Goa seems like a long time ago. Since then we have been hopping from place to place starting with an overnight train last Friday. We got to the station at 8pm. Then after waiting around for a while we were on the train from 10pm to 2pm the next day. It was a brutal ride. We were in third class AC which means there are three bunks on top of each other. I was content to just be in my own space with my ipod and books for the entire ride. We arrived in Cochin at a home stay. Cochin was really neat. It reminded me of a little European town with the buildings and the narrow streets. I went with Amberlee to a great little art cafe for chocolate cream and banana cream pie. After a great home-made meal of fish and fish curry, we retired to our rooms. All the girls were rather excited to know that Titanic was playing on HBO that night. It was nice to escape from India for a little while. The next day we had some lectures at one of the many universities in Chochin. They were interesting but I realized how difficult it will be to go back to learning in a classroom after all this amazing experiential learning. Before lunch we stopped by a Synagogue. There were a lot of rules as to where we could and could not go inside. I thought this inside was beautiful with all these colorful lanterns hanging from the ceiling. In the evening we went to a Katakali dance show. They explained the traditional dances of India and particularly Kerala. It was very colorful. The dancers used eye move movements and particular hand gestures to tell stories from the Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
We had to leave already the next morning. We went to stay on houseboats for a night. It was so relaxing and beautiful to float around through canals and around a huge lake. We ate fish and juicy pineapples and drank out of coconuts. We had two boats with five people on each. It was really strange to be in a group with only five people for the afternoon. We all felt a bit lost without our huge group. It reminded me of how hard it will be to come home and not have my 'India family' around 24/7.
After the houseboats we went to Ammas ashram. The west calls her the hugging saint. She was not at the ashram but it was still an amazing experience. The first two encounters with people in the ashram were not great. They were rude. But as we got to know the people there it got much better. The ashram sits on a peninsula that was completely washed out in the tsunami. Amma did so much work to restore the city. the wave came as high as the palm trees there. She brought the people into the high rises of the ashram and her cows and elephants took refuge in the temple. I can not imagine what it would have been like. We experienced many amazing things there in only one night. It is one of the places that I would have to come back to in India. You will have to ask me more about it when I get home because there is just too much to be able to type it in here. One of the best parts for me was to see someone walking around in a Storm shirt from Tofino. I yelled across the room "hey I like your shirt!' and he came over to talk to us and ended up giving us a tour of the elephants and the beach. It felt great for someone staying in India to recognize my JRFM sticker that is on my notebook. He told me about where he can sometimes surf near the ashram. Interestingly enough, locals do not go into the water. They have been fishermen for generations but many can not swim. They are especially terrified of the sea after the tsunami.
We left the ashram and stayed in a hotel somewhere for a night. I do not remember what the city was. We got to go to a seminary and talk to a priest there. It was one of the most interesting discussions that we have had in India. He wanted us to just keep asking questions and it was so easy to ask about his life and Christianity in India.
The next day we had a very difficult bus ride up a mountain to Thekkady. I forgot to mention that most of the group was really sick at this point. We must have some in contact with a bacteria because we were sick to our stomaches and it was coming out of both ends. It was a very long and uncomfortable bus ride. The elevation did not help the situation. Luckily we were in Thekaddy for more than one night. We spent 5 nights there. It is the land of spices. We drove through tea plantations to get there. The whole city smelled like fresh spices. We had so much fun going in all the stores and trying to remember that we only have backpacks to carry all our stuff around in. I defiantly caught up on my shopping there and I am trying not to think about what I will do with all this extra stuff when I have to get on a plane. In Thekaddy we had some time to relax and recuperate. We did go to martial arts demonstration, another Katakali dance show and a spice pantation. I saw the biggest spiders I have ever seen. On our last night there we were out for dinner and it started raining. We thought we would wait out the rain. By the time we finished dinner it was still pouring so we finally got some auto-rickshaws to take us back to the home-stay. That was the most eventful five minute ride I have ever taken. First off, an auto-rickshaw is like a small dirt bike engine on 3 wheels. They go fast but they are very small. We were putting along and suddenly the road turned into a river. I now know how flash floods occur. There were three of us in the rickshaw and we were all screaming at the guy to drive faster up this hill while half a food of water was rushing down hill. It was crazy. We were all soaked when we got back. It was exciting and no one was hurt. India is having weird rains this year. It rains every two or three days in Thekaddy for the last ten months. This does not happen. Usually when monsoon is over, there is no more rain all year. It has definatly made this trip interesting because we were not expecting any rain at all.
So now we are in Maduri for 6 nights. We are staying at a women collage till Sunday. It is the last week of the actual course and next week we will have some time to relax before coming home. I can not believe how fast it is coming to an end.