Kerala II Spice, spice Baby

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It’s a relief to head up into the hills of the Western Ghats, to the home of the improbably-named Baby Matthew – Vanilla County.

Matthew (I somehow cannot call a fully grown man Baby) inherited the family plantation home, as is the custom for the youngest child in a family (hence the nickname I guess). The family fortune was built on the spice trade, with the home we’re staying in built on the proceeds from pepper.

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Later the family, like almost everyone else in the area, diversified into rubber cultivation, and then (when prices for rubber dropped) into tourism too. Since Matthew is an excellent host, and wife Rani an excellent cook, Vanilla County is a fabulous place to spend a few days, and give the girls a bit of a geography/biology lesson to boot.

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It’s not everywhere where you can do a spice tour in the back garden. We find nutmeg, cinnamon bark, pepper, cocoa pods (and the girls enjoy sucking the sweet coating from around the beans) as well as lemon grass, pepper, cardamom and lots of fruit. We drink passion fruit and guava juice fresh from the garden, and eat pineapple and bananas grown on the premises. We also visited a tea plantation (close to my heart, if not the children’s).

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If it seems like all I’m talking about is food, that’s perhaps unsurprising. We ate well – as we have all the way through India. Clover and Daisy ate a lot of pasta (because Rani is kind to small children), and we all enjoyed some superb biryanis and paratha.

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Other highlights. For the children, swimming in the natural rock pools and walking along tracks lined with a type of mimosa known as a ‘touch me not’, which closes up when you stroke it (rather like the Monster Book of Monsters in Harry Potter – perhaps Rowling has been to the Ghats?), helping to tap rubber from the trees and turning it into sheets of rubber using formic acid and a really large mangle.

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Lowlights… an enforced visit to a really dull orchid farm (I’ve always hated garden centres…) and a somewhat windy, twisty journey down the mountainside back to Cochi at the end. Loved the local restaurant we visited on the way down, though, with a full meal served on a banana leaf (so much better than plates – just throw away when you’ve finished) for £3.50 for four of us.

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We left Kerala on (yet another) night train, just in time to avoid the one-day general strike that would have stranded us for 24 hours. Next stop Goa…

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