Kerala is a state on India’s tropical Malabar Coast. Did you know: Kerala has the highest life expectancy at birth (74.9) during 2010-14 among all Indian states. wikipedia.org
Narda writing Terrell writing
20 – February
Our hostess is an Indian Jessica. Softly spoken, sweet, helpful and intelligent, with long dark hair and a gentle friendly face. So, we’re good. This place is a large, very clean 2 bed-roomed flat. The showers are hard-core India, buckets with scoopers, but you get the technique after a while and the water is hot. We have internet most of the time, have hooked the telly up to the computer via HDMI, and happily watch Peaky Blinders every evening.
Today another bus ride. We found our way to the big bus depot near the railway station and got into a bus. The seats looked comfortable and there was plenty of room. Problem was, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere in a hurry. A few folks started to get off, so we followed them onto a second bus. This one was going somewhere. The conductor asked us where we wanted to go, and we said “just to end”. He looked very puzzled. So we said we didn’t really mind we just wanted to see things. By this time a few other passengers were watching with interest. One had a little English. Terrell then offered that perhaps we should see some waterfalls and a kangaroo. Small smiles starting appearing on the passenger’s faces. The guy with a little English took the matter on his own hands and spoke very rapidly in Hindi (smiles got larger). He probably said something like “just sell them your most expensive ticket, these guys have no idea what they want”. Anyway, it worked out. We paid 38 Rs (about 50c) and off we went. Well, it was a pretty hot day, but an interesting ride. When we saw a town after about 45 minutes, we got off and walked to a sweet shop, bought some fudge (can’t beat it!) and caught another bus back home. The driver of this one was a maniac, running red lights only to pull up sharp to pick up old ladies. It was the fast ride home and we collapsed into our cool house, and had cold showers.
This place has been fun. Totally not touristy; no one tries to pressure sell anything, which is a welcome change. We almost feel local. We have our milk and yogurt guy nearby to whom we can almost say “the usual”. And we have two favourite restaurants, one has occasional air-conditioning and the other has clean red chairs. So you have to weigh it up. We take turns. They both sell really good fruit juices and shakes. Terrell likes pomegranate. My favourite is grape juice, but not fermented….this seems to be a completely alcohol free zone. I have not had a drink for a month. Actually the only time I had a Kingfisher beer (largish bottle) I threw up violently the next day…and have had on-and-off funny tummy ever since. I don’t think it was the alcohol, but I have this association stuck in my head! Right now I’m on my 4th course of antibiotics after a second hospital visit. Feeling good now.
Right now we’re watching “Peaky Blinders” season 4. Highly recommended. I think it’s on Netflix. And we’re reading two books by Yuval Harari, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, and “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”. (thanks Sacha and Georgia). Read them if you can. We are fascinated, such an interesting take on everything.
We like staying at Airbnbs; close as we can get to living at home somewhere else. Firstly, we unpack everything – set up our little home, buy some groceries, try to find some English channels on the telly and feature our nest the best we can. We start looking at Google Maps to see our surroundings then go out and explore. We met our ‘neighbour’ a girl from the State of Washington in the USA, here on a Fulbright scholarship for some medical thing.
After discovering there was quite a close beach we grabbed an Uber there for the usual less than a buck-fifty (USD) to Valiathura Beach. It looked amazing until we were on the actual beach where we discovered human poo all over – perhaps there is no loo for the fishermen than inhabit this area. The pier is quite amazing, but it was closed to the likes of us as it was under repair. We did see folks fishing off of the end of it but a local guard type of dude said we could not go out on it.
As often is the view in this area there were the many fishing boats waiting for something – perhaps for fish to jump out of the water. When we were there, in the mid-afternoon, the locals were huddled under tents, which if we were wise we would have been too instead of walking in the mid-day sun. We took a tuk tuk along the beach in hopes of finding some groovy beach-side restaurant but ended up in a small shop feeling lost in the middle of nowhere and took another tuk tuk back home.
Another day we went to the local zoo; The Thiruvananthapuram Zoo; entrance fee of 30 rupees (45 cents USD). I thought it looked a lot like the Honolulu Zoo. We have only been to one other zoo in the past twenty-years, La Aurora Zoo, Guatemala City about ten-years ago. The Thiruvananthapuram Zoo is one of the oldest of its kind in India, being put together in the 1830s or so. If you are widely interested in knowing more check out their webpage. We spent most of the afternoon there – see our clip, on YouTube for footage of this nice park. We also went to the Napier Museum but found it rather boring though inexpensive (10 rupees – 15-cents USD).
We walked the few blocks to the main temple attraction but did not go inside as one needed to be of the local religion of the temple to peer within…the fact that we are both quite enlightened did not seem to pave the way to their celestial consciousness.
We grabbed a bus over at North Gate to, Kovalam, the most popular place in Trivandrum and no doubt the main reason folks go there.
We were there at the end of the tourist season with only a few bikini-clad folks left on the beach. Not that I took photos, just of Narda with her umbrella. It used to be a nude beach, I think the only one in India, but then they banned nakedness as perhaps not having clothes on is unnatural for hunters and gathers that we homo sapiens are. After all we were born with clothes on and we should keep them on. At the southern end of Lighthouse Beach is a striped lighthouse with a viewing platform which was closed, we discovered after walking to the end of the beach and up the hill to it. Always a fun thing to do on a hot day. We didn’t make it to the palm-backed beaches of Hawa Beach and Samudra Beach but chose to get the next bus back to the city which thankfully was an air-conditioned bus. It was double the price setting us back 40 rupees (sixty-two cents, USD for the two of us for the hour ride) but well worth it.Overall, we liked Trivandrum and would suggest it as a place to be for a week or so. The zoo stands out as the best but just taking random buses and smiling at the locals is quite a cool thing to do. And there are lots of temples; we were actually in the temple area of Trivandrum.
