Saturday, 13 August 2011

African Queen - only Indian!

So we loaded our gear and clambered onto our houseboat on Friday mid-morning and were introduced to our boatmen-chef and driver. They toured us around the ensuite bedroom, living area and served us a cool refreshing lemon drink at our comfy seats behind the captain!

Off we went at about, oh five knots I'd say. Great views of backwater life- people washing cooking pots, clothes, themselves, fishing, cooking etc. Great wildlife too with billions of shags, paddy birds, egrets: "cattle", "little" and "great". Kingfishers? Only about four varieties!

Stopped for a sumptuous Kerala classic of fish fry, cabbage and coconut, veg curry, coconut curry, rice, naans, beetroot curry- really lovely. Then back on with the tour until about 6pm when we pulled up on a quiet backwater with paddy fields alongside and a great evening watching the light on the still water as sun set. Saw a night heron and were served a delicious supper whilst we sipped G&T (bought at the gvmnt booze shop in town before we left) Great night and then bed. Hot hot hot- the temperature I mean not Mr sexy pants spreadeagled and snoring!

In the morning we had another hour and half cruise before returning to our starting point and bidding farewell to our new chums!

Discussed options of bus or train and plumped for cab back to Varkala. Hell ride as per usual with death defying driving interspersed with heavy gut sickening braking.

Talk about the prodigal return! Wow we were welcomed back by every shop keeper, newspaper man and waiter. People were shouting out as we passed "you came back? Alleppey no good?"

The only person not surprised was lovely Rani who claimed she knew we would return to her homestay.

Tomorrow Rani has asked me to nip into town for her and buy her a new sari for the Independance Day parade on Monday. She won't give me any clue what colour, material or anything she just says "your choice will be great" what a responsibility! Told her she can go to London for me and buy my next party dress!

Tomorrow we are going to see some Kathakali dancing again as it was great fun.

Anyway that's us for now see all soon we hope

Friday, 12 August 2011

Strange goings-on in the Backwaters

Ain't half hot mum!

Left Varkala with a last hurrah and many a fond farewell from all our regular pals here in the various beach cafes and bars. Our lovely Rani saying "Maybe you come back again one more time?" but we smiled sadly - alas no this time we leave for good and all.
Arrived at station in time to witness an elephant being led along the road through the traffic which was cool.
Two aircon seats and three hours of gazing over the back water dwellings and all life happening along the track and we were in Alleppey. So looking forward to this our final week in the most expensive accommodation (16 quid per night) with aircon and apparently lovely and genial hosts. What we got was a real bummer of an experience. The town is dirty smelly busy noisy and generally uninspiring shambolic mess of bazaar selling gold, silver and plastic. It was raining and miserable too.
Then lo and behold turned out the guesthouse was on a main drag with speeding motorbikes and honking rickshaws zooming past- not a good start. The place was a building site and we weren't sure who the builders were and who the owners may be. No one was particularly chatty or welcoming. We were shown a room off reception where we had to leap over the building work. The room was windowless and dark (only one light out of 6 working) The bed was high up and hard and more like a table really. Three people stood outside the door and as soon as we re-opened it they started to try and flog us their Backwater trip for the next day. Far from the reviews of helpful and accommodating hosts these guys argued amongst themselves and hardly spoke English. I said it was fine for the trip but we didn;t wish to pay for the room whilst out on the boat. They weren’t accepting this and kept saying you pay half price for the room. This is ludicrous as we wouldn’t need to leave anything in it so they could rent it out again if they needed to. We were really hacked off with them.
Long story short we were truly miserable and down and couldn;t get dinner anywhere so went to bed hungry and miz. They were re-tiling the floor outside our door until gone 10.30pm (hammering and sawing etc) Terrible. We got up early threw the money on the table and walked!! Unfortunately we couldn’t then get a place because of boat race. Managed to find a really lovely place which gave us a room for half the prrice of the last one which was cool, large, big clean bathroom, terrace in the garden etc lovely. They could only let us stay one night though but we booked on to their Backwater Boat for the following night (also cheaper than the orignal guesthouse quote)
We had determind that we would have to cut our losses as far as watching the Nehru Trophy Snake boat race was concerned and head back to Varkala after we finished on the house boat on Friday morning (all in all though this set of circumstances we worked out would save us 10,000 rupees – about 150quid- which we could have thrown away on the stupid original guesthouse. Suddenly though our luck changed as the snake boat teams were having their trials and practice that very afternoon so we ended up getting to see some of the madness anyway.

