Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Candolim, Goa

We are on the second last leg of our trip through India, and like the last couple of months we have been lazing around on beaches. We have discovered that Goa's beaches cannot match Kerala's since for some reason, most of the "beach" resorts" are not on beaches, but away from them some distance. For example the last two places we have stayed, in Anjuna Beach and here in Candolim the "resorts" are 250 meters from the beach and a bit of a slog down.

Here in Candolim the beach is dominated by a huge sea going freighter that ran aground here eight years ago and has been left to moulder on the beach blighting the view. Apparently the cost of moving it is more than it's worth so no one wants to spend the money. Apparently the money the tourists generate here is not enough to pay for the removal either, although that's a facetious statement on my part really.

I have discovered that in Anjuna I took only two pictures and they are not good quality pictures of a bird on a wire. Here in Candolim I have not had the camera out at all, so there are no pictures here either. I think I'm not terribly inspired. The beach in Anjuna took some getting to, since it was not really nearby. The beach we were near was just a rocky one, while the active beach was reached through a maze of people selling the usual schlocky junk which we have seen all over India. It's amazing that there are some many carved elephants available for sale here. There is definitely one for every tourist in the country, but of course not everyone is buying so there's a lot left to show off to the next tourist coming along.

We did go to a Saturday night market in Anjuna which was a huge affair, but selling exactly the same things available all over the streets in every town we have been in. The better part was the food fair, which had from Israeli to Turkish to of course Indian.

We did meet a group of charming people at the place we discovered was the best for sunset viewing in Anjuna. Two were Canadian, both from Ontario, although not together. Denny has been living here for seven years but is leaving to find another place in the world to enjoy - Goa has finally disappointed here. Another friend of hers, Isabel, from Portugal has been there for more than 12 years and she too is finally leaving. The other Canadian we met was Richard, who is studying Watsu here, which is Water Shiatsu. We loved the place we met them because it had great Hummus with Pita which we would enjoy each evening as the sun set into the mists out over the ocean.

We have only one more night here and then we fly off to Mumbai. We have booked a tour there of the slums, which comes highly recommended. No photos though, cameras are not allowed, so I won't be able to share the sights with you.

I am going to leave you with two views of the lovely cottages we stayed in on Patnem Beach what feels weeks ago now. We have been in three different places since then, so it is a little behind the times. It's a nicer image than I can share with you of the places we have been since we left Panjim, so a little more positive.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Panjim and St. Evex!

It's been awhile again. We have moved twice since the last message and have not had much luck with internet. This area is subject to power outages - this morning when I was about to log on to start this blog the whole place shut down because the electrical company was out in the street doing something with wires and cut the power. On my way up the street to go back to our hotel one of the wires hit me on the head! Luckily it didn't appear to have any power in it either.(I would also have put in some pictures here but the USB port is not working.)

We spent a quiet four nights in Patnem, the small beach next to where we first stayed in Palolem. Our place was a little doll house, along with a double row of other doll houses in bright pastel colours (I don't think that's a contradiction.) Ours was at the front so we had a nice sit out where we could read in the shade and listen to the sound of the waves. I do find the waves are great to sleep to as well, so things were just lovely. There was even a place next door that made caffe latte so we had a coffee or two.

From Patnem we took off for one night in Colva which we didnt' really enjoy - too far from the beach and too far from any decent restaurants so we only lasted a day. The birthday party that went on until 12:30 am which was held directly below our room didn't help much either.

So we packed up and got ourselves a car to Panjim (or Panaji) which is the State capital of Goa. It's quite nice, with a real Portuguese influence in the houses, the food and even the people. Here one is more likely to see a woman in a dress than a sari. The houses are often made with plastered laterite stone and only one or two stories. The two story ones usually have a nice veranda on the front, and the roofs of the houses are all tiled - the tiles look really old and worn.

We did a walkabout a couple of days ago and went up past a Hindu temple and then through a quite smart part of town where a couple of the buildings were obviously nice renovations. I imagine they are lovely and cool on the inside - unlike the outside which is very very warm. We also made it to one of the huge Christian churches here in Goa - this one the Church of the Immaculate Conception which was open for viewing. Our hotel is on St. Sebastian Street and that church is just a few doors down, but it has not been open since we arrived.

