Our next destination in Kerala, or “God’s Own Country”, as it is known in India, was Alleppey; where we would find ourselves a houseboat for two days and two nights. For her birthday, Missy’s sister and parents wanted to treat us to a special experience in India of her choosing; and I coincidentally, would get to reap the benefits of such a great gift. It is no secret on the Indian travel circuit that the backwaters of Kerala are a “must see” in India and the only way to do it is on a houseboat. Also, in our Lonely Planet it specifically states that a cruise through the backwaters of Kerala is an item on the list of top 10 things to do before you die, so Missy’s choice was an easy one. So, thank you Krista, Mike, Bill, and Pam for a blissful 48 hours in God’s Own Country.
I must share a story with this forum before I continue my rant about the beauty of Kerala. I have detailed on this blog before my hatred and fear of what I call “critters”. A critter, by my own definition, is anything the size of a mouse or smaller that moves and is not human. I hate critters. I do have to pat myself on the back for the trooper I have been in attempting to overcome my contempt for critters in India, but I have experienced a MAJOR setback. The night before our houseboat cruise, Missy gently shook me awake around 1:30am to announce that she thinks something just bit her and that I should wake up. I semi ignored her and rolled over. Then, all of a sudden, Missy shrieked: “Oh my god! Oh my god! Get up! Get up! Get up!” As I leaped and bounded out of bed, we saw a centipede half a mile long scurry across our bed. This thing was basically a snake with 14,000 legs. What a foul creature. Anyways, as soon as the sleep left me, and the situation sunk in, I realized that the snake critter thing that had just crawled across our bed was the same critter that had bit Missy on the hand. DEAR GOD. After some discussion, we decided that it was impossible to sleep in this room, even if they quarantined it and put it on stilts in the sky. NOT A CHANCE IN HELL. So, I politely buzzed our hostel owner man and announced that we would need to move to the upstairs room immediately. As we packed up our things, we saw two of the snake critter things scurry across the floor to hide under the dresser. Missy and I had survived the attack of the centipedes with one small bite to prove it.
The next morning, we got out of that hostel as soon as we could, and headed down to the boat docks to pick out a houseboat. There were about 1,000 to choose from, but we found ours pretty quickly. We quickly fell into a deep admiration for both our captain and cook, Doss and Don. The two of them were each about 4’ 9”, and if Mario and Luigi had had Indian cousins, it would have been Doss and Don. The four of us made an excellent houseboat group. Doss and Don spoke about as much English as a newborn child, so they basically just watched us and laughed at everything we did, which was a major ego boost for the two of us. Chef Don’s meals were some of the best we have had in India, and they always contained fresh fish, pineapple slices, rice, bread, and vegetables. I think he was in awe of the amount of coffee we drank, and if he had understood English better, I would have explained to him that we were American…it’s in our blood to house a pot of coffee every morning. As for Captain Doss, homeboy seriously has the life. First of all, steering a houseboat is about as difficult as blinking. Second of all, he takes a break every 90 minutes to do god knows what, so Chef Don has to sit in the captain seat. And lastly, Captain Doss gets to float down canals everyday staring at palm trees and honking his boat horn every time he passed one of his friends’ houses. I am seriously considering starting a houseboat tour company in Washington DC when I get home. It’s only a vision at the moment.
During the days, Missy and I would sip coffee (this is until Doss and Don stopped at a local village to make a beer run…at which we then switched from coffee to Kingfisher beers), talk about how great our lives were at the moment as we lounged on red velour cushions, and read from the stash of novels we have accumulated. The backwaters of Kerala are truly beautiful, and we got to cruise through local villages, rice paddies, and large lakes. The citizens of Kerala are extremely proud of where they live, and every time we tell any of them how much we love Kerala, they break into a large grin and announce: “God’s Own Country!!!” It really is a spectacular place. The evenings were a different story. Before we had boarded our houseboat, the owner handed us a stack of burned, unmarked DVDs and said we could find one we liked. Missy and I waited in anticipation all day for it to get dark so we could cuddle up and watch a movie. After previewing all 50 DVDs, we found three in English, and only one we could stomach watching; Mission Impossible II. Halfway through the movie, it just stopped working. We tried to revive it, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us. One does not have to have an education to guess the ending of the epic Tom Cruise thriller, but what were we going to do with ourselves now? We played two hours of UNO in our room, and Missy beat me seven out of eight games. I did not realize that one could actually lack talent for a card game based on luck, but I do. UNO is not my thing.
