12.03.2012 - 17.03.2012 90 °F
After all of this time I am finally posting a blog entry! Be prepared…this will be long, so if you don’t like reading my entries before, you are not going to like this one. I cannot believe how much I am learning on this voyage and how exploring the world is molding me into a new person.
Now to talk about India, an absolutely amazing country! It took us a couple of hours to clear immigration but once we did it was like a herd of cows heading to the slaughter house. There were sweaty bodies all around just dying to get out and onto Indian land. I had a planned trip with SAS and we were almost two hours past the time we were supposed to start so I was one of the cows trying to squeeze myself through everyone to see what was waiting out there for me. The second I got my head and feet through the door leading down the gangway I could hear lots of drumming and commotion. When I was able to see past all of the bodies I could see a small group greeting us with drummers and dancers. I walked down the steel stairs to the asphalt and was greeted by an Indian woman who welcomed me to her country with a gold dot on my third eye. I smiled, thanked her and continued on my way to find the bus for my trip. I passed through a crowd of traditional dancers that were putting on a show for everyone coming to their land. The place that the ship docked was in the Indian state Kerala on the southern tip of the country. Kerala is much different than other states in India in that it has an almost 99% literacy rate. I learned in my class that there are over 800 languages in India and the main one supposed to be spoken in this state was Tamil or Telugu, turns out neither were correct, well not entirely. The language spoken there was Malayalam and English. English of course is spoken throughout India as it gained its independence from England in 1947. I have come to learn that England was quite the superpower and colonizer in its high time and have molded an image of the English that is not at all great. I have also learned a lot from classes and my brother about the United States, but after visiting many countries that were colonized by the English I now have a better understanding and strange love for America. We too were once colonized and looking for our own freedom, we just had better means than other to gain that freedom. I can no longer look up at the American flag in the way I used to and look at the 4th of July as just a holiday to promote America. We are still “colonizers” but in a different way, and one that is more by individuals rather than a collective. I now look at the flag and think about us celebrating freedom in the same way that Ghana celebrates theirs or India theirs. India really has solidified (but not cemented) a better image and a more open mind for me in my life, one that could very well change when I visit Viet Nam and Japan.
Anyway, getting back to my trip! I walked through the gates where taxi drivers were not allowed and looked for my bus that was to take me around Cochin (Kochi), the capital and sea port of Kerala. I hopped on the bus and found a seat next to my friend Jessica who continued to travel with me in India. I looked up and saw that there was tape keeping up the A/C and that none of the seats were covered in plastic, something that was standard in all of our other travels. I was still excited, the air was humid and reaching 90 degrees so any A/C was good for me. Our bus finally left for the tour and our guide introduced himself and went through the usual dialogue many guides give. I listened intently, although now looking back on it I do not recall exactly what he said. I do know that we were going to Jew Town and to see the Dutch Palace, Synagogue, and local spice market. Jew Town was essentially a refuge area for Jews that were persecuted when the Portuguese were taking over India as Catholics. This was an area that was safe for them but over time their populations dwindled and there is now a standing Jewish population of eight in the area of Kochi. Believe me I would love to call the town differently but everyone and their mother calls it Jew Town so I “must do as the Romans(Indians) do”! In this area lay the Dutch Palace, Synagogue and spice market, about ten or fifteen blocks in area. As we stepped of the bus we were bombarded with merchants and traders trying to sell their goods, but this was much different, at least for me, than Ghana. Here the traders would only ask once, maybe twice, before giving up and moving on, and they would not follow you around and wait for you to leave an area to sell you something. The smell was not as gross as I expected either, mostly humid air though and because I am from Colorado and so used to dry air I could not really smell anything anyway. I followed the crowd and guide leading into the Dutch Palace where we were told no pictures were allowed. I snapped a quick picture of the emblem of the king and continued up the old stairs leading into the palace. Now this palace used to be where the King of Cochin and sometimes India would reside. I was expecting elaborate décor, beautiful gold arches and columns, and fantastic architecture. This is not what we got…in the palace were old copper tiles on the roof, dark wood posts, and tarnished paintings leading everywhere. I am sure that in its