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Save the best ’til last

It was the last day of our holiday- oh no! When we woke up it was a very dull looking day. We discussed possible plans with Gwen and Christian over breakfast and considered going to visit some of the beaches north of Kaanapali. Christian warned that because of the weather it may not be too great up there for snorkelling. We Face-timed Mum to say ‘Hello’ and by this time it was really starting to rain and so we decided to go into town instead. It was still very early and we found a place to park on Front Street for free – much better than the $18 per 2 hour car park!

We put our emergency, festival yellow rain ponchos to good use- keeping ourselves dry and attracting some sympathetic looks. We enjoyed visiting the retail emporiums of Lahaina buying last minute gifts and postcards. The Hula Festival under the famous big Banyan tree was called to a halt due to the rain and none of the big fishing boats were doing much trade today. We visited some of the galleries- one in particular where the artist specialised in painting the light in the surf- something we’d been trying to capture all holiday on the camera. One of these could be ours for just $24,000. Whilst we made a decision…..

We popped into Fleetwood’s Restaurant and bar to get a coffee. This place is owned by Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac and downstairs we were distracted by the Morrison’s Hotel Gallery where they were displaying prints of photos of famous rock stars. It was a really impressive display indeed including great photos of Freddie Mercury and my favourite one of Keith Richards- holding a bottle of Jack Daniels, alongside David Bowie and Tina Turner slurping from a bottle of champagne. Jane got chatty with the owner- Robert and I think he thought he was going to get a sale- a snip at $500 for a postcard sized print. Whilst we made a decision…..

We went upstairs into Fleetwood’s itself and sat at the bar- it was now lunchtime after all. I decided to try a pineapple cider which was really excellent. Do they sell these in Waitrose Dave?

We got chatting to the guy sitting next to me – Don. He was from LA,  retired and twice divorced. He was a portly chap with a moustache and big sideburns and he was sporting a Panama Hat and Hawaiian shirt. He seemed to epitomise the Hawaiian island escape – making friends as he travelled and not sure when he would go back home.

Fleetwood’s is a nice bar with great views of the sea from its front windows and lovely, relaxed music from a live band. Through the window I could see that the weather was clearing up and we decided it was time to get out of town. By now it was 2pm and we wanted to make the most of the sunshine and not drive too far exploring. We decided just to drive back to ‘Wipeout Beach’ and sit in our decky’s to chill.

It looked really different today – lovely blue skies , white fluffy clouds, palm trees( well they weren’t new obv.) – just perfect. The sea also seemed a lot calmer- although we didn’t intend to swim but had bought our stuff – just in case…..

So, I’d read about 2 lines of my book when I decided I couldn’t sit still- I needed to go in and see what was happening on the reef. Jane stayed reading her book. It was still a bit of a pavlova getting into the water but I was soon floating on top of the reef and gawping at the fish through the now very clear water. This reef went all along the beach with deep channels and tunnels- really great for hiding interesting fish. I saw some new ones including the marvellous yellow Long Nosed Butterfly fish- but by now I was secretly desperate to find a turtle to swim with. I swam about a lot but no joy- perhaps they don’t like the clear water?

I gave up, got spat out on the beach again and went back to see Jane. I said she should really give it a last go but if she wasn’t that bothered then not to worry. I sat back down to dry off but then 4 girls came out of the sea to settle back down just in front of us. I heard one say ‘Well , that was a nice snorkel and two turtles- one huge one- that was good’.

Well! That was it . I was up again and making friends , checking what they’d said. They were really quite casual about it all and said – yes- they’d seen turtles and one was right there (pointing right in front of me). Off I went again- Jane still not keen to come in after our previous experience of ‘wipeout’ here.

Pretty much as soon as I got to the spot where the girls had pointed I found a turtle! It was a big one and it was just swimming up and down going with the flow along with me. It was beautiful and I just stayed with it for a while. I took some photos and tried to take some video but my camera batteries were too short on power so not sure if I’d got any. No-one else seemed to be aware that the turtle was there – even though every now and then she popped her head up above the surface.

Obviously, I now needed to go and tell Jane and get her to come in! When I got out of the water I was breathing really heavily and was quite over-come. I thanked the girls on my way past with a huge smile on my face and then told Jane.

She was still unsure about going in but I told her that she HAD to come in. She agreed and down the beach we trotted. I gave Jane some tuition on how to get into the water and over the break safely. She was very brave and in we went….I held Jane’s hand until she was comfortable and then lead her over to where I’d seen the turtle. Within 2 minutes I had spotted her again and nudged Jane and pointed to the turtle- right in front of us. I was really pleased and after one big footed- booby stopped trying to chase her, we had the big beauty all to ourselves- gently bobbing about with her as she grazed. Jane says the turtle looked straight at her at one point as it got really close!

We headed out of the water – Jane making a more graceful exit than me. Now Jane looked like I did earlier – hyperventilating and quite emotional. The nice family on the beach in front of us looked worried and asked me ‘Is she ok?’. I explained that we’d just had our first swimming with turtles experience. The Mom laughed and said ‘Oh good, I was wondering if she needed CPR!’

