God’s Own (Indian) Country

From the start please keep in mind that this is being written with only a three-hour sleep in the last two days. The plane ride was good in that we got an extra seat where our little guy can recline and sleep, but sucked where service was concerned.  The flight attendants gave us attitude (which is surprising considering it was Emirates Airlines), they even gave our guy a milk box without opening it up with scissors/knife and when I asked they gave me attitude.  Then we touched down, and there my son decided to stop being bearable and maybe – for a change –  become the most annoying kid I have ever dealt with. Constant attitude, whining, endless screaming, fidgeting, boredom, and crying – made this day one of the worst (hoping tomorrow will get better – the misses seems to think the worst of the trip is over).  In hindsight he was going through the terrible two – they came 6 months early though. As I write this, he is throwing a fit and screaming at the top of his lungs – I am so over it!

So we got to the hotel which was a disappointment, and the rides in between our hotel and our destinations felt longer than they should – must have been the three hours sleep in two days issue.  Originally we were to rest today and just see the dance show, but plans changed, as they would – plus this being India. As a result, tomorrow became a free day – this was not the ideal plan, today should have been relaxing, as we are all already tired everywhere we went we had to cut short or almost strangle the little demon to death – nothing worked obviously.  Despite this, I don’t know how, but we managed to see the basilica, the palace (where I had to carry him through the tour with a soiled diaper), saw the Chinese nets (my wife stayed with him in the car), the Basilica (Barely saw Vasco De Gama’s tombstone), and the dance show (where the adults in the family had a fight about the entire trip).  Not too shabby for a first day.

Whirlwind Cochin

In the end I ended up calling the agent to see if we can move the next night and the last one in Cochin to a 4-star hotel instead of this one (Abad Atrium) mainly because the cot was not much of a cot (a wooden shallow box with no mattress).  We also had a really dirty room and our little “angel” had a crap “accident”, craptastic! We finally ended up in this artifact place called the “Emporium” – what a great name – we managed to get three souvenirs, sure we got ripped off but where would we not really?!  The tour guide and the driver were good sports given the little toddler at hand.  Tomorrow we intend to go to the mall, and relax a bit before the dreaded 5-hour car ride with mini-satan Jr. to Munnar (tea country) – one of three 5 hour rides so should be a nice test case of the chaos to come.

Other than that, all I can say is I’m glad I pushed myself (and everyone really) to go ahead and do this.  The place is a lot like Sri Lanka in landscape and climate, but the people seem more used to tourists than the Island down south.   Anxious about tomorrow, I hope it goes well!  (Abad Atrium, 10:00pm Cochin time, Thursday).

After yesterday it really couldn’t have been much worse – the day started off better because we actually slept a good while.  We started off with a good breakfast (Indian and regular – the best were banana fritters, some Indian noodles not sure what they’re called, they even had okra for breakfast! – the croissants were nice too).  We headed off to a lazy day by going to the Lulumart Hypermarket Mall were (much like Dubai Malls) it had all the major brands.  My “shopaholic” half ended up buying a couple of pairs of shoes (one of which she intends to exchange back already – so many indecisions!) and we got a couple of pairs for our slightly more subdued kid as well.  We also got basics like diapers, water, and snacks from the hypermarket (the snacks are bound to be finished soon – both banana and jackfruit chips are so addictive).

We decided to change hotels and headed to the 5-star Dream hotel – and what a difference that made.  Disappointing that the pool is under renovations, although they offered an alternative to drive us to a sister hotel and use their pool for free, but we were happy to nap and rest a bit (even though the little guy was wide awake).  His cot is exactly the same as the one at home but different colour, so we were happy about that.  I must admit that I threw a fit at my wife for suggesting the change, but in hindsight I think it was a good idea and we’ll be coming back here on the last day before the airport.  It made us all relax a bit more and focus on other things and the price difference was less than 10 dollars a night extra.