prime the palace was gorgeous, but because of tourism and the exploitation of the building nothing was able to be well preserved. The rooms we went into had a great story to tell nonetheless. In the Kings bedroom was a mural that told a wonderful story of Hindu gods and their trials and tribulations. Although the mural was dying in places and being taken over by time I was lucky enough to witness what had once been so important to the King. We continued through a couple of rooms that had similar murals, some unfinished. The last room we entered was the dining room where there was a portrait of all of the Kings that had resided there. These were the few pieces kept in great condition and away from any visitors hands and it showed. The palace lost its interest fast because we were all sweating from the heat, but looking back on it I think it was a great place to visit. I learned a lot about Indian rule in that they do not hold what others do valuable and sacred. They are very moderate and simply kept a clean look. They obviously had more important things to worry about than wealth and I think that helped them with the people in India. I do not know a lot about the history of India, but I am sure there was support for these rulers while under the British. The palace was called the Dutch Palace because they were the last to take it over before the Portuguese and later British rule, and at times it was even a sanctuary for the Jewish when they were being attacked. Right next to the palace was a turquoise Hindu temple for worship. These two structures were walled in with a beautiful blue and gold arch at each side. After leaving the gated area Jessica, a couple other girls and I had to leave to return back to the ship because we had previous arrangements. We did a quick walk down the street and saw a couple shops and bought some bottled water to quench our thirst. After that we rallied to find a Tuk Tuk driver to take us back to the ship. For those of you who do not know, a Tuk Tuk is a motorized rickshaw, three seats in the back, and a steel frame over a motorcycle, a wonderful experience to ride in one, and a very common form of transportation in India. We bargained for a Tuk Tuk and the four of us squeezed into this tiny vehicle. It was very slow getting back but a great experience for all of us while in India. We got to pass by cars left and right, weave our way through people and traffic and bypass any of the tolls that would normally be required all while having the breeze through our hair. We got to the dock and I got ready to go out with Dave and Sarah for the afternoon and to get some Indian food, something I had been looking forward to since the start of the voyage. Once we were all together I left the ship again and this time took a water ferry to Jew Town. Because I had been there just a few hours earlier I was able to show Dave and Sarah around a bit and take them to the ATM so they would not feel so much out of place. Once we all had our money we made our way to a restaurant that was of French style but serving Kerala Indian cuisine. The main thing I was looking for in India was naan, an Indian bread with oil or butter that goes perfectly with any rice and mushy food. I could not find ANY naan while in India though, something I found out later was due to my location (naan is a typical Northern dish). Although I could not find naan I ordered some prawns masala, lemon rice, and chapatti bread (much thinner than naan) with a grape lassy for the beverage. The food was SO good and flavorful! I got to eat with my hands in the typical Indian way of scooping rice with your thumb into your mouth and really tried to refrain from using any utensils. I did have to use a fork here or there to eat all of my food, but I tried my best to immerse myself into the culture and the first way was through food. After our awesome lunch we all went out onto the street to experience the spice market and shops to tickle our fancy. Dave was enamored with many of the antiques that were for sail and bought a couple souvenirs. I bought a traditional Indian robe and pants, and Sarah bought some scarves and a Sari which is what many of the women in India wrap up in. We all bargained for a few more gifts and then made our way back to the ship. Dave has a friend who lives in Cochin so he invited me to go out with them for the evening for some food and to be shown around like a local. I got to meet Boris, a 22 year old student of engineering who has lived in India for his whole life. He drove us around in his car around Fort Kochi (near Jew Town) and took us to the best restaurant in Cochin, Dal Roti. There I got to try Boris’ recommendations for food and I must say he has some great taste for food! I got a little sampler of a lot of Indian food with chicken as my main dish. This was a restaurant I recommended to many other students and faculty and even tried going back there on another day. Once we were finished with dinner Boris took us to a café where I got a ginger soda to soothe my stomach. Dave and Boris talked a lot and caught up on life since they had not seen each other in years. I sat there smiling as they chatted and had a great time people watching. It was getting pretty late so Boris took us back to the ship because Dave and I were both traveling outside Cochin early the next morning.
