I have always wanted to go to India. Always. It's one of the countries I had wanted to visit the most, yet I put it on the back burner of actually getting there during this last year of teaching. Once on this side of the earth, many different countries are readily accessible and only a short flight away. India is a bit more of a trek and I, for one, didn't think I could convince Al to go for only a week. I figured I'd make it in due time, it just wasn't at the forefront of my mind as a viable holiday option...
...That is until my friend Chris told me about this magical place called Kerala. We were at a going away party and somehow got on the subject of India. He told me I have to go to Kerala and that it's amazing and spectacular and to forget about Goa (where I had originally wanted to go) because Kerala is much better. He told me about the food and the houseboats and the backwaters and soon after, I was convinced. I did some research, found out Air Asia flies directly into the place and started to come up with arguments for Al on why we should go. He agreed wholeheartedly so we bought our tickets. Our friends Landon and Gina decided that it sounded fabulous to them as well, so we were now a foursome headed into the unknown in just a few short weeks.
Sunday night finally came and I loaded my backpack with as few things as possible, cute outfits being the most important, and got to bed at a very reasonable hour to catch our 10:30am flight the next morning. We checked in with Air Asia and I accepted the fact that my entire day and many, many hours were to be spent in those dreadfully uncomfortable seats. The first night we hung out with Landon and Gina they warned us that they were perpetually late to everything and have so far not let us down. They strolled into the international departures doors about 30 minutes to boarding time. Because we were worried about security/immigration lines they didn't have time to exchange their money into rupees (more on that later) so we hurried off to the gate. We got some airplane snacks, the boys got some I'm-on-vacation-I-don't-care-what-time-it-is beers then we settled in for the 6 hour and 15 minute flight to Kuala Lumpur.
The Low Cost Carrier Terminal, which houses the cheap airlines like Air Asia, Tiger Airways, etc. has a major shortage of things to do. Apparently the new terminal has been under construction for like five years with the completion date pushed farther and farther into the future. This can be a problem for people like us who have five hour layovers. It's not enough time to leave the airport and get to downtown Kuala Lumpur, unfortunately, so we had to spend the duration inside the airport. We exchanged some Korean won into Malaysian ringgit so we could have some spending money and got some food, charged our phones and used the massage chairs. Landon and Gina intended to change their won into rupees there in Kuala Lumpur, but the guy at the currency exchange told them that their won to rupee rate was ridiculous and they would be better off doing it once we arrived in India. I was skeptical that a smaller area such as Kerala would even exchange won at all because Koreans just don't go there. Why would they want to buy won? They decided to wait.
|Boredom in the LCC Terminal|
There really wasn't too much downtime. Our boarding time came and five hours later (and the coolness of hearing the pilot announce that we were flying over the Bay of Bengal) the energy was palpable as we touched down on Indian soil at 10:30pm. We jumped through all the immigration hoops and exited into, just like in Bangkok, what I imagine a throng of paparazzi would be like. There's nothing like having a bunch of Indian men shouting at you to take their taxis where you need to go the second the exit doors open. The currency exchange in the airport told Landon and Gina that they wouldn't exchange won...just like I expected. They were pretty worried about what to do since it was night and there were no banks open, so they had to wait until morning. The place where we were staying sent a driver, so I spotted my name card and we squeezed ourselves into his very small car and made our way to Fort Kochi, where we were to stay for just this one night before we headed off on our adventure.
My first views of this new country were in the dark so my initial impressions weren't too solid other than that the roads were in horrid condition. He drove slowly and carefully, nothing like I was imagining...but that was the last time we experienced that.
The four of us arrived at XL Homestay, our $13 accommodation for the night and was greeted by the gate by a beautiful woman in a maroon and gold sari and a red bindi (the small jewels or dots) on her forehead. Landon and Gina were staying across the street so we said our goodnights and planned to meet early the next morning to get this thing started!