Our first night here we decided to be tourists again and took an evening cruise on the river Mandovi - which leads to the sea nearby. We almost changed our minds when we saw the huge speakers being unwrapped in readiness, and there was indeed very loud music as we waited for the gate to open to let us on. The music continued while we waited to leave and during the fifteen minutes or so it took to disconnect us from another boat which had been tied to ours. The only way our boat could get out into the river was to set sail with the other boat in tandem with ours, so out in the channel there was lots of shouting and waving of arms and worried looks as our siamese twin was disengaged and left tied up to a buoy in the middle of the river.

From that point the entertainment started - which consisted of a couple of dancing girls and then an MC began to exhort the crowds to dance - there were competitions - couples, women only, men only, everyone, best girl dancer (who got the only prize I could see which was a tee shirt from the Sikkim tourism board who were on board too). The evening air was nice and we did have the opportunity to see the cityscape from the water. At the end there was even a Portuguese dance by two girls in long skirts and head scarfs and two boys in black pants white shirts and black hats. The tour lasted an hour and went out to the mouth of the river and back. Luckily we didn't have to go out and reengage our twin in the middle of the river.

We ate at a hotel restaurant that was recommended in the Lonely Planet where it was described as eating inside a Wedgewood box and it was an amazingly accurate description - pale blue walls and ceiling decorated with swirls and whoops of white plaster with a few dark blue accents, the ceiling hung with huge crystal chandeliers. The food did not stand up to the ambiance although it was ok - nothing to write home about - at least we felt cool inside the blueness.

We found another hotel restaurant (The Hotel Venite)which has been much better for food although not gourmet; it doesn't rent out rooms either we discovered when we met a woman from Portugal looking for a place to stay. Let's be honest, it's because they have some lovely refreshing Vinho Verde, the fresh young, pale yellow, slightly sparkly wine of Portugal which we had with lunch. We have been back twice now since there really aren't many more food options - and it has a better breakfast than the Panjim Inn which is a hoity toity place which overcharges for all its food. We did make it to another local and recommended place where we had Goan food - beans and pork with sausage (nothing like canned beans, honest) and a Creme caramel which was really delicious.

Yesterday we finally got out to Old Goa, which was the original site of Goa's capital when it was first occupied by the Portuguese. (By the way, the Portuguese did not leave Goa until the mid-1950's with the encouragement of an armed force of the Indian Army which invaded one day. The Portuguese just packed up and went home without a fight - obviously they could take a hint.)

The main reason to go to Old Goa these days is to see the several churches left behind by the Portuguese - churches build in the late 1500's, early 1600's. The church one must see is the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus) which contains the earthly remains of St. Francis Xavier who came to Goa as a missionary from the Jesuits back in the day. His body is still on display in a very large three tiered case but he's up pretty high so you really don't get much of a look. The church has made things a little easier by putting a set of lit pictures on the wall where one can see the desiccated face and hand of the saint. Apparently the other arm and a shoulder blade were removed and sent as relics to other churches. (Of course to any Canadian, Saint Evex is the name of a very well known University in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, so it felt quite appropriate to visit his tomb).

The other church across the road is the Se which was built by the Franciscans - St. Francis of Assisi this time. No doubt rival St. Francises made things interesting here.There was another lovely small stone chapel dedicated to St. Catherine behind the Se, which was under renovation. Geordie imagined it as a nice little cottage and began placing furniture and planning where the dining room should be, but have no worry, I'm sure the church will not be offering it for sale and nor will we be living in India.

We have only a week left in Goa and tomorrow we are off to another beach called Anjuna. We have booked ourselves the Villa Anjuna which is a hotel, not an apartment, but it has a pool, so I'm looking forward to using it to cool off. No doubt I'll find Internet there somewhere. After Anjuna we have three more days to plan for, so may move to another beach for those days, or stay where we are if things are comfortable. It might be hard to give up a pool. Yes, I know the ocean comes right up to the beach, but it is so hot that the sand burns one's feet getting to it and back, so hanging around a pool can be very pleasurable. We can go out and enjoy the beach when the sun goes down; we might even watch the sunset first.

