Friday, April 16, 2010
A fat man in a country full of thin people is king.
Apparently I haven't remembered the proverb correctly, so I was slightly disappointed not to get a more rousing reception when we got off the ship at Cochin yesterday. This port town on the southwest tip of the India is rich in history, but you are better off reading about it because there is precious little to see or do when tourists wander into town.
At least that's the report we received from fellow passengers who had failed to do their homework. I, of course, am traveling with the travel homework queen, the girl who always gets a star for her paper on our next destination. Aware of the limited attractions Cochin offers (2 churches, a synagogue and an old palace), LK chose to book us into a private tour that took us further afield from Cochin.
She used the Internet to arrange with a local tour company which sent a car to take us and our new friends Judy and Wally about 100 minutes up the road to what are called the backwaters at Alleppey (now called Alapuzzha). By the way, it was on this drive that I started to better understand the concept of yin and yang. The car was not all that big, and the other three were magnanimous in telling the fat guy that he should sit in the front seat. (I am thinking the best of them. I am sure none of them were thinking, "Oh God, we'll be crushed if he's one of the three in the back seat!")
So the comfortable, close-to-the-air-conditioner front seat was a very nice benefit for being, shall we say, large. The downside, I soon discovered was that Indian traffic rivals Shanghai in the morning, Rome at noon and Boston all day. It took more than an hour before I stopped pushing my foot to the brake that wasn't on my side as cars, motorcycle, buses, trucks and tuktuks all took turns getting in our lane and coming straight at us. In the end, I started to see a certain pattern and rhythm to it - kind of like an organized game of chicken - and relaxed. Until the bus forced us onto the side of the road with a bicyclist just in front of us.
Anyhow, unlike airlines Indian traffic ignores near-misses and we all happily got out at the backwaters to begin the heart of our day. We boarded a houseboat for a cruise down the river and around Lake Arjun, with a chef on board cooking lunch for us. Afterward, we stopped to see some local sites - a temple, a 400+ year-old Catholic church, and a stroll along a private beach to let us dip our toes in the Indian Ocean.
Sounds luxurious, doesn't it? A private car, a houseboat all to ourselves, a chef cooking lunch just for the four of us. Well, it was luxurious. (Unless you count the plank you have to walk to get on and off the boat. And, yes, it is a shame no one made a video of me doing it).
But luxury is quite affordable in India. In fact, it was unbelievably cheap - only 60 Aussie dollars per person for the whole 8-hour expedition.
It may have seemed like an odd idea to get off the ship after four days and choose to get on a boat and cruise around a lake, but it was a very different type of experience and the four of us had a great time. The day was very hot - mid 90s - but it was cool on the lake, especially when we headed home with the breeze in our face. The waters were shallow and muddy, with lots of water plants dotting the surface. We saw all sorts of waterbirds fishing for their lunch, a team of men diving to put nets down, many women washing their clothes by slamming them against the rocks along the riverbank.
And the food was divine. The man who cooked it didn't speak English, so I can't tell you everything we ate, but there were small fried fish from the lake (about the size of your hand) with onions, a red chicken curry that was mildly spiced and very tasty, nan, rice and four bowls of stuff that was really good but we don't know what they're called. Our favorite had finely chopped peppers, turmeric, nigella seeds, desiccated coconut and other stuff apparently fried in coconut oil. Everything tasted so good that we decided we could handle not knowing what we were eating, but it's easy to be brave that way about vegetables.
We were tired last night, and had more Indian food at the ship's buffet - nowhere near as tasty as our lunch. After dinner we felt lazy and decided an early night would be just the ticket. Altogether a fun day with lots of memories.
By the way, LK took some very nice pictures yesterday but it is impossible to load them to Shutterfly while we are at sea, so I will try to get them up in a day or two.