So after 2 weeks of chill, we finally left our beach home in Varkala to head north to explore the backwaters in Kollam. It is only about 20km north of Varkala, but has a totally different feel. We are now travelling with 2 other couples, 2 Czech's... Iva and Rami, and 2 Turks... Basak and Iykut. I would normally be hesitant to try and travel with such a large group, but even with our numerous differences, it just works. They all speak fairly good English, but it is giving us more practice in speaking what we call "international English", which is just a dumbed-down, slowly and clearly spoken version of English, minus the slang, sarcasm, and contractions. Of course I can't help but throw in some sarcasm from time to time to see who will get it. Though, most of the time it's just an inside joke between Colin and me, which is quite fun too. Oh travel... how I love thee.
We had considered renting a house boat since there are six of us travelling together now, but we decided on a cheaper and less touristy approach and hired a large hand carved canoe ride for the day. It was truly magical. Pushed along through the narrow, shady and palm-fringed canals by a man with a long bamboo rod, we explored the peaceful waterways that provide the main transportation for isolated farming villages throughout that area. With traditional eerie Indian music playing in the distance, we lazily floated by just witnessing how these rural villages exist. We docked the canoe and walked far back into one of the villages and ate at our drivers home, where his wife made us a traditional Keralan thali meal. It was delicious and beautifully presented on a palm leaf,... probably the best meal I've had in India thus far. Dal, rice, a few kinds of curried vegetables, chutney, some kind of yogurt, tomato and onion mix and poppidom (a light crispy bread). Oh... and half of a small fish. I got the front half... meaning the head... which I oh so generously gave to Colin. I'm not a huge fan of food with eyeballs still intact. Rami made the mistake of finishing his second helping of food completely, and was immediately served another full meal, in which he gratefully smiled and ate until he was almost sick. I had remembered to leave just one bite on my "plate" to tell the chef that I am pleasantly satisfied and need no more food. Thanks for the heads up, Mark. We hung out at their house during the heat of the day and met his shy neighbors and their kids. It was a family of 7, including the grandparents, living in one small hut. Language was definitely a barrier, and the kids were a little afraid of us, but they were so kind and generous. A definite highlight of our trip thus far.
Then we continued north by ferry to Amma (the hugging mother)'s ashram. That was.... interesting. She seems like she has a really big heart and definitely does a lot of humanitarian work all around the world. Her ashram was huge (over 3000 permanent residents) and yet it seemed to run surprisingly well. Sunrise and sunset meditations on the beach were my favorite every day. Unfortunately, Colin took his sandals off to enter the temple and they were stolen. Kindof funny place to have your shoes stolen, in an ashram outside of a temple, but I guess it's a good practice of non-attachment. Finding Colin new sandals have been rough though... as 10 is the largest size they sell at any store and he where's a 13. We will probably just have some made for him, ...in the mean time... he's wearing the size 10 flip flops with his toes and heals hanging off the ends... pretty funny actually. After the shoe incident, we decided to head north to Fort Cochin.
We arrived in Cochin and immediately found a great place to stay. A four story old hotel all to ourselves and balconies in every room. It was a great view from our balcony overlooking a sleepy part of town. Some interesting people watching for sure. We just spent a few days exploring the town, playing around with some henna, relaxing, and checking out the international art festival that just happened to be occurring while we were there. Travel magic in full force.
Miraculously, we have managed to stay healthy with no major stomach issues as of yet. Sanitation is sub-standard at most "restaurants" to say the least. We ate dinner at a local place in Cochin and, while waiting for our bill, saw a large rat nibbling on fallen noodles in the kitchen. We watched as the chef walked in and saw it with literally no reaction... must be a frequent visitor. Needless to say, we didn't go back there for breakfast. I guess we are building up our immune system. Well, atleast that is what we are telling ourselves. Though, we are getting used to eating with our right hand, including tearing bread with one hand and using it to eat soupy rice porridge. Takes practice, but is quite nice actually. The food really is incredible. Somehow we have both managed to gain weight in India. I didn't think it was possible, but Indian food is quite oily, rich and there is lots of fried foods and bread. Yum! No complaints here.
Next stop... Munnar.