After Goa we are flying to Mumbai for three more days and then it's home on March 4. So soon, now - I imagine that when we are on the plane we might be thinking our usual, I can't believe it's over. It's been long, mind you, and very hot the last two months so for awhile we will be enjoying the cool and maybe even the rain of Vancouver. But the feet will be itching soon enough we know too. No doubt Geordie will be checking out guide books for somewhere else come summer or fall.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Goan Idyll

Arriving here was a misadventure. We left Kochi at 2:15 in the afternoon, only 10 minutes late for our expected 14 hour journey to Goa. We were arriving in Goa at the Cancona station, only 4 km from our real destination, Palolem Beach, at an expected time of 5:00 am - which is terribly early in the morning. Geordie's clock had started acting up and the alarm function was not functioning, so I even bought us a cheap clock to make sure we would wake up at 4:30 am to get ready for our arrival.

Everything went as planned; we even had a nice meal provided on the train - Tandoori Chicken and fried rice, which was actually edible. Then we went to bed at 9:00 pm since we were tired and we did have to get up awfully early. And the alarm worked so we struggled out of bed (I was on the top of a three tier bunk while Geordie was in the middle with some stranger on the bottom who arrived at midnight to bunk in. (I slept through the whole thing although Geordie says the family who arrived were very noisy and disturbed him greatly.

So there we were, 4:30 am, no place to be but in the area near the toilet, with the train attendant trying to sleep. We disturbed him which may have explained what happened. We did figure out that we were about an hour and a half late, because a family wanted to get off at a station before ours and told us what time they were supposed to arrive. This seemed good news since it meant that we would be arriving a little later and would not have to hang around a station to get a tuk-tuk for the beach. No point in arriving at 5:30 am when everyone is asleep.

But we failed to reckon with the fact that our attendant spoke no English. As the time went on, we stopped a few times and each time asked the guy if it was Cancona and each time he seemed to suggest it wasn't. The sun started to rise, putting a beautiful pearlescent glow in the sky to the east, and the time kept going on. It seemed we were further away from our stop than we thought since it was another hour before we finally arrived - at the station 35 kilometers beyond our stop! eordie gave the attendant a real tongue lashing which no doubt was wasted since the guy had no idea what he was saying. In any case there we were, well beyond our destination, faced with having to book a taxi back to the beach which cost us over 600 rupees extra. No, we were not pleased. The good news is that this was our last train journey in India. From Goa we will be flying to Mumbai and then after three days there we will fly home!

But this was our destination! Palolem is really quite beautiful with its curve of bay and it's backdrop of coconut palms and edge to edge huts available for rent on the beach.

Of course the quality of the huts leaves a little to be desired. For the money these are probably the least high-end of any of our accomodation. The bed is comfortable though and the site is lovely, but the hut is very makeshift. We have a sit out with a hand made bed to lie on and just inside a porch with one nail to hang anything. Then there is a big canvas tent, framed and covered with a roof to keep off the sun, and then at the back six rickety steps to get down to a concrete floored bathroom, a cold water shower and a sink and toilet. And oh yes, a rat! Well, Geordie says the lovely little furry creature he saw two nights ago as he was going to use the facilities was a rat, but I didn't see it, so I have to take his word for it. Here's a view of the hut, with me sitting in what appears to be a meditative pose but is in fact me reading a book!

We have spent four nights in this palatial tent, with our mosquito net, and our creaky wooden floor which moves at every step. You can imagine how much I hate going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But we've enjoyed the food in our restaurant, and last night had a pizza to rival anything coming out of Naples, complete with real Prosciutto Crudo! The chef is Italian and it shows. But we are moving today to another smaller and quieter beach which we walked to a couple of days ago. We saw the huts on the beach and decided we had to stay in them - they are so much nicer looking than what we have, and next door is a small restaurant which does real Italian coffee. Must say that coffee and food are some of the best exports that Italy has provided the rest of the world.

We have a special group of neighbours at our present hut though. Next to us is a large tree with a large hole at its base and inside there have been a lovely family of puppies with their mother. I'm sure there were two fathers involved because three of the pups are beige and the other three are brown, and the beige ones are bigger, more aggressive and seem to be getting all the milk. Geordie played nursemaid a couple of times and made sure the brown ones were getting their share. Yesterday all six of them finally made it outside and started feeding on mum right next to us. When mum is not around they whimper and snuffle and move around looking for food, or they sleep. The brown ones are finally getting their share too, because they have developed the strength, thanks no doubt to Geordie's concern. And here they are, as of this morning. They are probably about a week old. When we first saw them their eyes were not even fully open. Such lovely creatures who will no doubt soon be joining the other packs of dogs on the beach howling and barking and harassing the tourists.

