Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fort Cochi/Aama's Ashram

Fort Cochi

Here at Aama's ashram in Amritapuri which is right by the ocean - no pics allowed but will try to sneak one of the fabulous sunsets (everybody else does).  Aama is due back at the ashram tomorrow, so have signed up for a meditation class with her (Wed and Thurs) so will most likely stay till Sat or Sun so that I can do some seva (some job they'll give me for 2 hours a day) so that I have contributed.  We have a pigeon nesting in our room and the other two girls arent' concerned so I'll let it go. It doesn't make noise and it's up high in a little alcove, not in the bathroom or sleeping area. I swear I'm not making this monkey/bird stuff up.

Fort Cochi was like a small seaside town, very relaxing.  The backwater tour was nice, saw how they make coir,  the ferry ride here was even better. Cancelled elephant camp because I heard it was a tourist trap. Seemed like more tourists than locals, met lots and got some good travel info.  Went to a Kathkadi (sp?) performance, rented a bike for half day and wandered around alot.

When I left, another traveller at Aboo's  was also coming to the ashram, so we camee together. Everyone thought he was my husband.  From here I'm going to the southern tip of India .

Putting on their makeup for the Kathkadi performance.  No pics during.


At some point every day I wish I had a better camera - but it only lasts a few seconds when I put mine back in the pocket of my bag.  They let us work the fishing net, they expected a tip, but I didn't mind - I liked this tourist trap.

Aboo and his daughter

Mosquitoes up until now have been fine - 1 or 2 bites a day - you don't feel them bite but today, my knees are puffy - they bite through clothes and they're monster bites.

So, I'm having a wonderful time.  The first 10 days here were ok, it took me time to relax , figure things out and I wasn't meeing any other travellers so it was weird at times and there were a few moments where I thought ''"what the f. . . .  am I doing?'"  .  I think I've gotten the hang of it now, can't believe I've been gone for a month. Won't say I'm adept at eating with my fingers, but I'm pretty good.  I miss Nick; I don't miss having to set an alarm  - ok, Wed I have to get up at 5 am for Puja as part of my meditation class -  but they have ice cream here :)

Love you Bubba

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fort Cochi

Here in Fort Cochi, will be here until at least Friday 28, maybe Saturday.  Lots of tourists here, much quieter as it's an island (although it is connected by bridge to the mainland, ferry is the quickest way). Staying at the Honolulu Home Stay  - I'm not actually in their home, they're onthe ground floor and the second floor is separated into several rooms with bathroom, sitting area, and computer.  The owner's name is Aboo.  Although not fancy, very, very clean (I think my bathroom is brand new) for Rs 600 - about $15 per night, they also provide meals on request.  Will be going on day trip to Backwaters and another to Elephant training camp and some waterfall, also a few things to do around town.  Keralean food is a little different, I like it even better.

Next stop is Alleppepy to go to the Matha Amrithanadandamayi Mission (the hugging mother ashram). I met someone who stayed here, she said participation is optional - mediation and chanting - or you can lie on the beach all day.

Love you Bubba!!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011


in Coimbatore, have a few hours to kill before my train so this is a long one..  Will be staying at the Bijus Tourist Home in Cochin and will look for something else tomorrow.

In Mysore, took a tour packed on a tired old bus with only the tour guide speaking English - many people tried but I couldn't understand a word they said.The day ended up 13 hours long, the ladies I shared a seat with motioned for me to come with them, others offered fresh cut fruit (yes, I declined), left their kids with me while they collected shoes and together at various times we looked for our bus (they kept moving it).  Not a spectacular tour, but I think I experienced the 'smell' of India for the first time fortunately, not too strongly, wondering if I would smell when I got home.  I didn't, but my comb is black and if i scratch an itch, my fingernail is black.

The food, including their sweets, are great, won't be losing any weight any time soon. Wagonloads of green grapes, watermelon, pineapple and pani puri stands on the street are driving me crazy because I can't eat it.

