06.03.2013 - 11.03.2013 93 °F
The skies were bright, there was a smell of seawater and fish in the air, and familiar buildings were in the distance. We were finally in India. The MV Explorer docked in Cochin, the same port from my voyage last Spring. I noticed the water ferry station, the Taj Hotel Malabar, the old Amat Cruise ship still in the harbor, the Chinese fishing nets, the smells, the sights, they were all the same. What was different though, were the people I was with. I jumped up and down with a huge smile on my face as our ship approached the dock. We were finally here! I had such a memorable experience the last time in India, including getting poisoned, and I was ready to explore more of such an interesting nation. This was the only port I had made plans for, coincidentally it was a tour booked through Carnival Tours, the same agency from my last trip. Maybe it wasn’t coincidental, quite possibly I booked this tour because I was familiar with their company and how much fun they had made it for me and my friends on the last voyage. Nevertheless, this was going to be a journey of a lifetime, well twice in a lifetime.
On my first day in Cochin, the southern part of India in the state of Kerala, I went out with Melia and Sarah to show them around the town. As I walked out of the dock gates I was confronted with hundreds of Tuk Tuk drivers. I had warned many of my friends about taking these three-wheeled motorbike taxis, they were going to take you to government run shops and rip you off, so naturally I was prepared for this bombardment of men trying to take us around. I was not going to take any of them, instead just take the water taxi across the river until I ran into the same Tuk Tuk driver I took on my last day in India from last year. “Sabu?,” I questioned him. He seemed confused that I knew his name and recognized him because he clearly didn’t remember me. I explained to him that he had taken my friends around last year with SAS and he was such a great driver. I was so astonished to see someone again that I completely ignored my advice and decided to ask Sabu to give us another tour of Cochin. Sabu took us around to the shops I wanted to see and I think my friends got a great tour because they had my knowledge and his expertise to get us around. We sat at an old bar I had gone to and drank beers for a few hours to take it all in. We were in India; I couldn’t believe I was on the other side of the world, again! I did some shopping afterwards, buying some cultural clothing and jewelry to bring back home. That night we went to a hotel that was near the ship to get a few drinks and then returned to the ship somewhat early because we had a big tour planned for the next day.
I woke up groggy and with a headache, but coffee and breakfast helped take it all away. I had booked a tour for five to Munnar with a private driver. It was a four day trip, two nights in Munnar, one day on a houseboat in Aleppey and then one day at a beach, all for a decent price. When we walked off the ship I noticed a man holding a sign with “Mr. Michael Vincent” printed on it. It felt really great because very rarely do I have someone holding a sign designated for me, usually I attribute that to being important, but this time I was important. We all met with our driver, Joseph, and received a hand-made necklace made of jasmine and marigold flowers, it smelled amazing! Our driver was fantastic; he was informative, friendly and addressed me as “Sir,” which I didn’t think was necessary. I can still hear Joseph’s accent addressing me and asking me questions as I write this right now. Our first stop on this tour was an elephant camp near Cochin where we got to see a lot of elephants being trained and washed in a river. It was actually a bit upsetting to see these little men whacking these giant creatures with bamboo to get them to respond to the training. What was even more off-putting were the murals with messages of men and wildlife coinciding, something that didn’t seem to be happening at the elephant camp. I was ready to leave quite quickly but didn’t say anything to the rest of the group because they hadn’t seen anything like this. I also had the privilege of working at a zoo when I was a teenager so I have seen many animals and the treatment of them by man is not something I am very keen of. Eventually the rest of the group was feeling the same as I and we were ready to leave. The tour proceeded to Munnar where we ate lunch before going to our hotel. Munnar was one of my favorite places on this voyage, a place that really reminds me of home. There are gorgeous mountains, trees, wildlife, waterfalls, and best of all a moderate temperature just like Colorado. It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world and no picture I take will justly show what I have seen. Going back to Munnar also brought back a lot of memories, mostly of how homesick I was on my last voyage. Those feelings didn’t arise on this tour though, most likely because I had a great group of friends and had prepared myself for this voyage again, I know what to expect and how to handle feeling alone now.
After our lunch we went to a liquor store where we bought some beer and wine and then met up with a separate driver to take us to our hotel. We rode in the back of a Jeep and essentially went off-roading to get to our destination. Once we arrived and checked in we were shown to our room. Oh, I forgot to mention, we stayed in tree houses! This was definitely the highlight of my time in India. Our room was literally a house built around a tree! The best part of this resort was that it was an eco-resort and had strong beliefs on keeping the environment sustainable. Our room was built on a tree without breaking a single branch or disturbing any part of the tree, the resort had their own garden where they got food for our meals, there were hiking trails, beautiful landscapes, and everything was reused. It is such a wonderful place and I cannot wait to return there. We all got to watch a sunset from the top of a cliff, one of the most beautiful I have seen in my life. Then we all got to be in the wilderness as we slept in this tree house, listening to the birds and playing drinking games. Really the only disturbances to nature were the visitors to the resort, but if they happen to be conscious of the environment, as I am, then I believe the land is being sustained quite well. Our next day of the tour was going around Munnar and to the tea plantations. It was essentially a nature tour so I loved it! I got to see a lot of great sites and see places I was familiar with. We stayed in the tree houses again that night and then the next afternoon left to Aleppey where we got on a houseboat to tour the backwaters.
Apparently, the backwaters in Kerala are a must see when traveling to that part of India. It was great to travel on this awesome boat going through the waters, but it reminded me a lot of the Amazon and made me miss my last voyage. The houseboat ride wasn’t very long but we got a custom made lunch and pineapple we had bought on the side of the road, which was the best pineapple I have had, ever! After the houseboat, Joseph drove us back to Cochin to get back on the ship for the night. I didn’t realize how much I missed my bed on the ship, as uncomfortable as it is, but it was a great sight to see the ship all lit up with that blue world on the smoke stacks. I had a great nights rest from all of the traveling and got prepared for our next day to Marari beach. We left fairly early in the morning to go to the beach, but when we got there I think everyone had a great time. This would be the last beach on this voyage for me so I tried to enjoy it as much as I could. After the beach we traveled back to Cochin to the Chinese fishing nets where we bought some prawns to cook up at a restaurant nearby. It was some of the best shrimp I have had in a long time and a trip well spent. That night we thanked Joseph for everything and said our goodbyes. He is actually trying to start a business in tourism and asked if I could help him out with developing the marketing, what an awesome thing to come away with after such a great time. My last day in India was spent shopping around and getting some amazing food, nothing too exciting.
I left India wondering how the tourism market is going to develop. There has been a lot of hostility towards women there lately, mainly because it still works on a caste system. This is going to have a drastic effect on bringing in tourism revenue for their country because people are not going to feel safe traveling around. On top of the dangers of traveling, India still has a lot to develop in terms of infrastructure and bringing people out of poverty. One of the best ways to do this can be through tourism, especially since India is a part of the five emerging economies in the world. One thing that keeps running through my mind, and something I continue to argue with my friends about, is that culture is rapidly changing as a result of a globalizing world and in a less broad sense, as a result of tourism. How can I go into a career without having such drastic effects on a culture and the people? Certainly this is something I will be struggling with when I want to start my own company because culture may not be able to be preserved, but it can be protected and the less effect from a “Western” world, the better, at least in my opinion.
Anyway, we are sailing to Ghana now so I need to catch up on my blog posts and write about South Africa. The end of this voyage is fast approaching so I will end this post with a quote by Jawaharlal Nehru, “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”