Back to the backwaters: India day 27 (Kerala Backwaters to Kochi)

washing by the river with a knowing smile Don’t let anyone tell you that sleeping by the river is “cool,” not temperature-wise, anyway. Natacha & I barely slept during our night on the Kerala backwaters. the mosquito net was too close to the bed, which meant that it rested on my foot and/or cheek most of the night, unless I laid diagonal on the bed, which needless to say is not fun for Natacha.

big honking cup of chaiThat was really the only drawback to our trip, though. From our room, we watched the sun rise over the canals, had a yummy coconut-laced breakfast, and enjoyed a nice, slow return to the houseboat docks. One of the most worthwhile experiences of our trip. Our boat & captain

In fact, we liked it so much, as soon as we got off the boat, we immediately booked a longboat excursion, so we could visit the small canals that the big houseboat couldn’t go.

This took three hours and was just as wonderful. These were the backwaters of the backwaters: tiny networks of shallow waters where we saw close-up what the houseboats couldn’t get near. We saw people’s homes, farms, their ducks and chickens, their neighborhoods, and really stunning foliage.

ox shack

family occasion

post-backwater thaliAfter a quick lunch in Aleppey, we got on a bus to Kochi, a town we’d heard much about. After a sleepless night, four hours in the hot Kerala sun, and several hours on buses and taxis, we were EXHAUSTED.

We found a room in the third place we looked at (not the cleanest, but it had a/c and we were the only people there). I wasn’t feeling my best (it had been a nutty week, after all), but we found a neat couple to have dinner with. They were a young French duo who had chosen to travel India and China on—get this--a tandem bicycle. i.e. they were nuts. We joined them for dessert as well, and listened to their various stories of traveling through India on a FUCKING TANDEM BICYCLE. Insane.

Tried to sleep, failed, did 90 min of yoga, finally slept.

Forward, to the backwaters: India Day 26 (Varkala to Alleppey

our boat pilot Jesus! That took some doing. Woke up in Varkala, though not too early, thank good. Instead of getting up at 5 AM, we decided to take the late train to the bus to Allepey.

The famous slow boat trip along these south Indian backwaters are universally recognized as one of the best excursions you can take in the entire country. After a tuk-tuk to a train to a bus, we arrived about three hours later at a dusty bus station in Alleppey, not 100% knowing how to take the next step. i.e. booking a houseboat to sail us along the Kerala backwaters. We couldn’t even find the boat docks.

And as was our habit, we ended up there during the hottest part of the day. Of course, it didn’t take long for the touts to arrive. Even rested and refreshed as we were, it was still a horrendous ordeal. We were beset by several, and waved them off as best we could. The most persistent one, well, persisted, and we gave in after he offered to hire a tuk-tuk at his expense to take us to the boat docks. Twenty minutes later, we found ourselves in front of several dozen houseboats, all lined up shoulder-to-shoulder.

Our tout, whom I’ll call “Hazel” as he had these crazy hazelnut-colored eyes, called to various boats, apparently taking us to the ones who would work with him. We started with a small boat, captained by Hazel’s cousin, which was ok but not great. We’d stashed our stuff there and tried others, getting farther and farther away from our bags as we went down the line.

The second boat was a good one, but in negotiating, the captain seemed dead set on overcharging and undersupplying us. This guy was also apparently Hazel’s cousin. Uh-oh.

After this point, we set off to get our bags and get rid of hazel. But he—guess what—persisted, and together we found the right boat. Built for a much larger party than us, it was still willing to take us—not least because it was low season and most boats had gotten booked an hour before we showed up.

Hazel negotiated it for us, but couldn’t get the price we wanted. No big surprise, given that his commission probably figured into it. We insisted on talking with the boat’s owner, who showed up an hour later. We got closer, but still paid a bit more than we wanted: around $120. But given that the price covered 24 hours on a 2-bedroom houseboat, a crew of 5, and three meals, we didn’t mind flashpacking a little. Say what you will about India, but the prices are nothing to sneeze at.

Besides, the roof deck on this boat was awesome.

Natacha, backwater pimpin'

house boat fin They call the boat a slow boat for a reason: It travels very S-L-O-W-L-Y. But the slowness really takes you to a different place, or rather, pace. We inched down palm-lined waterways for hours, watching life among the rivers and canals of this beautiful area.

We saw villagers wash their clothes (or themselves), walk down the jetties, sit in chairs watching the boats go by, and turn their heads away when I tried to take their photos.

boy rowing a chest of drawers, apparently

man washing clothes

Birds flew from palm to palm. No one waved, simply going along with their business.

woven boat

At one point from the roof deck, Natacha looked out on the waters and said, “It’s supremely beautiful.” Good a way as any to describe it.

Teatime consisted of fried bananas.

Ken in the houseboat living room

Around six, we watched the sunset from the roof deck. After sunset we walked along the riverbank, running into a brit couple and walking together for a while. Then it was back to the boat for dinner, which was DELICIOUS…not least of which because everything was made with some form of coconut: Chopped, shredded, milk. Note to self: cooking with coconut = yum!