Feelings last for as long as we live, we may forget names, places, and even faces but not how we felt. What I’ve experienced in one day and one night on a houseboat in Kerala backwaters was the reason I like to travel alone. The mix of; hardship, new friends, different flavours give you a very stimulating and fulfilling memory. And that was Appaluzha or Alleppey…
I made a bunch of wrong decisions that didn’t necessarily define the outcome but I’ll share them and hope it helps. So the first mistake was to go on a houseboat directly from the airport with all your luggage expecting that the driver knows where the infamous dock is, or maybe that he would ask for directions and will be guided correctly or even that the houseboat owner will return your calls or that there are wide enough roads for your taxi to start with.
Joseph the houseboat(s) owner was a average dark man with sweet wide honey eyes, his hair withdrew a bit from his forehead but not affecting his overall demeanour. He took me for a ride on his motorcycle to run some errands, keeping me busy and fulfilled with sugar cane juice and coconuts till he gets more customers as he was also trying to get over his initial shock that I am travelling solo .The gentleman was aiming to provide me a “secure environment” with other guests instead of having a whole houseboat for myself.
That leads me to the second mistake; I pre-booked the cheapest option, I was also blind enough not to notice that it had only 1 one review hence his score of 9 is not really reliable.
Mistake #3; I’ve indebted myself with Joseph’s nice gestures, left my stuff on his boat and went with the flow, I learned later that you can always choose your houseboat as each owner will have a at least a couple of options to show you and they are never that busy unless you get there really late during the high season.
Fourth mistake is that I stayed overnight, I can’t forget how I was on deck, laying on my stomach in the dark, drenched in a sweat mixed with extreme amounts of OFF spray and Odomos cream (mosquitos repellents) as I turned off the lights and positioned myself in front of the fan hoping it would either push the flies away or bring a sense of coolness. You could ask me why didn’t I stay in the room? Easy; because ACs run late at night and the room it self was not embracing me with the broken window and the amount of insects and that tiny little lizard staring at me besides who would leave the beauty outside and stay between 4 miserable walls.
Mistake #1 was not only irreversible but it was the small rock that started the avalanche. But I had no regrets, meeting Joseph was cool we spend a couple of hours together I had all sorts of street drinks and border line flirtations, while he ranted about how annoying Indians are. Between his reality and traditions, he sort of pre-apologised explaining to me his family circumstances and his responsibility towards his sisters as their sole brother and why he was not willing to spend more money to renovate his boats. He had many hidden desires as he danced around the words; beauty, marriage, relationships and breaking taboos but he never spelled out his own.
The other guests or my houseboat mates kept flowing; there were six couples from Kerala, Bangalore and somewhere south speaking different language but not necessarily hindu or english and I like to think about it that way; this cancelled my feeling as a stranger. The ones who spoke the best english were Reji and Shelas who became later my dear friends, they had kept me company and guided me through the Malayalam world.
According to them houseboats were supposed to be “la creme de la creme”, and that one was completely below standards. For them the food was their everyday meal and not that special. I had different views; it was the first time to eat the Kerala Sambar, among other curries for lunch were like heaven in my mouth.
It was also my first and last Todi experience, the local bar was in a tiny island like village, the old man had fry fish as appetisers but they were also full of ants that had the same colour. So I ended up paying 200 rupees for one litre of Todi that I consumed fully along with my room’s flooring and sink.
You could also ask them for fresh fish, they will drop you at certain kiosks, where you can just enjoy picking your next victim; shrimp, crabs, fish and all of enormous sized seas creatures that you could find in the sprawled nets or ask the guy to let you try and get something out. They may be courteous enough to give you a free coconut as the foreigner who just bought a single 600 gm prawn and a crab that weighed 1/2 a kilo for dinner.
The houseboat chef cooked the whole thing in a way I didn’t expect but that was also traditional. Reji explained as we ate that they liked a lot of sauce, and demonstrated the way they put the sauce on the bread and just make a paste out of it, which explained to me why they served 7 plates but only one fork. There were no way in hell I could eat all of this on my own, I thought it’d be all bones but it was all meat, I literally begged them to share my food and they refused so many times out of shyness and pride but they succumbed at the end, otherwise it’d be amazing fresh food going to waste.
I slept very few hours, my senses were alert all the time, listening to the sounds and anticipating what would happen after a long silence, it wasn’t necessarily bad, I was relaxed and contemplative but my body refused to sleep. I got to witness dawn and despite the hard night conditions and that we were parked metaphorically next to the backwaters thrash bin, but I never wanted to leave.
It wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t convenient but it felt fresh, I felt new and peaceful. Travelling is a matter of acceptance, you get stretched by taking risks and that helps you acquire skills to deal with different situations as they come. There is a fine line between travelling and vacationing.
Quick Facts & non related snaps:
Did you know they go to school after 9:30?
Did you know that the villagers may not have enough clothing but they’d wash their teeth morning and night?
Did you know that there is a very nice boat with sun beds and comfy chairs that would take you through a full day tour in the backwaters?? That you could just do that and then go sleep in a nice home stay under a mosquito net??
Did you know that since the backwaters was basically all water and some scattered land here and there, they had wooden canoes of all sizes; single, double, family…etc?? Did you know that all houseboats have to park at night because the small fishing canoes that had lights used to crash all the time??
Did you know they study Egyptian and Greek history at school?? …
Did you know that Hindu have Bindis or Tilaks on their foreheads depending on their devotion, sect and status?
Good day & Good luck…
All photographs in this post are my own shots, all copyrights are reserved.