We had some great Chinese at the Mainland China hotel, which necessitated the afternoon nap (I couldn’t keep my eyes open enough to even watch a show I wanted to see for a while now “The History of the World” on discovery).  We did intend to go back to Lulu Mall, but it was late by then and the cab was expensive to take (vs. what we would have taken without a child – the tuk tuk).  Our beloved offspring was throwing a crazy fit in the lobby, to which I am still not talking to him two hours after the fact (and as I write this the silence treatment continues), but I have a feeling this won’t last much longer – cute chubby cheeks and doting large eyes are my weakness.  So we decided to order-in instead – more expensive and less interesting but much more convenient in this case.

So we might head back to the Mall on the last day before the airport when we’re back in Cochin.  Tomorrow’s 5-hour drive to Munnar should be interesting (very anxious about it vis-a-vis our kid – but we might stop at the Tea Museum on the way and break up the drive in half at least) – 5-hour drives x 3 in the next 4 days…. hmmmm…. sounds like something I would regret very shortly.  Anyway money is disappearing very quickly, so hopefully I don’t go too over budget in the next few days even though things are relatively cheap here.  So far I’m liking the place but travelling with my child has been more challenging than I thought, even as I write this he is very distracting, stepping over me and whining, not sure if it was such a good idea to bring him here, but wasn’t much of a choice and really just wanted to visit India.  I guess I’ll take what I can get at this stage, but oh the things I would have done if travelling sans children.  Better than nothing I guess, got to just give up some control, go with the flow, and enjoy what I can out of this.  (Dream Hotel, 7:40pm Cochin time, Friday).

To start off with, we had two scares last night; the first was when I was paralyzed and half conscious, I opened my eyes and so a lady’s smiling face above my wife’s head (who was fast asleep) protruding from the headboard.  My eyes were open but I could not move my body.  Eventually it felt like I needed all my strength to pull myself out of my semiconscious state – but when I did the face was gone.  I didn’t want to freak her out so I waited a while before I told her sometime later in the day.  The second scare was when my son suddenly woke up from his cot and had convulsions and was shaking with endless crying, I called the desk to arrange to go to a hospital but I thought it wasn’t sickness because he didn’t have a fever or wasn’t throwing up.   Did that call mainly to calm my wife down who was on the verge of tears and panicking (can’t blame her, he refused milk and the pacifier which was unheard of).  Eventually he calmed down and slept with us on our bed so we didn’t take him to the hospital, but it was a good scare in the middle of the night (and after my earlier episode I would say it’s been an interesting night).   Sidebar, he woke up screaming at the exact same moment I saw the head disappear, chew on that!

Having said that we slept in, to the point where we almost made it late for the breakfast and the drive to Munnar.  The breakfast at the hotel was great with amazing Indian breakfast items – the Egg Curry and the Aloo fried balls were great, they of course had western/continental style breakfast, I only took the cinnamon roll; I also had papaya which was so fresh. We eventually left the hotel, and after a good two hours of baby satan sleeping, and because of the misses’ small – very small – bladder, we stopped in a restaurant (one of the rare ones that had a western style toilet; this was after a couple of failed attempts stopping at places with eastern style “hole -in-the-ground toilets” which my lesser experienced partner didn’t know how to use!

Munnar Tea Country

So at the restaurant we had some great butter chicken, where it tasted like they slowly smoke or charcoal BBQ the chicken before they add it to the curry – was so delicious; and the basmati rice for some reason had more flavor (well obviously because it’s produced locally).  The drive to Munnar the rest of the way consisted of a crying, whining, or barely amused child (thank God for the portable DVD player we got here in the last minute).  Although the brief holiday enjoyment was at an abrupt end when my boo had another bladder challenge; she had to wait another 3 hours to go to the bathroom at our final destination.

We stopped by the elephant camp (they didn’t charge us for just looking, but gave them 100 Rupees anyway – didn’t stay long due to a hysterical crazy child).  We also had traffic at some points (due to Onam preparations the following week) which prolonged the ride – plus there was heavy fog and mist at the higher elevations.  Needless to say that, including the lunch stop, the trip took 7 hours total instead of the 5.

