Friday 21 February 2020
Getting launched this morning was a factor of lasts nights preparation which might sound like I am organised but that would be misleading to imply The previous evening had been complicated by the need to drop Mak at the vet, then shop for last minute kit – mainly hand sanitiser. The COVID19 story is starting to ramp. We have a couple of half used little bottles we regularly use but the coronavirus panic has resulted in a dearth of this stuff in our Chinese centric community. But there is plenty in the Miranda pharmacies . We actually were resigned to buying sanitiser in bulk then loading up a couple of smaller dispensing containers purchased at Paddy Palin. The idea is that we have this stuff hanging from our packs rather than hidden inside. That might prompt our use of it. Home from shopping to an online exam followed by packing at 10pm. Fortunately most of my kit is ready to go and bags are reclosed shortly thereafter. A slow start this morning on a temperate, humid and overcast day. Our first Uber ride (ever) to the airport is painless and far cheaper than the usual cab connection. Price is never really the metric of concern in this city (within reason) but whether or not Sydney’s traffic will conspire against your travel plans. This morning everyone is on our side and we arrive with plenty of time to spare and with few fellow travellers. The airport is relatively empty and we are through the barriers and into our bacon and eggs before we know it. SQ232 is delayed, not helped by a very non Singapore airlines crush at the boarding gate but it’s not a full flight and this 380 had plenty of vacant seats. We lift over Botany Bay at Magicians time – which is of course Gandalf’s ‘ precisely when he means to’.
Bolgaty Palace is a tired pile with colonial aspirations and she’s not too dissimilar to the try-hard model that just cant’ quite put all the artful pieces together and the glamour is lost in the ill fitting shoes, running makeup and the split seams. Which is to say the hotel complex in the middle of Kochi Harbour lacks internet, had a bar without spirits, bathrooms of musty mustiness and doors that don’t quite close. Tiles are loose, wiring exposed, and water stains tell us the roof needs repair. Did I mention where it sits? In the middle of Kochi Harbour with a view down the gun barrel entrance and past Fort Kochi where Vasco de Gama was once buried. The model, despite all the trimmings being tawdry, has a stunning figure. Not as stunning as Sydney Harbour but one that still catches the eye.
We were delivered here about midnight after our flight in from Singapore got here. On arrival, given we were coming from Singapore, health authorities wanted detailed forms from us and wanted to check our temperature. That was a minor delay compared to the fiasco of trying to connect with our driver who was snoozing in the carpark waiting for us to call. Trouble was that little detail had not been conveyed by our agent to us and nor was the drivers number passed on. Once resolved we did that hot dusty run through the dark streets of an Indian city that still surprises, regardless of the number of times you do it. Into bed by 0100 local time but its 0600 in Sydney which means we have been on the move for 24 hours or so.
Saturday 22 February 2020
Koothattukulam. Say that three times quickly. I can’t either. My attempts to do so draw mirth from the driver who I think is on his mettle after last nights fiasco and his slip this morning. Not at the front door as agreed but sliding up quickly after we called him. He took us into Kerala state, a two hour trip up country, half of which is spent negotiating our way out of Kochi. Which is of course chaos piled on chaos. We took lunch at the spice Garden with Kavitha’s sister and the biriyani followed by pistachio ice cream was outstanding. Back via the in the Hill Palace Museum, another tired dump but central to Kerala’s regal history. Generations of kings ruled from here for centuries but the exhibits reflect the fact that zero funds are invested in the museum and it is truly a crumbling ruin. Humid and hot (it’s 34 today) the environment is tough on unmaintained or poorly built structures and the bush and mould overtakes very quickly. Our lunch is interrupted by drummers drumming in a wedding. It’s a day of weddings for on our return to Bolgaty Palace we discover the grounds are given over to a reception and we have to manoeuvre around photographers and posing groom and bride as we make our way to dinner.
Sunday 25th February. Shine, pronounced “Shane” is asleep in his car, seat reclined, feet up. Or so I thought, for as I stepped closer to his open window he sat up and pulled his ear buds out of his ears and turned off the movie he was watching and which our calls and texts had not been able to penetrate. Turns out (no surprise) he sleeps in his car and was prudent enough to remain on the hotel grounds which are sprawling enough to accommodate him. I spotted his car in the shade, avoiding the thrusting morning sun which was rapidly heating up the sauna by 0930. We drop over to the family apartment then drive to Fort Kochi in time for lunch, From the apartment Fort Kochi is a 40 minute drive by the most direct route possible but Shine/Shane has other ideas which take us in the opposite direction but which, in the end, deliver us to Fort Kochi by not only a circuitous route but one which provided a new view and is via a short ferry ride.
Fort Kochi is replete with history. It’s where Vasco de Gama died and was buried. His body lay here until his son retrieved it and returned it to Portugal. But the slab remains inscribed as it was 500 years ago. Old forts and colonial history are swamped by more recent but equally fascinating history, including that writ by a Jewish diaspora. Last time we visited the Synagogue. Today, with less time on our hands, we limited ourselves to lunch at Koder House, family home to a Jewish businessman who headed up the Cochin Electricity Company. Not only was that a source of wealth but he became a doyen of the town, hosting, if photos in the house are any guide a wide range of guests including the Queen of England no less. It’s a salty, sandy, fishy bustling place in the shade of sprawling fig trees which likely can remember the days of sail. Reaching massive claws out over the water from the figs are the Chinese nets, a remarkable geometry and physics lesson but which are primarily tourist traps, not fish traps. Around these nets are clustered lesser traps which are easier to skirt. First time here I was intrigued by how the nets were put together with a clever system of cascading counterweights. Before we knew it we were on the platform having a look and even hauling in a net, done in concert with the rhythmic chanting and singing of the fishing crew. But once we went to leave the trap was sprung. We were not allowed to leave until a fee had been paid. Despite enthusiastic entreaties this time around we ignore the fishing crews but remain fascinated by the mechanism, watching, this time, from a distance.
On a Sunday afternoon lots of families and groups of friends (young men, old men, girlfriends, school mates) drifted through the humidity, played in the waves watched fishermen, birds, fish and each other. Fish still gasping and flapping in their baskets line the raised footpath which separate the fishing operations on the beach from the paved plaza under the figs. Most die in the heat and lie there baking rotten without so much as a cube of ice in sight. If you are game and can guarantee the fish silver not dull pewter you can have any number of chefs (in their own eyes) cook you a fish curry. We did so on our last visit and it was a treat.
Back to a subdued Bolgatty ( no weddings today) via Sunni and Beria. Sunni is a cousin of Kavitha’s. To bed early in order to be prepared for our 2am rise for a 3am lift to the airport. We wonder if our driver will be there. His track record so far gives us good reason to be concerned.
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