Category Archives: Kochi

The Kerala Backwaters

Thwack thwack is the background soundtrack to lunch, tied up to the bank of the seemingly endless waterway known as the Backwaters of Kerala. There too is birdsong from many unknown species and screeches of animals further back in the low jungly islands all about. The floating wild Hyacinth, fondly remembered from the Mekong, is prolific, I wonder, do they harvest it ? There is constant bank to bank canoe traffic, visiting, trading, schooling, I have no idea, but the pace of life is very very slow. Children cycle up and down the adjacent path crying out “What is your name? Where are you from?”. Men in the traditional dress, a longi, a kind of skirt, amble about doing apparently nothing, but I do notice they keep their eyes on the water, perhaps judging the fishing potential. The ladies, bright in their saris, thwack thwack thwacking the daily wash on convenient rocks.
The boats, which are everywhere, appear to be low draft barges with intricate bamboo woven roofs and walls built on top. Some are big fifty or sixty feet long with two decks, the upper one being an observation deck and the lower containing sleeping cabins, lounging and dining area, bathrooms, kitchen and crew quarters. My boat is quite small, room at the bows for two deck chairs and a table with four chairs, behind which is the cabin and bathroom with the kitchen at the stern. More than adequate for one, me. I count fourteen boats at this moment and that is just off the port side. Local bus boats speed along taking locals to and from, much faster than ours and creating something of a wash.
South and South we go, I can tell by the position of the sun, deeper and deeper into this vast waterway, I am completely lost. We follow narrow channels maybe three hundred yards across for half a mile or so, emerging into long wide lakes, perhaps one mile wide, two miles long and then on, to another distant channel. As we pass a narrow channel I can look down it, straight and palm lined into the distance, reminding me of the Canal du Midi with its famous Plane trees, are they really going to be cut down ? Wracking my brain to come up with an equivalent of this geographical feature, and failing. Is the Inter Coastal of the eastern US seaboard anything like this ?
We turn into a very narrow channel, too narrow for most of the boats, and we are in a village, on both banks, incongruously there is a pedestrian foot bridge, boys swim, men bathe, more thwacking, there are shops, well kind of, a bus boat rushes the people home, it will be sunset soon. Ferry, let’s call it a ferry. There is a Church, St Mary’s, I hear Mass. There are nuns, and a hospital . We stop, negotiate fish prices for dinner, king prawns it will be, curried presumably. I enquire about beer, a bottle is produced from behind a pile of empty boxes, Kerala seems officially dry. I was told proudly told that there are two liquor stores in all of Kochi, in some of the larger street food booths beer is sold, and consumed, out of tea pots.
We have joined a procession of boats all heading down a narrow channel into the setting sun (this is live narrative folks!) I assume to a place to tie up, or anchor, for the night, tea is served, no snooze, I might miss something. I see my first rice rick, like a hay rick, only rice stalks. I am not sure of the American translation, in fact I don’t think we have hay ricks in America, piles of straw ? Evening approaches and the ladies are fishing off the banks, come on guys, where are you ?
We tied up, strangely, along with many other boats onto a kind of tow path across from which is a house, in fact a whole row of houses, each with a boat tied up across the narrow path. Our front end is almost right in the lady’s wash area, evening ablutions are carried out within inches of the boat, very odd. Walking along the path I found others who also found it a bit odd, Brits, of course, a Polish lady, Daga, a Norwegian lady, Christina and four year old Angelina and none of us could figure it out, why are we here. Oh well, not going to stress about it.
Brilliant dawn and sunrise, will try and post photos as and when. PROBLEM. My camera has stopped working, lens jammed. So to tuk tuk back to Kochi and now at Canon repair center. Motor is blown, too bad, camera only three months old. Hope then to be off to mountains for six days, the Western Ghats. So this might be bye bye until Goa on March 9th. Will have stories to tell and photos to share.

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There is much visiting from shore to shore.

