I am finally posting this from North India, in July, on our second adventure in India. If you want to see more recent news, you’ll have to check on Instagram. But now, we’re re-winding to February 2014 and our first stop in India when I actually started writing this post…Kerala, South West India
The kids slump into their aircraft seats, take a nonchalant look at the in-flight magazine to check out the eating and drinking options, then turn to Duty Free to see if there is anything new they want to try and cajole me into buying (I never do but they don’t give up).
Lara reads the safety card diligently and as usual, takes care to watch the safety briefing…and talk me through what will happen if we land in the sea and ask how she’d get that door open if everyone else was dead! The others have usually got their iPods out by now and are maximising the last minutes of Minecraft or an episode of Black Adder before they are requested to switch them off.
On this flight however we have one distraught boy who has just gone through the trauma of losing his iPod during the check-in and trolley-running ritual in Male Airport in The Maldives. It’s the 3rd family iPod/iPhone loss in the past 18 months of our gap year (or two) of world travel. We can but hope it’s the last.
Ben is beside himself and briefly staged a sit in at the departure gate refusing to get on the flight at all because he wanted to keep searching! It’s maddening to know that a fellow passenger or one of the security folk ‘helping’ us must have pocketed it minutes before!! I feel really sad for the boy and just wish that it was another Daddy wind up and he’d produce it from his pocket any moment!
I spend the flight writing up and finishing some blogs but it’s proving to be too much to organise, edit and post photos with them AND fulfill my New Years res to stay up/keep up our posts. It’s a good thing we’re not trying to make a living from it! I take my hat off to those who stay current with blogging and other writing whilst world schooling, planning, booking and actually trying to live the experience to boot! In the last few months we’ve started on Instagram – the kids got us into it!! It’s SO easy to post a quick pic just to share a great moment or view! If you’d like to see what we’ve posted you can find us at MMBZL and MAZINMO MRBENCRAFT, TRAVELLINGCHILD and LARANINJA on Instagram
We don’t have flights out of India and we’ve not really figured out a route or how long we’ll stay! Ever flying by the seat of our pants!! We DO know there’s limited time in S India before it becomes offensively warm and the rains come! We want to go inland and to the highlands – in the end, we go with the flow and the itinerary kind of unfolds differently … we stay no more than the next destination ahead of ourselves!! The first month almost we head leisurely south through Kerala and on into Tamil Nadu down to the tip of India – Cape Cormorin.
Here’s where we begin – Kochi, Kerala. 13-19 February
When you land in a country like India for the first time, your head is full of stories and expectations and your eyes are wide open to soak in the newness and find out how much of what you’ve heard has any truth or meaning! Aside from a package deal to Goa many years ago for me – this is a first time for all of us. We’ve heard all about the extreme bureaucracy of the simplest thing like getting a SIM card,and experienced the complexity of getting our India visas in Sri Lanka, but we find a small stand outside the airport selling SIMs and able to cut through the bureaucracy for us with a few phone calls and can have it active for you in a matter of an hour or two! More than anything I’m struck by the people hanging around outside the airport, everything and everyone is so much more calm and quiet than I’d envisaged, no hassle, no pushing, but beautiful women in exotic sari’s – there seems no such thing as a plain sari, and men wrapped in a white sheet-like skirts, folded up nearly and tucked over their waste bands so they are knee length in the heat or when they’re busy.
The temperature is pleasantly hot! We jump in an air con car and take the long drive into the city to a homestay belonging to the family of a friend of a friend from home. The roads are good, much more modern than I recall in Goa back in the 90’s but the driving is scary. Modus operandi is endless use of horns and a lot of swerving but we arrive safely at the homestay late afternoon, have a welcome cup of strong tea and settle in our family rooms.
We walk out to a local restaurant after dark – the roads here in town are busy and noisy and there are many many people lying along the highway roadside, like an endless line of dead bodies, packed side by side, but they are not dead! I don’t know why these homeless people would choose such a dirty and busy highway as their sleeping place, it’s bizarre, maybe quieter places are less safe or not allowed, but anyway, we find the restaurant and enjoy a great spread of curries and walk back, a little nervous but with our tummies happily full!
We have a couple of nights in the friendly homestay. We have family quarters with two bedrooms and a bathroom and enjoy our first traditional Indian/Keralan breakfast of hoppers and Dahl or coconut chutney – our hosts are understanding and kind and make boiled eggs for the girls but Ben is good at trying the local food, he’s not a big fan of western breakfast, and the food is delicious.
