Cairo, Egypt: The Great Pyramids of Giza – by Caleb

As you’ve read in my previous blog, we went to see the Bent and Red Pyramid, but of course we still had to do the Pyramids of Giza. We arrived and we were all very excited, not only for the pyramids, but we were also going to go on a camel ride! We began with the first pyramid of Giza which was 140 meters tall, or something crazy like that.



Like the Bent Pyramid we climbed up a ways, however, this time we were able to climb up quite far. We could see a huge section of Cairo from up there.

DSCF2595Of course, we couldn’t stay up there forever, so we came down and moved on to the second pyramid of Giza.

DSCF2621This second pyramid was built by the son of the Pharaoh who build the first pyramid of Giza. His name was complicated to say so we just called him Kevin! This pyramid is smaller than the first pyramid but Kevin was smart; so yes, he did keep his pyramid smaller than his father’s to pay respect to him, but he built his pyramid on higher ground so it looks much bigger!

Finally, we saw the third pyramid which was built by Kevin’s son Matthew, or at least that’s what we called him. This one was smaller than the rest and behind it were three tiny pyramids which belonged to Matthew’s three wives.


After seeing these pyramids, we went on a short twenty minute camel ride around the area.


This was an amazing experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will certainly remember for the rest of my life.

Cairo, Egypt: The Bent and Red Pyramids – by Caleb

Of course, who can go to Egypt and not see the pyramids? Thus we booked a day of seeing ancient Egypt, or at least what remains. Now, when people say they saw the pyramids, most people imagine the pyramids of Giza. Along with the most well-known pyramids, the Giza pyramids, we saw many other pyramids and artifacts that are equally as important. The pyramids we saw were called the Bent Pyramid, the Red Pyramid, and the Step Pyramid.

From where we were staying in Cairo it was a one and a half hour drive to our first stop, the Bent Pyramid. We made it through the crowded city and started to drive through the middle of nowhere. In reality we were driving through barren desert, otherwise known as the Sahara. We arrived at the Bent Pyramid a while later and despite the fact that here we were around this famous pyramid, we owned the place! It was just us and another couple. Plus, the place was very picturesque. The Bent Pyramid is called bent because, well, it’s bent! The reason for this however, is not because it began to cave in on itself but rather because there were changes and problems with the plan midway through construction. You see, the sides of the bent pyramid were at first meant to be around a fifty degree angle but that turned out to be too steep and it would not be strong enough so they had to adjust it to forty five degrees half way through the building of it. But that didn’t matter to us because no one can go up to the top anyway. Of course, Connor and I climbed up a few meters of the pyramid where the blocks were still steady and safe.



On the way back to the car, our guide, Sehamgabr (Sue), pointed out a small hole near the top of the pyramid. She explained that the ancient Egyptians believed in life after death and that there were five things that must be done to the body of the person to ensure the soul would live on in the afterlife. The first is called the ‘ba’. The belief of the ancient Egyptians was that the ba, or the spirit of the person would leave the body, take the shape of a bird, and fly to the sun god, Ray. Without the hole there, for the ba to leave the pyramid, the person would be alone and not anointed with his father, therefore having a terrible life in the afterlife.


Already our heads were filling with loads of information but Sehamgabr, or Sue, just kept it coming! Not one second passed when there was no information being processed in my brain and I’m sure that was the case with Connor and my parents as well.

Next, we went to the red pyramid, which was right beside the bent pyramid. (When I say right beside, I mean, like a kilometre).


The red pyramid got its name because they used red limestone, not because it was distinctly red. This pyramid we were able to go inside!




When we first entered through the hole in the pyramid, we just walked down and down, and down and down. We then entered a room that was very small but high. It was, of course, empty. This was not because of tomb robbers however. This was the fake burial chamber to misdirect the tomb robbers. We then headed up some stairs that had been placed there for our convenience, to the real burial chamber, which this time was empty because of tomb robbers, except for the large sarcophagus still left in the room.


We headed back the way we came and exited the pyramid. This was a great start to the day and an amazing experience you certainly can’t get from a textbook.