The hotel in Munnar has a great setting and view of the valley, we didn’t see much of the tea country due to the heavy fog but it was still breathtaking.  Amazing views and dense forest green, the occasional waterfall, and the winding roads (the odd monkey as well).   The wife approved, and seemed to like the hotel even though I didn’t see much difference than the first Abad hotel we stayed in, a bit outdated and “stained” but all in all bearable.  After having a quick walk through the hotel, we ended up in the game room where my boy “attempted” to play some ping pong.  We then headed for the dinner buffet which was very reasonably priced at about 700 rupees for both of us, plus water and Masala tea.  The buffet was great, and the food was mild which she liked and we were able to give our little guy.

The journey to Munnar was exceptional – the views anyway!

We relaxed in the room after that, and our “bundle of unlimited joy” – after a long while and many attempts – finally slept.  Tomorrow will be a bit of a déjà vu with a similar program dominated by a car ride, but hopefully it won’t last 7 hours this time due to easier traffic and better weather conditions. Hoping the kid will sleep more without many interruptions from a certain person’s bathroom needs.  Looking forward to Periyar and the jungle/park reserve, hope the hotel is also decent. (Abad Copper Castle Hotel, 11:52pm Munnar time, Saturday).

Today was a good day – started with a cool but breathtaking view at the hotel in Munnar – the view was amazing; there were some loud noises from the other guests, but that helped us to get up from our cozy sleep; that was especially hard since it was cold outside.  Had our breakfast and got ready to check out to head out to Periyar.  The drive was uneventful, with the usual soundtrack of child whining, crying and then sleeping; we didn’t stop this time so it was a straight 5-hour drive to Periyar.  Upon arrival the room – or chalet – was nice and better than expected.  We headed out to a lunch at the hotel restaurant where I had a local fish coconut curry dish and ma lady had Paneer with Rice, Chapathi, and a nice Carrot Halwa with mixed Tea. We had to delay our Periyar trip to tomorrow due to the timing, so tomorrow morning we’re heading out early (around 9) to the lake reserve to see us some wildlife.

Instead we did the brief but still interesting spice garden mini-tour, got us some real vanilla, white pepper, and fresh all-spice – as well as a silk screen painting from the store where our tour guide works.  The ladies in the shop (presumably his wife and daughter), couldn’t keep their hands off of our son.  We also saw some Elephants for free in the nearby Elephant camp.  Eventually we made our way back to the hotel chalet and relaxed (well as much as we could with a restless 2-year-old).  Ready to unwind, have a quick bite by ordering in, and sleeping early for an early start tomorrow; should be an eventful day.

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The welcoming committee (not a great shot)

On the way from Munnar to Periyar the views were amazing and I was lucky to get a few great shots.  There was also some heavy fog which delayed us about 20 minutes or so, but other than that a nice easy going day (again – as easy going as it can get with a kid in tow, it’s all relative).  (Abad Forest Green Hotel, 7:02pm Periyar time, Sunday).

So the hard part of the trip seems to be over, we are done with those 5 to 7-hour car drives with our son and lived to see another day.  Today was the least negative, either we are getting used to him or he’s getting used to the long drives.  We started off by having our early breakfast (we were the first to go to the restaurant) and then headed to the Periyar park.  On the way we realized that strollers aren’t allowed, which was really annoying given than I already asked the driver about this.  In a way ignorance is bliss because otherwise we wouldn’t have made the trip.  After a series of ticket fees which I thought were part of the package – they weren’t – about 1,000 Rupees worth for the park entry, boat ride entry, and camera fee; we waited for the boat.  There, my own “flesh and blood” threw a crazy fit, and took my glasses from me and threw them – twice!  So of course I told him off screaming in front of everyone, yes it was embarrassing but I think it set him straight the rest of the boat, he was well behaved – temporarily.  Unfortunately, this time our disappointment was with the lack of animal sighting int the park – still it was a relaxing slow boat ride with nice weather.

