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Published: December 9th 2011
Just another Sunset
Sun setting over the rice paddies in Alleppey's backwaters...
Look down, back up, where are you? You’re on a boat with the man your man could smell like.
More accurately, we're on a boat, and you don't want to know what the man in question smells like, but that doesn't sound as funny. We've been out for the last couple of hours on a backwater cruise houseboat around Alleppey and thus far it's been several of the better kinds of awesome. We'd both always wanted to go on a houseboat as kids but had never had that particular opportunity, so we were more than keen to go on a houseboat cruise around the 'Venice of the East' through Alleppey's nine hundred odd kilometre network of canals and waterways.
Previously on 'A Guy and a Broad'...we were at the Green Palace. Last night saw a tasty dinner (but a narrow escape from the peanut scourge for Tess) and a refreshing night's sleep with only one brief power cut in the early hours.
[Peanut Interlude: The (very nice) guy who had been waiting on us since we got there had been shown Tess' little laminated card that says in Malayalam and Hindi the equivalent of 'I eat peanuts I die'
It was a very relaxing place!
on Day 1. He assured us there was no need to worry as in Kerala (as we knew) very little peanut oil is used and most of the cooking is done with coconut oil, being all tropical-like. Maharashtra - the state that Mumbai is part of - is the DANGER DANGER state in terms of peanuts; peanut oil is the standard cooking oil there. Dinner, Day 2, he suggests we try the Coconut Rice instead of the plain we'd initially ordered. Coconut rice is ordered, and in due course, brought to the table.
Aisha: (Looking at rice, to Tess) Ahhhh........are they peanuts?
Tess: Um, I dunno? Are they? (great peanut allergy-sufferer here, doesn't even know what peanuts look like when fried)
A: Ah....I think so. (tastes it) Yep. Yeah, they're peanuts.
*call waiter guy back to table*
A: (Pointing at dish) Are these peanuts?
Waiter Guy: (Looks confused) Aahhhh...you...pea...uhhh...peanut? (general confusion and point-getting-acrossness) Ahh, yes, peanut, moomfali! Yes, peanut! (Excited) Yes, they are peanuts!!
T: Remember how we were telling you yesterday that I can't eat peanuts?
WG: (looks blank)
T: I showed you that little card? Remember?
View from the top deck!!!
You can see why we managed to spend all day with our feet up!
If I eat peanuts, I will get very sick (clutches throat, makes gagging sounds)
WG: Ahhhhh. Yes yes. Okay okay. But look! (leans over and points at dish) Only 1...2....3....4....5...hardly any peanuts! It's okay, you eat.
(explain that even half of one peanut is too many, eventually manage to ask for some plain rice, soon give up on trying to explain the plain rice will need a different pot to the coconut rice to avoid cross contamination and hope for best)
T: (double checking, points to curries on table) Definitely no peanut in these?
WG: No no no, no peanuts in these! (looks at T like is crazy) There are no peanuts in Kerala, only Maharashtra. No peanuts in Kerala food!
T: Except for the rice on this table.
WG: No no! No peanuts in Kerala!
End Peanut Interlude]
After a frenzied morning packing up our stuff we made the short boat trip back to the populated side of the river, chatting to one of the other guys who worked at Green Palace on the way. He was from Rajasthan and (we think) has represented India in volleyball - he was definitely tall enough! Cricket
Larry Curly & Moe of the Kerala tourist office!
But seriously, these three guys were fantastically helpful!
is a good icebreaker topic. We were talking about the Indian cricket team and at some point also said we were from Canberra (which many people haven't heard of). Tess said "Oh, the Indian team is coming to Canberra for a game, some time in December I think" and straight away he was all over it, knew the exact date and everything. Cricket is life here. Back in bustling Alleppey, or Allapuzha as it is properly known in this post-colonial world, we were back at the same private tourist office once again and with the help of the very obliging guys there we managed to organise and book a houseboat. We had to sit around a little while waiting for the 11:30am 'check in', which gave Aisha time to get to a pharmacy (via a short and exciting ride on the back of a scooter driven by one of the guys at the tourist office) to get some meds for the long-suffering Tess. Aisha asked one of the guys where the nearest pharmacy would be and instead of trying to explain, or even being extra helpful and drawing a map, he just said "Jump on my scooter, I will take
The rare headless goat of India...
Apparently only surviving in the wild amongst the backwaters of Alleppey...
you there!" And he did. He helped with the language barrier as Aisha talked to the pharmacist. He wouldn't accept a tip or petrol money either.
