Monday July 6, 2015 (Asia, India)
A couple of days ago we headed out of town to check out the Kerala Backwaters. It’s considered one of the tourist highlights of South India. The general idea is that you hop on a boat and cruise around on the river, either as a day trip or in houseboat mode for an overnight. We chose the day trip mode because… we’re cheap.
The excursion began with an hour-long drive out of the city of Kochi. We were dropped near a bridge where we met up with about twenty other people heading out on the trip with us. The weather looked a bit threatening, but it really only rained as the trip was just beginning. We piled into our boat and the trip was underway! At a slower pace than perhaps we expected. The craft was powered by two gentlemen: one on the bow thrusting a long bamboo pole down into the riverbed in order to push the boat along, and another at the stern performing the identical task. They pushed the boat like this the entire day! Not an easy job.
We navigated through some very narrow waterways as the day progressed. Only the occasional leafy frond would whack us in the head through the open sides of the boat – we were mostly safe. We encountered some people fishing in tag teams along the way. They were just wandering along neck-deep in the water with nets. I was impressed that many appeared to be husband and wife partners. Pretty cool that the labour is shared so equally like that.
There were a few breaks throughout the day for educational components. We were shown a factory where clam shells were converted to calcium hydroxide. The calcium hydroxide is used for the purpose of whitewashing buildings, bleaching newspapers, and so on. The process involves burning the clam shells at extremely high temperatures in a furnace before adding a water mixture to the resulting ash. Apparently the chemical process takes it from calcium carbonate to calcium oxide to calcium hydroxide? That sound about right?
We also stopped into an area where a woman was demonstrating the creation of rope from coconut husk. She carried a basket of coconut husk in front of her with two strands attached to spinning armatures. She would slowly walk backwards while the husk spun through her fingers. The process looked absolutely magical, because the husk just kind of… turns itself into rope! It’s completely mind-blowing, really. She walks backwards and rope just seems to come forth from the ether. If the strand ever broke, she’d just dip her hand back into the husk and magically it would become rope again. I was obviously incredibly impressed. After creating the two strands, she’d use another spinning armature to braid the two together to form a stronger composite rope. And that was it! Much of our boat was made out of this stuff, so let’s hope it’s as strong as advertised.
Our last stop was a place where we could try out “toddy”. It’s the local alcoholic brew. It’s made from coconut stems before they flower. A syrup is extracted from the stems that naturally ferments. And it ferments quickly. It starts off at less than 4% alcohol by volume and will reach around 15% alcohol by volume toward late afternoon. It’s a funny conundrum, no? If you want to get drunk, you’d think you should drink it all at once. But if you drink it all right away, you haven’t given it a chance to ferment. So the best course of action to get drunk is to not drink at all. It’s like the plot of WarGames.
We really enjoyed the day trip. It was definitely relaxing! We’re not sure we’d sign up for a multi-day houseboat tour, but our day trip in the shade of a wood boat drifting along the water was quite pleasant indeed!
The last two days we’ve been spending a bunch of our time with a lovely couple from England: Joe and Caroline. They’re wonderful! We got chatting after they returned to our hotel from eating at the same restaurant. They were supposed to leave Kochi the next day, but we were all having so much fun gabbing that they decided to wait another day before heading out. They’re on a similar journey to us: spending six months headin’ all over the world! It’s always so nice to meet great people and remember what it’s like to have friends again. Sandra and I are obviously completely bored of each other at this point.
Since being in Kochi we’ve eaten at the same restaurant three nights in a row for dinner. It’s a place called Fusion Bay and it’s pretty fantastic! Cheap prices and great food. They’ll even throw you a free coconut pancake for dessert! What a deal! We also ate lunch twice at neat place called Tibetan Chef’s Restaurant. They’re known for their “momos": steamed or boiled dumplings filled with vegetables, chicken, beef, and so on. Very tasty!
Tomorrow morning we take a flight to Maldives for a six day adventure! I’ll try to take a bunch of pictures while we’re gone, but I’m convinced we’ll be effectively off the grid until our return to India on July 13th. We’re very excited to experience such a unique country!