If there could be a state that is opposite my circumstances when I wrote my last blog entry this might be it. I sit facing a picture-perfect sunrise. A man carries a body-board over his head into the waves as two India kids jog by and two of the many beach dogs scuffle nearby. The temperature must be around 20 degrees and the humidity has subsided for the day. I'm on Palolem beach in southern Goa. I've been here for two days now and both have been idyllic. The water is warmer than the air now and is full of salt which makes for easy floating if not swimming. The sand is soft and the beach is supposedly the nicest in Peninsular India. Despite the many tarpaulin covered shacks that now crowd its shores, a ban on the building of more substantial buildings has left the shore looking picturesque.
We spent our first night in a set of huts called Tony's Cottages which were recommended by two Brits who were on the Jaipur-Mumbai train with us. Since I wrote my last blog from that train it makes for a decent place to begin the story of the past 5 days.
We got into Mumbai around 6am. Halyna and I were both feeling lousy after sleepless nights and far-too experimental food from various train stations during the ride. Over the course of the 12 hr train ride we befriended our bunk mates who included a gemologist (who sells silverware to America companies), an architect designing smoking rooms for Indian malls (smoking is banned indoors here and cigarette advertising is impossible except in specific places like these rooms which will be sponsoured by the tobacco companies) and another finance-oriented businessman. I spent much of the ride talking to the gemologist who was planning a trip to the US this summer and was very knowledgeable and helpful about Bombay where his head office is. Before leaving the train we agreed to meet the gemologist to buy gifts at wholesale prices.
A brief return to scatological material: as we were traveling between the three Mumbai stops (totaling well over an hour of superfast transport) Halyna went to the doors to get some air and was treated to the site of countless Indian men squatting by the tracks and pooing. This practice, it would seem, is not unusual in India where pooing, like peeing is a public activity. Kushwant Singh wrote in the book Delhi which I'm reading now that, "The fields are littered with defecators; some face us with their penises dangling between their haunches; others display their buttocks - barely an inch above pyramids of shit. The Indian peasant is the world's champion shitter. Stacks of chappaties and mounds of mustard leaf-mash down the hatch twice a day; stacks of shit a.m. and p.m. " I, in contrast, am anything but a champion shitter. Sleep deprivation has combined with my nervous nature to make me frequently constipated (I liken my constipation to that described by Philip Roth in several of his books about Jewish boys and older men). With its holes for toilets and lack of toilet paper, India presents an obstacle course for irregular tourists such as myself. I surmounted the first impediment on our train ride between Delhi and Agra as I held on to the handle in front of the two foot marks for dear life and attempted to relax enough. An early morning run provided the occasion for my learning to deal with the lack of toilet paper. Running loosened my bowels plenty and mid-way I was forced to jog into the closest hotel where three Indians grudgingly allowed me to use their toilet. With no paper at hand I was forced to use water, a less disgusting than expected but still unpleasant experience particularly when it comes time to pull your pants up onto a wet and hopefully clean bottom. Most Indian bathrooms do not have towels or soap either making me question many fellow-travelers' argument that this is the cleaner alternative to toilet paper.
The same run also demonstrated the Indian aversion to maps. In some ways, this aversion is calculated and proves why one must always decide on a fixed rate with an auto-rickshaw driver before one steps in. The night before Halyna and I had gone clubbing at an outrageously expensive club in Jaipur's only five star (it was Saturday and the only club we could find and it 2was made more expensive because Dave came along and Stags (single men) are charged the same as couples (750rps). Getting home our rickshaw driver got completely lost despite clear directions and two maps. After asking several people he insisted out map was wrong until we eventually dir3ecetd him back to the hotel ourselves (at which point an argument over the already established price ensued which was only settled when the owner of our hotel came out to silence the rickshaw driver. Asking directions in India is difficult for completely different reasons than in Ukraine. Most seem to want to be helpful here and rickshaw and taxi drivers are constantly asking for directions but as often as not the advice they receive is wrong and if you hand them a map they (and everyone on the street for that matter) gets completely confused. Either way, 5 minutes into my run the next day I came upon the same hotel, less than a mile from our hostel and only three turns away (it had taken us over half an hour the night before).
