Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Coorg: The Best Part of Waking Up

 (from February 12, 2014)

We are three hours into our car journey through the narrow, winding hills of the Western Ghats, on our way from Wayanad to Coorg, when a bathroom stop becomes necessary. While we are both fully prepared to do as the locals, and drop trou on the side of the road, our driver insists on finding us a “proper” hole. He swings a turn off the main drag and into a sleepy village, before abruptly “parking” the car in the middle of the “road.” He ushers us to the door of a random home where we are welcomed by a bewildered, elderly woman. After a brief conversation in Kannada with the driver, the woman grabs Tiffany by the hand and leads her to the washroom in the back of her living space. Arming herself with a pail, the woman insists on cleaning the area surrounding the hole, before allowing Tiffany admittance.  Gracious for the unwarranted hospitality, Tiffany offers an awkwardly mispronounced “dhan’yavada” in appreciation.

Meanwhile, the driver directs Taylor to the coffee plantation on the side of the road, apparently determining that an “improper hole” is more suitable for him. If only the driver knew how much more comfortable Tiffany is with such facilities.

When we finally arrive to the remote organic farm-stay in the hills, we are greeted with a cup of civet coffee. Renowned for its exclusiveness, the coffee is produced by gathering, washing, and roasting coffee berries, after they have made it through the digestive track of the civet. Mmmmmm. These are some serious dingle berries!

Fueled up, we head out for an evening exploration in the Ghats.

We spend the night in a cottage nestled among lush gardens and aromatic plantations.

An early morning hike to see the sunrise, before another bout of pre-digested bean juice. We just cannot get enough.

Not enough civet coffee!

Our next destination: a school-visit in Bylakuppe, Karnataka.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls: Our Exploration of Wayanad, Kerala

From February 10, 2014

The alarm goes off at 5:15am, the coffee press explodes (literally) at 5:30am, and our rickshaw driver, pre-arranged to pick us up at 6am, is a no-show.

With a 6:45am bus to catch, and a 30-minute drive to get to the station, we decide to start walking by the time 6:15am rolls around. While on any other day we would lavish in the tranquility of this pre-sunrise morning, we momentarily feel a sense of hopelessness that our journey to the land of coconut groves, coffee plantations, and spice fields will not pan out.

And then, Praveen – a tall, slender man robed in white – appears in the distance. Without hesitation, we flag him down and make our desperate plea for transportation advice. Although he is doubtful we will make it to the bus in time, he is determined to track down a rickshaw driver for us. Not only does he follow-through, but also he is able to communicate our urgency effectively to the underage driver.

With some serious maneuvering skills, and at inconceivable (and probably dangerous) rickshaw speed, we zip into the station just as our bus is revving up. The young lad turns around to our windblown faces with a big smile as he proudly declares, “Good! You’re early!”  

Although skeptical that the bus we scramble on is actually headed for Wayanad, we successfully arrive at Varnam homestay, where Beena welcomes us with warm chapatti and breakfast curry – made from ingredients harvested from her plantation. Yum!

And so begins our adventure in the quaint hill station of Kerala . . .

 All the traveling mishaps were totally worth the serenity of our “tree house.”

Our mid-day adventures consisted of a hike through rice paddies and coffee plantations, a 100-meter bamboo boat ride, and an Indian-tourist-packed island excursion.

Our exploration of Wayanad continued the next day with a visit to Saint Catherine’s School. When we arrived, the school community was assembled for a “Farewell Ceremony” for graduating 12th standard students, or so the banner hanging on the stage read. 

However, because the three-hour assembly was almost exclusively in 
Malayalam, with the exception of Taylor’s speech (as per usual), we cannot be sure this was the actual intent. Not only were no students acknowledged in any way (or so it seemed) throughout the “celebration,” the few English words that were infused into the adult-speeches consisted of the following:

-       “Information Technology”
-       “Bill Gates”
-       “Steve Jobs”
-       “Facebook”
-       “JP Morgan”
-       “Communication skills”
-       “Apple computers are the best computers.”
-       “Microsoft”

No school visit is complete without the debauchery of middle school students. Naturally, as a middle school teacher, Tiffany insisted we “get in there.”

All days should conclude under a waterfall.

Actually, all days should conclude with a safari. Thanks to Beena and her incredible night vision, we successfully spotted one baby leopard, one owl, a pair of civet eyes, three elephants (including a baby), and at least thirty barking deer. Of course, we have no real evidence of these sightings, except for one dark and grainy photograph of the elephant family.

Next stop on this bandwagon: Coorg.