There is a wall to go through, separating the highly-evolved temple consciousness dwellers/visitors with the rest of the dregs of humanity. Surprisingly we were allowed through. I was happy to see only vegetarian restaurants within, so us evolved animal-loving folks can feel good all the time about ourselves.The only time we went to the other side of besides the beaches was to go to a restaurant suggested to us. It was the most expensive one we have been to in India, Villa Maya Heritage Restaurant, about $12 per meal which is more than three times what we normally pay. Looking at their website; http://www.villamaya.in/ we learned, weeks later, that TripAdvisor rated it as the third best restaurant in India and in the top 15 in all of Asia. Perhaps we should not have complained that at $12 a meal it was expensive. Maybe we are rated amongst the top dozen or so most clueless tourists. Nevertheless, the food was tops and so was the place and service.
We usually go to Vrindavan Restaurant, a block away, for lunch they have such yummy dishes as Tomato Uttapam which is basically a pancake with tomatoes or whatever shoved in / veg fried rice, pomegranate juice and pineapple juice all for 226 rupees ($3.48 USD) breakfast is 126 rupees ($1.94 USD); of course, that is for the two of us.
Narda became ill, again, (no photos of the event) so we went off to the hospital and got more medication. It was her fourth dose of antibiotics and hopefully this time will be the last. It was our third hospital in India so far; less than two years ago after her motorcycle accident in Cambodia when we went to a few hospitals between Cambodia, Thailand, and finally Australia. We are making the rounds of Asian hospitals. Tomorrow we start heading north again; 5 days in a beach town called Varkala, highly recommended by Bren, and then 2 weeks in an Airbnb in Kochi. So we’ll keep you posted.
27 February ~ 3rd March
A very spectacular place, huge cliffs and wild beaches.
I say wild, because more than once I was smashed face first into the sand by a monster wave. Still the water was warm so we ventured in a few times. Our ‘resort’ was south of Varkala, a little remote but very pretty. We upgraded to a balcony room upstairs with a gorgeous 4 poster bed surrounded by swishy mosquito nests and white curtains. With an archetype view of a palm fringed beach, we were happy. Mind you if you looked straight down, there was a busy little fishing village with lots of red fishing nets being rolled, not much evidence of fish being caught, but what do I know. This was actually pretty interesting for us to watch; and everyone with friendly smiles. By and by we discovered the main part of the action, North Cliff. This is a wonderful narrow road along the top of the cliff, lined with restaurants, shops and guesthouses; everything your heart would ever want. We some great meals here, enjoyed the specie sunsets, and took (Terrell 🙂 many photos. Can see why Brendan has spent so much time there.
See our video
We took an Uber to Varkala for 900 rupees (less than $14 USD) for the two-hour ride. Our driver was on his first run with Uber and was quite happy that we gave him a 100-rupee tip at the end. He was young and wild (aren’t they all?). I had looked up the death rate on roads in India a few days earlier which was an error in judgement. Narrow roads with speed, what could be more thrilling? Often, we would go through a built-up area with signs of 40 Ks for the speed, but not us, we flew through doing 60-70, passing motorcycles, tuk tuks, trucks, even buses. What is nerve-racking about some Indian drivers is they believe in karma, ‘if we die, it was meant to be’. Our driver may not have had a death wish, we never asked.
We arrived in Varkala noonish – walked to Varkala Beach and to the closest town and wandered until we had no idea where we were. Of course, that is nothing unique. We grabbed a tuk tuk home and had dinner at our local restaurant here at the Guru Ayurveda Retreat Centre. It sounds much grander than it is. There is a small building with a sign advertising rubs and stuff, though we did not see any activity.
On the rooftop of our building there was a ‘yogi-centre’ though I saw no activity for the week we were there. The internet was slow as it is in most places in India. Slow meaning a five-minute video I would leave overnight and if lucky it would appear on Facebook and YouTube by the next morning.
Our room was good though, large, balcony, great sunsets, OK bed – not awful but for India not too hard, OK shower, if used between 7 – 10 am for warm water.
(A note from Wikipedia “Varkala is the only place in southern Kerala where cliffs are found adjacent to the Arabian Sea. These Cenozoic sedimentary formation cliffs are a unique geological feature on the otherwise flat Kerala coast, and is known among geologists as Varkala Formation and a geological monument as declared by the Geological Survey of India. In 2015, Ministry of Mines, Government of India and Geological Survey Varkala of India (GSI) have declared Varkala Cliff as a geo-heritage site.”)
If we stayed here again we would stay on the Varkala Cliff which is where the restaurants and most of the hotels are. We found a good hippie-type coffee shop, Coffee Temple, though the Mexican food we ate was not very Mexican. India has the best food, when it is Indian dishes, but going for anything Italian (mac and cheese), Mexican, etc. forget it. Perhaps Chinese food is good as every place offers it but we have never tried any. Be sure to say, ‘not too spicy’, otherwise you will have a mouth on-fire. A week where we were was too long, as we had to do long walks on the beach everyday (rough life we live) to get to the cliff about forty-five minutes away.
The water was warm, and we would have a bit of a swim most mornings or evenings or whenever we could get our lazy asses into the sea. There is a meditation/yoga/Ayurveda place at every turn. We got some creams and lotions but did not participate with the massages – they are the same prices as Australia.
03 – 05 March
Alappuzha (or Alleppey) is a city on the Laccadive Sea in the southern Indian state of Kerala. It’s best known for houseboat cruises along the rustic Kerala backwaters.A nice train ride to Alleppey. We sat with a young couple, a Brit and a Colombian, who somehow made their way into second class aircon, because the other carriage “was full”. We had a great conversation with them, lovely kids on a 7-9 month trip though India, S.E. Asia, ending in the Philippines or “whenever our money runs out”. When we arrived we had lunch with them at a VERY dodgy little place. I think the bill was under $2. The next train station meal was our cheapest ever, 2 coffees, idly, and banana fritters; all for 66 cents. But that was Kochi, more later.
