Friday, January 30, 2009

Mangosteens, bicycles and more food!

So, last I spoke I was still in Xishuangbanna...
We had just arrived in town. Spent a couple of days just relaxing, taking naps and eating lots of crazy Chinese food. Recovering from the week of traveling everyday and showering even less!

Mangosteens- a purple round fruit that is like a tennis ball in size and weight, with four green leaves on top. It's dee-licious! you crack it open with your thumbs, which stains them purple and leaves you sticky. The rind is thick, and inside is white, segmented like an orange, but with a texture more like a peach. There is a big seed inside one or two segments.



Eating barbeque at an open air restaurant where we sat crowded with a million other Chinese eating out on a pleasant New Year's evening.
On the menu? Anything that can be strung up on a stick and roasted... Miscellaneous meat parts that couldn't be identified rightly by sight, and others that could... skinned frogs, bits of octopus, whole little chickens and fish, pig brains (those were in a tray, I don't think they would hold up on a stick), immature chicken eggs, and banana leaf packets of herbs and tendons.



It was the banana leaf packet that did it- I was fishing out the herby minty lemony green bits that tasted so good- and suddenly I noticed it was getting hot, like really hot. And I figured, it'll pass, it always does. I love hot foods! But no, this was heat to end all heat- I was hyperventilating, guzzling beer and pulling my hair out silently until the others noticed me. I couldn't even talk it hurt so much! Man, I will never forget that night! It lasted a good 15 minutes until I felt reasonably normal again, and my tongue felt traumatized the rest of the night! Anyways, we finished it off with a bowl of pineapple rice, glutinous rice made inside the pineapple itself, not bad, but our friends said they'd had better. Our friends were San San and David, a couple of young Chinese kids who ran the hostel where we stayed. We took them out to dinner for the advantage of being able to order more food, and therefore taste more dishes! They were so cool we ended up out with them twice, and each time the food was amazing. San San spoke English, and was very patient with teaching me some Chinese phrases. I'm still terrible at getting the pronunciation- and when I finally get it right, I sound to myself like someone completely different. Chinese is something else entirely. It's very interesting that I've met many westerners who live in China and have learned to speak Chinese. There are some who have been here for years, living and working here. Others seem to have picked it up in just a few months. I feel like the only one who has to speak in sign language, hopelessly repeating a few words in English to see if anyone can recognize what I'm requesting. I haven't been very good at picking up even the basics. We'll see- I still have about 4 and a half weeks left here.

I'm a little over half-way done with my trip! I'm so excited. I've been having a great time, but I do kind of miss the steady routine of being home and sleeping in my own bed. I know I'm going to miss this when I get back though- it's hard to believe that the grass is just as green as it needs to be right where you are now!

The next thing we did was go on a bicycle riding adventure out to a Dai village.
The Dai are what's called an ethnic minority. They are indigenous group of non-Han Chinese- there are over 55 ethnic minorities classified by the People's Republic of China. This group lives about 27 kilometers down the Mekong River- a beautiful bike ride, it took about 2 hours to get there. Once there, we entered the "park", a section of the village that has been cordoned off in order to charge admission (100 RMB). This section of the park has a bunch of temples and houses, which the Dai people have conveniently set up as restaurants and guesthouses (their homes, not the temples.) (The temples are manned by sleepy young Buddhist monks wearing orange robes. They all seem sleepy while they are manning their posts by the temples, but then you see them tearing up the roads on their scooters (in their orange robes) around town. Kids these days!)

It was nice to ride around and wave to the villages, who practiced their English by yelling out "Hello!"
We stayed the night at a home overlooking the river. They served us homemade rice wine with dinner, and I drank a little bit much. :-( It really didn't seem so strong going down!
Showers the next morning were ice-cold, being a solar shower. The bike ride back was quite painful as well, the right side of the road going home being more bumpy than the right side on the way there- either that or my rear-end was a bit more stiff!
But all in all, quite a satisfying and enjoyable trip.
Back in Jinghong (the capital of Xishuangbanna), we boarded the bus that night for an overnight ride to Kunming, and from there straight to the airport for a noon flight to Guiyang, Guizhou, where Tanque is living.
The weather here is a cool 59-44 F/15-7 C. Brrr... (No central heating- no heating at all, in fact!) But it's nice to be in a home for once, where I can wash clothes and take hot showers at will. Pictures coming soon!