For the next three days Jessica and I traveled together. I organized a tour with the help of one of my professors to Munnar, the tea country highlands in India. I met Jessica in the morning on the ship and we both made our way out of the dock where we met Peter, the man who booked our tour. They were standing there with my name on a piece of paper, something I haven’t had yet on this trip so I felt like royalty in a way. They gave us each a Jasmine flower necklace that smelled amazing, a fragrance that I will never forget. We both were so happy to be going on this tour and in a couple of minutes we saw that our professor was showing up with his wife and daughter for the same tour. They got the same welcome treatment and then each of our cars pulled up with a private driver for the entire trip. We had a small white Tata Indigo with A/C which was a huge relief for us because the heat was taking a toll on both our bodies. We met our driver Joseph and started on our way to Munnar which would be a four hour drive. We drove out of Cochin and noticed all of the coconut groves, brick makers, and plantations that surrounded the roadways. I fell asleep because I was so exhausted from my first day of exploring. Around noon Joseph took us to a restaurant that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere right before we entered the mountains. Jessica and I ordered some rice, masala and chicken along with bottled water to drink. We were in an open air café that was surrounded by banana trees and forest. I suddenly felt like I was in the Amazon again because of the environment. We finished up another amazing meal and then continued on our way to Munnar. We drove up through the small roads in the mountains with cars coming too close for comfort. We each tried to focus on the beautiful green scenery and noticed we were entering a protected area for wild elephants and tigers. I thought we might see some, but the only animals we saw were monkeys crossing the roads here and there. Eventually we pulled off to a place that offered elephant rides, but neither Jessica nor I were interested. I didn’t want to ride elephants because I could see that they were not treated very well and I felt bad that they would always have humans on their back telling them where to go. I got this feeling from working at the zoo as a leader for pony rides. I felt so bad for the ponies and knew that all of the fat American kids were straining their backs and that we were exploiting this animal for a ridiculous pleasure. Don’t worry, I no longer work at that zoo and believe they have improved the rides a lot in the years since I left. After the elephant ride stop Joseph drove to a spice garden for us to explore. At this time the two of us were just so tired of driving and traveling that we just wanted to get to our hotel and take a nap so we told Joseph to continue on and that we would stop on the way back to Cochin in a couple days. He seemed a bit upset but granted our wish and took us to our hotel. As we pulled up to the hotel, which was on a private road, Jessica and I were in awe of the surroundings. As far as the eye could see were rows of tea trees with fog rolling over the mountains. In the distance was a long waterfall adding to the pristine land we were staying on. The hotel consisted of a lobby and restaurant, and had six small cottages that were perched among the hills. The room was small but perfect for just a two nights stay. The bathroom had a toilet but there was no shower, instead a faucet with a bucket and a pitcher. I chuckled a bit when I saw it and just had to remember that I was in India! After we checked in I noticed that we were the only ones at the hotel and instantly feelings of loneliness and depression overcame me. I felt like I was in Ghana again, locked in my hotel room, all alone, and most of all wishing-no craving to be back on the ship. I cannot explain these feelings very clearly but the best way to get my point across was a feeling of homesickness, something that I have not felt often, but was very strong at this moment. I do not even know exactly why I felt this way, I was with Jessica, a friend I have really come to like and admire, yet I was somehow all alone. Trying to overcome this strangeness Jessica and I decided to take a walk on the road to see where it would lead us. We talked about school, life, interests, etc., and took a lot of pictures of the wonderful tea lands. There were lots of flowers in bloom and green as far as the eye could see. We found ourselves walking to the base of the waterfall where the water pooled into many small ponds before turning into a river. We came to bridge that went across the water where at the other side was a small tea house for guests. We didn’t go to get tea but took many more pictures and turned around to walk back to the hotel. Once we got back to the hotel I was better but these feelings were still taking a toll on me. I decided to take a much needed nap so that maybe when I woke up I would feel much better and well rested. Unfortunately I only felt rested when I awoke. I found my professor and his family on our patio chatting with Jessica because they were in the room next to us and I joined in for some small conversation before dinner. That night we had some similar Indian dishes as before and talked a bit, but I was still not feeling great. We went back to the room, but with nothing to do I took a small walk by myself just down the road. As I started to walk I began to break down and started crying. I sat there under the Indian stars and eucalypts trees shedding tears into the soil. I thought about the relationships I had formed, will form, have destroyed, home, Mom, Dad, my brothers, my cat, my apartment, the ship, my friends, love, loss, everything. I cried. A much needed cry, I just needed to let all of these feelings melt away and turn into tears that could leave my bodily and find their way into the dirt beneath my feet. I sat there for a long time just crying, and then I could cry no more. The feelings were dissipating, and I began to feel better. I thought about where I was..in India, on a cool Spring night, with a friend, experiencing a new culture. I could finally put my thoughts into perspective and continue my journey without feeling homesick. I cleaned up, wiped my face and sat there staring at the stars so that my eyes would not be so puffy when I returned to the room. When I got back I changed, slipped under the covers and turned on the tv. National Geographic was doing a special on India and tigers so I watched that for a little bit and then drifted off to sleep eventually retiring for the evening.
