Friday, 23 November 2012

Last minute catch-up.
After signing off last night, around one in the morning we had a terrific thunderstorm.  The first to go were the lights. Then a little later all power went, and is still off as I write this at 8.0am.  The thunder was extremely loud, and the rain came hard and fast. Unable to sleep, I grabbed a pair of shorts and went onto the terrace, where several other guests had had the same idea.  We watched lighting bounce off nearby hills, as thunder roared directly above us,  and wondered what damage we would  find in the morning.  Happily, all looked and sounded normal in the morning. Dogs barked, crows crowed, children shouted, and Mosquitos bit.  The sun is burning off the morning mist and it will be another beautiful day in Cochin.  

Did more last minute shopping and forewent  my tea and cheesecake and had a cold beer at The Seagull bar overlooking the harbour.

All packed now.  Just got to keep dry for next the eight hours.  Decided on Italian tonight  for my last meal.

This is the final, final blog. . . I promise

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Penultimate day.  Last minute Shopping and sightseeing on the agenda.
My cold remedy from the hippy Aussie did not last long so brought some cold relief tables at a local pharmacy, which seem to be working.

Took a walk in a different direction this morning along a canal through a shanty town.  Not the tourist route but got back into taking interesting photos of life in this area.  It is depressing to see the back-water way of life, and although everyone still smiles politely, I do wonder what they think of us wondering around with expensive cameras taking pictures.
It is the groups of teenage boys that gather on street corners who stare the longest. Is it envy and jealously that linger behind those sullen eyes?

Eleven thirty. . . Is it too early for tea and cheesecake? Silly question. The Teapot is nearly full today but find a table upstairs. Near me are a group of five girls and one guy from Sweden.  One of the girls also had cold symptoms so I asked if she would like a couple of my tablets. Never used that line before, but it works.  I had to ask the obvious question . . .why was this guy going around with five ladies?  Yes, he had been asked many times, but it turns out one is his girlfriend and she asked the others to come with them. Sounds plausible.

The humidity must be of the scale today. Very difficult to stay dry and head back for another shower and change of clothes.  In the cool of the room I wrote some more and had a siesta.

One last chance to get a good sunset photo. Took the five o'clock ferry to Vypeen  Island again as told the sunset views are better there. It was not disappointing to start with and got some good shots, but there was some low cloud, and the sun disappeared from view before touching the horizon.

Not sure if I will be sending another blog tomorrow, but will depend on what I do on the last day.  I don't leave the hotel until midnight so have plenty of time to pack etc. Must remember to collect my new glasses as well.

Also promised myself one last good meal. I have seen several 'good quality' restaurants nearby, and a couple of Italian girls staying here recommended a good Italian restaurant.

This week with Gini and George, has been different, which is what I intended it to be. I met people from virtually every European country (although none English), and have explored areas of Cochin that not everyone would want to.  I have been to the theatre, seen a Hindu elephant festival, witnessed a colourful church service and drank in all that this multi-cultured area has to offer. It is all to easy to get sentimental on holiday, but I will really miss Kerala, and hope, like many of my friends,  to return one day soon.

I hope you have enjoyed some of this blog, as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

One final note . . I am sitting on the terrace outside my room writing this, and I can hear the faint sound of Christmas carols from the nearby Catholic Church. . . .very surreal, but that's India for you.

Goodnight and goodbye from Cochin.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

First,  apologies for yesterday's spelling errors. I cut and paste into the blog but when I saw errors, it would not let me edit. Hopefully today will be better.