Agra, India: Trip to the Taj – by Barb

When planning our trip to India, the Taj Mahal was not originally on our agenda. We wanted to spend time visiting friends in Chennai, so I figured we would stay in Southern India. Many people commented, however, how incredible it was to see the Taj, and they highly recommended we visit it while we were in India. Even the boys, who aren’t usually that interested in buildings and tourist sights, said they were really keen to go there. So, it was added to our itinerary. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I didn’t want to visit – but it meant adding another destination, therefore more money, and moving again, and I wondered if a building could really be “worth it”.

Traveling to Agra from Delhi takes about 3 hours and we decided to visit in one day (rather than stay over there), so it meant getting up early. We asked for “toast to go” for breakfast from our hotel and climbed into our van before the sun was up, at 6:30 a.m. Connor, our “morning man” was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, as usual, but Caleb was not impressed with the early morning start. We don’t generally speak to him in the morning for about an hour, as it takes him that long to fully come to life. He sat, leaning against me in the back of the van, with his toast perched on his lap, for the first hour of the journey!

Any Antony, Krishna, or Vivek can take you to Agra. In fact the man with his little travel desk, in the front corner of our hotel, had offered to take us there when we first arrived in Delhi. I had decided, however, to spend a little bit extra and to go with the same company that took us on the slum tour: Reality Tours. They included a stop at a small village, a local lunch – that we would help to prepare, as well as a visit to Agra Fort, along with the Taj Mahal.

After driving for about 2 ½ hours, along surprisingly good (and straight) highways, we pulled off the main road and into a very small village. We hopped out of the van and walked along the one dirt pathway that made its way between the village homes and fields.


The villagers did not have regular electricity in this village – sometimes it would be on for 2-3 hours a day. So the homes did not depend on it. Instead they cooked over small fires inside the homes. The fuel source was cow patties – cow dung that they shaped into patties and stored in piles.


They would use this along with a few sticks or grass to serve as kindling. They also had to bring their water from the village pump – which the boys were keen to try.


The people were very friendly and invited us to sit and have tea. They brought what looked like a bed frame (made with rope and sticks) out of the house for several villagers to sit on and provided us each with a plastic chair. Then they brought us each a tin cup with a small bit of Chai Milk Tea (typical Indian tea) in the bottom. They seemed very amused by the boys and with the help of our guide one of them asked Connor if he was hungry. Connor surprised us by replying that he actually was a little!

After about 10 minutes of sitting and trying to communicate in our non-existent Hindi, one of the women (who was covered from head to toe – even her face was covered with a cloth) brought out a basket with some naan-type bread and a bowl of potato sauce.


Everyone gathered around to watch the boys eat it! Our guide showed Caleb and Connor how to break off a piece of bread, fold it, and use it as a scoop to scoop up the sauce.


Connor took a nice big scoop………….and then his face started to form these strange contortions! He gasped, “Water! Water!” I handed him our thermos of water, which he began to glug back. The villagers started to laugh! They found this most amusing!


One of them signaled for us to come into the house to see how the bread is made. We slipped off our shoes and walked in to see the small fire in the corner. Everything was covered in flies and the smoke from the fire filled the very small room, but the people were just so kind to share it with us.



After visiting with the cows and taking some pictures of the little children, we were on our way again.

                DSCF2331 DSCF2332 DSCF2336





                                    DSCF2346 DSCF2347

We drove through Agra and pulled right up in front of the walkway leading to the Taj Mahal. We were, of course, welcomed by many touts, all claiming they had “best price” for us. As we walked down the road way, the camel carts rode past us, carrying some of the tourists who had opted to enter in a different manner.


Entering the Taj Mahal, as with most places in India, required you to go through a security check. Women must go through a separate entrance from the men, so I went on ahead through the short women’s line and met the boys on the other side. Clay got stopped because he was carrying a flashlight and a 4 inch mini tripod for the camera, neither of which were allowed. Our guide had to return these to the van.

We were all keen to see this impressive building. Our guide had explained the history and background to us in the van on our way there, so we felt we knew a little bit about it. The entry to the building contained a number of tourists but was not nearly as busy as we thought it would be.