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More visiting.

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The Backwaters.

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More houseboats.

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Suddenly, a foot bridge.

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A rice rick !

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Something of a balancing act.

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My small boat, tied up for the night.

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Heavy traffic on the waterway.

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A houseboat Armada.

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Well it is India!

I have read of the newcomer’s potential exasperation when trying to get anything done in India resulting eventually in the expression “well it is India”, so I have kept a large reserve of patience in case things begin to take their time. The first cup of tea for instance that took ninety minutes to appear. Today, being the last full day of my hotel reservation period, is the day I set about planning the next phase, a houseboat overnight in the backwaters. I had been checking out the many many boat ticket offices as I walked about town so headed to my first choice, A Fair Trade Boutique, and found them to be most obliging. The price seemed right, about half that of some other places I had looked at, they took plastic, but could I come back later after the boat Captain returned their phone call. Sure, no problem, I will go and find a domestic SIM card for my phone, they told me where to go.
Found a booth type shop manned by gentleman who feigned no English, but I caught him muttering understandably, and the we got to business. Oh no, not just any foreigner can buy a SIM card, you must have passport photo and permission. Really ? Ok, I left my photos at the hotel, but spotted a passport photo taking booth across the street. Be right back says I. A certain amount of dithering, pondering and decision making took place and then they took the photo. More of same and then they printed it, four photos, one dollar. Back to phone person armed with required photo. He produced a massive form and stuck my photo to it. I quailed, form filling not my strong point, but persevered to his satisfaction and then he wanted my passport. How difficult, how humiliating, how embarrassing, but I retrieved it from my document/money belt buried three layers deep upon my person, right there on the street. Nobody seemed to mind. So on it went. Another form appeared, he filled it in and faxed it, somewhere, then told me to return in half an hour, go have a juice says he. Ok fine, it was getting hotter and hotter. Juiced, I returned. He seemed pleased. Not me, no no sir, that is not a micro SIM that I need, do you have a clipper. No, no clipper and he produces a razor blade and sets about the SIM with that. On and on. I returned to juice bar and he came too, still trimming the SIM. Then we had to find a paper clip to eject current SIM from my phone. OH. Of course it didn’t fit, more trimming with blade until yes, it now fits. Great, back to phone booth with SIM installed but no signal. On and on, hotter and hotter. We are two hours into this by now. More calling, dialing, pin # entering, finally my phone chirped. Let me outa here. Thanking him as graciously as possible I ran away. To the Post Office!
I will cut this short. You must wrap your package to Seattle sir. Hmm. Ok. See sign in clothing shop that says package wrapping. Please wrap this for me, oh yes. A custom made linen wrap is created, my package goes in and the whole thing sealed with wax. One dollar. Back to Post Office, lady takes package, and money , no customs forms, no nothing. Will it ever arrive on East Thomas, only Nat and Erin will know.
Back to the beginning, to the boat booking and ticketing office. Everything was done and they will pick me up at 10.00am tomorrow.
Well it is India.

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Lots of kind comments about the nets so here is another. Interesting to see the old and the new.

First Day in Fort Kochi.

Daylight on Tuesday reveals Fort Kochi, strangely quiet. Last evening there was the predictable busy busy business, motor scooters, tuk tuks, cars, buses and much pedestrian traffic. Only a little like Viet Nam, obliviously walk out into the traffic, keep going, don’t stop, don’t look and be optimistic. Woke up this morning at eight thirty, oh good, a lie in, pottered about, made tea, looked out the window, then discovered I had left the clock gadget on Cambodia time. It was a little after 6am. Oh well, sunup is a good time for a stroll. But, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse ! Ok, there were a few goats, the occasional policeman, some soldiers, that was about it, well early I thought and kept walking. 7am then 8am and still the streets were deserted, the shops shuttered, no hubbub, no action. Hungry, I made my way back to the hotel and then it struck me, someone mentioned a strike last night, a 24 hour General Strike! Well that’s it then, innit, all the shops are closed, the banks, offices, gas stations, restaurants, the Post Office, the railways aren’t running, the airport is shut down, the port traffic halted, there are no buses, tuk tuks or taxis. It’s so strangely quiet, like going to Safeway on Thanksgiving morning.