Snake boats are huge long canoes with 104 guys on them rowing or drumming or steering. The atmosphere even at the practice was awesome, really exciting. Pleased to see a ladies team with the women from local villages (all ages) wearing red sari blouses and white saris rowing like crazy.
At the end the local team all disembarked near where we were standing and they all proceeded to shake our hands and chat to Simon about what was going on and what their chances are. It was great to see, shame that we will miss the Saturday trophy race but given how crazy thestands were just at the practice the actual day will be mad.
After an extremely hot and sweaty night despite the hard working fan we were up early and preparing to embark on our Backwaters cruise. This may have to go in another post as I have an extremely loud and annoying Kiwi lady rabbiting loudly on skype to her daughter and I can’t concentrate (coz I’m listening to her stories ... it was her daughters birthday yesterday and she has just re-married- Graham (he’s English) and they’;re on this amazing honeymoon in Malaysia, India etc- maybe a cruise but she hasn’t said!! (I may have to ask!!) Anyway they are driving me nuts so I’m signing out!!

Monday, 8 August 2011

So farewell.... Varkala

Well we spent first ten days here at the beautiful cliff edge dwelling of Varkala and then returned and have enjoyed another 8 days here amidst sun, surf, fine food and great people! It'sbeen amazing but time tove on onelasttime!

Tomorrow we take train to Alleppey for final week amongst the backwaters. Trivandrum on Monday 15 then 3.30am flight to Dubai on 16th and eventually home around nighttime on 16th UK time.

Will try and update again but no idea re: Internet connection at Alleppey.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Happy birthday Mr President and me!

Never realised Barak et moi shared a birthday(also Gerry Garcia and of course dad- I'll call them the Grateful Dead-that's a poor joke only old hippies will get!)

Planned to spend yesterday seeing the elephants at a special camp where the festival tuskers relax in the off season. What the guide book described as a great day seeing over 30 elys, washing them, feeding them etc actually turned out to be a back yard with four sad looking tuskers and one non speaking magpie in a plastic chair looking vaguely confused when two White folks showed up with some cameras and a half hearted bunch of bananas!

Beautiful beasts however and quite different from those in Thailand. One super old chap had something in his look-possibly wise but humourfilled eyes and large ears and brow shape that left me fondly remembering my granddad Mac all day! I even found a tear coming to my eye as I watched dolphin pod cruising along the bay whilst repeatedly listening to Nessum Dorma!

Today I woke up aware that a small boy was waiting for me to open my tired eyes,which I was too knackered to do! The small boy in question was my beloved husband excitedly waiting to sing happy birthday to me. Eventually when my bladder forced a half hearted stumble bathroomwards with only one eye half open I got the full cheery tune from him! As I was particularly grumpy to be turning42 he regaled me again two hours later when I opened my eyes properly in the day. Permit me a moment of slushiness here when I say I love my Pants to bits n pieces!! He has made every effort to ensure I've had a great day. He even bought me a lovely bedspread with elephants embroider on it.

I've requested that it can remain my birthday until we go home as a girl could get used to so much love and attention. Apparently, however, it ends at midnight!!

Meanwhile it has been great to get FaceTime with mum, pop, elli, debs, John this evening-wonders of technology!!! I got to see them all cheerfully gobbling up huge quantities of what could only have been MY birthday cake!!!!

Love to all xxxxx

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Tandoori ovens burning in Varkala!

My is it good to be back at home sweet Mummy Bamboo Home with our Rani in Varkala!
Long, uncomfortable train journey, made worse by an hour half delay! The first half of trip was great though- watching life in backwaters from train. Then it got dark and the delay & hard seats, cramped conditions began to take their toll.

Eventually arrived at our beloved Cafe Del Mar at 10pm. Quick order of food and cold beer and we had one exhausted hour to scoff the lot before they closed. Fell exhausted into our old bed at 11pm! Never realised how squeaky clean it was until we'd been everywhere else.

Great day on beach watching the fishermen launch their two stick tied together boats perilously into the surf!
Today, reading for Jo and swimming for Pants, followed by relaxation on the balcony.

This interrupted by Rani's kids getting very excited and bringing the whole community out to look up into 50ft palm trees! A job for our man in..... Pants duly dispatched on his fact finding mission, discovered the general glee came from an exceedingly rare sighting of a pea-hen high in the palm tree!

Now about to sample delights of the local fishermen's toil (butterfish) and the newly fired up tandoori oven so will sign off!!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Goodbye Kochi and thanks for all the fish

... well we didn't eat that much to be honest but the place fairly reeks of fish in some areas (Simon's rucksack being one such place... some might say "oddly enough" but not me)

We've enjoyed a week here and had a great time. People have been fascinating, friendly and fun.

