They aren't a bunch of writers quietly travelling in the Blog Express from one spot to another. Instead, each of them embody a surprise package with a gargantuan appetite for all things new and novel. There were culture evangelists, people watchers, acrobatic adepts, food buffs, local movie aficionados, tree climbers, waterborne entities and much more. The fun quotient soars to such dizzying heights that if an analogy had to be drawn, it would resemble a cloud bursting upon you!
The team of bloggers had started their journey in Thiruvananthapuram, passing through Kollam, to the splendid backwater retreats in Alappuzha and Kumarakom and then to the biennale in Kochi. It was after a tour of Paravur that the bloggers landed on the ravishing beach of Cherai, right before sunset.
Rosemary Anne Neave from New Zealand, a seasoned travel blogger, seems to have relished the culture quest. In the town of Pattanam, declared as part of the Muziris Hertage project owing to intense archeological excavations, the bloggers took a heritage walk on the site and visited the marvellous Jewish synagogue, a Muziris heritage site tucked far away away from the spotlight. “It's worth remembering that before thousands of years, even before explorers like Vasco Da Gama landed, there were people plying the seas, and setting up trading industries here,” she said.
“With only 13 million Jews in the world, this synagogue here touched my heart,” said Hof Kim Cohen from Israel, who was charmed by the Jewish Synagogue. Not one to shy away from little escapades, she had also tried her hand at climbing a coconut tree, which “looked easy” at first!
Brazilian Carla Ferreira did not seem to mind that we had borrowed the adage 'God's Own Country' from the country of its birth. “I'm very happy about that, because in a lot of ways, there are a lot similarities —the food, the weather, all the greenery... but yes, the food isn't so spicy in Rio, where I come from,” she quipped.
And then here were foodies like Andras Jokuti, hailing from Hungary. A leading food writer in Hungary, Jokuti is an avid fan of everything edible. When asked about his best moment in Kerala till now, his instantaneous reply veered towards cuisine. “Since I'm into gastronomy, it was a great experience to try out the spiciness and different combination of flavours. Trying out spices from the market was interesting,” he said, adding that tasting the cloves wasn't a very nice feeling and the bird's eye chillies made him cry! Anything unhealthy here? “I'm not about health”, he clarified. “I like to get a whiff of everything authentic when I'm in a place”. Jokuti had also shaken up Twitter by posing like Mohanlal on a truck. “I didn't know him (Mohanlal), but when I posted a picture of me in a truck, someone had commented that I look like Mohanlal. So I did a search and put his picture next to mine—now we look like the twin towers,” the blogger laughed. To be fair, he looks just a few more 'mundu' experiments away from being a superstar himself!
Ewa Jermakowicz from Poland said that the highlight of the trip so far was the lingering experience of the backwaters. “We've no backwaters in Poland! Kerala and Poland are very different,” she said. Adriana Vassilkova from Bulgaria felt like she was “in a beautiful island now”, a cryptic reference to the minus 20 degree weather in her native place.
Video blogger Arnaud Wiehe too found the cuisine exquisite. “I've eaten a large part of my way through Kerala, and I still look forward to eating on the banana leaf, despite having to get some training to eat using my fingers!”, he said, adding that a chicken curry that he had in the capital city was lip-smacking.
But there were also some who couldn't quite make both the heating ends meet—the cuisine and the weather. Arnaldo Santiago Rivera from Puerto Rico calls himself the 'pickiest eater in the world', and he admitted to some troubles in the gastronomy department.
They were quite a people-friendly bunch as well, with most of them saying that they were floored by the locals. While Arnaldo Santiago said that he found Keralites warm and pleasantly inquisitive, Stefania Guglielmi, a social media manager from Italy, gushed about how everybody in Kerala seemed welcoming. “People wave at you, talk to you politely, and this I don't find in Italy”, she said, “It's so lovely to see the innocence of children here, it really warms my heart”.
And then we hopped over to say hello to Claire Lizzie Green, the one with the most interesting view of the world, because she mostly looks at it all upside down! Claire is from France, and when asked, why such an amusing worldview of all, she laughed “I've been taking lessons in Gymnastics for some time now, and I learned to look at the world upside down by doing cross-feet (a skill in gymnastics) and handstands. Without putting me in danger, I try do a handstand or headstand every place I go to”, she said. Why, we asked. “Because I like how it looks funny and silly, and that's how I am. I get silly, I jump around!”. So how does the world look upside down? “Pretty great!” she laughs.
Deepti Asthana and Preeti Hoon, the two Indian bloggers, seemed to enjoy their experience too. Deepti was on her fourth visit, whereas it was Preeti's maiden visit to Kerala.
And then we ran into Zuzanna Chmielewska, a native of Poland bitten by the travel bug. She lives in Malaysia, and has come to India before. In her own words, “There are many people from Kerala and Tamil Nadu in Malaysia, and so I'm very familiar with certain customs and traditions,” she said. “I know of Deepavali and Thaipusam as celebrated in Tamil Nadu!” And to hear her say Thaipusam was a moment of glory! An avid movie buff who takes to Bollywood movies, she says her favourite movie is the Aamir Khan starrer 'Fanaa'. “I know that in Kerala, movies are more about families, while in Tamil Nadu it's more about fighting; I've only seen Rajinikanth on YouTube, and I'm waiting to watch his movie!” She had us going gaga over her right there! Zuzanna had also taught children in Gujarat Public school during her stint in India for three months in 2010. “I've been missing India for a while now, and this trip was just the thing to happen!”