Prawns, Houseboats and an Eagle named Apu

On beautiful snow days like we have had this past week, it doesn’t take much to take me back to the dusty heat of India. All of India captured my heart, but the backwaters of Kerala were like a dream. As a couple, my husband and I have only take two “real” vacations (our honeymoon and India). While we’ve had many trips to NYC and NH, we haven’t ventured beyond our beautiful New England even though we have both traveled extensively. The past three years have been amazing and busy and when we finally decide to get away, it’s a GRAND adventure. This could be one of the reasons that Kerala captured my heart so deeply: we were “alone.”

I put the word alone in quotation marks for a reason. In India, one is never alone. On my birthday when I wanted to attend a yoga class, the driver waited outside for me to finish my session. A few days prior when I wanted to shop alone, our driver Samuel followed me around the store (right behind the three store clerks following me with hot jasmine tea in hand). And even going to the restroom, I was often followed by aunts and cousins trying to help me with my dresses.

However, in Kerala we were as alone as we could be (save for our cook, driver, captain and people we bumped into along the way). It was so beautiful to see the quiet side of India and to catch our breath after 3 full days of our cousins beautiful Indian wedding.

The houseboat was my favorite part of this adventure (okay, aside from riding the elephants and giving them valla pullum and reiki). As we arrived and were dropped into the abyss (saying goodbye to our driver and praying to not be kidnapped by pirates), we began to sail around the backwaters of Kerala. I felt like Anthony Bourdain as we were served cuisine for an army and my heart literally melted when my husband began his bribery tricks.

Houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala
Houseboat on the backwaters of Kerala

In India you can have anything you want: if you have money.

I was really craving shrimp and decided that was what I wanted when we arrived on the houseboat. Karthik asked the chef his menu and as he was prattling it off, there was no mention of prawns. He quietly asked the chef and the captain if we could buy some prawns and slipped them a few rupees without me seeing.

As we ate our lunch (made for 15 people), we began to get full and I decided to take a quick nap and read a book with our bedroom curtains open so I could watch the water villages as we floated past. A few hours later, before the sun was beginning to set, we pulled the large houseboat over to a small hut on the side of the river. It didn’t’ look like much, just a small little hut with a few valla pullum (bananas) hanging on the front of the door. This local village store was located on the muddy riverbank between the river and the rice plantations and there was only three people manning production: a husband, wife and two year old baby boy.

This is the thin strip of muddy riverbank where many of the stores & homes were located.
This is the thin strip of muddy riverbank where many of the stores & homes were located.

There was a small exchange between our captain and my husband and suddenly my hubby was jumping off the boat and onto the riverbank. He said “I’ll be right back.”

YEAH RIGHT! I grabbed my flip flops and jumped off the boat to follow him. NO WAY was I going to miss whatever this mystery adventure was.

As we walked through the open doorway (no door), we were greeted by the happiest toothless man I have ever met in my life. He was talking rapidly in his language (and if you remember from this article, we were speaking three languages to get us through our trip in Kerala). He started gesturing wildly to his Igloo coolers and began opening them one by one showing us large dead fish of every creed and color. I have never seen so many different fish in a market, let alone a small little hut on the side of a river. He was explaining that all fish were caught this morning and had this huge smile on his face as he kept staring at my very reflective white skin in the sunlight that was poking through his shop. My husband put on his best poker face and kept saying no to every fish he showed us.

“Prawns?” Karthik asked nicely.

On cue, he opened the last cooler which boasted the largest prawns I have ever seen in my life. The chef had joined us at this point, thankfully helping us with the language barrier, and helped us to select the largest prawns for the best price. I stepped back and watched the transaction between the three men as they negotiated in three languages and got the price down to something that satisfied everyone. My beloved can get an amazing deal, but he decided to pay a wee bit more than he was supposed to (as he wanted to help support this man and his family). My heart was melting as I fell in love with him all over again: not only did he get me the prawns I had wanted that morning, but he also helped a beautiful little family on the side of the river.

A similar store on the river, this one was much larger than our prawn hut!
A similar store on the river, this one was much larger than our prawn hut!

As we began to leave, I was holding my camera and snapping photos when I suddenly looked up and held in a scream. I was staring directly into the eyes of what I believed to be a baby hawk.

The wife of the toothless shop owner came out and stared at me. She gestured, trying to ask me a question and I struggled to understand. She said “pet.”

I asked if this beautiful bird was hers and she said “Yes, watch.”

She walked back into the shop and grabbed one of the prawns. She threw it up on their tin roof and the baby hawk swooped in to grab it and started eating it immediately. I started giggling and said “Wow, what a beautiful bird, is he a hawk?”

The chef and captain had now gathered to watch my amazement and between my husband and I, we gathered that it was in fact a one year old baby EAGLE and he went by the name Apu.

Baby Eagle: Apu
Baby Eagle: Apu

At this point I was sure I was staring in the adult, real-life version of Aladdin and couldn’t contain my giggling as we walked back onto the boat. I hopped up without the help of my three men as the captain boasted “The lady is brave.”

Yes sir. I am brave, I am happy and boy oh boy was I in love.

The adventure of a lifetime in a beautiful country I have been craving for years… and I meet a baby pet eagle named Apu.

Adventure complete (and this was only day 4 in India).

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