Sunday, January 25, 2009

Day 17 and 18, Kumarakom and Alapuzha

Day 17 - Jan 23, From Kumarakom to Alapuzha and the Backwaters

- Corrections

- Medical update

- Muslim swimwear

- We’re motoring through the backwaters of time

- One and out

Around the world in 80 gardens appears to be title of the show, and I still hold to David Niven as host until the real host is identified, Another set of bonus points for first in.

We’re all feeling better, now I’m only feeling the congestion from the head cold, the bacterial thing (formerly known as viral thing) is fading away, I am not real strong yet, not feeling weak either. We’re all up and on the boat at noon, a nice leisurely start. Before we leave, a group of 20-34 yr old Muslims come to the pool for frolicking and fun. The women are wearing identical style swimsuits: long bike shorts covered by full tops with little skirts on them, in a range of somber colors, though not all black. Men wear fairly standard suits, not baggy, not long, and all black. Everyone showers before getting in. The sign on side of pool: no cotton, nylon only. Apparently, some of our group witnessed some of the men fondling the women under water...time for me to go put my suit on again.

We head off in spacious boat, covering is of woven cocoanut and needs to be updated each year after the monsoon. Local guide, Madu (means sweet or honey) joins us, English is easily understood.

We’re alll clustered up front, small dining area and chairs. Boat is much quieter and no heavy diesel fumes are created (big improvement over Ha Long Bay tour). We get cocoanuts to drink and off we go. We travel very slowly, hear a bit of the history of the area and Kerala. Women very important here, to the point that in their history they had polyandry, one woman married to multiple men (always brothers). I ask the same question I always do: what happens to the extra women since fewer men in the marriage pool. All baffled (same answer I always get too).

Shortly after heading off the lake onto a spur canal we are approached by a small boat carrying a Styrofoam cooler. He attaches and holds up his offerering: giant Malabar prawns. Carol and Martin are vegs, so they don’t show much interest. I do! Group orders six, mostly wiping out his stock. Back to the kitchen they go. More slow boating. We see storm billed kingfishers, bee eaters (great!), spectacular golden backed woodpeckers, and then tie up for lunch. The prawns are the best thing we’ve had on the trip. They have taken the lobster like legs out and cooked them separately, yummy little tidbits, tender and flavorful (some of us think ginger, may be more garlic and turmeric). Bodies also more like lobster, MHB gets our big tail piece out and I eat what I can from rest of body. Shells go overboard, it’s perfectly acceptable to throw food scraps out in the countryside. A big success, rest of lunch is twice cooked rice (more fluffy than usual), a few items to put on top and tuna cutlets (not bad, they are usually so thin that all of what you taste is the coating. You don’t order your fish rare here. {I check later with Carol, $30 for all the shrimp, making it the big splurge and well worth it.}

We visit a local village, every single item of vegetation is used to sustain the place. In the backwaters, there are 50 villages and each holds about 1500 to 2000 people. In Kerala, about 2000 villages, maybe a bit less. Implies a lot of people in cities.

The story of how house boating tourism got going here is similar to FedEx, a guy from around here went to Harvard, came up with the idea, did a small test, got some funding for 6 boats, they did well, attracting foreign tourists, then Indians figured out it was a great honeymoon concept, and in the last 15 years have sprung up 500 hundred boats and numerous lake and canal front resorts.

Along one of the canals we come upon a movie set (had to happen with as many movies made here). We need a volunteer to watch all the new releases for the next 6 months looking for the following characters: 5 guys dressed up in turquoise tiger outfits that could best be described as weak high school mascots, say from somewhere in rural Montana. The director sits in a powerboat moving up and down the canal. The main characters wave, we tony-the-tiger right back.

Apparently, alcoholism is the local obstacle to overcome, the men drink something called a toddy, yep, a hot rum like drink with high alcoholic content. Then Madu tells us a local myth: Shiva spots seven beautiful maidens sitting in luscious pool and decides to sleep with all. He converts himself into a fireball and appears in the pool. Several months later all seven women find they are pregnant, each with a son. The sons grow up to be a caste that translates as firewater, and they are the ones that are in charge of harvesting the ingredients that go into the local drink. Guess firewater turns out to be a common indigenous term for alcohol.

During our village visit we see more birds: crow pheasant, which is actually a cuckoo and subs her eggs for another bird’s eggs, Indian tree pie, and a pair of barbits (extremely rare, I’m the first to spot them because I looked to the left of a kingfisher in my confusion).