The next morning I woke up feeling quite refreshed and ready to take on the day. We had a traditional Indian breakfast at the restaurant which turned out to be a lot like dinner, there was a soup like dish, rice, chapatti, and then we both had a cup of masala tea. The breakfast would probably not be my first choice when I wake up but it was still great. After eating Jessica and I got in the car and Joseph took us to the first place on our full day tour. We went passed through the town of Munnar and saw a lot of interesting restaurants and shops that we would want to stop at later in the day. The first stop for us was at the tea museum. We bought our ticket and made our way into the museum where we found a lot of animal trophies and old pictures of the tea plantations. Before we could even look around and read about the history we were rushed into a room full of Indian tourists to watch a video on the history of the tea lands so I guess it worked out in the end. After the movie we were guided up to a loft where tea leaves were kept and where we learned about the different teas that were made in the area. After learning about this we went down to a manufacturing area where we saw tea leaves being dried, processed and turned into a powder that once steeped in hot water would turn into a delectable beverage. We then went to the small gift shop and bought lots of tea to take back home and of course to have on the ship. The two of us then separated from the tour group and went back through the museum to see all of the pictures and to try and grasp the full history of the tea lands in India and Munnar. Then we went outside where we were given a cup of masala tea (chai tea in America) and it was so good that we went back to the shop to buy more of what we just drank. We felt very good and refreshed and got back in the car to continue our tour through Munnar. Joseph drove a little more into the mountains and took us to a dam and Echo Point where we found the most beautiful reservoir in India, at least from what I was going to see while I was there. The water was a green blue and sparkling under the sunlight with the orange and green mountains in the background. We took lots of pictures and at some point during this voyage I will post what I am seeing, but I don’t think any picture can do justice to what we were seeing. We went to some small roadside shops and bought a couple of souvenirs and then continued to another reservoir that was about thirty minutes away from the dam. There we went into a small shop to drink some more tea, again pleasing our taste buds, and then walked around the many eucalyptus trees that were imported from Australia a long time ago to protect the grounds. There was a paddle boat stand and Jessica and I were feeling adventurous so we decided to rent a boat for half an hour out onto the lake. We had a great time slowly paddling our way through the waters and taking in India. It finally hit me that I was here, in India, a place I have been dreaming about for so long, and it is nothing like what I was expecting, it was much better. I was so happy to be there and really felt great, a far cry from the previous night. After our lovely boat trip we got back in the car and Joseph took us to lunch at a restaurant in Munnar. We got some more amazing food and then went around the town and did some shopping buying spices, statues, paintings, anything that caught our eye. India is very cheap and a really fun place to bargain, nothing at all like what I experienced in Ghana as I mentioned before. I got items that were set at 1000 Rupees for less than half that, which would equate to about four dollars. After our great time shopping and exploring Munnar we decided to go back to the hotel, this time Jessica was feeling a bit tired and wanted to take a nap. Once we got back I let her rest and I went for a stroll on the road leading to the waterfall. I met my professor at the tea house at the one end of the bridge where I got a cup of tea and got to take in more of India. He left and continued on his way with his wife leaving me there to what I would describe as meditate. I did not think much but mainly absorbed my surroundings, the sounds and the smells. I took a deep breath and then walked back to the cottage because it was getting dark. I ordered dinner for Jessica and myself and then took a quick nap on the patio. After dinner Jessica and I were pretty tired so we both went to bed pretty early. I looked at all of the photos I had taken, fixed them up if they needed it, and then fell asleep. This was my last night in Munnar and I was happy that I would be leaving with a somewhat exhilarating experience.
When we woke up in the morning we had another great breakfast and had about half an hour before we had to leave back to Cochin. I walked around a little bit and got my last Munnar air before I checked out of the hotel and got in the car. Joseph had promised to take us to a spice garden on our way back so our tour wasn’t quite over. We drove for about 45 minutes before we got to the spice garden where we were greeted by a man who seemed to be waiting for us. I paid the entrance fee and then we were directed to an area to wait for a guide to explain the many spices and plants to us that they had in their garden. I was expecting to see large crops of all the spices but found that this was a very small garden and they had only planted a few plants to show the tourists when they came by. Our guide introduced himself as Joseph, what a coincidence. The first spice I got to see was black pepper which I did not know, I then got to see vanilla, aloe, ginger, touchmenots, and other plants that had medicinal or other purposes. At the end of our short tour was a small gift shop where we could buy spices and tea that were grown in the garden or in the surrounding areas. I bought some saffron, curry, ginger, cardamom, and vanilla. I also found this bottle of many spices together that are supposed to help with migraines and because I am blessed with having them all too often I jumped at the chance to try something that might help in a different way. You do not ingest the liquid but instead rub it in on the scalp, temples, and tonsils below the neck and it is supposed to work wonders. I have luckily not had a migraine since leaving India so I do not know if it works yet, but my fingers are crossed that there may be something out there for