We figured out how to ride the train! Okay, well it was made easier by the fact that our friend Pallavi booked our first round of tickets. We found our car number, found our seats, and found someone sleeping in them! After he gladly moved for us we struck up a conversation with the man sitting beside us. He told us a lot about his views on India and Kerala but apparently wasn't being patriotic enough for the man who was sleeping earlier. An argument between these two men broke out that we could only understand snippets of but apparently the sleeping man didn't like the fact that the other man was criticizing India and was telling him to "be Indian!" It was uncomfortable for us; we could tell that we were the subject of the argument but we couldn't understand it since it was carried out in either Hindi or Malayalam or both, we couldn't tell. They were both nice, however, and after tensions relieved we continued with our conversation. Once the sleeping man left the other man told us his views on life and honesty, and soon we were in Thiruvananthapuram, or Trivandrum for short.
It was quite hard to find a hotel. We think it is because the Kerala International Documentary and Short Film Festival is in town. The only hotel room we were able to procure was one with three beds! It was clean at least so we took it. We had dinner and tried to find a room for the next day with the right number of beds. We checked out a place called Kukie's Holiday Inn which was recommended by our guide book and a rickshaw driver upon our arrival. The employee of the inn was gracious enough to show us a possible room which came equipped with a double bed, private bathroom, and cockroaches. Needless to say we stuck with the three beds.
The next day we woke up, went for breakfast, and unsuccessfully tried to take a bus to the Neyyar Dam Sanctuary. The Neyyar Dam Sanctuary is a wildlife refuge built around an idyllic lake that was created by the 1964 Neyyar Dam about 30km north of town. We were able to figure out that a bus to the Neyyar Dam did indeed leave from the station we were at but unfortunately were not able to figure out which one it was since the signs were all in Malayalam and no one understood us. Plan B: hire a rickshaw.
We took the rickshaw to the elephant rehabilitation centre inside of the sanctuary. Having been to a similar place in Thailand, Antonia was expecting a large operation with guides able to tell us what the centre was about. Instead we were the only tourists at the place and it was a significantly smaller operation. No one spoke very much English or could tell us much about the centre. The conversation went something like this:
After throwing a blanket over the elephant and leading us up a staircase, the full elephant riding instructions were "get on!" Riding the elephant was amazing. It was huge and lumbering and would stop every once in a while to pull branches off of trees to eat which sprayed us with recently fallen rain. After the ride we got to pet and touch the elephant while they were instructed to wrap their trunks around us and rest them on our heads.
Before we left we were able to pet a five year old elephant, very cute! We also got to take some photos of a seventy-five year old elephant and were instructed "no touch!" We weren't about to, it was huge and regal with long tusks.
On our way back to the main part of the sanctuary our rickshaw got stuck in the pouring rain in the middle of nowhere. For a second we wondered how we were going to get back but luckily after several attempts at starting the engine our driver was successful.
At the sanctuary we took a boat ride around the lake and were able to see monkeys, lions and owls. The neatest part about the ride was hearing the enourmous roar of the lions all through the park.
Today we went to the zoological gardens and museums of Kerala. It was a nice relaxing getaway from the bustle of downtown Trivandrum. At the zoo there were zebras, alligators, lions, elephants, tigers, rhinoserous, pelicans, cobras, pythons, giraffes, leopards and lots more. Our favourites were the sloth bear and the hippos. Next we went to the Napier museum inside the gardens which was inside a gorgeous building. The museum contained ancient Hindu and Buddhist artifacts.
We are among the only tourists that we have seen in Trivandrum, and we get a lot of stares and children are sometimes excited to see us, sometimes scared. We have tried to strike up conversations with local people and have noticed that everyone addresses James, never Antonia, and he is expected to order our meals and pay for them. Even getting to know our friends on the train, Antonia was never asked anything about herself. When we introduce ourselves, separately, using our first names, we end up being refered to simply as 'Mr. and Mrs. James.' It feels quite strange, but Antonia will try to stomach it for this leg of the trip, and hopes that things will be a little different in areas where tourists aren't quite such a novelty.
Trivandrum has been the most difficult place that we have travelled so far; dodging the traffic has been a feat in itself and our plans are determined by where there might be a safe place to cross the street. Where elsewhere we have had to dodge traffic, cows and goats, here we have to watch out for traffic, rats (dead or alive) and cockroaches. We've had a good time, especially escaping the insanity to go to the zoo and the sanctuary, but we are looking forward to heading toward Alleppey tomorrow, which should be quite a bit more laid back, and where we will hopefully have our much-anticipated houseboat ride.
Oh, and we can't believe that we thought $2,50 for two dinners was a good deal. Here, we have been consistently eating delicious food for around $1,25 for two complete meals. And (knock on wood!) no Delhi belly yet!