Monday, January 26, 2009

Day 19 -20, Jan 25-6, Alapuzha and the Backwaters to Cochin

Day 19 - Jan 25, Alapuzha and the Backwaters to Cochin

- Health report

- Cochin

MHB and I are now off the critical list, having slept without drugs and feeling fine (except for the head clearing of accumulated sinus stuff). We have been sharing a boat the last few days with the younger couple, he’s a smokejumper, manages a team that gets parachuted in midst of fires. He asks if I am interested in going for a jump and much hemming and hawing and talking up my vast set of prior exploits (foremost: taking the parachute ride in Puerto Vallarta in 1974 behind an unlicensed boat….VERY brave). He then proceeds to tell us the story of jumper who’s chute collapsed and ultimately had her lower right leg amputated. I decide that my parachute career ended sometime in early 1975.

Also early in the morning we notice three people in a small circular boat (called a caracol, I believe), pulling in fishing nets. This is a boat that looks impossible to steer, it like sitting in a large almost flat basket and always going in the same direction.

At breakfast, a bucket of rolled dosas filled with shredded coconut are brought, except that the guy serving corrects me, these are pancakes! Hmmmmm….soon we’ll be having waffles, muffins, caffe lattes and scones for breakfast. MHB thought these were the best breakfast item on the entire trip!

We boat back to a pick-up point and back on a van for a ride to Cochin, an older trading harbor. The ride is remarkable! For a long distance, 30 miles?, we are on a true divided four lane highway that is smooth going. Awesome, dude!

Along the way we learn:

  • In the last 6 years, there have been 5 republicans on the trip. Carol thinks that has something to do with a lot of Bay Area participants. Everyone on this trips ranks from quietly Obama-ish to people that were active to very active in the campaign.
  • Indian governments support themselves on excise taxes, very little is collected via income tax. Of course you’ve all heard it is a land of small shopkeepers. Until you’re here and see how many millions of these 10x15 shops doing almost no business, it is hard to understand what it means. My interpretation: very little business is still enough to keep the business viable.
  • The government has nationalized most of the major industries (such as oil) and is actually done the most for the underclass by a continual redistribution of land, moving away from the huge acre ownership by the few.

On the ride in we pass a field where 2 games of cricket are going on and an actual game of baseball! Martin says it is the first one he’s ever seen in India. The players see us and immediately break into Rickey, Hall of Fame, Rickey, Hall of Fame cheers!!!!!

We arrive at the hotel and have lunch before seeing the room. I order the catch of the day in banana leaf, excellent and spicy. We also try the brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce, not near as good (it is a gingerbread brownie, if there is such a thing).

Our room is palatial, truly huge. It is also one of the two for our group without a/c, so it is a big trade-off. I will let you know how that works out because a) I am reporting so much drivel, it will fit right in and b) in the rare off-chance one of you decides to go on the trip, you can make an informed choice!

We rest up and try the internet cafĂ© next door, the jump drive concept doesn’t work. Then the group heads out to tour the waterfront with Sri Ravi. He’s a street vendor Carol and Martin met on one of their scouting trips. We don’t get too much out of the tour, it’s very hot and there are a lot of tourists and vendors selling to tourists. MHB bought a plastic roll of spices up in the mountains and everywhere we go it turns out she got a good deal.

Then to see another set of traditional dances. This one is a lot better than the others, make-up is amazing and dancers excellent. One number included a guy getting worked to a fever (to the tune of The Time has Come Today by the Chambers Brothers) and running into the crowd down the middle aisle (I was hoping he would behead the guy sitting there next to me taking pictures…no luck). As part of the pre-game, you watch the actors/dancers put on extremely elaborate makeup, and four of our group, including your very own MHB, decide to get henna tattoos. This brought back memories of the LL event where Julie had her (very pregnant) stomach henna’d!

Several of the party leave early looking for a drink. When we meet up later with them at the hotel for dinner, they’ve struck out. And the hotel does not sell beer either. We hear from Sri Ravi, who has stayed to share dinner, that the licenses cost quite a bit and the ongoing payoffs to local officials do not make it profitable for most hotels.

Dinner is grilled fish, pretty buttery and quite good and MHB has spaghetti. After dinner, it turns out that two couples do not have functioning a/c, not a good thing in this heat (we at least know we don’t). This hotel has a sister around the corner, apparently with functioning a/c. It’s 9:30 at night, not sure if anyone decided to move or not. Another meal where we are all present, Ripken is starting to get a bit nervous about the streak…

Day 20 - Jan 26, Cochin

- Health report

- Cochin

We’re doing amazingly well, physically. Mentally, the length of the trip and heat are starting to slow all of us down, and the sightseeing in Kerala is not as exciting as the temples of Tamil Nadu. As one of the tour said, the heat here is preparing us for Mumbai.

One couple did sleep in the other hotel, and were very grateful. Today is Independence Day (national holiday of sorts), a solar eclipse is gonna happen, AND we think the a/c will be fixed? Hmmmmm….

There are no seagulls, this is crow territory. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a beachfront area where seagulls are not the dominate bird.

We visit the oldest synagogue for miles around. It is actually now non-functioning, they don’t have enough male members to make a minyan. The sanctuary is a small room, maybe 30x40, with a small balcony in the back for the women (we meet two of them at Sarah’s Embroidery, they are welllllll up there in age and clearly products of intramarriage). There is a lectern in the middle of the space, guess sermons were done in the round. The torahs are behind a very handsome curtain, we do not get to see them. The floors are Chinese tiles in the Delft manner. Many Indian tourists have come to see the place.

We separate from the group and find the one modern art gallery, of course run by an American woman (from Detroit). We spend one and half hours chatting, looking at some combo photo/paintings by a gay artist from the north of India, and she gives us a free catalog (very nice), Her business has been suffering quite a bit since the economic downturn as she has many clients from the around the western world who are no longer buying.

We continue walking back to the hotel, risking heat prostration and yet feeling really good to be walking. Of course it is hot and steamy. On the way, we see a casket being carried in the street and then into a mosque, it is covered in white cloth.

Rest up in the afternoon and then head on the ferry for a shopping expedition on one of the islands in the harbor (or at least, we pass islands, maybe we are back on the mainland). It’s a place called Fab India, a chain that specializes in handmade and hand dyed garments. Small purchases are made and MHB finds a nice shirt for me.

Back to the hotel where we have our first collective cocktail hour, our guide has bought beer and wine (Indian chenin blanc, a truly acquired taste, actually sort of the same for beer). We host, since our room has room for parties of 40 and we’re only 13. One of the tour has a bottle of scotch of which many partake. A number are wearing new Indian-style clothes, all quite handsome and some even exotic.

Then dinner in the hotel for most of us, four members have found a local place that is supposed to quite good.

At dinner, the power goes out, it is pitch black. Maybe the solar eclipse? We hear the a/c has been fixed in all the rooms…hmmmm….

In the middle of the night it starts raining, hard, and then a HUGE thunder clap. I elevate several inches off the bed, and somehow we both go back to sleep. All this steamy humidity has finally meant a thunderstorm. As best I can tell, this is the only thunder of the night, and it was right on top of us.

Ralph and MHB


  1. good work mhb - i get my beijing famous bargaining from you!

  2. MHB sez she did get a good buy, however she didn't bargain (she bargain shopped!!)