Also went to a silk making factory - this was amazing - no cameras allowed, felt like stepping back into the 1920s on the "how it's made" program.  They gave me a badge, and pointed the way - there was no guide, I just wandered around and the people working who spoke English told me what they were doing.  They let me feel the silk as it was been spun, wound, warped, woven, etc.  The guy who dyes the silk was there, just dunking it in a tub and hanging it to dry (before spinning)  In the spinning room, there were about 200 little spinning wheels (2 ft diameter) turning it into thread.

The weaving was done by machines, maybe twenty in the area (no ear protection for the workers and no machine guarding!!!!).  I was able to walk right up and stand with them (can't believe that no one has ever caught their clothing in here).  Other times, not entirely sure where to go, just wandering and no one seemed to care; what a trusting bunch.

When i was leavaing the hotel, the guy at the front desk clerk didn't have change, so he called another open.  This guy unzipped his fly, reached in and pulled out a wad of bills, which the clerk gave me my change from.  What was i going to say?  I don't want the money that came out of that guys crotch? It had taken 15 minutes up to this point to check out, so, i took it. $10 is alot of money here, used Purell and got rid of it asap. Despite the yuck factor, I had to laugh.

Also reminded me the airport at Sri Lanka, upon entering, a femail security guard felt me up and down before i realized what was happening, it was over before i knew it (kind like my relationships with men).  Yeah, I felt slightly used but had gotten over it by the time they did it a second time getting on the plane.  Had to laugh again, but can see how it may make some women very uncomfortable.

In Ooty, went hiking for a day with some others from the UK and Belgium  - finally meeting some other tourists - which was great. Walked through fields of sheep, tea plantations (the ladies were picking but no pics allowed - private property - allowed to walk through but no pics at certain times), small village, stopped for lunch at a local place and then climbed up to a high spot.  Wonderful day, would have stayed longer but the nights were freezing with no heat in cottage-like rooms.

Took the toy  steam engine train down through the mountains, spectacular scenery, lots of nice people on the train (pics don't capture it at all). When we stopped to get more water for the train, the monkeys cam running, as we left our compartment, one came in and pooped on the seat (not mine) but we were able to take care of it all with my 10 squares of emergency toilet paper.

Monkey waiting at the train stop down the mountain from Ooty.

Tea plantation

Train down from Ooty.  We figure out that first class means you get to be farthest from the smoke - going through tunnels was awful, but still worth the trip.

Hiking, four dogs followed us up the mountain - the guides feed them.

Mysore zoo - very few barriers, so felt quite close to alot of the animals, , monkeys running around on the paths trying to get into the cages for food.

Locally eatery where we stopped for lunch while hiking


View from  Dodda Betta (sp?) lookout in Ooty

At the lookout; posed with 6 different groups of teenagers, got to the point where i had to say no and get back to the car.


Train from Ooty.

Hiking through tea planation, unfortunately, the stream on the bottom left is green from the hydro plant further up.l

Love you Bubba

Monday, January 17, 2011


Lunch in their house - Uday, his mother
Street in Chennai

Beach in Chennai, must have been several thousand people there but still wasn't crowded. That's smog in the background.
view from the train chennai to Vellore

temple in Vellore

The kids either run to me or from me.  Cricket field inside the Fort, Vellore
Outside the Temple in Vellore
on the way to a village outside Vellore, very beautiful country, rock-climbers dream although no one does that here.
It was Pongal (Harvest ) Festival - everyone decorates their doorstep with chalk dust, on stone or in the sand and they also decorate their animals - pain their horns.
Augustine and me eating dinner at their home.  Per the custom, Gifta ate after we were finished. Feels weird but I do what I'm told.
Maharaja's Palace, no cameras allowed inside,unfortunately.  Craftmanship and detail inside was incredible.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Arrived in Mysore without any trouble, staying at the Mysore Hotel Comples Rs. 400 per night, not pretty but clean and reasonably quiet.   although I appreciated staying in Vellore where all was taken care of for me,  was happy to be on my way  - saw more temples and met some more interesting people like Gifta and Augustine who took me out one night, lots of fun.They are Social Worlers at the CRC Hospital, Gifta is hoping to come to Canada for 3 weeks in May on a course sponsored by CIDA, she's just looking for some other funding for airfare. If anyone out there is so inclined and can research some connections  for her (your chance to make someone's dream come true from your computer!) let me know.  Will check into it myself as well.

