For those of you who have been staying up late into the wee hours biting your toenails just waiting and wondering “When, O when will he post his next ‘India’ installment,” you needn’t torture yourself anymore. If you haven’t been doing that, well then just humor me I guess. So without further adieu:
The next part of my journey took me south, to the majestic hippie laden beaches of Goa, and even further south to mystical brackish backwaters of Kerala. Our arrival in Goa was met in typical Indian fashion, that is dozens of drivers conspiring to rip us off and compete for our business all at the same time. We hired a friendly old Indian man who swiftly brought us 40km down to the beach where we found a small guesthouse to commandeer for a few days. Now the beaches here are nothing to brag about, but the towns that dot the coast are interesting nonetheless. Interesting because these little beach towns have been the long time residences to many foreigners, most easily identified by their dreadlocks and Bob Marley shirts, who have left their homes for various reasons to soak up the beach life in a place where time seems to move a bit slower. I was really surprised at how many foreigners were there, some were just visiting as we were, but it looked clear that lots of them had been there for a long period of time, and had adjusted fully to the friendly southern hospitality of the locals.
My travel buddy Trevor and I wasted little time to find a beach-side pub with fresh seafood, although we opted for one as far from the techno music as possible. The next day we rented scooters for the day to do a bit of exploring (for a whopping $6 US plus gas) which turned out to be the highlight of Goa for me. We went all over, weaving through the little beach villages, dodging cows as usual, and gawking at all the brightly pastel painted homes that were quaintly just residing under the palm trees. We even found a dodgy little train station where we to depart from a few days later, and got on the ‘waiting list’ for sleeper tickets.
Goa is known as a party town, with bars, dance clubs, and drugs being thrown at you from every direction. We didn’t indulge, but party goers from all over the world frequent the seaside clubs, and the competition is fierce. There was seemingly a dozen people to bar ratio, so they had to get creative to attract a crowd. I’m not sure their strategies to lure folks in exactly, but walking down the coast you could see some places were full while others just simply passed the night completely empty.
After a few days on the beach, it was time to move on. Goa was nothing fancy, but it was definitely relaxing if you can get past all the touts and tricksters trying to make a quick buck. One guy approached me on the beach, telling me I had something on my ear. Naive me, I thought he was just trying to help me out, but luckily Trevor had seen this scam a thousand times before, and saved me from certain peril, or at least a broken dirty ear drum. Apparently they walk up to you and clean your ears with a cue tip, then, as you might expect, demand a payment for their convenient service. These guys will do anything for a rupee, and they are inventive no doubt. However, I wasn’t about to let a stranger pop a dirty cue tip into my ear in order to get that ‘cultural experience.’
We headed back to the train station, HOPING AND PRAYING for a bed on the train. I was a bit nervous as I didn’t feel like standing on the train for 20 hours, and I’d heard many-a-train stories,both good and bad but mostly bad. Fortunately, there were loads of beds left on the train, and we slept quite soundly during our excursion down to Kerala.
After finding a little hotel in the north part of Kerala called Cochin, we set out to plan and make the most out of our backwater experience. There are loads of boats in all shapes and sizes, varying in price from a day trip with a boat load of tourists for about $15 to all inclusive private house boats in the several hundred dollar range. Now seeing that the Kerala backwaters are considered by many to be on the top 10 “Must See Before You Die” locations, we didn’t want to screw it up. We didn’t want to join the mobs of tourists going from village to village seeing the same commercialized junk everyone else does. At the same time, neither of us could drop the change to rent out a houseboat for a few nights, although the houseboats can take you anywhere you want to go! We ended up finding a little place called the “Backwater Farm House” that looked appealing. Honestly, the place looked to good to be true. $15 a night on the water, with all meals included and a personal boat guide each day to take you around exploring the backwaters. Reluctantly, we forked over our cash and booked it.
We boarded the insane India buses the next morning for the 1 hour ride down to where our host would meet us and bring us to his ‘resort.’ The whole way I just kept thinking: “This is gonna be a joke, a waste of time, you get what you pay for, my Kerala experience is going to be ruined, etc., etc.” Boy was I wrong! This place was amazing, with extremely comfortable bungalows literally 10 feet from the water’s edge, we were off to a good start. It got better. For lunch: fresh fish. For dinner: fresh shrimp, and I can’t say enough about their food. All home cooked, very traditional and healthy to boot. This family was so friendly and hospitable, their kids even showed me how to play an Indian board game one night. The next couple days our guide push poled us around the expansive network of backwater alleyways, even bringing us all the way to the ocean the 2nd day, where we got to talk to the local fisherman about their day’s catch. Then it was back to the farm house for some fresh home cookin’! I ate seafood until my heart’s content, and drank enough chai tea to fill a swimming pool…..man that stuff is good. I was sad to leave such a relaxing place, and it was definitely the best part of my India trip, second only to my hockey in Leh experience. Since I had been ripped off in nearly every other place in India, I was expecting to leave the Backwater Farm House with a few extra ‘fees’ and ‘service charges’ on my bill. But to my surprise, nothing………not one extra rupee. The flat fee covered everything, and I don’t know any other place in the world where you can get this kind of food, scenery, and hospitality for $15 a day. If value is what you want, go visit the Backwater Farm House!!!(www.backwaterfarmhouse.com) And you won’t have to share it either, the only other tourists we saw there the whole time were a sweet old German couple whom we dined with each night.
So was it really worthy of the “top 10 Must See Before You Die List”??? See for yourself in the pics below. I would say no, but it was still pretty sweet and definitely worth it if you’re in India. Kerala is in the far south and is quite different from any other places I visited in India, mainly because of the hospitable people. If you go, just check out the BW Farm House, the rest of they details they will take care of for you.
Next stop: Snowboarding the Himalayas in India’s Kasmir region.