We took a six hour tour of the backwater of Kerala district. This is a relaxing time on a small covered boat which two men propel with long bamboo sticks. Our hotel had suggested the three hour tour, but in our great wisdom we decided to do six hours. More and longer is always better, yeah?? Nope- not this time. The tour was very long and very slow. In hindsight, three hours would have been perfect. But we settled in for our six hours and tried to make the best of it. We can’t make every decisions perfectly when traveling for 6 months, right?
The backwater of Kerala is a series of waterways which the people use for transportation. There are rivers, lakes and man-made canals. Small canoes are the only way to travel in much of this area as some of the canals are very shallow and narrow. The water is brackish (a mix of salt and fresh). It is known for its coconut and mangrove trees that extend past the ground and extend into the water.
We were told about many different types of animals that live in this region. There are prawns, numerous fish, snakes, large lizards and multiple birds. We saw four different types of birds. The first bird was a black bird called Black Cormorant. We saw many Black Cormorant on the trip. It is a sleek black bird that can fly and swim. We often spotted it often diving into the water and coming back up to the surface, and occasionally sitting on tree branches, and even once drying its wings in the wind.
We spotted one King Fischer. This is the bird that the region in known for, and it is a beautiful bird. He is bright blue and Chris and I first spotted him flying across the river. He moves very quickly and we were not even sure what we saw. We spotted him in the trees and he has stunning coloration. He was one of the highlights of the tour.
We saw 20 or so eagles flying above the largest lake in Kerala. The eagles were swooping down to the water to grab fish. They also had beautiful coloration. The top of the bird was black but the bottom side was a burnt orange color. The coloring makes them noticeable over the water however it matches the orange color of the dry coconut leaves.
The fourth type of bird we saw were ducks. The ducks are different than the ducks in America. They were in different patterns of white, brown, black and tan.
Finally, we saw but didn’t identify this bird:
Before lunch we were able to witness the making of a coconut rope. This type of rope is popular in these areas and widely used. The coconut is submerged in water for months and then dried for months. After that you can take the fibers from outside of the coconut. The lady we saw gets the fibers from elsewhere and makes it into rope. She puts the fibers into a large sack at her waist and hooks the end of the fibers to hooks. The hooks are electric and will spin very quickly. As they spin the fibers get twisted together. The interesting part is that the fibers are very short the the twisting action makes them stick together coming out of the sack. If the line breaks, she puts the end back in the sack and it will gather others ends and continue onward. She then braids the two strands together to make one rope. She can make 70-80 ropes of 30 feet in one day.
We walked around the property to view many different spice plants that grow in this area, including turmeric, ginger, mace, and nutmeg. The last two are from the same plant, nutmeg is the dried seed, and mace a stringy lining over the seed under the fruit.
After lunch we stayed on the boat for another 2 hours going through small canals. We watched the men on the boat steer us around sharp corners and downed trees with their polls. The men would stick their 10 foot poll all of the way into the water until it hit the bottom or side of the waterway. Then they would push us forward, evening walking with the stick in the mud. They did this to get us up river against the current and to get us across river with a strong current. It is a very slow way to travel but it is a lot of work for those men. The man in the front of the boat was 72 years old and the man in the back was 57! We were impressed, even if silently wished for a motor.