Arriving at the backwaters

Our day didn’t start very well, I tried to take a photo in the morning and found out that somehow my camera lens had developed a fault overnight all on its own. It hadn’t been knocked or received any shock, but the lens barrel seems to have become stuck in one position – fortunately it’s at a fairly wide angle and not super zoomed in, but it is a pain in the ass nevertheless. It seems that it is a known problem with the lens, and that in the real world lenses within a certain serial number range (which this is) can be fixed for free at one of canons service centres… we are now going to have to factor this in for our route and hope that we can perhaps have it sorted out in Bangalore (a city with more people than Wales and Ireland combined! Argghh).

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Today we could have taken our day in two different directions: One was to cycle 90km north to our desired destination, the other was to take a boat through the backwaters to the same place. The boat was tempting…. The backwaters of Kerala are a beautiful network of mangrove waterways sandwiched between the sea and inland. Brackish lakes are connected by thick vegetation covered narrow waterways, passing small villages and the plethora of traditional industries here such as chor production and fishing. We faced a small dilemma as the boat trip would have been nice, but it was eight hours and not particularly cheap. We were also weary about the 1500 meter climb we have to do soon and the lack of cycle fitness we seem to have after our month off – squeezing in as much cycling as possible is probably going to be a big benefit. After finding a few reviews confirming our worries that the boat trip was long and not as interesting as expected (it follows only the main canal so quickly becomes quite repetitive) we decided to cycle. The only problem with cycling was we were limited by road options, there were some small section we could take backroads, but predominately we would have to follow the main highway that runs between Trivandrum and Kochi. Our experience of this route so far has been that it has been pretty crazy and busy.

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When we made our decision to cycle, we knew that in between bouts of honking bus drivers, motorists who think that a mirror is for checking out your swanky moustache and pedestrians who wander round like bewildered cattle we should be able to find a little respite on the back roads. A cup of chai each and a dosa (tasty crispy pancakes) set us up for the morning and we joined the madness that is the Indian road network. It was tough going, tuk tuks, scooters and buses weaved back and forth as if it was some sort of well rehearsed, but very dangerous, formation. Somehow, we managed to find our place in all of this! On the downside, my bum was in shatters by the time we had done 20km, it feels as if the few weeks we have tken off have seen a rapid decline in my fitness and physical ability to be on a bike, and I soon began thinking that we would have to do the stretch to Allepey in two stages. We ploughed on with the decision that once we had had enough for the day, we would easily find somewhere to stay and we might as well make as much distance as we could.

Beard buddies

Beard buddies

Some of the places we passed through on the main road are absolutely jammed with people, even small villages seem to be filled with people selling lottery tickets, women with massives bags of shopping on their head and hundreds upon hundreds of school children, all milling around the place in one massive display of noise and colour. Sam and I discussed it and we both agree that we have never seen as many people in one day in our whole entire lives. Massive amounts of people and the reaction of the general Indian populace to foreigners can make for some interesting travelling. Several different times today when we have stopped for a cold drink only to find ourselves surrounded by middle aged men who say not a single word to us, but just stand there staring. Sometimes they’ll even edge a little closer every time we take our eyes off them (actually when Sam takes his eyes off them, I’m not allowed look at them at all because it’s India and I’m a woman, gotta play by the rules!). If it wasn’t so creepy it’d be hilarious. The other batch of silliness we have to contend with is young lads on bicycles, usually in their uniform still and on the way home from school. We call them Bradleys……. As we cruise along at an easy pace, we’ll pass one of them. They don’t know we’re there until we’ve passed, they get the fright of their lives when they see two white people and decide it’d be great craic to race us and show us how good at cycling they are. And so, these Indian adolescent Bradey Wigans wannabes come racing up past us, legs going like the clappers…….. for about 100 metres and then they abruptly run out of steam. Some of the Bradleys will even get a second wind….. passing us once, getting tired but deciding to have another go. We have now gotten to the stage where we like to try and predict who’s going to be the Olympian in each village, it’s hilarious and pretty surreal.