We walked in through the main entrance, under the archway, and could see the Taj Mahal ahead of us.

DSCF2360 DSCF2361

It really is quite spectacular but I think what makes it even more interesting is the story that goes along with it. To think that all of that money and time was spent for Shah Jaha (emperor during the Mughal empire’s period of greatest prosperity) to create a “perfect” building for the body of Mumtaz Mahal, his favorite of three wives and beloved companion who died during the birth of their 14th child.



DSCF2377 DSCF2362 DSCF2365 DSCF2373

We were so interested in the story behind the building that our guide sat us down under a tree and spent a half hour or so explaining the history to us. After that we put on our little shoe covers and joined the line that flowed through the front of the building, around the tomb, and out the other side. When you get up close you can see how precious gems were painstakingly carved into the marble to form the symmetrical designs on the building. The designs inside are even more stunning. And of course one of the “guards” pulled us aside and with his flashlight showed us how the colourful red stones glow, when the light is shone on them. (Then he held out his hand for money!)

DSCF2393 DSCF2394 DSCF2397

So, am I glad we went to the Taj Mahal? Absolutely! But I would still argue that it is the experiences (not just buildings) we have had and the people we have met, that are the most valuable part of our travels. It was thanks to learning the story about the Taj and meeting the people of Agra, that made this yet another incredible part of our journey.

After visiting the Taj Mahal, we set out for lunch at a wonderful homestay. The woman there showed us how to make a vegetarian meal and we each had the chance to roll out our own puri (Indian bread).

DSCF2413 DSCF2415 DSCF2418 DSCF2421To finish off our trip, we visited a marble shop, where they showed us how the gem stones are cut and shaped, and then carved into the marble, in the same way it was done in the Taj Mahal. This was followed by the typical sales pitch and an offer to mail us a giant 3000 lb marble table, to which we politely declined!

                              DSCF2422 DSCF2423 DSCF2426

The final stop was at the Agra Fort. This is considered one of the finest Mughal forts in India. Construction of the massive red-sandstone fort, on the bank of the Yamuna River, was begun by Emperor Akbar in 1565. Further additions were made, particularly by his grandson Shah Jahan (the builder of the Taj Mahal), using his favourite building material – white marble. The fort was built primarily as a military structure, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace, and later it became his gilded prison for eight years after his son Aurangzeb seized power in 1658.

DSCF2427 DSCF2429 DSCF2430 DSCF2434 DSCF2441 DSCF2444 DSCF2445 DSCF2449 DSCF2453 DSCF2459

It was a long day and one filled with an incredible amount of history. We were all very happy to sleep in the next day and spend time processing everything we had learned.

Delhi, India: A Feast for the Senses! – by Barb

Delhi is a very busy, noisy, and incredibly polluted city – the most polluted city in the world. When you fly into it, you can’t even see the airport as you are taxiing down the runway! We only planned to stay a few days – enough time to travel from there to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and still get a quick “taste” of the city. I have to say, though, I loved it for the short time we were there! Yes, my sinuses ended up getting plugged up and I left Delhi with a cold, but this to me felt like the “real” India! Chennai and Kerala were lovely but not nearly as chaotic as I had expected. I can see why so many people in India travel to Kerala for holiday – it is a slower-paced, quiet, agricultural state. On the other hand, we stayed right in the centre of New Delhi and when you stepped out of our hotel, you had to keep your eyes open! Usually they were loading some kind of aluminum product onto carts or donkeys. There were rickshaws flying past, and cars were still trying to navigate their way through the already jam-packed alleyway!






People would spot us from what seemed like miles away and come and try to sell us something or take us somewhere. We weren’t sure if they were being friendly or trying to make a few rupees by offering us their assistance. Surprisingly we didn’t encounter huge numbers of beggars. Yes, there was the little boy, who looked no more than 2, who tugged on Clay’s sweater and wouldn’t let go. There was the mother who kept shoving her baby in our faces and said she needed to feed him – but it wasn’t constant. And they would leave us alone if we consistently said no. I had told the boys to be ready because I had heard stories of people being followed by beggars and they would wait outside stores and restaurants for them, and continue to follow them again. We did not experience that.DSCF1841


What we did see were hard working people: some sewing on the side of the road, others cooking bread and setting up little stands to make a few rupees, and still others hoping for a ride or two on their rickshaw as they pedaled hard, often carrying hundreds of pounds on the backs of their bicycles through the chaotic streets.