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Nothing, nobody, anywhere.

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The story behind the Chinese Fishing Nets

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The Nets Waiting for the new day

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The net is lowered into the water.

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After a suitable period of time the net is hauled up, gradually.

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There may or may not be fish.

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Last photo of nets for a while, promise.

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General Strike activity, cricket. I counted four matches on this one “pitch”.

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Another pitch, more cricket. Do check out the Banyan Tree, there are many in town and provide welcome shade.

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Everyone goes to the beach to watch the sunset, over the Arabian Sea.

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Having fun.

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Crowd. Beach. Fort Kochi. Sunset.

On arriving in Kochi

Thirty thousand feet over the Indian Ocean with a plane loaded with sari clad ladies, bespectacled, serious gentlemen and small, happy bouncing children. I don’t know what I said or did but every seat is taken, aisles, windows, middles except around where I sit. Here I have four rows of three seats each all to myself, it is the emergency exit row but even so, dear dear. Air Asia is an odd Airline charging something like a third less than the price I was quoted back home and taking me to my destination in the space of one day, no overnight layovers in random ports. They insist in charging for everything, water is a dollar, Oreo cookies two dollars for a mini pack. They seem to style themselves on the Virgin America model, they even use the same font in their logo, but the seats are ok, leather like Jet Blue in red and black. Oh, the food is inedible and costs three dollars. Truly airline food.
I just wanted to check in as we speed along to try and share my excitement, juvenile perhaps, but this part of my circumnavigation has always been the most keenly anticipated and about which I am the most apprehensive. Will it live up to expectations, will I ? Or will I bolt behind a hotel wall, fading in the heat and refuse to go out into the crowded streets, alleys and markets ? Abandon my booked train rides and fly about like a So Bo Bo ? Ha. Whatever is that I hear you ask. It’s one of the many derogatory names given to people doing what I am doing, and I assure you there are many more to chose from. Actually I might devote an entire post to the subject. No, it would be boring. But really to see the supercilious looks I received when my waitperson offered to show me the best way to tackle a crab at dinner time and I accepted, well, it’s just plain snobery (maybe inverse snobbery. Anyone ?), he said politely. Get a grip people.
Charming interlude, was joined in my three across by two sisters, eight and eleven, who wanted to play with my tablet. Shame I only could offer Angry Birds. Do you remember the children in Phnom Penh market ? Anyway, shrieks of mirth, approving looks from cabin crew, the Dad came by and we shook hands. They got it, well the older one did, and oh my, what huge eyes they have.
So, plane descends, folding tray tables, electronic devices turned off, seatbelts buckled, you get the picture. Next installment from the ground in INDIA .
Landed, transportation into town, fifty kilometers, in traffic, that made it fourteen hours door to door. Gasp. Have been asked for first impressions and fortunately I took notes on the way in, well you can only look at traffic for so long. I will be brief however as dinner calls. Must say at this point, just helped an Israeli Doctor connect to his hospital in Jerusalem so he could view a patient X-ray taken thirty minutes ago ! Anyway, after only driving in I have to observe that they are moving ahead here. Road construction everywhere, big colorful trucks abound, billboards, huge and enormous dominate the roadside. A two lane road can become a three lane and even a four lane case of beeping mayhem. Guess what, red lights are obeyed not viewed as a suggestion to stop and you really don’t need to if you don’t want to, Hanoi, HCMC for example. The waterways look very tempting, vastly wide with many many craft moving about, I hope to be on a houseboat by week’s end. Lastly, the smell, it’s like the whole place is on fire ! It isn’t of course, maybe it is the burning rubbish, or what.
It’s great, I love it already. Tea was offered on arrival, it took ninety minutes to be delivered to the courtyard outside the restaurant, my type of place. I heard a Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, rapturousness.
Curry time, see you tomorrow.

