Monday, March 23, 2015

Kerala – lush cool hills, spices, tea, and houseboat



First a couple links – 1 for the present location of the Explorer  (doesn’t always work) http://www.vesselfinder.com/?imo=9183518
2) Mauritius  https://picasaweb.google.com/104313877083935493139/Mauritius18Mar15?authuser=0&feat=directlink

From Deej.  12 March 2015. 

Kerala – lush cool hills, spices, tea, and houseboat
Yes we are back on the ship and on our way to Mauritius and Cape Town as of last evening (11 March 2015) at 7:00.

This time India was nicely different than the north India I had been to before. We had access to actual toilets and western style most places which is always a good thing. Everywhere we went in Kerala a big improvement over my first trip to India in 1998. And there was no open sewage here. And Kerala, although it is their dry season, is vey green. There are thousands of coconut trees and we learned that Kerala means “land of coconuts.” There are thousands of hibiscus in many colors, bougainvillea, impatiens, begonias, palm trees galore and all kinds of beautiful flowers I have never seen before. And they are so large here. They have two different coffee shrubs that grow here and they smell like jasmine.  The India of 1998 and 2009 was very different and hard for me. I’m glad to experience a different India.

After a day of a guided sight-seeing  tour in Kochi (the marina, Fort, Vasco de Gama church, synagogue, 20 splendidly dressed  elephants at a festival, old India maps displayed at the Ginger Café, etc), this India trip of March 2015 we went  to the mountains (Western Ghats) of Kerala to the town of Kumily to see the spices and tea. We visited a Spice Plantation which was a family farm that had all kinds of spices, a herd of Holsteins, goats, ducks, chickens, turkeys, veggie gardens, and we had an excellent guide called Taj who spoke English very well and taught us some Malayalam which is the local language of Kerala. I now know what pepper vines, allspice trees, vanilla orchids, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, mace, plants, trees look like and how they are grown. They grow these spices for local Kerala consumption, no exporting. This has been going on since the British were here - originally they did export to other places but now it is a local economy. The tea plantation and tea factory we visited was very interesting also. Over 600 acres of camellia sinensis, the processing of tea is very quick, it only takes two days and this is with a very old-timey system. They use wood to fire the machines that they use in the factory. The leaves are picked every 7-15 days except during the Monsoon, they are withered for a day, next they are fermented with high heat and water, dried, curled, crushed, and then sent through a machine that sizes them, then they bag them according to size, powder is in our tea bags and the large leaves are the loose leaf tea. We also saw rubber tree farms where they produce latex for local tire making.

We had fun on Mira the elephant who we rode for a bit and Phil helped wash and brush her and I fed her a reward, big squashes, she is 28 years old but has been in training for only 5 years, she helps train the other elephants. I hope they treat her and the other elephants well.

I had a bit of intestinal distress as I ate some way too spicy food at first, not a good move. And maybe drinking the ginger (In local water), lime, soda was not such a good idea.

But we ended on a high note by doing the houseboat tour overnight in the Aleppey backwaters, with our own chef, Siva, who made really good food that was not spicy yet very delicious and healthy. We had fresh fish for lunch and a chicken curry ‘candlelight” dinner. He made this wonderful dish of carrots, coconut and black mustard seed that was delicious. The captain, Agustin, was very knowledgeable about all the thousands of birds along the waterway. He also liked to take us on walks, one before dinner into a village to visit a 400 year old catholic church and the next morning along the rice field’s path into a village. All very interesting and informative.

I hated the 4 hour drive up into the mountains on a very curvy, hairpin turn road and a beeping driver (beeping is required in India for safety). One morning as we were riding to do the elephant interaction I threw up. Sajeev the driver slowed down after that.

All in all it was a good visit. Kerala is called "God's own country" and it really is rather Eden like with all of the natural food resources growing wild everywhere. But there are many poor people there. It is mainly an agricultural area and not much else to do except for the huge tourist industry. Bus loads of Germans, French, and British tourists as well as a few Americans and Japanese thrown in.

We also had some cultural events, a tribal dance and traditional Kathakali performance. Both very entertaining and interesting.

We tried to do a trek in the Periyar forest but they said we were too old. It is run by the Government and they are strict about everything.  We did do the boat ride on Periyar lake and saw a lot of birds, India buffalo, lots of deer, otters, lots of water birds. And I met a nice German man and a nice British couple as Phil and I were separated by our seat numbers. No tigers or elephants though. You have to drive into the forest for hours at a time to see them. We have seen them in another forest called Khana Kishli in central India.

I also fell down the stairs in our hotel, a close call. Phil caught me before I rolled all the way down the last group of stairs. I have some bruises. Just after I was saying how proud of myself I was for all the difficult things we have had to climb up and down and to precariously balance on various actual boards (planks) to gain access on and off boats everywhere. I am okay. Freaked out the hotel staff from my fall though.

Only four more countries left (Mauritius, South Africa, Namibia, and Morocco). Time flies.

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