Oh yes- I forgot to mention the other park we went to- the one with all the wild animals... A bear on a leash who had no teeth, who stole a coke out of this lady's hands and glugged it all down, just like the polar bear commercials...

The man riding an ostrich around in a little pen...

The guy in a yellow suit who looked kind of like Elvis, carrying around a matching little yellow monkey...
Don't worry, I have pictures of all of this! We had expected a quiet, peaceful, jungle hiking sort of park and instead we rode on a zip line and watched little kids get their picture taken with tame peacocks.

So much for living in harmony with Mother Nature...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy New Year in Xishuangbanna!

The Chinese invented fireworks.
And on the lunar new year they reclaim that title with wild abandon!
Even the foreigners were getting in on the action, getting stupid drunk and pointing firecracker sticks at each other.
We walked over to the bridge and watched the entire city go crazy- kind of like the fourth of July, but instead of there being a central place to watch the show, fireworks were coming from every house and street corner.
It was loud and chaotic, walking down the street, jumping out of the way when loud cracks exploded under your feet. I fell off a curb and sprained my ankle- not too bad, thank god! At midnight it rose in intensity, and you could see birds flying in clouds to get out of the city.
Happy New Year!

So I met up with Tanque to travel this next phase of my trip. He's an old friend from CBLA- it was nice to meet up with an old friend and catch up! He's living in China now, working in alternative energy development in Guiyang, Guizhou, where it was snowing last week. He's got a couple of days off to spend here in warm, tropical Xishuangbanna. Then I'll go back with him to his town for a couple of days, check out the scene up in the c-c-c-cold, and then head off of Hong Kong to meet up with the capoeira brasil folk over there. Then I leave on my Intrepid Travels tour group on Feb 8th.

Oh, and good news! Tanque says he'll help me with downloading pics from my camera- so I'll be able to add some visual excitement for y'all! I can't wait!

Tiger Leaping Gorge





Let's see... Several days have passed since I last wrote, which means I've traveled through at least several cities...
I realized that I've spent the night in a different place every night last week.
I think the last I wrote was the night we couldn't watch Obama's speech-
That night we went to Lijiang.
Cute, picturesque town. A little stream flowed through the streets, so to enter the stores you crossed a little bridge. There were red lanterns lit up at night. Just the typical type of architecture you'd expect of China- but you only find this architecture in little tourist towns like this one, because the big cities are filled with huge grey boxes that act as buildings. The Chinese minority that live in the area are called the Naxi.
The next day, I left to go on a trek in the nearby mountains, in Tiger Leaping Gorge.


I was to hike for the day, stay in a guesthouse along the way, then keep hiking to a point where the trail meets the road and take a bus back to town. The gorge is created by the beginning of the Yangtze river, which cuts through huge mountains. The trail is carved into the side of the mountain, and passes by little clusters of houses where the Naxi people farm and raise goats.

There are guesthouses set up by the Naxi people who take in the foreigners who trek the trail and feed them and put them up for the night. I went on my own, as Pri decided to do the one day hike instead of the two day hike. The other tourists who I ended up trekking with were cool peeps, and we had a great time... We hiked over 7 hours the first day, stopping for lunch right before we tackled the infamous "28 bends"- going straight up the mountain!

The Naxi people would amble by from time to time on little ponies, offering rides to anyone who couldn't take it anymore. Dinner was well-deserved, and we passed out after taking a brief look at the night sky, where you could see so many stars the sky looked cloudy! There was the milky way, so immense, and every star twinkling- what a moment.
We started out the next morning rather late- after a lazy breakfast, and watching them slaughter the pig... yes, this is life! The pig was probably well over 300 lbs, and took 6 men to hold it down. They poured boiling water over it to scrape off the hair... And we took off on the next leg of the hike.