The herbal remedy seems to be working. Throat still sore but head cold not so bad.  Had late breakfast, talking to the S. A couple. They left the UK four months ago to return to Durban, the long way round, and still have four weeks left. Backpacking for that length of time would not suit me, even if I was thirty years younger.
For the first time on this trip I walked into town without my camera. It felt strange at first, but soon realised I had photographed most of the interesting people and places, and soon stopped looking for a photo opportunity.
I returned to the Teapot for a cup of Earl Grey, and the famous blueberry cheesecake, which was a delight. I may be over-selling this way of life, and I am sure we have all done it,  and wish it could continue for ever. I am getting weather reports from home, and they are not very encouraging.
I had decided that I would have a massage before leaving, and next door to the Teapot is a massage and therapy place. I booked in for 3.0pm. Whilst waiting I had time to visit a local optician. I had an eye test just before leaving, and brought the prescription with me in the hope of buying a cheap second spare pair. After rejecting all the designer names I settled on a suitable style that could take my tri-focal lenses. Assuming all goes well, it is £65 well spent.
Time for the massage.  I have only experienced the local beauty spa type massages run by women - soft lights, sound of the waves and incense filling the room. It is very relaxing and I usually fall asleep.  This massage was completely different. Advertised as a Ayurvedic massage, they only allow men to massage men. The masseur was a smiling well built six foot local man, who knew his trade well. The old Dutch building was a labyrinth of corridors and small rooms.  Once undressed, I laid on an ancient ebony table with a scalloped centre, so liquids will drain off easily. The table was very old, and had a carved head rest one end, and oil receptacle the other end. If it sounds uncomfortable, it wasn't. My man oiled my  back and arms and found muscles I didn't know I had. I had more knots than a fisherman's keep-net.
After a while I managed to relax, but not to the sleep stage. There is more, but I can already hear at least two ladies I know saying 'too much info Dad'.
I went back to my room and had a very relaxing Siesta.

I spent the evening writing up some book notes and ordered a Byriani to eat in.

Two days left. . . . . Still need to get that perfect sunset.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Two days for the price of one.
Monday. . . My TucTuc man arrived on time and was ready to get going, however, I wanted to know what he had planned, as I had already visited most of the better known tourist traps, sorry spots.
We agreed on the tea and spice wholesalers, which were interesting, plus one or two churches I had missed. One of these being St.Thomas, which was originally had Jacobite Syrian connection, hence the name (thank you Alan (James) for you comments. Mostly the Syrian churches amalgamated with the Catholic Church in the early 16th century, which goes some way to explain the beautiful music I mentioned on Sunday. I found out since this included influences from Malayan church music also.

I digress . . .Suli, my driver, wanted me to buy other mementoes other than tea and spices, so he took me to a department store on the pretext it had five floors and the view at the top was worth seeing.    I was introduced to the owner, who personally escorted me around every department, expecting me to buy from each one. By the time we had reached the top floor, he was getting desperate.  I stood my ground and said I was not in the market for six foot statues, or Indian carpets, or pashminas (at least I don't think I am).  Taking pity on him I brought the least expensive wooded elephant available, and was hurriedly escorted out the door.  Suli got the message, and we went back to sight seeing.
We took in the Synagogue which was small and unimpressive, and the Mattancherri Palce, which is now a museum. The latter was interesting as it was the right size for a museum, not larger enough to get board. I had read the stories on the ancient murals with interest, which will prove beneficial later.
I suggested lunch and Suli took me to his local cafe. It was great food. Popular dish of rice with five small dishes containing various spicy morsels, with bottled water. I had change from two pounds, including the tip.
Realising I was not going to do any more buying, Suli asked if I would like to go to an Hindu Elephant Festival.  Not sure what I was in for and if any cost was involved, I took pity on him and said yes. I rested up for a couple of hours and he picked me up at five pm.  He drove like a bat of hell for thirty minutes. I had no idea where we where heading. I lost all sense of direction after crossing the second bridge. We went through several smaller very busy towns, where no tourists would venture, but suddenly we were on a county road (complete with speed cops).  Soon we reached the venue, which was throbbing we people, cars, bikes, stalls selling food and others selling everything else. The venue was a Hindu temple with a open courtyard on all four sides, approx 50yds wide and 100yds long on each side. Suli pushed me through the throng of people to get as close as possible.  There was a line of twelve elephants beautifully decorated in gold braided headwear and colourful garlands. On each elephant sat three men, one holding a large colour parasol.  - the other two men held either a pair of large peacock feathers, or a pair or symbolistic banners.
In front of me there were at least twenty men playing drums, cymbals, and giant curved horns. The rhythm of the playing combined with the volume was amazing, and at a certain point of crescendo each of the men on the elephants would stand and wave the feathers and banners.
 I was the the only European there to whiteness this once a year festival, and felt very honoured. The elephants then followed the musicians and the crowd slowly around the the arena, until the final crescendo of music had been played out, and everyone was ecstatic, including me.  We made our way out of the melee, reclaimed our shoes, and had a refreshing glass of Chi.  I may have been too quick to judge Suli, as he only wanted me to experience the festival, which did not cost a penny.  In fact my six hours with him in total only cost me sixteen pounds with tip.