On Friday Simon had his inevitable day of the "Kochi Quickstep". (I think I had pineapple poisoning - S) It happens to each of us each year but fortunately lasts 24 hours only. The weather stank, torrential rain interspersed with incessant drizzle so we were both really quite flat by the evening and hitting the 3 week wall! This state we have discovered manifests in symptoms such as: Talking about cheese, mashed potatoes, ice cold chardonnay, clean sheets, hot showers, fresh air etc and can develop into a fever of talk around the minor details of which train to catch back from the airport, whether to take a taxi from Clitheroe or Whalley and the order of showering, drinking a cuppa tea and getting into our own bed when we finally arrive.

We took a couple of G&Ts as medicine and slept it off though and by Saturday morning we were up bright and early and walking the walk again. By Saturday afternoon the spice trade area whilst still buzzing seemed to have a more fun and laid back feel about it and this was apparent when a group of saronged chaps standing on a flat bed lorry catching the sacks of spice which their pals chucked up to them, called to Pants to join them!

Whether this was in jest or not we'll never know because Super Pants, having bounced back from his illness and feeling the need to prove his manliness and strength, leapt up to join them (with only some slight help from two guys yanking his arms from above and three heaving his backside from below) and began to work with the spice shifter wallahs as though he was doing it all his life. Great guffawing and fun for all and some fab photos.

About 100 feet down the street another such outfit seemed to have had word that there was much fun and skiving to be had by getting the white tourist who would be soon approaching them to help. I think they sent a runner to alert the guys "Yes he is coming, no not this tall American, the one you're after looks more like Bill Oddie & his goat".

This time Simon was really determined to prove he had the smarts for the job and wasn't merely a laughing stock. They gave him a rag for his head and had him trying out for the role of "balancer of sacks on head" job. Would he allow them to give him the advantage of only carrying one? Would he heck.... standing there with a sack on his head, no hands as they were both engaged in the universal sign language of "Gimme more, Bring it On" Really funny! Can't wait to show the pictures (they have to wait until we get home though for fear of viruses wiping our SD cards as happened in Cambodia once)

Anyway it's been great but today we're moving on again by train back to Varkala. Hopefully this will give us an opp to get some sun (though not holding out much hope) and also to chill completely for 5/6 days before heading to Alleppey and uber chilling out of house boat and cycling about the backwaters..if poss.

In Varkala about 9.00pm our time this evening which should be around 5ish UK time so anyone fancy any face time? JB?

Love to all J&P x

Scenes from Fort Kochin

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Old Spice & Extreme Face Painting

Quickly got ourselves a great room in Fort Kochi in a cafe run by two brothers which has just three bedrooms above at slightly different rates - we took the middle one fence sitters! Yah Boo) Nice big room with big bathroom but very hot as a/c is a no goer. Also the hot water we were promised is there but just not in the shower. The deal is if you turn the mains tap under the sink off it allows water to flow from some taps on the all under the shower -which barely dribbles. This water can be heated through a small (kettle sized) tank and provide you with a bucket full of hot luxury. You can then tip said hot stuff over your head and repeat process until water level on floor is pushing the half inch limits of the door step and endangering bedroom's flood defences. Invariably at this point you have stinging soap in your eyes as you slip and slide around fumbling for the cold tap. Its great and we love the daily adventure.

Meanwhile we have been away three weeks in hellish humidity, drainy smelly streets and muddy forest paths as well as the occasional monsoon downpour followed by a dusty bus/ rickshaw ride. Hotwater is rare and laundry services involve your kit being taken to the nearest river or ditch and beaten into submission by a dobhi man or woman and then left to eventually dry towards the end of August when the Monsoon ends. Hence I now need to be airlifted out of my trousers at the end of the day, leaving them standing at the foot of the bed til morning. We've been ignoring the NO LAUNDRY sign in our room to try the "DO-IT YOURSELF DOHBI MAN!" approach with the help of Mr Beckman's Travel Wash and our aforementioned bucket! Drying stuff is nigh on impossible though.

These slight irritations aside we are having a great time in Fort Kochi. The town has an amazng history and is possibly most well known for the arrival of Vasco de Gama back in 1500s. He was buried here but later disinterred some years later and taken back to Portugal where he lived happily ever after....

The Portugese influence and that of later European colonial visitors is apparent in the beautiful old buildings and the area towards Jew Town where the spice traders' warehouses still stand and still do great busy business. Awesome to walk along the road down there, the noise and bustle and great spicey smells (we both had fits of sneezing at several stops) It is medieval with goats, chickens, cows wadering around the streets and men pushing huge hand cart piled with sacks of dried chilli, cardamon, cumin etc Again the colours of women in their dresses, scarves, saris adds to the picturesque view.