The accommodation was crap. Fantastic view, but nasty hot little room. No shower and hot as hell. Oh well. We took a lovely boat ride through the backwaters which are amazingly beautiful. Left at 6.30 am, just getting light, so the intensely heavy traffic of large houseboats had not yet started. This was a difficult stop, mainly I think because of the heat. The temperature is only about 34, but lots of humidity with it; we’re not used to it.
Narda held an eagle on our breakfast stop – they said the bird had lived there for the past sixteen-years.Our morning boat ride, leaving at six-thirty am was peaceful as the many boats had yet to hit the road. There was just the two of us and the driver. We could have laid down – but we would have fallen to sleep so we sat up – see our groovy boat below.We paid 400 rupees ($6.15 USD) per hour and did four hours. In 2016, Centre for Science and Environment rated Alappuzha as the top cleanest town in India. Everything is by its own standards. Not quite the same as tidy-towns in Australia. There are still enormous amounts of trash along the road, in the river. Everywhere. Perhaps compared to other towns it was clean.The view from our porch at Malayalam Ayurvedic Lake Resort (http://malayalamholidays.com/) was amazing, the room was awful – small – dirty – no air conditioning – shower barely spits out water, and the manager was not friendly. There is no ‘amazing breakfast’ as stated on their homepage. They order out from a nearby restaurant. Not sure why it is referred to as a resort. And as was the case back in Varkala, the Ayurvedic trip was highly advertised but we did not see any sign of activity. The hotel or ‘resort’ next door had signs all over advertising the same thing but again no one around doing such activity. The view below is a couple of minutes from our ‘home’. Sitting on our porch we watched houseboat after houseboat go by – see our video clip, a lot was shot from our porch.
We saw this boat on one of our travels – a couple of kids had taken a lot of plastic bottles (and there are a lot in the water) and made a raft out of them. Unfortunately, I did not have my zoom lens on at the time.We met some folks from Belgium and Narda spoke Dutch with them and we went off looking for a place to eat. The nearest restaurant was on an island and we found a row boat ferry to go across on. On the way back Narda paddled us across with the owner – see the end of our video. Luckily there were no houseboats in our area at the time. https://youtu.be/E_bsE2HDYIc
It was a bit of a walk from where Malayalam Ayurvedic Lake Resort was to the main road – along a dirt track, along a canal, up the road and a fifteen-minute ride into town where we found some restaurants from ‘Lonely Planet’ that were at best adequate.
Two days was enough for us in this place and we were happy getting the train out of there to Kochi.
05 – 19 March
Staying for two-weeks at D’Homz Suites, YS Lane 2, Yuvajana Samajam Road, Kadavanthra P.O., Kochi, Kerala 682020, India. Hosted by Arun at +91 93 876 62 000 Highly recommended – http://dhomz.business.site/
Off again, this time an uneventful train ride. Despite the beauty, we were happy to be on our way. We are now residing in a beautiful little modern apartment. Fully airconditioned, washing machine, the whole thing. And a real SOFT bed!!!!! It is so nice. We’re here for 2 weeks, an Airbnb, time to get sorted, get clean, get rested, Terrell to get his blood sugar back down. He’s even joined the local gym. We just may never leave. So if we don’t turn up in April, this is where you will find us.
The Airbnb stays are the best. You really get a local home. In Pune, it was REALLY local; kinda scary entrance, lots’ of black mould, but it turned out to be a cosy little flat, Indian style. The Trivandrum flat was an apartment at the back of a family’s house. The daughter took good care of us; checking that we were happy at least once a day. We became a little known to some of the store holders nearby, which is also nice. Kochi tops it though. We have everything here. TV works with Netflix, aircon, a very soft bed, a nice little space in a block of flats with a doorman. The thing that makes the Airbnbs different from hotels (and we have stayed in many on this trip) is that they are in non-touristy areas. So, no hustle, no sales pitch, everyone just going about their lives. And we can get all the mod cons easily; western meals when we feel like it. Though today we discovered Curd Waadah. Not sure about the spelling, and it was not on the menu. Two balls of ricey stuff, in a bowl of raita, with some spicy crunchy bits. We’ve already had it twice. It costs about 75c. Yum.
Yesterday I spent half the day sitting in a dentist’s chair, having my front teeth fixed. Looks pretty good even if I say so myself. The day before we saw “The Shape of Water” in first class chairs. Very enjoyable. The mall, called Lulu, was very modern and new, full of the same useless shops you see in these malls everywhere (Marks and Spencer, The Body Shop, Apple, Tommy Hilfiger) but to its credit it had a large supermarket in the basement and a half decent food court.
Kerala is a curious mix of Christians and Communists. Currently the communists are in power; they support the trade unions support free education, medical etc. They are freely elected, displaying their red hammer and sickle flags everywhere. The association we make with the Soviet Union is a bit unsettling for us, but in Kerala, folks are happy. Then there are the Christians. There are so many beautiful churches, obviously well supported financially. Our local church is Catholic, St Joseph’s. Our dentist (more about him later) belongs to the Syrian Christian Church which is the biggest I think. Apparently it was started 500 plus years ago by Syrian missionaries, but has no links with modern Syria. I guess communism, in its purist form, has a lot in common with Christianity. Anyway, every morning there were church bells (the first at 5.30am!) getting folks there for the first mass at 6.30. The church was packed. Several hundred folks there every morning, sometimes more than once a day. I did enjoy hearing the mass hymn singing in the cool (ish) morning air.
Last night we walked in an area very nearby, with lots of new high-rise apartment, all the occupants taking walks in the cool of the evening. The walkways were well marked, even with a bike lake; almost felt like Holland, but way too hot. It was a surprising little area, very liveable I think.
