Day 116, Year 5: Waterway Explore Date: Friday, February 19, 2010 Weather: No Change–Still Hot, Hot, Hot Location: Bolgatty Hotel Anchorage, Cochin (Kochi), India Today we experienced the backwaters of central Kerala aboard a houseboat designed like a rice barge (kettavallam). The boat’s name was Jalarani. Our captain was named Jud and our guide was Shajas. We traveled with a couple from Austria, two couples from India, and seven students from Portland State University in Oregon. We ate authentic Keralan food, drank tea, visited villages to watch coir making (rope spun of coconut fiber), palm toddy tapping, rode through the manmade canal system in a country boat which is a large open canoe-style boat powered by a man who used a bamboo pole to push us through the water, and then we got to see how the boats are made. There is a 900 kilometer network of waterways in southern Kerala. We certainly didn’t see it all today, but we were fascinated by what we did see. And we are beginning to see why Kerala is referred to as God’s Own Country. This is the tourist slogan plastered everywhere, and our trips through the jungle, the tea plantations in the mountains, and today’s trip though the waterways help us to understand how this slogan developed. We spent the morning on the ketavallam or houseboat floating quietly down the river system through an area referred to as Poothotta. In Sanskrit, Poot means flower and hotta means garden. Three of the districts of Kerala can be seen at one time when out in the waterway-Alleppey, Cochin, and Kottayam. The rivers we traveled today begin in the mountains to the east and trickle their way here to the sea. The herbs used in Ayurvedic treatment grow in abundance in southern Kerala and today our guide showed us which plants are used to cure particular ailments. Ayurvedic medicine is widely practiced here. In Sanskrit, ayu means life and veda means knowledge. Well, the people here seem to have the knowledge and I am particularly fascinated by this. Mark was more fascinated today by the way the boats are made. They are double-ended, made of wood planks “sewn” together with coconut fiber twine and caulked with coconut fibers bound to each seam by the same coconut fiber twine that holds the planks together. There are ribs to which the planks are riveted with crude home-made rivets. The shear or top edge of the boat is finished by sandwiching the planks between two other boards and seats are riveted to those top planks. The result is a water-tight, seaworthy construction that is easily poled, paddled, or driven by an outboard motor. Watching the coconut fiber rope making was also fascinating. There are two motor-driven metal spinning wheels about 10 meters or 30 feet apart. A woman carrying a load of raw coconut fiber bundled in her sari walks backwards from one of the wheels where the beginnings of rope are attached and then spins a fiber line out of each hand. She ends up with a fiber line in each hand. When she reaches the other wheel, she connects the two lines of spun fiber and walks back to the other end assisting the two lines in twisting into a rope. This is one you have to see to believe, so we promise to get photos and video posted this weekend. It was a full and interesting day. When we got back to Ernakulam, we had our driver drop us off on Market Road. We stopped at the Current Book Store that Deepali (student we met in Kumily) had recommended, went to the food market to buy more onions, and then went to the dinghy dock to meet Nazar. He brought us in this morning so we didn’t have to leave a dinghy at the dock all day and picked us up tonight. We met a most interesting Indian man with two of his students on the dock. I won’t go into great detail here, but I would categorize this gentleman as a born-again Beatnik from the 1950’s, although he was born in 1959. He could quote the lyrics to more songs than I could even name, has seen more American films than I have ever heard of, thinks of John Lennon, Janice Joplin, and Jack Kerouac as heroes, and believes that all humans must watch the video from Woodstock to become whole. This is a country of extremes!

100219 Day 116 India–Waterway Trip, Part 1
100219 Day 116 India–Waterway Trip, Part 2