A taxi driver in Jew Town.
The Chinese fishing nets at sunset.
Selecting my dinner.
September 2, 2006
Okay. It has almost happened. I think I might just be getting to that point where I am ‘India’d Out’.
I sat on a windowless bus for six hours to get down to Cochin from Munnar (this could explain my constant need to rub my eyes from all of the dust getting
into them). I got dropped off and did not have a clue where I was. Normally it’s as easy as finding an auto-rickshaw where I could hop in and they would take
me to my hotel. While it was not difficult to find an auto-rickshaw, it was extremely challenging finding one that did not already have passengers inside. I was
tired. I was sweaty. I was dirty. And I was now getting cranky. Sadly, I was feeling all of these things just as a nice Cochinian came up to me to try to help me
out. I was doing my best to smile and put myself in a happy mood. As the saying goes, ‘sometimes your best isn’t good enough’. While he was very friendly,
he sure was not the sharpest tool in the shed. I was starting to even doubt that this guy was from Cochin since he didn’t even know where the main road was.
Then he volunteered to help me find the hotel on his bike…completely oblivious to the suitcase that sat right between us. As we were walking, I saw
somebody get out of a rickshaw and I immediately went for it. I felt bad for just bailing on the Cochin guy (I did say ‘good-bye’ so it was not as if I just
completely disappeared) but I needed to get to a hotel, put my stuff down and just clean up. I had no idea just how much ‘cleaning up’ I would actually have
Once I got into my (impeccably clean and inexpensive) room, my nose was running so I grabbed some tissue and wiped it. I looked at it and saw black dirt. I
wasn’t sitting near a mirror so now I was thinking ‘It figures that in addition to everything else I was feeling before getting to the hotel, I had something black
on my face the whole time.’ I went to go look in the mirror and the shocking thing was that there wasn’t anything on my face that stood out. I took out one of
my face wipes that I have with me. Holy lord, did I get the most disgusting results! The entire thing was a dark gray color. Then I washed my face with soap
and water and dried it with a towel. Even after the face wipe and the soap and water, there were still dirt remnants on the towel. I knew that dirt was getting
into my eyes while I was on the bus but I honestly never thought it was possible to get this dirty.
I headed out into the city. I learned of a holiday that is taking place this week called ‘Onam’. I wish I could tell you more about it but in all of the 1100+ pages
of my Lonely Planet India book, there is not one reference made to it. I do know that there are festivities galore that are going to be taking place here and
that there was an entire section of a greeting card shop dedicated towards this holiday. I couldn’t resist buying a couple of these cards to send to people at
home. One was in complete Hindi and had the funniest picture – it was perfect for my friend that I used to go card-looking with during lunch. We always
loved the most random cards and this one definitely fit the bill. From the card shop, it was back onto the busy streets of Ernakulam.
I have to say that I have had tolerance with car horns while traveling through India…but that tolerance has just about run out. Especially when the vehicle is
inches away from me and the sound blares right into my ears.
I have seen many (this is an understatement) men peeing basically anywhere and everywhere they please. I am un-phased by this now. My outing today was
made complete by seeing the first girl pull up her skirt and take care of business…right on the main street.
I am taking some time tonight to unwind and change my current attitude. I still have ten full days left out here and I need to do my best to make the most out
of each one…
September 3, 2006
Okay. I gave myself a good, swift kick-in-the-butt today…
So what that horns are blaring in my ears? So what that people want rupees? So what that a girl directed her bare bum in my direction while taking a squat? I
am in India.
Yesterday I was to the point where I was counting the days down. Today I realized that I need to enjoy every last minute…because who knows the next time
I will be here again.
I realized that I am becoming a spoiled brat. I am starting to take this traveling stuff for granted. As I just said, I am in India. How many people get to see this
place? More importantly, how many people want to see this place? I know that not many of my friends do – most have no desire to ever see this country. I
can’t blame them…after all, I shared those same views just over one year ago. It was only after deciding to do this trip that I felt it would be worthwhile to
make a stop here. I have now been rewarded by seeing so many fascinating places that I had no idea existed out here. And let’s face it, rewards rarely come
easy. India is no exception. I would be lying though if I said that ‘the more work you put into this country, the greater the reward’. It was great to coast
through Rajasthan with a driver – I got to see everything it offered without being pushed to my personal limits of working to make every little thing possible.
Some might say that this does not really constitute ‘traveling through India’. But I would have to disagree with that as we drove through numerous small
towns that were the quintessential ‘India’ (i.e. extremely poverty-ridden) that I would have never seen if I was on a train to get from one city to the next. I
have now done all of Kerala on my own with nothing but public buses and public ferries. By India standards, it has been rather easy (despite also being dirty
and sweaty). The reward, outside of seeing some great places, is the feeling of ‘knowing I can do it’ with regards to traveling through this country that
intimidated the you-know-what out of me less than just one month ago.