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We also had quieter roads today and turning off the main drag by just a couple of kilometres found us in a different world completely. Small shops are dotted along the roadside and life seems to have adopted a much more leisurely perhaps even traditional pace. But the countryside isn’t without it’s own diversions. Resting for a few minutes on a wall looking over a beach and a sandy hindu temple, we spotted a father and his two young sons approach the shore in traditional dhotis (man skirts). When they got to the sea, the two young boys turned their backs to the ocean and their father handed them both banana leaves covered in flowers which they dropped into the water. As the petals floated away over the gently rolling surf, the father stood with his hands proudly on his sons shoulders as their mother watched from a distance with a smile. But it’s not all sunshine and pretty Hindu traditions, oh no! Today also introduced us to, by far, the largest snake we have both seen that has not been safely ensconced behind a pane of glass or very, very high wall. It was definitely big enough to eat a fully grown sheep, a go kart or a 5 year old human. Worst of all, we both almost ran over it. Having intially thought it was dead, after catching a glimpse of it’s unblinking, cold, murderous eyes, we decided that it would be best if we didn’t hang around to take a photo of it. My initial investigation on the internet imply that it is possibly the mildly venomous Keralan Mud Snake, but that is yet to be confirmed.

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A small local ferry that serves the backwaters.

A small local ferry that serves the backwaters.

With all the comings and goings and being stared at and crazy traffic and interactions with the local widlife, we found that the day flew by and we were in Alleppey before we knew it! Brilliant, we were tired but pleased with ourselves. Sam navigated us through town to a guest house run by 4 young lads. When we asked them who was in charge, one of them answered “We all are!”. Fair enough! After a shower, we headed in to see the town. Strolling along the river in the fading light, we saw plenty of hustle and bustle, people loading and unloading boats, worshipping at tree temples to Ganesh (the Elephant God), complete with coconut shy-style offerings and more Gold shops than Midas could wag a finger at. There was an entire kilometre of street where every second shop sold gold jewellry. It’s big business here in India, Hindu brides are expected to be dripping in Gold from head to toe, business certainly seems to be thriving, perhaps it’s wedding season, but all the shops were packed with entire extended families poring over the glittering adornments.

Sacrificing coconuts!

Sacrificing coconuts!

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But best of all was a street filled mostly with umbrella showrooms. Yes, you read that right…… showrooms! Umbrellas hang from the ceilings in display and behind the umbrella advisors/ sales people are hundreds and hundreds of umbrellas in every conceivable shade, colour and size. They too seem to be snowed under with work and people were queuing up for a bit of guidance from an umbrella advisor. Our evening stroll around the town showed us spice grinding mills wafting delicious smells into the air, boat repair workshops with clanking and hammering constantly on the go, people threading flowers together gracefully and best of all, a bookshop with english language books for 30 ruppees! By the time we had picked a couple of books ou each, we were getting hungry and headed to a small restaurant near the river. I won’t bore you with the details of what we had to eat, but I will let you know that over the course of our time there, we spotted no less than three toddlers wearing balaclavas. Now you might be sitting at home with the fire on, thinking well that’s a reasonable thing to do. In which case I will remind you that even once the sun goes down here, the temperature remains in the mid twenties, and it is therefore, pure madness to be dressing a child like that!!!!

Johns umbrella showroom...

Johns umbrella showroom…

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...was next to the Popy umbrella mart...

…was next to the Popy umbrella mart…

...which was next to the George umbrella mart...

…which was next to the St George umbrella mart…

..umbrellas were serious business!

..umbrellas were serious business!

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And so to bring you to the end of our day, I will finish with some interesting statistics:
Kilometres cycled = 90.8
Likenesses of Mahama Gandhi seen = 2
Small children in ridiculous balaclavas seen = 3
Encounters with biblically large serpents = 1
No. Of coconuts smashed to smithereens in honour of Elephant God = 7

P.S. We’re going to stay another day, we like it here!

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