The best tea we have ever had
03.07.2014 28 °C
Kochi (and it's many different spellings) is in Kerala, in the south of India. It was an important shipping and spice trade centre for centuries, and as a result it has been ruled by different countries over the last few hundred years, until independence in 1947. First the Portuguese ruled, when they built the fort, the Dutch then took over and destroyed the fort and eventually the British ruled in 1814. The different countries influences could be seen in the buildings as we walked around. When we decided to come to India, both our family and friends said we had to go to Kerala and Kochi, they were not wrong in their recommendation, Kochi is extremely laid back, very pretty and the people are very generous with their time and they have a great sense of humour.
Yesterday morning as we walked out of our hotel we were accosted by a tuk tuk driver who said he would take us around all morning for the equivalent of forty pence. The best place we went to and the first place was the Dhobi Khana laundry. All the clothes are cleaned in big stone baths, which are arranged like cubicles in a long line and the clothes are beaten and scrubbed by people (generally older people) who are standing in the water. The washing is then hung out on tree branches and twisted washing lines to dry before making its way back into the main building to be ironed. They are ironed with old fashioned heavy irons filled with burning coconut husks to provide the heat. The laundry cleans for the Navy, the local hospitals and the police. We were told in the monsoon season they rush in and out all day putting the washing on the lines when it is not raining and taking it in again when it is raining.
The driver took us through Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish (he called it juice) areas; avoiding the stray goats, there are more goats on the streets in Kochi than dogs. Everybody seemed happy to coexist and we stopped and looked in many temples, churches and mosques. The Hindu temples only allowed Hindus into them as it is said an American couple went into a temple 'tipsy' once, so now all non Hindus are banned. We went on the coast to see the Chinese fishermen (introduced by the Chinese in the fourteenth century); with the big nets they lowered into the water with the help of a strange contraption. We always make a point of telling tuk tuk drivers that we will not be taken to any shops, but we did agree to one as we wanted to look for a small Ganesh, the driver was very happy with this as he said he would get a coupon for petrol. Later on he stopped at another shop and we refused to go in and he sulked for a while as he said his family needed the coupon for the petrol. He was also not too happy when we paid him two pound for his morning with us, he seemed to have forgotten his forty pence.
We did tell him that we wanted to go to a tailors as I want a dress for Ant and Vicki's wedding in August. He first took us to a material shop, where we got the material (where I spent a phenomenon amount on material as I got the conversion rate wrong!). We then went to the tailors shop near our hotel. The size of the shop was smaller than a prison cell and there was a measuring table and two sewing machines in there and it was very hot and the electricity had gone off so there were no fans. I was measured first (I may have got the material for more than one outfit) and then Bill was measured for a shirt, with the material he had picked. Fingers crossed it will all be ready tomorrow afternoon.
When we got back to the hotel, the owner had chased Bill's bag down to the local airport and she said we needed to pick it up. I had no intention of a trip there and back from the airport, so Bill left on his own in a taxi. It took nearly two hours to get there, even with the driver weaving through the traffic and when they got to the airport, they refused to allow Bill to enter without a member of Sri Lankan Airways. It took over an hour for the airline to arrange for the bag to be handed over, because of all their red tape. After another couple of hours back in the taxi to the hotel, Bill was not in the best of moods on his return, especially as the airline said he would need to go to their service desk at Heathrow on our return to be reimbursed.
Last night we went out for a meal and we asked if they had any beer, the owner said they were not allowed to sell beer (just the large hotels), but he had a 'special' tea, which was beer, but he could only serve it to us in a teapot with mugs and we would have to have it inside so nobody saw us. He set off on his bike to collect the beer and when he came back he opened it, poured it into the teapot and served it to us. I said to Bill, we must be pretty desperate to go to these lengths for a mug of beer, but it was fun and I am sure we will go back.
We had arranged to have breakfast early today and we overslept (two minutes), I forced Bill out of bed and into the breakfast room in five minutes, only to find that the chef wasn't there yet (he claimed he was at the market buying salad for our breakfast), we have arranged a later breakfast tomorrow! We needed to buy SIM cards, so we set off to the shops for them this morning, we have been buying SIM cards in every country we had visited, but have never had to go through the rigmarole we had to go through today. We needed copies of our passports and visas, a photograph each and we had to fill in a form and sign everything, all to stop crime with unregistered SIM cards.
After enjoying the dancing in Sri Lanka we decided to go and watch the Kathakali theatre dancing tonight. We went a little early so we could watch the dancers applying their makeup, which we really enjoyed. Given that the audience had none of the language skills to appreciate what is going on, the theatre provided a handout which gives you the basic outlines of the story you are about to see unfold before your eyes. In addition to this the performers spend the first half hour explaining how the story is told through the use of facial expressions and a series of sign language gestures, sung narration and drumbeats. Even with this help, it all rather went above our heads and neither of us ever worked out which dancer was Lord Shiva and which one was the archer in the story. I suspect our new love of dance is no more.