Our Tuesday plan was to have some breakfast, search around for a taxi driver and find somewhere for Landon and Regina to exchange their won to rupees. Kerala, just like in the US, is the name of the state we were in. Just like all states, there are many cities and areas located within it so a common practice for tourists is to hire one taxi driver to take you from town to town and stay with you the entire duration of your trip as sort of a chauffeur/tour guide. Our homestay owner, who was wearing a stunning green sari today, helped us obtain a driver who quoted us 8,000 rupees for the week. After all was said and done after extra mileage and tip I think he cost us about 10,000 rupees, which is roughly $165. Basically, Al and I paid 80 bucks to have a driver at our beck and call and take us wherever we needed to go for an entire week. Not too shabby.
We ate some breakfast at an outdoor cafe (I had coconut rice and banana pancakes...about $3 I think), walked around the little town for bit while we waited for our taxi driver, Ani, to prepare for a week away and come collect us. I started to take in my surroundings and take notice of the things that make this place unique. One of the greatest things I witnessed was that all the public buses had a name, kind of like how a person names their boat. I don't know if it's the company or the driver who names it, but I saw in big letters across the top monikers like "Red Star", "Ave Maria", "Josephine" and my personal favorite "Infant Jesus". I'm not sure if this is unique to Kerala or it's all of India, but it was highly entertaining.
We wandered back down to the homestay where Ani (whom I didn't even get a picture of!) was waiting for us to set off six hours up into the mountains to a small town called Thekkady. We continually ascended for six straight hours on a road that could rival even West Virginia's curviest. Imagine, if you would, the most winding road you've ever been on. Doing it? Ok. Now, add to that road many pedestrians, scooters, dogs, cattle, and cars swerving in and out of their own lane to avoid hitting said pedestrians, scooters, dogs and cattle. It's chaos all on a road that sometimes has a sheer cliff drop on the other side.
|Yeah, nice view.|
Koreans are crazy drivers. They drive at frightening speeds with no regard whatsoever to anything or anyone surrounding the metal death machine they like to call cars. Indian drivers, on the other hand, also drive like lunatics but very few times was I actually worried or frightened. Everyone is in completely control. Controlled chaos at it's finest. They are also not driving at warp speed. The center dividing line is more of a suggestion than a rule because there is so much commotion on the roads at all times, it's impossible to stay in your own lane anyway. Ani (and every other driver in cars, scooters, trucks or what have you) was constantly honking his horn. Not in the way Koreans do it (Hey! I'm running a red light so get out of my way!!) but in a way to make sure no one gets killed. He was honking around every blind turn because there is a good chance there is someone else in your lane coming around the other side. He was honking every two seconds through the villages at the cows in the road. He, and everyone else, was just always honking. But like I said, completely controlled. As Gina put it, "I've never avoided so many head on collisions in my life". Preach.
We gradually made our way to Thekkady, stopping a few times along the way. Once for some gas and there was a little market next door:
|Get out of the road, monkey|
|What a tea plantation looks like|
We finally arrived in Thekkady and were taken to our hotel, the Woods & Spice. Around Kerala, there are five major touristy towns that people flock to: Kochi, Munnar, Thekkady, Alleppey and Varkala. Kochi, Alleppey and Varkala are along the coast while Munnar and Thekkady are up in the mountains. Because we only had a short amount of time, we had to pick and choose which of these to visit and we chose Thekkady over Munnar as our mountain destination. Munnar is more popular than Thekkady because of all the spice and tea plantations. Thekkady is probably the least popular on the list...which means there are no tourists i.e. my favorite kind of town.
|I'd could probably make an album titled "Bikes Against Dirty Walls" with all the different ones I got|
Our deal with Ani was that he would take us from place to place and while we were staying within the towns we would just go short distances using the local transportation a.k.a. rickshaws. A rickshaw (or tuk tuk) is basically a glorified lawn mower.
|Oh hey Gina|
|This one and the next were in Kochi|
They are all colorful and unique and far outnumber cars it seems. They can comfortably fit three people. We squeezed four, but I saw as many as seven people piled in one like some Indian clown car. It will cost about 50 cents to go quite a few miles in one of these babies, plus they're awesome, hence our wanting to go everywhere in them.
