The Keralan Backwaters

The last time I really enjoyed myself on a boat I was on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala, sailing with this revolutionary guy named Chris. He left England a long time ago, to live with the indigenous people in the forests of the Izabel region.

Early morning train rides from Varkala led us to a train station outside of the city of Alleppey. Before our trip, I was told that sailing through the backwaters of Kerala on a houseboat was one of the defining experiences in the south of India. But seeing as how we plan exactly 15 minutes in advance everytime we go somewhere, we had no idea how to get a boat or where to go. But hey, when in India - do as Indians do!

As soon as we get off the bus, I feel like fresh meat thrown into a den of lions. Certain people just gravitate towards us. Business owners, houseboat owners, hostel owners, tuk-tuk owners, multiple-bag-of-chip owners, shop owners. It’s interesting to see how they approach the hustle - some ease me in with compliments, some try to exploit my ignorance. I mean, it’s useful when you have no idea how to go on about getting a houseboat.

We find a guy willing to let us stay in a place, but we have to wait until tomorrow to catch the next round of boats leaving. I’m thinking this will be good for my mind, because I’ve been feeling a little rushed as of late. I seriously underestimated how massive India is, and I routinely forget to account for “India Time” so it’s caused us to move through places quicker than we’d like to.

One of my favourite types of photography is street photography - you just gotta get in there, and engage with people in the corridors of common life

What’s the point of getting on a boat and sailing through jungles canals you ask? Good question. I don’t have any idea. What’s the point of travelling anyway? I feel better to have done it, and I feel like I’ve learned things about many things. Is that a good enough reason to go? How does my travels impact the people around me - the environment - the economy? Does it matter?

As I jumbled through this mess of thoughts without any hope for an answer, our insanely packed tuk-tuk stops at the houseboat dock and we ease on over to our boat. Essentially, we’ll be on the boat overnight travelling through the backwaters for a day. I did something similar in Belize - but that was more focused around Island hopping - this was through narrow canals in between rice fields.

Last year I got into the habit of writing things down. Primarily, so I can’t post-rationalize the emotions and feelings I have about any given experience. It’s a lot harder to tell yourself you didn’t feel that way when you’re reading something dated 2 months ago saying, “I really feel good about this decision”. I can’t really explain it, but it’s a surreal experience: looking at palm trees, across the world from my home, on a boat with humans all mutually interested in having a great time. What a life.

I’m used to evergreens, not broad leafy trees.

The girls, having a go at me!

Boats on boats on boats. The industry is huge.

A captain helping another captain out.

The boat moves at a slow pace, so you can see it all.

Often times we passed other people who were enjoying themselves immensely.

We had a sweet day laughing, taking photos of each other and eating delicious custom made food. As night settled in, we planned to get smashed. Kerala has some strict liquor and beer regulations so I literally had to squeeze into a government liquor bureau for locals, as 50 people watched me try to carry away as much beer and liquor as I could possibly hold onto a boat. It was worth it though. The night went on and we all let loose and had fun. The crew started taking shots with us and told us about their lives before becoming sailors. The underground economy, the unregulated, the secret and the illicit is huge everywhere, and I feel like everyone has had their life intertwined with it at some point. The captain said he would take us to see his family in the morning before our trip ended. Of course, I was the first to pass out.

Here’s our photoshoots and the scenery around.

I’ve been to a lot of cities around the world, from Europe to North America to Central America to Asia. I feel like every city has the same underlying foundation - massive urbanization, roads, cars and smog. These type of experiences are wholly different. The Keralan Backwaters are growing - there is much tourism and the boats are apparently getting larger and larger. I am glad to have experienced this slice of unique life while it existed like this. How long can this last? How long can anything last?

I am yearning for more - intensity, passion and immersion. Kerala was the start. We go onwards to Fort Kochi - a historical hub of medieval travel and commerce. There is only this moment, and it will not last. So, while I am in it - I will exist as if that’s all there is and ever will be.

Join me for more travels, next time. Thanks for reading.

Peace and Love

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