Cruising The Backwaters

Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
Trip End May 02, 2013

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Flag of India  , Kerala,
Monday, December 3, 2012

Jogging along the platform with the train about to leave, we couldn't find our boxcar so we jumped on the nearest one. With the conductor's help, we eventually found our seats.

It was a short train ride through lush vegetation and palm-fringed lakes and rivers.  Sylvia was reading while Jason was sleeping and we almost missed our stop.  We would have if Jason hadn't woken up in time and asked the man next to him where we were.

We checked in at Palmy Residency, then got a ride down to the boat dock to play pick a houseboat, any houseboat.  There were literally hundreds to choose from but we narrowed our search and soon found one that suited us.  It looked seaworthy, clean and had a nice top deck lounge area so we booked it for the following day.

Back in our room it was 30 degrees with the fan on and curtains closed.  The humidity was thick.  We ventured out for lunch to a local joint where everyone but us ate with their hands and of course we ordered the wrong things.

Since Palmy Residency was booked solid for the night after our boat cruise, we walked around and found a room at the Palmy Regency instead.  At 350 rupees (~$6.50) per night, it was our cheapest room in India.  For our most expensive, read on to the end.

The afternoon heat was oppressive.  The slightest movement made us sweat.

For dinner we took a walk to the air conditioned restaurant at Royale Park Hotel.  It was a cool respite from the heat and streets.  The aloo capsicum, pineapple raita and naan were spot on.

Despite some initial agitation due to the breakfast delay the next morning, Jason finally achieved zen while lying in savasana (corpse pose) on a mattress in the guesthouse lobby.  We met a Dutchman who, no doubt in a travel daze, left his backpack on a bus in the middle of the night, then left his wallet on a chair outside.  He would have lost that too if Jason hadn't let him know.

We were starting to encounter a lot more backpackers in the south and with that, more tales of getting sick in India.  It seemed one in two had suffered at some point.  Was it worth it?  We had our own differing opinions.

We carried our packs back down to the dock area and boarded the houseboat.  With Freddie and Syade as our crew, we were set to cruise the backwaters of Kerala.

Once we got out of the congested canal and onto an open lake it seemed like we were worlds away.  Purple water lilies were in full bloom, birds and people were fishing and simple village life was drifting by.  It was peaceful, relaxing and exactly what we needed after the rat-race of the northern cities. Thousands of ducks laughed at us as we glided past.

Freddie cooked up a spectacular lunch.  To be on the safe side we chose the vegetarian menu option. We didn't recognise all of what we were eating, but it looked and tasted good.

The afternoon came and went and we were treated to a glorious sunset cruise.  Afterward, we purchased fresh coconuts from a local villager and took a short walk around.  Syade was called away urgently to his home so Freddie took care of us on his own.

The geckos came out to feed on the plentiful insects.  We had dinner under purple UV lights, then spent a hot, sleepless night with a loud fan whirring at the foot of the bed.

Luckily, it cooled off considerably by morning.  Idli (soft, spongey rice discs) and sambhar (thick vegetable soup) comprised our typical South Indian breakfast.  As we cruised back to the harbour, we agreed that it was 5,500 rupees ($102) well spent and that one night on the water was enough.

On arrival at Palmy Regency, the room we'd booked was still occupied by someone with a fever so we got upgraded for a mere 50 rupees extra.  We made plans for our next travel day, washed some clothes by hand and chilled under the fan in our room.

We returned to the Royale Park Hotel for lunch and dinner that day.  After the former, Sylvia inquired about where to get the local dessert she was dying to try and they surprisingly replied that it was complimentary.  Payasam, creamy, spiced rice pudding with molasses, coconut milk, nuts and raisins was the perfect finish to any meal.

On Sylvia's urging, we decided to splurge on ayurvedic massages that cost triple what our room did, and that was after the Lonely Planet discount. The centre had increased its one hour massage rates from 600 rupees to 900, which we weren't willing to pay.  The man in charge asked if we had the book that said 600, we replied yes, and he said "Okay 600, no problem".

What followed was an interesting experience for both of us.  Sylvia received a gentle treatment and washing from a female therapist while Jason took a bit of a beating from a man.  Both included more oil than our bodies had ever been exposed to before.

That night, Sylvia stayed up late and didn't sleep much.  Jason woke up with a complete repeat of the symptoms that sent him to the hospital two weeks earlier.  He emailed the doctor while Sylvia, using Lonely Planet India's Health section, helped establish an alternative diagnosis.

We decided it was most likely giardiasis and started treatment accordingly.  Sylvia went out to pick up the medications, electrolyte powder, bottled water and oranges.  It was a long day inside doing almost nothing.  We were forced to spend an extra night in Alleppey and change our travel plan to the following day.  Thankfully, our next place was very accommodating with shifting our reservation.

Jason woke the next morning feeling hungry for the first time in days so he polished off a big Western breakfast.  While Sylvia went out to stock up on more supplies, Jason paid the bill of 1,180 rupees (~$22) for two nights and two breakfasts each.  Then it was time to head for the hills.
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Dipika on

Oh Jason!
Feel better. I know what you mean about the massages. I remember sliding off the massage table and not being able to get the oil out of me for days after loads of soap and scrubbing!

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