Sunday, 30 November 2008

Week 34, Goa, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends
This week we have been to the Town of Panaji, the main town in Goa. It was a big change to the slow life of Patnam beach in the south of Goa. However we stayed in the old part of Panaji town filled with Portuguese houses and churches. We stayed in a nice old house, Alfonso Homestay with peal shell shutters on the windows, a roof garden for serving breakfast and a lovely Portuguese family running the place. The main town itself, on the banks of the Mandovi River, is a compact and clean enough for Indian town standards and has the usual smattering of upmarket hotels, stores and restaurants as well as some parks churches and old colonial Government buildings, lining the river. A pleasant enough town but half a day will see it done.

The real reason for staying here is to visit old Goa, the site of the former Portuguese city and capitol of Goa. The city was abandoned during the mid eighteenth century due to plague and most of the city has since disappeared except for a string of churches in a varying state of decay. A lot of the history here points to European Christian dominance over the local people. One travel book I was reading was explaining the two hundred year Inquisition started by Francis Xavier in 1560. In today’s world we would call them war crimes or crimes against humanity, yet Francis Xavier was made a saint? We saw hundreds of people queuing to kiss his tomb as they left a church service. The old cathedrals’ and churches are worth seeing and one, the Church of St Cajetan is based on St Pauls in Rome with the Italian baroque dome on top.

We only spent a couple of days in Panaji and then headed north to the beaches again. We stayed at Mandrem and spent a couple of nights in an overpriced traditional grass hut at a place called Riva Resort. The food is also expensive here as they have you trapped with little choice but a few other overpriced resorts. We moved further north to Arambol a more populated beach with dozens of homestays to choose from at less than half the price. We are now at Luciano’s guest house for $15 a night. (

During the week the bombings and terrorist attacks happened in Mumbai and we had train tickets booked to travel to Mumbai on Monday. We were also due to start some volunteer work in Pune later in the week as well but will now be starting at the school on the 5th of January. However, all our plans have changed now. We were able to change our train tickets and will now be travelling straight through to Delhi on the 9th of December instead. But we will have to hang around the beaches for an extra ten days now as a result, still there are worse things in life.

All the best Ric & Louise

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Week 33, Goa, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
We had a reasonably quiet week this week, Ernakulam being a small busy town and not much to offer the tourist apart from transport in and out of the area. However they did have a pizza hut which is a change to the usual offerings of curry and rice.

Tuesday we caught an overnight train to Goa. The train left at 1pm and arrived at 3.30am. The second class sleeper is comfortable enough with bunk sleeping arrangements and sheets and pillow provided. Food and beverages were available continually as the hawkers travel up and down the train and as soon as we stopped somewhere, one lot got off as another lot got on. The only small problem on the train is they don’t announce the stops. So we woke at 3am and to disembark at 3.30am precisely.

There is plenty of activity at the station at that time of night including taxis fortunately. However not the case when we arrived at our accommodation at 4am. The caretakers didn’t know about any room for us, so we found some hammocks in the garden and went to sleep there. When we woke later in the morning we found a glorious beach with lots of cows and people doing yoga. The place we are staying has a nice shaded garden and a restaurant overlooking the beach run by an English chef...heaven. And seriously it is a very nice beach, I know that we go on about our beaches in Australia being so good, but this is a real contender. As a result we have decided to stay 6 days here.

We are at Patnem beach in the south of Goa at the moment and will be travelling north this week to have a look at old Goa, the Portuguese town and some beaches in the North.

All the best Ric & Louise

Monday, 17 November 2008

Week 32, Cherai Beach to Erakulam, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

We have been in the hill station district of Munnar for most of the week. The area is home to Tea Plantations, Coffee, Coco and spice farms including; pepper, nutmeg, cardamom and tapioca. The area also boasts Dams and National Parks. We did an early morning rise, 4.30am to do a trek through the Chinnar National Park to see some wildlife including leopards, elephants, deer, some rare mountain goats and the even rarer giant grizzled squirrel, so rare in fact that we didn’t see one or any of these things. We did see elephant and buffalo crap, a centipede and a small lizard. So, ok it was a nice park with a nice view but as far as bush goes, we have plenty of it at home. We were a bit disappointed so asked our driver to take us to see an elephant the following day.

He took us for a drive through the local sights, the tea and spice plantations the tea museum and factory, the dams and the top station, as high up as you can get without climbing. He also took us to an Elephant riding place where the elephants pose with tourists to get there photo taken and do short walks up and down the road. We asked our driver to ask the owners if we could wash the elephant. I think they thought we were a bit mad but they obliged us for the cost of two elephant rides, and we think the elephant enjoyed it more than the walk. (see video)

We stayed in a home stay called JJ Cotages and had a nice room with a view of the tea plantations with comfy beds and coffee in bed in the morning. We liked it so much we stayed a few extra days, five days in total. However the last two days we were there, the whole town decided to have a general strike. Nothing was open except one hotel restaurant for all the tourists to eat in. All traffic came to a stop as well. So it was a bit of forced relaxation. I took the opportunity to finish a number of videos.