DSCF1828And through all of this the boys made no fuss. None. I don’t think anything phases them at thisDSCF1845 point. They have learned to jump out of the way when walking down the street – especially if there are animals heading their way. They know just the right time to grab our hands, so that they stay close and safe. They have learned that it is OK to nod your head and smile at strangers, as long as they don’t start asking probing questions. I am extremely impressed with how they just go with the flow and they trust us. They trust that we will keep them safe and that this whole experience will work out OK. As long as we don’t keep packing up and moving every couple of days – as long as we give them time to just “be” and to have some down time, they are happy to go along with whatever our travels may bring. I feel very fortunate that we have such easy travelers!

Delhi, India: Slum Tour – by Clay

No trip to India is complete without a visit to the capitol of New Delhi but what is the best way to see the city when you have a very short stay? There are, without a doubt, more travel and tour companies per square metre in New Delhi than any other city in the world. This is just my impression and not based on any formal poll or statistic but it seemed that everyone either was, or had a relation of some sort that was a guide or tour operator. Thankfully, Barb – being the organized planner that she is – had looked online weeks ago to suss out some of the more reputable and Trip Advisor-worthy ones. In the end, she settled on a tour group that offered a different take on the whole sightseeing industry. Reality Tours & Travel offered a tour to parts of New Delhi that I’m sure no other tour company does and it was probably the one of the most immersive and eye-opening experiences that we’ve had in our travels. To maintain the dignity and respect for the people we would meet photography was not permitted. All of the following pictures (save one) are the property of  Reality Tours & Travels and are used by permission.

The day began with us meeting meeting our contact, Vivek, at the Connaught Place metro station where he accompanied and guided us through the metro system to another station quite removed from the centre of New Delhi. Once there we met with our guide Ravi who explained that the purpose of our tour was to see how life was like in the slums of New Delhi – Sanjay Colony, in particular. As we left the station and exited through the gates to Sanjay it was like stepping into another world. Gone were the well swept sidewalks and high-end shops of Connaught Place to be replaced with litter scattered everywhere along the pothole riddled roads. One of the first sights to greet us were large, multi-floor buildings that were clothing factories. Many of the men in the colony worked at one of the several factories. Surrounding the factories were the two- or three-level structures that served as housing for these men and their families. We learned that all of the land in this colony is owned by the government yet these houses have been illegally built. The government doesn’t really do anything about it (the exception being that incident in 2010 where they displaced thousands of slum dwellers and razed their homes in an effort to hide certain social strata during the Commonwealth Games India was hosting that year).

We walked along a street that was piled waist-high with, what I thought was, garbage until Ravi explained that the clothing factories dispose of their cloth leftovers and remnants and the people (mostly women) sort through all of it according to size, colour, and fabric type. They take these pieces, turn around and sell it back to the factories ( a different one than the one that pitched the remnants in the first place) to be used for other clothing production.


As we wound our way through the narrow and twisting passageways a feeling of trepidation began to gnaw at me. What if we got lost? How would we find each other if we became separated? Would dinner be delayed?


Ravi and Vivek, however, led us confidently through the dim, corridor-like streets pausing briefly now and again to greet various locals who quite obviously knew them as well. We eventually came to an NGO (Non-Government Organization) centre that offered help with school work, provided art lessons, computer classes, and life/social interaction skills development. It was also a place to practice English. We learned that Reality Tours gives 80% of the tour proceeds back to the community by funding education through this NGO.


We continued our tour and I began to see this slum for the community that it was – a busy, thriving, family-oriented place that looked out for each other. And friendly to outsiders as well. There were several calls of “Namaste” and handshakes as we walked the streets. At one point we were being followed by several small children all chirping “Hi” and “Hello” to hear our response. I must have said hello to each child about 17 times. Here was a small shop selling bottled water and snacks, down that alley was a barbershop, over there was a doctor’s kiosk.