I officially have a cold and sore throat.  Happily there are many pharmacists near by, and I have stocked up on Strepsels.  Not wanting to sit around all day and feel depressed, I took the ferry back to Ernakuklam, on the mainland.  I had two objectives . . the first was to visit the bird sanctuary/mango swamp.  This is apparently situated behind the Court House. OK, it's not massive, just 0.0106 sq miles, but did any locals know of it . . . not one.  I managed to find the Court House, which was not difficult due to its size, if is huge.  Then I saw many barristers or advocates walking around smartly dress in white trousers, black cape and complete with white shirt and starched winged collar.  I took a gamble that these guys spoke some English, and I was right.  Asking a question out here is not that straightforward. Before answering they want to know my name, where I come from, am I married (if yes, where is my wife), and am I working.  It's all asked in a very friendly manner, rather than an inquisition.  I eventually found the road leading to the elusive sanctuary, but before I got close, I had an encounter with over one hundred young ladies. . . . .I
I had stopped to change camera lenses, and this vast group of teenage school girls surrounded me. They took photos and asked questions, all talking at once -I was overwhelmed.  One of the teachers was very good about it, but another, a more matron figure, was not so amused.  I can see hundreds of photos appearing on Facebook under 'David man from London'.
The bird sanctuary was an anticlimax after that encounter. Not very large and I did not see anything that could fly. Most of the local habitat have moved away - threatened by the creeping advancement of industrialisation.
I moved on to my second quest and took a taxi to Ernakuklam railway station hoping to film some chaotic scenes of the over crowded carriages. The station was busy, and everything looked orderly, but no trains.  The announcements were in local dialect and English, which told be the next train was due in over one hour.  I had to settle for a slow moving freight train, which had to be half a mile long.
I had tickets for the Kathakali make-up and Dane show at three o'clock, back over in Cochin, but jut had time to have tea at a lovely oasis in the quaint Dutch quarter, the Teapot.  This airy and light shop offered all types of tea and cake, but had run out of their famous cheesecake. Relaxing with a lemon tea, listening to Rodrigo and Gabriella, I could have stayed their all afternoon.  As it was, I was late for the Kathakali make up. The colourful and intricate make up is applied on stage so the audience can appreciate the dedication and care these performers put into their art.
Unfortunately the 3.0pm show was not so popular, just me and one other UK guy.  Regardless of the low turnout, the professional actors took to the stage and I sat in the front row allowing myself to imagine they were performing just for me.  The story-telling is a mix of chant and eye and hand movements, telling the story of the king who was seduced by a beautiful woman, but had planned to deceive him. The king discovered this plan and cut of her ears, nose and breasts. (Re Mattancherri Palace from yesterday - I was paying attention).
Back at the hotel, my fellow guests were taking and sharing stories of their days activities. We now have a couple from S.A. and a 'hippy' couple from Australia. This guy gave me a herbal remedy  (shop bought) for my cold. I'll let you know if it has worked in the morning.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Lazy start, and why not. The good news is I have some clean shirts at last. This may not sound like a big deal, but I assure you it is out here.
I walked back to to port and took another ferry to one of the smaller islands, Vypin.  The guide books say there is not a great deal to see here, and mostly they are right. I walked along the sea front where there are more fishing nets, but these are mainly in a state of disrepair. Then I came across a beautiful white catholic church which was holding a service. The church was full to over-flowing, and loud speakers provided outsiders with a clear account of proceedings. What struck me was the beautiful rhythmic music used in the service. It was not hymn music as we know it, more upbeat, and mostly very melodic. I had to be descret  in taking photos too close to the open doors, but thought I had done OK, so I continued my walk along the sea front for a while longer, stopping to buy a drink and taking more photos.  When I retraced my path back past the church the congregation was spilling out and starting a long a colourful procession through the town. The priests wore highly coloured robes in either yellow, red or blue, and there was even a band. The priests carried shrines of the Virgin Mary, and of St George, compete with horse and dragon.  It was a magical moment of colour and sound, and very pleased I was able to witness it. I did not know where the procession was heading, but after walking about half a mile they suddenly turned, and headed back to the church.
I took the ferry back to Cochin with many good photos and memories.
Although I had a good breakfast, it was now two, so I thought a light snack was in order. Wandering along the sea front I heard more music drifting in my direction, a soft melodic saxophone. It brought me to a small open-air restaurant which offered a good lunch menu. I sat enjoying a chicken Byriani and black tea overlooking the Arabian Ocean, listening to Grover Washington Jnr.  . . . I was very content. (Especially all for £4 including tip),

After wondering around some of the older colonial back streets I had not seen previously, I returned to my room for a siesta and shower.

