Yay Kerala – pt 1

            Yay Kerala! Woo hoo. Do I fully convey my excitement? Like I said before, while landing I got so excited to see so much green and trees and nature at its best. I took photos from the airplane and couldn’t stop smiling. The uncle sitting next to me must have thought I was crazy. He smiled back but I don’t think he could have understood my excitement.

            People smile and are super friendly. Coming from Rajasthan where people only seem to be trying to look for money out of you, their friendliness is exacerbated in my head. Small disclaimer – I have friends who are Rajasthani, friends who love Rajasthan. I do not want to convey that Rajasthan is a bad place; I had a great time meeting the more down to earth people while I was there, however, being a tourist there was very difficult for all of us. It seems like the place thrives off tourism and everyone knows that they can get money from the tourists, so they take advantage. It was just a bit much. If I were to go back, I’d only go with a friend who is from there and stay with them, most probably away from tourists destinations. As soon as I got my baggage I went to the tourist help counter and with a smile told me my options of getting to Alleppey. I opted for a local bus to Kochi and a second bus to Alleppey. The first bus was nice and AC. Kerela is HOT! Right before the doors of the bus closed an older woman sat next to me. We smiled. She didn’t speak much English. Her first words to me were, “Who is your husband?” It took a lot for me not to start snickering. She asked a few questions throughout like where I’m from in broken English. She kept pointing out her son. When I finally realized who he was I was happy to see that he was young. She seemed very proud of him.

            On the second bus I found myself in the last row sitting next to two college kids. After a few minutes one of them spoke to me, starting off with the where are you from and name, etc. Raj and Akil are both from Kollam (spelling wrong I know). Akil speaks English and is studying mechanical engineering, Akil doesn’t speak English and studies commerce. Raj took at 3 hour bus ride with his friend to accompany him to a small conference for the day. In their opinion, Alleppey is the best place in Kerala. I could tell that Akil was asking questions that Raj didn’t feel like asking. He did tell me he wanted to study in Florida; he has friends there. They were super sweet. I couldn’t help notice that people did a double take of me ,and when they caught my eye, I would smile, and they smiled back. At first impression, I would say that Keralans are super, duper nice and happy people.

            In Alleppey I had the pleasure of staying with my friend Minto’s family. I was nervous to stay with someone’s family without the direct connection to them, but it was amazing. His family was super sweet. For all the food I didn’t eat in Rajasthan, I doubled up on in Alleppey. His mom is an amazing cook. It was also good to have home cooked food after a week of eating out. Everything had coconut oil, coconut, and rice in it. After a quick shower – I really needed it – I got some fried bananas (of course in coconut oil) and tea. Tea there was more like flavoured milk – not what I expected, but it was yum. After a brief look through of Minto’s wedding album Joiet and I went to the beach to watch the sunset.

            The beach was full of people! Everyone goes there for the sunset he said. People looked at me and smiled. At one point someone spit (no paan, but just probably sea water or water) and looked up and apologized. People are so polite! Families were there in full laughing and playing with the tide. It was like I stepped into some sort of happy play land.

            We went home for dinner. I abandoned my vegetarianism for Alleppey. We had fish (Kherimi, which is local to Alleppey), chicken, and a coconut sauce thing. It was so much food, but it was so yummy. On Sunday nights the power goes from 9:00 – 9:30, every other day from 9:30 – 10:00. We took a walk through their front yard. I walked with Auntie and we tried to communicate as much as possible.

            For dessert we had mini kelas (mini bananas) from their back yard. They were fat and super sweet.

