So. Weekend in Kerala for Susie's 30th BD. The day started out fine. Dalton woke up at 7:30 am on Friday, which was our time of departure. But we did have to wake Maggie up. Flight was not until 10:40 but Sandeep was convinced we'd have a horrible to do in traffic. So long story short we got to the airport at 8:30, in normal fashion and sat around for two hours. The door attendant wanted to make sure I was confident about checking in two hours early, as I would not be allowed back out of the airport to smoke, as this airport is no smoking (a first in India to be sure, but more on this later, so stay tuned). We managed to pass the time by eating milkshakes for breakfast, bought Hannah a Christmas present, bought Susie a BD present, and let the kids play in the fab toy store there (the best in India, or just about).
Flight was uneventful. Landed in Kochi to blue skies and sunshine, and in monsoon season to boot! We rented a taxi for 800 rupees to take us the hour-long drive to the resort. The road was Highway 47 and was absolutely amazing! No potholes, no community-made speed bumps a la tourist traps, hardly any animals in the road, and a very smooth ride. Nothing interesting to see on the way, as we took the internal highway to save time and skipped going through town. We did see a very brand new, shiny, 16-storey Holiday Inn that tempted us. Susie actually thought we were staying there. Turns out, she was right. More on this to come.
We finally made it to the Ramada! It is breathtaking! It sits on a lake in the backwaters, and all the bungalows are raised above ground so that you have a grand view. The pool is beneath the bungalows, all 24 of them, as it is the longest pool in Kerala or something like that, according to the brochure. We checked in and hit the pool.
We had Shaun bring us a tub of 100 spf suntan lotion that is spray on and something is wrong with it. It feels like I am putting I can't believe it's not butter spray on me. But none of us got burned. Maggie still somehow managed to tan through all that spf, which is a miracle considering her parent's vampire-pale complexion. The pool was great! We came prepared this time after our Goa trip, with our own set of flotation devices and blow up balls to play with. One would think these resorts would sell this kind of stuff. One really would. But one would be wrong. Instead, they sell man-skirts (popular in Kerala, called a Lungee), and pashmina scarves.
The hotel receives mixed reviews from this patron. The room was awesome, the shower superb, the bed the most comfortable I've slept on in nine months time, the view and peace and quiet of the place, including the piped muzak in public places, was so soothing it was hard to believe I was in a country crammed full of over a billion people. On the downside, however, the rooms are all smoking rooms (the room itself was fine but the towels reeked of cigarettes, just what you want to smell like after a shower), the front desk is completely incompetent and needs to better master the english language, and the inclusive meal plan was deceiving.
Firstly, the meal plan. Friday was a smorgasbord fit for a king. We got to order off a menu a salad, a soup, two appetizers, a fish dish, a main course, bread, rice, and dessert. We felt bad wasting so much absolutely delicious food (calimari, coconut beef, tomato-mozzerella tarts) that at dinner we skimped the menu because we were so full and we didn't want to be so wasteful. But then Saturday it was Indian buffet. No fancy menu, no fancy food, forget anything continental being offered. I hardly ate a thing that day. Which was fine. But after the amazingness of the first day, don't skimp the second day, man.
Our package also included a boat ride on the famous Kerala house boats. Or so it said. It was cancelled. Instead we got a free half-day city tour. Which was fine. But again, only informed upon when I asked. The city tour was ok; I can at least say I saw Kochi. Not too much exciting happening, but we saw Portuguese churches, Chinese fishing nets, British Museums, Dutch cemetaries, and Jew Street, with nary a Jew. Our driver cum tour guide said the Jews only come out to conduct business so they are rarely seen. Whatever that means. What does that mean?
The Chinese fishing nets are a fun system. We helped pull one in for a small donation and it's a lot of work, especially considering we caught no fish. It would have been a lot heavier had we caught something. Kochi is a lot cleaner than Bangalore, but some Indian dude still threw a bag of trash in the ocean right in front of me. I wanted to deck him but refrained because it would have upset Maggie. More on this to come.
Back to the hotel on day two we hit the pool again and Susie and I enjoyed our free chair massages as part of our package. Our package also included 15% discount on spa treatments so I went for a steam/sauna. I used to get a steam at BYU after a good work out all the time. Well. Here it was different. They put me in a box with only my head sticking out, then covered me in grease and turned up the heat. Not what I was expecting but still a lot of fun! The whole time I was thinking of that Mr. Bill episode where Mr. Hands put him in a steamer and he came out quite svelt. Does anyone even remember Mr. Bill anymore? Susie didn't know of him.
Day 3 we played in the pool, checked out of the hotel, and went on a boat ride in the Kerala backwaters. The highlight of the trip! An awesome experience. What I wouldn't give to live that life. Dalton fell asleep and missed the whole thing.
