Since Mangalore had not met our expectations, we opted to forfeit our previously booked train to Cochin on 5/18 and leave a few days earlier. There was a train available on 5/15, but instead of an A/C chair car traveling during the day we had booked, we took a non-A/C sleeper car from 6:30pm-3:30am. Needless to say, it was not ideal, but what do you expect for $3.50? We arrived to Cochin in the wee hours of the morning and struggled to find a place to sleep. Many hotels were either full or had a sleeping staff, which, on top of our heavy packs, no sleep, and thick humidity, put us at our wits end. We finally settled into a place around 5am, washed off the dirt and sweat from traveling, assembled the mosquito net after killing 8 little buggers, and crashed. The next afternoon, we took a ferry over to Fort Cochin, one of the nearby islands that was recommended to us.
Delirious from traveling, sweating from the humidity, and unsure about our new destination, a nice Indian woman in her late-50’s (Victoria) approached us immediately after stepping off the ferry. She sweetly encouraged us to go stay at her house and let her take care of us. Before we could cognitively respond, we were at the home of a wealthy Indian couple with a case of empty nest syndrome. Their 3 children were grown and working professionals living in other parts of the world. They rented out two spare bedrooms upstairs as a side business and treated guests like part of the family. The house was built by the grandfather of William, Victoria’s husband, and is the birthplace of many family members. The room was big, with A/C, a TV and attached bathroom (my eyes lit up at the thought of sleeping with A/C!). There was also the option of home-cooked Indian-style breakfast ($1) and dinner ($2) each day. The house was shaded by a tall coconut tree on one side and a mango tree on the other. Within an hour of agreeing that this was the place we would stay for the next week, I was plucking coconuts and mangos and we feasted on the sweet milk and fruit!
William and Victoria were delighted to have such curious and appreciative guests. After plucking some coconuts, William showed me how to open them and enjoy the fruits of our labor, as we did several more times throughout the week. Victoria cooked delicious meals for us each morning and night, and we ate until we couldn’t fit another grain of rice in our belly.They also had bicycles for us to get around and see the island, which was immensely useful. Sometimes we played cards with them after dinner, but only until their favorite TV show came on.
There was a lot to do and see in Fort Cochin. One night, we went to a Kathakali performance, a traditional style of Indian theatre that dates back to Shakespeare’s age. Another day, we went on a houseboat tour through the backwaters of Kerala. We stopped in a few villages and saw the many uses of coconuts. The boat was literally powered by two men on the front and back pushing on the bottom of the river with 12’ long sticks of bamboo. We also made good use of the bikes and visited Jew Town (yes, that’s its name),home to India’s first synagogue.You could tell there is more education and money in Fort Cochin, which made it a bit cleaner and more organized than other places we’ve visited (with actual street signs!). It reminded me a European town with hints of Miami and India.
Although we loved our homestay with William and Victoria, it soon became time to leave again. On our last night, William expressed that they really enjoyed our company, more so than others who have come and gone. I suppose our stay was a bit more special to them because it was probably the last one for the season and Victoria was not looking forward to an empty house. Tourists have stopped trickling in because the monsoon will be coming in another week or two, which means non-stop rain for about 2 months. Victoria urged us to come back soon (next time with a baby, ha!). With a tear in her eye, she showed us the way to the bus stand Wednesday morning and we headed to the railway station once again. Our 3.5-hour train took us from Cochin to Coimbatore where we then caught a bus up into the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu and into the town of Ooty. The weather is much cooler here, which means it’s peak season for all of the Indian tourists. We’re enjoying a break from the heat at an elevation of 7,300 ft, so now it’s time to see what Ooty has to offer!