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Published: June 27th 2011
I find it completely odd to be sweating in a hot and humid room at 9.30 on a January morning while trying to ignore the itch of mosquito bites 😊 It's been a bit of a whirlwind few days since leaving the congestion, chaos and edible delights of Kolkata and am now situated in the serene and tropical province of Kerala in southwest India.
Though I loved the vibrancy and energy of Kolkata, I'm glad to be out of the major city centres for a while and into the lush and green jungles of the tropical south. Kolkata is often discussed in terms of its notorious poverty and sadly, it is a blight on the city that is impossible to ignore. However, to reduce Kolkata to a city of poverty (which is often the case) ignores the inner beauty, vibrancy and culture that is evident behind its somewhat abrasive exterior.
My traveling partner Jamie and I have continued to stay apart from the rest of our group who have taken up residence at a prestigious hotel on a nearby island and we've opted to stay at a lovely backpacker hostel in Fort Kochi which is swarmed with backpackers from
all over the world. For the most part we've stuck with our group through the day before parting ways in search of quaint pubs, authentic restaurants and roof top patios to digest the day's adventures and contemplate how the hell we've found ourselves with the good fortune of findnig ourselves on the other side of the planet.
Our first day was spent on an organized bus tour of Kochi and the surrounding areas. We had an air conditioned bus and tour guide to told us the ins and outs of the city. Jamie and I found it absolutely hilarious but humored the group and just imagined we were on a Japanese tour which slowly descended into a shopping tour as the bus quickly became full of scarves, trinkets and expensive Indian silks. Along the way our bus was held up as an elephant trudged down the road towards us with the "driver" sitting atop and wielding a long stick with a hook that digs into the elephant's hide to direct it. Seeing an elephant walk past you is a pretty great experience until you see the gashes on the elephant's neck and the chains around its feet. Kinda takes
the "fun" out of "elefunt" (bah doom chi!)
Along our tour Jamie and I found an interesting stand selling a white milky drink which turned out to be coconut hooch. Not one to turn down a cultural (or alcoholic) venture we gave it a shot. Not bad, not good, not gonna be ordered again but I still have my vision so it couldn't have been too bad.
Shortly after we stumbled across another stand who was selling triangular leaves that people were buying and chewing. After some inquiry, I learned it is a popular social "activity" especially popular in Kerala. Seemingly unscathed by the coconut hooch, the accompanying Catholic Priest (geez), Jamie (Denver's drug czar) and I (can't believe people trust me with their children) ordered 3 squares of what turned out to be a "pan" leaf, smeared with lime sauce, a powerful brand of tobacco and crushed beetle nut which we then chewed for 10 minutes spitting out a red resin while getting nice and stoned. Mom, you woulda been proud. The rest of the group was quite appalled but happy to document the scene 😊
Yesterday, we left the city entirely and ventured into a
remote hideaway hotel in the Kerala mountains where we visited yet another orphanage for more gawking and senseless photo ops.
Today we were supposed to visit another but at our wits end, Jamie and I decided to concoct a bit of an exaggerated story about shopping for provisions in town and instead jumped an auto rickshaw to a bus station where we took a 50 year old bus without windows or doors (unsure about brakes) with a very well used accelerator. The bus driver careened down a mountain passage lined with rubber trees and jagged cliffs and had to close my eyes as he weaved down the street and around sharp bends on both sides of the road.
Eventually after a white knuckled journey through the mountains we found ourselves at a town neither of us could pronounce and found a ferry that (for the bargain price of 25 cents) took us on a 2.5 hour journey through the still backwaters of Kerala. Our rustic boat sailed slowly through narrow canals as children played and laughed along the banks and Indian women in saris washed clothing and politely waved. Coconut trees and banana groves silhouetted the channel and
buffered the sea of rice patties beyond the shore. The warm sun was tempered by a cool breeze and I spent the voyage reclining on the side of the boat and drifting away to Paul Simon and Ben Harper tunes while watching the world float by.
Our marine voyage has ended in another town that we do not know the name of nor do we know where on a map it is but at this moment in time we're in Africa mode and drifting about and surely will find more to see and do along the way. Tomorrow, we'll find a train station and jump a ride back to Fort Kochi where we'll rendez vous with the group before flying to Dubai on Friday and saying goodbye to India for now. I've certainly not seen the last of India.
As for my luggage, I think it has become an honourary Indian citizen. Apparently, unless there is a miracle tomorrow, they have said that they will not release our luggage unless we come to the airport personally to sign it out. The problem is that the airport is in Delhi and that is across the country. So, this is likely goodbye luggage and hello travel insurance. Thankfully I have nothing too important to me in there though few sentimental items that sadly will be lost.
In the spirit of simplicity, exploration and humility, Jamie and I have proclaimed Operation Sadhu (thanks for the idea Amber) and it looks like I'll be traveling for the remainder of the trip with the clothes on my back and half a dozen books and few other supplies that fit into a small backpack. Good times! I really don't care and truthfully, vanity is a luxury in this part of the world.
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