I left my hiking partners behind at lunch, because I had to reach the road before 4 or 5pm. They were going to spend another night up in the mountains- so lucky! Pri and I had to catch an overnight bus back to Kunming so she could fly to Hong Kong and I could meet up with Tanque and fly to Xishuangbanna the next day... More travel with stinky feet blankets, ugh.
The final leg of my hike was glorious- I didn't encounter a single person. At one point I thought I heard voices yelling... but it turned out to be the goats bleating. The trail wound around windy precarious rocky pathways, high above the river. I saw a waterfall from afar, and as I approached I realized I actually had to walk through it! There was a temple up there too. Nepalese flags flew above the trail, leading up a stone stairway to a red door set in a stone wall. The door was shut but not locked, and I opened it, feeling like I was trespassing, but I knew that temples are usually open to everybody. Inside were larger than lifesize statues of gods- I'm not really sure which ones. There was incense, and cushions to kneel on. There were pots and kitchen stuff too- it looked like people might cook up there from time to time as well. Water trickled from a pipe, making a nice trickling sound. It was surreal, especially me being alone. I couldn't stay long, because I wasn't really sure what time that bus left.
It turned out that I missed the bus! By 10 minutes! I had to comission a mini-bus to take me back- at least there was one available and the driver was cool- she bought me a coke and drove very safely.
Once I got back to the hostel, Mama Naxi gave me and Pri little necklaces, a bag of oranges, kissed us on both cheeks and sent us off to the bus station.
Whew! No time to breathe!
We arrived in Kunming at maybe 6 in the morning, but nobody woke us up until like 8- everybody on the bus was still in the bus sleeping! Luckily it didn't smell as bad as the last one, probably because it was less than half full- thank god!

So, we met up with Tanque, and bade farewell to Pri- she was off to Hong Kong, and we left for Xishuangbanna, where the weather was supposed to be in the upper 20s...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

OBAMA is finally president!!



China has been a whirlwind, a tornado! We've stayed at four places in 5 days, and are moving on again tonight.

This kind of traveling is exhausting- but we're on a mission. Once we reach Lijiang (tomorrow morning 6am after an overnight bus) we will stay put- for a whole three days! Pri's gotta be back in India soon, so we gotta stick to a schedule. Man, I miss the lazy days in Pushkar. There are pros and cons to everything though, and I am thoroughly enjoying this trip. A little slower, perhaps, would have been ideal, but I'm not complaining. In fact, I am grateful- I have so much! And now, Barack Obama is officially president. Watching the inauguration ceremony last night, on a computer in the lobby of the hostel where we had just arrived on a plane from Guilin, standing up and sharing earphones with another American girl, we all had glows on our faces that matched the glow from the computer. Even though the computer froze up as soon as he started speaking, the feeling emanating from the thousands of people on the screen in DC was palpable in the air- Wow, I wish I could have been there!
Everyone I've been talking to about the new president is in agreement that although he is up against a huge machine, he is a definite change for the better. There is a new spirit of HOPE everywhere that I've been, and people have a positive impression of the new presidency. Barack has a chance to foster a sense of RESPECT from the international commmunity for the US that no other presidential candidate could have had the potential to create. He has already fostered hope- I hope it filters down to every last one of us, members of humankind, not just the US- to believe in ourselves to live our lives up to our own individual unique highest potential.

Ok, back to the blog! I love spending time here, on the computer, communicating with the world- it makes me feel connected, and that is somehow fulfilling- but I have to be aware of the time, and know that I also have to get out into the world that I am physically in to experience it MORE!

Kunming

Overnight bus rides with stinky feet blankets.










Guilin caves... So touristy but pretty cool regardless... Especially the cave turtle...










This was at the foot of the Solitary Peak.













Mmmm, dragon fruit



Yangshuo




I went rock climbing in Yangshuo yesterday, climbing up steep karst cliff
faces- I just had time to do a half day- it was beautiful.
My guide was great, very safe. I belayed him as he climbed up, lead roping
to put the rope through at the top for me to top rope. It was just the
two of us in the morning, but more people showed up towards noon.
I did 5 climbs in about 3 and a half hours, each one consecutively
more difficult- starting at a 5.8 and ending at a 5.10c- wow! Only
sheer willpower and my guide holding steady at the bottom got me up
the last one. It was a great challenge...

