Our buddy Peter decided to spend another night in Munnar so we made plans to met up in Kochi. We hit up a couple more ATMs (Brian's favorite pastime), secured some more rupees (whoo hoo), and headed out to the bus station. Now, something we hadn’t realized regarding buses in India was the difference between public, government buses, and public, privately owned, buses. Public, privately owned? Isn’t that an oxymoron or something? In any case, unfortunately, they look almost identical to an uneducated tourist such as ourselves. So, as Brian and I were walking towards the bus station, minding our own business, we were approached by someone asking us where we were headed, to which we answered, Kochi. He told us the bus was leaving, pointed to the bus, and all but grabbed our hands and dragged us on board.
Normally, taking these privately owned public buses (thats seriously a mouthful) probably isn’t a big deal, its not like we were scammed out of a lot of money or anything (I mean we were a little, but at this point we were numb to the whole ordeal, and "getting ripped off" was practically worked into our budget), the only issue was, it took twice as long to reach our destination. What should have been a five hour bus ride took over nine hours. It sucked. Real bad. Note to self: don’t listen to someone who is overly eager to get you on their bus, they have other motives, namely, money. Once again…lesson learned.
We were starving. Having finished the last of my butter cookies (a snack I always carried around with me for situations just like this!), we ended up in the same place the government bus would have taken us, but just four hours later. So what did we have to do? Get on another bus of course. This time a city bus from the main train station into town and checked into our guest house, the Goodkarma Inn. And boy were we hoping we would have some! (And apparently, due to our exhaustion, we must have forgotten to take pictures. Whoopsies.)
And we did! At 2,400 INR (or $37 USD) for two nights, this was probably the nicest guest house of our entire stay. (Reminder, "nice" is completely relative here.) Relieved, we set out to find dinner and called it a night.
All in all, I really enjoyed Kochi, with its Portuguese architecture and laid back feel, it felt like a place I could stay for an extended period of time, except that it's pretty pricey for India standards. Sadly, we only spent a couple nights here winding down after the Rupee crisis and 1756 buses it took us to travel from the east coast to the west coast of India.
We explored the sandy shores of Kochi, one of the largest ports in India, lined with the infamous Chinese fishing nets and spent an afternoon wandering through different neighborhoods. In every direction along Fort Cochin, bordering the Laccadive Sea, fishermen spent their afternoons sifting through delicate piles of fishing net, either setting out for a day's work or retiring to sell the fruits of their labor.
The Chinese Fishing Nets, also known as "shore operated lift nets," are fixed land installations dominating the shores of Fort Cochin. Towering at almost 35 feet high, legend has it that they were introduced by Chinese explorer Zheng He, hence the name Chinese fishing nets in India, while also serving as a present day tourist attraction. While a bit underwhelming to look at (for me at least), it was remarkable to see the mechanics still being used today which involved no less than six fisherman per machine and using large suspended rocks hanging at various lengths which serve as counterweights to the fishing nets over the water. I guess the saying, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" really holds some truth here!
On our last night, we called up our old pal from Munnar, Nick, and ended up at a bar appropriately named Texas where we watched the Arsenal v Man United football game. The best part was a group of locals supporting Man U (opposing team) were already pre-gaming (is that a word we still use?) and super pumped for the match. It felt like we were amongst friends back home, a feeling that I didn’t realize I had been missing and desperately needed as the holidays were approaching (more to come on this later). Sadly we missed catching up with Peter again but we kept in touch hoping to meet up in Goa. We decided to head down to Alleppey, famous for the Kerela backwaters.
On to Alleppey
Ah Alleppey. The “Venice of the East.” The magical land of lush green rice paddy fields, an intricate labyrinth of canals, an endless forest of slender swaying palm trees, and serene lagoons floating between magical landscapes…oh and also the place where Brian and I had an EPIC fight - more on that later (and most likely for the rest of Brian’s life as I still haven’t forgotten this, and I’m updating this post on Jan. 2, 2018. Happy New Year you guys!!).