MHB has just advised me, we’re up early the next day, that we are not to live near a mosque, the chanting early and late is colorful once, something to write home about twice, and three times is a no-go condition. Muslims here live in general more low than Catholics or Hindus, less educated, more traders than agriculture or white collar workers. We also hear chanting and firecrackers, that is the local Catholic custom to celebrate local festivals, and we periodically hear booms that sound like they are trying to chase birds out of the rice paddies, we guess local festival related as well.

Off to dinner…..well almost. As we dock and realign bags across three boats (of course the heaviest bags are going to the furthest boat)., Dinner is on shore. I make several short trips off and on the boat, and the third one is at 7:58. At 7:59 I feel my body heat rising and my energy level dropping dramatically. At 8 I am back in the stateroom (two per boat) fumbling for cipro and motrin and laying down. MHB appears some time later (after dinner), adds ambien to the mix for sleep and I am out until 6am (where you are now the recipient of the typing).

Day 18 - Jan 24, Alapuzha and the Backwaters

- Health report

- Observations

- Smoked and left for dead

- Watch out Cal, your streak may be in jeopardy

We’re feeling much better! Now we just really have the head clearing and cleaning to finish off the cold/cough thing. Same for most everyone else, the tour is getting healthy.

We are watching sunrise and the early morning washup by the crew (which we awoke by getting up and out at 6am). Just across from us a fishing guy preps his nets and head out A few minutes later the school bus shows up, a giant dugout canoe pulls up to the dock and 5 students climb aboard and spread out single file in the boat, the first kid in grabs an oar and off they go. They waited maybe 10 - 15 minutes for the bus. They get picked up at the point where Kollam is 63km down one canal, Chambarkkulam, 8km, down the other fork.

We have appams for breakfast, rice tortillas that are more like crepes with holes in them. Excellent with jam.

We get in small dugout canoes, an are poled and oared down narrow canals full of hyacinth plants. We see grey egrets, common kingfishers, pink and whitish water lilies. We see cricket players, more chanting in honor of Rickey. The highlight, we get out and walk a while and come upon a local barber and mountain man (the only guy with a beard) decides he needs a trim. Scissors only, and he gets charged $1.25, the local fee is 50 cents but the locals only get cut on top (nobody has beards of note) and this time the barber has to work sideways the whole time. Mountain man is now just foothill man. I am very disappointed, was hoping that really old Playboys might be brought out to share while we wait.

We then get back in the boats and get thoroughly smoked. It is very hot and steamy, no shade, and slow going. I am about to lead the local mutiny (if only my fellow mutineers are alive to join me) when we reach our destination village an slurp up all the cold water and mango soft drinks available at the first stand we find. Our large boat is there and while some head off to shop (and pay top price for spices) some of us decide to recover on the veranda of the boat). Pass also on seeing the local Catholic church which is reportedly gaudily painted though not gilded.

We see the snake bird swimming and realize it lives up to its name: very long neck shows and the body is entirely under the water. Fascinating. We see a sailboat loaded with bricks floating along. The sail appears to be made of colorful plastic bags, and the boom is at a very odd angle, 45 degrees up from the mast and yet somehow the whole sale is square. Bricks, these guys are sailing a ton of bricks. Supposedly they pole (punt) when not enough wind. A ton or two of bricks.

Back for lunch, we’re all there (one stayed back from the smoking in the canal, excellent decision).

In afternoon we do another long boat ride (on our real boat) and at the turn around point see (so the claim is) the Arabian Sea.

Back for tut-tut rides to the local festival (reason for the booms) and the two highlights are seeing the entire outside of the shrine being lit by 1000s of small cocoanut oil lamplets and hearing the Benny Goodman quartet, lead by a guy playing the nada shwarma (a giant clarinet/kazoo combo), accompanied by cymbals, drums (he is terrific) and something like a box that is opened and closed (a weird accordion).

Tut-tuts back to the boat and we’re all there for dinner, two meals in a row. It has been over a week since we were all at lunch and dinner at the same time. Ripken, we’re coming to get you. And, if we find out you didn’t vote for Rickey, I will personally make sure our tour eats every meal together for the rest of the trip. For those of you who didn’t know, all the living HOF members get a ballot. Maybe they sent ballots to some of the dead guys who forgot to send in their ballots.

Later, Ralph and MHB

No comments:

Post a Comment