This was my climbing guide Paul- he's been climbing since it came to China ten years ago. He set up a little iPod speaker at the foot of the cliff and we grooved to some reggae tunes- he told me he cut off his dreads a few months back.

While I did that, Pri took a scooter around with another friendly traveler, and hiked up Moon rock, she said it was beautiful! She said there were two elderly women who also hiked up with them, but carrying coolers filled with drinks- that they were expected to buy from at the top! Of course they did...

You can also go mountain biking, hiking, bamboo river rafting (peaceful rafting, not whitewater ;-) take tai chi classes or just shopping- Yangshuo is a picturesque little Chinese town, filled with foreigners on vaction, as well as visiting Chinese tourists. It's totally walkable and pleasant. I will be returning on the tour for a few more days, and I'm really looking forward to it.


We flew to Kunming last night and are sort of mellow today, catching up on email and resting before we take off on a sleeper bus to Lijiang tonight... (oh, I think I already mentioned it...) We might head out right now to do some shopping and walking around and stuff.

More updates later!

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's freezing here in China!

We are freezing out here in Yangshuo- but it's so awesome...
I wish I could spend more time here. It's been easier than I thought to do things out here-
at the moments when nobody speaks english, and both of you are staring at each other blankly, someone steps in out of the blue who can help- somehow we've gotten from the airport to the hostel, mailed out another parcel to the US, rode the subway and booked bus tickets, no problem.

So, we landed first in Guangzhou, which is in south east mainland China, near Hong Kong.
The signs were hilarious- I wish I was downloading photos, because I took some pictures-
Like I said, it was pretty easy to find our hostel from the airport via bus, subway, and foot- although we walked this way and that trying to find the exact location after someone had written the wrong chinese character name for our hotel after going back and forth for about an hour- it took us a little while to figure it out!
Next we took an overnight bus to Guilin, which was a big city, although there were a few fun tourist sights to look at, like Solitary Peak and Reed Flute Cave. I bought a glow-in-the-dark rock for 10 yuan, and we saw the babies wearing the booty-less onsies! (Yeah, the babies here wear pants with no booty! Some of them wear diapers underneath, and some just let it all hang out! Cute little baby booties everywhere! We're not really sure how it works out when nature calls at random hours, although we did see a mom posted up in the park holding her baby in a convenient position so she didn't have to change any diaper...!)
We worked out at a playground with fun workout equipment that was just like an eliptical, stairmaster, and a new one that went sideways and worked shoulder stabilizers, triceps and oblique abdominals.
We saw the show, "Dreamlike Lijiang" last night, with Chinese acrobats and ballet dancers. It was really good- Roots of Cirque du Soleil.
Today we took the boat ride down the Li River to Yangshuo, the backpacker's paradise, nutella pancakes and all. We rented bicycles and found a Tai Chi school down the road from the town and took a class- great class! We learned a basic form. On the way home we picked some kumquats from a tree- so delicious! I could stay here for weeks.
There's mountain biking, and rock climbing... Tomorrow morning I'm doing a half day rock climb- Yangshuo is up and coming, just now appearing on the international rock climbing circuit. The karst mountain faces are perfect- wall faces rising straight up from the ground, it's unreal.
This is the landscape that I came to China for- imagine Chinese landscape faces of misty mountain-tops and winding rivers... The only problem is that this winter there has been a drought, with no rains to wash away the combined mix of pollution and haze that drapes over everything and drabs it out. You'll see (or rather, you won't!) when I finally post some pics.
Not to mention the DRAGON BEARD CANDY that I finally found- mmmmmmm! So delicious! It's like pulled strings of candy wrapped around a peanut and sesame seed filling.
On the whole, China has been much nicer than I imagined, and much easier. I'm almost regretting my decision to go with a tour in Feb- I do like my independence- but I suppose it will be easier to let someone else do the planning for a while- I start the tour on Feb 8th, and it ends Feb 28, so it's not even a tour for that long. This is a lesson in patience- and taking one thing at a time.

