As we write, we have just departed the Kondai Lip
, after three remarkable nights. It is a small 7-room resort in the traditional Keralan wood architecture, which the photos will convey better than any description could. But what was most unique about our stay was that, because the place has only just opened, we were the only guests for all three days!! So we were pretty much waited on hand and foot, and treated to a series of add-on excursions by ourselves: a motor boat trip to the beach, a demonstration of local net fishing for prawns (our catch served for dinner that night), a 3-hour "country boat" excursion at dusk (propelled by a silent man standing in the rear of the large rustic canoe with a long bamboo pole), a drive around the local area to see a historic house and a traditional boat-building shop...
We also had three gorgeous meals to order each day at the hotel, at the hours of our choosing, in a beautiful intricately built open-air restaurant. Really delicious south Indian cuisine (and grilled cheese for "Clara"). Also, the place was literally surrounded on all four sides by water, so we had nothing to do but enjoy the backwaters and relax in our hammock, reading and napping. Oh, and take the pedal boats out occasionally. (The first day they even produced a six-year-old playmate for Claire!)
We had a great time there, and feel that we really lucked into a remarkable experience, but at the same time we couldn't quite stop giggling about the whole thing. Our hosts were so incredibly solicitous. It was their brand new hotel. Did we like it? Did we?? Was the service ok? Was there anything they could do, get us, arrange? We had a great timke, but it turns out to be a lot of pressure to be the only guests in a historic cottage with seven sweet Kerelan men who consider it their current life's purpose to look after you! At one point there were three staff in a single canoe paddling Claire. The last morning they had a photographer waiting, and snapped photos of us all through breakfast, for their marketing purposes, so we'll have to check the website and see if we're famous.
So what are these "backwaters?" Part of what makes this area of Kerala so remarkable is that the land is interlaced with canals, lakes and channels. It's water, water everywhere, overhung with palms, fishermen paddling past in small traditional canoes, or fishing off their back yards with large "Chinese nets" arranged on pulleys above the water. You can get most places by car, but also by boat, and boat is the way to go, children waving on the bank, Brahminy kites and iridescent kingfishers soaring overhead, and the soft rhythmic splash of a pole pushing you along.
Today, January 30th, we had a three hour car ride (arranged by our hosts at Kondai Lip, of course, and featuring Malayalam-language pop music all the way) to the beach town of Varkala, on the Arabian Sea. Claire is asleep in our hot hotel room, under the ceiling fan, completely wiped out by her long afternoon swim, then walking on the cliffs, overlooking the sea. More on that to come. Varkala is stop number ten, our last before heading back to Chennai by overnight train.