Every guide book and person we met along our travels pointed us in the direction of Alleppey, and more specifically the Backwaters. I also had it on our pre trip “India List” so we knew we would make it down there one way or another. And now that we had been around the bus block a few times, we felt more comfortable trying to “wing it” with public transportation. We hopped on two public buses (easy peasy) and made our way down more or less unscathed and checked into our guest house. And because public transportation wasn’t enough “local traveling” for Brian, we (he) decided we had been in India long enough to go for a non-ac room and save some money (two night stay for $18 USD. In all honesty we probably saved $10). The problem here was Alleppey felt like Louisiana, in the heat of summer, with 10x the humidity, and we were staying in a shoebox without windows. My worst nightmare (other than birds or course). Probably not the best time to save a couple rupees. But the family we stayed with was wonderful and even helped me get dressed properly in my saree every morning (it takes a village I swear).
Okay, back to Alleppey. Other than the buses, the guesthouse, practically melting every day, getting talked into an 8 hour canoe trip, a motorcycle death-ride, and THE fight... we had a pretty nice time.
It all started during an innocent evening stroll in town where we stumbled upon our favorite restaurant, Thaff, which I believe (still not sure) is a chain. While on a thali special high, we were approached by a gentlemen asking us if we had plans for our backwater tour. Per usual, we didn't, and so we decided to talk to this complete stranger about a possible traditional backwater shikara boat tour. After going back and forth a few times we finally settled on a plan which included him picking us up from a meeting point, him personally taking us on a guided boat ride (his English was great and we wanted to make sure we could communicate with our guide), and returning us home safe.
Well the good news was he showed up! The bad news was he was on his "motorcycle." So we made like the locals and the three of us piled on, with me on the back side saddled in my saree and Brian sandwiched between us. And sadly we didn't get a single picture! After several close calls (we were basically on dirt roads the whole time) we made it to what turned out to be his uncle's house. Of course something came up and he could no longer take us himself but not to worry, his uncle who has been doing this for 40 years would take us. Oh and he didn't speak a lick of English.
We thought we were going to be on the boat for a few hours before heading back in town for a late lunch but fast forward to five hours later we had no idea what was going on. Our guide, who we named Arjun because we were pretty sure thats what he was saying, turned out to be a music lover, evident from the constant whistling and humming of foreign Indian tunes during our boat ride. And while we didn't share a common language, we were still able to communicate a little. For example, when I kept rubbing my stomach and touching my lips because I felt like I hadn't eaten in days, he took us to a canal side restaurant to eat (or maybe he picked up on my hanger tears and jabs at Brian for not letting me buy snacks for the ride). During the entirity of our trip, we ended up eating there twice! You know why? Because our private boat ride lasted over eight hours!
Brian, Arjun, and I of course became fast friends even with the language barrier. He ended up being a fantastic tour guide and took us through what felt like a hidden passageway tour since we were on a tiny private boat versus the giant tourist ferries or the even the more popular, house boats. We were even able to walk through some rice fields and stretch our legs while meeting with some locals, most likely Arjun's neighbors.
While the backwaters alone were stunning to experience, the fascinating part for us was seeing how families lived tucked away behind the walls of coconut palms and pools of brackesh lagoons. Over 900km of waterways to be exact, and even with our eight hours, we barely scratched the surface (but really we were okay with that). The best comparison I can give would be to the bayous in Louisiana, and since my better half is a tried and true Cajun Boy, I've seen my fair share of the swamps. And while they aren't exactly the same, it was pretty cool to see so many similarities in nature while feeling like we were worlds away from home.
The next journey was Alleppey to Goa which included a semi sleeper AC bus (I will always opt for a full sleeper bus going forward) to Mangalore and two more public buses, from Managalore to Kumta, then Kumta to Chaudi (in Canacona). And last but not least, we took a tukk tukk to our very own coco-hut on the beach! Goa overwhelmed me a bit as there are so many options to pick from. Between South Goa and North Goa there are endless beaches and I honesty didn’t know where to start. I ended up going with my gut instinct and settled on Agonda Beach in South Goa. Best. Decision. Ever.
Next up, ten days in Goa and my final break down!