Kerala - Day 2

Corey writes:

I'll pick up where Gina left off with the second day of our vacation in Cochin.

We were picked up pretty much at our doorstep by a mid-sized bus and were a little surprised to find that it was already full of tourists, just like us. It was a little weird to be a part of a big group of foreigners; also, having to "share" a memorable experience with strangers can be a little tough some times. But we settled in to our seats and hit the road out of Cochin.

After about a one hour journey, we stopped at the side of the road and were met by a tall, thin man dressed in a dhoti who would be our guide for the day. He gave us all an overview of the day ahead in a really halting but authoritative and intelligent English. Then we all hopped on to a beautiful big wooden boat. It was wide and hand made, with a thatched wooden roof to protect us from the sun.

We waited in the boat for about five minutes until another tall, thin man carrying two long bamboo poles joined us. He was the identical twin of the guide, which made us do a double-take. But rather than guiding us, this brother pushed us, all 16 of us, down the river using one long bamboo pole.

It was a really peaceful experience, especially in the first hour when morning was just starting to late morning. The bamboo pole propulsion made very little sound, and no one was talking, so we could hear nothing but the water against the boat.

The only excitement came when we started going down some narrower passages in the backwaters. The bushes and small trees were so close on either side of the boat that the branches were actually coming in and slapping us gently. The odd thing was that while we saw plenty of flora that morning, we didn't really see any fauna.

The first stop on our tour of the Cochin backwaters was a lime factory. No, this is not a place where they grow, harvest, and then process limes into those little green plastic lime-shaped containers you see in the supermarket. I'm referring to the chemical lime AKA calcium hydroxide. Here in India they mix it in concrete, use it to whitewash houses, and also they dab some in pan and then eat it. This was a small building sitting along the banks of the stream where we found four men hard at work. The process to make lime goes like this: the surrounding villages catch, boil, and eat lots of small mussels. They send the empty shells to this factory where the men mix them with charcoal. Then they put them in a big round firepit on top of a starting fire made from coconut husks. They mixture burns for about six hours and then cools for another twelve. After that, they scoop out the still-hot shells and pour water on them. The shells chemically combine with the steam from the water and crumble to white dust: lime.

We hopped back in the boat and proceed to the next destination: a coir factory. Coir is a rough rope made from coconut fibers. I'll spare you the details of this process, but it was real interesting to watch them work together with very simple equipment to make pretty darn strong rope. This was the stuff holding our boat together, so we knew it worked.

Then the tall, thin twin pushed us on down the river a little bit more and we stopped for lunch. One interesting thing about the place we ate lunch was that the guy who owned the property was a dog breeder. Here in the middle of nowhere he had a perfect specimen of every breed from Dachshund to German Shepherd. Another interesting part about that experience was watching some of the other foreigners try to eat with their hands for the first time.

After lunch we all transferred to a couple smaller boats and headed even deeper into the backwaters.

Our destination was spice farm which turned out to be a small house surrounded by some nondescript trees. But slowly the guide drew our attention to the vines growing on the trees, which turned out to be pepper.

He also peeled the bark from a nearby tree and gave it to us to smell: Cinammon! We also saw nutmeg and other spices all on this one spot of land.

It was definitely an eventful day, but still had plenty of tranquil moments too. We came back exhausted but hungry. On Day 1 at dinner we saw that beef hamburgers were available but not until after we had eaten and paid. This sparked our burger-lust and on the second night we were determined to quench it. We asked the Patrick and Mary (the homestead proprietors) for recommendations and they were very helpful. Unfortunately their recommendations were strike-outs, but after poking our heads into a few restaurants and checking menus we found what we were looking for at one of the nicest joints in Cochin: the Grande Something-or-Other. We couldn't help but feel a little guilty sitting pool-side listening to live music in a lush courtyard and ordering the 75 rupee ($1.70) "minced meat" burgers. Curiously, the burgers were about a third of the price of anything else on the menu. Check it out!

More Cochin adventures to come soon!