October 29, 2012

Tom Steps in Poop (or, "Alleppey, Kerala, India")

Coming off our super relaxed time in Kovalam and Varkala, we were looking forward to visiting Alleppey (or Alappuzha) and its famed backwaters, a major pitstop on the backpackers circuit of South India. On the recommendation of Rani at Mummy Bamboo in Varkala, we booked 2 nights at the Palmy Lake Resort in Alleppey. Don't be fooled by the word "resort." While Palmy was certainly comfortable, it wasn't a "resort" in the way you might be thinking. On the train from Varkala to Alleppey, we sat in a compartment with 3 French backpackers and a local woman and her adorable toddler daughter. We made friends with the Frenchies and they quickly asked our thoughts about the upcoming Presidential election. Once they realized we are liberals and Obama supporters (and they announced their mutual support for Obama as well), the ringleader of the trio, Yannick, said, "You must have been happy not to have George W. Bush as the President any longer." When I agreed, he shook his head and said, "The shame of the world." WOW! I won't get further political on this blog, but isn't that hard to hear? The rest of the ride to Alleppey was uneventful and we said goodbye to our French friends and hoped we'd run into them down the road.

Alleppey was a bigger town than we had expected, and Palmy was 3 kilometers outside of town, along a quiet stretch of backwater. We were greeted by Macy who showed us to our little cottage on the well-manicured property (that was dotted with bird cages full of pigeons for reasons we never understood). Our room was clean and simple, with a basic bed, old desk, ceiling fan and with the ever-present bucket shower. An extra bonus was the little lizard that lived in the roof in one corner of our room. We named him Barry and he was always in a hurry - running up the wall, running down the wall - and we were happy to have a 3rd roommate. He was so fast that I never got a picture, but this is what he looked like.
Barry's cousin

October 28, 2012

"Can I Touch Her?"

(First: We're a little behind with our recaps, and we'll get those up on the blog soon. In the meantime, we don't want to keep going back in time to write, so we're going to share some of our current travels with you while, at the same time, interspersing some posts from travels a few weeks ago…I hope it doesn't get confusing! This post is about something that just happened.)

One of the most difficult things I've dealt with (probably THE most difficult, actually), has been the unwelcome stares from Indian men. Staring is something we're used to. Everyone stares at us. Kids giggle. Boys point out how tall Tom is. Women carefully inspect our faces. Men look over their shoulders to get another glimpse of us. Sometimes, as we're passing by someone, they'll ask, mid-stride, what country we're from. We'll answer "America…California" and they'll repeat "America!" and, sometimes, "Obama!" which is really fun. They want to take our picture and shake our hands. It's mostly nice. We are, however, almost always on display. In truth, I don't think we were prepared for how few foreigners we would encounter on this trip. Not only are there not a lot of us, but there are a LOT of Indians, so we barely dilute the population. Sometimes, we go days without seeing another foreigner. This means that many locals, especially if they're visiting a city from more rural parts of the country, have had very little, if any, interaction with someone who looks like us. The staring is almost always good-natured and soon followed by a smile. It doesn't bother us in the least, and we do our best to make a favorable impression on behalf of Westerners everywhere. (You're welcome!)

Tom with some new, random friends

October 22, 2012

2nd Class (Varkala, Kerala, India)

You've heard Steph's first impressions of India (here). Some of my impressions are the same, such as the burning trash and the happy smiling people. Two of my other first impression were about the heat and the food. Having lived in San Francisco for the past 8 years, we're not used to much heat or humidity. And this place has no shortage of either. So far, at least once a day we have been coming back to our room, stripping down and laying still under the fan for 30 minutes to cool off. We are guilty of ducking into ATM boxes to enjoy the AC for 5 minutes (none of our rooms has had A/C thus far). The one benefit of this humidity is that our balled up clothes unwrinkle about 5 minutes after we put them on. The other thing that we have noticed is that, because we're so hot we are only eating 1-2 meals a day. We're just not that hungry.

Appam with Potato Curry
Photo from Yummy Tummy
Puttu for breakfast
Photo from mydiversekitchen

The first place we stayed, Vedic Hertitage House in Kovalam, is run, and managed by two men who have studied Ayurveda and owned Ayurvedic businesses. The first time we sat down for breakfast we had wheat puttu, which was delicious! It's steamed wheat (though traditionally made with steamed rice powder) and topped with fresh coconut that comes out piping hot. You mush it all down on the plate, toss on some mung beans, crumble on some pappadam, sprinkle on some sugar and then take a boiled plantain and mush it all together and eat it all with your fingers. I know it sounds strange, and Steph and I certainly shot each other some looks while our host explained how to eat it, but it was very filling but also very clean-eating. And really, it was very, very good. It's very high in protein, but has no cholesterol or fat. We both ate it all, and it was a lot of food. Usually when I eat a large meal, I feel overly full or tired. But with the Ayurvedic food, we don't get that at all. Instead, it just fueled us for the day and left us feeling satisfied, but not heavy. Another breakfast we had was appam with curry. They soak cooked rice overnight and then mash it and put it through a sieve so it's a batter-consistency. Then they add coconut milk and some yeast and fry it to make a white, spongy-in-the-middle and crispy-on-the-outside pancake. You dip the pancake in a mild potato curry. It is once again very filling, but in a good way. We haven't found wheat puttu since we left Vedic Heritage, but we've had appam a few other times at other home stays. So far, the wheat putty has been Steph's favorite dish, while I love the appam and would love it regularly for breakfast. Another food that we have fallen in love with his Kerala rice. It is a bigger grain and fluffier than normal rice, but once again isn't too filling. We are thinking about figuring a way to import it. (Puttu Recipe , Appam Recipe)

