So, as I mentioned in my last post, our plan for our last week in Kerala was to head out to a small village, nestled deep in the backwaters, inland from Kollam, on an island called Munroe Island.
We set out at 6am in a tuk tuk from our accommodation heading for Varkala train station. After about half an hour on the train, we got to Kollam, and then we changed to get on the train to Munroe Island. After the first failed attempt at catching our connecting train, we regathered our thoughts with a super-sweet tea from a little shitty tea shack at the station and tried again, this time successfully.
Munroe is a tiny island/village in the middle of the sprawling area of backwaters found around the Kollam area of Kerala. Being a much less touristy, and lesser explored area of the backwaters, the local people from the village rarely see western folk, so we expected plenty of pointing and staring, and we were certainly not disappointed as we walked around, looking lost, attempting to find a homestay run by a guy called Vijeesh and his family. Upon reaching the point on the map where the place was meant to be, shock, no sign, not a trace, and nobody who could, or was all too willing to, speak English to us and let us know where to go. I gave Vijeesh a call, and he suddenly appeared from down a pokey path behind us. We were very close it turns out, but how was I supposed to know to walk behind the building site to find his house. Oh well, we arrived not too worse for wear, just standardly fucking hot and sweaty, and starting to get a bit fed up of being stared at constantly!
We set off on our 3 hour canoe trip through the backwaters of the island, drifting merrily along beside local fishermen, real Indian washer women, and the general shenanigans of Indian village life. Along the way we made various stops, including at a spice garden and tea shop (both of which involved paying for something we didn’t necessarily want/need – “No really, we don’t need a tea thanks” “No tea!? Yes you have 2 masala teas.” Fair enough). Most of the time I think the driver only really stopped so that he could have a chat with his mates, and he just found stuff to keep us occupied in the mean time. That was definitely the case when we stopped to ‘observe’ a new canoe being built, very skilfully may I add, as the guys building the boast did not look overly pleased with the attention, but our driver was happy enough to stay their chatting for much longer than we cared to be there.
Saying that, the trip itself was really good. We learnt a lot about the island’s people, wildlife and all that. It was definitely worth the trip out there, and for £5 per head with an epic banana leaf ‘thali’ style lunch afterwards, it is a trip that I would certainly recommend as a bit of a different experience compared to the painfully touristy houseboat and rice barge options from Alleppey.
The trip back to Varkala was definitely less fun. There was no train back from the island for hours, but conveniently there was a bus ready to leave for Kollam. What a fucking nightmare it was. We knew the local village folk don’t see many white people, but they almost definitely get any white people on their buses. We felt a bit like an attraction for locals sat there at the back of the bus (trying to be inconspicuous – yeh right, good luck!). Some would stare, wave and usher me over to sit with them, some would come and sit uncomfortable close to me and have their friends take a photo, and lots of snickering and pointing from the other people on the bus. Indian men remind me of teenage girls. They huddle together, whisper, point, stare and giggle. The staring was usually directed at Soph more than me. Part and parcel of travelling in India though I suppose. Some people like the ‘celebrity experience’; I think its bollocks, just leave me alone. Anyway, painful bus journey over, just a short train back to Varkala. Easy right? No. We got the worlds slowest tuk tuk driver to take us from the bus to the train station…I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a slow tuk tuk driver! Anyway, we had to run and very nearly missed the train thanks to him.
Finally, we returned back to the relative sanctuary of our Varkala home, completely fucking shattered, but pretty damn pleased with our day that had thrown up moments that were: interesting, relaxing, amusing, exciting, frustrating and more… After our relaxing few days in Varkala, we agreed that as much as India is great, it is definitely a love/hate experience, slightly more love than the hate, but the time has come to move on to somewhere different. Hopefully slightly less chaotic.
And so, this brings us to our next adventure. We are now in Malaysia, staying on Langkawi, an island off the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, and will be exploring the island for a week or so before heading to the mainland to travel down towards Kuala Lumpur. So far it is a welcome change from the somewhat hectic life that travelling in India and Sri Lanka offers, with Langkawi being a ‘duty free haven’ we have duty free alcohol, cigarettes and chocolate to keep us entertained. What more could we ask for!
Photos of the backwaters to come.