We were both a little relieved & happy to abandon the hassle of the North for the Beautiful South. Some interesting facts we read the day before we flew - The state of Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India (93.91%) Kerala has the highest life expectancy in India (74 years) and the highest sex ratio (as defined by number of women per 1000 men: 1,083 women per 1000 men) among all Indian states. Kerala has the lowest homicide rate among Indian states, for 2011 it was 1.1 per 100,000. A survey in 2005 ranked it as the least corrupt state in the country. So lots of women, not much murder or corruption sounds like my sort of place :)
We arrived in Kerala & took the 1 hour taxi ride to Kochi which is also known as Cochin. Kochi is a major port city and was the centre of Indian spice trade for many centuries. We stayed at a Home stay. Our first one. Home stays are defined as having a family living within the dwelling. Must not exceed 6 rooms. Benefits include a reduced tax from 19 to 5%. It has a pretty cool vibe to it which is somewhere between a hostel & a hotel. Sushil the owner was a great guy & everyone who worked there were all super nice. Could have easily stayed there longer. The food was bloody brilliant! Mushroom Massala wow! We ate there every night.
On our first night Catherine came face to face with the first spider of mention on our travels. Rather than telling the story from my point of view I will copy & paste what Catherine messaged friends & family -
"OMG!! just went in our room to use the loo, shut door & the biggest spider i have ever seen was on wall. Bigger than a pack of 20 fags. I ran out shouting RUSSELL!! so the owner ran upstairs to see what was up. Him & Russ went into bathroom & as soon as he saw it he told Russ to get out. Russ asked to look & came outside going oh my god. The owner killed it. i asked if that spider was normal round here obviously hoping it wasn't & he had never seen 1 like that before"
It was HUGE! Also pregnant. You could tell by the large white sacks on its body. It was a big shame it had to be destroyed but I do not know how we would have safely got it out of the room & of course no guarantee it wouldn't find its way back in. My guess is that these spiders usually live outside. She simply came inside to lay her eggs then leave. Catherine is still traumatised.
Kerala is famous for its Chinese fishing nets. These structures are pretty cool to look at but I cant help but look at them through a non meat eaters eyes. What do you get a vegetarian who eats fish for Christmas? A dictionary. Anyway people must eat & should be allowed to make a living I guess. Ten or so metres high with an outstretched net suspended over the sea. Huge stones hang from ropes as counterweights at the other end. Each one has a team of fishermen. The nets are raised & lowered reasonably quickly. The catches that we witnessed were pretty modest.
We walked & sat besides these nets for some time. Walked along a pier by a less than appealing beach and watched some pretty impressive waves. Cant wait to get my surf on! We took a small lunch consisting of pakoras & tea. The tea tasted like an old cupboard! Dusty tea? No thanks! We decided to go back to where a nice fella had approached us about a 2 hour sight seeing ricksahw ride. Quite a few drivers had approached us during the morning but this one guy had a really cool laid back approach & seemed like a funny guy. On the way to find him we saw that he was also walking along the pier so I grabbed his attention & off we went. We went to some very cool places. Places we would never have ventured without him.
We visited some shipping yards where fish were landed straight from the boats, into crates then onto trucks. This was a fully working busy area. Our driver walked around like he owned the place. As we left a fisherman approached him & said something or gestured something like you are earning money from this give us some. Our driver laughed right in the fisherman's face & carried on walking. This really appealed to my sense of humour & I liked the driver even more.
These warehouses were also fully operational. The rooms where the spices were stored were like Lush times a million. Lush the handmade cosmetics store, is what I am on about. One Christmas I am going to get an evening job working in Lush just for the smell & discounts. I have mentioned before that the smell of india is described as rose petals & jasmine. Walking/driving round the streets of Kochi I now agree with that statement. The aromas were amazing & not just in the warehouses. No more walking around breathing through your mouth.
In Kerala you see pictures & bill boards of this green fella everywhere. Turned out to be something called Kathakali. Its a classical Indian dance drama full of heavily painted characters & elaborate costumes. "When in Rome". Tickets purchased we went along & caught the last 10 minutes of make-up & then a brief demonstration as to how the whole thing works. Words are not used. Instead detailed facial gestures and body movements presented in tune with percussion. Lots & lots of percussion. The premise for the play that we watched was a simple one. Man is taught a lesson by his god & then receives what he has prayed for. Kathakali originated here in Kerala roughly four hundred years ago. The play lasted as long, but a little bit of culture does no one any harm once in awhile.
On our last day in Kochi we took a day trip to the backwaters in Alleppey (full blog post needed) we met some guys from Brighton who told us about a bar called XL. They were not sure on the directions so when we arrived back at our Home stay we asked Sushil where it was & being the super cool bloke he is he dropped us off later that night. The bar is not exactly what I would call a bar but I guess its as good a bar you will find in Fort Kochi. More of a working mens club vibe. Catherine couldn't find the toilet. The guys who worked there eventually found one. She was the only girl in there so I guess a girls loo isn't needed too much.
From that I should mention that drinking is a little strange here. Kerala has the highest alcohol dependency rate in India (or so I have been told) but drink can be very hard to find. Most places do not sell booze. You have to pay a visit to a very strange shop behind some wooden bars to purchase liquor. In the evening when the locals have finished work the queue can be pretty mental. The Brighton guys were offered beer somewhere & were brought it in a tea pot!
At about 10.30pm XL bar closed & kicked everyone out pretty quickly. We weren't finished drinking yet so tried to find somewhere else, after a few places we decided to give up and compensate with a mushroom massala at our home stay. We went & Catherine ordered food & 2 teas, after a few minutes the guys said some ace words "do you want some beer?" What? We had walked around searching for it & all along it was at 'home'. We finished the night enjoying ace mushroom massala and drinking Kingfisher. This is the India that I fell in love with 6 years ago. The one Cat fell for before me.