Yesterday we cycled 66km south along the coast to the town of Allapuzza which is an entry point to the Kerala backwaters. Today we are on a boat all day traveling to Kollam though the canals that serve as streets and roads for the villages that line them.
It’s beautiful country down here with coconut and mango trees and wetlands filled with egrets and other birds feasting in this huge estuary. Cormorants are perched with wings spread drying them in the sun. Right now I’m watching white seabirds with grey heads dive towards the water to catch little silver fish jumping on top of the water to escape. Even saw a real kingfisher – very fun after seeing so many pictures on the bottles of Kingfisher beer that tastes so lovely after a hot riding day.
Yesterday’s ride down the coast to Kollam short, easy and beautiful. We were heading through fishing villages, some with colorful boats pulled up on the beach and fisherman mending nets after being out all night with their catch laid out in the sun around the boats. There were some lively fish markets and many folks with shrimp or fish laid out on tarps or sale. (Only one had any ice, and some smelled a tad fishy for my comfort level).
I noticed a bunch of red, orange and blue yarn drying in the sun. Turns out it was a workshop where they were weaving bright colored mats typical of Kerala on ancient hand looms after dying, spinning and spooling the yarn on equally ancient spinning wheels. I watched a man operate loom for a while – a huge ancient wooden thing strung with bright threads. He had a wooden shuttle that he loaded freshly wound blue yarn and passed it by hand back and forth across the loom. He operated the movement of the loom with one bare foot – lifting his leg at least 2 feet off the ground and pressing down on one pedal, then stepping up onto the second pedal. When he needed to advance the fabric he stepped on an old gear that forced the cloth to move down into a large wound spool below. Very physical- almost acrobatic work to operate that loom.
And this area is very heavily Christian. It seemed there were churches – huge and colonial looking – every few miles all the way down the coast. Also several trucks or vans with speakers on roofs driving slowly along with a guy in the back seat repeating the same phrase for miles like an intonation. I saw one of them pull into a church. One the only words I recognized wore North American and Telephoto … not sure what the chant was but it’s hard not to wonder if it was related to us. Probably not… we tend to assume things are about us when they are not – just human nature to be self-absorbed.
Allapuzza has been called the Venice of India and is the gateway to the Kerala backwaters from the north. There are two canals running through the city with boat traffic, but beyond that it seems to be a bustling town where I saw tons of textile shops packed with Indians shopping for fabrics.
This morning we left on a boat for an 8 hour trip to Kollam. The canals we are traveling serve as streets and front yards, and people were bathing, washing and tooth brushing as we passed small black or brown canoe-shaped low-side boats tied up out front. Houses are colorful blues, pinks and purple and fronted by low rock seawalls. There are store where you can pull up on your boat for snacks. Kids are fishing and waiving. We just passed a green street sign – 50k to the city.
There are plants in the waters- mostly one with light green leaves and a lavender flower, but also lily pads with red, white and purple flowers clustered together.
Right now we are passing dozens of inactive Chinese fishing nets set up in the middle of a larger waterway that are the perches of hundreds of white seabirds with colorful fishing boats filled nets and floats anchored in between. There are men diving beside smaller boats pulling something up from the bottom and loading the center of boats. That must be exhausting. And we’ve passed other shallow boats laden with grey mud or clay that must way tons but are being polled forward by just 2 men.
This is a wonderful place – a nice alternative to the flat bike ride on a national highway which was the original plan.