Green palm trees, women walking comfortably, friendly smiles and warm sun-rays glisten off the vegetation lining the road. Welcome to Southern India.
After a night spent in Bangalore we organise a semi-sleeper night bus to Kochi. Surprisingly quite comfortable and sleep suitable, we drive into the town at 6 in the morning.
After catching our first public bus, a 7 rupee ferry ride and a 20 minute walk we check in to Four Seasons hotel, nestled within the petite streets on the island of Fort Kochi.
We order breakfast in a restaurant across the road called Fresh Choice. Most of us get pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes! That floury western goodness topped with runny honey, dark tasty chocolate and a healthy dose of sweet potassium in the form of banana. Seriously we have curry and either naan, roti, rice or chapati for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday since we arrived. Pancakes are a welcomed break from the thick curry Indians love.
We have now met up with Elise, Sophie and Ellie, the three travellers who joined us for our adventure in the South. Also, on the semi-sleeper bus ride to Kochi, we met two German boys solo travelling through India, who join us for our time in Kochi. So our group of 14 take up most of the restaurant.
The rest of the day is spent in a relaxed manner. We split in to small groups as some people get Henna art and others browse through the small stalls and shops.
(My hand is in the centre.
Photo credits to Elise Battin.)
Henna or Mehndi is the dye that comes from a flowering plant once the leaves have been dried and crushed in to a paste. Applied through a cone shaped tube, the paste is applied to the body, (generally on the hands and feet, as the dryness of these body parts take the henna better) in varying designs. Traditionally this body art is applied during religious and wedding ceremonies but can be appreciated at any time.
Two sweet ladies Sheeda and Tanuja talk to us and apply Henna art on our hands as seven of us get varying designs.
(Photo credits to Sophie Kirton)
In the afternoon Sophie, Elise, Ellie, Lucy and myself hire out some bicycles to explore the city and get in some exercise. It takes us a good half an hour to find enough for all five of us, but once we’re riding we cover good ground. Riding on the fragile metal framing the locals proudly call their Indian bicycle, we ride along the coast, passing the many Chinese fishing nets; we ride through the busy roads, passing the numerous market stalls and we ride through the streets passing by homes and families who smile and wave at us. Kochi offers a nice breather from the male-prevalent hectic streets of the North.
Uniting back at our hotel and freshening up, all 14 of us head out to dinner where we share some drinks, dip in to some curry, tell some stories and play never have I ever. A local Indian, aka, “Afro guy”, approaches our table and tells us of a rooftop party that he’s apparently hosting, which we reluctantly decide to investigate. The best stories generally come from the unexpected. So after we finish eating, all 14 of us check out his place but are pretty disappointed and head back to our hotel.
At a 10am start the next day, we opt for an upgrade from a cycle bike to a motor scooter. Satisfyingly fast and powerful enough for a nice ride from the river to the beach.
So brief update on my motor scooter skills. I last rode about this time last year in Da Nang, Vietnam. I rode on a long road out to the beach with limited traffic, but by the end of that trip I was feeling confident. So arriving at the motorbike renting place I knew what to expect, the nerves I held the first time I rode a scooter in Vietnam came back I as I realise the speed and power I have in my control and the life I am responsible for. But you know, fake it until you make it.. just within caution.
Half of the 14 of us had decided to take the scooters out, everyone from our North adventure, minus Matt. Taking the scooters for a run a few of the girls sensibly decided to pull out. Our original idea of four bikes was reduced to two, as half the group took a autorickshaw through the Island and Mr Patrick and myself took the bikes with our two passengers.
I could drive well enough, break when I needed to, however, doing a u-turn or sharp turn was a no go in my driving capabilities. So I manually wheeled the heavy bike on to the ferry as tens of Indian eyes look back at me. The people of the South have a slightly different look: a moderately different skin tone and eye shape. Regardless the ones I have interacted with are a lot friendly and offer plenty of smiles. Since more women walk the streets, it is a lot easier to relax into the South Indian culture.
We set off across Vembanad Lake on the ferry to Vypin Island. Once on the Island Mr Patrick speeds on ahead, while I cruise through the main street all the way down to Cherai Beach.
Every so often a collection of shops and retail essentials line the street. Indian women in saris and men in their man skirts (known as the dhoti or lungi here in India) walk the road and autorickshaws, buses and motorbikes cruise over the gravel. The trip to the beach had a decent amount of traffic. The traffic was solid enough to gradually warm me up to the Indian roads and the fact that buses will ruthlessly drive one metre besides me and vehicles will line the street three abreast and cars will constantly beep until I move to the side to allow them to overtake. Regardless the breeze brushing my arms and cooling my face as I drove under the overhead greenery and looming palm trees and drove besides the moss scattered on the side of the road when we weren’t passing through scattered shops and the colourful fruit stalls conveniently positioned along the road, made the 20 kilometre journey a pleasant one.
Lucy my faithful passenger and the brave individual who entrusted her life to me, decided to get some fruit. We walk away with a kilo of grapes, a kilo of mandarins and half a kilo of guava all for three Australian dollars.
Finally reunited with everyone else after missing our turn and going six kilometres too far we sit by the beach absorbing Vitamin D. I enter waist deep in to the Arabian Sea and use the powerful water to wash away the dirt and sunburn from riding through India.
Riding a scooter, wading through water and absorbing the sun has a good knack of increasing the appetite. Crossing the small dirt road to a restaurant just opposite the beach and a little away from the main cluster we get a hearty burger for lunch. The ladies serving us are full of smiles and graciously serve us our meal.
Half the group grab a coconut from a cute lady across the road before we head off back to Fort Kochi, the Island we are staying at.
Lucy and I take a leisurely ride back to the ferry terminal, stopping for a sightseeing break and a bit of a photo shoot. The return trip holds a lot more traffic than on our arrival. We are held up on a bridge behind a bus for quite some time and almost run over a cat who clearly has not learnt the rules of Indian traffic.
Back on Fort Kochi, we all freshen up before going out to dinner at Hotel Kochi Fort. We meet one of Lucy’s international friends, Alan, a local to Kochi, and he helps us organise our transport to Alleppey the next day. Debating between public transport and a more comfortable semi-sleeper bus, we settle on the cheaper option, public transport, as budgeting is becoming more of an issue as our holiday continues.
Alan also tells us that it is also possible to give the Chinese fishing nets a go, you just have to ask. So if I’m ever back in Kochi, I’ll know what to do next time.
The next morning, as Pat had left earlier for the next town I’m the only one capable of returning our motorscooters. Sophie offers to drive the second one but we can’t get it to start. I know very little of the workings of any motor-vehicle so manually starting the scooter was out of my expertise. Returning the one scooter, my sense of direction is skewed, so I get lost on my return to the hotel and roam the streets of Kochi for a good twenty minutes before I called on the help of a cute old man driving an autorickshaw. His English was very limited and I had no money on me but we work it out together and I arrive safely back at the hotel. The hotel owner kindly gives us some petrol for the second motorscooter and I return that one before collecting my stuff from my room and we all head off to our next town.