Just here to book train tickets, will hopefully find time to load some pics.

Taking bus to Ooty on Thursday, train from Ooty to Metapulaym on Saturday, bus from Meta to Coimbatore then train from Coimbatore to Ernakulum (Cochin) on Sunday.  Making my own arrangements has been fine so far, easier than I expected but takes more time.

Off to the Maharaja's Palace!  Tomorrow, on a tour that will take me to a few places outside Mysore.

Love you Bubba:)

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Colombo was a sleepy little town compared to Chennai, thick smog, constant traffic, but I got on the local bus a few times - a first for me (they don't actually stop, just slow down to a crawl and you hop on, went to the train station and booked a ticket, used the train station washroom (surprising clean!) maybe asking about 8 people for directions and the day of, found my seat without having to ask anyone.  All little adventures. 

At the beach, young girls were running up to me to say hello, little kids turn and run from me. Have not seen that many north americans - only spoke to one who was on a tour - from Toronto but living in Cairo.

In Vellore, the people from SHARE (Self Help Assoc. for Rural Employment) picked me up, have been staying in their guest house and going for lunch and dinner to their homes.  This association employs the ladies who make baskets and handicrafts that you seen in Ten Thousand Villages, they also ship to Europe. They take me around to the training sessions they provide (tailoring, accounting) where the ladies ask me questions.  Villi, my chai buddy, comes every morning and we walk up to the Indian equivalent of a fast food joint for chai, he then brings me my breakfast - idli - that someone has prepared at their home.  Yesterday they took me to the Sri N....... Golden Temple - sorry no cameras were allowed.  Solid gold.  They herded us into long caged walkways then into holding areas (300 per area; 5 areas)not unlike a prison, then more herding (with the occasional monkey overhead peeing on the crowd).
The people I was with hung on to me, and each other too.  Was mesmerizing, also the reflection in the surrounding water, this is a major attraction for Indians as well.

Hopefully will get on the train Sunday morning (waitlisted at the moment) to Bangalore and then Mysore, all in one day if I can.  If not, will get on the bus, maybe only to Bangalore.  Have a cell phone and keeping in touch with Nick - love you and miss you lots.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I found what I typed a few days ago . . .  . i'm now in Chennai it's 8 am Monday morning Jan 10.  internet access is not close to my hotel nor is it very fast so hoping to get a cell phone today.  Also on my list of things - an adapter - the one i brought doesn't work; shopping for clothes and an ATM that actually has money in it.

Love you Bubba 

In  Sri Lanka:
At the train station a nice young man who couldn't speak conveyed to me that my car would be at the other end of the platform.  The train ride to Batticaloa was very pleasant, there wasn't anyone that appeared to speak English but they smiled at me, the kids stared, not sure if they were fascinated or scared of me. The first class car had a big observation window, ceiling fans and the side windows opened for a nice breeze and view.

We passed miles upon miles of shacks - from what I saw it appears that most of Sri Lanka lives in poverty. Also miles of rice, corn, banana trees, coconut trees and torrential rain.  I forgot to check on that detail before deciding to come, it was quite flooded in some areas from 10 continuous days of rain. Prince, the guy from World Vision, met me at the train and took me to my hotel, the Subaraj Inn.  Very basic but pleasantly surprised that it had a small AC unit, again, that old world charm and everyone very friendly.

Prince picked me up in a borrowed van and we went to Udayanickshan's village, he said that over 2,000 families live in this area.  The driving here is crazy - although there is one lane in each direction, there's usually someone driving in the third lane - right down the middle of the road -  in the process of passing someone.  Not unusual to be on the wrong side of the road with oncoming traffic, at the same time dodging cows and dogs sleeping in the road, potholes and people.  They all seem to share the road. It doesn't seem to bother me as they do it all so naturally.

