I went to Alleppey in order to scratch the itch of two childhood memories. Cruising the backwaters on a houseboat seemed like some kind of circle-of-life-y thing that I just needed to do.
The first memory is of riding The Jungle Cruise, an attraction that I begged to board during our annual family enema at Disneyworld. My whining would begin in Hall Of The Presidents and would not be snuffed until we’d rounded corner into Fantasyland. I was only happy when our very fake boat made its way down the more fake chlorine river, passing the most fake animals.
My second memory is of watching The African Queen, a film that always seemed to be on our television. I never complained because it seemed to elevate my my father’s mood to the point where he became possible to survive. I saw this movie at least twenty times by the time I was ten, understanding even then that I was always going to be more of a Hepburn than a Bogie.
And so I went out in search of my own river adventure.
Booking a boat in Alleppey was a breeze. With over three hundred in circulation, I had my pick of the litter and decided on one that looked like a fancy bale of hay. It was an old-school model, propelled by a burly man holding a thirty-foot pole.
The newer ones looked a bit too South Beach in comparison, tricked out with motors, satellite dishes and flatscreens.
I figured that if you’re going to float through canals on a piece of wicker, it might as well be on something authentic and flammable.
My hopes for a boozy staff were dashed when I met Captain Sensible, a stern man who obviously did not fancy nonsense. I did manage to get chummy with Chef Bloodbath, who came to me and asked for a band-aid, having chopped a significant portion of his finger into my lunch.
The boat was surprisingly sturdy and was designed for the crew to hang out in the back (talking about the guests) and the passengers to hang out on in the front (wondering what they’re saying). I was the only guest.
My room contained a sun-faded picture of Jesus, the holes in his hands bleeding brown and his Daughtry haircut turned some shade of dark blond. It made what was surely a bad day for him look even worse.
The twenty hour trip did an excellent job of showing off the canals, some quite remote and others meandering through the backyards of local houses. During the first hour we passed concrete walls that were spray-painted with the communist sickle, a bird eating another bird, children screaming, women doing their washing, and agitated roosters.
I grew antsy after a few hours, probably still expecting animitronic hippos to come popping out of the water. I came to realize that this is what they meant by Slow Travel, a term surely invented by the kind of people who walk around with crocheted bags and nylon sandals.
Unable to naturally chill, I popped a Panadol and downshifted into the groove of the river, my ears doing that buzzy thing that happens when paracetemol hits the system. I started to have deep thoughts. Thing like why ducks still swim, despite the fact that they can fly.
Captain Sensible parked the boat at 6pm, at the end of what I guess was a cul-de-sac. A beautiful sunset transpired.
Music began playing from something sounding like a bullhorn.
Mosquitos undertook suicide missions.
Parents sent their children out to purge their pre-bedtime energy, men worked on their motors and curious smells wafted from kitchens.
It could have been a Tuesday night in Connecticut. Except here I was on a river in India.
I spent the night eating a delicious dinner, drinking Kingfisher and watching the lizard-things devour anything that approached the deck’s lone light bulb. My newfound zen-ness relaxed even my thumbs, allowing me to defeat Bowser in a Nintendo DS battle that had been a long time coming.
I listened to Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity on the boat’s bow, doing that thing where a record somehow seems completely new after the 200th listen.
I woke in the morning upon the advice of Bloodbath, who was at my door saying “wake up.” I rubbed my slept-in contact lenses deeper into my cornea and dragged myself towards coffee. The world had already woken up around me, everyone rushing to get to somewhere, either by boat or by path.
The journey ended rather abruptly. We poled our way back towards town, quickly reaching the departure dock. The crew jumped off the boat and scrambled toward the next guests, who were waiting to jump on. It was easy to see that the whole thing was going to be repeated again, as if on an endless loop of of personal fulfillment.
Come to think of it, that’s how things ended on The Jungle Cruise too.