Sunday, February 19, 2012

Navigating the backwaters of Kerala

After checking out Goa, we took an overnight train South down the India coast to the city of Alleppey, in the state of Kerala. Known as the backwaters, this area is dominated by water through a series of interconnected freshwater canals and lakes. It's also a big rice-growing region (the rice is actually very different from rice we are used to--it's much larger and is very soft), and when you're not looking at a lake or canal, it's most likely either a flooded or dry rice paddy. Villages in this area run along the canal, and often the canal is on one side of the house and the rice paddy on the other. It's an odd sight to see when the paddy is flooded, because you only see a 20 foot-wide strip of land for houses, and endless amounts of water on both sides!

As a tourist, the big thing to do here is rent a houseboat for the night and cruise around the area, taking in the scenery. The boats have evolved in this region--once used as rice barges, then used as homes for royalty, and now all they hold are tourists for day or overnight trips. In the evening we docked at a small village, and it was interesting walking up and down the footpath alongside the canal to get a glimpse of the slow-paced daily life in this unique area of India.

Don't be fooled by the greenery...there's water under there! Water hyacinth is taking over the backwaters, and if that's not a clear sign of nutrient pollution, I don't know what is. (Reminds me of my former NutrientNet days at WRI.)

Our houseboat (well, one just like it). This one's using solar energy!

We shared our houseboat with some friendly Aussies, and the cook made us amazing home-cooked Keralan meals.

Our driver

Scenes along the way

Here's a strip of houses with a canal on one side and a flooded rice paddy on the other.

A typical house along the canal

Walking through the village

The streets of India

We're back in the U.S.! But we're a bit backlogged, so over the next few weeks we're going to try and catch up.  More India posts coming soon!!! In the mean time, here are a few of my favorite street scenes from India.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Perspectives of India

From the start of our travels, India's been at the top of my travel hit list - I've been so excited to experience the food, music, history, colors and everything else you read about and see in the movies! However throughout the past year, I've been warned over and over again by other travelers (and Ryan, who's been to North India before) that India can be a pretty challenging place to's noisy and hectic, and sometimes a little I tried to mentally prepare myself before coming here.

Having been here for a few weeks now, I've realized that it's all true...yes, it's chaotic, but it's such an exciting place and is totally manageable. That could be because we've been on the road for nine months now and our perspective of "chaos" has changed,  but I think it's also because we stayed with our good friends Rob and Ishan while we were in Mumbai for the first week here, and it makes all the difference having a friend show you the ropes of a new place..especially here in India. Also, never underestimate the power of expectations!

Chaats and Chai with friends in Mumbai

After Mumbai we decided to travel through South India for the rest of our time here. We've been traveling by train, which has been an interesting experience to say the least (look out for more on this in a future post, coming soon). The first place we visited on our trip through the South was Goa...a tiny state on the West coast of India better known for their beach parties and trance music than quiet, open sand. Ryan and I were a little hesitant to come here since we just went to amazing beaches in Thailand, and because other travelers said it wasn't that great, but we needed to break up the train journey from Mumbai to Kerala, so we decided to stay for a few nights. We headed for Mandrem beach in the far North, a massive, windy, quiet stretch of Goa. Yoga and good food were everywhere in this relaxing little town, and we wish we could have stayed longer!

We've been in India now for almost three weeks, and I've realized that the culture and history of this huge country is nowhere near as simple as I initially thought. Goa, as it turns out, gained it's independence from Portugal as late as 1961...I had no idea! Portuguese influence is all over the place here, from the food, to the numerous whitewashed Catholic churches, Mediterranean-style houses and tile, and many last names and signs written in Portuguese. We were pleasantly surprised by Goa, and it confirms our theory that you should always check things out for yourself before you write it off.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A thirsty roof

Found this random shot from Yangshuo, China while cleaning out old pics from my phone. Every morning this guy appeared to be watering his roof!

Guiling Girls take on Thailand

A few weeks ago my two sisters Rebbie and Joanie came to visit Ryan and I during our last three weeks in Thailand. It was so nice being able to spend Christmas and New Years with family, and to see familiar faces halfway across the world. We've already decided this was the first of many sibling trips in the time with Matt and Katelyn too!

We showed them around Chiang Mai, traveled through crazy mountain roads to spend Christmas in Pai (with a crazy speed demon bus driver!), and then headed down South for New Years to lounge on the islands of Koh Lanta and Koh Phangan. Along the way we learned how to ride scooters, got too many Thai massages and pedicures to count, fueled our love for Thai iced tea (Rebbie), Khao Soi (Ryan), and coconuts (Jenny and Joanie), and played a killer game of 3-week Rummy (Rebs was the winner!).

They both took tons of amazing pictures, which most of you probably saw on Facebook already. Here are a few of our favorites.

Bueng Pai Farm, our guesthouse in Pai

Lanterns for Christmas (and later for New Years)

Driving around the countryside in Pai

Local street dog gets a lift (doesn't that sound like an Onion headline?!)

Beach yoga on Koh Lanta

The beautiful beach on Koh Rok

Colorful boats on Koh Phangan

Full-Moon night sunset watching on Koh Phangan

Khao Soi, Thai Tea, and Coconuts...we'll miss you Thailand!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lost in translation - part 2

You may recall a post from a few months ago poking fun at some of the comical English signs that you see throughout Asia. Well, we've moved on from the days of "crunky nude balls", "graceful sporty times" and "popping showers" in East Asia and today bring you part 2 of funny/odd English signs in Asia, mostly from our time in SE Asia. You can check-out part 1 here.

What a great way to promote a veggie restaurant!

Love me some veggie goose!

My favorites are "yogurt juice", "old coffee" and "body shape coffee".

Obama's running for office in Thailand? Let's hope those crazy birther people don't get wind of this! (It's actually a local whiskey brand.)

Love this!

The good part of being a foreigner...

...and the bad.

For all my start-up/business friends, here's a new way to establish differentiation - just say so.

S is pronounced SH in Indonesia. (What, did you think we would mature this year?)

Some more of the same (4th line)...


You can do it!

And if you smoke them on Shabbat, it's quadruple happiness!