They say that when one is traveling you learn as much about yourself as you do about the rest of the world. I must learn that there is time to do everything, no need for anxiety. All good things in time. Haste makes waste. A stich in time saves nine. If I could save time in a bottle...! Time is another dimension, after all, and if you step back and take it all in, a lifetime is a long time... So anyways, I gotta go! It's time for bed!

Signing off, until next time!

PS. I wish I could be in the states for Tuesday Jan 20th, 2009!!!!
I am so excited, the whole world is anticipating it- even though we can't expect miracles immediately (well, shoot, let's expect them anyways! and let's make them happen!) everybody knows it's a change for the better.
I'll be watching it on TV wherever I am!!! Enjoy! Celebrate! I'll be back in March!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Catching up... Dubai

Dubai was...
From All of it


...modern, and seemed to be constantly denying its culture and history. Billboards proclaiming the advantages of living in the latest luxury penthouse suites. Malls everywhere. Construction everywhere.

...a little too much, too over the top. Global village, at Dubailand! Energy conference Jan 16-19! Swim with the dolphins at the Atlantic Hotel! Ski indoors at the Mall of the Emirates! Shop, spend, buy!
From All of it

From All of it


...reminiscent of the middle east- men and women wearing traditional outfits. Mosques. The call to prayer five times a day.
From All of it


...full of Indians, here for work.

The food was great!
From All of it


We went on a package tour which included a camel ride (all two minutes of a photo opportunity!) and a dinner outside at a Bedouin emcampment with a belly dancer... Dinner was good, and so was the belly dancer- (Roxy, you still take the cake though! ;-) But the craziest part was the sand dune bashing- (warning Mom, don't read this part!) now THAT is the kind of activity that SUVs were made for... (While destroying the desert at the same time...) No waivers, no explanations, just watching while the driver let the air out of the tires, and noting the fact that there were roll bars in the car... We raced up and down the dunes, I was sure we were going to go tumbling down the hills- TERRIFIED!!! Guys, you would have loved it. Me, I would have preferred seeing a little more of the culture, seeing more of the differences between life there and my life... But no such luck.
From All of it


Dubai was like Disneyland, albeit mostly under construction. They had a huge aquarium, the mall where you could ski indoors, and the tallest skyscraper in the world. We tried to hustle our way into the 7-star hotel, but all our leads fizzled out. You had to book a reservation just to enter the grounds- coffee, cocktails, breakfast, lunch or dinner... Dinner was $850 dirham (at 3.65 to the dollar, that's about $230 USD). For coffee or a drink, it was $300 dirham- about $85... So I'll wait until my next trip to splurge on the Burj!
From All of it

From All of it


We took a day trip to Abu Dhabi, which was like a smaller, but cuter, version of Dubai. The modern buildings there were original and creative. I found myself with a new appreciation for this type of art after reading the Fountainhead... It seemed as if architects had unbridled freedom to create buildings that fit the city with unlimited creativity. There were also beautiful mosques and palaces that we saw along the way. The landscape was fantastic- the sky was clearing after raining all night, yellow sands against a bright blue sky with billowy white clouds.
From All of it


Raining? Yes raining! We had thunderstorms the night before last. I guess it does rain in the desert- count us lucky to have experienced that! Lightning was cracking across the sky while we walked home from dinner at a delicious Lebanese restaurant.

The malls were pretty nice too- there was Rodeo Drive style shopping- Gucci, Prada, Marc Jacobs... There was the Body Shop, and a food court, and many stores similar to those in LA, along with scores of beautiful people. The nicest was the mall we went to on the city tour- it was, as our German tour guide explained, "like a mall, but different!" Basically, it was filled with only the finest of the fine, Persian rugs, silk sarees, gold-trimmed furniture, marble inlaid with precious stones, diamond jewelry, carved wooden vases inlaid with marble... I imagined that one day I would furnish my home with a few choice pieces. Now at least I know where to come to find what I want!
From All of it

And for those of us who just need some functional pieces at a functional price- well there was an IKEA store as well!