We arrived at the Woods & Spice in the evening where they were joyfully waiting our arrival. "We have been waiting all day for you!" in their strong accents. It's monsoon season, by the way, so the tourists are even less in this tiny village, which is probably why they were so excited to see us. The gorgeous woman greeted Gina and I by dotting a cream colored spot on our foreheads, we checked in and unloaded into our bungalows. We soon realized that there were very few people staying here other than ourselves. I think I saw an Indian couple only once. Since it was evening we wanted to venture into town and get some dinner. Quickly we started to encounter the "Indian pushiness". When you visit places like this you will always face off with touts who only want to sell you things. "Beautiful paintings! 300 rupees!" "Drums! Test them out!" "Handmade bracelets here!" It's just a fact of visiting these places. They just want to make some money and you will constantly be hounded in the streets and while you're eating lunch to buy whatever it is they're selling. Generally you have to give a pretty firm NO but they eventually will leave you alone after much pestering. In India, I found, it's slightly more over the top. We asked the front desk for a restaurant recommendation and although they were some of the most helpful hotel staff we could've asked for, he seemed super peeved that we weren't eating at the hotel restaurant. Not in a mean way, just something like:
"Oh the other restaurants are just okay, ours is best! You eat here!" "We really just want to go see the town this evening and eat there." "Why you don't want to eat here? We have delicious food!" "I'm sure it is but we'd like to go into town." "We make something special for you!" "Maybe next time"
Then he gives us a smile and sends us on our way. We ended up eating breakfast and dinner there the following day, but really just out of niceness. They had zero customers. He wasn't lying though, the food was pretty good.
The next day, Wednesday, we satisfied the staff and had our breakfast there then strayed into town to do some shopping and have lunch before heading off to meet our elephants. The thing with India is that all these people in the tourism business, taxi drivers, rickshaw drivers, shop owners, restaurant owners, tour operators...they are all in it together to make some extra cash. For example, we ask the rickshaw guy to take us to a good shop, so he will take us to his buddy's shop where then the buddy will give the rickshaw guy a commission for bringing us there. The same goes for everything else. I don't find it dishonest or that they aren't taking us to authentic places, it's just they all want a cut so they do whatever they can.
We stopped at our first shop and ended up spending an hour in there. It was mostly a textiles shop: scarves, rugs, shawls, clothing. India (or this part at least) is known for it's fab scarves and shawls. They go from straight cotton at $5 or so to more luxurious materials or mix of materials that can skyrocket to $50 and $60 (and that's still amazingly cheap for what you're getting). They are all handmade in some back alley there in Thekkady and every single one of them is beautiful. I got myself a more expensive turquoise $25 one that feels like butter. I know for a fact that something this quality and feel could easily go for a few hundred dollars at Nordstrom or Saks. Slap a Yves Saint Laurent label on it and you're talking $500. I snatched up a bunch of them to send as presents then we were off to go ride some elephants!
We traveled to the outskirts of town, turned down a dirt, hole-filled road and there I got my first view of the elephants. Now, I've seen elephants before in zoos. But there is nothing like being up close and touching one. They are gargantuan. I was worried about them being mistreated, but they seemed happy enough. A few times the guys smacked ours with a stick and it made me sad, but I guess you don't want one trampling you. We went for a 45 minute ride through the jungle, fed them, washed them, then sat on their backs while they sprayed us with water from their trunks. It was quiet a unique experience; one that I'd happily do again.
|He was mine and Al's and I named him Phil|
|All wet from where he sprayed me with water|
We were famished after our elephant showers (on top of having a very sore butt from that ride (that's what she said)) so we had our rickshaw guy take us to a restaurant...one that incidentally happened to be directly next to the shop he took us to earlier. Remember what I said about the commission?
