We Missed the Boat!!! 🚣🏻

Throwing the fishing net - great pic Bob!
Throwing the fishing net – great pic Bob!
Village women working along the waterway
Village women working along the waterway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elephant moving trees along the backwaters
Elephant moving trees along the riverbank

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met Meri & Yosef, a lovely couple from Israel, while waiting for the bus in Mysuru. They were also heading further south & like us were entertaining the idea of doing an overnight excursion on a houseboat on the Kerala backwaters. There are 900 km of waterways that fringe the coast & at one time provided the only transportation to the villagers along the way.

This is apparently the thing to do here, however after checking things out & speaking with a few folks, the value added for a short cruising experience vs. the cost didn’t add up for any of us. We had another thing in mind – visit Munroe Island, stay with an Indian family at their Homestay & have a real backwater experience via the network of canals of Ashtamundu Lake, about 15 km from Kollam. We all decided to take the local bus from Fort Cochin to Alleppey & catch the state ferry to Kollam, for several hundred rupees less. The 8-hour ferry ride would not only give us ample time to experience life along the main Kerala waterway but also provide transportation to Kollam, our jumping-off point to our island Homestay.

Chai break time - ferry we finally caught
Chai break time – ferry we finally caught

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well things don’t always go as planned – this is India after all! Catching the first bus of the day at 8:15 in Fort Cochi would give us ample time to reach Alleppey for the one ferry per day at 10:30, or so we thought. You guessed it, the bus took much longer than anticipated & we rolled into town just in time to see the ferry pulling away from the dock. We missed the #*%+=#$ boat!

What was that rule again….ah yes, rule #3, DON’T PANIC!!!!

Okay, time for a little Canadian ingenuity. With a scene directly out of the Amazing Race, we raced to the dock, backpacks flopping, made several inquiries & were finally able to communicate to the rickshaw drivers to take us to the next stop down river, about 30 km away, where we could possibly catch the ferry as it passed by. We all hopped into rickshaws & off we flew! The drivers were kind enough to call ahead to someone (?) in the little village where we were heading to hold the ferry if we didn’t get there on time. Needless to say, good karma intervened & we made it, with time to spare. We waited on the river bank since there was no dock available & chatted with the locals until the ferry arrived.

We finally made it to Munroe Island & settled in for our 2-day stay. This is real rural India, with full integration into the way of life. Our host Vijeesh, a young man in his late twenties started the business about 4-years ago. He along with his parents & sister run the Homestay, providing all meals & of course the backwater excursions.

Munroe Island backwaters
Munroe Island backwaters

 

 

 

 

The most enjoyable experience was a very early morning backwater tour in a long boat. We awoke at 5:30 am to music, chanting & singing along the river. Many inhabitants head to the temple early for morning prayer. The four of us & Vijeesh headed to the boat in the morning darkness. Peaceful & quiet, at one with nature, the singing in the temples  echoing along both sides of the waterway provided such a serene, zen-like experience. This instrumental music known as Nadaswarakacery plays a key role in temples & ceremonies as a medium for prayer.

We glided through the canals for over 4-hours, stopping for a chai along the way. We both rose to the challenge & spent quite a bit of time maneuvering the boat in the man-made canals using only a long pole. The vegetation, various kinds of kingfisher & cormorant birds, shrimp farms & life along the backwaters is amazing. So fortunate we had a chance to experience this.

Making rope out of coconut fiber
Making rope out of coconut fiber
Not quite pole dancing!
Not quite pole dancing!
Old Man River
Old Man River
Meri Yosef, & us, Kerala backwaters
Meri, Yosef, & us, Kerala backwaters
Thali (vegetable rice dinner) on a banana leaf
Thali (vegetable rice dinner) on a banana leaf
Our host family on Munroe Island
Our host family on Munroe Island

 

Soul Quenching Kerala

Our journey to Kerala, aka God’s own country, begins. First stop Fort Cochin.

Chinese fishing net
Chinese fishing net
Counterbalancing the nets
Counterbalancing the nets

Picking up where we left off, that HORRIBLE overnight bus ride landed us in Ernakulam, Kerala. From there we were only a rickshaw ride away to our destination, Fort Cochin, an island now known as India’s homestay capital. It wasn’t difficult to find a lovely spot, centrally located.

Fort Cochin is well known its Chinese fishing nets that dot the shoreline, a hold-over from bygone days. We idled away the afternoon watching the fishermen lower the spider like nets with boom-style/counter-weight contraptions into the water, with the hope of catching some fresh fish & seafood. It takes four or more men to operate these things & sadly is a dying art.

My new little buddy
My new little buddy

This area, once a busy trading port, drew traders & explorers to its shores well over 600 years. The Arabians & Chinese first came to the area to purchase spices, a lucrative market in Europe back in the day.

The various European influences over the years has resulted in a blend of medieval Portuguese, Dutch & British buildings giving it a lovely, quaint village atmosphere with winding streets & back alleys. Some of these great old buildings are still in use, others sadly neglected & decaying. The area is much cleaner compared to the larger cities we have visited & was such a welcome escape from the noise & chaos.

The many art galleries, antique stores (found some lovely door knobs Lauren 😉), spice shops, small coffee shops & restaurants in Fort Cochin, Mattancherry & Jew Town (yes, that is the actual name) made browsing fun with the whole area very walkable, but then again we do like to walk! As well, wherever we go we always keep our eyes peeled for street art & we weren’t disappointed here. Enjoy the few colourful shots we were able to capture.

Spice shop-one of many
Spice shop-one of many
Look Lauren, door knobs!
Look Lauren, door knobs!
Antique shop, Mattancherry
Antique shop, Mattancherry

There are a few other highlights to see such as St. Francis Church, Santa Cruz Basilica & the Dutch palace in Fort Cochin. Mattancherry & Jew Town, about 3K to the west, boast a lively bazaar atmosphere & has one of the first synagogues in India. This 400 year old building is beautifully preserved as a historical site.

St. Francis church
St. Francis church

One thing we have noticed in India is that animals roaming the street vary from place to place. In Mumbai it was dogs, cows in Goa, Hampi & Mysore, in Fort Cochi there are goats, lot & lots of goats. But hey, this is India where you expect to see the unexpected!

We could have stayed a bit longer in this area but decided to head further south to the back waters of Kerala.

Long boat passing the pier, Fort Cochin