Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kollam, Kerala, India

Water buffalo seen from the train.

Our beach front guest house.
Local kids having a dramatic photoshoot.

 We headed back North, into Kerala, this time to the backwater town of Kollam. We knew our hotel was a little out of the center of town,  but were a little confused when the auto rickshaw dropped us at a temple with young guys swimming in a big step well behind it. We wandered a bit, with no sign of a guest house, and finally asked a shop keeper for directions to "Summer House Holiday Home". She pointed us down a lane, where we found a house with a sign that said Summer House, but it was padlocked and shuttered. We wandered back to ask again, and this time we were directed to another lane that led right to the water, with only one gate. We were ready to give up and stay in whatever crummy place we could find in town, but went through the gate just in case.

We are glad we did, as the guesthouse turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. The rooms were quintessential beach shacks, put together with an assortment of boards and latticework. There were curtains made out of saris blowing in the sea breeze, a bug net over the bed, and one of the cleanest bathrooms we have seen. As we got settled the kid who let us in (the only staff person, he was bell boy/waiter/sometimes cook/cleaner/gardner/caretaker) set up a table for us, and restocked the refreshment fridge outside our room. Free bottled water and big beers for 100rupees whenever we wanted them. The other guests, a family from Germany, came back from their backwater cruise, and we all enjoyed a delicious South Indian dinner while the sun set.

The next day we really needed to use the internet to plan our next week or so, but there was a strike. In the rest of India it was just the auto rickshaw drivers, striking because of increased harassment from authorities or high petrol prices (depending on who we asked). In Kerala any strike is a general strike, as in everything is shut down. All transportation, all shops, all offices. The guest house owner and his son obviously had the day off from work, and so were doing some maintenance on the grounds. They graciously offered to let us use the internet at their house, where the owner's wife even made us fresh lime juice with biscuits. Another afternoon of looking for crabs on the rocky beach, playing cards listening to the waves, drinking beer in the sea breeze and we knew we had to move on or we would spend the rest of the trip there. 

After all my gushing about the upma the kid had made us for breakfast the first morning (after requesting Kerala breakfast please!) we were treated with appam, made specially by the owner's wife on the second morning. I love Keralan food, but I think that the breakfasts are my favorite. I generally want savory breakfasts anyway, and have found that an egg curry or spicy sambar in the morning is perfect. We have managed to re-try all my favorites, idlies and dosa made by Mini, puttu made by Mini's mom, idiappam made by Ammachi and now upma and appam. I know that I will not find most of these dishes at south indian restaurants in New York, and I am afraid that the preparation is a little involved (overnight fermentation of a rice flour batter) so I will have to make a concerted effort to get these dishes back home (maybe I'll have to start sucking up to Keralan nurses to get care packages).

The guest house owner told us we would have to take a train to Alleppey, since the ferries and busses were also on strike, but his son could drop us off at the station. We are especially appreciative, as we later heard about violence against people giving rides to travelers during the strike. All in all, the guest house ended up being one of our favorites of the whole trip, we are glad we gave it a shot. 

- Bree