Kerala – A Land of Boats and Culture

Kerala – A Land of Boats and Culture

Hi folks, this post was actually written weeks ago but we had no internet at our last stop so it had to wait until now for upload.  Sorry about the wait, but these things happen…  The old post:

We arrived in Kadapa today to begin the volunteering portion of our journey.  We’re hoping we can be useful so wish us luck.  More about that next time.  In the last week we have gone houseboating, explored a 600 year old trading town, and admired an admired some fabulous local artwork.

The AirBnB pictures for Johnson’s homestay in Alleppey showed a horse in his front yard.  We thought that was odd, but we didn’t let it influence our decision to stay there.  Lo and behold, when we arrived there was, in fact, a horse in his front yard.  Apparently he acquired it when it was a young pony through means that were not clear to us, and now he’s raising it in hopes of one day riding it.  After three years he still hasn’t ridden it, so I don’t know when he plans to start.  Aren’t most racing horses only two years old?  At least it doesn’t cost him much as he has managed to get all the local farmers to donate their unsaleable vegetables to the horse project.  All of this is taking place in the middle of the city, of course.  Inexplicable India strikes again.


We got settled and walked to the nearest beach for a dip.  We discovered some major construction when we got there and saw that they are building what appears to be a large raised highway right at the edge of where the beach starts.  Parallel to the waterline and less than 50 meters from the ocean, the large unfinished concrete columns rose into the sky.  Do the planners of the project really think the beachgoers want to experience the smell and sounds of traffic along with their brief chance to enjoy nature?  Again, inexplicable.

The next day we embarked on our houseboating adventure.  Alleppey is the hub of Kerala’s 900 kilometer network of backwaters, home to more than 1000 houseboats.  These waterways used to be the highways of Kerala, and still are to some extent.  These days though, in addition to shipping rice and coconuts to the market, the main products are tourists.  The houseboats are designed to imitate the architecture of the old rice barges and the boats’ structures are all covered in weaved palm thatch, hiding their modernity and luxuries.


Our boat was mid-sized in that it had two large master bedrooms in the middle of the wide, flat boat, with the front of the boat open for viewing the journey from couches or chairs.  The back held the kitchen.  They can have up to 7 bedrooms and a disco floor, depending on your requirements.  Ours was slightly more modest, but still very comfortable and spacious.  We shared our tour with a group of three Canadian women from our homestay so that it was cheaper for everyone.

our boat


We spent the day puttering along the canals and lakes enjoying the palm-fringed views of life without cars.  The villagers still live along the canals and we could see houses, schools, and churches during our journey.  The school bus is a boat in these parts, and everything looked so much more peaceful without the din and pollution of cars and buses everywhere.  Lunch and dinner were excellent local curries served in great quantities so that nothing was wanting.  We even had A/C in our room, a rare treat for the budget traveler.  It was a bit of a splurge, but well worth it.




After our return we met a Portuguese guy at our homestay and hung out with him for a while.  He had a small photography/video business in Portugal before the financial crises, but his country was hit very hard by the recession and still has massive unemployment problems.  He went traveling after the crisis when his business tanked, intending to return once the economy has normalized.  He is still waiting.  It is a sobering reminder that the world has not yet recovered from our past follies.  In the meantime he has been making some money from investing in crypto currencies, if that’s even what they are called.  You know, like Bitcoin, but different.  We are almost wholly ignorant about the entire concept, but plan on learning more about it.  Interesting stuff.

The next day we took a bus to the city of Kochi see a port that has been a trading center for over 600 years with influence from the Portuguese, Dutch, and Chinese, among others.  The ferry to the old part of town costs all of a nickel for the 20 minute ride past massive container ships and dredges, showing us that trading continues unabated at the port.  The first things we noticed upon arrival were the massive cantilevered Chinese fishing nets along the beach.  A legacy of traders from the AD 1400 court of Kublai Kahn, these enormous spiderlike contraptions require only a few people to operate as they are nearly perfectly balanced using a number of rocks as counterweights to raise and lower the nets into the water.  Pretty impressive.


Once we got to town we realized that there was a massive art festival in town while we were there.  Our ticket cost $1.50 and gave us access all day to the 20+ venues throughout the town.  We saw some pretty interesting short films, photos, drawings, and multi-media installations throughout the day.  My favorite exhibit was a full-sized sewing factory (sweat shop) made entirely out of wood.  Every single sewing machine with its buttons, spindles, and even power chords were all carved entirely out of wood.  The craftsmanship and attention to detail were stunning.  It would take me a lifetime to create something like that and it wouldn’t look half as good.  The most amazing part was that it wasn’t built to show off the artist’s woodworking skills, but to make a point about the dehumanization of the industry.  Amazing.

Another cool one was a large pyramid that we entered to find a twisting, darkened pathway throughout the interior.  You had to walk slowly as there was no light to see the walls, and as you walked you heard poetry read to you from different poets in different languages along the passageways.  The poets were all deceased, and it was like hearing the dead whispering to us in the dark from beyond the grave.  Random pix:




That night we paid another $1.50 to go to see a blues band play.  We had pretty low expectations, but they were wonderful.  The band was Ziia and the Swing Mates, and two of their members were from France and two were from Reunion, a small island off of Southern Africa.  God knows how they found each other, but they were really impressive.  Diverse, as well as talented.  They were only in town for one night and off again in the morning to continue their tour.  Check them out if you get the chance.

While in Kochi we did some wandering around the shops of Jewtown, home to a 400 year old synagogue.  The art, artifacts, and spices were all on display giving the place an exciting and exotic atmosphere.  Instead of cows, goats were inexplicably wandering around town in small groups, adding to the exotic feel.  I’d love to return some day if I ever get rich to buy some of the intricate wood carvings and other artwork.  We’d love to have a life-sized statue of the god Ganesh with his pot belly, eight arms, and elephant head to adorn our back yard one day.  Of course we’ll need to get the yard first.  One day.


On my way back to the hostel I decided to get a shave and a haircut so that I’m not too shabby for our volunteer experience.  It cost me $2 for the entire experience, including a rousing head massage.  Great deal.

The train from Kochi started off hot and muggy during the day but then turned freezing cold during the night, so the 16 hour journey was not the most comfortable.  However, we were picked up at the train station at 6 AM by our wonderful new hosts and we’re looking forward to the next leg of our adventure.  Till then…


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