Johnson's Pride

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February 5th 2012
Published: February 5th 2012
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ALLEPPEY IS A SMALL TOWN in the southern state of Kerala that is the entryway to the sprawling ‘backwaters’, or lagoons that run parallel to the Arabian Sea. Brilliant green moss and vines run rampant through the town and the air is heavy with the hum of those most evil of bugs, mosquitoes. Swamp filled canals crisscross through the town leading out to larger, navigable waterways. In an interesting contrast, the western side of Alleppey is lined not by marshes and swamps, but by a golden stretch of sand which slopes downward into the shining Arabian Sea. This strip of beach has a Coney Island type of feel with Indian families dressed in their glittering saris strolling up and down the beach and kids gobbling down cotton candy and ice cream.Vendors sell balloons, bright red and green peppers, cotton candy and cardamom flavored ice cream.

We arrived in Alleppey in the early evening and hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to our hotel. As we pulled up to the large, ramshackle house, a charismatic Indian guy (the owner) greeted us and invited us to join him and the other guests for a barbecue. Within minutes we had a cold Kingfisher beer in our hands and were chowing down on some chicken fresh off the grill, corn on the cob and multiple side dishes. It was probably the most American meal I’ve had in the last four months and it made me realize that I had missed food from home more than I had previously thought. It’s interesting how our senses are sometimes aware of things that our minds are not. Over dinner we talked to some of the hotel guests who had gone on a backwaters tour that day and hastily decided that we would join the houseboat that was leaving in the morning for an overnight cruise.

Bright and early the next morning we woke up and climbed aboard Johnson’s Pride with a motley crew made up of two fun Irish girls, a sweet, young Swedish couple, a hilarious English couple, an introverted Italian guy, and a sassy Korean woman. The boat was gorgeous! The lower deck, constructed from bamboo and coconut wood, was wide and spacious, completely open except for a long dining table in the middle and a few dangling bamboo chairs. Upstairs there was a bedroom that slept four people, a fully equipped bathroom, and a smaller deck for lounging. We settled in for the ride. The boat drifted slowly through the backwaters past swaying palm trees and whispering rice fields. We moved along at a snail’s pace, bringing a whole new meaning to the word ‘tranquil.’ After a short while lunch was served and it was a gastronomical delight – there was grilled fish, spicy vegetable curry, breaded vegetables, salads and more. Chai and fresh pineapple followed. We spent the afternoon lounging and chatting with everyone on board. We got along really well with Lina and Tristan but to our disappointment they ad only booked a day trip so they went back ashore when we docked at 6pm. We watched the sun descend over a rice field while the crew prepared our dinner. After another incredible multi course meal, it was time to drink. What else was there to do? We pulled up a chair next to the Swedish couple (Mina and Rasmus) and the Irish girls (Anna and Maired) and commenced an epic night of beer drinking and card playing. We looked like lightweights compared to the Irish girls (drinking is in their blood, right?) and the young 18 year old couple. It was only a matter of time before they began to call us grandma and grandpa. At some point in the night (after we were all a bit tipsy) we were talking about music that we listened to and Anna mentioned that Tristan, the British guy from earlier, played guitar for a band named ‘Tricky’. In our drunken state, this information blew our mind. Travis and I both really like Tricky and own several of his albums. It was quite random to meet someone who played with him here in the middle of Kerala’s backwaters. After several hours of beer chugging we stumbled upstairs to our bed and fell asleep to the soft patter of rain on the water outside.

The following morning was New Year’s eve. We woke up to a rain soaked world. It had rained heavily all night long soaking the entire upper deck and most of the floor of the bottom deck. Where there had been dozens of boats on the waters the night before, we were now the only ones. We threaded our way back to town and took a very wet tuk tuk ride back to Johnson’s place. Unfortunately, they were full for the night so we moved to a nearby hotel (whose name we could not pronounce for the life of us). Having no New Year’s eve plans we decided to try and find Lina and Tristan. It took me all of 30 seconds to find them on Facebook and we quickly made plans to ring in the new year together. It ended up being a really fun night. Lina has a quick wit and sharp tongue - something that I’ve always wished I had more of - and Tristan is a really nice, down to earth guy. We got along famously. We met them at a restaurant on the harbor and shared a bottle of red wine and then eventually made our way back to our hotel (“Vrin-drav-an-am”) which was throwing an impromptu new year’s eve party. Everywhere we went people were in high spirits. Every few seconds a group of people would walk past us and shout “Happy New Year’s!” Neon lights and fireworks lit up the streets. The scene at the hotel was relaxed but festive. There was a dj playing a mix of Indian pop music, bangra and oddly mixed Western hits. Groups of people sat around at tables laughing loudly over drinks. The four of us took over a small verandah filled with colorful cushions and proceeded to drink and talk the night away. At midnight there was a flurry of activity – the dj cranked up a popular Bollywood hit that I’ve come to love – and everybody (except Tristan and Travis of course) got up and boogied. It was one of the best new year’s I’ve had in awhile – fun, affordable, unplanned, unexpected. Our bill for the entire night (for all four of us) was $24.

To see more pics check out T’s site:

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6th February 2012

What a fun time for everyone! I think the boat ride sounds great. I would not have lasted nearly as long as you guys on the drinking and card playing but it would have been fun to try. I think everything looks better from a boat. People are interesting no matter where they\'re from and it\'s wonderful to make so many new friends. Happy New Year!!
5th June 2012

Thank u
Hi, Thank u for this blog. Seeing something positive like this right at the end of our season means I've been doing some things right. Hope to see you again some time. Keep smiling. Johnson Gilbert - Johnson's The Pride, Eco houseboat
28th June 2012

No, thank you!!
Thanks again Johnson! It was so nice to stumble into your hotel tired and hungry and be invited to join for the barbeque. I am SO glad you convinced us to go on the houseboat and stay overnight - we made friends that we ended up meeting up with several other times during our trip. The boat was beautiful and the food delicious. Keep on doing what you're doing and you'll never have a shortage of guests...

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