To be honest, we do little for a day or two, just planning out our journey, the kids need these times like you wouldn’t believe! A few hours chilling, reading, drawing, getting their bits of Lego out…. Just having down time.
Then we receive an invite to stay with the in-laws of my friend. We’d been invited initially for supper, but then they ask us to stay, though they are worried the 5 of us won’t be comfortable in one guest room! Karunakaran and his wife Padmaja, son Deepak and daughter in law Sherry are truly welcoming, the room is lovely with a row of beds that is perfect for us. They even give their builders a couple of days off (they’re building a second house for Deepak and Sherry next door) so we’re not disturbed by the noise and dust! It’s wonderful to spend time in their home in a quiet street away from the city hubbub! We are treated like royalty and fed delicious home cooked Keralan food. It’s so nice to sit and drink tea or eat supper around the table and chat. We enjoy looking at family photo albums, learning about traditions and customs in Kerala and chatting about our travels and families. The kids enjoy showing Sherry their Maths but prefer teaching her Minecraft.
Deepak and Sherry are headed to the UK for a holiday in April and we’re sorry we won’t we there to return the welcome!
We fill our days exploring around Kochi – take the ferry to Kochi fort with it’s Portuguese colonial style buildings and ancient spice cottage industries, churches, temples, the Chinese fishing nets sat proudly along the waterfront.
We watch some very strange ‘dancing’ called Kathakali in the cultural centre…
and witness endless friendly, welcoming people. Everything is strange and interesting. Like the two queues to buy tickets for the ferry, one for men one for women, which is always shorter, but you can buy all the tickets for the family at one window, so I typically buy them!
We become accustomed to using Auto Rickshaws (as they are called here, but just the same as Tuktuks) – far more frightening than a taxi, and the drivers are even more used to ducking and weaving through traffic, beside and around busses and lorries, it’s hair-raising but quite exhilarating if you can hold your breath at the right times to avoid the worst of the traffic fumes!
We visit a huge theme and water park Wonderla, it’s the No1 attraction on Trip Advisor(!), choosing a weekday because we thought it might be quieter.
There are literally thousands school kids, in uniform, on school day trips, quite a cultural experience. We feel very white and very out of place, especially when our three blondies get mobbed by a gazillion Indian kids over and again.
The Indian kids go in the water fully clad in their school uniforms, jumping around in the wave pool which is a sea of jumping shrieking bodies! Then they spot white blonde kids and Everyone is desperate to say hello and ask the kid’s their names over and over! Lara is hilarious – she eggs them on them dives under the water and disappears, it drives them crazy and makes me panic because I can’t see her for ages! It’s hard not to get intimidated by such a big crowd. It’s interesting to discover segregated pools and water rides – families with younger boys can go in the ladies/girls pool so Ben has the delightful experience of being mobbed by 500 schoolgirls!
We go by taxi, it’s almost an hour out of the city, but return in a Moto Rickshaw – it’s like a cross between an auto Rickshaw and car! It’s great!
Other days we hang out in the local park or fantastic air-con Lulu mall, which IS quiet during the week.
It’s a wonderful sparkly shiny fairly new place with a kids play area upstairs, a Thai massage shop, good coffee shops, a cinema and lots of modern glossy global brand shops. We’re not interested in the shops but the kids have a blast in the play centre with a couple of exciting rides, climbing wall and an arcade area, they make friends and sometimes draw a crowd when they’re competing on the climbing wall or screaming on the most scary ride!
Martin and I get a massage and a lot of coffee and we all see the Lego Movie together one evening… This leads to THE song for our India trip ‘Everything is Awesome’ sung at the top of our voices from Tuktuks, fairground rides etc!!
The escalators are an obvious novelty to many. There is a guard at top and bottom helping people get on and off and keeping things flowing safely!!
Lara finally loses her first tooth whilst we’re staying with Karunakaran and Padmaja. It approximately the sixth tooth to be lost by the kids and we always wonder if the tooth fairy will find us and what she might pay! So far they’ve been lucky and Kerala is no exception. Lara finds a 100 rupee note under her pillow and is utterly thrilled!
The older kids struggle not to spoil her fun. Travelling has made them question a lot in the magic world of Santa, the Easter Bunny and tooth fairy department – it’s not always possible to keep the magic alive but Lara is happy.
When we say goodbye, as if the wonderful welcome and hospitality of Karunakaran and his family, we’re endowed with beautiful gifts, we ran out of time to get dressed up in traditional clothing with Padmaja but are well rested and ready to take on the southern peninsula of India!