After recovering from an ailment, I hopped a SpiceJet flight down to Fort Cochin in the Indian state of Kerala. Wow, WHAT a difference from the north! It was just much…quieter. Don’t get me wrong – it was still India, and dodging cows and rickshaws or whatnot is all part of the game – but it wasn’t Delhi.
A driver was waiting for me at the airport to take me to Costa Gama Homestay run by Benson, an accountant, and his wife, who’s a teacher. What super lovely amazing people! They were extremely concerned about my health and wanted to make sure I was happy and comfortable and well fed.
Once checked in, they sent me downstairs to my room in the home of Trevor and Fiona, the couple who rent Benson the space to run the homestay. More lovely people. They too sat me down in the living room and brought tea and suggested all sorts of remedies for my lingering cough. After a nice chat with them I took myself out to supper down the road, and then promptly fell into bed for a good 12 hours.
The next day, I planned to do a bit sightseeing of Cochin, but alas the rain was torrential, so I had to sit inside and read- plus there was no way Trevor was letting me out in that weather, vigilant as he was about my recent illness! Eventually it eased off and I set off with a borrowed umbrella to see various churches and whatnot. There’s a huge Catholic influence in the south of India due to the arrival of the Portuguese to Goa in the 1500s. I had a lovely walk, including a peaceful rest in St. Francis church. Although raised Catholic, I’m not really sure where I stand on religion- my own or others- but I have to say that when one is feeling a bit lonely and/or homesick, something familiar can do wonders and, well, a church is a very familiar place to me! It was like a spiritual Starbucks!
After that I hauled myself to the Internet cafe for a much-needed blogging session and took myself out to supper again down the road from Costa Gama. Afterwards I had a chat with Benson about what he suggested I do next. He was very keen that I take a backwaters trip around the Kerala waterways so I planned that for the next day. I was up early for the shuttle bus, and we (about 20 people) were taken aboard a rice boat for a leisurely cruise around the canals. It was gorgeous and unbelieveably peaceful. The boat has no engine, so it just floats along, guided by a man with a stick. I promptly fell asleep, rocking to and fro’! We stopped along the way twice to learn about some of the cottage industries of the area- a limestone factory (I’m still vague on this, something to do with shells, not ACTUAL limestone?) and a coconut rope factory. By factory I mean, mud hut and one piece of makeshift machinery, but hey. We stopped one more time for a delicious lunch served on a banana leaf, and I had a lovely chat with two French girls on holiday for the week as they’re studying for a year in Delhi (may the force be with them!). Afterwards it was more floating, more napping, more picture-snapping.
I got up at five to catch my rickshaw to the bus station for the four-hour journey to the tea fields of Munnar. I was planning on the 6:30am luxury express bus. Yes, well. If ‘luxury’ means a bus with absolutely no suspension, crammed full of about 900 people and with no windows (well, there was no glass or anything), then yes, it was extremely luxurious. My goodness- by the time we were bouncing along the twisty mountain roads of Munnar, I was not only about to vomit on everyone, but I had to use ALL my body strength to stay in the seat and not fly out the window. I had to wedge a foot on each side of the bar under the seat in front so that I didn’t completely slide either into the aisle or through the window every time we turned, and I had to push upwards on the top bar of the seat in front so that I didn’t fly through the roof over every bump.
Munnar really was spectacular though- rolling hills and mountains of lush green tea plants in every direction. I found the guest house Benson had booked for me, run by a lovely guy called Deepak, and settled in for a rest after my early start. Later on I took myself out for lunch and a walk, and later out to supper where I met some nice Israelis who gave me tips on other parts of India, SE Asia etc.
At 6:30am Deepak knocked on my door to tell me the weather was good enough for the trek and to be ready by 7. Once downstairs I met my fellow trekkers- a German couple and an Irish guy and his Polish girlfriend. I was enjoying myself, when suddenly my ankle began to really sting. Figuring it was a bug bite, I looked down to see a massive leech sucking on my leg through my sock!
After the leech episode, we spotted three wild elephants until “it” struck — the monsoon. I though I’d seen the worst during ziplining in Jodhpur but none of us was prepared! Finally, the bumpy, windowless bus came to our rescue and we hopped on. But this was no ordinary bumpy windowless bus, friends, it was the Catholic Party Bus! Woo hoo! This was validated by three things: 1) the rockin’ Bollywood tunes blasting from the specially installed speakers; 2) the flashing red and green disco lights above the driver and 3) the massive picture of Our Lady looking over the passengers.
I arrived in Goa at noon the next day after almost 23 hours of traveling since leaving Munnar. I rickshawed to the bus stop to head down to the beach spot of Palolem where I had to avoid getting into conversations with Indian ladies who traipse up and down the beach trying to sell things. Every conversation begins with, “You have lovely skin, such lovely color, where you from?” and before long it’s “Come to my shop, I give good price.”
As I boarded my Air India flight at one o’clock in the morning (which didn’t let me down- flight attendants in sarees and ‘dinner’ served at 2:30am when everyone was asleep. I will be forever fascinated by the culture, the people, the food, the colors, the smells, and I ASSURE you, Mother India, I will come and see you again. From the very bottom of my most humbled heart, NAMASTE.