As you nearer Jew Town though the traders selling clothes and Indian crafts become a bit wearing as they try and entice you into their shops and it all becomes a bit reminiscent of Vietnam "YOU! LOOK MY SHOP" Though not that aggresive to be fair.

Yesterday our Homestay host said his brother was driving into the city and would we like a lift in? We said "Sure" and had a great journey over two bridges to take us to mainland with said brother. The guys had spent 10 years living in Australia and returned to open their cafe in their home state of Kerala. It was interesting to talk to a young Indian chap about his views on his government, corruption, India, Kerala etc.. I asked him what the deal was with the advertising that all the men had big moustaches and looked like uncles? He laughed and said it was the old folks' idea of sexy in a guy and that his aunties always complain when they see him asking "Where is your moustache and you need to grow a belly; how can we ever marry you off without!" Really nice guy.

Once left in the big city we were at a loss what to do, not having any dire need to buy gold that left us pretty much with the only choice of heading back to Fort K on the ferry. My God!! Debbie if you ever fancy a job as a trouble shooter what with your ferries experience here is the place for you. Men and women queue in different lines for the same rum sozzled dude who only materialises in the booth once the ferry lands and it's inward passengers have disembarked! By the time I got near enough for a hit of rum breath I was soaked as though I'd had a bucket of water thrown at me. So Hot! The tickets x 2 cost 5 rupees ... about 10p (was it worth asking the guy to stagger into work to ensure he gathered in the 10ps? Not like they use the money to maintain or clean the terminal or the boats!)

Last night we went along to the Kerala Cultural Centre to witness the ancient (though turns out not that ancient- about 400 years old!) art of Kathakali dance/acting. It was really great. You arrive early and watch the face painting bit which is an absolute art. One guy looked like Ian Mckellen getting ready to play Widow Twanky (in fact I never saw him without his foundation on so it really could have been Sir Ian) The best guy is the baddy who has intricate red and green face and a white shelf thing attached to his chin. Hard to describe but it took about 45 mins for his mate to apply whilst he lay down on his back chilling out. At the end he got hold of a mirror to check himself out. (I was hoping he'd start crying and kicking saying "But I wanna be spiderman!!" but he didn't!)

The drummers and singer came out then and the thing was explained and an actor came out and demo'd some of the hand signals and the eye acting.. (which made my eys hurt just watching as he rotated his eyes in time with the drumming)

Finally the performance. We had both though "Yeah right!" in our believe nothing way, when the guy said these actors train 6 years to do this. Honestly it was great and funny in a way too. Great photo opp and just really fascinating- we want to get them to appear at Glasto next time now! Seriously need to get Pants in that make up. Pants meanwhile is most impressed that in order to achieve scary red eyes in his green face the lead actor places the seed from a certain flower under his bottom eyelid (what you don't have eyelids on your bottom?... you know what I mean) and this makes his eyes bloodshot. Pants is awestruck with the skiving possibilities associated with home made bloodshot eyes (the fact that he is a professional skiver already is a moot point it seems- so expect a red eyed Pants next time you see us!)

Anyway they've just put the garroted cat CD on again so it may be time to flea (no not a typo, more a freudian slip- scratch scratch)

We're staying until Sunday as we love it and have found some amazing food places. Sunday we take the train back to Varkala to top up the tan hopefully and read all the books I've just bought. Then Alleppey (aka: Allapuzah)about a week later (6th or 7th) for backwaters boat trip and the Neru snake boat festival.

Love to all

Tuesday, 26 July 2011


So where were we? Oh yes scoring a lift from our Green View Homestay host across the Cardamon Mountains higher and higher up to the hill station of Munnar. Over 3 hours to get 102 clicks because the roads are in such appalling state of repair but the views, the valleys and mountains and jungle and waterfalls and amazing rivers and villages... it really was astoundingly beautiful. The driver was a quiet dude who didn;t utter a single word to us throughout (actually a nice change) the price was about 26quid which is awesome value.

Our Green View host had phoned his pal in Munnar before we left to score us a room at J & J Cottage Homestay (the guy there told us "No problem chose the style of room when you arrive price between 300 and 800 rupees) When we finally turned the corner and spied the old part of Munnar Town through torrential rain our hearts sank. We pulled up outside a tall thin pink house and clambered up some steep steps to a little glassed in area to wait for 40 mins whilst our room was being cleaned (Cleaned? In India? Yeah right!)