Kochi is the old city and the new Kochi is Ernakulam, about 7Km from Kochi. We took a ferry from there to Fort Kochi and to Vypeen see our groovy video at https://youtu.be/cjj53vrp9FY
and our talking to fishermen at Port Cochin with their Chinese nets (“shore operated lift nets”), The unofficial emblems of Kerala’s backwaters see video at https://youtu.be/OwTxHu-wKhs
We saw hand washing clothes in dhobi khana, run by Tamils – see the description from Wikipedia below
Veli Street in Fort Kochi – Dhobi Khana – The first sight that greets you inside the gate is an array of men and women ironing clothes with these songs providing a musical background. Most of them are old and grey haired. Pass through into the next portion of the three-acre compound of the Khana, and you see 40 wash pens lined up in a row. Although a huge washing machine stands in the first wash pen, no one seems to use it. This is what might possibly be the only Dhobi Khana (community laundry space) in Kerala, existing in the city successfully for many decades, thanks to a fair number of Kochi citizens who prefer their clothes washed by hand. The origins of the dhobi khana lie in the colonial period, when British officers brought many Tamil villagers to Kochi to work as washermen. This Tamil community was first organised together in the 1920s, and came to be known as the Vannar community and has retained its cohesive identity over the years. At present, there are about 40 families in the community who use this Khana. Each cubicle with wash pens and water tanks is allotted to one family. 75-year-old Murugappan, who started doing this job when he was 15 years old, says that they still rely on traditional, elaborate procedures for washing clothes.
“First we soak the clothes in water mixed with detergent for some time. Harder clothes are washed by beating them on the stones. To remove stains easily, a pinch of chlorine is also used. After that the clothes are rinsed twice in fresh water,” he says. “For starching cotton clothes,” he adds, “we still use the traditional method of dipping them in rice water. No modern day starches can give so much crispiness as rice water does.” “Then, women from the family hang these washed and starched clothes in the sun. We dry the clothes for almost 5 hours,” he says. Interestingly, no one here ever uses clips to keep clothes from falling off the line; instead they all use a technique of tucking clothes b etween the ropes in such a way that they are never disturbed by the wind. We use charcoal irons for ironing the clothes. Some of these irons were brought from Sri Lanka decades ago,” Murugappan explains. Murugappan says that this process has remained unchanged for at least the last 40 years. “Then, women from the family hang these washed and starched clothes in the sun. We dry the clothes for almost 5 hours,” he says. Interestingly, no one here ever uses clips to keep clothes from falling off the line; instead they all use a technique of tucking clothes between the ropes in such a way that they are never disturbed by the wind. We use charcoal irons for ironing the clothes. Some of these irons were brought from Sri Lanka decades ago,” Murugappan explains. Murugappan says that this process has remained unchanged for at least the last 40 years. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/kochis-historic-dhobi-khana-run-tamils-may-soon-be-hung-out-dry-44636
Our area is Panampilly Nagar, an upmarket residential area just 1 km east of M.G road, the epicentre of Kochi city. Many areas in India end with the word Nagar which means town, city, or suburb. We have found several good eating places such as Gusto Foods Donut Factory, across the road from us is ‘The Best Bakery’, around the corner is ‘Choice Bakery’ and anyone who has eaten Indian sweets would know how good they are. Even a diabetic needs to have a ‘sample’ now and then.
We found our closest shop ‘The Food Mart’ with the basics we need, St. Joseph Road. Past the church that wakes us each morning at 5:30 with bells ringing then soon after singing. Across from the Food Mart was my daily spiritual centre, the local gym. Not fancy, but with all the necessary equipment to make me look fit if I would spend more than half an hour and do so every day for the year. This cycle is for two-weeks. I missed two days, one because when I was mixing boiling soup in the blender the top flew off and gave me large burns on my arm and stomach – quite painful for a few days, and the other when we went to the countryside with Narda’s dentist for the day. Fitness centres are an important part of my life because they represent continuity in my life. I started them in Baltimore (Towson actually) in the mid-1970s and my travels are a record of gyms I have been to. My favourite was last year’s in Ringkøbing, Denmark. Every morning Narda and I would ride our bikes to the fitness centre overlooking the fjord. I have had membership or went to gyms in China (at Dalian International School – almost every day for three years), lots of years in NYC, upstate New York, Adelaide, Hawaii, and so many places in between. Forty-years of doing the same thing – machines have not changed that much, just fancier. I still listen to Mississippi Blues, Dylan, Janis Joplin. It is like I started in the 1970s and never left. Everywhere around me is an extension of then – after all I am seventy and should embrace the 70s and of course the sixties. The world around us changes and we have those scattered experiences called life, but we pretty much stay the same. The gym gives me a place to momentarily stay the same as I was long ago. It is a nice place. Narda and I go twice a week to one in Adelaide, but it is this thing for old people – we stretch then do machines and weights then more stretches – really geared toward old people but I like it. Daily I do my weights in my shed, so my escape is listening to music and weights. Narda’s escape is travel and books – I escape with her too. Maybe on my tombstone I will put ‘escaped’.
The largest shopping centre we have found here is LuLu Mall where we have seen films twice. Yesterday we saw ‘The Black Panther’. Both times we got the first-class seats in which we stretched out and we stood for the National Anthem at the start of the films. Food is ordered and delivered at intermission, which is often abruptly in the middle of a scene – then lights go on and food ordered and delivered all for fifteen-minutes or so. There is a good food cart at the LuLu Mall as well as the Hypermarket. In the photo below the top images are for one theatre -where we paid the extra buck for a reclining seat, the other is where all the seats are luxury and we are standing for the national anthem at the start of the flick. Come on Australia, lift your game, we want luxury seats for five bucks, and of course, meals for three to four dollars for the two of us, and add the Uber for 100 rupees ($1.50 USD or about $1.75 Aussie dollar) for a half hour ride. OK airport runs are more here. We had to cough up almost ten-bucks USD for the hour ride to the Kochi Airport but in their defense that was double the price as Uber seems not to be allowed at the airport to collect people and we paid for their return. From JFK to our home in NYC it used to be about $75 then they want a tip on top and that was a shorter ride.Everywhere in India, every shopping centre, airport, train-station, hotels… they have airport-type of security and I must show my defibrillator/pacemaker implant each time and get searched individually – always a nonsense. Aside of that we have enjoyed the air-conditioning and cleanness of large shopping centres and while seeing how out of place they seem to be with so much poverty around them. It is so in your face here – homelessness is bad anywhere but here there is so much of it, and such difficult living conditions compared to the west. Following futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and Harari and the folks at Google/Apple/Microsoft/Facebook and their mates is wonderful but they have not lived in India, some have not visited here – that the world will be oh so much more modern in twenty-years; I don’t think so… getting people basics would be good without all the technological marvels constantly predicted.