I was sidetracked in the midst of writing my last entry and its been 5 days since I've had a chance to write. Halyna and I are now undertaking the longest single leg journey of my life, a 49 hour ride from Kochin, Kerala to Delhi.
We negotiate a rate wit many cab drivers from Mumbai trains station who as usual get mad at each other (some have followed us from the train station and claim us as their own but being annoyed with their pestering I find a different cab and agree on 100rps which, it turns out, is probably higher than it need be because in Mumbai, unusually, taxis actually use their meters (though as in Delhi they can be rigged and sometimes covered) and because of a ban on rickshaws in downtown Mumbai to reduce congestion, a more expensive cab is the only option we have aside from the unbelievably packed commuter trains on which we would have to battle for the exit three stops before it in order to get out at the right stop if we even knew when this stop was coming
We find our hostel, The Lawrence in a back alley, up a disgusting set of stairs with betel-juice all over the walls. The hostel itself is fairly clean aside from the bathrooms and is run by a hunched young man with an ornery, elderly cat. We are sleeping three to a room for the first time with Mike and upon entering our room he immediately asks to shut the windows to keep out malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Luckily Halyna finds screens and after freshening up we set out on the town.
With our stomachs still slightly upset, Halyna and I had agreed not to eat all day (subsisting on juice as recommended by the gemologist) but within an hour we are sitting at the cafe Malabar in the heart of ever so touristy Colaba (the Lawrence is on the border between this, the southernmost and most touristy quarter of Mumbai and Churchgate one of its transportation and commercial hubs). Surrounded by movie theatres and hawkers selling to the many white visitors, this a stately part of town with broad streets. Nevertheless, the sidewalks are clogged with homeless beggars who use them as beds at night.
From breakfast we rush north to Churchgate Station where just before noon a thousand dabawallas converge every day. They make up the most efficient food delivery service in the world. Carrying colour-coded tiffen boxes full of food cooked at homes in the small villages surrounding Mumbai, each is destined for a different businessman and will be delivered precisely on time and always to the right person. The dabawallas are almost all from the town of Pune and most are related as we confirmed while taking their photos. Forbes awarded Mumbai's dabawallas a 6 sigma performance rating, the score reserved for companies who attain a 9.999999 percent of correctness (1 of 6 million goes a stray). As with many others in India, the dabawallas were more than happy to have their photos taken, preceded or followed by the obligatory "What is your good name?" and "Where are you from?"
We drop by the Indian Tourist Info Center where I try to pick up poster from its fantastic "Incredible India" campaign and then proceed through a slum in the middle of the financial district which surrounds a massive garbage heap. Halyna and I are constantly offered weed and are shocked to see a woman who is missing an eye. Its not that its patched or closed, there is simply a deep, massive gaping whole where her eye should be.
Our next destination is ironically called Fashion Street where hundreds of stalls full of fake Gucci and diesel belts, and knock-off clothes of all brands are sold by wallas whose prices can vary by 500% if you're a good enough bargainer.
From fashion street we head to the bazaar district and Crawford Market in particular where our gemologist-friend has his office above the ramshackle storefronts and milling masses of India's most densely populated area. Here an incredible number of people care an awesome variety of goods (from steel girders, to fruit, to bales of hay) making staying focused n your destination, let along moving towards it, a difficult task.
with the jeweler we sift through hundreds of types of silver jewelry with a large variety of semi-precious stones. The longer we look, the harder the process becomes as it all b begins to look the same but it prices 10 times cheaper than in North America, its hard for us not to buy something, so we did...
Halyna here....this is where I would like to jump in to note a personal incident Jake could not truly understand at the moment, and therefore, would be unable to describe, not of his own fault, but simply for the reason of him being a boy....
Upon leaving the market, waiting to catch an auto rickshaw, a man rubbed his greasy fingers on my breast and grinned while passing by. I was a little bit shocked, I have to say. My initial reaction was to see where Jake and Mike were. They were a bit too far off so I, without really thinking about it, sprinted after the creep. He just stood there, a little shocked himself that I reacted, but really didn't seem very regretful of his inappropriate behavior at all. Just stood there looking at me with a smirk on his face. even more furious, only to find a very disappointing reaction on behalf o Jake. His reaction was almost identical to the man I had scolded, he smirked too. I guess it was a bit funny, but considering how upset it was, it was not yet time to laugh about the whole thing.
