Steve set his alarm for 7:15am to meet the hotel manager Binu downstairs as he offered Steve a ride on the back of his motorbike to get some cash out of atms he knew would be stocked with rupee. Steve got some snacks too for the journey – some fruit, chips and some biscuits (like short bread) from a local bakery for the boat ride. The cost of the Backwaters Boat Cruise was 850 Rupees ($19) each and went from 8:30am until 4:30pm. Girls reluctant, but happy to come along in the end.
We were collected by a mini-bus driver with a number of other travellers on the bus from various countries. But as we sat waiting inside Rampart Homestay to be collected, we had become good friends with the homestay manager Binu after chatting with him at the reception room and we asked him about his life and if there was a someone special in it. Binu had started to share his story, if he was married or not, the previous night before we all headed off to bed. Steve had asked Binu if he had a partner or was married as he was a very well educated young man, good looking and very articulate. Binu said it was a long story, one that he could tell us over a couple of drinks. It sounded as if it was a tragic story of some sort and I wasn’t sure if I could bear to hear it after getting to know Binu. He promised us that he would tell us his story before we left Cochi.
So as we were sitting there waiting for the mini bus to arrive and take us on the boat ride, Steve mentioned to Binu again about telling us his story. Binu asked, “who wants me to tell my story?” and we all raised our hands, uncertain as to whether it was right of us to ask. And so he started.
Binu is a well-educated man. He has two brothers – one older and one younger who were not the studious type. But Binu liked to study and he has a plethora of qualifications under his belt already at only 32 years of age. He was studying in the field of social work, and commenced work at an orphanage run by the sisters. There he worked with a woman who had been an orphan herself, and now assisted the sisters with the running of the orphanage.
This woman had been abandoned by her parents as a very young child and her family, the sisters, had become her parents. As time went on, Binu and the girl Lilly worked closely together and they fell in love. But Binu was studying and working in the field of social work and had little means to support himself let alone Lilly. He had told his parents of his love for Lilly who were happy for him, and he approached the sisters for their blessing but the sisters pointed out to Binu the fact that he needed to finish his study and go out and work. Only then may he come back for Lilly and ask her hand in marriage. And that’s what he did. He qualified in his field, gaining a Masters and started working. He returned to the orphanage but Lilly was not working there any longer. She had left the convent and the orphanage. Binu thought she had moved on with her life, but the sisters told him she had moved to Germany to work and study herself.
Life went on and then one day out of the blue, Binu received a phone call. “Hello who is this?” It was Lilly calling Binu from Germany. They caught up over the phone and Binu finally got the guts to ask Lilly, “Is there a place in your heart for me?” And the answer from Lilly was yes. I think then Lilly returned to India to meet Binu’s parents and a small wedding ceremony was held in India. In January this year, Binu is travelling to Hamburg, Germany to live permanently with his love Lilly. After spending so many years apart they will be together. How romantic is that? We were unfortunately interrupted by the mini-bus driver knocking at the door wanting us to board the bus and go on our tour. The girls were mesmerised by his tale, and Binu had finished his story (and no drinking was involved!).
Binu is a soft, kind hearted soul who took a liking to our youngest daughter Dacey. He called her ‘the manager’ – “here Dacey you sit in the manager’s seat and if anyone comes requesting a room tell them we’re full.” I hope we will continue to keep in contact with Binu throughout our lives and maybe, just maybe, visit him in Europe one day.
The Kerala Backwaters Boat Tour
The mini-bus was full once we six clambered into it and the journey took about an hour to get there. The area of Alleppey was where all the house boats cruise along the backwaters and they cost thousands of Rupees to hire and stay on, but we were at Vaikom travelling on a traditional wooden boat powered by two men steering and moving the boat with a long stick of bamboo. It was a very slow, monotonous, quiet journey through the narrow canals and out onto the large expanse of water.
Out on the water it was so tranquil. So still and quiet, like being up in the air in a hot air balloon. We sat in comfortable wicker chairs and completely enjoyed sitting there, watching the man move the large bamboo pole in the water and back out, with that beautiful sound of water droplets hitting the surface over and over again.
We had a lunch stop that consisted of traditional food – small spoonfuls of food were placed onto a banana leaf with rice and it was absolutely delicious! The food kept coming too. After the boat paddling drivers and guide ate, we boarded the boat again and floated down some of the more narrower waterway paths. And then the journey ended, we were back on the bus amongst the congested and loud honking traffic returning home to Fort Cochin. The peace had abruptly ended.
The journey gave us a taste of what life is like in new Cochin – lots of traffic and buildings and chaos. Fort Cochin the old Cochi was a much more pleasant place to stay for our 4 nights and we’re glad we got to experience that side of south India.
The mini bus returned us to the Homestay at 4:30pm and we had quite a few hours to fill in until our train departed for Goa at 10:30pm. We had packed up our backpacks last night, and this morning piled them in one corner of the room. We had access to use the toilet but the room had been cleaned – new sheets and a clean bathroom. We were eager to have a shower but washing the feet was the best we could do. It was refreshing enough. As a backpacker, the one thing you get used to is not being able to have showers, hot water, and privacy all of the time.