I will leave you with a beautiful image of a kingfisher which I took this morning at breakfast. The most available beer here in India is Kingfisher and they are so well off they even own an airline - the one we will travel on to Mumbai. This bird just flew in this morning and perched itself on a pole right outside our restaurant and stayed long enough for me to get back to our tent and return with the camera. We have not seen many birds other than the everpresent house crows on this trip, so this is a rare treat. A nice touch for our last morning here before we move on, as soon as I get back to the tent from this blogging.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tourists Ho!

We've grown tired of being beach bums and have decided to become tourists again. There are only so many times we can walk around this small area looking at buildings.

It's been awhile since we were on tour but since there is really no beach in Kochi to laze around on and there is no sit out at our hotel fo us, we needed to keep ourselves occupied with more than a round of restaurants and coffee shops,(of which there are few), so we booked a tour.

Our tour was described as lasting 7 hours - 10 hours later when we dragged ourselves back to our little homestay we were tired and just wanted to rest. We had booked the backwaters tour through the homestay - a theoretical three hours on a small canoe and four hours on a converted rice boat with lunch included. The three hours on canoe did happen, but the four hours was only two with lunch provided on a little island, but that was no problem as you will find out. First here's Geodie on one of the small canoes, which are being poled along by a man standing at the back.

The three hour portion of the tour was along some small tributaries of the larger waterways in the area. We poled past small houses, jungle areas, and beautiful plants hanging over the water or floating in it, like waterlilies, hibiscus and banana plants. Our first stop was at a rope making village along the way. It was a fascinating look at local industry. The women in the villages all work in cooperatives making rope from coir which is the fiber inside coconut husks.

First the husks are soaked in water for six months to soften the fibers and get them ready for spinning. After the fibes are dry they are delivered to the women who work together to make the ropes. Where we were there were three women working together, one operating a spinning wheel mader from a bicycle wheel, and two creating the ropes. The process is really amazing - the women have huge mounds of fibers held in their skirts and after attaching a small amount of the fiber to the wheel, they begin walking backwards, while the husks intertwine, almost like magic, pulling itself from the mounds. The work goes fast; while we were there the women must have made about half a dozen hanks of rope. The rope is finally collected by the coops to be made into coir mats, or larger ropes, and other craft work. And they get paid once a year - talk about faith!

After the visit to the rope village we went on to a spice farm where we were introduced to many of the plants which produce the spices for which of course India became famous in the first place. We saw pepper vines, nutmeg trees (mace comed from them too), bay leaf which I first identifed as clove because the aroma of cloves was so strong. The guide told us it was also called allspice which I have certainly never heard before - the allspice I know is a berry, so I learned something new I guess.

Here's another view of the narrow waterways.

From the waterways we went back to the transport van and were taken to another area where we were picked up by the houseboat - which of course isn't a houseboat since it doesn't have bedrooms, but it did have seats for us to sit and enjoy the view as we were poled along.

We had lunch first though. It was served on a little island in the river, and done properly for south India - on a banana leaf. And this time I managed to get a couple of pictures for you. Note Geordie's fingers.

Our boat tour only lasted two hours which was actually good, since we were being poled along and the progress is slow to say the least. Our poler used a 20 foot pole which he first dropped into the water,then pushed against it to propel us as far as possible and then continued pushing, walking down the prow of the boat until he had run out of pole when he started the whole thing over again. His arms and legs are obviously very strong. We were all ready to go home when he finally pulled in next a bridge where we found our vehicle waiting and got to drive back - a bit less than an hour's drive.

Next Day!

We weren't finished with touring you know. Yesterday, Wednesday, we decided we would walk to the Raja's palace and Jew Town which are next each other on the far side of Kochi from where we were staying. The palace was built by the Dutch and given to the Raja of Kochi to appease him when they came to take over. It's not a very exciting palace although it does have remarkable frescoes painted on the walls. These frescoes illustrate the fables and stories of the Mahayana and other significant books of Indian mythology. There are no photos for you since photography is not allowed, but I must tell you that one of the highlights is a very clear fesco of Krishna pleasuing eight women at once - using his six arms and two legs!