We came to a Hindu temple that was dedicated to Shiva, the Destroyer. Ravi said that this temple was often frequented by girls and young women on Mondays. I couldn’t understand why a god called “the Destroyer” was so popular but apparently Shiva was considered incredibly handsome so all the girls prayed for husbands like Shiva at the beginning of the week.


The tree growing in the centre of the “courtyard” is a peepal tree (ficus religiosa) which purportedly releases the most oxygen of all trees during the day. It’s kind of hard to see in this picture but the red bell is hanging from one of its (out of frame) branches.

We entered a building and Ravi led us up several flights of stairs until we reached the roof. From there we could see where we started and he pointed out several rooftop landmarks of the places we’d been earlier. It was a great view but not one that would help you at street level.


That same building housed a small “office space” that was maintained by Reality Tours. It was roughly 6’x8’ with benches lining the walls and one electrical outlet that powered the lightbulb and a small fan.


Ravi (on the far right) explained that this was a typical space for a family to live in the slum. Caleb and Connor thought it would be a little cramped for us to live in that space!

While our intent was to show the boys how life can be different for children in other parts of the world this experience was equally rewarding for Barb and I as it gave us a glimpse of another culture and an appreciation of our lives in Canada.



Alleppey, India: Relaxing! – by Connor

A few days after arriving n Kerala, we went to the main canal in Alleppey. We found many boats that would take you for a ride through the backwaters, but none of them sold a good deal. Finally, we found an old man and he had the best deal. The next day we came back to his boat and went through all of the small canals. We went under bridges that none of the other bigger boats could go through. All we had to do was relax and enjoy the scenery.


When we got back it was an hour later than we had expected, because our boat was the tiniest bit too big to fit under one of the bridges. We had even tried all of us moving to the very front tip of the boat and pushing under the bridge to get it to fit, but no luck! We ended up having to take a different route that our driver said would take a little bit longer. We got out of the boat and the man asked for more money. All we could do was walk away because we had none. The experience was very good but don’t go if your children are under six years old.

Kerala, India: A Week Around Kerla – by Barb

Usually when booking our travels, I try to plan places to stay for about a week. That way we don’t feel like we are constantly on the move. We have time to unpack our bags and get to know the area a little bit. Of course, this wasn’t the case in Australia, when we had the camper van but that was a different situation. Kerala was also a bit different. From everything I had read, Kerala is a beautiful state in India and one that everyone wants to visit. In fact it was a challenge to find budget accommodation there over the Christmas holiday as it is obviously popular at that time. From my reading though, it sounded as though each of the towns in Kerala has something interesting to see or do but you don’t really need to spend a long time there as the towns are quite small. So, I decided we would travel to 4 different towns, staying 2 nights in each. While it did turn out that the towns were small enough to see in a couple of days, traveling between towns, on windy switch back roads for 6 hours every two days did not turn out to be the most fun we have had during our travels! Poor Caleb went through many a sick bag and although I was not physically ill I didn’t feel much better than he did!

Our motion sickness woes aside, we did manage to see some amazing sights in Kerala. We began in Cochin, which is best known for the Chinese fishing nets that dot its shores. It was fascinating to watch these nets. They are set up on bamboo and teak poles and held horizontally by huge mechanisms, which lower them into the sea. They look somewhat like hammocks and are counter-weighed by large stones tied to ropes.



DSCF1947 DSCF1948 DSCF1950 DSCF1952




DSCF1960      DSCF1961

We stood out like sore thumbs in Cochin (as we did in all of India!) and lots of tuk tuk drivers wanted to take us to shops. You see, they will take you there for free and then they get a commission if you buy something. We did fall prey to one such driver and ended up spending about an hour at a craft shop, with a very convincing sales man!

