India 4: Kerala Backwaters – Homestay
We are now at a home stay in the Kerala backwaters. Home stay just means B&B and there are many in this region. It would be ruined by big hotels so this is a perfect way to treat tourism. It was just a few hours drive from Cochin to here. Driving anywhere in India is fascinating, the streets are teeming with highly coloured life and there is always something unusual to see. At one point we were driving behind a big open truck containing….. An elephant! A great big Nellie the Ellie with huge tusks and flapping pink ears and keeping this mammoth creature company we could see a small child. It was fun to be following an elephant’s gently swaying arse in a truck but the Mummy in me worried for ages about the child.
We had a pit stop on the way, at a petrol station. My first experience on this trip of the “squat over the hole in the ground and aim” loo! It won’t catch on at Leicester Forest East that’s for sure but I kind of enjoy all the cultural differences and would not wish to be insulated from any of them. To me it is all part of the experience.
And more toilet news shortly from Kait’s Place, our homestay. It is really a very small farm. Just in the front of the house there are coconut palms, banana trees, coffee and a chocolate tree (I want one please)! There are also pineapples, a mango tree, papaya, jacki fruit and cinnamon, plus a fish farm. I picked a leaf from the cinnamon tree and chewed on the central stem, it tastes of cinnamon although the spice itself comes from the bark of course but my favourite was the chocolate!
James and Nina are in a fairly civilised hut fronting the river and Charles and I drew the short straw (perspective perhaps) and we are in the main house, in the oldest part. Our room, Jossie told us, is 200 years old and I am pretty sure its last update was about 195 years ago! I am in it now, writing this and depriving Mosquitos of their sundown appetiser, so I will attempt to describe what I can see.
We first enter a tiny, dark windowless ante room where they store stuff and where our luggage is, then come through very narrow double doors which are also split across the middle like stable doors so there are four bits of wood not attached to each other to manoeuvre when entering or leaving. The room is rough plastered to half way up and then there is very dark planked wood up to and including the ceiling. It’s not exactly the most cheerful decor! I feel as if I am in the hold of an old slave ship!
There is an ancient mosquito net hanging from a “crown ” and of course a creaky old ceiling fan. There are two very narrow wooden beds each with a thin mattress that slides about, a flat pillow and our only cover is a long narrow piece of grey shiny cotton, just a big scarf really. On my side of the room on the wall are some bars and when I woke up disoriented for a moment, I thought I was in prison! The floor is just concrete painted red. Luxury it is not. But we do have a tiny ancient telly on a shelf which we will never watch and another set of impractical double doors that go OUTSIDE to our bathroom in the garden!
Now this is not some five star pad in Bali or The Maldives with some fabulous marble and glass semi – outside facility, decorated artfully with potted plants and Buddha heads. This is the actual garden of the house, with grass, stepping stones and a wall to the street enclosing it. There is a shower head fixed to the trunk of a tree which took a while to find, one tap (cold), a bath painted bright blue that hasn’t seen water since the last monsoon, a wash basin and the worlds most air-conditioned potty!
It’s a tad disconcerting sitting doing ones business listening to the family on the other side of the wall or passers by in the road and realising that if you can hear them clearly then it follows they can hear you too! It is fun showering but going to the loo is better by day than in the night, in the pitch blackness (no street lighting so the dark is all enveloping) not knowing what might be lurking on the ground or flying around. Lets just say its different and we will enjoy it rather more in retrospect! If my Dad were alive he would love this story. He would tell how he “dragged us up from a back to back terrace house with an outside lavatory to live in the lap of luxury” only for his daft elder daughter to schlep to India to s*@t in a yard! That thought of my Dad, Sid who was a “character” has made me smile.
There is another family staying here at Kaits Place, we eat all together so it is good that they are really nice people. The dad Simon is a doctor working in a hospice and the Mum is a real doppelgänger of Linda Bellingham, the Oxo lady, and also a doctor.
After dinner (chilli chicken soup and chicken curry) not enhanced for me by the fact that the late lamented chicken’s brothers and sisters were clucking not three feet away as we ate! After dinner all the men went night fishing. This was a REAL boys night out! A local guy arrived complete with home-made bows and arrows like Tarzan, torches to hypnotise the fish and spears! Nothing as sissy as a fishing rod! Off they went being very laddish and Nina, Oxo lady and her daughter and I sat on a porch having tea and a girly gossipy night in. When the hunter/gatherers arrived back there was no fishy bounty! No arrows or spears found their mark but a good time was had by all.
Today we had sweet curry for breakfast, and toast too, lucky for me as I am the only India-phile who doesn’t love curry and then we swung in hammocks just reading and watching the world go by on the river for several lazy hours until lunch. After Charles and I went canoeing or maybe kayaking(?!) in a bright green plastic craft. Getting in and out of it off the slimy jetty steps was a bit challenging but it was such a lovely, happy and peaceful afternoon. I was so very happy just messing about on the river! Children, all in blue school uniforms and with fluorescent pink bows in their hair called and waved from the river bank. We paddled over and chatted to five giggling little girls and then watched washer women slapping their clothes against the rocks.
A couple of men in loin cloths were bathing and teeth brushing on one bank and on the other side in stark contrast, a man was washing his shiny new white car. Great big houseboats went by frequently (that’ll be us tomorrow!) and one caused us to rock in its wake a little bit precariously. We took a left turn, paddling gently and silently into a really narrow backwater and found ourselves in a magical green, sun-dappled paradise with no sounds except those of nature, the palms dipping into the river and providing shade for the beautiful lilac water lilies dotting the green still deep water.
It is these moments that make for precious memories and I have already forgotten, or almost, my fall downstairs (before a glass of wine!) in the hotel in Cochin and my mammoth elephant leg, a bad reaction to all the bites, which reminds me of an incident late yesterday afternoon. James and Nina and I set out to walk to the village. After a mile or so my leg swelled alarmingly and the awful feeling I had, like being eaten alive from the inside by giant ants, was getting stronger and was too painful to walk anymore. Then fortuitously on this almost deserted country road, an auto-rickshaw drove by. I flagged him down and came thankfully home to Kait’s Place whilst they continued their walk. Later my son said “I was a bit worried about you going off with a strange man Mum, I had visions of you being sold as a slave to work in the paddy fields!”
It isn’t bad enough being insulted by various masseurs on this trip! Now all I’m fit for if sold into slavery is donkey work in the fields! I guess my days as a possible sex slave must really be over… why is that not a comforting thought?