We are in Kerala, the western half of the southern tip of India and it’s absolutely beautiful. We decide to take a boat tour into the backwaters of Kerala to experience local life. The backwaters is a massive spiderweb of freshwater canals making thousands of islands.
Our tour group is a mixture of western and Indian tourists. It seemed strange mingling with westerners and it was interesting to hear their stories and opinions about India but we mostly hung out with the Indians. We like exchanging cultural differences and they are so friendly and relaxed, it’s so easy to make friends here.
We visit an island consisting of 6 families and 120 people whom are fisherman. They make Toddy, a local alcoholic drink (2%) made from the flower pod of a coconut tree. They climb the tree and tap the big pod with a buffalo bone and then drain the fluid. The drink doesn’t smell that pleasant but tastes good, nutty with a slight white wine taste.
We also taste Keralan style local mussels. They are already shelled for us and are prepared with garlic, ginger, coriander, coconut chunks, chilli, cardamon and many Indian spices. My mouth is watering as I reminisce.
Jill starts developing a friendship with a girl her age, Alpana. She also hangs out with her niece, Barji, a sweet and talkative 7 year old. Alpana lives in Bangalore, a very large tech savy city. She is a computer programmer working for a company programming games for phone applications. Her work hours are 8am-10pm 5 days a week. On weekends she hangs out with family and friends, going to the movies or relaxing at home. Alpana does not have a boyfriend and does not have pressure from her family to marry as she has a good career.
We also see how to make dried coconut husk into rope, and it really is a lot simpler than you think it might be. The coconut tree is used for everything. The leaves make roofs and walls, the nuts make food, drink bowls and rope, the wood is used for making everything wooden and the flowers can get you pissed. After learning what can be done with this tree, if we ever get stranded on a tropical island we’ll probably be happy to just stay there.
Matt gets to know a group of five boys about 23 years old. They are childhood friends who all but one are studying mechanical engineering at different universities. Only one has a girlfriend which was organized by his parents and to whom he will be married to soon. They all came on a road trip together for their holidays.
We have noticed in India how boys mostly hang out with boys and girls with girls. We found it strange how it’s fine to hang your arm around the shoulder of or hold hands with the same sex but it is taboo to do so with the opposite sex, which is a complete turnaround from back home. But the boys explain that it has a lot to do with the parents as they generally have a bigger say regarding who you marry and they don’t want you getting too close to anyone in case they don’t approve.
Also in India if your parents have money you go to university. And if you are very smart, the government pays for you to go to university. There is also fierce competition in such a populated country so pretty much everyone does post graduate studies. Kids study hard here. Tutors till midnight in year 11 and 12 and at least 5 years of university with no break after school. So a lot of parents don’t want their kids distracted with girlfriends/boyfriends.
It was a lovely lazy day cruising in the cute old houseboat watching people throw fishing nets and scouring the riverbeds for mussels with their toes. The cruisy vibe really epitomizes the feeling of this laid back part of the country.