Turned out the only available room was the 800 rupee one right at the top of the building. It was bizarre, along a skinny corridor and all glass around it. The bedroom was draped with red/gold velour curtains around the glass walls and there was a weird sort of waiting room which was part of the deal, with cold floor and Indian rug, a sink and four office chairs!! Weird, cold and the rain lashing the window and flat roof! Grim! We went for a bit of a walk along the muddy street and found a multi-cuisine place (cooking for Jains, Veggies, Non Veggies, Halal etc) where we ate ridiculously good thali with about 6 dishes and a stack of naans and breads. Not an awful lot happening in the old town though and the weather was appalling. Simon decided to go and seek better accommodation whilst I shivered in the room.

Next thing I know we're zipping along (if 1 mile an hour over the moon's surface in a rickshaw can be called zipping!) towards a homestay out of town in the midst of tea plantations. In the torrential rain on crazy winding roads covered in water filled pot holes of indeterminate depth it was the most white knuckle ride I've ever been on at under two miles an hour. Not one to do without a good supportive brassiere I can tell you. As soon as we arrived I could Simon was already convinced that it was the place for us despite having not yet seen our room. The views and the location were second to none. Overlooking an enormous waterfall and across a valley and surrounding mountains covered in tea, forest and crags. We spent a cold shivery beer less night in J&Js (going to sleep about 7.30 from want of anything else to do)but happy in the knowledge that we would bale in the morning.

Next day we headed up to our new home. Once in there we realised the room had never been cleaned, the electrics where suspect and the place reeked of stale wet tobacco and drains. It was small and cramped and everything was damp. But Heh? We were in paradise so that was okay until we discovered that they didn't serve beer in their restaurant and the food was made with curry powder and microwaved and extortionate.

However we spent two and half great days walking round the tea plantations and talking to kids from little tea workers hamlets and taking photos which will no doubt be rubbish as it mainly rained and rained. It was a lot like wet days in Ambleside but around 5000 feet above sea level.

People are so lovely and friendly and are so keen to have their photo taken. To see people working in the emerald green plantations wearing bright colours and protection of coloured plastic over their heads and bare feet. I will always think about them whenever I have a brew in future. They are paid 120 rupees per day (about 1 pound 30!) The women have a truly appalling life. Up at 5am to start making the breads and the basis of supper, get the children up and to school, start work in plantations in all weathers at 8am and work until 6pm then home to house work, supper, washing, caring for the kids and this 6 days a week.

We also hopped a bus to see the bazaar and main area of the town. It was heaving down which made the adventure even more atmospheric really. All the rickshaws, buses and haulage trucks proclaim their various religious leanings with colourful paintings and stickers shouting out the names of Christian saints or Hindu deities. There are some quite amusing signs about like Infant Jesus Tyre Shop, Roshini Ladies Inner Wear, Lovedrops Hotel - Si has written some others down - there are loads of smirk worthy signs about. Had to laugh in spite of the rain when I saw a NO PARKING sign in town and right under it parked up an auto rickshaw bearing the windscreen sticker JESUS! It would have made a great postcard with a tag saying "Except for Himself!!"

We made the decision to bale early from Munnar because literally every item of clothing is soaked and cannot dry. Talking of dry we were also feeling a bit miz about the fact that we were stuck up in the hills with no decent food and no beer at all. The whole town seemed to be dry too. Pure luck had Simon spot a nice looking cafe where we ordered some great veg curries and as we sat down I noticed a sign outside saying "Brandy Shop" Simon duly left cafe and followed the clues that lead him to a Kerala State Beverage Control shop. This seems to be a big rip off where by the state says it needs to restrict the sale of alcohol to prevent drunkeness so it has 350 odd offices throughout the state where people can queue to buy whatever booze they can afford with the extortionate tax (we're talking 100% on spirits and 50% on beer) Anyway Our Man on a Booze mission returned to the cafe carrying a box with beers and a small plastic bottle of rather suspect looking rum. We then scored a bottle open and a load of crisps and Bombay mix and headed home for a rather enjoyable night in bed at 5pm with books and iPods and beers and snacks Haha! you can't keep a good boozer down Munnar!

It worked out that a taxi to Fort Cochin was about 22quid (no pound sign on the keyboard here hence all the quid words) Again a 4 hour drive down from the wet wet heights of tea to sea level, sunshine, backwaters, Chinese fishing nets, spice traders, Vasco de Gama and a chance to really make up for lack of booze and put Andrew's (THE WADDY ARMS) advice about ridding your beer of glycerine in to practice. More of that in next day or two as sitting in very hot internet place with the most dreadful Indian music ever playing in my ear- sounds like someone being garrotted!