i went from kovalam beach to Fort Cochin- it required, an autorickshaw ride, a train, a 2km walk, a ferry ride, and another 1km walk to find a hostel room that had one window that opened up into a stuffy hallway. and it was so so worth it. fort cochin is a town in Kochi, a collection of island/ peninsulas on the Kerala coast. it was previously colonized by the dutch, as could be seen in the architecture. i think the best word for it is 'charming'. quaint little houses, huge trees whose roots went down into the sidewalks, cobblestone streets in some places. lots of cute little coffee shops and restaurants and food stalls/ chai carts. on the shore you could watch these giant Chinese fishing nets, which through some miracle of physics uses the weight of big stones and the power of about 8 men to lift nuge nets out of the water. i also saw the Dutch palace, which was not super exciting but it talked a lot about colonization. in the beginning of the photographed era of this place, it was a matriarchal society and women really ran the household. in addition, they showed photos of royal fashions. before, women wore what looked like a big sheet around their upper waists, just below their chest, with their breasts exposed. the main focus was huge necklaces. later, when europeans came (first the Dutch then the Portuguese), covering up became a little more stylish. still, it's interesting because you can see how important jewelry is int he culture today by the millions of billboards for gold and jeweled accessories.
my first night there, i saw a Kathakali performance. this is traditional Keralan dance, wherein the make up takes one hour to put on, dye is put inot the eyes so that five minutes later the eyes turn red, and eye movements are of great significance. hand gestures are a combination of many different mudras. it was really interesting to see and learn about it, but it was long and i coudln't sit still very easily. but afterwards i stayed for hte traditional dance performance, which was sooo cool, as many of the positions reminded me of the poses gods and goddesses take in the temples. the dancers' eyes were exaggerated, fingers very important, and anklets with bells made lots of fun percussive sounds. i really enjoyed it.
a highlight of my time there was a trip to the backwaters. they are called the backwaters, not because of the fact that they lay behind major rivers that pass through the region, but because when the rains come, the rivers flood and the water flows backwards. nearly everyone who come to kerala comes to the backwaters. so i booked a tour, we drove about 90 minutes to our starting point, and then we headed out for the river/ backwaters on a wooden boat, covered with woven leaves. there was no motor, only a man in the front and a man in the back, both using poles at least 3 meters long to push us along, as the water is very shallow. there were probably 20 people on the boat, and what a collection of people it was! i had the British woman in front of me- horribly loud, smoking and throwing her cigarette butts and trash into the water (just like the locals do- not charming). then there was the israeli woman who liked to think she knew everything and whatever she didn't know she asked the guide about. i'm not sure her mouth closed the entire first 3 hours. then there was the incredibly good-looking German couple who just couldn't be bothered to mingle with anyone, though i'm sure they were nice enough. then there were the Belgians who made me think of older americans traveling abroad- white socks with sandals, skin that told us of the years of accidental sunburns, and the confidence of people who spoke 5 different languages fluently. you know the story about people getting stuck in a stuffy elevator for hours with strangers? and the one about people on a boat and they die one by one? and the one about people being stuck on a desert island and having to figure out how to survive without killing each other? it was like all these stories wrapped into one giant burrito and i had to eat it. for 7 hours. but it was more than entertaining. and then i made a friend with a Brit who was with her family but super budget-traveler when she's on her own. she and her sister are, naturally, doctors (they come from Indian heritage), and saved my time there. i was having a nice enough time enjoying the (sometimes) quiet, the shade/ sun, and the peaceful surroundings, but good company of course made it really fun.
after a lunch where we were all put into a big caged shelter, we split up into smaller boats with which we went along even narrower waterways. that was so beautiful- the sun wasn't blazing above us, we were in the shade a bit, it was quiet, green, and clean. and i spoke with the belgians, who were fun and we talked about having relatives in Beersel and such. we also went to a spice plantation which was FASCINATING. i struggle daily with which spices to buy here, b/c it's not like i'd save much money, and i'd have to lug them around for the rest of my trip, but to cook with spices that are from the source? mmm. i like that. i'd also like to make a point of actually reading the books i've bought on spices and their therapeutic qualities. it's so intersting here- the people are so much more connected to nature and where things come from (in Kerala, at least). they can tell you where something comes from and how to use it for hte benefit of your health. and it's not magic, it's just natural. so cool.
after the backwaters, i came back and met a korean woman for dinner and a coffee. she was lovely and mucho fun. we might meet up in mysore or hampi. grand!
the next day, i walked around some more and explored the little sidestreets. then i headed to Mettupalayam...