I have a lot to catch you up on, mostly due to my lack of internet access and a computer, so I’m going to rewind for now to two weeks ago when we had our 4-day weekend to Kochi, Kerala.
Part of the Globe program involves a 4-day long weekend in which we’re free to travel, do some sightseeing or just chill and catch up on sleep. A few Globers decided to head over to Goa, and one Glober went to visit family in Sri Lanka, but the majority decided to head off on a road-trip to the south-west-ish part of India.
Our adventures started on Thursday afternoon after our Plus class with the kids we’ve been working with. We all made our way to Hennur Cross and then commenced negotiating with rickshaw drivers to take us to the bus depot where we were to board for our nine-hour bus journey. My rickshaw ended up with four of us crammed in, which we’ve done plenty of times before (our record has been 8 people in a single rickshaw, including the driver) but after a one-and-a-half-hour journey it was getting pretty uncomfortable, especially since we also had our luggage for the next few days. After stopping for petrol and getting directions a few times we finally ended up at the “bus depot” – we were basically on the side of the road in the middle of an 8 or 10 lane freeway! Eventually the bus arrived and we claimed our seats at the back of the bus. It was so weird climbing aboard and realising that for once we weren’t the only Westerners in the vicinity. There was a Bollywood movie playing and we all watched that for a bit as one by one we drifted off to sleep.
The bus ride was going pretty well until we had a rather unpleasant sudden wakening. Tegan, one of my roomies from Kannur (though thankfully not in the same row as me on the bus) had neglected to tell anyone that she’d had a bit of an upset stomach all day, and a little after midnight she promptly emptied her stomach contents right into poor Lee-Anne’s lap! The stench was terrible and there was a mess everywhere, but thankfully one of the Globers, Elana, is a flight attendant, so she was able to deal with everything like a pro. A tip for the future – talcum powder covers up the smell of vomit amazingly!
Despite it being a nine hour bus ride and there being no toilet on the bus there were no scheduled toilet stops but Elana managed to convince the bus driver to pull over so Tegan and Elana could change out of their soiled clothing. We were stopped next to a parked truck and I was sitting there innocently looking out the window when people getting off the bus just stopped with their backs to it, dropped their strides and squatted! that was definitely a you’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore moment – I mean, there was a perfectly good truck right there they could have gone behind… I needed to use the bathroom, but not that desparately! (I later found out that there was a toilet block but that it was disgusting and smelled even worse than the vomit).
Eventually we all drifted back to sleep and awoke at 5am on arriving at our disembarking point in Kerala. The Kerala rickshaws were so spacious compared to what we were used to in Bangalore – you could fit four people plus luggage quite comfortably! More importantly we were very relieved to have access to a bathroom after it having been about 13 hours since we’d left our villages in Bangalore! After a slight delay with checking in due to a blackout and a problem with our booking we made our way to this great Western-style breakfast place called Kashis, which had been recommended by Lonely Planet.
The rest of the day was spent looking around, shopping, negotiating at the markets and making plans for the next day. Half the group decided to hire a houseboat and the other half decided to hire a driver and go on some tours. It was so hot in Kerala, although it was at the same time as the record highs in Sydney, so we couldn’t really complain too much. There were lots of stalls and shops but things were a lot more pricey than in Bangalore because Kochi is much more of a touristy area. Eventually we all met up for dinner before heading back to the hostel we were staying at and making our way to bed.
Myself and the rest of my group were up bright and early the next morning at 6, ready to be picked up by our driver at 6:30. I was super excited because we were off to do the one thing I really wanted to do in India – see elephants!
Our driver took us to a river near the elephant training camp where the trainers bring down the elephants and bathe them each morning. Surprisingly the experience doesn’t cost anything, unless you choose to tip the elephant trainers, and even then they don’t actually ask for money, they just take it if you offer it to them. Amazingly, not only did we get to see the elephants, we actually got to wade into the river and help wash them! One of the coolest. Moments. Ever. It was all so surreal, and I couldn’t wait to get back to Australia and tell all my friends from uni about it (My fellow biology majors will definitely appreciate any cool animal stories I bring back J ). I did have some mixed feelings as I wondered how well the animals are treated but they seemed pretty healthy. I had one of those India moments when I was taking photos of some of the other girls in the group as they had their turn with the elephant we got to wash and it started to stand up. It was pretty amazing to be standing there, face-to-face with that beautiful mammal, with nothing but a few meters separating us. Sure, it did occur to me that if it had decided to charge I was directly between it and anything else, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin the moment for me 😉
After leaving the elephants our driver took us to a nearby B&B where we got served a traditional Kerala breakfast for only 100 Rs each (about AU$2). The family were so lovely and the meal was delicious! We had masala tea and these rice pancake things dipped in a kind of curry (as a side note, I should mention that I’m a pro at eating with just my right hand now). We also had these little bananas that you roll in this sweet, crumbly coating.
The only awkward moment was after breakfast when I went to use the bathroom (don’t worry – this isn’t a gross story). I should start by explaining that toilet paper is a luxury item in India. It’s not uncommon for there to be no toilet paper, but toilets usually have a spray nozzle next to them for the same purpose. That wasn’t the issue here. The next snag was when I went to flush the toilet, and it didn’t want to flush. That’s also not uncommon. Usually there’s just a tap and a bucket of water and you flush the toilet manually by pouring water into it. This bathroom didn’t have a bucket though. Slight problem. Never fear, though – I’m an Army brat and a former Girl Guide – there’s more than a little ingenuity up my sleeve! Toilet won’t flush. No bucket. No problem, thought I – I’ll just flush the toilet by spraying water into it from the spray nozzle. That’s where the real problem started. My plan worked brilliantly for about the first 1.5 seconds. At that point the nozzle suddenly flew off the end of the hose and water started spraying everywhere! I quickly turned the water off at the tap and surveyed the damage. I was partially soaked and the bathroom floor was soaked, and there wasn’t even a hand towel that I could use to mop up some of the water that had gone everywhere. I stood there for a moment weighing up my options while one of the other ladies in the group knocked on the door and asked if I was going to be long because she needed the bathroom. Nope, I was out of ideas – I had no option but to very sheepishly walk out and explain my predicament to the rest of the group between bursts of laughter (I could definitely see the funny side of it!) On the bright side, I had managed to successfully flush the toilet, even if the bathroom was a little worse for wear as a result…
After breakfast we got back in the car and headed off to our next destination, a waterfall which is a big tourist attraction for the locals, although not so much so for foreigners. It was a lovely drive through rubber and banana plantations, although the road was a bit rough. At one point we were crossing a bridge and we drove past a film set. We asked our driver to stop so we could get out and have a look, and they stopped filming because everyone was so distracted by the fact that a random car-full of white women had just pulled up. They were filming a commercial, and the girl starring in it (who had been flown in from Mumbai) sat there waving at us, while the director and a few others came over to say hi and shake our hands. We only stayed for a few minutes and then headed off again because we realised we were being too much of a distraction but it was a cool experience.
In the car we were making jokes about how you know you’re popular when you turn up at a film set and they stop filming because even the director wants to meet you. Little did we know that our day was about to get even crazier!
I’ll leave it there for now since this is already quite a long post, but there’s more to come later!