From there we made our way to Jew Town. The Jews of Kochi have a very long history. According to the history presented in pictures on the walls of the small museum in the synagogue they arrived after having left the Temple of Solomon, some 500 years BCE. Another story has them arriving in Kochi in about 100 BCE. In any case they were given land and even a crown providing them with rights to the area from the local raja. Unfortunately the population was decimated when the Inquisition arrived from Portugal in the 1600's. There is still a small population here though although it is certainly not growing at all.

On the tower of the Synagogue is a clock with the numbers written in what I presume is Hebrew.

Again no photos were allowed inside but I was very impressed with the number of crystal chandliers hanging from the ceiling along with blown glass globes which would hold candles. The building carries a strong sense of history perhaps because it is to us something so incongruous in India. I did get a picture of the gate outside the Synagogue which shows two menorah.

From the Synagogue we went to walk in the neighbourhood. The streets here are full of spice warehouses and the aroma of ginger and other spices is strong in the air.

There are also lots of shops selling the usual tourist claptrap, just like every other market area where tourists congregate. We did buy something though - a bag of pepper corns, and a tube of toothpaste made by Himalaya Products, which contains Neem extact from the Neem tree which is what the locals use to brush their teeth.

This has been a long blog, and again I've managed to put in lots of pictures. I'll leave you with two more tourist images, one with very personal meaning for me. We went for a walk in the evening and along the way discovered Addy's Restaurant, which was housed in a building built in 1776, the same year as The American War of Independence. But what made it personal for me was that Addy was my father's middle name! It's rather an unusual name I know, and for my father was a name passed down in his family. I discovered some years ago when I did a little genealogical research back in Newfoundland that the name was the last name of a Methodist minister - and that it was common practice for families to use a name such as that as a token of the esteem the minister had in the family.

Of course we ate dinner there last night and I must say the food was excellent. So good that we may go back there tonight for our last evening meal in Kochi.

And finally - on our walk we came to a small beach where we found a man selling fresh squeezed orange juice. We decided we needed some refreshment, so we had the man squeeze some for us. Another man, a local was also enjoying a glass - he paid 10 rupees for the pleasure - we paid 25. That's what we get for being tourists!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Little Lisbon

We arrived in Kochi yesterday more than an hour earlier than we thought we would. According to our guidebook it should have taken five hours by the train. What may be even more miraculous was that the train was on time! Actually there were two trains on time. Both the Mumbai to Kanyakumari train and the one from Kanyakumari to Mumbai were arriving within three minutes of each other in Varkala and were indeed there at the times scheduled. This is a first for us in India.

After some negotiation witht the tuk-tuk driver we got a ride to our reserved hotel. It is good that we reserved because the driver was so hopeful that we would need his help to find a hotel - of course if we were to take his advice the price of the hotel would go up to pay his commission. He even tried to get our hotel to acknowledge his delivering us, but they were having none of it, thank heaven.

We went over several quite modern bridges on our way to Fort Cochin where our hotel is located, until finally the driver pulled up at the edge of the water. For a moment we were nonplussed until we realized that this was a ferry embarkation point and we were going to get a little sea voyage. (It takes less than five minutes to cross the water from the island we were on to the Fort Cochin peninsula.) Unfortunately for one of the motorcyclists hoping to get on the ferry, the pilot took off a little early and he drove off the dock onto the edge of the rocks. Everyone on the ferry watched as the poor man tried to figure out how to get his motocycle back on to the land. He didn't fall into the briny luckily, if one can call that luck.

And if I'm lucky, here's a picture of Geordie standing on the deck of the ferry among the people and the vehicles.

Kochi is a great surprise. It is really quite charming and the buildings make it feel as if we are in some small village in Europe. Of course it was once a Portuguese port and the influence they had along with the Dutch who arrived later to take over and the English who took over after that. This may not be a perfect picture but it does give a little of the flavour of the town. Many of the buildings are low, one story or two story affairs some with mouldering walls and some with fresh coats of paint, but all with red tiled roofs showing the signs of their age.

