The teams were all up until late again last night, none of us retiring until at least 2 or 3am. We shared a fantastic dinner of the local cuisine, and watched the sun go down on what has effectively been our private beach.
It was an easy going rest day today, and with everyone assembled at the civilised hour of 10am we got to the vehicles and headed for Alleppey for a rendezvous with our houseboat. This particular day’s activity was not even advertised to the teams when they joined up, and this amazing opportunity is all thanks to our rally partner at Marvel Cruises. The Malabar Rampage is one of the world’s foremost showcases of Kerala and Southern India, always looking brings to light the best and most beautiful aspects of the region, but still the participants could hardly believe their luck that they had managed to get one of the legendary houseboats all to themselves for an entire afternoon.
A short 15 minute ride down the road and the participants had to run a gauntlet of reporters before getting anywhere near the dock. Even though it’s technically a day off for the rally, it turns out that celebrity comes with a price and everyone had to go through several interviews with both press and broadcast journalists before being let go. At its height, the teams and their tuk-tuks were surrounded by as many as two camera crews, 5 photo-journalists, and a difficult to count number of fast paced reporters.
When the press mob was finally cleared, it was time for the teams to all finally board one of the famous local Kettuvallam boats. Originally designed as heavy lifting rice barges, the Kettuvallam gets its name from two Malayalam words – ‘kettu’ means tying and ‘vallam’ meaning country boat. The boats are so called because coir ropes tied in knots are all that hold together the entire structure of the boat! Not a single nail is used in the whole construction, which predominantly consists of huge planks of local Jack wood coated with a caustic black resin made from boiled cashew kernels. Whilst the boats remain extremely ecologically friendly and sustainable in their traditional construction, the modern 80 foot boats have also been adapted into luxuriously furnished houseboats. A modern kettuvallam can have up to five en-suite bedrooms, an open plan lounge, sun deck, and a kitchenette complete with your own cook. Meals on-board are supplemented with fresh fish pulled straight from the backwaters. The materials which go into the making are all local, such as eco-friendly bamboo poles, coconut fibre ropes, bamboo mats, coir carpets etc. One effect of all these natural organic fibres is that even in the hottest part of the day, the interiors of the boats remain cool, as the rally participants found out much to their relief.
The team’s boat was a full three bedroom model, a full kitchen, a lounge and copious sun decks. Everyone had a great lunch on-board, took naps on deck or in the rooms, played cards, or watched the scenery serenely float by at the stately speed of five kilometres an hour.
When we had returned to dry land the rest of the day was spend relaxing in town, picking up a few basic supplies. The whole rally parked up at the end of a street, put on some music in Team 007’s high-end stereo system and just relaxed surrounded by the hum of the Sunday traffic. Pretty soon we had attracted the local tuk-tuk driver too, who gathered around to check out our crazy rickshaws and listen to our most excellent tunes as well. Before we knew it, there was a full-on impromptu street party going on centred around the Malabar Rampage!
Tomorrow it’s a 190km push, so all this rest and recuperation is going to be needed! Unfortunately the ever popular Brett of the antipodeian Team 004 was not feeling up to participating today, which is one of the hazards to participants of traveling through so many distinct microclimates in such quick succession. Always keep yourself hydrated on the road, adventurers! Fortunately Brett will be back with us, zooming around with characteristic grace by tomorrow.