Thursday, May 10, 2007

Adventures in Kerala - Part 2

Kerala Part 2

Saturday night

After dinner we went back to our rooms to sit on our decks and enjoy not needing an air-conditioner. The air was fresh, and Indian music wafted up from the valley below making the entire scene atmospheric. We went to sleep early to the lull of the music from below, which turned into a roar at about 5am.

Chris and I awoke pre-dawn on Sunday morning as the music from the valley, which had played ALL night got a second wind, possibly to wake up everyone in the valley. Apparently there was a festival in one of the towns and they wanted everyone to know about it. Even though the town was miles away, it was in the natural amphitheater of the valley, so the sound was magnified right up to my window.

I got up at 6 having given up on sleeping and joyously put on my long sleeved Google cricket shirt – joyous because it was the first time outside of the over air-conditioned office that I’ve needed long sleeves since I got to India. I wandered around and found a big boulder overlooking the valley where I could watch the light from the sun trying to peek over the mountains behind me. I watched as the entire valley of tea plantations slowly lit up to the tune of the Indian music blasting from the valley.

After a while I met up with Chris, who was also up early, and we went around looking for as many scenic photo angles as possible. After a while, wondering if Karen was up, I realized that with the old-fashioned keys we were using, that I had accidentally locked her in our room when I left and took the key. I returned to our room to find her graciously reading on the balcony, luckily only having been awake for half an hour of the 1.5 hours I had locked her in the room.

We had breakfast on the patio overlooking the tea fields, and had…tea. They gave us freshly squeezed juice from a fruit they called a ‘tree tomato’ which tasted vaguely like guava without the pith, and had tiny red seeds that looked like a pomegranate. After relaxing on the porch with our tea, a guide took us on a hike through the cardamom plantation. Cardamom grows in tall stalks, and the only part of the plant that is used for spice is the seeds of the flowers that grow at the bottom. It needs to grow in the shade, so it was shaded by massive banyan trees.

We were lucky enough to see a ROUS (Rodent of Unusual Size for ‘Princess Bride’ fans) - the elusive 3 foot squirrel. You know you’re in an exotic place when the squirrels are 3 feet long, although it turned out that at least a foot of it was its tail. He was just sitting on a high branch in a banyan tree, thinking about how he’s the king of the squirrels, and we stood for minutes taking pictures from every angle.

At the end of the hike we ended up at another tea plantation and we walked around in it, taking pictures that made it look like we were swimming in tea. Tea plantations are very beautiful because tea grows on shrubs/trees which are manicured in a way that gives them a stronger sense of depth when you are looking at them. They also have depth because the mature leaves are very dark green but the new leaves that they use to make tea are a bright spring green.

On our way back to the plantation we stopped to take pictures of a banana tree growing in a driveway when a honeymooning couple stopped and asked to take their picture with us. It is apparently very popular in throughout India to get your picture taken with random white people.

After our return we had a leisurely lunch with more tea, where we overheard that the very British group of people who we’d noticed the night before were actually BBC fluff team, there to shoot a travel segment. Now how to I get THAT job? They had apparently just come from shooting another segment on an Indian safari – I think I’m in the wrong industry ;)

We also met a group of retired college professors and their wives from Bombay who recognized my Stanford hat and mentioned that their kids who work at Silicon Valley tech companies live in Sunnyvale and Los Altos, where they visit every year. Now what are the chances that in the rural Western Ghats of South India we would meet a group of people who spend half their year, every year, less than a mile from my apartment in Mt. View? Now that is the power of globalization.

After lunch we decided to do more grueling activity by playing scrabble on the deck overlooking our amazing view of the valley (music still playing…) It turned out that ‘Scrabble’ was actually a copyright infringed game called ‘Crossword – The World’s Favorite Word Game’ which was Scrabble all the way down to the points assigned to each letter. I kept falling asleep, but managed to break through 2 rounds with no vowels with the word Quiz on a triple letter score – a very exciting moment ;)

After sitting around and dozing, when we finally ran out of letters, we decided to try to get to Munnar to get tea and spices. We were detoured by another offer of tea, this time in the ‘Keralan hut.’ Afterwards, we decided to get the true Indian experience by taking an auto-rickshaw to Munnar.

After waiting a while in the village for one to come by, we didn’t have much bargaining power, and got in the only rickshaw, which had two drivers. At the bottom of the very steep, windy road, just as we were entering civilization, the driver got out and they switched and we realized that our driver was clearly 12 years old. We got caught in a tropical rainstorm on the way into Munnar and when the auto-rickshaw stopped to put the tarp over the sides to keep the water out, it broke and wouldn’t start again. As the guys beat at the engine, we decided we had gone as far as we needed to go in that rickshaw and got out.

We wandered around the grody town looking for a tea and spice shop that sold them in at least semi-legitimate looking packaging (didn’t want to try brining in an un-marked bag of dried leaves through customs…). We finally found the official shop for the plantation bordering our plantation (for some reason you can’t buy it directly from the plantation) and we filled our bags with exotic tea and spices, which ended up costing less that $10. Afterwards, Chris wanted to grab some beer, and ended up asking a rent-a-cop security guard who was dressed in communist looking attire where the liquor store was. After a harrowing walk across some busy streets we finally got what we were looking for and had another auto-rickshaw take us home.

Afterwards, with enough adventure done for one day, we had dinner and relaxed and waited for the music to stop.

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