This is really a very old town of course. This afternoon on our walk we visited the Church of St. Francis where Vasco da Gama was buried after his death on Christmas Eve, 1524. (Check out his biography.) His gravestone is still in the church although his body was removed to Lisbon about 14 years after he died. Here's an interior view of the church today; it too went through Portuguese, Dutch and English hands although today it's under the aegis of the Church of South India which is we think similar to the Church of England. A plaque on the wall celebrates the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1997.

St. Francis wasn't the only church we saw. Here's a picture of the facade of Santa Cruz of which I have little history. It does have a more interesting facade than that of St. Francis, and is, I think, a Basilica now.

While we were visiting Santa Cruz, we ran into a wedding - one of many we have seen on our travels. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera at the time, and when I went back with it although the wedding was still in progress the priest was intoning - no doubt enjoining them to go out and mulitply. I got a nice photo of four of the young women ahead of me in the church, and one of the interior for you too.

We ate breakfast today at a place called The Teapot, a little bit of merrie olde England perhaps with many many teapots decorating the place - even one with Henry VIII on it. Across the street we watched as children arrived to start school. They all wear uniforms and since there were several schools in the neighbourhood we got to see several different styles. Later in the afternoon we were on our way back from a little wander when we ran into a group of school children on their way home by tuk-tuk. One of them ran up and asked for a picture. So here they are, with their bookbags hanging from the side of the vehicle and them all crammed inside.

A last little bit of history for you. Kochi is famous for its amazing fishing nets which are a legacy of Kublai Khan. Yes, you read right. This process of fishing was brought here by the Chinese centuries ago. The nets are huge affairs which are made from large wooden pieces, lots of rope, stone counterweights, a large net, and the strength of four men is needed to operate them. We watched the men who put their backs into raising the huge nets from the sea, then go out to the nets to scoop up the fish which have found their way inside. The crows find it very exciting too, and they love to swoop in to grab up the tiny fish which would of course not be much use to the fishermen and would no doubt be thrown back in.

This has been a nice photo heavy blog. Hope you enjoy seeing some of what we see. Tomorrow we are going on a backwater cruise from here, on one of the old converted rice boats which have been pressed into service for the tourists these days. I'm hoping for lots of interesting pictures since we will also get to do a little canoe touring to small villages along the way. Since this has been such a successful picture loading place you may well get another load day after tomorrow with some of the images from our 7 hour trip. Until then I leave you with this image of the Arabian Sea as the sun starts to get lower. I thought it looked wonderful, my art photo for today.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Cable? What Cable?

It's amazing to think that a cable under the Mediterranean sea can cause so much trouble. And even more amazing that for some reason we can still access Gmail and Google even when all other access seems to be non-existent. No matter, it means I can still blog a little and keep people up to date on our travels.

This is our last day in Varkala. We will miss our sit-out, although Geordie says my swinging in the hammock all day is making him queasy. Well, if he insists on using both chairs to sit and lounge only leaving me the hammock, so be it. We have enjoyed ourselves, going on walks along the red brick path, watching the birds swoop over, having a nice bowl of salad and a plate of roasted potatoes, going for the evening walk up the steps past all the restaurants to choose the one where we will sit and wait and wait and wait until our food is finally delivered. And maybe have a beer or two sometimes served in a teapot and always the bottle hidden behind the table leg so that the police going by won't know we are having a beer. How a frosty glass on the table can be confused with anything other than a beer is beside the point it seems. There is some reason, I'm sure, why we cannot show we are actually having a beer, even though the restaurants all have drinks menus and one of them even offers a happy hour.

We head to Kochi, which is also known as Cochin, tomorrow morning by train. The trip takes about five hours so we will have to stock up on some tasty treats for the trip - cookies, potato chips, the usual... Perhaps I should look for some of the really tasty oranges we have found in India and some of the beautiful sweet bananas we have also enjoyed.

There's only a month left in our trip, and some of you have figured out that we are just a little homesick. Sometimes even the idea of ice and snow sounds positively lovely, although 35 degrees celsius here compared to - 35 celsius in Calgary is a little positive encouragement to stay where we are. And I'm sure when we get home the rain of the lower Mainland will soon have us pining for sunshine.