We reluctantly came back down the mountain to the heat and humidity, to stay at Cherai Beach for two days. A nice beach by asian standards and the resort we stayed in was a bit overpriced for the quality, but they had good food, clean rooms and WI FI Internet. Yahoo, first time in India and with a fast connection as well. So I got to upload all the finished videos.

We are now in Ernakulam for two days, the main city in the region. We then catch an overnight train to Goa.

All the best Ric & Louise

Monday, 10 November 2008

Week 31, Alleppey to Munnar, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
Well we have been truly amazed by India this past week. The Southern Indian state of Kerala is so diverse and has so much to offer. We started the week in Fort Cochin, a colonial seaside fort area with quaint streets and nice and quiet. Here we saw the old Chinese fishing nets, crane like structures built out over the water to lift the nets in and out of the water. They take half a dozen men to operate and we saw one in operation. We also went to an evening of local Kathakali dance. They have great costumes and musicians play and sing along as the actors act out the story. I also went to a demonstration of Kalarippayat, the local version of martial arts, which use poles, knives, swords and shields and a nasty looking weapon consisting of three or more flexible blades, three or more feet in length and whirled around ones head to lacerate and otherwise assail your opponent.

On the Wednesday we left Fort Cochin by taxi and went down to Alleppey, the backwater country as they call it. It’s an inland lake and canal waterway system running a couple of hundred km up and down the coast. Some of it is reclaimed land that is used to grow rice and other crops. The canals run around the reclaimed land that is about one or two metres below water level. Anyway this is an Ideal area for house boating. We hired a boat for three days and two nights. The boat consisted of two bedrooms (aircon) and a dinning and lounge area open at the front and an upstairs veranda and viewing platform. We had a crew of three people looking after us. Needless to say we were fed well with three meals a day plus morning and afternoon tea with fried banana. The scenery around this area is real picture book stuff, every time we turned around there was something more amazing to look at. We passed duck hearders, duck farms, men climbing coconut trees, barges which are more like big canoes loaded to the gunnels with produce or sand, building materials, you name it. Even the mundane things like washing bathing, going to school were interesting to see. This is defiantly in our top 5 things of great stuff to do.

Well all great things must come to an end and we stayed overnight in a local homestay, a bit of a letdown after the houseboat, but we managed. Saturday we moved on north and into the hills on Munnar, a hill station area now holiday spot high up in the cool of the mountains about 1500 m up. It’s also a big tea growing area. The drive up here is truly a unique sight, after the coming through the heavy jungle areas on the way up the mountain you suddenly come around a corner and there are hills as far as you can see all neatly manicured tea plantations, it’s a fabulous sight. Well more about Munnar next week.

I have made a few video of our India experience so far but have been unable to post them despite India having a big silicon valley, IT reputation, they have the worst internet facilities we have come across yet. The connections are so slow and unreliable. We also bought a sim card here for our phone, a Vodaphone card and it has also provided terrible service. I’ll post the video’s as I am able.

All the best Ric & Louise

Monday, 3 November 2008

Week 30, Bangalore to Cochin, India

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
The first of November spells seven months on the road and also our trip to India. We flew into Bangalore on Tuesday night. I was a straight forward flight and no problems finding our accommodation. The airport in Bangalore is brand new as well as the roads in and out which leads you into a false sense of security.

First impressions of India are: It’s like Asia but much more intense, everything is more crowded, dirtier, the driving crazier. But it’s amazing in another way that there is some structure to the craziness, not that I can spot it though. All the women are dressed to beautiful saris of amazing colours. The markets are so colourful and vivid despite the squalor surrounding it. We started at the flower market where they prepare the flower offerings, threading thousands of flowers onto thread, and selling them by the strand or by weight. Then on to the spice market with huge mounds of colourful spices. Then followed by clothing, extraordinary colour and variety of Sari’s, Salwar’s and Kameez. And of course you can’t go to the markets without seeing the produce, once again colourful, exotic and with intense aromas.

Our hotel, the Cassa Picola Cottage is a small sanctuary away from the madness of the streets outside and they have a restraint attached. We ate out at a restaurant for lunch one day, at a vegetarian place. You don’t need to order as they bring you everything on the menu, but just small portions, talk about a taste sensation. It cost us $15 per person and that is an expensive place. We are told that Bangalore is a good tame introduction to India and that we should multiply our experiences by 10 for the rest of India. Bangalore is also home to all those call centres that bug you on the phone during your evening meal and also said to be the Silicon Valley of India so they are quite affluent compared to the rest of India.

Saturday we caught an overnight bus to the southern province of Kerala to Cochin, an inland waterway area. We arrived today at Fortcochin a seaside area with quaint colonial Portuguese and Dutch architecture. We intend to do a house boat trip here and also visit a Hill Station area and National park areas to wash some Elephants in the river.
All the best for now.
Ric & Louise