Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trip to India: Day 6: The River

Day 6:

Our last real day in Cochin we decided to take one of their famed "backwater cruises" in which you get paddled into the narrow canals in the more rural areas of Cochin. Some people opt for multi-day houseboat cruises, but we just went for the single day experience.

First we met our guide, who had the most hilarious and bizarre emphasis on words when he spoke English. He spoke as if every tidbit he told us was the darkest, most mystical secret of Kerala. "Hello SIR! Listen close....can anyone!? guess this tree! in front of us!?........*imploring stare*................Nutmeg TREE!"

The trip began on a narrow canoe-like boat paddled by a lanky fellow with an enormous piece of bamboo, which he used to pull us along from the riverbottom. After the open mouth of the river we turned into the denser and narrower jungle canals. All the different plants are amazing to look at; it's like a wild botanical garden.

Our first stop was at a small cluster of houses where 3 women were spinning rope out of coconut fibers. Our guide tried to demonstrate how to weave the fibers using only your hands. He just kind of mashed his hands together and then voila! Turns out he had 3 other hidden hands twisting and braiding the fibers that we tourists just can't see. The stop here felt very strange to me, because these women are simply sitting around doing their work, and then boatloads of tourists swarm around them, pointing, staring, and snapping photos. The whole experience felt a little zoo-like, but it was neat to see, nonetheless!

(I feel like this looks like something out of Heart of Darkness)

We moved on back to the canoe and drifted down more of the winding canals. The sound of the water and the bamboo pole is so relaxing.

We came to our second destination where a family had set up and was drying coconut shells by the hundreds. There was the most adorable little boy running around so I sat down and he let me draw him. While I was drawing his father came over, so I had to draw him too. They were good sports about it, although the little boy kept asking for one of my pens. "1 pen, please!" I let him see it eventually, but then it didn't look like he was giving it back, so my brother finagled it back from him (you can see the pen in the man's hand in the picture of me crouching). While we were on the canoe another little girl shouted "1 pen, please!" to us. It was very strange.

We moved on, stopped for a coconut break where they hacked open a bunch of coconuts and we drank the milk out with a straw. Our guide was the one who had to strap his feet together with a piece of cloth and shimmy up the palm tree to get the coconuts. It was a pretty impressive feat.

After that, we grabbed a traditional Kerala lunch (which is various rices, curries, pickles, and chutneys served on a big banana leaf) and then headed onto one of the houseboats for an hour or so. The houseboat is just a bigger boat with a beautiful thatched roof overhead. We went back out to the wider part of the river, since the boat was bigger, and just kind of drifted along. Pretty much everyone on the boat just passed out, though.

(I'm pretty sure that Stephen copied this photo from my drawing. I won't hold it against him though.)

After that we went back to Cochin and had the BEST meal we had the whole time we were in India. For about 400 rupees for the four of us (about $8) we had a delicious meal with more than enough food for all of us. I got this bizarre calzone kind of thing with delicious flakey pastry-like bread on the outside and curried chicken and veggies and whatnot on the inside. It was incredible. If you are ever in Cochin, go to Dal Roti (spelling?). You won't be disappointed.

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