We calmed down, packed up and drove back to our Air BNB. We told Gwen and Christian all about it (and anyone else who would listen!). They were really excited for us and joined us for a celebratory cocktail. Christian even brought out his prized bottle of Kula Rum which we sipped like Raki. We found out that Gwen had visited the UK the previous Summer- including Burford in the Cotswolds and Skomer Island to photograph puffins. They were now our new best friends and we’ve invited them to come and stay when they come to the UK again.

As it was our last night we’d booked a table down by the ocean back at Honu (‘turtle’ remember?!) which seemed an entirely perfect end to our grand Hawaiian adventure.

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The Road to Hana (you only need to do it once).

This sounds like a film title but it’s actually the name of one of the World’s most scenic drives and definitely on most peoples’ bucket lists of things to do when visiting Hawaii (Maui). The trip involves a 40 mile trip from Paia to Hana along a narrow road which has 600 hairpin bends and crosses 50 single lane bridges. It’s considered a ‘must do’ but our friend Joe, who visits Maui often remember, had said we might not want to bother. He’d done it once, it makes you feel car sick and he didn’t need to do it again!

But we decided to go with the majority and just do it. It was another early start for us and on the road by 7am. First stop at 8-30am was the surfer/hippy town of Paia – not too far from the airport where we’d flown in. The shops weren’t yet open and the only people seemed to be the homeless or confused looking tourists wondering why everyone told you to set off early on this trip. We’d stopped here to go to ‘Charley’s’ Saloon for a proper American breakfast including a biscuit (no gravy- thanks). Charley’s turned out to be a popular music venue where Willie Nelson regularly performs- in fact was that him sitting at the bar ordering a Mai Tai this early?

Now we were on Hana Highway proper and sure enough it is quite a drive. The drive itself takes about 3 hours because the speed limit averages say 15mph but there are also vast stretches where you need to stop at every bend to give way to oncoming traffic. So you are required to treat other drivers with a good deal of Aloha! and give them the ‘hang loose’ sign (make a fist, stick out your thumb and little finger and waggle hand) to say ‘thanks’.

Along the way we passed North Maui Coastal scenery- including the incredibly beautiful Hookipa Beach and, a bit further on, the site of ‘Jaws’ – the Worlds biggest wave break at 70 feet (not today). We then entered more tropical environments including bamboo forests and stands of Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. We watched people disappear into the mosquito infested bamboo apparently to seek out a waterfall but we didn’t do that. We did stop at mile marker 6.5 and trespass briefly on some private land to get the photos of  the Eucalyptus

We also stopped at Twin Falls where people swim in the pools at the base of the waterfalls and jump in from the rocks. Not for us this daredevil activity although it looked fun. We did enjoy looking at the tropical flowers and the fresh pineapple lolly as it was very hot and humid here.

As time went on the weather went off and became hot and rainy – well after all we were in a tropical rainforest. The trees are huge and there are lots of enormous creepers- just like you’d expect in the jungle.

Our next stop was probably my favourite- it was a little off the main drive down a bumpy track. It was the home of a cabin selling Aunty Sandy’s fresh Banana bread and so we stopped and bought some along with a can of juice. Nearby to here there was a beach and the waves were really crashing against the black lava rocks which was great to watch.

It took us much longer than I’d expected to make progress and I was concerned that I really didn’t want to be driving back in the dark. By the time we reached Waianapanapa Bay I was getting a bit uptight and we kind of rushed the stop here at the ‘iconic black sand beach’. We did enjoy walking into the lava tube – basically a cave through the lava that goes through to the lovely cobalt coloured sea. The pebbles in here shined like polished black jewels.

Now we were just 20mins from Hana and it was REALLY raining hard. It was fine though as the windy roads had calmed down a bit. Apparently, most people spend on average 10mins in the town of Hana before they turn around and go back. The drive is all about the journey- not about the destination. Good job really as there is nothing much here at all. There is one exception to this and that is the Hasegawa General Stores. It was like something out of Little House on the Prairie- in a big old barn and sold everything- including rifles and machetes alongside your Lays crisps, t shirts and banana bread. Jane chose the t shirt celebrating 100 years (in 2010) of this famous store.

I now needed to make a decision about how we would get home. Most people had been advising me to carry on on the same road which does a circle back up and would be different scenery. But I could see on my not very detailed map that there is a part of this road described as ‘off road’. Gwen had said it would be fine but I’ve noticed the locals can be a bit blasé about this sort of thing. I went into the store and spoke to Frida Kahlo who was serving behind the counter. I asked about the road- waving my map at her- and she looked at me with her big brown eyes and said …’You ain’t seen nothin yet- b-b-b baby…..’ No sorry , of course she didn’t- what she actually said was ‘Oh…that road is closed, closed until 4-30pm’. It was only 3pm. She did also confirm that the off road bit was not ‘off road’ it was just a dirt road! Well, let me tell you, me and my Nissan Qashqai back home consider a dirt road quite off road enough thanks and I wasn’t about to hang about for a couple of hours to do it in my compact rental car. For goodness sake.