I realize now that Jake was in just as much shock as I was and just didn't know how to react.
It wasn't a big deal, I know that. I knew that then and now. But the principle of the matter is big, the utter lack of respect for women and our right to personal space. Later on that night I found out that I was not the only one who recognized the seriousness of such violations. Two girls that joined us for dinner that night, Rajvi and Deepa, were both members of an organization called "The Blank Noise Project", which deals with issues of street harassment otherwise known as "Eve-teasing." I'm glad such groups are around, to help prevent such silly, yet scarring incidences from taking place, and defend us against the offenders when they do.
In a fitting if difficult twist of planning we were set to travel through Mumbai's red-light district next, which, as expected turned out to be another trying experience. We first took a cab up and then walked back down Falkland Rd, lined with Indian women, young and old, thin and more rotund, light and dark, all selling themselves. Halyna was mad at me but I insisted that she hold me hand, largely because I was embarrassed to be looking at these women, to be walking by them, and felt that my showing that I was with her, did not want to pay for them, somehow made it better.
The three of us met up with Deepa and Rajvi next. I had been introduced to Rajvi by email several months earlier after sending out a mass message to all my contacts requesting contacts in the areas to which I was traveling. Rajvi is a friend of Ilona with whom I worked at the Munk Centre in Toronto and is currently working in the Marketing section of a firm in Mumbai. We met her and her friend Deepa at a restaurant called The Noodle Bar coincidentally directly next to our hotel. This immaculate restaurant was styled somewhat like a sushi -joint with minimalist furniture and very attentive waiters serving Asian-fusion cuisine. The meal was pleasant and aside from the usual questions, Deepa and Rajvi gave us the lowdown on what we should do in Mumbai and then took us to Marine Drive. As we walked down this 5-star hotel lined boardwalk, looking out on Mumbai's skyline and lined with lights that make it look like a pearl necklace we were constantly nagged by homeless mothers and their children. Rajvi, Deepa and Mike went home and Halyna and I kept walking. She became quiet upset about a boy who kept following us a clearly had no parents or protectors. Waling along the boardwalk alone he was, as Halyna said, "going nowhere."
We had chosen Noodle Bar with Rajvi and Deepa because it sounded like it might offer food that would not upset Halyna and my already temperamental stomachs but, following a long day of spicy food, we both had distinctly piquant mains and at the end of our walk were both in need of a bathroom. As frequently happened we underestimated the length of the walk back and with only a few blocks to go realized that the emergency was desperate enough to hail a taxi. The driver, with our map in hand, proceeded to get completely lost at which point we got out without paying him and began to walk in the right direction. Halyna stopped at a restaurant to use the loo and with our far too regular movements we began to worry about how effective some of the many pills we were taking might be. We called home for advice and then made it back to the apartment. I, exhausted passed out while Halyna had a rough night with an upset stomach.
We spent the first part of the next day between the pharmacy and a doctor who prescribed antibiotics for Halyna which we got for next to nothing back at the pharmacy (once an get almost any drug over the counter for very little money in India, though one can't, for instance, get spray-on deet).
After a "safe" lunch at McDonalds we went to see an interesting multimedia exhibit on Gandhi (whose presence everywhere is substantial: every city has a street named after him and a statute of him) at the National Contemporary Art Gallery. We then walked down Collaba Causeway packed with stores and stalls catering to every tourists desire and bugging the rest. We unfortunately again went to a Rough Guide recommended restaurant called Leopold’s which was packed with tourists and served lousy, expensive food. Mike and I picked up a bottle of vodka which we never ended up drinking because by the time we went back to our apartment he and Halyna were too tired to go clubbing. I briefly check out the club Rajvi had recommended (again right next door) called Red Light which was very swank with an all black and red light decor and a door that, once shut, from the inside was impossible to find without help. Yet again I couldn't sleep so I went to an internet cafe and spent the night trying to upload pictures, chatting on MSN, replying to emails and calling home.
