Monday, February 25, 2013

Alleppey + Backwaters, Kerala, India

The riot police bus we took due to a general strike in Kerala.
In the backwaters, the canals are used like roads. Complete with street signs.
A hibiscus flower dangles near rice paddies.
Sun setting in the backwaters.

Walking in rice paddy fields.
The church on the rice paddies.
Sunken canoe.
Bree and a houseboat.
A man emerging from the canal.
Palm trees. water and rice paddies.
Houseboats in Alleppey.
Bree took a cooking class to learn some real Keralan recipes.
The Indian Coffee House, a cheap but tasty chain of restaurants in south India. The waiter's uniforms are awesome.
White birds cling to the palm fronds.

The train to Alleppey was only a couple of hours, and we enjoyed riding in unreserved second class on a nearly empty train. The general strike was still in effect in Kerala. At the train station there were a few young guys offering to take tourists into town on the back of their motorcycles. We opted instead for the crowd control bus that was dropping people at various places around town for free. We wondered briefly about whether they were shuttling us in a riot police bus because it was their only free vehicle, or for our protection. We had picked our guest house for the night based primarily on its promise of free wifi, but realized how nice it can be to have AC and clean sheets every once in a while. The wifi turned out to be slow, and over burdened by all the travelers stuck at home for the night (many of whom had their travel plans cancelled by the strike). Since there were no restaurants open, the guest house was kind enough to make a big dinner for everyone.

The next morning, we ran a few errands in town. With the strike over, all the shops were open and the charming chaos of India had returned. We should have enjoyed the calm that the strike brought while it lasted.

We took the ferry to our home-stay on the backwaters. We had looked at doing an overnight cruise on one of the "converted rice barges" (which are floating 4 star hotel rooms nowadays) but realized that for the same amount of money we could spend 3 nights in a home-stay, and rent canoes to explore by ourselves. Greenpalm Homes is a series of big family homes, on a canal and backing the rice paddies. Our room was in one of the daughter's home, with a few older people on a month long tour, a German couple, and a Spanish couple. In the brother's house was a family with young kids from Vancouver, A Japanese couple with their 3 kids under 6 and a few members of the tour. We all ate together, fed by the family matriarch. We joined the other young couples on a small motor boat tour, took a canoe through the small canals with the Germans and explored the island on foot. The Germans and I did a cooking glass with the family Amma (mom) and learned to make all the dry vegetable curries, liquid coconut curries and coconut chutneys that I love. We even went back after lunch for a bonus chapati lesson, unfortunately we didn't get to make parathas, and the instructions still leave me a little confounded. We surprisingly realized that we thrive under a strict schedule, breakfast at 8, then a boat ride/walk, lunch at 1, read/write/nap, tea at 4, another walk/bike ride, dinner at 8, socialize, bed by 10. We were actually more productive than if we had an unrestricted schedule. Most people probably figured all that out years ago, but I guess I was a hold out for freedom.

We were pleasantly surprised by how clean the canals and pathways around island were. There was the odd candy wrapper here and there, but not the piles of garbage that usually fill most rivers or streams in India. The people really do live with the water, washing clothes, dishes and themselves in the canals, and it obviously affects their relationship with it. It was really nice to be able to wander through the backwater villages and chat with people, rather than just gliding by them on a boat (even if many of the conversations with kids consist of: “give me one pen, no pen? Ok, give me one coin, give me your water, Ok, give me one watch". Again, I rue gift giving travelers!)

- Bree