I'll say this about the food: you've not had amazing food until you've had Indian food in India. I've always liked Indian food. I've not had much of a variety other than the few curry dishes I've ordered at restaurants, but the food is out of this world. I never got sick of it. It was all made to order, too. If I wanted it not spicy, they made it perfect. I even asked for a plain coconut curry because it wasn't on the menu, no problem. Many of the dishes were based with coconut so I was happy girl. One snack I tried was a banana fried in some kind of curry pancake. Heavenly. I wish I knew what it was called! Here are some of the dishes for your viewing pleasure:
|Fish, vegetable stew, a rice/vegetable curry thing and there was a green bean something in the red.|
|Blackened whole fish. They still had eyes, but I dug in anyway|
|Banana/curry pancake something or other|
After lunch we checked out an Ayurveda massage place. Kerala is famous for Ayurveda treatments; I think it originates there which is why we (Gina and I at least) were anxious to try it out. We all chose the one hour treatment/massage not knowing what to expect. I was taken into a room where the small Indian woman told me to strip down and handed me what I can only describe as a Tarzan loincloth made out of the same material as the paper gowns they give you at the gyno. Living in Asia where there are numerous public bath houses has made me grow very comfortable in my birthday suit around other people. I just don't really care. So when this lady actually got down around my waist to tie this thing around me then proceed to bring it up between my legs in the back and tuck it down into the butt part...I was cool as cucumber. It was soon after that things started getting weird.
She instructed that I sit down in the chair next to the massage table (which was a beautifully carved wood, nothing like the tables at a traditional salon) and she continued to soak my head and hair in oil while she did some very interesting, and sometimes painful, things to my scalp. At one point she was even taking the side of her hand and sort of karate chopping my skull. Whatevs. I'm sure it's all part of the experience.
Next, I lay down on the table, boobs up (and they are out in full view, by the way) and she slapped so much oil on me I probably would've made a very delicious deep-fried dinner. She started with my face, where there were copious amounts of oil/paste slathered all over it as she massaged every inch, including my eyelids. What comes next was not the traditional relaxing massage I was expecting. It was more simply a very, very oily rub down. It was long strokes along my body, which is I'm guessing why there is so much oil because of all the friction from this type of "massage". She worked my arms, hands, legs, feet, toes...and boobs. Yes. She did sort of a candy cane shaped motion where she started at my belly button, rubbed up and around the top of my boob and back down again. I kind of just wanted to laugh.
I was then told to flip over and my first thought was, "How am I going to manage this without sliding right off this table onto the floor?" I succeeded without injuring myself and she did the same to my backside, working my butt cheeks a little (who doesn't like a good butt cheek massage?) and then that part was over. In the corner of the room there was a wooden box that looked like a cross between a magicians box and half of an outhouse. This box had a chair inside. When she told me to get up I could only assume my destination was this strange apparatus, so I did as I was told and carefully made my way over to it trying not to do some kind of accidental ice-skating pirouette on the tile floors with my slick, oil covered feet. As I sat I realized there was a hole for my head to stick out the top, she closed the little door on me, turned this ancient contraption on and left the room. I remembered reading something about a "steam bath" in the description of this $16 treatment I was buying. I supposed this was it because it started to get very hot in there and steam started issuing out the top where my head was sticking out. This part I liked. The part about saunas I hate is that I get kinda dizzy because it's so hot in there...must have something to do with sensors in your head because just my body was getting steamed while my head was out in the cool room and no dizziness came about. It was fabulous. The lady came about 15 minutes later and let me out of my hot box. As I stood up I saw all the oil run off my body in fat streams, it was weird. She then grabbed a towel and dried me off herself, wiping me down from head to toe. Finished! I dressed, tipped her, then left feeling slightly confused as to what just happened to me. Gina had a similar experience, though she said she didn't get her eyeballs massaged. Too bad, Gina!
We went back to our bungalows to take a shower and rid ourselves of all that oil (it took two times washing my hair to get it out). We had tickets to two shows that evening: Ancient martial arts (boys picked that one) and traditional Kathakali. We walked into a cement building with a sunken middle and weapons propped up against the walls like some sort of miniature Hunger Games arena. A young dude came out, lit some candles that were against a back wall, some drumming music came over the speakers and it began. In about 10 minute increments different sets of guys came out and grabbed the different weapons demonstrating fighting techniques in a sort of beautiful dance way. It progressed to fire-hoop jumping and doing backflips off the railings. Not too bad. There was a Western family there as well with three kids, the two boys were enthralled.
