Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cochin doings

Hard to believe that we have been in Cochin for 17 days.  Time has seemed to fly.  And we have done just about nothing.  One nice dinner out with a large group of friends; one lunch with friends; invited friends for dinner on our boat a few times; had dinner with other friends on their boat once.  Sounds like all we do is eat, doesn't it?  We did spend one day walking around Fort Kochi and I will write a separate blog for that excursion.

So here are a few observations about India and some photos. 

India assaults the senses.  This is true in every meaning of that statement.  Everything is too much.  The crowds walking in the streets are too much.  The vehicle traffic is too much.  The smells are too much.  The closeness of the buildings and narrowness of the streets are too much.  The spiciness level of the foods is too much (most of the time).  And the filth is way too much.  One feels as if all senses are assaulted at once.  I don't mean this as a negative statement.  It simply is the way it is.

And, for the most part, we enjoy it very much.   

Could do without the filth, but the rest of those things mentioned above add to the total experience and make India be India.

It is over-populated and the people are pushy.  Personal space does not exist.  At the grocery store yesterday I had all our purchases already on the counter and the cashier was ringing them up when a man pushed his way around me and thrust his items under the cashier's nose and insisted she take care of him before continuing to ring up my stuff.   His intent did not appear to be rude to me, but simply that he wanted to be taken care of NOW.  It is like that when standing in queue to buy a ferry ticket or trying to pay the vegetable man or anywhere one might be buying something.  Everywhere one is brushed aside as a more demanding person gets his way to be taken care of first.  Always the "me first" attitude -- much like we saw in China where queuing or waiting one's turn is not a cultural norm.  If you patiently wait your turn to be served then you will never buy anything here.

The smells are pungent and pervading.  One cannot get away from the smells.  Your olfactory senses adjust, I suppose; because after only a couple of weeks we don't notice smells nearly as much as during our first days here.  Much of the pervading smells are caused by the sidewalk food vendors on almost every street.  They are frying up all kinds of foods everywhere.  We have tried a few of the fried vegetarian samosas which are pretty darn good.  And there is a small strip of pepper that is dipped into an egg batter and deep fried; served with a dollop of spicy sauce -- very tasty.  We cannot understand what the sellers are saying so have no idea what these delicious little treats are called.  Just point and smile and pay.  We have seen many more foods that I would like to try but Bill has such a delicate stomach he refuses most things.   Almost all our time is spent together, and I don't want to stand there eating alone; so I have only enjoyed the samosas and pepper strip things twice when friends have joined us on walks.  My favorite dishes in restaurants thus far are mushroom masala and chicken briyani.  Surprise, surprise.  Same things I enjoyed in the Little India section of Singapore.  But served a lot more spicy here.

Almost daily a family floats past the marina in multiple small round boats.  I guess you would call these boats.  They look like a large round shallow basket that is lined with something white that appears to act as waterproofing.  The grandparents will be in one bowl-boat.  The parents are in another bowl-boat.  Then the kids float or paddle by in 3 more bowl-boats, usually 2 children in each one.  It appears that they float past on the current, fish with very lightweight hand fishing gear and nets for awhile somewhere nearby the marina, then paddle back to their home in the other direction.  They usually wait for the tide change so the current is flowing in the right direction.  Paddling those bowl-boats against the strong current looks very difficult and tricky.  The fish caught and some rice would be their meal of the day.  They are not catching fish to sell but to provide for their family.

Here is a shot of my favorite vegetable vendor.  He does not speak a syllable of English and never smiles, but he has good quality produce at cheap prices.  One day I bought enough green beans for 3 meals, eggplant for 1 meal, carrots for 2 meals, broccoli for 2 meals, several potatoes, 4 red onions (they only sell red onions here, no other kind) and 10 tomatoes.  Total cost was about $2 USD.  Produce is very, very inexpensive here and always very fresh.  Bad side of that is that there is very limited selection of variety of vegetables.  Pretty much just green beans, eggplant (called brinjal here), carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and okra.  Occasionally we find broccoli or potatoes.  Yesterday we saw cabbage and hard winter squash.  Lettuce is not sold here at all.   Apparently Indians do not ever eat lettuce of any kind.  What's up with that?