Yesterday we were sitting on the steps of a light-rail station trying to determine where to go or what to do on a hot muggy day, a man walked up to me, handed me a drawing of me, then walked away. Narda says it looks like me, I am not so sure – too old looking.Narda wanted to go for a walk this morning. I usually go to the gym but thought, ‘OK a short walk then the gym’. We left before eight am and got back after twelve. Typical of us. No one would want to travel with us, we are too indecisive and changeable. I thoughtfully brought our camera thinking I would get a snapshot of a train track nearby that I wanted for a poem I had written recently. We walked along a canal, wandered down a street that was a dead-end but had a good conversation with a couple of locals who lived there. We said we were looking to go for a walk along the river, sea, lake, lagoon, whatever there was that appeared as a body of water on our phone-map of the area. As usual they asked where we were from and after a bit of chatter sent us back the way we came from and suggested we go left. We saw a sign for the local yacht-club, asked if we could have a coffee but as we were not members we went without but found a bridge
up the river that looked interesting and headed off in its direction. We found a narrow footpath along it and after crossing had conversation with some more locals who said further ahead we could find a backwater boat tour place. We walked for another hour or so, had a tea, walked some more and came across the Kundannoor Bridge in Nettoor, on Panangad Island which is a part of the Maradu Municipality. The Varapuzha bridge on NH 17 is a cantilever bridge spanning the Periyar river between Varapuzha and Cheranallur. It was the longest bridge in kerala Kochin backwaters… oops looked it up in Wikipedia and just kept going.
We found a boat operator. The owner said 3500 rupees ($54 USD) we said, ‘no way’ and after some haggling he came down to 2500, again we said ‘no’. Then there was 2000, and finally the absolute final offer of 1500 rupees. We walked away, sat down, talked some more, I said I only had two five-hundreds on me (we didn’t include Narda’s holdings) and after a bit of time we all agreed on 1000 ($15.40 USD). Which was still high for us as we had paid 400 rupees per hour in Alleppey a couple of weeks ago. I read some reviews, and the main complaint was how expensive it was. One person said they had managed to negotiate down to 1500 rupees – sucked in mate, we outdid everyone.
The boat trip was spent on Vembanad, the second largest lagoon in India. We love boat trips, and this was up there with the finest of them. The driver spoke good English, said he was a school teacher, geography. He liked his cricket and knew Adelaide as a crew ground place. We went past a couple of famous cricket player’s homes including one who is referred to as the ‘god of cricket’, Sachin Tendulkar.
Cochin is believed to be one of the finest natural harbors in the world. It is an exquisite combination of modern and traditional of intense nostalgia and high revelry. It is one of the most visited backwater destinations. It has been voted as the top ten beautiful places to visit in a lifetime.
We saw Chinese Fishing Nets on Fort Kochi Island and another island and here there are again. The Chinese fishing nets found at Kochi are unique to the area and make for a very popular tourist attraction. This is the only location in the entire world outside China where such fishing nets can be seen in use. 10 meters in height, the entire structure is a fixed land installation which is used for unique and unusual method of fishing. Set up on the bamboo teaks are held horizontally with the help of huge mechanisms which are lowered into the sea. These nets are made-up of teak wood and bamboo poles and each net is handled by four men. If you missed our video above here it is again https://youtu.be/QM
There are several ways to explore Kochi: tuk tuks, Uber, buses, the metro – we did them all. The metro is being built, one route is complete (the others in years to come – there is construction – i.e. holes in the middle of streets and concrete towers everywhere) – we took it from Maharaja’s College, which for now is the end or beginning station, depending where one is, to Aluva, which is a city in its own right. we spent an afternoon wandering this busy area negotiating a sandwich in a restaurant – negotiating in the sense that we had to have several translators help us define what we wanted and still we got something completely different than we had expected. We sugared up our disappointment at a cake shop next door where I gave my body a break from its normal boring no-sugar routine. The complete trip taking about 45 minutes set us back 50 rupees (about 75 cents USD or a buck in Aussie currency). There are guards everywhere and signs not to take photos but we did manage this one above.
Another attraction of Kochi, Jew town is the center of city’s spice trade and is also a busy port area. Located in the Mattancherry area, it is quite popular for housing shops, selling (possibly) antiques. The streets are lined with colonial-styled buildings giving it an old-world feel. Actually, the Jew town is a street between the Jewish Synagogue and Mattancherry Palace. We drove through the area and went to a large herb barn or whatever they call them.
Where we live at D’Homz Suites is really good: air-conditioning (in both the lounge and the bedroom), balcony, kitchen with everything we needed to make meals, good shower, large TV with HDMI input so we could watch our Netflix series, elevator, washing machine… the streets were difficult as most are in India. We are constantly in fear of our lives (really). However, a few blocks away there was a walking street that went for several blocks so that became part of our daily walk.For a week our weather map said it would rain and storm but not until our last night did it rain since being in India. A monsoon-type of rain, worthy of sitting on the porch and watching.
Kochi was great. We are now on a train from Delhi to Shimla in the Himalayas. Our next stories will be our time in the Himalayas.