It was now dark and our rickshaw guy then took us on another pot-hole heavy road to a creepy part of town to the Kathakali center. When they started, a fat shirtless man tells us a quick history of Kathakali and although I could hardly understand his thick accented English, I caught on that these...things...weren't "humans", they were to represent other-worldly creatures telling stories. Got it. They made their facial muscles do extremely weird things. They would rapidly move their eyes back and forth, make them big as saucers while their cheek muscles trembled. Each one was different and was to represent a different emotion.
|Sorry my camera sucks|
While the others lamented how impossibly weird this would be if they were high as kites, I was just in awe and also very creeped out...but in a good way. This was a performance that I might never seen again in my life and something that can only be fully appreciated having seeing it in person. We all came out of there in agreement that it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and we were very glad we watched it.
We decided to be super nice and eat dinner in the restaurant of our hotel. Again, we were the only ones in there but they were really happy to be making us food and it was spectacular, just like everything I ate. This was our last meal here in Thekkady as we told Ani to pick us up at 7am sharp the next morning to start the long journey back down to the coastal town of Alleppey where we were to pick out and board our next accommodation: Overnight houseboat!
On the way there we starting to realize that our beloved taxi driver was probably trying to swindle us out of as much money as possible. As we were descending in elevation it was getting hotter and hotter so we went to turn on the A/C. Although we booked an air conditioned taxi and we used that air condition on the way up to Thekkady, he told us we couldn't use it because we booked a "non air con taxi" and it would be extra rupees to use it. Yeah right, Ani, nice try. We knew what was happening so we're like alright, that's fine we'll keep the windows down. He then realized we're not stupid and said, "Well, you may use it but I will pay the extra money myself to the company! It's ok! No problem! Use it! I will pay!" trying to make us feel bad. Again, we refused the air con. I believe he began he sweat and fear we would call and complain so he gave in and said, "No extra, use it!" Done and done.
We arrived in Alleppey, nicknamed "The Venice of the East" because of it's seemingly never ending winding canals. Ani took us to, where else, his friend's houseboat company. He showed us pictures of his houseboat, but there is no way we're going to book a houseboat before seeing it. Sensing our reluctance, he ferried us out to where it was parked to let us tour it before making a decision. I read before coming here that you need to see many before deciding on one, so we told him to take us back to the road because we wanted to see multiple. He finally pointed us in the right direction (to HIS friend's company...somehow connected to his own) and we were taken to a dock where there were a myriad of boats to choose from. Jackpot.
We toured one that Al, Landon and I loved but was dubbed "too Jersey" by Gina. It had a sick upstairs level with cushy beds to lay on and a table where we could eat in privacy. She was picturing something a bit more authentic looking; not this red, zebra-stripes theme with a sound system and a flat screen downstairs. Fair enough, but 3 vs 1, we win. I understood where she was coming from, I really did, but I knew she'd learn to love it and realize we picked a good one once we got going and could lay on those cushions and watch the scenery. (She wasn't complaining come midnight when we had our iPods blasting from said sound system.) We agreed on a price of 12,000 rupees which includes overnight with two bedrooms, two crew members who will cruise us around and make and serve us three meals plus snacks and coffee/tea. That's just under $200. Basically $50 a person for all day, all night, and all meals. It was kind of like butler service; they were really attentive and were always bringing us tea and snacks (including the famed banana/curry pancake). We went back to collect our backpacks, the boys went on a small adventure to find booze and Gina and I got some snacks and waited in the houseboat guy's office, watching the lizards clamber up and down the walls behind his desk while awaiting the boys' return.
We boarded our boat, which really looks more like a long, floating hut, and spent the next day and night like this:
|View of another boat, they all basically look like this|
|Rooftop. I can get my camera to do amazing things sometimes!|
|Our "Jersey" boat|
They park the boat during meals and at night. We decided we'd go exploring down the little palm tree-lined pathway that was between the canal and some rice paddies. Landon was determined to get himself a coconut while Gina and I were on the lookout for perfect picture opportunities. Thus, both were found:
We walked for about 30 or 40 minutes taking in our surroundings and fully appreciating where we were. Landon said, "It's crazy to think about, geographically, where we are right now" which is a perfect way to put it. The serenity of walking down this pathway, surrounded by tropical trees with a river on one side, a rice paddy on the other, watching the locals come out of their colorful cement houses to do their laundry in the river while Bollywood music plays somewhere in the background is like nothing I could experience anywhere else. And somewhere during that walk I felt immensely grateful at these traveling opportunities I have because I'm seeing things with my own eyes that most of my family or friends will never get to see. If I ever come across large sums of money, I'm sending all of them right to this place.