When we pulled up, I recognized Udayanikshan from his photo, they had a beautiful garland of jasmine for me and we walked to their house.  The house was made from corrugated tin with a cement floor, apparently all new and recently built with supplies from World Vision. (Since Prince was the only interpreter, I couldn't ask if WV really did all this).  The kids were all smiles, so happy, non of us could believe we were actually meeting.  We sat and talked for awhile, showed them the stuff I brought for them, Uday pulled out every letter and picture that I had sent him from a folder, showed me his school work.  We asked questions about each other, they wanted to hear all about Toronto.  They asked how Nick was, asked me where my husband was.

We had lunch from a local restaurant delivered - I was a little nervous about whether it would sit well with my stomache but ate what I could.  We all got in the van and drove down to the beach, I think the kids were more excited about going for a ride than anything else.  We said our good byes and Prince drove me around showing me all the stuff that World Vision has done.  I know alot of people think that their money is wasted on administration, but I do believe that some of it gets to these people, and a little buys so much here, it's ok with me.

There's alot of neat stuff I've seen here but can't write it all down.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ok, just spent an hour typing and uploading photos and it all crashed on me.  Will try again some other day.  I'm back from Batticaloa and in Colombo.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I arrived Sunday morning, the flights were fine, Dubai airport very nice, I didn't get lost. It was nice to walk out of the secure area and see a sign with my name on it. When I got to the hotel they informed me that their rates had gone up $20 per night (to $50)  - my first "oh crap" moment.  I decided to stay there that night and look for another hotel for the rest of the week. Although it was air conditioned, it was also hermetically sealed and smelled with mildew so finding somewhere was not such a bad thing.

Out for my first walk I stood trying to cross the road (no street lights to be seen) when a group of young people came up, one of the girls touched me on the arm and waved for me to come with them.  I quickly learned to tag along with other people crossing the road.

As I was walking down the main street, a guy come up to me and tells me he`s going to the temple to see the elephants dance, it`s a festical.  How lucky am I, I remember Lonely Planet talking about this trick. Apparently there are elephants at the temple every day, it`s no big deal.  I decline to go with him but he does direct me to a less expensive hotel.  I thank him, he asks me to meet him in the restaurant-bar next door at 2 pm the next.  I say no thank you.

Hotel Nippon, probably 100 years old, with that old world charm where they still keep the keys in a key box on the wall and the doors are 4 feet wide. When I went out for the day and came back they said I forgot to leave my key - it's the only one to the room they have.  The room is very clean and they are very sweet, ask me what I'm doing each day and give me directions to everywhere.

Haven't been up to much exciting, trying to get over jet leg and  have connected with Prince at World Vision. A staff member in the city kindly brought my train ticket to the hotel; have trouble staying awake from the time difference but I'm getting there; the loud speaker chanting from the temple down the road at 5 am isn`t helping but what can you do.  Did some shopping for Udayanikshan and his family, they have very modern stores here, much like a department store back home.

Went to Kandy yesterday, we stopped and I reluctantly went for an elephant ride.  These elephants were not treated that nicely and once we were on our way you could tell they were bored. I felt very bad; the guide kept asking me if I was alright, I said yes, but was glad when it was over. When we reached Kandy the rain was coming down so hard we could barely see out the car windows.I could see that it was a very pretty town, spice garden tour and some tourist trap stores selling same stuff I see in Toronto, same price!

Breakfast is tea in a cup that looks like an individual yogurt cup and sausage bun - 80 rupees about 80 cents;  calling Canada 40 cents/minute in a plexiglass phone booth with a regular house phone and the guy just times me. Getting better at finding the cheaper places to eat - have been spending a bit too much but am sure that will settle down once I get in the groove of things.

I have only seen one foreigner in the hotel lobby so far, feels very remote even though I`m in a big city.

Taking the train tomorrow (9 hours, $9) to Batticaloa where I don't know if they'll have internet, so may not be back in touch until Saturday pm or Sunday am. Will be taking the bus to the airport 80 rupees compared to 2600 by taxi. Will try to upload some pics but these places are not AC and hotter than hell.

Love you Bubba.