I also do this blog at our India site which is located at http://neuage.org/india and is often more up to date than this as we are too busy exploring where we are or reading. Currently Narda is reading, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and I am reading “Homo Deus A Brief History of Tomorrow” both by Yuval Noah Harari. I have already read the book Narda is reading. We love these books and recommend them to everyone. Any time left, which is little I post my photo textual work at https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/E_6JaB
I post my daily thoughts at http://neuage.org/2018/
train to Hua Hin http://youtu.be/tjxnVU4FoGk
King of Thailand passing by http://youtu.be/XvOScADNIKQ
Bangkok at night and the Chao Phraya (แม่น้ำเจ้าพระยา) River http://youtu.be/ykrkrZ06zH8
Cabbages and Condoms and Bangkok protests http://youtu.be/3lXhsVCd19M
Three years ago our school, Dalian American International School, gave us our spring break unfettered. Professional Development, as a Common Core (a favorite buzzword at our school) active-learning-function, should be embedded within school-time, according to values held amongst staff, was separated from holiday time. Professional Development of course is part and partial of instructional education and as the name implies (professional development) is a segment of what enhances the teaching environment which is what people pay to send their darlings to our school to learn. Three years ago the EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Schools) conference was in Bangkok and as usual went from Thursday to Saturday. Spring Break holidays followed the next week. As our school gives us a thousand dollar stipend for PD we usually use it for a conference and the thousand dollars US comes close to paying the airfare, the conference, and the hotel. So naturally when the conference is during school days prior to a holiday why would we not combine them? which we did three years ago and about half the teachers pissed off on a Wednesday went to a conference in Bangkok then on to holiday the following week. I think we went to Viet Nam that year after the conference. Which made sense as our airfare was paid for most of the way by going via Bangkok.
Not to worry we made do and Friday right after school we were on the way to the airport, one hour away, with Jolly from our Jack-controlled fleet of drivers. Being five o’clock in Dalian add a 45 minutes but we were in flight and arriving in Guangzhou before mid-night. We chose to get out of town thinking we would get to our sea-side town by Saturday noon and to have five-days before being burden with the great mind minds in the educational world; should not be sarcastic here as there are always a few guiding lights at these conferences though a large quantity of ‘look at how great I am‘ presenters too.
Staying at the Pullman Hotel at Guangzhou Airport, a five minute walk away from the entrance to Gate A – International is the best way to start a holiday. Yes, there are soft beds in China and large soft pillows. Even at top hotels we find hard beds waiting for us but not at the Pullman and five thirty Saturday morning came just too soon for the comforts one craves at any age. We got to Bangkok and taking the Airport Rail
Link (06:00-midnight) that connects downtown Suvarnabhumi International Airport with Bangkok we were at Hua Lamphong Railway Station (สถานีรถไฟหัวลำโพง – ah the joys of cut and paste), or for those of us who struggle with any language of any sort, the Bangkok Railway Station.
(my youtube video for this is at http://youtu.be/tjxnVU4FoGk).
The train station is a typical older big city Asian place. The toilets are horrible (bring your own tissue – and be prepared to squat if squat action is what your body needs to do), there are restaurants, we ate at one upstairs that was very grubby but the tofu stew I had was fine though I suspect that like most meals was heavily laced with MSG which makes me more hyper than usual which is fine after a cup of coffee and a long train ride. The noon train was fully booked and the only place left on the next train at 2.30 was first class sleeper which sounded groovy and comfortable and elitist and we bought on for those moments of merging with the chosen and higher echelon of whatever social grouping we were to be embedded with. Eventually we were off to Hua Hin; promoted as the closest beach resort of Bangkok, located 281 kms away.
The photo of the Hua Hin Train Station below is the next day.
We brought snack food with us which was good because I was unable to eat the dead-animal-laced meals that were on offer but we did have drinks in the restaurant car and a good view of the landscape which was mainly flat and rice fields (see the video). The upper crust we were on board with looked pretty working class or below which probably coincided with the fare of about $15 US. So this was not Amtrak and the sleeper car definitely was not what we expected (see image above) but was actually our seats folded down with a pull down bunk on top and a thin mat on top and curtains. OK so it was mid-day and we did not need sleepers but we thought it would be a hoot (I think it was me that was thinking in turns of ‘oh boy this will be kool‘) to get the beds made up and I went off to find a porter type of dude who made up the beds with pillows and sheets and the half inch piece of foam that would serve as our mattress. Of course as we live in a world of ‘hey they are doing it so we should do it too‘ and of course with us being the only westerners on the train obviously we knew what we were doing so the people across from us did it. They had a child of about five who thought it was all a big Cubby House and chattered the whole trip (six hours, two hours longer than the advertised time) and climbed between up and down bunks.
Then the next seat did it and soon as shown above the whole car was one big sleeper and it was only about four in the afternoon. Not to be a trend-starter for no reason I climbed up on the top bunk and promptly fell to sleep for about an hour and I was not even sleepy to begin with. But I tend to relax and go to sleep quite easy. I do it on airplanes; often being sound to sleep from starting on the runway to waking in the clouds – maybe something about my level of consciousness being played out there. One of my stranger times I suppose was going to sleep whilst the dentist was drilling a few months ago, they woke me up a couple of times. And forget massages – Narda will tell me that soon after they start I am snoring. The bad part of my sleeping habits is that I awake a few hours later, like around one or two in the morning wide-awake ready for the day and I just lay there, usually quite frustrated for a couple of hours before going back to sleep. I tend to fall asleep always within half an hour before it is time to get up.
Nevertheless we got to Hua Hin station about 8.30 PM with the people who we had arranged our airbnb waiting the extra hours for our arrival. In contrast to our smartypants idea that leaving Friday night would have our toes in the warm waters of Thailand and away from the still freezing weather of Dalian was quite in error in judgement as some others left our school Saturday morning and once at Bangkok Airport took another flight and got to their beach side resort early Saturday afternoon with us leaving a dozen hours earlier and getting to our destination hours later than the others.
We stayed in a small apartment owned by a Dutch couple@ the Tira Tiraa Condominium (http://www.tiratiraahuahin.com/). The whole joint is full of Northern Europeans, lots of Danes and Germans who live there for several months at a time and of course Narda was thrilled and the word retirement came up multiple time. (It sound like an echo off of a distant mountain filtered through many layers of resistance in my brain stem scratching against the reptilian part of my brain.). Good western restaurants and we went to the ‘S & S Indian Restaurant’ which is listed a Ranked#9 of 348 restaurants in Hua Hin in Tripadvisor and we ranked it as number one of three restaurants we ate at which of course is a higher ranker but not as credible because we are no-body. We had several eats at ‘I Rice’ which was only a block away and we ranked it as number two out of three though Tripadvisor Ranked it as #70 of 348 restaurantsin Hua Hin. Forgot where we ranked number three, I think it was where we had breakfast.