When I went to take a shower, I realized that I was showering with water straight from the river. Well...when in Rome. We finished off the night with a rousing game of Ring of Fire (or Kings or Circle of Death or whatever you may call it. It seems to have many names depending on the college one attended) followed by a few more card games each one getting sillier and more rowdy by the minute. I finally called it a night about 2, wanting to be in top shape for more excitement the next day...
...Which is exactly what the next day did not bring Landon. Al and I woke up about 8 because we were docking at 9:30 and we wanted to have some breakfast and take in the last views. Gina woke up soon after with the news that Landon was extremely hungover. I took him some tea and pepto bismol and we left him in bed while eating our eggs and toast (with pineapple jam, by the way. One of the greatest things to ever have been made, I've never even seen or heard of such a thing!), watching the school children pile into the boat that takes them to school. A bus/boat, if you will. We all packed our things while Landon slept off his hangover...only he didn't get better.
We had a few miles journey from the boat dock to the coastline, where we had a verbal email reservation at a place called Mandala, which seemed awesome online. Landon seemed to get continually worse as we weaved through the traffic to the beach, so we were all getting a bit worried about him. We arrived at a dump heap under construction known as Mandala. Every review online raved about this place, but when we walked into a dilapidated collection of cement bungalows we knew something was wrong. Gina and I emailed him for weeks, pestering him about staying here because you can't book online, and he only reluctantly would email us back. We didn't know at the time, but we could only conclude after arriving that this place is in the middle of a complete overhaul but he thought he might be able to make a few bucks anyway. Gina and I decided to wander down the street and look for alternatives because there was no way we were staying at this place. There were no pillows and the walls were filthy. Landon was sick and could basically only groan at the sight of it.
About 50 paces down the beach we ran across a gem called White Saands (yes two As). It seemed closed, but we walked in anyway. A few of the staff stumbled around over our surprise appearance, let us see the rooms and we agreed on 1,000 rupees for the night. ($16) We walked back to the other place where we let the owner (who looked like Chris Rock with a mad fro) know that we were going elsewhere. He seemed completely not shocked and said "I understand". We noticed there wasn't even a sign on the fence indicating there was any sort of accommodation there like I saw in online pictures. Definitely under construction, which is why we aren't too bitter about it.
We lounged in the hammocks and took some naps, Al frolicked in the massive waves like a little kid (he loves waves) and we had a very relaxing time after all the go go go we had been doing since we arrived.
|Indian Ocean sunset.|
I'm now proud to say that I've had my feet dipped in three of the four oceans. Atlantic and Pacific are easy to achieve, the Indian slightly harder of a feat. The Arctic...well...considering I don't plan on going to northern Russia anytime soon, that one will have to wait.
We came to the conclusion that Landon probably had a mild bout of food poisoning, the poor soul. But an exotic vacation story isn't a good one until there's food poisoning involved. Al got a case from a street vendor sandwich in Laos and he maintains to this day it was the greatest sandwich he's ever eaten. While Landon was bed-ridden most of the afternoon and everyone else was napping, I decided to take a walk through the little village and try and get some Nat Geo worthy photos. Although my camera greatly disappoints, I did see some fun things along my way.
|The road our beach cottage was on|
|Pretty much my favorite picture I took all week. It's a framer.|
|A man and his goat|
|They liked me|
I'm not sure if I had mentioned this already, but India is the most colorful country I've ever seen. Everything...houses, businesses, the people, the clothing...are tons of different colors. You can see years of paint layers worn and weathered off the buildings to where there are five and six colors coming through. Each house along the road is a different, usually some kind of bright neon color: Purple, magenta, sky blue, emerald green, rust orange and every other color you could imagine. Every woman is wearing a different colored sari, occasionally with matching flowers in her braid, walking down the street with all these vibrantly hued buildings as a backdrop. Yes, it's dirty and run-down, but there is something uniquely beautiful in battered and decaying things when they look like this:
|These kinds of murals were everywhere|
|I think pink and lime green are great home color choices|
Landon slowly started feeling better and joined us out on the sand to watch the sunset. People started coming out in droves to play cricket and soccer and enjoy the evening beach. If it's possible, it seemed the waves got even larger. We ordered some dinner and ate out on the patio while a storm lashed at the plastic tarp they hung to protect us from getting wet.