The muzak was interesting. Some sort of mixed CD including all the Kenny G classics, including what we call the Kingfisher song (they play it non-stop on the airplanes, we learned the hard way on our layover in Hyderabad en route to Bangkok where we were stuck on the plane for 30 minutes), the song that puts Mack to sleep on the movie "Cars", and "The X-files" theme song. I mean, what other repertroire could be more copacetic? The truth is out there.
Checking out of the hotel was a nightmare. We were charged for the city tour, even though it was free, we were charged for our complimentary laundry as well, or at least half of it. The summer package says one set complimentary laundry per person. Not per room. They apparently don't know the difference and had the audacity to try and give me the english lesson. I mentioned that, had this all-inclusive package been explained to us properly at check in, this whole thing could have been avoided. But you only have to pay this much, sir, they kept insisting. So Susie chimed in and mentioned that, to flip the argument on it's head, they only have to write off that much. Which they finally did. The turkeys. Shame on you, Ramada, for not proofreading your own work.
On the way back to the airport. We saw a sign for a restaurant called Garden that looked awfully familiar. The reason it is familiar is because someone removed the word Olive from the sign but otherwise kept the same image. I'm pretty sure that's not legal, but I doubt anyone in Kerala is otherwise confused by this.
Time for more turkeys. We got to the airport only to be told our flight was not leaving until 7:30 the next morning. I inquired how I could possibly have a printed itinerary otherwise then. They say Expedia did it. We tried to get Expedia on the phone but to no avail. So I have a very very nasty phone call to make tomorrow that I am not looking forward to. In the meantime, we needed a place to sleep and fast!
All the hotels near the airport are Indian hotels and, considering the horrible mood we were in, we needed a good night's sleep to remedy that. I asked where the nearst chain hotel was (ie Taj, Royal Orchid, Oberoi) but they are all on the peninsula in Kochi. There was no way I was going back to the Ramada, over an hour away. Then I remembered that fancy, shiny, new Holiday Inn Susie insisted we were staying at, about 30 minutes away. So we hopped in a cab and off we went, hoping for something decent.
Before this ensued a rather horrible altercation between me and Kingfisher. Someone screwed up and I will find out who, and I have a feeling the blame is equal to both Kingfisher and Expedia, first to Kingfisher for cancelling our original flight that made us have to switch the flight anyway, and second to Expedia who probably switched it to the wrong thing. But I'm the one who had to pay the price. But poor Maggie, the sensitive thing. She did not like watching me being forceful with the Kingfisher manager. I had to apologize to her over and over. She kept projecting that I was mad at her. She was crying and just kept saying she just wants to get on a plane and go home, which I tried to get the Kingfisher attendent to overhear and have some sympathy, but oh well. The flight is a prop plane, which is quite small, and was full, so we were out of luck.
Back to the Holiday Inn. Again, a mixed review. Awesome, awesome room! Big shower, carpet in the hallways and room (first time in India, and nice carpet to boot), a huge bed, and about 2/3 the price of the Ramada. We ordered room service (hello ham and cheese panini and shrimp ceasar's salad). But the lobby staff again is run by turkeys.
We had to call three times to get our luggage. By that point swimming was out of the question, as we had to get up at 5 am anyway to catch our new flight. And we had to ask for a baby cot twice. And they were out of naan (hello, how can you be out of naan in India? This country is lousy with naan!) But the room, food, and shower, was just what we needed to make the kids not think anything was wrong.
Later that night as we were packing for our early morning departure, I noticed our passports were missing. They were supposed to be returned to us with our luggage (India requires every hotel to photocopy your passport apparently). So I called the front desk. They'll look into it, they assured me. Ten minutes later I was beyond frazzled at the thought of a lost passport that I went down to the lobby where the bellmen opened the cash drawer and said, "Here you go, we put them in here for safe keeping." Hello, if you want to keep my passport safe, put it in my hand, not in your crummy cash drawer.
The whole ordeal was a waste of 12 hours of my life and around $200, give or take, for food, hotel, and taxis. But at least we got another night in a very nice hotel with an amazing shower, the softest towels I've ever encountered in my life (that did NOT smell like cigarette smoke, even though this too is a smoking hotel, gimmeabreak), and the best bed I've slept in my whole life (sorry Ramada, but you got beat out just one day later).
We leave for Dubai in two weeks and I'm excited our next trip is out of country. Here's hoping for a few less events like the above.
But I will say this: Kerala is beautiful. We lucked out because it's still monsoon season but didn't get rained on once. And you would think such a beautiful area would be mosquito heaven at night but the whole family escaped without a single bite. This included us playing Racko (Susie's BD present) on our balcony all night enjoying the evening sounds of Kerala. And Kerala is less intrusive than the rest of India. Yes, people were still peeing on the side of the road; yes there was trash in the backwaters; yes the people can be abrasive at times; but all of this is done about ten times less than you find in Bangalore. So the reprieve was enough. We take what we can get.