I'll try to make this quick, since now I'm in Brazil and India is quickly fading into one of those places I was once, in another life. Also, I'll be linking to flickr photo sets instead of within Typepad from now on. I think it keeps things more organized, but I want your opinion if it's better than mine. Please weigh in!
Ok, so from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, we flew south into Panjim, the capital of Goa, where we caught several buses throughout the day and finally arrived in Agonda Beach sometime after dark.
I spent the first few days doubled over inside a grass hut (naturally my stomach had been completely fine for the first six weeks before I had to don a bathing suit), but recovered soon enough to spend the rest of the week reading in the sun. Agonda's a lovely, lovely place to hang out as long as you aren't looking for anything exciting or fancy. It's still a modest little fishing village with its share of cows, burning garbage, and bad plumbing, but as India goes it's pretty cute. The huts are basic, the seafood is delicious, and there's really nobody around. Even in high season.
One afternoon Brendan and I rented a scooter and rode about ten kilometers south to the town of Palolem, southern Goa's biggest resort. Oh, am I glad we chose Agonda! Palolem was probably a real gem once, but now it's your average Bob Marley-hippies-incense-souvenirs nightmare, just not the kind of place we're looking for anymore. That's not to say it's all bad... Palolem's food and nightlife choices trump Agonda's for sure, and ten years ago I certainly would have preferred it. Now that I'm married and boring, it was worth a day trip. We chose to put our towels down for a few hours at Patnem beach, just south of Palolem (just as pretty, and a little quieter).
I had to drag Brendan out of Agonda after a week. Quite the beach bunny, that one.
A twelve-hour overnight train south from Goa put us into Cochin (aka Kochi), one of Kerala state's biggest draws for visitors. From the train station, we took a taxi to the recommended historic (read: touristy) part of town called Fort Cochin, and were immediately greeted by thousands of other westerners, rickshaw drivers, and souvenir shops. It was overwhelming after the serenity of Agonda Beach, and it was a lot hotter. Brendan immediately disliked the place and wanted to get out.
But we were kind of stuck, and here's why: the day we arrived in Cochin, I received an email from our travel agent informing us that British Airways was going on strike and our flight on February 6th from Mumbai, India, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was probably going to be cancelled. The flight in question was in ten days. We wanted to be on that flight. We needed to be on that flight. That flight was literally our ticket out of India.
After a few frantic calls to British Airways customer service, we put ourselves on hold for the next available flight to Rio - if indeed our original flight ended up being cancelled. Unfortunately, the impending strike had already set off panic among other travelers who were changing their respective flights, and we couldn't even get into new seats until February 23rd. Note that flying into Rio on the 23rd would also completely side-step Carnaval, the main reason we were traveling to Brazil in the first place. Add to that our Brazilian visas themselves, scheduled to expire 90 days after the day they were issued, which happened to be February 25th (these are the same visas that kept us tied up in Delhi for an eternity back in November, if you recall). If by twist of fate we weren't going to make it into Brazil by the 25th, we'd have to re-apply. In Delhi. Which was now conveniently on the other side of India. We decided not to leave Cochin until we knew what was going on.
The strike got called off five days into it. Thanks for the drama, British Airways. Thanks a million. At least we were leaving the country on schedule. Crisis averted!
One of the big draws in Kerala are the backwater boat trips, so we headed down to the town of Alleppey, well-known for its abundance of boat providers, got in touch with a company that seemed reputable, and booked ourselves on an overnight cruise through the waterways. Guidebooks swear that going overnight is the most romantic and rewarding way to see the backwaters, and the boats come with a captain and a cook, so we went for it.
I won't lie to you, the trip was a little disappointing. The scenery was certainly nice and we had the boat to ourselves, but I got the impression that we never veered off the well-worn, main arteries of the backwaters - a tourist trap unto themselves. I had imagined cruising through narrow, overgrown, jungly inlets and anchoring under the stars. In reality we saw a lot of other boats throughout the day and stopped right next to a couple of them for the night. Also, once dusk arrived, insects of all shapes and sizes swarmed every lightbulb in our vicinity and we couldn't get away from them unless we were in the bedroom under the mosquito net, which kind of defeated the purpose of spending a night on a boat. The food (lunch, dinner, breakfast) was delicious and observing backwater life was cool, but wasn't worth the $100 price tag we paid (the single most expensive thing we bought in all of India, btw).
For what it's worth, I did run into another couple a few days later who loved, loved, LOVED their backwater cruise, although when comparing notes it sounded like their boat was a lot more luxurious than ours and their crew more interactive. If you're really interested in going out overnight, I suggest getting a tour of the digs beforehand and a guarantee that you'll be sailing on paths less traveled.
After docking the next morning, we left Alleppey by train and headed further south to the beach town of Varkala to while away our last few days in India. Maria, our Columbian friend from the camel trek in Jaisalmer, was already there and had reserved a room in her hotel for us, so we arrived and settled right in.
The three of us hung out in paradise for the next three days, doing a whole lot of nothing. It was a nice place to reflect on the last nine weeks and start daydreaming about the next chapter of our trip.
With just two days left in India, we flew out of Trivandrum, Kerala and into Mumbai, where we spent most of our time catching up on emails, trying unsuccessfully to watch the Superbowl, and savoring our final thalis. Mentally we were done with India and chose not to venture more than about four blocks beyond our hotel, which is a shame, because I know we missed out. Poor Mumbai never had a chance.
Ah, there's always next time. I'll be here again someday.
Next stop.. Rio de Janeiro! I don't have the slightest idea of what to expect, but I have a hunch alcohol will be involved. Do your worst, Brazil. Do your worst.