We walked to The Happy Camper café ordered some pancakes and drinks and sat there in the shade of the overarching trees, getting onto some half decent wifi and looking for accommodation in Mumbai. We are looking at staying at the YMCA at Dr Moses suggestion which is nice and central in Colaba area of Mumbai and just around the corner from the Gateway of India monument. We may have to get Moses to assist with booking this one too as we are struggling to book online ourselves.
We walked back to Rampart Homestay, chatted more with the lovely Binu. And then there was a knock at the door, two police were wanting to see his accommodation licence. Apparently they check them frequently, making sure nothing untoward like drugs or alcohol was occurring at the place. Prior to the police visiting we had a small group of young boys beat drums outside the homestay door and then sing carols to us and do a little dance in the laneway. They ask for money and use this money to but paint to mark the road for the upcoming Cochi Carnival festival. They had scary Halloween masks on and a jar to collect the money. We realised the time had come for us to leave for our train. It was our first experience in an Indian train, and didn’t know how long it would take to get there with the Cochi traffic, so jumped into two tuk tuks that drove us to the train station. Along the way there was a kind of leading up to the big one festival happening – the Cochin Carnival was happening culminating to a parade down Jacob Street on New Year’s Day. I wondered while I sat in the tuk tuk dodging people, bikes, cars and potholes whether it would have been better for us to stay in Cochin rather than leave for Goa. But we decided to stick to our original plan – New Year’s Eve in Goa – so we were leaving.
Of course we arrived at the station way too early for our train, like an hour before. The train we were boarding was a passing through train, so it would arrive 5 minutes before departure and leave straight away. Tensions were rising – it was dark, it was hot, people were staring at us, and we were carrying what felt like a shit load of luggage each. We managed to locate a restaurant not far from the station and we ordered some cola and naan bread and played cards (21) with the girls. It was a great way to soend time, and keep our minds busy. We walked back, in the dark and uneven footpath to the train station and I tried to confirm with the lady behind the info counter the two waitlisted tickets for Billie and Dacey. The lady at the Tourist Information counter at the station looked at the tickets on my phone, looked at her screen and then glanced down at a notebook with a lot of scribble over it and said “B4, 62 and 64”. Great how straight forward was that! But I then worried where the rest of us were actually seated? That was the two waitlisted tickets, so did that mean the other four tickets were also in the same carriage, near the same seats?
I left the others with Steve waiting on the station platform, while I walked back to the same info centre lady and passed her my mobile phone pointing at the other four people on the booking and asking, “where are four seated (holding up 4 fingers) – same same or different as two (folding two fingers up)?”. She didn’t seem too impressed with my return visit questions, nor my fingers and pretty much dismissed me with a nod wobble and shooed me away. All I managed to understand in that exchange was that we were all in B4 (head wobble means yes).
The train arrived half an hour later than expected, we found carriage B4 and hopped onto it with everyone else. It was a jam, and tightly packed. Train aisles are also very narrow, so we discovered, and we were packed in like sardines. The girls were not having much fun right then! Then the long train began to move. It was a confusing period of finding the allocated seat numbers, and when we found them we also found an Indian man already asleep within our sleeper compartment area (we had booked 3A sleeper and there is not doors or privacy) and another Indian man waiting with us with his train ticket saying he was in this compartment area too. The girls were getting frustrated, and upset to see that there were no curtains, no compartment door on the sleeper train like we had in a previous sleeper train in Sapa, Vietnam. Ash had a meltdown, and started crying because she didn’t want to sleep in the same compartment as the already sleeping Indian man already asleep in the middle bunk bed (3 beds on each side). Finally, the ticket conductor made his way down to carriage B4. I’m really not sure how the system works, but it all worked out (somehow) and we were allocated berths and ticked off a list he had on his clipboard. The man waiting to get into his berth happily swapped with Steve (who was meant to sleep in a different area) so our family could be together which was really quite nice of him.
Three levels of beds on each side within the compartment, then 2 levels of beds out on the aisle. Steve couldn’t fit in the aisle bed, so I slept there, and the girls and Steve (and the sleeping Indian man) slept in beds in the compartment.
We made our beds – a sheet, a blanket and a pathetic pillow. Then it was time for sleep. A couple of interruptions with people walking past, and a man boarding the train at the next station stop with his ticket number saying he should be in where Ash was sleeping! Great! We waited for the ticket conductor to make his way down the train again and work out this slight dilemma, and he confirmed with the young man that he had been upgraded and was to go up to A carriage. Phew. He seemed fairly happy about that one considering there was a person (Ash) already sleeping in his bed! He mentioned to us that he was travelling on this train for three days too! OMG how could he!? I think Ash slept with one eye open and one closed, and I went in and out of sleep with the light in the aisle being turned on for new boarding passengers.
Good night again. Then moments later…I need to go to the toilet god dammit. I knew they were squat toilets, and they were going to stink. But I had to. I clambered awkwardly down the steel ladder of the bunk bed, found my shoes and went to the toilet with BYO tissues. Yes it did stink (of urine), it was a squat toilet but it was okay. The train moved abruptly and I nearly fell into the wall – probably lined with thousands of germs – but managed to stay clean. Everything goes down the hole straight onto the tracks.
Good night again.