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Published: January 14th 2007
(Now in Cochin, after much discussion we're going to spend a shortened amount of time in Thailand after all, we fly on the 15-16th.)
Took the bus to Kollam from Kovallam (unfortunately similar names) and booked into a cheap place to stage for a boat tour through the backwaters. We booked some tickets for the 8 hour northward cruise through the backwaters and found a hotel for the night.
The next day was one of the most memorable in the entire trip. We ordered breakfast and through miscommunication ended up only getting coffee; perhaps an omen that this day wouldn't be easy. We picked up some biscuits and hurried down to catch the boat. They're old wooden boats about 30-40 ft long like a classic "motor launch" but having an upper deck with chairs. The boat was jammed! People crowded in like sardines on the top deck and begain to grumble about spending 8 hours this way. Word went out that a competing boat was quite empty in comparison to this one which was apparently oversold. Facing the journey cramped and fuming, we decided to try for the other boat.
Farah investigated it while I went to try
Canoe sort of boat
View of the on and offshore crowd gathered to observe the debate related to the crash into the parked canoe
for a refund. Quite out of character for me, I lost all patience and went completely ballstic, yelling at the boat operator! Bizarre! Not in the practice doing that very often, I think I went overboard, and though I got the refund I spent the rest of the day regretting that I'd treated the poor man that way. In retrospect, it was more comfortable to act and move boats, but executed all wrong.
Anyway... we soon cast off. Terrifically pretty, canals and small lakes lined with palms. The area is quite populated, with lots of houses, fishing activity and even some industry on the way. The southern section appeared to be more saline, with more large fishing boats and 'Chinese fishing nets'. These nets remind me of the net we used to catch minnows for bait when fishing but on a larger scale - an 'X' shape holds the corners of a square net. A giant counterweighted lever lowers the net in. After some time, the net is raised and any fish that have blundered over the net are caught.
We stopped briefly to inspect some problem with the propeller, something had become entangled. Shortly after, we stopped
for lunch at a restaurant. Continuing on, we let a few people off at an Ashram (the "Hugging mother"), and then met up with a similar cruise boat that we fairly collided with. We were asked to transfer to the other boat to continue on to Allepey - whether this was normal, or related to propeller issues, I don't know.
The water became more fresh and the channels narrower and calmer, with some lotus and water hyacinth appearing. I smelled burning rubber - there are small fires burning here and there throughout India to burn garbage, so I thought nothing of it. A few minutes later, shouting broke out and they stopped the engine. Smoke billowed out of the cabin and we considered our options for abandoning ship. The ship veered lazily towards the side of the canal and in a stroke of very poor luck collided perfectly with the only parked canoe in sight (not actually called 'canoes' of course).
The problem seemed to be related to a drive belt, and a team of crew and mechanically inclined passengers set to work on the problem. We drifted about as a small crowd gathered on the banks, and
a few local passersby in canoes pulled alongside - the owner of the parked canoe was busy staking a claim of damages with the crew and hindi-speaking passengers. The day wore on, though the debate was quite animated and interesting. Eventually, the debate reached an impasse and talks broke down; 300Rs in damages offerred vs. 500Rs in damages claimed. The villagers threatened to call the police; I tried to imagine how long it would take them to find us. The sun set behind the palms; we should have been nearly to Alleppey by now. Suddenly, the agreement was resolved somehow, the engine started up and we proceeded - though under reduced power and speed.
Dusk fell and the stars came out, the engine failed again. Someone volunteered a cell phone to confirm hotel reservations, some people napped in the cabin and I lit a mosquito coil. It was really peaceful; a chorus of frogs, the stars, the lights of the homes and houseboats along the canal. We couldn't have had a better location for a mechanical failure.
Soon we were underway again, only to have the engine fail again after 20 minutes or so. The passengers were generally
patient, but there was some grumbling over concerns about lodging and travel connections. Again it was repaired, and as we passed near a road overpass, the driver (not captain) elected to end the cruise put us off on land, painfully close to the end of the journey. We clustered at the waters edge with our luggage; it was difficult to get any information, we weren't sure if any alternate transport would be arranged. By this time we were all fed up, though glad to be on land and somewhat in control of our own destiny, if in the middle of nowhere. We failed to hail a bus at the edge of the road, and eventually a van did come to pick us all up. We got to our hotel at around 11PM, and the kitchen had closed - they graciously provided a lovely dinner of bananas, bread and jam. End of adventure!
The backwaters really don't disappoint, and there's enough activity to entertain you through the whole trip. Alternatively it's possible to rent one of the houseboats and spend the night out. These boats are really unique looking, being roofed with woven mats and having windows doors, balconies etc.
We spent the next day relaxing at the the resort overlooking a one of the canals - it was cottage-like rather than beach-like and I think we both preferred that. Very nice.
Tot: 2.198s; Tpl: 0.055s; cc: 14; qc: 75; dbt: 0.047s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 3;
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