Visiting Kerala and the Periyar Wildlife Reserve

One of our most popular YouTube videos is of Tara and I riding and bathing an elephant at Elephant Junction in Thekkady, India. The whole experience was extremely memorable, and it was just a puzzle piece in our month-long exploration of the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. It ended up being one of our favorite regions we visited during the two and a half months we traveled around the country.

Tara and Bina share a bath together.

Tara and Bina share a bath together.

Most tourists who visit Kerala choose to sightsee in four cities: Kochi, Alleppey, Thekkady, and Munnar. These are the region’s golden circle of must-visit cities for those visiting the area. We ended up visiting three of the four, skipping out on Munnar simply because it offered mainly the same activities as Thekkady but with higher accommodation costs.

Tara and I started our month-plus visit to Kerala in Kochi. More specifically, we spent about a week relaxing north of Kochi at a remote homestay on Kuzhupilly Beach. We spent our days reading, writing, jogging along the beach and enjoying each other’s company. It was a period of relaxation after a month of quick travel through the north. Continue reading

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Can You Drink the Water in…

Cold Water in India

But is it potable?

We don’t travel with guide books. They add too much weight, take up precious space and buying a new one for each country we visit would cost too much. Sometimes we read the ones left behind in guesthouses, but mostly we look to the Internet for a few important answers. Before arriving in a new country, we always look up the following information:

1) the local currency and exchange rate
2) what the tipping etiquette is
3) any local customs or important cultural differences
And, super important:
4) can you drink tap water without getting sick?

This last question has become very important to us. Being in constant travel mode between very foreign places has caused us to miss certain things, and ice on a very hot day is one of them. Sometimes, if you can’t drink the local water, you can’t have ice, a smoothie or diluted juice. But other times, like in Malaysia, ice is made in factories and purchased by local establishments. Thank you, Malaysia! But we wish you the best if you attempt to drink ice water in India.

Obviously this is very important information to be prepared with. Here’s a breakdown of countries we spent significant time in during our trip and whether you can drink from the tap.* Some of them may surprise you:

Continue reading

We’ve Been Gone NINE Months!

It feels like ages ago that we sat in a beer hall in Zagreb with our Couchsurfing host, Tanja, talking about how much we love Croatia and could live there. We never wanted to leave. Africa and India seemed like years away, and now both are already behind us. It’s sad for us to think that in mere months our grand adventure will be spoken about in the past tense. Can’t we continue on for a little longer? We’re looking for a way.

Mike and Tara's WeddingIn the meantime, we’re still excited to celebrate our nine-month travelversary since it means we’ve had so many great experiences since getting married just one year ago on 3/3/12! Yes, you read that right. We are celebrating not one but two anniversaries. This calls for a celebratory beer and an upgrade to a room with AC! Ah, the little things that make long-term travelers happy. 🙂
While we celebrate, enjoy our latest stats: Continue reading

5 Things to Carry When Traveling Through India

After two and a half months traversing India, we left with a good idea of what other travelers will want to have on hand. Some of these items might already be in your travel bag, but knowing why you need them might persuade you to buy a different brand, amount or, well, two-ply instead of one.

Squat Toilet Spigot

Your toilet paper alternative.

Toilet paper
You might have heard of “Indian-style toilets,” also known as squat toilets. We don’t think they’re that bad, as they put your body in a more natural position than Western toilets. However, the advice to bring toilet paper doesn’t stem from attendants forgetting to replace empties. The truth is that Indians use the rinse method to clean their behind instead of toilet paper. In each stall, there’s either a hose or a spigot with a bucket. (This is also one reason why people say the stalls are gross — there is often a layer of brown water surrounding the squat toilet.) If you don’t want to “go local,” you’ll need to bring your own TP (and sometimes small coins for the WC fee). Baby wipes may come in handy as well.

Cash, especially small bills and coins.
When traveling through India, you just have to accept that credit card readers are as rare as a decent coffee. Cash is king, but smaller bills rule the kingdom. Continue reading

Kerala Kitchen: South Indian Side Dishes

The names of these side dishes were told to me in the local language, Malayalam, and the cooking instructor didn’t know how to translate them. They’re basically: cabbage with coconut, beetroot without coconut and okra (aka – bhindi, aka- lady’s fingers) without coconut. I’m sure they have fancy restaurant menu names, but I couldn’t figure them out. I’ve had each of them with thali at restaurants, but I don’t recall them as individual items on any menu. Oh well, who needs names anyway?

Last two recipes: Mixed Veg with Indian Gravy (North Indian) and Tomato Curry (South Indian)

Cabbage recipe, serves 2

Cabbage CookingIngredients
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds

½ medium-sized cabbage, sliced
½ medium-sized red onion, sliced
2 chilies, sliced length-wise  (This gives medium heat. Add more or less depending on your personal preference.)
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 cup grated coconut
½ tsp salt

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Spice Plantation Tour

The favorable climate in south India makes it a massive producer of many spices, as well as world-class tea leaves and coffee beans. While in Periyar, we took a spice and tea plantation tour to learn more about the things we eat and how they grow. The four-hour tour took us to an organic, eco-friendly spice plantation, a tea factory and a tea and peppercorn field where we could watch pickers in action.

Bay Leaves

Bay leaves come from Cinnamomum tamala, the same tree that gives you cinnamon (from its bark).

 

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Kerala Kitchen: Tomato Curry Recipe

So begins our adventure into South Indian dishes. The cuisine is much different in the south. Coconut and coconut oil are often found on the ingredient list, and fish is a favorite of the south as well (sadly, I have no fish recipes to share). These dishes are surprisingly quick and easy to make, and quite delicious. They have common ingredients that make them mesh well as a full meal. Please note that while the North Indian recipes served four, the South Indian recipes serve two. Enjoy!

Last two recipes: Butter Paneer and Mixed Veg with Indian Gravy
Next (and final) recipes: South Indian side dishes

South Indian Tomato Curry

Tomato Curry

Making tomato curry.

Ingredients:
3 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds

4 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 medium-sized red onions, sliced
2 chilies, sliced length-wise  (This gives medium heat. Add more or less depending on your personal preference.)
2 tsp salt

1 cup thin coconut milk
1/2 cup thick coconut milk

Continue reading