The next day during breakfast we experienced a tropical downpour and throughout the day scattered showers made for our first of experience of India in bad whether (we are still months away from the monsoon so the sky is cloudless most days). Halyna and I picked up the soundtrack to the movie we'd seen and then went to India Gate while Mike read and wrote in a coffee shop. On the way Halyna and I are stopped by a very young Indian mother with her two children begging for milk. Surprised that she's not asking for money we obligingly follow her to a store around the corner where the owner pulls out a container of powdered milk that he says costs 300rps and adds that she'd like a 250rps bag of rice as well. Shocked, we say now and he starts lowering the price. In the end, I handed her 20rps and we discussed the intricacy of Indian cons - she would give the milk and rice back to the man and he would give her a small share of his profits.
After watching the fishing trolleys and vacationing young men mill about India Gate we met up with a German athletics instructor/ model at our hostel who joined us as we perused several other contemporary art galleries and then met mike for dinner. After a delicious ice cream and molten fudge desert from Noodle Bar we boarded another overnight train to Goa.
Surprisingly, I slept fairly soundly despite a rowdy Indian group of friends and family who added boisterous laughter and loud drumming to the usual snoring all night long. There are more white people on this ride than any other we've been on and each is avidly flipping through their own version of the Lonely Planet. Looking out on Goa the next day from the train, its beauty was immediately apparent from neon green rice patties to the ocean stretching out to the horizon. I tried calling Tony's Cottages from the train station and found out that despite a conversation with its manager the day before, no one had come to pick us up from Margao. Halyna, meanwhile found 5 other backpackers all heading to the same beach and we crowded into a minivan. During the forty-five minute long ride to Palolem we befriended two Brits in the cab with us and in the end spent much of the next 4 days with Paul and Olie.
Once on the beach we realize how gorgeous Palolem is and why they call the hostel's shacks. Our cottage consists of a bamboo hut on stilts stuck into the sand 15 meters from the water. Granted there are many, many, more huts just like it, all the way down the beach, but its still a hell of allot better than the cement blocks that make up Ukrainian or even many Indian hotels. The five of us (Mike, the Brits, Halyna and I) went to one of the many very similar restaurants lining the beach, order a couple kingfishers and some seafood and enjoy the view. We then take a long walk down the beach, observing the many nicer huts further away from Palolem's main drag and clamber up some cliffs at the far end. The two of us, read, dose and watch as the sun sets from the rocks at the very end of the beach with a cool, strong wind in our faces.
I'm going to skip a fair bit of our time in Goa because much of our time was similar. We were on the beach, playing volleyball or basking in the sun or throwing a Frisbee or shopping for clothes on the main drag. Our first night there is a party at a bar called X-Cross and after a few hours of drinking and pool we check it out. Halyna quickly tires of the club and is mad at me for not paying enough attention to her while with the boys and I spend my night running between her and them, chasing her down the beach and playing with the many stray dogs as I try and drunkenly console her. In the end, she spends some of the night in a hammock outside of our hut. The next day Halyna and I swim the mile to the island at the opposite tip of the beech, burning our backs in the process and then clamber around the rocks burning our feet. We then get back into the water for a while before running back to our cottages, joining the boys (Mike ahs been hanging out with Paul and Olie allot since the three of them met a group of Norwegian girls) for dinner. The next day we rent a pair of scooters and Mike, Halyna and I check out some surrounding beaches and old forts. Agunda, the closest beech is if anything more spectacular than Palolem with a similar layout and almost no one around us (except for a couple that similarly rode over from Palolem). We hop in the water and then check out Casa de Rama, the Portuguese fort nearby and at the next beech with find a film crew shooting a German movie about hippies from the '70s.
Our last meal in Goa is perfect. The five of us sit on pillows at a beautiful cafe at the opposite end of the beach eating fantastic Indian and continental cuisine, with dogs at our feet. We talk about photography and the plans for our trips (they too are continuing on in S.E. Asia) and then try to find the cheapest clothes in town for Mike and the Brits as Holi is coming up. Mike, I should note, has decided to stay in Goa and enjoy its somewhat hedonistic nightlife and relaxing atmosphere while Halyna and I continue south.
