As planned we caught the train to Kerala at 11pm last night. We quickly got the kids settled and I went out like a light. As long as I can lie down I can sleep anywhere and I have found that we are sleeping better on the trains now we are getting more used to them.
As we are travelling 3rd class sleeper we have to share our 6 bed compartment with 2 others so it is a bit of a surprise when I wake up at 8am to find 4 extra people.
Simon tells me it was like an episode of Eastenders when this family got on with tears, arguments and a lot of stress. Apparently the little boy got in the bunk with him and then fell out later and it sounded like me and the kids slept through a right drama!
We arrive at Alleppey station at 10.30am and the taxi drivers seem to be completely obstructive and refuse to take us to Cherukara Nest where we have booked 2 nights accommodation. We guess this because they want to take us to some other hotel that they will get paid commission for but eventually it becomes apparent that some sort of strike is taking place and they won’t take us anywhere.
Simon decides to phone the guesthouse and a fella soon turns up on a motorbike and explains that a hartal is taking place over 3 days in protest at the execution of Saddam Hussain. This means that from dawn until dusk none of the restaurants, internet, phones, buses or taxis will be working. This isn’t really a problem for us as we aren’t planning to do much anyway for the next few days but we do need transport at this point, as our hotel is 4km away. He explains the only thing to do is to travel by motorbike and as we don’t really have much choice, when he rallies 3 of his mates around we have to climb on.
They all zoom off leaving me clinging on to the fella for grim death and yelping after Ali and Maisie “Hold on tight kids”. As if they cared – they loved it and thought it was all a great laugh!
10 minutes later and we arrive at Cherukara Nest- oh wow what a beautiful place, it is over 100 years old, there are only 4 rooms and they are all huge with white washed walls, antique dark wood Portuguese furniture, ceiling fans and mosquito nets over the beds. You couldn’t wish to be in a more serene and peaceful setting and I’m so pleased we will be staying here for a few days.
We go through the reception and out to the garden where we have a lovely breakfast of coffee, fruit, omelettes and toast. There is a dove cote in the middle of the grass courtyard and it has the look of the jungle about it with tall palms and overhanging trees.
After a refreshing cold shower we decide to go and check out the house boats. We have been chatting to an English couple who are holidaying in India for 3 weeks and they have found a luxury boat just up the road with 2 double beds for 8000 rupees. But when we enquire we are told it will cost 14000 (around 150 pounds) We expect that the houseboat trip will be a major expense whilst we are in Kerala but feel that as we have some time here the best thing to do is get a feel for the place before we make any decisions especially concerning ones that will cost a lot!
On the way back we see a dead bat on the grass verge, its body is the size of a small melon and although its wings are a bit crumpled under the weight of a million evil looking giant red ants, Simon reckons they would span 3 feet. I have never even seen such a big bat on the telly and I hope there aren’t any out tonight waiting to get tangled up in my hair.
We walk up to a pretty restaurant for dinner but are told we can’t have any of the food we order. Although the only explanation we get is “Strawberry milkshake not possible, tandoori platter not possible etc” we guess it probably has something to do with the hartal as the butchers and fishermen have all been on strike today. So we leave there and head for a busy place in town where we eventually get some decent vegetarian food.
On the way back we stop at a shop and I quietly tell a fella I need to buy “women’s things”. Within 2 minutes we are surrounded by 5 Indian men all looking very interested and I’m getting a bit embarrassed no matter what I say to them I can’t make myself understood and I decide I will sort this out tomorrow when an old wizened man says to me very slowly like I’m the village idiot – “Can you please try speak in English Mam, it would be better if you can try speak in English !!”
We get back to our guesthouse and put Ali and Maisie to bed, sleeping under a mosquito net is a novelty and they are a huge problem here along with millions of other biting insects because of all the still waters. The guesthouse owner also burns coal with incense which creates clouds of thick white strong smelling smoke and give us coils for our rooms. Despite all this and the industrial strength repellent we have been using which contains 50% deet we still get a few bites. Still this is a small price to pay for staying in such gorgeous surroundings and I wouldn’t change a thing.