South India- d3: Munroe Island backwaters

We woke up to the sound of the nearby temple playing chants and music. It was only 5:30 am, but we had planned an early start for our full day on the backwaters of Munroe Island. Vijeesh our host, and our fellow french guest, were ready when we finally made it to the front of his house after a very mild toddler-doesn’t-want-to-get-dressed episode. We set out on the canoe, Little M on the carrier on my chest. It is even more beautiful at sunrise, how is it possible?  

Gliding at sunrise on the Kollam backwaters
We calmly, lazily, glided on the wide river on the wooden canoe, the country waking up gently around us. We took a sharp turn and made our way “inland”, through narrow canals no more than 3 meters at it’s widest, under low cement bridges, clumsily ducking underneath. Little M loved this and kept asking for more bridges. Vijeesh propelled us, gently pushing us forward through the agile use of a long pole. 


Canals inside Munroe Island
People’s lives are scattered around these canals, and we breezed through, wide eyed, quiet at first, still waking up ourselves. Women were starting their day, hair wrapped in small cotton towels, cleaning here and there, scrubbing pots, hanging cloth to dry. All smiled when we passed, and most wanted to say hello to the little girl on my chest. The houses are different from each other, a few more rustic and basic, but most colorful and comfortable-looking. The vast majority have beaten-earth around them, and many trees and shrubs, a few have chickens, a few have cows. Coconut trees are omnipresent: palm trees rise to the sky from seemingly everywhere, and empty husks pile high in most houses.

Our guide clearly knows this place and cares about it. He showed us the birds, the fruits, the plants, the animals… I remember for example the showy kingfishers with a striking electric-blue back; the noisy kite, majestic like a small eagle but with a whiny call; the playful cormorant, diving here and there and extending its wings to dry on the trees. Vijeesh told us that a fruit-bearing tree we saw is nicknamed the suicide tree, its fruit being extremely poisonous. He later caught a small lotus flower from a pond and with delicate dexterity, no doubt as a result of much practice, made a necklace and pendant with its stem and flower.


Water lily necklace
Vijeesh making the lily necklace
  He stopped next to a small plain-looking fern and torn off a leaf. He then put the leaf on his wrist and slapped it on. When he removed it, the white spores from under the leaf had left a delicate white “tatoo” on his skin. Little M loved it and played with the leaf until it disintegrated into tiny green fragments. 


Fern tatoos
We stopped for chai at a tired wooden shack. The same lady that made our tea also demonstrated how to make coir rope with the help of two big wheels at the back of the wooden shack. I learned that coir is the hairy part of the coconut. 

We continued winding through the narrow clean canals until we came to a lake. Other boats traversed the vast waters here and there, some carrying mud for fertilizing the trees, others carrying fishing nets, a few selling fish and shrimp. When we entered the canals again, ducking again under bridges and trees, Mr A tried his luck at propelling the boat. He was reluctant at first because he had to balance on a plank at the narrow end of the canoe, but he was soon rowing like a pro. 

We made our way back to the house by mid morning, and had a lovely breakfast of sweet fat coconut and rice “crepes”, bananas and chai. 

In the afternoon it started to rain, a gentle, heavy, steady stream of rain. When it subsided in the early afternoon we set out on foot to explore the village. Little -14.5 kg -M held tight in mommas arms. This turned out to be an amazing walk. Vijeesh showed us the ubiquitous pepper vines , the butterfly-pea bushes, pineapple, turmeric, ginger, and okra plants, the big clove, nutmeg and allspice trees, as well as the bountiful banana and papaya ones. He torn the extremity of a big- leafed plant and to our surprise managed to blow “soap” bubbles from the stem! Little M was mesmerized, she wanted to try but it proved more difficult than it looked. Our host also peeled off a piece of moss from a random concrete wall. On closer inspection the moss had grown little “stems”, thin as earring wires but with hard little bean-shaped extremities. He showed us how you could play with this little stems. You tear them off from the moss and two opponents hook their stems together by the tiny bean appendage. Then you pull. One opponent will end up with a “decapitated” stem, that’s the looser! 

Little M loved this new toy! It was hard for her to hold on to the wiry tiny stem, but she did with all the strength of her little fingers. I love my girl!  

And i loved the playfulness we felt exploring this exuberantly green place, imagining the children growing up blowing soap bubbles, making lily necklaces, playing catch-the-drop games with hand-sized hydrophobic bowl-shaped leaves. The raining resumed and we put on our ugly ponchos to keep little M as dry as possible. We continued our walk, on quiet streets and through private backyards. We visited a small khadi thread factory. Khadi is traditionally a handspun cotton fabric that has a very strong political significance in India for it’s associated with Gandhi and the freedom movement. Do you have in mind that picture of Gandhi with a wheel? Or the simple cloth he always wore? That’s khadi. If you are interested in this subject read this: Khadi article 

We also visited a cashew nut sorting facility. Only women worked there, sitting on the floor with big square trays full of cashews on their laps. With their hands they sorted the nuts by throwing the good ones in one pot, the shells in another, the bad ones in a different one, and broken pieces in yet another pot. Some had up to 10 different “categories” around them that i couldn’t understand. The ladies were really friendly yet focused on their task. Vijeesh explained that this job was very good for these local ladies, that it provides them with insurance and a pension, and that they were paid according to the amount of product they sorted. 

After this very instructive walk we headed home, had a wonderful dinner of beet chapattis, vegetable curry, a coconut side-dish and hard-boiled eggs. Finally little M ate, and she ate quite a bit, devouring the red chapatis and the eggs. 

We fell asleep exhausted. 

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