We went to a hotel which had a huge aquarium.
From All of it


The biggest difference between India and Dubai was on the roads- traffic was beautiful! Well coordinated, drivers stopped and gave pedestrians the right of way. Nobody honked unless it was necessary. And people drove all kinds of new and large vehicles- I realized that it has been a while since I saw people driving Hummers in LA. Not so in Dubai! Hummers, Mercedes, Lexus, all well-represented.

And I'd like to give a special thanks out to P.S. Rao Uncle, who graciously hosted us in the hotel-apartment that we shared with him in the absence of cousins Madhu and Bindhu, who were to have spent this time with us there in Dubai, but were unable to make it due to Bindhu having a fever, so they remained in India.

We landed in Guangzhou, China, today, and are in the midst of planning out the next couple of weeks before Pri and I part ways. I've already contacted Tanque, whom those of you in the capoeira community know of, and we'll probably meet up at some point before I head off to Hong Kong for some capoeira before I leave on my guided tour up the east coast of China. Whew! What a trip! The days are blurring together, and I hardly have time to keep up with this blog. But I do it because I like keeping in touch, and it makes me feel closer to home.

Love you all!
Akemi

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Left India this morning







Pri and I left India this morning at 6:00am, and are now here in Dubai!
Just a 5 day stopover before China.
(We are leaving on the 16th Jan for Guangzhou...)
Some family friends of hers have a hotel/apartment here where they stay on business, which they have so kindly offered for us to stay for a few days.
We'll go on a desert safari and city tours, go to Abu Dhabi and to the beach!

Leaving India was kind of sad- I felt that I didn't see all that I wished I could have.

Rajasthan was magnificent and beautiful, wild and ragged. Dusty but natural. The holy lakes, magestic architecture, fighting cows and great friends I met. I will try to pursue silvermaking when I get back to LA.

Delhi was old and mysterious, I definitely could spend more time there. There's a book called City of Djinns, one year in Delhi, by William Dalrymple that I want to read.

Rishikesh, Amritsar, Kashmir- places I didn't go, but would go back for!

Agra- The Taj Mahal, one of mankind's greatest achievements...

Varanasi, so dirty, so contradictory and strange, I wasn't there long enough for the magic to take hold. I could have stayed to take some tabla lessons, I think that would have done it for me. Didn't have time though, the earth keeps spinning forward!

Kolkata, even dirtier. From there I would have gone north, and visited Darjeeling, Sikkim, Bihar, Bangladesh, Burma, Myanmar... There's just so much!

Hyderabad- from New Year's Eve at the Telagu Film Awards to sari shopping with Pri and her mom, and delicious homemade food every day, this was a great place to clean up and recharge.

Kerala- another delicious experience, the best when Sabith took us to meet all her co-sisters and each one fed us and sat with us and asked questions about our lives...

All in all, I am satisfied with my trip. These memories will mellow in my head like mixing rice with curry with my hand- once the gravy incorporates with the rice, it becomes a different flavor altogether. For now, the flavors are still sharp and distinct, and it is hard to write them all down in a way that will convey the feeling of the time, the accurate sensation of "being there". In fact, that much accuracy is often not appropriate to a description of an event. The stories will tumble out, and after a few repetitions they will start to make sense.

For now, the stories will continue!
Dubai is already fascinating- The middle east is another facet of our wonderful world history...
Goodnight!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Varkala...






A beautiful beach town, built up on the edges of sandstone cliffs.
Totally built for foreign tourists.
Great shopping!
Pri and I got the regular class train to get here- I thought we would have a chance to see the countryside through the open windows, interact with the locals... Well, basically the locals sat in our laps as we sweated it out in 90 degree weather, struggled with the steel "windows" and giggled and laughed because, well, there was just no other choice! And luckily we got a spot on the ladies car (after spending an uncomfortable 20 minutes standing at the end of a co-ed car, because we couldn't find our seats and didn't know which way on the train to go to find them...)
What else...
Dinner tonight to an Indian classical music band, they were excellent, and really got into their music- smiling passionately at each other, hands moving faster than lightening...
No philosophical musings tonight, I'm rushed, this place closes in 5 minutes!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I love Kerala











