Kerala and Back to Bangalore

6:00 PM Tuesday, November 17, 1998

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I'm sitting on top of Teema, my rented boat. Rs.125 an hour. A pretty good deal as it turns out. I don't think I'm going to take the houseboat. Too much for little old me. It's just too extravagant to be paraded through the water for the poor people. Let somebody else rent it.

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I got to Ernakulam at 4:30 am, went to the hotel next to the bus station, slept and went out, did typing, shopping and checked out tour price options. Turns out I really don't have to plan that much. Kerala is beautiful and frustrating at the same time. I've found myself getting pissed for the first time on my trip. The people don't understand my English. You have to have this super-thick accent. I say, "you understand English?" and they say "yes" and then I ask a simple question and they stare blankly. They don't understand "bill" for example. In a restaurant I can say "bill, check, bill, bill, bill" and the waiter just stands there. After 10 seconds he says "beele?" and I say "yes, beele!" Not to mention the fact that in normal speech, if I slow down and speak carefully, I'm less understood than if I speak very rapidly and spew the words out. Indians don't use the vowels. It's fuckin ridiculous!

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I was telling this to an Indian I met while waiting for my train down here. He spoke great American English because he'd worked in the US for a little while. He said America is the new ruler of the world and India should start moving away from the British English pronunciations in order to be more "globally business compatible". Hey, I'm just telling you what he said.

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I'm a damn parade on this boat. A kid waves at me and when I wave back he freaks and grabs his brother, taking care not to stop waving or take his eyes off me. He drags his brother over and they both start waving feverishly. I took the bus from Enakulam to Alleppey at 11pm and woke up the proprietor of St. George's Lodgings. He was pretty pissed. I took some pictures of my rock-bottom room and tried to go to sleep. Woke up today and took a rick to the other side of town. There had to be something more comfortable. I got a room (1 of 3) at the Holiday Inn and did some travel arrangements. I found some of the crazy communist general educational posters I'd bought and lost in Ernakulam. I'm passing by school children and they're asking for my pen. Just waiting for sundown, so as to be not found.

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I booked the train back to Bangalore for Friday so I have today, which is Tuesday, and Wednesday and Thursday to do whatever I want. I'll get a massage, Aurvedic style and go to the beach, I think. Oooohh -- Holy Family Girls School -- a whole canoe full of schoolgirls, about 20 of them. School's getting out. The men are bathing outside where the washerwomen wash and the sun's getting closer to photo-op time. It's hotter than shit here. You never get the sticky feeling off your skin, even when you take a cold shower. You never have to piss either. I'm losing weight. The body change was noticeable after the night ride from Cannore to Ernakulam.

I'm craving women. With the men controlling everything, there's no way to even talk to one. This sucks. (I am sitting here writing, which is giving the kids major pen-envy.) I'm going to ask the tour guide where I can meet women and see if there's some non-whore option. Maybe things would be different if I'd gone to Goa or Kovalam, the tourist areas. I'm not looking to get laid or anything, I just want to be around someone that's not male.

How embarrassing, I just went past a boat, just a little bit bigger than mine, with about 75 Indians packed in it and they're all looking at lonely old me, sitting on top of my boat. Ugh.

Back in Mysore I was speaking to some English women who are teaching school in a village in Tamil Nadu. They asked one of their girls, "Don't you want to speak to boys?" "No", she said, "You don't want to know what they're like?" "No", she said. They must have all the girls brainwashed or something. But then I had a thought: "Well, if you were an Indian woman would you want to hang around with the men? They're all creeps who only talk about sports." General agreement.


I couldn't believe my ears as I walked past this Alleppey street vendor. He had his radio tuned to some station and was blasting this crazy stuff out into the street. I asked him what it was but he couldn't tell me. I think it's like a news wire or gossip or an auction or something. Sound like something I heard in a cab in Bangkok as well. The only word I can make out is "Kerala".

alleppey_newscast.mp3 (169kb)

Afternoon, Tuesday, the 19th. In Kochin

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So this is the first time I've seen more than a couple of tourists. This place is crawling with them. I'm not having any more mind-blowing experiences. I went on a nice backwaters punta boat cruise. It's what I was looking for in Alleppey but couldn't find. I signed up right in my guesthouse. I don't feel like writing. I just want the flies to leave me alone. I want to be cool.