Our train to Kerala is more than an hour late and as Halyna sleeps I teach half of the Norwegian group how to play Set.
Our time in Kerala was a little rushed as much of it was spent traveling under hectic conditions in order to see as much as possible of the Southern state before Halyna had to return to Delhi for her flight back to Ukraine. Our train ride was relatively painless, though at 16hrs it definitely wasn't short and we ended up getting off 2/3rds of the way to our original destination, Trivandrum, at the southern tip of the state in order to allow us more time on the backwaters.
Exiting the train in Allepey we found ourselves in the smallest town yet and after arranging a rickshaw to Johnson's: The Nest, the homestay recommended by our guide (as stated on its front gate) we were shuttled to its sister home, the brand-spanking new The Brown Residency. This home was a pleasant surprise in the decidedly traditional Allepey as its polished marble floors and spotless room felt as if they had never been lived in. After trying every ATM in town in addition to several Internet cafes we were told that the cities internet was down but would probably be back later that evening so we continued to the main drag along the water where hundreds of "travel agents" sold backwater trips. Ranging from three day long a/c houseboat journeys to 3 hour long motorboat journeys, these were all out of our price range and it was not until the 11th travel agent that our description (simple, small, cheap) finally hit home. We had a pleasant meal for under 2 dollars each and then spent a couple hours in the now functioning internet cafe which was cheaper and faster than any we had seen yet in India. The next morning we woke up early and began our tour which involved a half hour ferry ride to our guides village where we met his family and then hopped in his canoe for a three hour long trip around the backwaters. These small rivers were formed when Kerala's residents reclaimed its land resulting in a patchwork landscape of villages accessible only by boat. All along the water women beat the hell out of clothing and children ran along asking us for "one pen, one pen." We had a wonderful lunch at the local cafeteria of fish, rice and a vegetable masala served on a banana leaf. I spent much of the day paddling (though Halyna helped for a 45 minutes or so) in the heat of a south Indian summer and developed a bit of a headache by the time we took the ferry home. We then picked up our packs, I picked up my watch from the repairman (I had cracked its face on a bicycle rickshaw in Delhi) after paying him 30 rps (75c) and we got on another ferry to Kottoyam. This ride was again beautiful as we crisscrossed the many rivers for hours ferrying Kerela's villagers from home to work and back for 3 and a half hours as the sun set. Once in Kottayam, a substantial industrial town, we realized we didn't really want to stay, and despite a persistent headache Halyna persuaded me to catch the next bus to Kumily further inland. We followed an Italian priest and the five Indian students he had taken on a day trip tip Allepey to the bus station where we were placed by the driver at the very back of a crammed bus. A combination of the rickety old bus, our 9pm departure, the very windy and hilly route and an insane driver resulted in the most harrowing bus trip of Halyna and my lives. While I took a Gravol to avoid being sick and passed out within an hour (to be awoken every 10-15 minutes when Halyna couldn't prevent my head from slamming against the seat cause the bus ad slowed or turned so quickly). For the first hour I tried to decrease my nauseousness by looking at points in the distance an activity made much more difficult by the road which turned every 200 meters and which climbed and descended Kerala's foothills for most of the journey.
When we finally arrived in Kumily, the base-town for Periyar, one of India's largest national parks it was past 1 in the morning and we quickly went to the cheapest hotel we could find. Woodlands was a massive cement block with only the most basic amenities and was a massive step down from our room in Allepey but for 100rps we could handle it for a short night.
