On the way to Alleppey we had to stop and wait for the elephant to cross the road...
After Fort Cochin, we headed to the â€śbackwatersâ€ť of Kerala, canals dotted with houseboats and villages. (Kerala has sometimes been called the â€śVenice of the East.â€ť) We arranged for a driver to take us to Alleppey in an Ambassador, one of those cool, white Indian cars that looks like itâ€™s from the 1950s but isnâ€™t. It was $10 per person and sooo the way to travel. Everyone was trying to get us to take a bus or a train, which meant an autorickshaw to the ferry to the train/bus, and several hours of traveling and lugging our bags. (I have yet to ride on a train in India, but I will!) This was a no-brainer.
Weâ€™re so lucky we could pay for it without batting an eye.
It's official -- I'm in India!
The guest house where we were staying for two nights was 10 km outside Alleppey, so we had the driver drop us off at the ferry station to make our way there. Elissa and I were easy travel companions, naturally trading off when each of us was up for the task of dealing with details and the language barrier. I had hit a wall, so Elissa took over and asked many questions of many people to find the right ferry. I suspect more white people are beginning to go to these small villages outside Alleppey, but itâ€™s still a novelty -- so we were stared at, big time. An amazingly beautiful little boy sat right at my feet, just to be near us.
The ferry ride was beautiful. We couldnâ€™t believe we were here. Even though we hadnâ€™t gotten to the guest house yet and we had an incredibly loud engine right in front of our seats, I knew it -- this is what I was hoping for, dreaming of seeing. It was about 4pm and school was just letting out; at several ferry stops a bunch of children in uniforms got on and off. This was their version of taking the bus home from school. After an hour on the ferry, we got off and made our way over to the Green Palms guest house.
This gorgeous boy sat at my feet for about an hour on the ferry
We were greeted by Matthew, the brother of Thomas, the proprietor of the guest house. He invited us into the dining room for chai and delicious cookies, which we devoured. At sunset, we took a walk with Gaaby, Thomasâ€™ cousin, whoâ€™s very knowledgeable about the area.
Heâ€™s a real character, and I enjoyed him tremendously. He ended up being a big part of our experience over the following two days. Anyway, Gaaby showed us two Catholic churches during our short walk; Kerala is 50% Catholic, while all of India is only 2% Catholic, so itâ€™s a pretty unusual sight. When the subject of religion came up, we explained that weâ€™re Jews -- clearly the first Gaaby has ever met (or at least that he was aware of). As we continued our walk we stopped at a bar -- really a tin shack with tables and benches in it -- to have toddie, a local alcoholic concoction. When Gaaby talked to the other people there it was in the local language, Malayalam, so we couldnâ€™t understand anything, but we distinctly heard the word â€śJewsâ€ť in there.
The amazing sunset from Green Palms
The next day after breakfast, Gaaby took us into Alleppey so we could check email and buy our plane tickets to leave Kerala (thankfully thereâ€™s no seven days in advance penalty in India!).
The only way to get to an autorickshaw is on the side of the canal opposite the guest house. So, we took a canoe ride across the canal (for 5 rupees, which is about 12 cents) and then got an autorickshaw. Elissa told me her guidebook talked negatively about Alleppey, disparaging it as full of shops and lacking charm. Well, if you all you see of Alleppey is this shopping area and never get to the backwaters, of course thatâ€™s what youâ€™d say! The backwaters are the real event, and I was so grateful that we were staying there. Around sunset, Elissa and I took our own ride in one of the canoes in front of the guest house. Elissa remembered a few canoeing tips from camp and I knew nothing, which made for an interesting and hilarious outing. There were no rings to keep the oars on the boat, but thankfully neither of us dropped one. I hadnâ€™t thought to bring my cell phone to call Gaaby in case we had a problem, and the sun was setting.
Me with one of the beautiful children of Alleppey
Then again, we were two white girls cluelessly paddling around the canals; our presence attracted enough attention that I donâ€™t think we wouldâ€™ve been stranded for very long if that had happened.
Not a common site in India
It was amazing. So peaceful. We laughed a lot and couldnâ€™t stop smiling. Kerala is known as â€śGodâ€™s Own Country,â€ť and now I understand why. A feeling of contentment washed over me. My thoughts turned to this game we call Life. Anything and everything is possible in this lifetime -- so what am I going to do with it? Iâ€™m already 37; itâ€™s time to DO something and not just talk about it. The future isnâ€™t a place.
Itâ€™s not as if some magical day will arrive and my life will be in a certain state or stage. Clearly something about this environment made me feel expansive and inspired. But I digress. The canoe ride was wonderful, and we made it back in one piece, with enormous grins and a little sweat on our brows.
Kerala is the only democratically elected Communist state in the world
Late in the evening, Elissa and I sat out on the dock in front of the house, looking at the stars, marveling in the quiet and pondering life. Those of you who know me well have experienced my tendency to wax loquacious about the meaning of life, so I wasnâ€™t too shocked when we realized it was quite late. We walked to the front door of the house, only to discover that were locked out. Oops. Tried the back of the house (no door), and threw pebbles at the one room with a light on, all to no avail.
Finally we rang the doorbell and woke up Thomas, who we knew had to get up at 6am. He was gracious about it, but we felt bad. Not bad enough to even consider sleeping outside, but still, not ideal.
The view from the ferry, on the way to Green Palms
The next day at around noon it was time to bid farewell to Gaaby and Green Palms. Props to my friend Jason who recommended the place. Despite Elissa and me not feeling well at various times over the past couple of days and having to share a bathroom with a grungy British guy, we had a lovely visit. We took a canoe across the canal and then autorickshawed it over to Keraleeyam, the next and final stop on our Kerala tour.