6:04 AM Saturday, November 21, 1998

On that day, I was unable to write. Today, I have some time. I'm sitting in the middle of the road out here in the Bangalore 'burbs 'cause it's the only dry spot. Shit, I just realized there are mosquitoes. I think I'll put some socks on. There's a dog barking non-stop as there usually is at night in India. The only other people awake are the water carriers. Jesus, there's 5 mosquitoes in the square foot between my face and my journal.

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So I'm siting here, not just 'cause it's a dry spot in the road but because I got in at 4:30 am and couldn't call Brian. The gate is really locked this time and I don't feel like waking everyone up. I thought of a lot of things to write as I was falling asleep on the train. Can't remember them now. This is my last day in India. The rest is all planes and airports 'till Bangkok.

Made some more friends on the train. The only people I seem to meet are middle-aged businessmen. That's ok, I guess I'm one too. A botany teacher and a fertilizer engineer this time. They're the only ones who speak good English and are in the right social strata to speak to me. It's usually a very pleasant conversation. They are patient, asking questions methodically and generally surveying my opinions of India.

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There goes another water carrier. I guess there's no public water supply except for the one on Vivek Nagar in the slums. (Just had to pause to apply some DEET) They carry multi-colored plastic jugs that they tie to bikes and walk down the road. I passed about 15 on the rick ride here. I hope it doesn't start raining.

There wasn't much going on in Alleppey. I decided to try Fort Kochi and the beach just north. Took a bus and a ferry and checked into the Theravadu Guest House. I go down to the corner restaurant and I'm sitting there when 2 women walk in and I hear their accents as they talk to the waiter. There's a punch in their speech that reveals they're Americans. I walk over and ask to sit with them. I've avoided talking to all the tourists I've seen so far but I over heard that they're from San Francisco. Turns out that Dee Dee and Alexa are from SF alright, 18th an Church to be exact, 2 blocks from my house. We get to talking and Alexa says "Didn't I meet you at the travel bookstore on Market Street? I was going to get that Thailand travel video but you grabbed it instead." I said, "Holy Shit, Yeah." Then she said, "Remember me saying jokingly 'Maybe I'll see you in India'? Well, looks like we did." They were also staying at the Theravadu. Only 8 rooms and one of about 15 hotels in Cochin.

(The morning "commuters" are quietly crunch crunching down the street. Walkers and Bikers.)

So I'm having a bit of culture shock just sitting and listening to these two girls, both kind of part of the SF skateboard scene, as they talk. It was just too much to take at times 'cause I understood every thing they said with all the richness and nuances of their mannerisms and slang coming through full strength. I realized they were the first real Americans I'd met since being here. (Brian doesn't count 'cause 4 years in India have dulled his Americaness down. These girls are straight from the 'hood.)

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So we hang out some, the next day I go on a very nice dugout backwaters boat ride where two guys punt the boat along with sticks down narrow waterways just wide enough for the boat. I came back, tried to write but couldn't (too hot) tried to e-mail but couldn't (too many disconnects) and went down to the beach to find my friends hanging out with some others. I look around, decide something needs to happen and say "I'm having a party tonight on the roof."

I make plans, walk around and invite people, rickshaw over to the only liquor store in town to get a case of Kingfishers. I was kind of nervous that the very nice and knowledgeable manager of the guesthouse would freak when all these people started just walking in and going upstairs. I told him about the party and he was real nice, offered to get us a light and bring up some chairs. The "party" was really just people sitting under the stars, listening to a tortured dog's yelps and doing traveler talk. It was nice.

I went to bed about 1am leaving a bunch of Dutch people up there, got up, packed, had another killer tomato and cheese omelet with toast and Pepsi at the cafe, and hit the road. I think I left my housekeys and my flashlight on that roof. Still, all going quite smoothly. Alexa told me of the ease and cheapness with which prescription drugs could be obtained so I went to a pharmacy, asked for muscle relaxants, got 10 for Rs.15. I then had a doctor (within 2 minutes of asking I was ushered into a consultation with a prominent vascular surgeon) proscribe me some more codeine. Gonzo journalistic comments withheld.

Well, that's about it for right now. I hope Babu wakes up soon. I'd like to brush my teeth. (I'm taking pictures of myself sitting here and people are looking at me like "What the fuck?")