(Our goodbye to Noushad and Sayid. It looks like I have extremely long arms, and one of them is black and one is white.)
So I kinda cheated because this is actually still a continuation of Day 7 and then into Day 8. Day 8 has very few photos and drawings because we were getting Ayurvedic massages so there was a good amount of nudity that day, not suitable for blogging.
So after the elephants, we said goodbye to the Cochin area and headed up towards to Periyar National Park in the Western Ghats. The drive was a fantastic experience (Read my brother's detailed account of Indian driving: http://littlurl.com/4sj2q ). About 5 hours on a narrow, winding road high up into the mountains, all while listening to our drivers', Noushad and Sayid's, mix CD with Seal's "Crazy", Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me", "Smack dat" by Akon, some Malayalam song with the chorus "I hate you!", and of course, Barry Manilow's "Copacabana". Once the mix CD ran itself out after a few hours, Sayid sang us some traditional Malayalam songs, which were beautiful. When it came time for us to sing our "traditional" American songs my mom came up with "Silent Night" and I came up with "The Circle of Life" from the Lion King...oops!
As we drove higher into the mountains, the trees and the landscape began to change. It started to look like a real rainforest, which is something I have never seen before. Enormous banyan trees with slithering masses of roots, with a lacework of branches and vines leading up to the impossibly high canopy. It was strange, since we were so high up it was actually very cold up near Periyar. We passed through a bustling city of Thekkady which was hosting "Spicefest 2008" (which includes a ferris wheel)! Just driving through you could smell the overwhelming air of spices. After we haggled for a while to find our new hotel we settled in and then headed back into the city for dinner. Unfortunately the power had gone out, so the "suburb" area we were in was completely pitch black. We fumbled around by the light of Stephen's headlamp, through mobs of children hugging us and laughing and squealing, and finally made it to the restaurant. We took a tuk-tuk back.
We moved to a new hotel in the morning called the Coffee Inn, which was beautiful and had an incredible terrace which looked out over a stretch of grassland onto a beautiful grove of bamboo. All accross the view, dragonflies danced and flitted around like a scene out of Fern Gully. After a nice breakfast in the hotel, we went off to get our massages! For an Ayurvedic massage, they give you a nude, full-body, oil massage (including the top of your head!) Some of the others were a little iffy about the massage being completely naked, but I thought it was great. It was funny, though, they tie this little paper loincloth around you at the beginning, which really just makes you feel more naked than if you didn't have it on, especially since they untie it once you're on the table. Fig leaf doesn't change the fact that you're naked!
We left the massage all greasy and oiled up (because you're not supposed to shower for at least an hour). We ended up going out for New Years that way; we were a classy bunch. We shopped around the city for a while, and then decided to head back to the hotel before going to dinner. Stephen and I thought it would be a good idea to get a few beers for the celebration, so we asked the shopkeeper where we could get some. Turns out all of the stores up their prices on New Years, except for the government sponsored Civil Service where they're bound by law not to raise their prices. The shopkeeper gave us 1200 rupees to buy him some vodka when we got there, and we found a tuk-tuk and headed off to the Civil Service. We pulled up to it and there was a line of at least 40 or 50 people all waiting outside the window. Our tuk-tuk driver assured us it wasn't a problem and grabbed us by the arm and pushed us past all of the people to the front of the line. No one said a thing. Apparently, being a white tourist is like being VIP. We got the beer and then headed back to go out to dinner.
After a greasy dinner (us, not the food), we hadn't actually drank any of the beer except for one, so we decided to hand them out to strangers on the street (since everone was drunk and shouting anyways). We gave a couple to these two guys who were so touched they took us back to their office (turns out they were border guards for the park) and assured us they could get us into the park for a cheaper rate than we were getting. We exchanged a 15 minute round of introductions and handshakes (especially from the drunk man Tom, who introduced himself and shook our hands at 4 different times during the conversation. Happy New Year, Tom!) and then headed back to the hotel.
Happy Belated New Year!