As you’ve probably figured out by now, our friend Kerry is here 🙂 She flew over from London to join our travels for a couple of weeks.
The backwaters are a web of waterways and rivers stretching south from Kochi along the coast of Kerala. Life here happens on the canals and there are many different tours you can book to explore them. So of course we went on one too. The coach picked us up at the guest house and the mad Indian traffic had me car sick within minutes. It collected a group of about fifteen people, stopped at a petrol station for a few rupees worth of petrol and then dropped us off outside a bunch of little snack shops. We were ushered towards our driver’s mate’s stall to stock up on water and anything else we might want and the we walked down to the boat waiting for us on the river.
The morning was spent in comfy chairs on a larger boat, based on old rice barges. It doesn’t have a motor and is pushed along by two guys using long bamboo sticks.
At first we went off into some smaller waterways and our guide showed us the fruit of the grey milkwood tree also called man-go, as its used by some people to commit suicide.
We stopped off at a little shack where an old couple live. They uncovered a heap of coconuts from under some palm leaves and we all tucked in. I’m still not too convinced of the taste, but Munki loves them.
Afterwards we returned to the larger rivers we watched backwater life float by. Boys fetched coconuts that had fallen off the palms into the water, fishermen in canoes with little two-stroke engines zoomed past, some people delivered logs by boat and there were other barges like ours of course.
We stopped at a small lime factory. Our guide explained how they burn clam shells with coconut shells and coal to produce lime powder. To be honest I didn’t listen too closely cos I really needed a pee and there was lime dust in the air. So, not knowing there was a loo on the boat, I dashed into the bushes, hoping the others wouldn’t leave without me. Luckily they’d been held up taking pictures of an eagle in a tree (or is it a kite?).
The next stop was at a coir making place. Coir is a rope made from coconut fibre. The lady fills her apron with loosened fibre and attaches the ends to a machine that twists them, drawing more fibre through the lady’s hands as she walks backwards. She controls the thickness with her fingers. Each string is not very strong like this. So both are attached to another machine at the other end, which twists them together in the opposite direction. The resulting rope is very strong.
We were also shown around the family garden with its vanilla, nutmeg and peppercorn plants. I had never seen those before! Pepper is actually a climbing plant.
Back on the boat we enjoyed the relaxed cruise along the waterways some more, chatting away, when our guide announced we could stop over to get hold of some Toddy (a sort of fermented coconut wine), who would want some. He was almost taken aback by how fast Aidan’s, Kerry’s and my hand shot up. He collected enough rupees for two bottles from us and a couple of other guys wanted some two. Then the usual drug-deal-style alcohol procurement process started involving the guy calling a guy who knows a guy and a blatantly obvious swap of money for a plastic bag behind some bushes.
The milky white warm Toddy came in old water bottles with a warning not to close the caps too tightly, as it was still fermenting. It smells of baby sick and the trick is to drink it in gulps rather than sipping it. After a while it doesn’t taste too bad and Kerry actually quite liked it 🙂 We pulled over to a little island where they had prepared a yummy thali lunch, served on a banana leaf. One of the boatmen had a cheeky cigarette from one of us and downed a glass of Toddy with a mischievous grin (drinking alcohol is very much frowned upon in Kerala).