There are lots of Muslims in Kerala, the state where Cochin in located.  There are also lots of Hindi and more than a few Christians.  I have seen less than an half-dozen women dressed in the all-black abaya and hijab or whatever that head covering is called.  But it is very common to see a women dressed in a version of the traditional Indian sari (though a modest version) with her head covered in a long black scarf of some sort in the traditional Muslim manner.  Behind the woman in the white sari in this photo there was a group of 8 Muslim women.  Each was dressed in a brightly colored and sequin-trimmed Indian style dress, with the traditional Muslim black headscarf wrapped tightly covering all hair and neck.  We have never seen women dress in this manner before.  Usually it is either all black or the headscarf matches the dress.  But this black headscarf is fairly common in the Cochin area.

Bill loves these old Morris Minor cars.   They are everywhere on the streets of Cochin.  And always white.  Apparently these were manufactured for a long time in India.  I do not know if these are still in production, but kind of doubt it.  These must run forever without a lot of maintenance.   Bill says this is what he wants to buy when we eventually move back to Texas.  But I don't think he is going to find one there.  (ADDED LATER:  According to Wikipedia, the Morris Minor is still being produced in India today, but under a different name.  Bill also checked eBay and found one for sale in Missouri at the moment.  But it is a convertible and I would not want to own another convertible of any kind.)

One day we took a different ferry from Vypin Island to Kochi Island.  This ferry accommodates a few cars and a lot of motorcycles -- while with passengers standing right amongst these vehicles.   Quite safe, I am sure.   I was particularly intrigued by the tiny bright yellow delivery "truck" that rode on the ferry with us.  That was the tiniest "truck" that I have ever seen.  It had 2 wheels in back and 1 in front, like a tricycle, all enclosed to handle deliveries of some product.  Never seen anything like this thing.

While waiting for the ferry to arrive I noticed these 2 men and snapped a photo to illustrate how the men wear their skirts here.  They probably do not call these skirts, but I don't know what else to call this garment.  If the weather is cooler, the men leave the skirt long -- almost to their ankles.  But if they get hot or if they are doing any physical labor that might be hindered by the long skirt, then they can easily shorten it.  They simply reach down and grab the hem with both hands; flip the hem up to their waists and tuck it in.  This leaves  the skirt at a length just above their knees.  They can do this so quickly it looks like a single movement.  Simply release the tucked-in part at the waist and it drops down to the ankles again.  BTW, this is sort of like the Scottish kilt thing -- do they wear anything underneath that skirt?  Here the answer is pretty obvious.  Nope; they do not.  This is readily evidenced when a man just stops on the side of the street and whips it out to pee on the side of a building.  Doesn't happen that often in the crowds, but does get the attention of us westerners because it seems so immodest.  Just normal behavior around here.
Waiting for the ferry in this photo.  Behind the lady in the white sari are Linda & Michael of S/V B'Sheret.  Bill is standing to the right of them.

Yesterday another American yacht departed the Cochin marina en route to Salalah.  We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.  And will worry about them until they are safely well up the Red Sea.  In fact, I will worry about them until they pop out of the Suez Canal into the Med.  We met Chay, Katie and their son Jaime aboard S/V Espirit in Australia during summer 2009 when our grandson Zachary was visiting us.  Jaime and Zachary fished together in their dinghy, enjoying some time away from all the adults.  We went separate paths and timetables but chanced to meet up again at Christmas 2010 in Phuket.   Here is a photo of Katie and me on one of the passenger ferries here in Cochin recently.  Please send out positive thoughts (or prayers if you are so inclined) for their safe passage through the dangerous waters ahead of them.

Right now there are 5 boats of good friends transiting the pirate infested waters of the Indian Ocean.  Plus we are acquaintances with about 2 dozen other boats out there.  We listen to the SSB net each morning to track their progress, and also receive emailed position reports from our closest friends.   I worry about all of them every waking moment.   I am so glad we have decided to ship S/V BeBe through this danger zone.  We have decided not to do any land/air travel in India.  We had inquired about a tour flying to Delhi and touring Agra to see the Taj Mahal and the Red Forts in that area; then driving to Jaipur to see the Pink City and the big bazaar and Red Forts in that area.  But now our hearts are just not into it.  After learning about S/V Quest being captured by Somali pirates, we have lost all interest in doing any travel here.  Our minds are now focused on getting down to Male to await the transport ship.  We are watching the weather and waiting for a good weather window to sail south to Male.  It should be a 3 day passage.  The transport ship is scheduled to arrive in Male between March 15 - 25.  Once we clear in at Male ($680 USD fees!!!) we will be allowed only 30 days.  Anything longer than 30 days will require an expensive extension fee.  So we hope to depart Cochin around March 1 and arrive Male around March 4.  Hopefully the transport ship will arrive and get us loaded before April 3.  At least, that is today's plan.

As always, you can click on any photo for a larger image.

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