The Tira Tiraa Condominiums have a wonderful large swimming pool and we made use of it and a gym which I made use of everyday. The rest of the time we wandered around, took a random bus to Cha Am which is a distant extension of Hua Hin and is full of Northern European tourists beneath kilometer after kilometer of umbrellas. See below:
As we usually do we took random tuk tuks to places we did not know including this random bus that went to the next town, Cha Am. The town centre is nowhere as nice as Hua Hin so we started down the road to the beach (see umbrella infested shore photo above) on a very hot day and fortunately were able to hail a taxi truck (“songthaews”) most of the way. We walked all the way back to town which was miserable, taking an hour in the noon-day sun.
We got the bus back toward Hua Hin but being the tourists that we are and having read about The Venezia Hua Hinwhich online (http://www.theveneziahuahin.com/) and on our tourist map boasted its significance: “The Venezia Hua Hin: The inspiration of this magnificent project came from the charming of the world famous river city named ‘Venice, Italy’. Venice is known as a city that massively uses water transportation by using the canal as a traffic channel through out the city. In addition, the Venice has also preserved traditional stores with beautiful sculpture surrounding of the canal area. These charming can be compared to one of the most charming in Thailand, Hua Hin.
Hua Hin is the major tourist destination and long time famous city in Thailand. As of the fact that Hua Hin is currently regarded as the prime tourism potential in terms of rapidly and steadily growing in the business and numbers of both Thai and foreign tourists. As the distance between Hua Hin and Bangkok, it is very convenient to travel as same day trip between Bangkok and Hua Hin; It takes less than two hours by car. Hua Hin, the city of relaxing place for living and visiting supported by surrounding many major attractions. Of course, huge buying power of over 65 million people across the country and oversea visitors.”
We loved being in Venice and all the other places of Italy we have wandered about in so a day at a Venetian Shopping Centre – of course, why not?
Holy Cow! The shopping centre had to be the most tacky and ill conceived place I have ever seen. To make it even more idiotic they charged 50 baht to get in; OK so it is only $1.50 US but the nerve… Surely it was built by the Chinese as I doubt any other country could have come up with such a stupid concept. Due to the heat being in an air-conditioned mall was a relief but what a bunch of stupid shops. Everything was so overpriced and the place so empty.
There were mixed styles; some I think were suppose to mimic Italy in someone’s twisted dream and some just did make sense. I think they were a Thai copy of Disney, not sure. There was a sort of Christmas theme happening too I think even though we were in the middle of March.
A Christmas theme in the sense that there were reindeer or horses with horns and trees with lights and packages beneath. I doubt whether the builders/designers had ever been to Venice. It was even more tacky than the The Venetian Macao (see my blog of Macao @ http://wp.me/pcHIf-iz). We discovered that we needed cash and the ATM did not take our Chinese Union-pay Card (most countries and ATMs do including in Hua Hin, Bangkok, Burma and etc) but not at this strange place which was good as Narda had found some wings she was buying for her two-year old granddaughter and a soft sheep. We had just enough cash to get on a bus back to Hua Hin.
Once we had dragged our sorry asses out of the air-conditioned mall and alongside the sun-killing highway we waited and waited though it was only 20 minutes for the bus. There was no shade and I tried entertaining myself and Narda (she was not entertained) by making fun of a bullock in the paddock next to us.
Not to worry we got home had dinner at ‘I Rice’ and had a swim in the pool and Narda talked about retirement and I checked out the bandwidth which needless to say was a lot better than what we get at Campus Village back home in Dalian which is close to non-existent. I am not sure whether it is funding cuts at our school that has gotten us less bandwidth or the fact that the Internet mainly filters through student housing first to keep them happy or if it is because of the government. No one is enlightening us on why our Internet in China is so much worse than it was two years ago. So I hastily uploaded YouTube clips of our travels so far on this trip. And of course posted to and read Facebook and Twitter and other sites banned in China.
We walked along the beach in Hua Hin stopping at the Hilton Hua Hin Resort & Spa because when one wants a proper toilet a western hotel is the place to go. The Hilton did not let us down and we rested in their beautiful lobby overlooking the sea (picture below)
(http://www.centarahotelsresorts.com/centaragrand/chbr/) which was formerly the Hua Hin Railway Hotel (when it was affordable). The lawns are amazing with sculptured bushes and all the old world charm in the lobby before whatever bad-tastes-tourism’s wrecking ball has done to the beautiful places of the world. If we were not staying at the Tira Tiraa Condominium and had three-hundred dollars per night to spend on
lodging we would have stayed at the Centara Grand Beach Resort Hotel. Narda says we will stay here for a week to celebrate our twenty anniversary of when we did the ‘M’ thing back in 2001 so we have seven-years to save our coins in a jar and by then if the world has not gone on some crazy end-of-the-earth bang we will stay at the former Railway hotel.
We went off to grab a photo of the train station and inspect more of funky Hua Hin – which is good at this moment in time because it is not filled with tourists like the other resort areas in Thailand.
There are the retired and semi-retired who have homes for months at a time (Narda’s direction for us – just make sure there is fast Internet and I will be OK) but for packs of tourists, not yet. Narda had a bag she bought in Yangon a few weeks ago that needed repair so we stopped at a sewing place. I looked down the road and saw all the traffic stopped two blocks before the one round-about in town. Walking to the one round-about in town I saw traffic was stopped in a directions and the road crossing town was empty except for police and military lined up. Not having a clue as usual I went out to the centre of the round-about to take photos and video and cops from several directions came running toward me waving to stop filming so I went down the street and behind a pole began filming again; see http://youtu.be/XvOScADNIKQ, turns out that the King of Thailand was going to his summer palace which is just outside of Hua Hin. The people lining the street were chanting and waving Thai flags. It was all rather quaint. Narda was nervous that I would be arrested. Actually I am a bit of a journalist as I have a BA in Journalism from Deakin University in Melbourne and having never really had much chop at using it in a real world situation I thought this would be a good time to get a story but in actual fact there was no story to get as apparently the king spends a lot of his time at his Hua Hin home.