The apartment has marble floors and wooden trim. The furniture is carved from wood, the dining room table seats eight and is topped with glass. The guest room has it's own bathroom with a glass enclosed shower and access to the balcony, which overlooks the neighbor's pond, a cow shed and a temple, banana, papaya and coconut trees. The pillows are the perfect height, the bed is comfy, there is AC. The curtains are a filmy cream color, topped with an overlay of a darker cream that blocks the light and the heat in the afternoons. It is dreamy up here...
At mealtimes, watch out! Food comes out in droves! Bowls of curry, cooked vegetables, rice, bread and meat... All from the hands of Sabitha, our beautiful and gracious host. Her husband Babu sits and talks with us about life in the US and differences between all of our cultures. Fahra, their young daughter, gets ready for badminton practice. She is a national competitor, and travels to different places in India to compete. Her parents accompany her, which is how we met this wonderful family. They happened to be in the seats opposite ours in the overnight train to Ernaukalum Town in the state of Kerala. They were returning home. Babu overheard Pri and I planning our trip, and offered to have us stay in their home. It was so nice of them, and after spending over 24 hours on the train together, felt that we got to know them quite well. We accepted. Their driver was there at the station to pick us up, and little did we know that we would be entering a palace...
The apartment is one of four in a building that belongs to their family. In each of the four apartments live a brother, his wife, and their respective family. They are very close knit, and very loving. We were introduced to each one yesterday, knocking on each door, Sabitha leading the way. We met each equally gracious and beautiful hostess, who then proceeded to bring out the food, home-cooked Keralan delicacies, each more delicious than the last. We ate dried beef jerky with crackers, ice cream with raisins and cashews and a most delicious sweet called soon-pak (looks like a cake, with the texture of cotton candy, melting in your mouth). We ate mini-samosas, fried plantains and pound cake with lime soda. We ate idiappam, beef stew and more fried plantains with a drink of blended figs and milk. Food and family- what a delicious mix!

HOUSEBOAT TOUR OF KERALAN BACKWATERS
Babu arranged with his cousin's sister's brother-in-law to reserve his houseboat for a tour of the backwaters in Allepey. Just to give you an idea, this is the high-season in Kerala. Tourists are here from miles around to relax in this tropical paradise. (Temperature around 30 Celcius.) Hotel rooms are hard to come by, and as most people come for the backwater tours, these boats are in high demand. Our luck at finding this family was unbelievable, this whole part of the trip has been like a dream. He arranged a decent price for a two bedroom boat, all meals included (we were the only two on the boat, the other room went unused). However, they cooked enough for four! Not only were we stuffed from meals at Sabitha and Babu's house, the food on the boat was almost as good! We traveled with a crew of three, the captain, the cook and the everything-else-helper-guy. They all wore lungis- like a skirt, that lots of men in Kerala wear- it's probably really comfortable in this heat!
We floated for a while down picturesque waterways lined with people living their lives by the river- bathing, washing clothes, doing dishes, kids coming home from school in uniforms, people poling by in long canoes with various sundries in them... We stopped for an aryuvedic massage- they lather you in oil and make you wash with medicated water... After that, we ate (yet again!) and stopped for the night near a huge rice paddy field while the sun went down behind the palm trees. We watched fireflies, and the moon was half-full, and two little puppy dogs came and frolicked at the shore.
The mosquitoes were enormous!
The next morning we got up early, stretched a bit on the balcony, and headed back to civilization.

I found the trip extremely relaxing, and would definitely do it again. My mom said that Kerala is where Walt Disney got his idea for the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland- I don't doubt it!
I was reminded of the Ganges, but then I wanted to turn away from that memory. So grey, cold, frenetic, and desperate. So picturesque, but so melancholy. Surely the Ganges is holy- but I felt much closer to my peace watching night fall over the quiet waters under the palm trees.

I have so much more to write, but it becomes difficult to find time- especially when staying with family. There is always something to do, someone to meet, a meal to eat... Ah, the life!

Later this afternoon we board a train for Varkala, a beachy community where we will continue our adventures...
Love,
Akemi