I had heard great things about the Kathakali Dance Show so we decided we’d go there one evening. They suggested you could arrive an hour early and learn how to apply the make up. The show was supposed to give you an explanation about how the dance is done, including the various facial movements. We needed to grab something to eat so we only managed to arrive ½ hour before the show began…..thank heavens! The two guys were just sitting on stage applying their makeup, so it was like sitting and watching someone getting ready in the morning! Not too interesting for any more than 5 or 10 minutes! But Clay got some good pictures.

Dinner before the show:






When the show finally began, they had the main character come out and sit on a chair and then they showed us how his eyes move to express different moods…….not just 2 or 3 examples but how his eyes move for about 50 different expressions. Oh my goodness! Then the story began. We had read in the program that it was supposed to end with the killing of the king. Well, at one point I leaned over and said to Caleb, “Just kill him already!!” It took forever! Interesting? Yes! But about an hour too long!


Watching the eye gestures:


Nearing the end of the show!



We stayed at a lovely guest house in Cochin. The owner kept it spotlessly clean and was very helpful. He helped us arrange transportation to our next town and his wife cooked us a delicious Kerala breakfast.

                         DSCF1817 DSCF1818

Before leaving Cochin we stopped at an organic spice shop (I think it might have been owned by our driver’s cousin because he was very insistent we have a look!). We did get some cashews for the trip, which turned out to be good to have since we didn’t stop for lunch.

               DSCF1964 DSCF1965 DSCF1968

We also stopped to see a local laundry facility. The driver wanted us to stop at various other shops but by this point we had learned to be a little more assertive when he asked and replied with a firm “no thank you”!

DSCF1972 DSCF1973 DSCF1974

Our accommodation in Alleppey began a trend that we were to see throughout our time in Kerala. I had found the best budget accommodation I could. We aim for places that are clean (relatively) have wifi and are in a good location. It would seem that when you get these things, it does not imply that you will also have….sheets, toilet paper, and/or a shower. I’m not sure what people usually do without sheets on beds but we were happy to finally get some good use out of the sleep sacks we had brought along on our journey! We had also already learned that even when you do get toilet paper in many places, the rolls are usually 1/10 the size of the ones we use back home, so we carry any extras with us just in case! So, we were “good to go” with our sparse rooms!

The highlight of Alleppey is the backwaters. You can take a houseboat and stay overnight on the canals (for a huge fee) or you can rent a shikara (covered boat) and go for several hours through much smaller canals to see the villages. We opted for the latter and spent five hours cruising out on the water. It was beautiful and we all enjoyed it. I brought a few books and some cards for the boys and they were happy to relax for several hours. Before we set out, we had to barter with our driver over the fee and finally agreed on 4 hours for 2200 Rps. He promised us he would take us on the tiniest canals where we would see several villages and that we would travel out one way and come back a different way. He kept his word: the canals got smaller and smaller, to the point that we were barely fitting under the bridges. Then we got to one that we definitely weren’t going to make it under! We all sat on the very front of the boat and pushed down but still no luck! We took off the cover on the top of the boat. Still no luck! We had to turn around and take a different route. He told us this would make the trip a little bit longer. Well, it took a whole extra hour to get back…..and yes, that meant he wanted more money! We will never know if this was just a scam to get more money or not but this time Clay held firm – a deal was a deal so we would not pay extra. He was not happy!

DSCF1981 DSCF1984 DSCF1987 DSCF1989 DSCF2003 DSCF2004 DSCF2006 DSCF2009 DSCF2014 DSCF2019 DSCF2025 DSCF2031 DSCF2036 DSCF2037 DSCF2041 DSCF2044 DSCF2046 DSCF2049 DSCF2052 DSCF2059 DSCF2060 DSCF2062 DSCF2065 DSCF2071 DSCF2084 DSCF2087 DSCF2115 (1) DSCF2115 DSCF2116 DSCF2124 DSCF2153 DSCF2164 IMGP1253 IMGP1261

After Alleppey we were off on a 6 hour horrific drive to Thekkady. After recovering from the drive the boys spent some time working on a new game they were designing. It was called Business Traveller and was a combination of Monopoly and Settlers. They were determined to get it finished so we could play it for New Year’s Eve! They had to take a break from their game work for a couple of hours though while we went to see a Kalaripayattu demonstration, with the hope that this would be a little more engaging than the Kathakali show we had seen a few nights prior! Kalaripayattu is the oldest Martial art, known as the mother of all martial arts. It originated in ancient South India.