Narda always says we need to live somewhere beautiful, it does not matter whether it is in a poor area or – well I think a poor area is what we can afford and Thailand is so full of beautiful places but it is gradually, like the world itself getting overrun by… well I suppose it is people like us. We all want to live in a beautiful place and not in polluted choking places like most major industrial areas. But we bring our industrialized values with us which is stuffing up the once beautiful places. I don’t know what will happen to this planet in the next couple of decades but from first hand viewing it does not seem as going too well. Of course we would just be happy with a reasonable shack with some solar panels, a veggie patch and some chooks on a beach somewhere in Asia but then the water rises and a tsunamis comes or radiation from North Korea or everyone is running out of drinking water and food and gosh…
We took a bus back to Bangkok. It was a 22-seat-coach to Suvarnabhumi Bangkok Airport, comfortable and less than four-hours. A lot better than the train. I slept most of the way, not sure why as I was not sleepy when we got on at noon but I seem to sleep wherever I am.
We arrived Bangkok in the evening and caught up with Kay and Frank our neighbours last year here in Campus Village and recently our host at their home in Yangon, Burma and a few others grabbed a foot massage, I fell to sleep and snored and Narda in the next seat woke me and the next day Thursday we were at the EARCOS conference.
I of course attended the tech ones such as ‘Innovate now or become irrelevant’ and about Digital Badges which has merit but after digging around in it there are too many companies just in it for the money. Of course education is about money and when you get into private schools and narrow that down to international schools the flow of money overrides it all. I attended too many sessions that were in essence a sales pitch either to take a course to get credit but of course these are paid courses and what more do I want to add to a PhD I am not sure but this is perhaps where open badges comes into play. That we can get cred for whatever we do. But then again to issue badges costs money. Ryan our elementary tech person is working on it and has already issued me with a badge;
though somehow I think it misses the educational systems hierarchy of sustained learning. I in turn made him a badge with something about educational rapping as he is our local rock star (Cronkite Satellite) and in fact I filmed the video for one of his songs for a you-tube clip – http://youtu.be/sOide6Bf140 and I have been doing some chroma-screen (blue screen) work with him for projects in our video suite at school.
Back to the conference – so presenters seem to be focused on selling their courses or selling a web-based program. The venders all line up in the lobby but all we do is taking pens, thumb-drives, bags and other crap on their tables. One presentation I went to was identical to what he presented at the last couple of conferences I have been to. The good part of these events is to hear the lingo I suppose, though I do not feel I moved forward with anything useful. I have known about digital badges and questioned their usefulness years ago. I am on-board with them and once we figure the java scripting for them I will issue some for my film class. Of course they will not have the currency that one issued by a university or the United Nations will have but I will at least have my students mindful of earning more in life than grades.
Narda and I took a river cruise and of course as usual got lost.
Don’t ask me how one gets lost on a river but we did it. We were told we could get off wherever we wanted and catch a river-taxi back. After an hour I was busting for a loo so we got off at a stop that looked useful and that was large enough to catch one back to the Shangri-La Hotel where the conference was. Off of the boat we realised we were kind of nowhere and we after walking found a bustling centre of whatever suburb we were in and after using the loo and sitting on the pier until the sun set we asked a chap about when the next boat back to the Shangri-La Hotel was. OK so there was none because the last boat stopping there was the one we were on and the ones we saw going by were only stopping somewhere where we were not. The man write out what buses to take – and as all people do with us either because we appear to be old, and possibly are, or because they think we are deaf they say the instructions louder over and over. Saying stuff louder in a foreign language does not make the meaning any clearer.
This happens often in China, people just say stuff slower and louder like we would understand it. So we dragged our sorry-asses to a bus stop asked some people where to get the bus got on and rode for a very long time until we got stuck in traffic and grabbed a taxi. We were rushing to get to the Shangri-La Hotel because they were having their conference dinner at the pools and by the river night. We have been to these before and the food is not too bad; a little light on the vegetarian crap but for meat loving Narda there was plenty. And of course it is free tucker and we figured we would catch up with the rest of the 18 teachers from our school and others that use to work at our school and are now elsewhere but still being sent to these conferences being in Asian schools and all but we saw like two or three people. We ate as much as could shove in, had a few
drinks and that was it.
We went to the Cabbages and Condoms restaurant with a group – see below and that was good. The restaurant at 6 Sukhumvit Soi 12, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok 10110, is a bit of a condom crazed place. Their profits go to help poor people and it is all very interesting. We gave our condoms back that they give at the end of the meal saying ‘look at us do we look like we need them?’. Some interesting things are shown below –
Now back home shopping in the Jinshitan market Saturday morning bundled up.
We have twelve weeks left here before our little three-year journey in China is over then we go to Hong Kong to check my four stents put in awhile back and on to Laos for a couple of weeks and back to Australia after a twelve year absence. We went to New York back in 2002 for a couple of years but that turned into nine years and then three here. I am sure we will be back in some other country within another year or two.
Today was good; Sunday the sixth of April. I practiced softball with the Taiwan team this morning as we get ready to go to Shanghai for our
tournament in two weeks. We had a whole school bar-b-que at Campus Village; something we will miss in the future. Last night I had the whole gym to myself and shot baskets whilst listening to the Delta Blues station on my iphone. Being a fan of anything from my New Orleans era of the 1960s is incredible so many years later. Yes, I will miss this place. And even better, tomorrow, Monday, is a holiday; tomb sweeping day. Yes, I will miss this place.