The Houseboat Experience

After some action-packed days, we boarded a houseboat in Allapy to cruise the backwaters of Kerala. We were all ready for some relaxation time after having been crammed together in a car (although there is no quicker way to get to know one’s travel buddies than sitting three in a row in the backseat of a tiny car).

As a Georgian Bay cottage kid and rower, I’ve grown up loving anything to do with boats and water. It’s hard to describe how the need to be near a body of water has become ingrained in my soul. As the low rumble of the motor started up and the water started lapping against the sides of the boat, I felt a wave of content wash over me. Our captain expertly maneuvered us out of the harbour and into the open lake amongst the hundreds of houseboats. I sat on the deck, sipping some deliciously fruity juice, and couldn’t help but think there was nowhere else I would rather be.

We ate lunch off of banana leaves, freshly picked from the side of the lake where we pulled over to eat. We were served the most delicious fish fry, and snacked on one of my favourites, poppadum. From there we cruised along the canals, surrounded by rice fields. We continued cruising until dinnertime, when we pulled over and went for a stroll, watching the sun set over an expanse of vibrant green rice plants.

The crew that cared for us while we were aboard the houseboat were all lovely, and the opportunity to get to know them was invaluable. We had some very interesting conversations about life in India, Canada, and America, touching upon the many similarities and differences and discussing family, politics, and philosophy. The owner of the boat told us about how the caste system continues to influence life in India. He told us of his love for his wife, but also mentioned his first love, who he could not marry because she was of a higher caste. There are many things I take for granted in Canada, and the freedom to marry anyone of my choice is one of them.

There were some pretty funny moments as well, like when Julie asked “Baby” (which is the meaning of his real name, which I can’t remember because he told us to just call him Baby) to guess her age. He guessed 28 or 30, and when she corrected him that she was 23 he remarked, “Your age is small, but you are so big!” (For the record, Julie is not what I would describe as ‘big’, but we thought it was hilarious that the relationship between age and size is understood to be completely linear in India). After that, Baby was done guessing things about us, but we’ve kept the joke going by commenting how we are all “big size” when things are too small, as many things are in India (this became clear on our shopping trip). The best moment had to be when Baby suddenly unclipped his wig to reveal a bald head, to our great shock and delight. Though we got to see it the first night we met him, he sheepishly told us he didn’t show his wife until after they were married!

As the beer, rum, and gin continued to flow the conversations got wilder and someone whipped out some cards… four decks to be exact. We were taught to play the game 3000, and the process of learning was peppered with howls of laughter and many hand gestures. After the first round we had gotten the hang of it, and were playing happily with the help of the captain, who we had nicknamed Yoda for the way he quietly guided us.

It struck me that a deck of cards, or four, can be used for more than just games. In our case, the cards were our universal language, and broke down the communication barrier. No matter the language, an ace is an ace, and a heart is a heart.

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