The next day we had a less than satisfactory meal at another Rough Guide recommended homestay and took a rickshaw to the park where we were charged the as usual outrageous tourist rate (300 rps as compared to the Indian 20). Inside we found three other foreigners who wanted to hike around rather than ride the boat (the usual method of viewing the parks sites, though this tour around the large man-made lake at its center rarely afforded views of anything aside from the occasional distant elephant) and set off. To begin our trek the 6 of us (we had to be accompanied by a guide, costing the group 500rps) were ferried across a small river on a raft which was pulled across on a rope by the guide. Within minutes of entering the forest Halyna and I began to notice that its floor was covered with what looked like small worms and a few moments later as our companions noticed the same we were shocked to find that these worms were sticking to our skin and shoes. The leaches, we were informed by our guide, had come out as a result of the rain the day before and would be less common in sunny areas which he encouraged us to continue to as we desperately tried to get them off our skin. Halyna was in by far the worst situation as she was wearing sandals and when we finally got back to the lake's shore both of her feet were quite bloody. The rest of the three hour hike was less eventful though we did manage to see a giant squirrel (two feet long) many species of birds (from Kingfishers to hornbills) and monkeys, water buffaloes, deer, wild boars and a monotor lizard. Perhaps the most entertaining part for me was our guide who dramatically pointed out elephant and deer footprints, broke apart the bones of deer killed by wild dogs (no sign of the parks few remaining tigers) and helped us across muddy streams with logs. At the end of the trek we invited one of our British companions to join us for dinner and the three of us had a pleasant meal at a "homestay" cum hostel packed full of backpackers. Kumily is also renowned for its spices so Halyna picked up several packages for friends and then we made out way to the bus station. By this point it had begun to pour and by the time we neared the station the towns sewer system was overflowing. As peopled tried to avoid the sewage filled streets the terribly unsanitary nature of India was reinforced by a group of men picking branches full of bananas from the water at their feet. Finding the right bus was another hassle as we didn't know that the fastest route to Kochi was again through Kottoyam and so it was 8:30 before we finally began another frightening ride packed full of nauseating hairpin turns to Kottayam. There, at midnight we caught a train to Kochi but because we were buying the ticket at the last minute all the a/c classes were full and so we sat on our bags in the doorway of a car full to the brim with sleeping Indians (some even slept in the halls between the bathrooms) for the 2 hour journey.
When we arrived in Ernakulum the commercial mainland east of Kochi, we begin immediately to haggle with the autorickshawallas over the price of the long journey to Fort Kochi (ferries, the more affordable and pleasant means of transportation to the island, only run during the day). As usual, we cause a bit of a raucous by securing a price 50% cheaper than the massive cue of rickshaws has agreed for us by hiring a young boy (who looks under 16) for the 40min long journey. As we pass through Ernakulum and then across the bridges to Wellingdon Island (artificially dredged up by the Brits to allow the large boats to now fill Kochi's harbour) and then to Fort Kochi with its ancient Christian churches (the first in India, built at the time of Vasco de Gama's landing) and synagogues and numerous homestays. The first 4 homestays suggested by our Rough Guide are full when we arrive and wake up their proprietors at 2am but the last manager recommends a sister-home down the rode called the Taj Mahal and its owner, a new father, settles us into his pleasant house (decorated with Hindu, Christian and Muslim icons and images).
The next morning we drop by a great, artsy cafe packed full of foreigners eating the quiche or omelet that is serving with iced coffee and Halyna and I negotiate our plan for the day, prioritizing our activities to maximize or 24 hours in Kochi.
First we walk the short distance to the Chinese fishing nets which stretch out into the harbour. The fishermen sit idly chatting next to the garbage covered shore waiting for the water to calm enough to fish and Halyna and I decide to compete over who can take the best picture.
