Trip Start May 01, 2010
23Trip End Jul 15, 2010
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Where I stayed
The sky was dark and threatening another rainstorm as we boarded ferry number A39 to Chennankary. The small backwater village was to be our home for three nights.
We were happy to be getting out of Alleppey, our destination after leaving the beach town of Varkala. A small but hectic backwater town, we were ready for village life. Our one relief in Alleppey had been the lovely homestay that we stayed at, complete with pigeon house, swing, and lush jungle-filled courtyard.
The ferry ride took 1.5 hours and cost us a steep 25 cents total. The price is kept low as public transportation is highly subsidized by the state Communist government
Arriving at our stop (the third Christian church on the left) just over an hour after we started out, we were quickly surrounded by small children, offering to show us to our host's house and asking for pens or gifts. Every child in this region knows how to say "One pen? One chocolate?" if nothing else. We have been advised by locals to not give out such items, as it just perpetuates the culture of begging. Here, too, the standard of living is very high, and often it seemed as if the children were asking out of habit rather than need. At any rate, we enjoyed speaking to the children, and they always seemed happy to tell us their name, where they lived, and to point out their various friends and relatives, often shy children peaking out from nearby hiding places.
Our ferry was a little bit late, and when we arrived at the house, lunch was in full swing
Our host, Thomas, his wife Lalli and two daughters, Anneena and Anne, live with Thomas' sister Maria. Maria's husband is temporarily living and working in England. They also have two daughters, Mable and Rachel. The four girls, with their impressive English skills and their large repetoire of songs and dances in Malayalam, English, and Hindi, provided us with hours of entertainment.
Thomas is in the process of building a new house on the family property where his family will live. His parents and his younger brother and wife also live there. They are rice farmers, although Thomas is the only one of his generation still farming
Life in the village was considerably slower than anywhere else we have experienced in India. Days revolved around the all-important activities of cooking, eating, cleaning, visiting, playing, and resting. Kian and I indulged ourselves in a few days of doing next to nothing. We went paddling on the rice paddies, which was beautiful - that lasted about 30 minutes. We took bicycles and explored some of the neighbouring islands. We read. We slept. We read some more. (Kian finished a novel in 24 hours). We ate - far too much! But amazing food. And we played with the girls, who made us laugh with their renditions of Bollywood songs and an impressive version of "Barbie Girl."
One morning I took the opportunity to have a cooking lesson with the family matriarch, Amma. (I don't remember her first name, but everyone called her Amma, which means mother, so we did too). Amma did most of the cooking for the extended family and any guests staying in the homestay. The family lands included mango trees, coconut trees, and a number of other fruits and spices, all of which were used in the daily meals
To say that people were friendly towards us would be an understatement. It was not only the children that spoke to us and followed us on the pathways, but adults were curious about us as well. People smiling, calling out to us, asking us questions, all became a regular part of any outing that we went on. One evening, as we cycled around another island, I stopped near a shop to wait for Kian. Many people were standing outside the shop, visiting and gossiping. Two men were sitting near me, and they called out to me. At first I thought they were offering to take a picture of me with my camera. I politely declined, but then another man, who had been watching our interaction, interupted to explain, "They are posing for you
It would have been very easy for us to slip into a routine in the village and stay for many weeks, eating and napping our way into a kind of relaxed nirvana, but we made ourselves move on.
Everyone says that staying on a houseboat is a Kerala must. We had been watching them for days, and decided to go for it. Houseboats range from basic one-bedroom structures to amazing 5-star floating palaces with satellite dishes, well-stocked bars, and pools on the roof. Generally the latter are rented out by extended north Indian families. We, unsurprisingly, opted for a basic option, for a couple of reasons: the price was right (houseboats can be very pricey), and we are not generally extravagent people (we thought we might survive without a rooftop swimming pool for a night). What we got was a small houseboat with one bedroom, bathroom, a driver, and a cook to prepare all our meals and serve us. Still pretty luxurious!
We ended up having mixed feelings about the whole experience
It was hard to tear ourselves away from this beautiful region, but we don't have to leave the waters and the beautiful culture created from it just yet, as we are off to Fort Kochi, at the entrance to the backwaters, for a few days. See you there!