The first thing that stood out to me in our first few days in India were the colors. The clothes, the food, the paint on the buildings are all so full of life. Our experience arriving in India couldn’t have been better! We were both so nervous coming to this wild country not knowing quite what to expect. Thieves, hagglers, scammers, slums, and poverty are the words I hear the most when many talk about India. However, the first days we spent in the small town of Fort Kochi, Kerala were wonderful— filled with smiles, hand shakes, beeping cars, delicious food, and warm welcomes.
We stayed in a small home-stay in Fort Kochi called Green Woods Bethlehem and it has been our favorite hotel/guesthouse experience so far. It bears mentioning because the family running this small establishment were so incredibly nice and welcoming, giving us food to try right from their dinner table, helping us with all our questions about what to do and where to go in the cute little town, and overall making us feel like family. What incredible people! Interestingly, throughout history Fort Kochi was colonized by the Dutch, Portuguese, and British so it has many Catholic Cathedrals and religions vary from Christianity, Judaism, Hindu, Muslim, Jain and Buddhist. We spent our days walking the streets, looking at the cathedrals and walking down the boardwalk next to the water watching fishermen dip huge 20’ x 20’ nets into the water in hopes of a large catch.
After being in Indonesia where there are so many tourists, India has felt a bit more secluded— we provoke a huge amount of staring and many people want to meet you, talk to you, and take pictures with you. However, everyone is very nice, more curious then anything and although we still haven’t gotten used to the staring, it feels better to be an object of fascination than an object of dislike.
Sad to leave Green Woods Bethlehem, we took an hour long bumpy bus ride down to Alleppey in order to find a houseboat to travel through the backwaters of Kerala. We rented a 48 ft long one bedroom houseboat for a night with a captain and a young guide. When we saw the boat we were amazed! We felt like a king and queen moseying through large canals looking over small farming villages and rice paddies.
After a few hours lazying around on the deck reading, looking at the canoes passing by full of cut grass and eating a huge Keralan lunch, we parked the houseboat and boarded a canoe with a local villager who took us around the small canals to see inside village life. The women beat their colorful laundry against stone rocks in the canals, cleaned fish for dinner, and washed dishes while the men bathed themselves in the water and caught fish by throw net. The sun was casting rays of light through the shaded canals while we observed goats eating, ducks swimming, and fish jumping out of the water. We learned that every year during monsoon season the villagers’ small concrete or grass huts flood with up to 2-3’ of water and many must either live with their flooded houses or come into the larger towns to stay until the monsoon dies down. The tour was amazing but almost too intimate in that we felt like intruders oogling like children at their every day life. Even so, this was one of my absolute favorite experiences so far on our trip!!
From Alleppey we took an 14 hour overnight train to Madgaon, Goa to spend some time in Agonda for Mikey’s 27th Birthday! We stayed in a very nice beach bungalow right on the beach with an outdoor bathroom attached to our hut (showering in the outdoors is a wondrous experience)! Mikey was able to rent the only surfboard in the area and surf for 2 days with only dolphins for company! We had an amazing dinner at a small European restaurant for his b-day celebration and it was nice to have a great relaxing time before starting our work-away.
Volunteering at Kaama Kethna (Yoga retreat/ecological village) was an amazing experience to say the least. Not being what we thought originally, it turned out that we were now involved in quite the project. The area was filled with a friendly group of locals who worked along side us and also cooked for us, which was incredibly delicious! The crew we were working with consisted of 3 Germans and 1 Portuguese (Tiago, Christin, Robin and Andy) and another volunteer named Pia from London. While Pia and I were tasked with 5 hour work days painting gigantic water tanks and racks, Mikey worked on the construction of a massive 9 meter x 9 meter yoga pyramid.
Our accommodation ended up being a bamboo hut in the middle of the jungle and it was quite interesting getting used to no electricity, running water or toilets. But the bucket showers in the nearby stream were more than enough to get us through. The local critters were another thing that seemed to never get old. Night time strolls included walking into endless spider webs which most definitely weren't there during the day and would simply vanish again by morning. These were not your average spider webs; some of the webs spanned 25ft gaps with dinner plate sized spiders suspended on 6ft diameter webs. After the work day, the group would meet up for an Indian style dinner and enjoy long conversations sharing stories and learning about Indian culture. We also rented a moped for the week which was a godsend because after each work day we would head to Agonda beach to swim and watch the beautiful sunsets.
After saying goodbye to the amazing group of people at Kaama Kethna, we decided to head to another beach town called Gokarna for a few days, before heading to the sacred temple city of Hampi.