I spent most the evening looking back on the many photos I have transferred to the iPad - deleting a lot of them in the process.  The big challenge will be editing all the original images from the five scan discs I have when I get home.

Tomorrow I am meeting the TucTuc man my American ladies recommended  for a tour around the city, hopefully to see places off the tourist trail. I have also booked to see the popular dance theatre, Kathakali, which includes seeing the make-up being applied before the performance. I will report on my verdict tomorrow.

Time for bed. . . . .

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Well, here I am in my new home for the week. Bastain Homestay is one of many similar large houses , that have private living quarters downstairs, and five to six guest rooms upstairs a across two levels. My room, and three others, are off of a large open air terrace with tables and chairs.  The owners are very present and speak good English. The room is spare but functional, but has the two essential ammidienties, air conditioning and a shower.
The house also has free Wi-Fi so I can blog every day if I need to.  The location is not the most convenient - it is situated within a laberenth of alleyways off of the main road, and I got lost walking back last night from the Port. Street lighting is sparse at the best of times and non-existent in the back streets.  Earlier I had walked in daylight to the Port and took a ferry across the harbour to the mainland, Ernakuklam.  I saw several boats offering sunset tours for two pounds for 90 minutes, and took the tour. I was the only European on board and after a while people near me asked where I was from and could they take my photo. Moored in the harbour was an giant ocean cruise ship Celeberity Solstice, and they thought I was from there.  I tried to explained that was the last place I wanted to be.
The sunset was good, but our boat approached it head-on, and only turned for the last few seconds. I still five more sunsets to capture.
This mornings breakfast on the terrace with my fellow guests was as good as any of the previous four star I had been used to. Indian omolete, fresh pineapple, toast and jam, and wonderfull black tea. The other guests are mainly young people - a couple from Germany, mother and daughter from Switzerland, and a lady from Holland.
Now I am planning what to do today. Proberbly not a lot. I may make a start on sorting my photos, now peaking at around two thousand, or work some more on my new book. It is not a coincidence I  picked this holiday, as I wanted to combine it with some research for the book, as some of it is set in India, and I wanted to get some hands-on knowledge of the way-of-life in this region.

Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Final Tour Day
Well, it arrived, our last day, and everyone was a little subdued at breakfast. (That may have had something to do with the nightcaps).
We were taken on a short tour which included the oldest christen church founded by a Portuguese explorer in 1550, whose name escapes me just now. Then onto the Jewish Quarter. The synagogue was closed for some reason, but may return later. Apparently there was a thriving Jewish community here once, but the current population is now just nine citizens, as one recently died.
The many shops nearby were of course more expensive than elsewhere, but us guys managed to buy a Gurta and Ghoti (not sure on this spelling)  that is a traditional long white shirt with an embroidered design, and a colourful piece of material that wraps around the waist. Keeping the Ghoti tied on was a challenge as no pins or fasteners are used, but must admit they are very comfortable to wear in this heat.
With the ladies all wearing saris, we were the subject of some attention as we walked to our restaurant on the waterfront. Our final meal was as always excellent, which included steamed fish and may other wonderful curries and vegetables.
Most of the group were leaving at 6.0am the following morning, and I promised to come down and see them off, which I did this morning. As usual in groups like this we have promised to keep in touch on Facebook, and maybe at the Frui Xmas party in December for those that can make it.  We had two girls from Ireland (one each) a doctor from Scotland and two ladies from the USA. Another girl was French/German,  and our tutor, Felipe, is Polish by birth, and speaks five languages, so it was a wonderful mix of people and personalities that made this holiday one I will never forget.

So, onto part two. . . Alone in Cochin.....