THE BLOG

Southwest India: The Coastal City of Kochi, Kerala

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After a stressful yet successful travel day, we finally arrived at Jade Kochi, our homestay for the next two nights, around 1:15pm on Friday, February 12. This was such an adorable house on such an adorable little street managed by such an adorable couple, Josey and Elsie. They have been married for twenty six years and have a gorgeous twenty four year old daughter (who happened to be visiting from five hours away). Elsie doesn't look a day over twenty four herself.

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It was about 2:30pm when we were all settled in and ready to grab some lunch. We asked Elsie if she had any recommendations but her English wasn't the best. Josey, her husband, is semi-fluent but he wasn't home at the time. In the famous words of Bob Marley, "don't worry, about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright". Bob's music is very fitting for this part of India. Since Fort Kochi is relatively small, we decided to walk outside without a plan and figured at some point soon, we would find something. But that wasn't the case. We walked for about thirty minutes with not one restaurant in sight. We were hot, sweaty, hungry, tired, frustrated and lost. The complete opposite emotions we felt on our drive from Delhi to Agra. We are such dramatic extremists, I know. The only time I get in a bad mood (I think) is when I'm hungry and hot (Vinny might beg to differ) so this was not a good combination. Since we didn't have any cell service and had absolutely no idea where we were, we decided to go back to Jade Kochi and check out TripAdvisor, which lead us to a perfect spot called Kashi Art Cafe. From the moment we walked in, we already felt better. The fans were aggressively turning, the atmosphere was calming and the menu looked like something straight out of Santa Monica. It was very Westernized from the people eating there to the organic food options but sometimes it's nice to get a taste of home. There was a young French couple sitting across from us playing chess, a German woman next to us working on her computer and two Australian girls on the other side sipping coffee and chowing down on some granola and yogurt. I ordered pesto fusilli and Vinny ordered eggplant lasagna. Both were the perfect remedy for what we needed to feel whole again. Doesn't take much.

Once we were done with lunch, we walked around a little then headed back to Jade Kochi around 5:30pm. Another couple, Suzanna and Andy, were also staying there. They were from London and on a two week holiday, only in the South. A nine day surf camp is what convinced them to come. I would never put surfing and India in the same sentence but after hearing about their experience, I would have been on the next flight out as well. That night we hung out with them, chatted up a storm and enjoyed a flavorful dinner cooked by Josey and Elsie. It sure was a wonderful way to end what seemed like a very long day.

The next morning I woke up to sixteen mosquito bites, ouch! They ate me for breakfast, lunch and dinner when I was least expecting it. But my frown was quickly turned upside down when I got an email that my pseudo cousin/family friend/friend, Jennifer, is officially meeting us in Nepal in March. Her ticket is booked. This made me so happy. The timing couldn't be more perfect for her and for us. Familiar faces are always appreciated so if anyone else wants to pick a country, we'll welcome you with open arms.

Today was our only full day in Kochi so we wanted to make the most of it. We had breakfast on their patio then headed out. The first thing on our list were the Chinese Fishing Nets, which are made of teak wood and bamboo poles and work on the principle of balance. Each structure, about ten meters high, is fixed on the beach and has a cantilever with an attached net that is spread over an area of about twenty meters. Counterweights, usually stones about thirty centimeters in diameter, tied to ropes of different lengths, facilitate the working of the nets. Often, lights, attached to the teak posts are suspended above the net to attract fish. Each fishing net is operated by more than four fishermen and is made in such a way that the weight of a man walking on the main plank is enough to cause the equipment to be pulled down into the sea. The net is descended into the water for a short time and then raised delicately by pulling on the ropes. The slow rhythm and balancing of the net is spellbinding. It is believed that Chinese Fishing Nets were introduced to Kochi by Chinese explorer Zheng He, from the court of the Kubla Khan, between 1350 and 1450 AD. Vinny and I watched these men at work for well over an hour as the fishing nets lined the coastline from top to bottom. It was mind boggling not only how ancient the process was but how efficient it was too. All man made and operated, no machinery or factories.

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Whatever they would catch, they would then sell right then and there. But the million dollar question to us was how clean are the fish? There is a massive oil ship in the background, trash all over the ground and the water looked fairly polluted. I'm sure it's fine though if they've been doing this for over six hundred years. Who I am to even ask.

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Next up we took a stroll along the "boardwalk". It was nice to see a beach (although it wasn't super duper clean) and feel the breeze because I was dripping sweat in places I didn't even know I could sweat. There were tons of locals sitting around, having picnics, enjoying life with friends and of course, sleeping.

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Oh well, better luck next time...