Soon it was time to Board Our Vessel. A short auto-rickshaw ride took us to the houseboat docks and once there, it suddenly became clear just how many houseboats ply the waterways. Somewhere near five hundred and it seemed like at least half of them were anchored at the docks; in some places they were three deep, tied to each other. Ours was at the back of three boats, so after doffing our shoes and trundling through two houseboats closer to the docks (and past some slightly confused and startled looking houseboat guests who might have thought we were trying to make it a party), we boarded our craft, complete with a crew of three to look after us. We set off out into the canals and within a few minutes passed a houseboat which Tess dubbed the Party Boat, bollywood music blaring and full of Indian people dancing, singing, laughing and...partying. People on houseboats tend to wave to each other as they pass, kind of like ACTION bus drivers, but we made
So tasty and damn it saves on the washing up!
quite the impression with our bhangra moves in response to their music, causing the Party Boat to erupt into cheers, clapping and laughing. We turned up a smaller canal and into the backwaters, made a short stop at a fish stall to buy tiger prawns and live crabs for dinner and resumed our trip.
The next few hours were spent cruising the canals at a very leisurely pace, passing through lakes and rivers that seem to connect the population like an aquatic road system. To either side are stretches of houses dotted along the banks, which rise only 50cm to a metre above the water levels at most, and behind those the rice paddies which seem to be about a metre and a half below the water levels of the canal system. The glimpses of ordinary life in Kerala that this offers are beautiful, with the 'thwap thwap thwap' of women beating their washing against stone; canoes, river ferries (public transport) and houseboats plying the waterways carrying everything from massive loads of rice (often only with scant few centimetres of freeboard) to loads of shouting waving Keralans. Some boats still use the old method of poling along, but most
Horse, Cow, Pig...
DUCK!!!! SERIOUSLY!! Have you ever seen so many?
are motor driven. Our houseboat is one of the few with an upper viewing deck, which sits above the main cabin and allows you to basically recline with your feet up on the railing and soak up the view. Absolutely amazing.
We pulled into a tiny cove to eat lunch, a traditional thali of beautifully cooked fish and about six different vegetable curries varying from the spicy to the yoghurt laden, served with rice and poppadoms on half a banana leaf. After stuffing ourselves to an uncomfortable degree, Tess retired for a nap in our cabin while Aisha ascended once more to absorb the refreshing (and slightly cow-dung scented) breeze and get some more writing done. There's a young Malayalee kid on a bike on shore chatting away in very fast Malayalam to the crew, while three more kids of varying ages pile onto one pushbike riding back and forth along the canal edge and goats wandering the shoreline bleating. Banana palm leaves snap and whip in the breeze and for the time being, this feels about as close to paradise on earth as it would be reasonable to expect. Worth it? Hell yes.
That afternoon, we explored
Rice Paddies & Canals
If you don't like them or coconut trees you might be in the wrong place.
(without leaving the comfort and cool breezes of the upper deck) more and more of the backwaters, a place that is truly hard to describe but really should be seen to be believed. Mid afternoon, the crew brought us up cups of tea, biscuits and some rather delicious deep fried sugar bananas. Dunking our pineapple cream biscuits in our strong, sweet tea as the light changed, the breeze blew and life floated by was truly a moment of pure contentment.
Our houseboat tied up for the evening on the edge of the biggest lake in the backwaters system (HUGE!) and we were treated to an amazing sunset as the sun sank over the rice paddies and coconut palms. After a brief stroll on shore, we sat down to a massive dinner (the spiciest since we've been in India!) involving the very angry crabs we'd bought earlier, tiger prawns, chicken, vegies in several curries, rice and chapattis. It could have fed ten people. Easily. We weren't sure if they honestly expected us to eat all of it and though we did make a valiant attempt, we hoped they might eat the significant leftovers, as it was incredible food and too
Life by the water!
Its basically the road system here...
good to waste.
We retired for the night to find the cabin had been invaded by more mosquitoes than you could shake a swatter at. Sitting silently, menacingly on the walls, on the roof, an army waiting to attack in the darkness of night, Tess had some disturbing PTSD flashbacks to Florence, Italy, November 2006. Guhhhh *shudders*. But after a targeted, methodical and severe mosquito ethnic cleansing by Aisha (we don't think bad karma counts when it's mosquitoes ), the cabin was left about 98%!m(MISSING)osquito free and deemed Safe for Sleep.
Morning dawned grey and hazy on the houseboat. Tess continued the less-fun-than-it-sounds Stomach Funstravaganza, so after a fairly subdued breakfast and general whimpering from poor Tess (Postscript - turns out she probably had Giardia. Whee!) we concluded our houseboat tour, jumped into an auto for Allapuzha Station to catch the train to Ernakulam and Fort Kochi.
(to Ernakulam and Fort Kochi...where we would eventually gain sporadic internet access after having NONE while at Green Palace and the houseboat, leading to an extended Blog-Based Silence and general consternation and distress by our adoring public and thousands of dedicated fans. *cough* But we're back! We're alive!
That is all...
Did you miss us?*)
*say yes, it'll make us feel better.
Love Tess & Aisha
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