            We retired early but I wanted to write and speak with friends. I should have slept earlier though. The next day was my backwaters trip! When we woke up breakfast was some sort of egg curry with appam noodles with coconut shavings. Appam, what I was used to is a rice patty type thing, but these were noodles. After Joiet dropped me to the boat where I got a small two-person boat and an older uncle who operated. We specifically both thought that a rowboat was better than a motor. First of all it’s quieter and more personal, and it doesn’t pollute the water. The uncle’s name was Ballape and he, as Joiet told me later, was probably not a boat operator usually, but probably a fisherman who did this in the off season in order to pick up some extra cash. Joiet also worked magic by dropping me of a few metres away from the loading point in order to get a better price. While waiting, a man asked me if I wanted a ride, I said no, kindly and he just walked away. It was amazing, no haggling, no pressure, just that. Joiet came back and I plopped into the boat and my smile only grew. Every time Ballape wanted to get my attention he would say Hello quite loudly. Most of the time it was to point out a mango tree. Everyone does everything in the water. Everywhere Ballape spoke with the locals who were either bathing, washing clothes, washing vessels, playing or working by the water. I  saw snakes (apparently these river snakes don’t bite) and so many different kinds of birds including hawks and a kingfisher. When we were rounding a bend Ballape picked a flower and said, “Hello, hello” and threw it at me. He took my photo and then I took his. We got into a small canal, which was super beautiful, but there was where I saw the affects of tourism and people on the water. There was some trash, specifically plastic bottles, scattered throughout. He took me to a tiny, tiny pass where he had to back out from. When he backed out he hit the bottom of the canal and the mud that came up was black and smelled really, really bad. Joiet said that it was originally just rowboats, then became external motors, then the houseboats came. It’s really taking a toll on the river, it’s sad.

            The three hour journey came to an end as we passed through the Nehru Pavilion which was in the middle of the water. During boat races, this is the finishing point. I wanted to walk around the town before calling to get picked up. I made it maybe 200 metres and was dying of heat and humidity. I was melting actually. I looked around and noticed that I was alone in my melting feeling. I was amazed at the lack of sweat coming from everyone else. It was like a sauna. Happily Joiet came back and we went home for lunch and a nap. I ate a lot, again. And after the nap I had tea with a rice flower jaggery coconut lugdu type thing. It was so yum.

            We took a trip to the light house, back to the beach, and I got to walk a bit around town. At the beach, there were almost as many people as the night before, but we were a lot earlier and it was a weekday. A group of women came, in sarees, and they played with the tide, finally submitting to getting wet. It’s so much fabric to get wet!

            We went home for dinner and we had chicken curry. I got twice as much rice as anyone else. I eat slower too. They gave up on waiting for me, as they should. It was nice because they allowed me to help out, although minimally, in the kitchen. I finished just in time for the power cut and we took our walk.

            I learned a lot of interesting facts about Kerala; coolest few include they’re super communistic and every four years the communist party takes over and then the next Congress takes over. I think that’s a good balance. Because it’s communist, day labourers make a lot more money (as in more than four times the amount) than day labourers in other states. After the power cut we went to sleep. The options for getting to Munnar included a 4am bus ride direct but windy through various villages along the way, or taking a bus to Kochi and switching. I did the latter and it was a very, very long journey. I left by 9 and only reached a little past 4. I guess the only good part was the first bus was AC, and finally getting to Munnar. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s cooler, and completely green.

            I had a hotel reservation in the city, but decided to take Manoj’s advice and just ask a rickshaw driver to find me a hotel that’s in my budget. Very nervous, I finally stepped up to the task and found myself with Muni.

            Muni is from Chennai, has 2 brothers, one of whom works here in Munnar and who brought him here. He’s quite charismatic and won me over while driving quite a distance to find random hotels. We finally found a good one within my price range and made a deal on how I would be getting around tomorrow – including quite a hefty fee. I took it just because for one, I don’t really have any other options, and I also want to do the things he offered like trekking through the tea and spice plantations while going to the tallest peak in Munnar.

            After settling in (without internet or a phone connection) I took a walk, met a small girl name Sneha who just kept waving at me and saying hi, everyone else smiled and some said hi. At a tea stall I met Augustine who is from Munnar itself and was partaking in adventure training with other young adults from around Kerala. Everyone is so friendly!

            And now, here I am, finally up to date, sitting in my hotel, unable to post this due to lack of internet. But it’s written. Tomorrow Muni is picking me up at 8 to start the day. I’m excited.

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