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Ouch, that doesn't look comfortable...

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One thing I've noticed in the past few hours we've been outside, is the majority of young girls, probably two years to twelve years, all have short hair cuts and their ears pierced. I'm not certain if this is a mandated thing from their schools or if it's because of the weather or if it's just a coincidence. Either way, it reminded me of when I cut my hair like a boy in third grade. Never ever will I do that again.

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And the men all wear Mundus, which is a piece of fabric wrapped around the waist and can either be long enough to flow down to the feet or can be folded up to resemble that of a shorter skirt, which is how most wear it in Kerala given the weather.

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As the "boardwalk" came to an end, we allowed ourselves to wander freely around Fort Kochi. We walked past a Dutch cemetery that was built in 1724, which my Dad would have loved. Do you know why they had this gate in the front? Because people were dying to get in. HAHAHA!

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Then we came across a darling area called Princess Street. It reminded me of something that would be in Catalina or some small beach town with boutique hotels, ice cream parlors, clothing shops and so much more.

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And at the end of the street, near the coastline and the Chinese Fishing Nets, we saw a playground for the first time. It's always so wonderful to see kids playing outside with smiles on their faces and laughter in their souls. And the canopy of trees provided such welcoming shade.

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That night, we watched a traditional Kathakali performance, which is the most well known dance drama from the state of Kerala, dating back to the 17th century. The word Kathakali literally means "Story-Play". It is known for its large, elaborate makeup and costumes. The themes of the Kathakali are religious in nature and typically deal with the Mahabarat, the Ramayana and the ancient scriptures known as the Puranas. A Kathakali performance is a major social event, generally starting at dusk and going throughout the night. We only saw a cliff notes version (no way could I sit through something that long). Kathakali is usually performed only by men, even if it's a female character and rely very heavily on hand gestures to convey the story. These hand gestures, known as mudra, are common throughout much of classical Indian dance. We got there an hour early to watch them put on their makeup, which is a performance in itself. The makeup materials are comprised of all natural, local products. The white is made from rice flour, the red is made from Vermilion (a red earth such as cinnabar), the black is made from soot and so on.

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Then they acted out a small chunk of a larger story for the next hour. Very entertaining.

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A for effort when it comes to spelling...

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We completed our evening with dinner at Dal Roti.

Fort Kochi, Kochi, Cochin, Ernakulam and any other name it is commonly referred to as is a lovely little coastal town. Two nights was the perfect amount of time to enjoy all the little intricacies it has to offer. The weather is hot and humid, the scenery is filled with palm trees and it's location is situated along the Arabian Sea. It has been a port since 1341, when a flood carved out its harbor and opened it to Arab, Chinese and European merchants. A lot of history has happened here.

Sunday, February 14 we were leaving Kochi for Munnar, our second stop in the state of Kerala. It just so happens to also be Valentine's Day but we are in India and I don't think that really means anything to them. Or at least not to the level it does in America. And I am totally okay with that because I think it's become such a Hallmark holiday anyways. Plus, this whole trip we are on is like a Valentine's Day date everyday so there's nothing more I need. However, Vinny did catch a few mosquitos in the car for me, which was the best way he could say "I love you". So chivalrous of him, especially knowing I currently have twenty six mosquito bites including three on my face (eewwww).

How cool is Josey's car?

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Midway through our five hour drive, we stopped at some pineapple fields...

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And had some fresh squeezed pineapple juice, no ice and no sugar. Just the pure, wholesome fruit that grows from the ground...

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Lastly, we stopped at Deepa Spice World, which is a plantation that grows their own spices and Ayurveda products. They basically have something natural for everything including Alzheimer's, arthritis, losing weight, migraines, teeth cleaning, eczema and many other conditions/ailments. They also grew nutmeg, coca, aloe vera, black pepper and the list could go on and on and on. I ended up buying a lemon grass oil because they promised it would help take down the inflammation and itching of my mosquito bites. I sure hope they are right because I'm desperate at this point.

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The south, from the short time we've been here so far, seems like a whole new country. The vibe is laid back and easy going, the surroundings are tropical and beautiful. The people speak a different language, believe in different religions, practice different cultures, carry out different eating habits and wear different clothes. They smile at you and are eager to say hello back. They ask to take photos with you and of you versus asking for rupees to have their photo taken. There is a Catholic Church next to a Hindu Temple next to a Jewish Synagogue. I had read about how vastly opposite the North and South of India are from each other but I didn't realize it was so drastic. But this is a very very very positive thing. I feel like I'm back in Hawaii and that makes me as happy as a clam.

Aloha and Mahalo until Munnar!