Friday, December 14, 2007
– Cochin (Kochi), Kerala, India
We left our houseboat at about 9:30. They were stacked 3 deep along the dock so we had to trek through three other boats to reach the dock. We took a motorized rickshaw back into town to book flights and make plans for the next few days. At the internet place we got talking with the friendly owners about our plans and they helped us with our arrangements. Some airlines in India don’t accept international credit cards online, so we had to purchase our tickets through a travel agent. One of the owners had a “friend” (or a brother or cousin or neighbor…) who was a travel agent, so he went with Ted to the office to make the arangements. All that done, he also suggested we take a bus to Cochin instead of the train we intended to take. He said it would actually drop us closer to Fort Cochin, where we intended to stay. So, we opted for the bus. He helped us find the right bus. They all have the destinations written on the front in some hindu script that we can’t read and they probably don’t go there anyway. You have to ask. Our rule is ask anything 4-5 times until you get at least 2 consistent answers. Sometimes it works. In Kerala (maybe elsewhere in India too) the locals do this bobble head thing that we think is like nodding yes when asked a question. It really looks like they are just saying “whatever” and it took us a little while to get used to this. The other thing that is interesting, is that every request for directions results in a conference of about 5-7 men to discuss the various options. It can become rather exhuberant at times and we’re not always sure they haven’t moved on to political discussions or something. We got ont the bus early so we got a seat at the rear. It was quite a bumpy ride, but the best thing about where we rode is that we didn’t know how many times we almost died. Although, there were at least 2 instances when we could tell by horns and braking pattern that we were close. A school girl of about 10 sat in front of us for a while and was really curious about us. She kept looking back at Ted and finally he winked at her. She giggled and whispered to her friends. She didn’t say anything to us, but when she finally left the bus she looked back one more time and said goodbye to us and ran off the bus. We saw an elephant on the side of the road. They make coir (coconut fiber) mats in this area and we saw that stuff being made everywhere. We arrived in Cochin and caught a rickshaw (after some bargaining) to the hotel we booked, another marginal choice called Ham Dale Inn. It was described in the guidebook as being homey “as if you are staying in the son’s bedroom while he is away for the weekend.” We think the son may have died some years ago, because he hasn’t been in this room for a while. They had some shrine like things around the house too, so he may have died. We are too crass. We discovered soon that mosquitos had overrun this place. We are a bit skittish of mosquitos since there are some incidents of dengue and malaria that we have heard of. We have been bitten and so far so good, but this was a mosquito factory. When we were out that night we bought some new mosquito coils (along with a new roll of toilet paper — we have to carry our own since most places don’t provide it and locals don’t use it… ask us later) and smoked them out. The shop owner must have seen us coming because we paid more for a roll of toilet paper than we have for some of our meals. We walked along the waterfront and saw the oil tankers passing by.The same time the ancient style chinese fishing nets are also strewn along the waterfron. These are huge contraptions that are made from poles and weighted with big rocks hung by ropes. The crew (4 men) dips the net in the water by raising the rocks while one man walks out on the boom. After the net rests in the water for a while they hoist it out and retrieve the fish and crabs caught in the net. They do it as the tide is rising. It’s really fun to watch. That evening we went to a traditional Keralan dance. It sounded interesting and we have been to some traditional dance performances in other locations and have enjoyed them. This was not really the case here. The make up was really interesting. You are able to watch them apply the make up for the 1.5 hours before the performance. That was the best part. The performance is a mix of traditional indian chanting and singing, drums and other instruments, and three dancers who enact a story. This 2 hour version is shortened for tourists. The real thing lasts 9-10 hours. About half of what we saw (or didn’t see) occurred behind a large quilt that was held upright by two men. Things were happening behind, but we surmised it was to create anticipation. It was probably a good thing, because otherwise we might have become bored much earlier. The costuming was elaborate, but it really looked like bozo the clown, a couple of other subordinate clowns, all with oversized tutus on (all men) making movements and gestures with face hands and eyes that looked like some avant garde mime something. Well, an evening well spent. Luckily it didn’t cost much.
posted Saturday December 2007