Sunday, March 22, 2009

Kerala Part 1 of 2

So I am going to do a quick post about Kerala that I partly wrote on Thursday and Friday. The second part will probably come later in the week since I am about to enter the week of DOOM. I have 4 assignments due in 4 days and then an exam on Friday. :O FYI I have much better videos than stills of everything but I seriously don't have time to do any video editing right now.

So without further ado, Kerala:

Scott and I planned out a trip to Kerala this weekend, the plan was a little thrown together but we knew we wanted to do the backwaters and see a little bit around Cochin. The trip to Cochin was pretty uneventful, security was a little tighter than back home, but nothing ridiculous, like most places if you are from North America and you look like you know what you are doing you can get away with anything. One strange thing is that you can't enter the airport without a boarding pass - in the era of e-tickets its kind of a pain, you need to go to a little bulet proof-glass window and semi check-in.

Since security was easier than expected we chilled out in an airport bar and had a few Kingfishers - nice and frosty and a great way to start the weekend.

The flight was quick - just over an hour and we were there. Only item of note on the flight is that there were a few Caucasian toddlers on the plane which made me miss Daniel. :(

Using my left-over starwood points from consulting we booked a room for Le Meridian in Cochin for Friday night. We had a boat booked for the backwaters on Friday and we were going to figure out the rest of the weekend ad hoc.

The service at the hotel was amazing (except for the travel desk as outlined below) and the room was nice

The view from our room - Scotty and I hit the swim up bar on the Sunday.

After checking in and sorting out some troubles with the reservation we went for some food; Scott hot the lobster bisque and a palliata pasta with crab meat. I got a tasty thai specialty of fried fish in a brown sauce with rice. The s was impeccable - the guy actual would spoon more on to my plate every few minutes unprompted.

We needed to book a taxi for the next day to the back water boat cruise we were going to take. The setup itself was sketchy, it was through an acquaintance at ISB. We had the contact person Eve's email address and phone number, she gave us directions that we were supposed to go to Aleppi and then call a phone number and then this dude would pick us up and drive us to the boat cruise 8km away, Scott and I though for sure we would be killed. :P

Anyways we needed to figure out HOW to get Aleppi so we talked to the travel desk which books all the hotel taxis. Essentially they tried to screw us over with a quote of 3500 rupees which is the equivalent of nearly $100, so we told him that was ridiculous and that it was only 1 1/2 hours away and that the cab from the airport (which is 1/2 an hour away) was only 600 rupees. When we complained he said he would give us a 10% discount, which we said wasn't nearly enough. We then asked what other options there were. Apparently there is a bus that goes directly to Aleppi and it leaves from right outside the hotel, we asked how much: 35 rupees (!). "So the bus is 100 times less expensive than a cab?" "Yes". It turned out though that the bus is not air condtioned and the thought of being in the Kerala humidity stacked to the rafters for 90 minutes did not seem appealing. That compounded with the fact that we needed a phone to call our mystery contact made that choice more difficult. After some chatting with another dude the guy came back and said they could get us a 'small' car with AC for 2100 rupees. Scott thought it was a lot but it works out to $50. I told him that we were going for 90 minutes and that I pay that much for taxi from downtown to my house at yonge/sheppard so with that perspective and the ability to use the cabbies phone we were golden. Aside: our return cab from the cruise was only 1000 rupees - this was not the last time the travel desk would screw us either - and this is in the hotel I am staying in and am a Platinum guest of. :O This was also the first of MANY times we had to barter for stuff over the course ofthe weekend - by the end I was mentally exhausted.

After enjoying the very nice continental breakfast of the hotel complete with donuts and chocolate croissants and exquisite Indian service we took the cab the next morning to Allepi without incident - the cabbie ended up driving us right to the docks after getting directions from our contact. The actual docks are in a weird nondescript place under a bridge that you would never think to look for. When we saw the boats though we were quite excited, they were AMAZING. While waiting for our boat we walked along the built up area between the water and the rice patties. Two children walked up to us and began asking for something. I couldn't quite make it out at first, but then realized they were asking for PENS. Kerala is a VERY progressive state with a near 100% literacy rate. All the children rather than asking for money will ask foreigners for pens. We said sorrry, but then I realized that just coincidently I DID have a pen in my pocket and gave it to the boy, the girl looked very dissappointed. We had been told about the pen thing a few days before we left but we TOTALLY forgot and we both felt like total D0bags for not bringing a box of them.

Scott and I kept on thinking that these were just showboats and we would have some clunker in the back that was rat infested or something. Instead we got THE BEST AND BIGGEST BOAT THERE.

Ours is the one in the middle. :)

This thing was FANTASTIC. Two bedrooms, air conditioning in the rooms, private bathrooms EACH. A dining room and an upstairs lounge. Just SICK.

To top it off we have a staff of four at our beck and call bringing us drinks, cooking out food, it is an opulence that I have never had before. I can get use to it. After sitting upstairs and knocking back a few Kingfishers (brought to us by one of the four staff we had serving us) we had a nice Kerala style lunch with fried fish (The WHOLE fish) with Kerala rice (which are HUGE) and a vegetable curry.

Life is tough.

After lunch we just laid back upstairs and let the world pass by, extremely relaxing and awesome.

After chilling upstairs we went for a backwater small boat tour. It was really surreal on the small boat, you are basically driving right past people homes and backyeards and both Scott and I felt unfcomfortable taking pictures of people like they were in a zoo, a reservation not shared by many of the other foreigners in our boat. It was really cool
though because you are REALLY off the reservation and you get to see some rural life in Kerala.

(The communist party is huge in Kerala and one of the reasons the literacy rate is so high)

More children were asking for pens and Scott and I tried to shut out their pleading little voices. :(

One little girl kept following our boat dressed in a school uniform and the woman in front of us was wanting to throw here a pen, the driver of the boat though didn't understand when we told him to stop so the girl had to keep running to follow us. Finally the woman through the pen but it landed it this kind of mucky peat that people build up beside the river. The girl got the pen but her shoe got stuck getting it - I felt so bad for her. She got out though and seemed very happy with her pen. (I have video of this, but again I will do those probably when I get back from India since I have no time right now)

Back at the boat Scott and I continued to chill, the boat then drove for about 1/2 an hour and then docked for the night at the side of the biggest lake in Kerala, a stiff breeze meant the boat was rocking strongly, but it died down with sunset. After docking a bunch of the staff from the different boats had a big volleyball game.

We were invited to join by one of the staff on our boat but Scott and I were going to join but it was overcrowded as it was so we went for a walk along the shore. After checking out some other boats and walking threw a rice paddy we came back as the sun was setting to chill out upstairs and watch the stars.

We then had another great meal consisting of an AWESOME cream of chicken soup rice, potatoes and caulliflower, curried chicken and lentils we called it an evening and went to bed - at 9:00PM!!!

1 comment:

  1. Ah man, Jeff, I have dreamed of this trip! So jealous. Can't wait to hear part II.

    Good luck with your week of hell. I know you'll survive.