me to help with this curse. Anywho, we bought our spices and went back to the car and tipped our guide a small amount for showing us around. After that our driver Joseph took us back through the mountains to Cochin. I slept on most of the car ride because India was really tiring me out and I think Jessica did the same. Around noon I woke up and asked Joseph if he could take us to lunch before dropping us off at the ship. He bobbled his head and proceeded to a restaurant on the outskirts of the city, maybe only half an hour away. The restaurant seemed more fancy than most we had been to and there was a good crowd of business people on lunch. I ordered mushroom butter masala, a cup of tea, a bottle of water and basmati rice. I didn’t eat much because I was still a bit full from breakfast but I had enough to fill my stomach and get some energy for the rest of the day. Once lunch was over I got back in the car and we drove back to the ship. It was a relief to see home again sitting there on the water. We got out of the car, said goodbye to Joseph and thanked him for everything, and then made our way to our rooms on the ship. I took a refreshing cool shower, changed my clothes and unpacked my bags. I took a deep breath and laid back on my comfy bed. It was 4pm and there was still a lot of time before my other friends would return from their trips to Agra and Varanasi, two places I really wanted to visit, so I went to find Jessica to go do some shopping and get some dinner. When we walked outside we were bombarded by taxi drivers trying to rip us off, I know this because I had taken a water ferry for two rupees, and they were asking 100 to 400 rupees for a taxi ride to the same area. Jessica and I pushed our way through the crowd and kept our faces down and kept saying “No, no, we are taking the water ferry.” They would get frustrated and try to lie to us by saying the ferry broke, or was not coming for another hour. This I knew was bullshit because I had ridden the ferry up until six at night. Jessica and I waited there on the dock and I was being very patient. I think Jessica was a bit more eager to get going so she convinced me that we should take a tuk tuk to Jew Town and then walk around and find dinner at Dal Roti later on. I agreed because I did not want to frustrate her so low and behold when we got off the dock a driver was waiting there for us and said “I told you so.” He told us nothing, but I just shook my head and began to bargain for a good price if he could take us around for the rest of the evening, the first stop being an ATM. We eventually came to terms on 100 rupees for the evening which I thought was a fair price. I got his name first before getting in and also took note of the license number because the driver, Rias, looked very sketchy. Turned out he was a drug dealer which made me a bit uncomfortable. As we drove he kept asking if we smoked, which we refused and said we could not because we would get in trouble on the trip. He would not stop asking and trying to sell to us, saying that he had the best hashish in India. The voyage is too important to me that I will not cave in and accept anything while I am visiting these countries, no matter how easy it is to get. He finally shut up about selling to us but then continued on saying that he would take us to these stores that had high quality items, not what I would find in Jew Town. The first shop he took us to was recognized by the government and had many merchants ready to sell us their crap. I say this with resentment because these stores have a deal with the tuk tuk drivers that if we buy something there then they get commission. Because of this everything is overpriced, and then “discounted” for us because we are “good” people. I found this to be a horrible marketing scheme and a bad way for them to make money. Maybe the first time people would fall for it, but I knew that I could get the exact same product in Jew Town for more than half the price, so I refused to buy anything in these stores. They would all also say “Hey, my friend, come visit my store, I have something you like.” If they knew better they would not all say this because this too also started to make me boil when I was getting taken advantage of because of being a tourist, especially when every single store we visited had the exact same things. After leaving this first shop Rias insisted on taking us to a few more, all of which we would come out empty handed. He then refused to take us to Jew Town and lied to us saying that all of the shops were closed. I knew this too to be bullshit because I had shopped and walked there at six and they were all still open. I was in no mood to argue though so I told him to take us to Dal Roti instead. He had no idea where it was though so he had to ask for directions, he had also been smoking every time we went into a store so he was probably lost because of how high he was. We finally found the restaurant but he tried to lie to us again by saying the restaurant did not open until 8. I told him to pull over, I got out and asked someone myself when the restaurant opened and they said 6:30. I was beginning to get really annoyed with Rias at this point and because we had about half an hour I told him to take us to a bar so we could have a couple beers before dinner. He could see the frustration in our faces so he took us to a bar on the water where Jessica and I could finally get some peace from Rias. We sat there on the patio and ordered a couple beers. I did not want to get too full so I only drank one and Jessica had two before we were going to leave. As we were finishing up our drinks a couple asked if they could join us because there were no more seats on the patio. We of course said yes and welcomed them to our table. We found out they were from Switzerland on a five week vacation traveling all throughout India. Cochin was one of their last stops and they were only going to be there for one night. I did not like the place we were at so much so I convinced the couple to join us at Dal Roti since this was their only night so they could have some really fantastic food and not something mediocre. They were more than happy to come with us so again four people piled into a tuk tuk and Rias took us to a place that we had actually asked him. When we got to Dal Roti I showed them where we could sit and got us a few menus. This is where India got interesting…