Searching for signs of life in Periyar park

He was adored by everyone, everywhere we go.  I guess it’s rare for foreign tourists to bring a kid that young with them to India so a bit of a rare sight.  Not to toot my own horn, he is adorably cute too.  To the point where a couple from another hotel recognized him when we saw them at the boat. He’s quiet the talk of the town.  Then came the five hour plus ride.  He slept most of it and the misses for a small part of it, I slept for 10 minutes but after snoring like a pig decided that it was too distracting to the driver and tried to stay up.

Our next hotel was really beautiful, we got upgraded to lake view, which is always a plus, instead of the garden view.   But the bathroom is lacking – reminded me of the eco-hotel in Sri Lanka where the bathroom had a part mesh roof and felt too outdoorsy for my liking.  The room itself was excellent.  When checking in, a lady approached my wife recognizing our kid from Thekkady (Periyar) – unbelievable this kid!  Not so cute when you’re in a car ride with him, try that stranger lady! Anyway, he and I had a good hour enjoying our surroundings laying in the hammock we had in the back.  He ran all over the garden, and at some point interrupted a honeymooning Indian couple who, no surprise, wanted his picture with them.  Being the emerging diva he was, he refused of course running away from the camera.  Walked by the pool and saw a good flock of crows and eagles which amused him a lot.

Then we decided to relax in the chalet – had a quick snack of chicken club sandwich, looking forward to a real dinner meal later on today (maybe – I already feel pretty full).  Seems all downhill from here with the trip fast ending and the car rides are now a maximum of one hour from one spot to the next.  Tomorrow we head off to a beach area and I might book a backwater boat trip for a few hours without the wife and kid for some photo ops – time to take it easy.  (Abad Whispering Palms Hotel, 7:41pm Kumarakom time, Monday).

Started off with another great breakfast in Kumarakom, then we headed straight to the backwater boat trip.  We took a private boat and agreed for a two hour ride instead of three.  It was a clean and sturdy boat and was happy I talked the wifey into experiencing it.  She wasn’t too happy about it, and seemed like she was in a bad mood – to be honest this was the case for most of the trip and even before we left Dubai.  I do give her credit for leaving her comfort zone, especially with our little guy in tow, and taking this adventure, but I think she is over doing it when she smothers him with antiseptics, and expects him not to touch anything – AT ALL!

A highlight of Kerala – its backwater boat rides

She seems to have a negative attitude coming into this and is overly critical – granted the hotels aren’t the best but we’ve been in worse and our guy seems to be having fun.  I do agree with her about sterilizing bottles and using bottled water, even for washing him, but I draw the line when she’s constantly sterilizing his hands – seems a bit psycho.  We had a talk later in the day, and God bless her, she tried her best to make the best of it – which I appreciate – but I did learn some lessons here. I do think it was my fault for doing this trip with them, but now I know their patience level, and mine. I think from now on I will think about travelling alone and taking shifts with her to go different places until he grows up (if he has a sibling this could take longer). Or we could go just the two of us if we have someone to leave him with back home.

After the boat ride and me telling off the driver and the boat guy for doing 2.5 hours instead of 2 (he said that he saw us enjoying the trip so he thought why not make it longer) – Why not?  WHY NOT?  I tell you why not, because we are on edge just keeping the kid manageable in his stroller on the boat. The kid is tired of just sitting still for 2 plus hours; and to be frank so are we.  Plus more money, I’m getting charged by the hour.  I made my point and I hate being taken advantage of, especially when they hear someone is from Dubai.

After that issue was “resolved” and as we moved on we reached the final new hotel (Turtle beach hotel).  It is a huge land area for this resort with an organic farm, badminton court, butterfly garden, and an amazing beach; it was really close to our chalet.  Beautiful hotel, still an open bathroom but a slight improvement over the last hotel.  As I am writing this, the misses is freaking out about seeing a Gecko again, and this is the third time, so I have to call the hotel reception to get somebody to get rid of it.  Have to say that I love Geckos, I find them adorable and harmless, but she has a right to her own phobias I guess – I think at this stage I should pick my battles. Weird though that they don’t do room service at all, cost cuts I guess.