Geez. I really went off on a tangent there. I didn’t mean to. I meant to elaborate on my being a spoiled brat…
I was talking to Rajeev yesterday (the guy who worked at the place I was staying at) on my way to the bus stop in Munnar. It came up that I was heading to
Delhi after Cochin. I asked him if he had ever traveled in India. He said a quick ‘No, no, no.’ He followed this up by stating that it was way too expensive. The
only two places outside of Munnar that he had been were Alleppey (only once) and Cochin. And here I was yesterday just counting down the days until I
could finish traveling through this country. I am fortunate enough to see what other native Indians can not even see of their own country. Starting today I
was going to travel with keeping this in mind…
I started this morning off with a two-rupee ferry ride over to Fort Cochin. Since I had the entire day, I had it set in my mind that I was going to walk and
explore this area on my own. As it goes in this country, I was approached by several rickshaw-wallahs. One of them was quite persistent. Even after telling
him at least eight times that I was going to walk. As I was having a rather difficult time navigating my Lonely Planet map, he asked me a ninth time. This time
I took him up on his offer to take me to drive me around for three hours for 50 rupees (basically the equivalent to one dollar). That was quite an offer.
Especially since I have proven to be horrible with finding things using a map.
The first area Babu (my rickshaw-wallah) took me to was Jew Town in Mattancherry. This was the area in Cochin where a Jewish community was set up back
in the 16th century. Nowadays, this seems to be an area more centered on selling spices. I did visit one of the few things actually relating to Judaism – the
synagogue. It was different from any other synagogue that I had seen in the past as there were colorful lamps and chandeliers filling the place. Prior to
entering, there is a nice-and-brief history of the synagogue and how the Jewish community began in Cochin. This synagogue was destroyed by the
Portuguese in 1662 – two years later the Dutch took over Cochin and rebuilt it.
Babu wanted to make sure I saw every site. There were times that I told him I could pass on certain things – he looked a bit disappointed so I would then tell
him that I would go check it out for a minute (this mostly pertained to churches and the Dutch Palace). I did get a kick out of what seemed to be a ginger
warehouse. There was a courtyard in the center where there was a huge center filled with ginger root (though it looked like gravel from afar) and there was a
guy praying right in front of it. Babu told me this was a sacred place. I still don’t totally get how ginger is sacred. One of life’s mysteries, I guess.
Once it was time for me to part ways with Babu, I went to the Art Café to grab a drink. Cochin has a very large contemporary art scene and this was just one
place that showcased that. In the back of the gallery was the cutest little café. I already knew I was going to enjoy my day here…
I walked around for a while and deemed this one of the most charming places I have seen in India. Later on I grabbed lunch at an adorable spot called the
Teapot Tea House. I feel like Rachael Ray on ‘$40 a Day’ when I say that one great lunch and a ginger lime soda cost me less than $2.50! Not only that, they
had one of the nicer bathrooms that I found in an Indian restaurant up to this point. A place automatically scores points with me for this alone.
I think just strolling around towns is an unknown concept to rickshaw-wallahs as they do everything they can (short of dropping on their knees and begging
you) to drive you directly to the place that you are going. It puzzled them when I would tell them I had no idea where I was going and that I wanted to just
walk around. One rickshaw-wallah (whose name I would later find out was Jithu) asked if I would go over and at least talk to him for a few minutes. I decided
to give into the request. As with everyone, he asked where I was from. He got really excited when I told him that I was from San Francisco. It turned out that
he had some ‘great friends’ over there. Mitchell and Abigail from 17th Street. As it turns out, he met them three years ago when he was their rickshaw-wallah.
Jithu pulled out his cell phone so I could see their phone number. Sure enough, it was a ‘415’ area code. They were San Franciscans. He then had me write
down their phone number so I could call them when I go back to San Francisco. I told him this might be a while as I will not be back there until May.
I had an hour or so to kill before the sunset. I decided to go to this city’s only boutique hotel for a drink. Ohhh, how I loved the atmosphere here! It was
exactly what a boutique hotel is at home…only in India. A meal there would have cost more than my hotel was costing thus the reason I was just coming here
to quench my thirst. I got a ‘lime iced tea’ – it was a combination of lime soda, iced tea and cinnamon. So good!
Now I made my way over to the beach to watch the sunset. The beach here has more than just water, sand and people. There are also ‘Chinese fishing nets’. It
is fascinating to watch these things in action. From what I could tell, they consist of four things: a net, some big tree branches, rope, and big rocks (that act as
weights). The construction of these make up a huge fishing net that slowly makes its way into the water and then slowly makes its way out of the
water…picking up fish in between. The fishermen gather the fish and then the process begins all over again. Fish vendors line this area and sell everything
from calamari to red snapper to crabs to tuna. Just a few meters away were outdoor restaurants that would cook these up however you wished. I chose a
crab that was alive and kicking and then sent it to its death at the restaurant of somebody that approached me earlier in the day. This meal (including a soda)
cost me under $2.
This pretty much wrapped up my time in Fort Cochin as I made my way to the ferry shortly after. Tomorrow I head back to Delhi. Even at this moment, I
have no idea where I am going to go during my last week in India. I am torn between a few places - I will just have to wait and see what pans out…