We went an hour and a half south by taxi to a city called Alleppey, to jump on our reserved houseboat. We were going to be on the boat all day and night, in the middle of the backwaters of India. The backwaters are formed by waves creating small barriers at the mouths of rivers flowing down from the larger Ghats river. The water is a mix of fresh and salt, depending on which part of the backwaters you are at.
Our hotel had arranged our houseboat and the day started out beautifully. We slowly drifted down the river looking at the other cute house boats and comparing them to the appearance of our own. Some of the boats looked like palaces, with huge tv screens outside and a four poster bed through the windows. Ours wasn’t quite so swank, but it had more character than those yuppies. If I remember right, we were paying about 65 euros for the two of us and this included all our meals. I’ve heard some are cheaper than this, and that they can rise to about 150 euros. We also saw some larger ones with multiple rooms and people staying on them.
The boats are made from old rice boats, which explains the wide shallow hull. Then the walls are made from interwoven coconut fiber and bamboo poles.
Soon after embarking on the trip, we found ourselves in a huge quiet lake. The color of the water matched the sky in a way that convinced me that we are just meters away from the end of the world. If we continue in this direction, we will surely float off into space. It was here that we stopped for lunch.
The cook brought us enough food to feed one of the hotel house boats we had seen earlier. The man who made our reservation must of told him that we were Americans, and they reacted accordingly. We each had two fried fish, a bowl of rice, a bowl of a coconut pilaf thing, an okra salad dish, and more. I was starving before the meal, but then only after a few bites my stomach was full. Jeff ate as much as he could, but after that, we had barely made dents in the food mountain before us. I hope it didn’t go to waste…
Back in Kochi, a friend recommended we request for some “Toddy” to be on our boat. Toddy is the local word for palm wine, and comes from the sap of palm trees. We were told it would taste basically like coconut wine. Well, that sounded awesome, so hell yeah! When we arrived on the boat we wanted to reconfirm the understood our request, and they said they would pick it up on the way. After lunch we docked the boat on the side of a river, and our guides walked us to a small hut built from wood poles and blue tarps. Inside the hut was a hard dirt floor being pecked at by chickens, the windowsill was being traversed by huge black ants, and old benches that looked unstable even when they were unoccupied. Behind a second tarp was the distillery. Where they scooped up our toddy from a big plastic bucket with a metal cup.
Had we come to this place my first week in India, there is no way I would have drank it. But this was my second week, now I am a seasoned veteran.
Our guides purchased the stronger wine, while we were given the sweeter less-fermented option. It was clear we paid the tourist price, but we didn’t care. This wasn’t exactly the place to argue anyway. Now, back to the boat.
Not long after getting the Toddy, we stopped for the night by tying our boat to the side of one of the canals. We were very confused, why weren’t we back in the middle of the lake? We were under the impression we would be under the stars, not next to the restaurant/super market. Before going downstairs and trying to charade our displeasure to the non-english speaking boat driver, we called a friend from the frisbee tournament. He told us that this was normal, and we weren’t getting scammed. Apparently the houseboats can’t be on the lake at night, because it messes with the fisherman’s nets. We were a bit disappointed but fair enough, we wished there was better communication before though.
After another huge, and only partially eaten dinner, we sat on the boat and watched the birds flock from tree to tree trying to find the best place to roost. They loudly hopped from branch to branch while we played cards before it was too dark. On our right, huge menacing clouds slowly creeped in, and after awhile flashes of bright light flooded the sky. As though to answer our disappointment about being tied to a dock, the skies gave us an amazing light show for the next 2 hours. I love thunderstorms, I find them fascinating. The bright flashes would light up the trees and expose the thousands of white birds bundled into the branches. The flashes eventually turned into strikes of lightening, and it was a game of anticipation and guessing where the next one would drive down to earth. The rains came and added to the audio of the show and warm but strong wind blew through the coconut fibers. When it finally was over, I was honestly very disappointed.
And just to remind us that life is never fair, that beautiful thunderstorm caused for the power to be turned off. This wouldn’t be a problem, IF this didn’t mean that the air conditioning in the room wouldn’t work. (EDIT: Jeff reminded me we were only trying to use a fan, not the rooms AC unit). This caused the room to be absurdly hot. Jeff nearly immediately took a sheet and went upstairs to sleep on the roof. I tried to stick it out a bit longer, because if I sleep outside I’m going to become an all-you-can-eat buffet for the mosquitoes. I’m in the room for about 20 minutes alone, willing myself to not be too hot, when I hear the buzz sound that haunts me in so many of my nightmares. I figure if the mosquitoes are going to get me anyway, I may as well be comfortable. So I joined Jeff on the roof.
Jeff had tried to get the driver to fix the electricity, but apparently it was something with the boat that had broken. In the morning I woke up with only 25 mosquito bites, one of which was on my eyelid, which would of made me an ideal pick for the role of Quasimodo. After a small breakfast we were kicked off the boat and we made our way to the train station, itching and scratching the whole 3 mile walk there.