We had great lunch with coconut lime baked fish for her and an Allephay Mango Coconut Fish Curry, which was spicy, for me.  After relaxing a bit and finally giving the dirty clothes for laundry service, I took my boy to the beach.  He spent most of his time chasing off crows trying to eat small fish coming out of the sea waves, he kept bothering them – poor crows.  The beach was clean and amazing, could have stayed there all day.  Following a few crying fits in front of people – the usual – we headed back to the room; and after a long attempt to get him to sleep, we decided we’ll take him to the restaurant awake for dinner (damn no room service!).  Walking to the restaurant and hearing the loud insect and cricket noises felt like a horror movie.  We shared a lovely Chili chicken with Chinese herbs which was really delicious.

Tomorrow should be a full on relaxing day, might hit the beach again and pass by the Butterfly Garden.  It’ll be a good chance to let our little boss guy play in the children’s playground a bit until we head out the following day to Cochin for last minute shopping. (Abad Turtle Beach Hotel, 11:00pm Mararikulam time, Tuesday).

So today was a truly relaxing day, easy going, very lazy and laid back.  Slept in late and had a late breakfast, on the way back passed by the Butterfly Garden, then back out again for lunch. Took our guy to the resort playground where he hung out with children of a TV crew that’s shooting an Indian reality show in the resort hotel (we noticed this yesterday) – had a good lunch where the wifey and I actually talked to each other for a change (he actually slept).  After a relaxing time watching documentaries on various things related to India on the National Geographic Animal Channel (also saw a documentary on the anniversary of Sept 11 bombing).

Beach life

Took Samr to the beach again where he was the talk of the town, had village women gawk at him and some local young men take pictures with him – to his usual confusion.  After cleaning him up, went out again for dinner where he was more or less well. Then finally capped it off by watching Wall-E and then off to bed.  In the meantime we finally got a load of laundry ready so he wore some of his new clean clothes (no more wearing mommy’s black t-shirt).  Just a simple nice relaxing bonding day with the family – some good food (vegetable curry for lunch which was mild and then some Paneer butter Masala); unlike the breakfast buffet earlier which left much to be desired though. Had the room cleaned as well, which psychologically made us all in a better state of mind for the rest of the day.  All in all, a true holiday kind of day.  One more night to go – bitter sweet, but time to head back to the real world (Abad Turtle Beach Hotel, 11:40pm Mararikulam time, Wednesday).

So today is our last night in Kerala, in Cochin – where we got upgraded from a room to a full suite (this rarely happens to me so I was especially excited).  The ride from Mararikulam was fine and shorter than other ones on this trip, but the usual back and forth between a whining kid, us trying to amuse him through various means, blah blah blah – so over it at this stage.  We went directly to the Lulu Mall where we exchanged her shoes for other ones, got a top, and I ended up getting Lee Jeans and 4 t-shirts (two of which were free because of a promotion) all of which totaled up to less than 250 dirhams (70 bucks!), and Lee is a brand I can’t find in Dubai – or Canada for that matter.  Had a heavy vegetarian lunch which was delicious then went to the hypermarket for some diapers and small essentials.

We thought we would miss the included breakfast buffet but the greeter lady said they can pack it in a bag for us and so we wouldn’t need to buy breakfast at the airport – saved some money there.  Passed by the souvenir shop in the hotel and got a small house boat souvenir, they are more than double in the hotel shop vs. all the other souvenirs we got – as expected.  Ready to relax and enjoy the suite the rest of the night, calling it an early night due to an early wake up tomorrow morning – reflecting on the great and interesting trip that passed with lots of up and downs (especially with our little one) –but I think it was well worth it, and a great bonding time with my boy, lots of memories from this one (both good and bad). It is definitely our time to go – first time to India, very memorable I would say, similar to Sri Lanka, but having the company made it equally a nightmare and a blessing (Dream Hotel, 5:00pm Cochin time, Thursday).

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