We were not disappointed! The hour flew by and the whole time we were on the edges of our seats! I was worried I was going to end up with a spear or some other weapon in my eye, since we were in the front row overlooking the “ring” where the show took place. The boys were fascinated and were equally entertained by the martial arts as they were by my facial expressions of “ooh” and “aah” watching them and ducking when it looked like something was heading our direction!

DSCF2166 DSCF2168 DSCF2173 DSCF2176 DSCF2177 DSCF2178 DSCF2189 DSCF2190 DSCF2197 DSCF2198 DSCF2199 DSCF2201 DSCF2203 DSCF2204

We walked home after the show and the boys worked for another 3 hours, determined to finish their game. We ended up staying up until 11:30 so we could play it for the first time!


The next morning after breakfast we were off to Periyar Tiger Reserve, South India’s most popular wildlife sanctuary. This reserve encompasses 777 sq km and includes a 26-sq-km artificial lake created by the British in 1895. The region is home to bison, sambar, wild boar, langur, over 1000 elephants and around 46 tigers. We met our guide, Sujeet beside the lake and took a bamboo raft across to the other side of the lake. We then spent the next 3 hours hiking through the reserve, tracking elephants, sloth bears, and hoping for the very rare sighting of a tiger! We found lots of droppings and saw the claw marks of leopards climbing up the trees to catch the monkeys. At one point our guide thought we were getting close to some elephants but with no luck, although it was obvious they had recently been in the clearing given the fresh footprints at the water’s edge. Still, I thought it was a great morning and we learned a lot about the flora and fauna in the area.

DSCF2206 DSCF2209 DSCF2211 DSCF2213 DSCF2214 DSCF2215 DSCF2227 DSCF2230 DSCF2232 DSCF2234 DSCF2235 DSCF2241 DSCF2242 DSCF2247 DSCF2248 DSCF2251 DSCF2252 DSCF2256 DSCF2259 DSCF2260 DSCF2265 DSCF2266

It was time to hit the road again, this time off to the tea town of Munnar. Munnar was another gruelling car ride through the mountains. Our guest house was quite a ways out of town and was a challenge to find, since it was hidden in behind other buildings. Given that it had been so difficult to find a place to stay in Munnar, we were surprised that it looked like we were the only ones staying at the place. It was perched right on the side of the mountain, with each room several steps lower than the one above it. The views of the sunset were stunning. The room was sparse but adequate. We had blankets this time due to the colder temperatures up in the mountains but our bathroom vented onto the room of the housekeeper behind us. Whenever he smoked, it wafted into our bedroom!

Sprawling tea plantations surround the hills of Munnar and we were keen to learn more about how the tea is harvested in this area. We visited the tea museum and factory on the outskirts of town. Here they explained how the tea is grown, how it is picked, and how it is dried and packaged. There was also a video showing the history of the area. It was interesting to learn about but not quite as exciting as the ride on the tuk tuk to and from the factory!

DSCF1819 DSCF1821 DSCF2272 DSCF2295 DSCF2304 DSCF2305 DSCF2306 DSCF2307 DSCF2309

The next morning we were off again, back to Cochin. This time we were staying at a house outside of town. We were greeted by Dr. Joseph, who was happy to sit and chat for a while. He had a most interesting story to tell as we learned that he had been a doctor for Unicef and had traveled all around the world. He and his wife had purchased these 2 houses beside the river and were renting them out to guests. His wife enjoyed gardening and had planted various fruits and vegetables around the extensive property. Dr. Joseph made sure we had food to eat – ordering us some dinner that would arrive later that evening. He helped to arrange transportation to the airport for the following day and even asked his housekeeper to travel with us when we walked around the neighbourhood so we wouldn’t get lost (we told her we were OK on our own, but it was a nice gesture!). It was a beautiful, relaxing place to stay for our last night in Kerala.

DSCF2313 IMG_0780 IMG_0781