Before coming, I knew it was monsoon season. June-July are the worst, so I assumed we'd have a few hours of rain every day and we all knew that going into this trip. Either we were lucky or we just happened to arrive on the tail end of it. We had sunshine every day with only a few rain showers here and there in the morning or evening. Nothing to complain about at all. Our weather was great and considering we were expecting to basically be inundated with rain the entire week, we were very, very happy.
I took my first hot shower in quite a few days and went to bed, sad that the following day was our last. Our flight didn't leave until 11:30 at night so we basically had an entire day left. Ani picked us up the next morning and we drove a few hours north back to Fort Kochi to roam around and do our souvenir shopping.
|Chinese fishing nets|
|India smells amazing. The air is warm and full of spices because there are spice shops everywhere.|
|NOOOOOO HE'S EVERYWHERE!!!!|
We had lunch at the same place we had breakfast when we first arrived (much to Al's disdain) because Gina and I were craving some wifi (lame, I know). The same cat remembered Landon and was all over him yet again. We ate our last real meal in India then drifted down the street to do some damage to our remaining rupees. Al had some kind of allergy attack while we were on the houseboat and his sinuses were slightly uncomfortable, and when Al is physically uncomfortable, his patience is easily tested. Al likes to go shopping, more than most men actually, but when it comes to going in and out of multiple shops that all appear the same to him, he's not going to have the greatest time. By the end he was pretty much ready to get done, and because I felt I needed to stay with him and keep him happy I definitely didn't get to buy as much as I would've liked. Once home, I unloaded all of my treasures to realize that I didn't have as much to send to people as I wished, especially when I could have bought dozens of hand carved, hand painted elephants for as little as a few dollars...and I only bought a few. I'm one of those people that need to see all my options before I decide on something, souvenirs included. So when I'd see tons of things I wanted to buy, I'd think "Oh, I might find something better later, if not I'll come back for it", then I end up not going back and sometimes end up empty handed. Gina and Landon spent nearly an hour in this amazing antique shop and they found the most incredible things in there because they took their time and happily went through everything. I felt rushed so I didn't find as much, although my goat skin lampshade is pretty cool:
After a long (and sometimes frustrating for Al) shopping day, it was time for Ani to take us back to the airport. It started pouring the rain down on the way and it was actually the first time I was slightly nervous at the driving. Gina and I tried to keep up a string of conversations to keep our minds off the fact that an accident was very possible, but we arrived safe and sound. There seems to be more security personnel at the Kochi airport than most places, and they also seem to be a bit more formidable looking than most. Before we could even enter the airport we had to go through two checkpoints. By the time we were at our gate we had gone through a total of six, with another two before we even boarded the airplane. It was amusingly frustrating.
We arrived back in Kuala Lumpur at 6:00am, went through another two checkpoints, grabbed a quick bite then boarded our plane at 8:00 (before which we had another three checkpoints). Let's just say getting TO India was much simpler than trying to get home, for some reason.
The flight back to Busan was exhausting, but also we were very grateful that Air Asia now flies in and out of Busan unlike last year when we would've had to fly out of Seoul. When the Koreans in the seat in front of us asked the flight attendants if they could please have kimchi flavored noodles, I facepalmed and surrendered to the fact that I was on my way back to Korea and not still in some beautiful, exotic place.
Although I died over the Indian food, the whole mess of McDelivery Al and I ordered for dinner that evening tasted pretty good. I separated all the souvenirs I'll send home to everyone and they're still sitting on my armchair. Our backpacks exploded all over the house and I've yet to put anything away or do laundry since arriving home a week ago. It's just too hot!
Al and I are both in agreement that we will definitely be going back to India. First, the country is enormous and there is so much to see and do when we really saw very little. I've also heard that the Taj Mahal will be closing to the public in a few years and that's something I have to see myself. India, I love you. I'll see you again.