Farewell IndoChine.

Well that’s it for IndoChina. What a treat, what a privilege, a big thank you to all the peoples of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, you have all been so kind and gracious. Not to mention your great food and cooking.
My five days in the Province of Kampot in the small town of Kep was a welcome break from the big cities, World Heritage Sites, museums, temples but most of all from the pollution and really really bad air quality. It took three days but I finally threw off completely the cold I caught in Hanoi. I did try a Post from Kep, alas still unfinished but will try for a successful completion at some point, but the power was unreliable and the web connection kept crashing. I have to say though that I couldn’t actually come up with too much to say that would be of much interest to anyone. The days passed far too quickly, breakfast became lunch, the afternoon into a siesta, tea became dinner and then it was all over and it was sleep time. Apologies to the squeamish but my sleep mates were wide and varied ! There was a dog outside my room every night despite changing rooms three times during the five day stay. Very large geckoes were constant companions both in and outside the room, there were toads and frogs kicking up a shindig for most of the night. I don’t really want to tell of the spiders and ants that marched about the rooms and the monkeys who screeched and yelled for most of the night, at least I suppose they were monkeys.
I think I may have mentioned the food, peppercorns, still attached to their vine, fried up and served with just about everything. The crab, the prawns, Lok Lak (a Khmer traditional beef dish), every meal was an exploration of my taste buds and an event to anticipate.
All too soon it came to an end and I was back on a tuk tuk to the bus station and the ride back to PP. Scheduled for 12.30 pm departure we were all still hanging about in the heat until about 2.00, will it come? Is that it? Where is it? Did we miss it? All the usual anxieties. Got to chatting with a Canadian gent, odd how they are always so easy to chat with, he from Vancouver Island and raised an eyebrow when I mentioned Victoria. Its good to get around a bit. Bus eventually came, another double decker, and I successfully found seat thirteen (angst) and who should settle in beside me but the Canadian. How do you do says I , Tim, no, he says, that’s who I am too. Not an Aries, but we had a most entertaining ride to PP. We ranged from the ten thousand hour rule, which dictates that to be really good at anything you have to have practiced same for said amount of hours to his six minute rule. I might try it.
Back home he specializes in emergency management at disaster sites and was in Cambodia with his wife and family researching for a magazine article she was writing on the indentured servant racket that is so prevalent in this country. Nice guy, we shared a tuk tuk to hotel row and off he went to find his family, funny to think he might be reading this. (hello Tim McLeod).
Not a very good evening as it was already getting late, did some gift shopping, Kramas (Khmer accessory), silk scarves, more pepper, a t shirt for me etc. went to the Foreign Correspondents Club, the FCC, for dinner and turned in early. That was the plan. Turned out the room had three extremely noisy extracta fans which I couldn’t figure how to disable. Called reception, first one, then two, then three hotel handy men came avisiting. Climbing on chairs, plunging the room into darkness, every switch, knob, dial, remote was brought into the scenario. Finally at about ten thirty I called a halt, herded them out and spent a largely sleepless night wearing my noise canceling headphones.
A 5am wake up call, 6am cab to airport, and this 8.30 flight. Oh yawn.
A break there for a read.
Right then, India for tea. Major expletive! Doodling over my 5.30 am cup of tea I made a couple of notes. I think one of the first books I remember reading was Kipling’s Just so Stories, so finally I am going to the land of Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera and Baloo, O Best Beloved (s). I remember reading about the terrible famines and the tragedy of Partition. Plus of course the Bonzo Dog’s Hunting Tigers out in India!
I am on my way, have I planned sufficiently, am I prepared, time will tell I guess. If all goes to plan the next Post will be from Kochi (old Cochin) in the State of Kerala. More from there.