Our last day in Kerala was magic. I mean, it was rough with the 3:00 AM drive and all. But it was magic.
We arrived in Kumarakam and walked the village before boarding the houseboat. We checked out the temple, laughed with the locals, and chased the children up and down the dirt path that lined the color blocked houses. I watched the women do the washing for the day, scrubbing out the richly colored saris on the coarse stones that lined the river. The men took off to gather mussels, fish, and whatever else there was that lurked beneath the murky waters.
When we got on the houseboat, it was bliss.
The air, while humid, was breezy on the upper deck, cooling off the sweat that beaded on our brows. The crew brought us fresh coconuts which we drank and then exchanged for the Kingfisher beers we’d stashed within the icebox.
At lunch, the cook climbed the stairs and called us down. The spread was out of this world. A bit wasteful to be honest. But then again, I eat like a bird, and how were they to know such things?
There’s a fish in Kerala, called the pearl spot fish. If you’re speaking with the locals, it’s the Kerameen, and it’s some of the best damned fish I’ve ever had. Sliced, gutted, and seasoned with rich spices like turmeric and cumin, it was grilled and served whole, the little empty eyeholes staring up at me. Kind of weird, but that’s because Americans enjoy pretending as if their meals never had a face. Besides, the cheek is the best part.
Basmati rice, vegetable curry, chicken tikka, nan, chapati, popper, relish, sambar, my stomach overflowed til near to bursting.
We went to the fish market after lunch, up the lake a little ways, and picked up prawns and fish for dinner. We grabbed some extra for the crew, picking out the best, and the ones we’d hoped the flies had not yet touched (hey, I’m a Purell packing American, don’t hold it against me).
There’s something about Kerala. Something I cannot explain in words but maybe the photos will suffice.
There’s a magic here. In the early morning the humidity burns at your skin, but the soft glow of an early sun glistens at the budding sweat. It’s hazy, from the kicked up dust and the smoke of house fires and sometimes trash that burns along the roadside. But the air feels pure.
The palms around us are rich and green, the lilies on the surface of the water a vibrant purple, bright against reflecting patterns of the water.
Children brush their teeth and play and bathe beside the boat as it meanders on its course. They wave and smile. Their caramel skin and bleach white teeth and soft, brown eyes like liquid joy. Like molasses. Warm upon a summers day.
What peace we found in Kerala.
At dinner, the crew cooked our prawns. They left the heads on which resulted in some confusion as we cracked our teeth upon the shell, but the crisp texture of the food, once we figured out its proper way of eating, was divine. The fish, though lined with bones, was flaky, tender like a halibut, softened by the citrus scent of lime. In the moonlight, after our journey to the temple, we clinked a glass of wine against the next and thanked the gods that be for moments such as this.
I slept like a babe. In the cradle of the center of the boat I slept as it rocked me slowly back and forth. At 5:00 AM the music from the local temple played aloud—I woke and fell back into my slumber to the sound of instruments I’d never dream of hearing in my own homeland.
If there is a place I will forever wish to return to, it is Kerala. The magic here is vivid. It dances there alongside the mosquitos and is present in the laughter of the children and the slamming of a piece of cloth against a sharpened stone. The men who haul the mussels with their thick toned slimming bodies, their wrinkled, sun aged faces, is a kindness that was gifted to my own memory.
Kerala is called God’s own country for a reason. It is where celestial beings reside. It is where promises are both held and kept. It is where all faith is restored and healing of a damaged heart may happen.
Wander on to Kerala, my friends. Wrap yourselves on upper decks within the arms of the one that you so love and drink the rich, sweet milk of coconuts. Rejuvenate yourselves and become something entirely different from the self you left behind. Heal and be healed. Love and be loved.