we bid seth farewell and wrapped up our planning at the Paradise Inn in fort nagar, fort kochi. B the W, if you are in Fort Kochi i really cannot recommend the paradise inn enough. a great laid back indian surfer dude seems to run it and makes excellently strong coffee / sludge. it's cheap and clean and there is a semi-permanent artist in resident in the form of a swiss dude who refuses to wear anything beyond a swimsuit and whose work litters the walls and halls of the place.
we headed to Dal Roti for one last meal. again, let me pause and give huge kudos to Dal Roti. if you are ANYWHERE IN INDIA FOR ANY REASON GO EAT AT DAL ROTI. incredible food, superb service, great setting - it's everything a great cafe has always been about. when asked the secret to his incredible cuisine, the owner, always on-hand and up-beat replies: "well, let me tell you: good cooking is a little bit about skill. but it's all about fresh ingredients. that's it! just fresh ingredients - nothing made until you order it." restaurateurs of the world, take note.
we hopped a ferry back to Emakulam and caught a bus to Munnar, which our lightly toasted friend at the paradise inn told us was a place to see coffee plantations .the bus was typically crowded and jostly, making sleeping impossible. really, anything beyond being in a highly stressed position was difficult. after about two hours, the land began to rise and the lushness of the landscape closed in on us. there were huge boulders and trees, a few trickling waterfalls and women washing clothes in the rivers exactly as they've been doing for thousands of years. around this time the skies grayed and a curious thing happened - it started to rain.
not great big drops, but a light rain that sprinkled and was gone. still, we hadn't seen or heard rain in five weeks of being here and the monsoon wasn't supposed to start until may. we shrugged, enjoying the rain but with the knowledge that our bike trip could be seriously hampered.
night fell and we started having flashbacks of ratnigiri. through the mist and rain we could only see huge beams of light coming at the bus seconds before the driver would swerve and miss the oncoming vehicle. still, we've learned to have faith in these guys and, of course, everything worked out fine. through the heavy cloud cover we could see the occasionally flash of lightning illuminating the clouds like china balls. the cloud cover never let up, so we settled for the dulled fireworks show and pulled into the cold, windy night of Munnar.
a helpful (if a bit forceful) rickshaw walla took us from one spot to the next until we found a great room for a great price - immaculate accommodations at 350Rs. a night and NOT from the guidebook thank-you-very-much. we checked in, inhaled a meal of birhiyani and curry with parota and hot jheera water before falling asleep to animal planet in the hotel room. tv is such a treat here, english language tv - even animal planet through poor reception - is like chocolate.
today we slept in until 8. i was thoroughly surprised and delighted to discover that our indian-style shower produced hot water (only the second time i've had a hot shower since being here - the other was at the YWCA in ooty where it was so hot i actually scalded my hand!). refreshed, we had a quick dosa and tea then hiked through the foggy moors surrounding munnar looking for the fabled coffee plantation.
no luck finding coffee (wrong season and location - december and about 20km down the road, apparently). however, we did see a sweet dam, some lush jungle, cardamom plants galore, tea plantations in droves and actual a few scraggly coffee bushes from which we plucked some cherries. the best part by far was the land - tall straight trees, running rivers, misty mountains (yes really! so much so that i put on some john whelan while we walked for a while), and flowers, birds and mossy boulders in an adundance that's difficult to quantify. there will be pictures, soon, rest assured.
back in town the heavy rain started. seriously heavy rain for about an hour straight. speaking with a local cafe owner, we not only learned a bunch of tamil and mahalayam phrases, but got the low down on the pour-down. turns out that starting in late march / early april, the country experiences brief rainfalls for about one hour a day, usually 2-3 or 3-4. it keeps the weather cool and the plants green. then in june things get serious and 24 rainfall lasts until august or september. this could making biking a whole different game, and really fun. imagine - biking through hills and lowlands on the way to hyderabad, stopping everyday about 3 to watch the rain and sip tea then suiting up and carrying on in a refreshed, newly cooled landscape. i welcome the rain! ... and i may have to eat those words.
we rested in the room, zapped from hiking until the evening when we crawled out of the hotel in search of more to see and do. after some trekking, we ended up at a massive outdoor restaurant with cafeteria-seating. there were three or four big griddle stations that cooked up parota and curry, waiters rushing around dropping off plates and cups, big steel pots apparently cooking nothing but steam and (best of all) drums of ginger coffee. this last delicacy is essentially boiled ginger, sweetened, then mized with a very small amount of brewed coffee. enough to give it a coffee flavor, but still leave ginger in the spotlight. take a cold night in the hills, surrounded by mist and tea plantations, wet roads from the rain and a long day treking, and all that's missing is a nightcap of ginger coffee. we had three each, at least. a short walk back to the hotel up a steep hill and back into bed for a well-deserved rest.
from the misty hilltops of munnar, we hope everyone back home and around the globe is doing well. we'll keep you posted as we continue our journey.