates profits to those in need, especially towards refugees. You can buy her products here or connect with her here.

ps: for those patiently waiting to check the CEO of Aqua Outback....

scroll further down

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Ladies & Gents... he also runs a sport studio (SPARCS) & boot camps at Aqua Outback. What are you guys waiting for? Book your places now! You can check out SPARCS fb page here.