We end up getting distracted by the many kittens before trekking to the synagogue on the far side of the island. On the way we pass many mosques with huge loudspeakers blaring speeches and prayers in Arabic (some sound more political, others more religious). As the mosques are emptied the streets fill with Muslims and young boys tag along behind us. I crowd of women sees me taking a picture of a mosque and asks me to take one of them. As 8 or nine women crowd around the gate at an end of their alley, clutching their children and then eventually showing them off proudly and giggling when I show them the LCD display of the pics. Similarly a group of boys later sees my camera (despite my having tried to rap it in a scrap of cloth I picked up in Goa) and asks me to take a picture of them and send it to them. I ask them about the mosque and the synagogue and they say the latter is beautiful making me wonder at the contrast of this coexistence and the situation in Palestine. Passing a number of fragrance shops Halyna and I finally stop at one to buy some more gifts. When we come up short on rps the shop owners son lends us his scooter to go to an ATM but worrying about past scams we scrounge up the change and return before we can be stopped by cops for not having an intl license (the bribe to avoid the fine might be split with the owner of the rickshaw). When we eventually find he synagogue we discover that it is closed on Fridays and Saturdays (I had thought it would only be closed for Sabbath) but a helpful guard tells us its story (basically the only remnant of a Jewish community in India that dates back almost 2000 years, this synagogue was built b the Jews who were allowed to prosper by the Raj of Kochi while the Portuguese were persecuting Jews as part of the inquisition in the rest of India. When I explain that I am a Jew and would like to attend services, the guard suggests I ask on of the few Jews that remain for permission - all live along the street and eventually one Samuel Aluego shouts down to his housekeeper that we should be at the synagogue at 8am the next morning. As we leave "Jew Town" we stop at one of the many Kashmiri owned stores on Jew Street to look at some more jewelry as possible gifts and are persuaded by a Himalayan man who looks bizarrely similar to me to buy a few more items.
Next we take a ferry back to the mainland which offers at first fairly ugly views of the industrial side of Kochi's harbour but eventually drops us in the heart of Ernakulum. We wander its main drag, MGandhi Rd picking up earplugs for the train ride (which thankfully I haven't needed as of yet), stopping for a Keralan specialty, a Sharja shake (bananas, milk, boost and sugar) and some chai from a pleasant street-side stall, and finally making one last ditch attempt to find a cheap air ticket back to Delhi to avoid spending two days on the train.
Next we rush back tot he ferry back to Kochi to make a Kathakali Dance show. This 300 year old Keralan dance form involves incredibly intricate makeup and, as demonstrated for an hour before the performance begins, an extensive language of facial expressions, hand signs and body movements all in sync with established music which combine to tell hundreds of the major Hindu myths split into short skits. After the interesting show (attended exclusively by tourists, unfortunately) I spend too long in an internet cafe trying to sort out our/ my lodgings in Delhi and some lingering requests from IOM Kiev before meeting a distraught Halyna at our apartment. It being past 10pm once we shower and change, we are hard-pressed to find a restaurant with a view of the water and I somewhat stupidly end up choosing a 5-star (the only such place I could see) where we have fantastic fish and prawns meals in a beautiful atmosphere. Unfortunately, we are given aprons which sort of ruins the high class ambience and are quickly surrounded by mosquitoes (the waiters bring us pots of frankincense when we ask for mosquito coils which do little to keep us from being devoured.) The outrageous bill doesn't help matters but by the end of a walk with the local stray dogs and a bit of packing Halyna and I have made up (the evening wasn't what she had hoped for out last full night together as I hadn't planned anything romantic and had left everything to the last minute). Nevertheless, I again have a hard time sleeping and spend much of the night reading. I go for an early morning run along the coast with all of the Indians who walk quickly for exercise (running her, as in Ukraine is bizarre and attracts many surprised looks). At the end of the boardwalk there is a small cove which is full of Indian men in their underwear not really bathing or swimming but instead simply standing in the dirty and warm water. Halyna and I eat breakfast at a locals joint on the water where south Indian food is served on newspaper and our host bombards us with questions about Canada (finishing with the usual requests for s job or visa). From the great view from the empty second floor of this restaurant we watch dolphins swim by in the harbour before heading off to the Jain temple in the middle of Fort Kochin. There we feed hundreds of pigeons as part of their midday ritual before taking a rickshaw back to our hostel, picking up our packs and trekking back to eh ferry to Ernakulum.
The train ride has been fairly easy: at night its been quieter and aside from some motion sickness induced by the flickering afternoon lighting Halyna and I have passed the time by reading, dosing and standing in the doorway watching India fly by. We meet a group of new trainees from the IT arm of India's largest company, TATA (they work for TCS, TATA Consulting Services though I know the company more from it being the name on many Indian trucks and buses.) They are enthusiastic about beginning their careers and spending their own money for the first time. Their first month's training is impressive, with German language and various other cultural orientations. We grill each other on everything from marriage and caste customs to work, travel, illegal migration, population growth, food and India’s workforce's potential.