October 18, 2012

Travel 101: Intro to India (Kovalam, Kerala)

I really have no idea how to begin writing this post. There's no way I can relay every last detail of what we've seen and done and how we've felt, nor would doing so successfully convey what India has truly been like to us in this first week. I thought about avoiding the "Intro to India" post altogether and, instead, begin posting about the details - a meal, a person, a place we stayed - and pretend as though our entry to this (very) foreign land was a completely normal and every day thing. But it hasn't been. So you can understand why I don't know where to start. I'll get on with the description later, but I know how important it is to capture the reader's interest early, so I'll start with this picture from our first full day in India. 

That piqued your interest, right?

October 14, 2012

Friends in High Places

I'm writing to you now from our little room in Kovalam, Kerala, India. We're jetlagged and wide awake at an hour when we should not be wide awake. But we've decided not to let it bother us. One of the great things about long-term travel is that there's no rush - we can adjust to the time change slowly.

So, this gives me the opportunity to recap the post-camping part of our road trip, which was really amazing. (See our recaps about Yosemite, Zion/Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches/Canyonlands/MonumentValley, and the roadtrip wildlife). Get ready for a picture-heavy, long post. You can also heck out all of our pics from the friends and family portion of our cross country road trip here.

Simon (3) and Tom

After we finished camping, we drove to Loveland, CO, to see Tom's oldest sister, Melanie, her husband, Brian, and our nephews Simon (3) and Zachary (9 months). We had a lot of fun helping to potty train Simon, which is a hilarious and patience-trying endeavor we were happy to help with. (Just so you know, he's doing an excellent job!) We were pretty exhausted from camping, so we relaxed, had great meals and played with the boys during the day, including a day in Boulder and an eventful day at the bounce house place. It's amazing how quickly Simon changes and we love seeing his sweet personality grow.

Zachary is a very smiley baby and does great things for the ego, as it doesn't take much effort to get him giggling. One of the evenings, we drove to Denver to see my dear friend, Tiffany Colvin, and her scrumptious little boy, Callum (6 months). And before we left Boulder, we drove to the hospital in Boulder, where our friend Allan and his wife, Megan, had just given birth to their first child, Lily. Colorado was really a tour of babies for us.

October 12, 2012

Look! It's a California Condor!

So, we made it to Kovalam in southern India after 33 hours of travelling and are getting settled. We were so bad about posting on the cross country trip due to the heavy socializing that comes with visiting almost every friend and family member we have over a 5 week period. So we'll use the next couple of posts to wrap up that portion of our trip.

One of the greatest parts about the road trip was the wildlife we saw on our drive.

The first thing we were excited to see was the Pronghorn in Bryce National Park. We saw a group of them grazing on the side of the road in Bryce and once we learned more about them realized they are a fascinating animal. It is considered the second fastest land animal in the world, reaching speeds up to 70 miles an hour. It is thought that it evolved this way to help avoid the now extinct North American cheetah. While we didn't see them running it was very cool to learn the history of an animal that I associated with Africa.


October 11, 2012

Layover in Abu Dhabi

Hi All!

Sorry for being MIA for so long. After camping, it was a whirlwind of friends and family until about 24 hours ago when we left Wilmington, NC, drove to Raleigh, NC, flew to JFK and then to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where we are now, on a layover, waiting for our next flight to Trivandrum, India (Kerala).

We have several posts that will go up in the next few days but, in the meantime, just wanted to let everyone know where we are. The trip is off to a great start so far - no travel hiccups. We've just finished our 13-hour flight and have one more flight (5 hours) ahead of us. And we've met a very interesting guy who just took a teaching job in Abu Dhabi (working for the government) along with his wife. Hi to Chris (and your wife, Melanie)!

If Abu Dhabi Airport is any indication of how amazing Abu Dhabi and the rest of the UAE is, we will definitely be back here at some point in our lives. It's over-the-top beautiful and luxurious. It seems like a place we would love to explore.

Inside our terminal at Abu Dhabi Airport
Stay tuned for more posts from us, including posts about the wildlife we saw on our cross country road trip, a wrap-up of our visits, and an important message to our friends and family. (You're intrigued, aren't you?)

In the meantime, we'll likely either be A) in the air, B) waiting in a line, or C) jet-lagged and grumpy.