Our last week in Kerala was spent on the cliffs of Varkala Beach, and what a perfect place to end our “Indian real world hiatus”. We stayed at a home stay right on the edge of a cliff, which ended up being about a 30 minute walk from the main part of the Varkala strip. It rained our entire first day in Varkala, and Missy and I sort of panicked. We had been banking on sunshine and rainbows for our last week of vacation; this rain was not coordinating with our plans. So, we spent a chunk of time trying to figure out if we could feasibly make our way back up to Goa and waste away on Palolem Beach for the rest of the week. We quickly learned that getting on any sort of train that week was next to impossible. So, we bit the bullet, and prayed for sun. It came. We had three perfect beach days where we watched fisherman cast their nets, ate freshly cut pineapple, and played in the Arabian Sea. One morning, I decided to start my day with a swim, so I ventured into the rough waves without a care in the world. Two minutes later, I slammed into a hidden underwater boulder, only to emerge from the ocean looking like a shark attack victim. My leg was a bloody mess and was stinging from the salt water. To make me feel better, Missy stated: “Well, at least it wasn’t your face…”. She has a point. Eventually I got myself all cleaned up and bandaged, and I am now hoping for a nice scar on my leg so when people ask about it, I can say: “Ohhhh that? It’s from the rough waters of the Arabian Sea. I got it when I was in India for three months.” It is healing nicely.
At night, because of the lack of moon, Varkala becomes pitch black. We also learned that this is the best time for fisherman to go out and for a ripe catch. Our 30 minute walk home on the edge of a cliff could not be done without flashlights, which we quickly learned on our first night walking home without them. After feeling our way home for a short time, we eventually stopped at a local hotel to ask for assistance. A nice old man named Asbi escorted us all the way home with his torch. I tried to pay him a few rupees, as a thank you, to which he playful nudged me and said: “Do you have brother?” I replied that I did have one brother. “Well…I have sister”. And with that, Asbi turned around and walked home. What a gem. We did not forget our torches for the rest of our duration in Varkala, although we did miss our walks home with Asbi. Varkala beach seems to be a well-kept secret. One day, Missy and I stole the playful chocolate lab from our hostel, and walked for about an hour on the cliffs, across abandon beaches, and through small fishing villages. We saw about three other tourists the entire time and the views were pretty spectacular. I would highly recommend Varkala as a romantic getaway destination. No offense Missy. Unfortunately, it rained our last day in Varkala, but we turned our frowns upside down. We ended up finishing up our souvenir shopping, went to a long yoga class, and stopped into a hut for a pedicure. Not a bad rainy day if you ask me.
Currently, we are on our very last train ride of our trip. It also happens to be our longest trek yet. 44 hours on a non-AC sleeper train. Of course we happened to be put into the “cool kids” car, where everyone has seemed to congregate. Last night, a group of 25 men stripped down to nothing but their towel wraps and performed a puja ceremony right on the train. They shut all the windows, turned off the fans, and set a fire in a bowl to which they made offerings. At first I was annoyed by the act. Twenty-five half-naked, fat, sweaty men crammed into my train car was not the picture I had envisioned for my journey home. However, it turned out to be one of the coolest things we have seen in India. The dedication was inspiring, and the chanting was pretty catchy. Plus, afterwards, they fed us all sorts of homemade fried snacks, so my annoyance quickly turned into friendship. It is amazing to me that these men just whipped out bags of ceremony props and food, crowded the aisles to any emergency exit on the train, and lit a small fire to which they chanted for almost an hour; and no one seemed to care. In fact, train officials and employees respectfully stepped around them. I mean in NYC or Washington DC, if you so much as say the word “fire”, you would be arrested and thrown into the slammer. Amazing.
How do I feel about leaving India and returning home? To be honest, it is a mixture of emotions. I am anxious to see my family and friends for the holidays, and get a big hug from my boyfriend. I am looking forward to contributing to society again. Living in Washington D.C., near where I grew up, will be a treat for me as I will be near many of my loved ones. However, part of me is uneasy about leaving India. What a ride the last three months has been as we made our way through the desert, across the mountains, and to various beaches. The spirituality of India and the closeness of Indian families is something I will take home with me. I would say that three months was the perfect amount of time to have traveled India, learned much about myself in the meantime, and return home feeling very happy and satisfied.
As this is my last post for this blog while I am India, I would like to thank my family and friends for all their support during this time. You guys mean the world to me and I can’t wait to live in the U.S. again! I would also like to thank all the readers of this blog for your comments and feedback during our adventures. I cannot believe how many people actually read this thing...if it has at all changed any of your opinions about India and its people, then I consider it a job well done. And, lastly, I would like to thank Missy Sirola for being the most amazing traveling companion anyone could possibly hope for on this journey. I am actually tearing up as I write this at the thought of each of us returning to our “normal lives” where we will only see each other four times a year. Actually, Missy just found out that she was accepted into the CUNY Master’s program in New York City, so we have reason to celebrate when we land at JFK airport in a few days. Missy, I know you will do great things in this world, and I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring.
With that, this blog has been such a fun time for me! I can’t wait to read through it when I get back and laugh at all of our stories. I am considering keeping it up when I return to the U.S., but we will see what happens.
Thanks again everyone!