So, thanks to Frida- decision made and we turned around and started back along the Hana Highway in the other direction. I felt very comfortable with this now – rather than continuing on the road less travelled and getting stuck in the dark. Phew.

It still took a long time to get back and so we decided to stop for retail therapy in Paia where the lovely shops were now open and we had dinner at the Flatbread Pizza restaurant, a Maui institution, which Joe had recommended and was great. Here we met ‘Bronze’ (real name Franz but I misheard him) who was our lovely young waiter. Paia is a real surfer town and I was keen to know more about this surfer lifestyle. Bronze told me that he wasn’t actually a surfer but he’d visited Paia previously and fallen in love with the rainforest. He’d then moved here after looking after his terminally ill Dad and then having sold his online business, house and two cars. He now just wanted to live in his cabin in the jungle. It had been a long day and I’d fallen just tiny bit in love with Bronze.

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Getting back on track

The next day we woke up in Kailua-Kona and the previous night now seemed like a surreal nightmare. The sun was shining and we enjoyed the hotels continental breakfast by the pool. We watched as many fit people were either running or cycling through town , preparing for the Ironman Competition. I suggested to Jane that we should go for a jog…no, no sorry of course I didn’t. Instead Jane and I did our version of the triathlon: shopping for tat, driving in the car along the coast road and finding a spot to snorkel!

We stopped at Kahaluu Beach Park which promised good snorkelling and shallow beach access to the water. It was similar in a way to Sharks Cover in Oahu except that here we had to scramble a bit across lava rock. We were soon in and heads down looking at the reef. The water was incredibly clear in parts and the fish, once again beautiful, in fact we’d go as far as to say that this was our favourite snorkelling spot so far. We saw lots of new fish and several shoals of large fish. Favourite new fish was the Rock Mover who was a very strange looking creature with false eyelashes!

We spent about an hour here before it was time to move on as we still needed to drive all along the south road to Volcano and I was determined that we would not be doing this in the dark today.

To start with the road was very windy and there were numerous different warning signs along the way…fault zones, tsunami evacuation routes, high risk of fire etc and I needed to concentrate hard as we drove through lush tropical landscape. We then started to rise up the slopes of Mauna Loa and at times were driving through ancient (probably) lava flows. Eventually we found ourselves dropping down again to sea level and as it did we hit rain..to start with sunshine and showers and then a massive downpour. We decided to stop at the Punaluu Bake House. This was an incredible place in the middle of nowhere (Naalehu) but it was packed with folk from a Roberts Hawaii tour bus, sheltering from the rain. It soon became obvious why this place was so popular….freshly baked donuts in a massive variety of flavours. I went for a vanilla cream whilst Jane opted for dirty Bread pudding. I call it dirty but it turned out that it was actually remarkably tasty!

Whilst we were here they had an information board with pictures of turtles on it. It was only 7 miles to the turtle turn off and whilst I was on a bit of a mission to just get us to Volcano this stop was not to be missed, as it promised we would see the turtles sunbathing on the beach. On we went and then walked along to Punaluu Black Sand Beach. It’s quite different to all the white sand beaches we’ve been visiting and it makes the sea a different colour too. Quite stunning.

But the best bit was that we did indeed see turtles both swimming in the sea and grazing on the rocks, and one lying, having swum in, having a rest on the beach. Hurrah!

Now it really was time to cover some miles as we still had about another 40 of the total 99 miles to go! Progress is slow because of the very low speed limits. Now we started to rise back up the slopes of the mountain. It started to pour with rain again but the road by now was dead straight up and so we just gradually made our way up 1000ft by 1000ft. Eventually, we entered Volcanoes National Park, much to my excitement. But for now we ignored the Visitor Centre and made our way into the town of Volcano. I think this is at an altitude of 5000ft above sea level.

I say ‘town’ ….but there’s not much here. However, the Volcano stored served up our essential supplies and we booked into the Oleho Cafe for dinner later as apparently it was getting booked up. I think I saw 3 names on the reservation list!

Then it was time to make our way to our Air BnB ‘Lil Blu’ but more of that later!

However, we did come back in the pouring rain for a lovely meal here at the cafe.

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Elvis vs Dinocroc

Well thankyou to our guest blogger yesterday. You’re now back in the hands of moi. Today, we needed to be up v early (again) but there would be no time for turtles this morning. We were off on our movie tour of Kauai with Roberts of Hawaii. Jane and I like a good movie tour and generally the quirkier the better.

We were picked up by our shuttle bus at 7-15am and transported to our main bus at Lihue. I say ‘main’ bus but actually it was exactly the same as the other one except that this one had a TV screen at the front and Andy the tour guide to greet us with an Aloha!

We were handed an ancient photocopy of a map with various filming locations listed and also a list of 100 films that had been filmed in Kauai. Andy assured us that there would not be a test at the end of the day but swat that I am , I proceeded to take copious notes for the rest of the day just in case. I think my Mastermind speciality subject could now be ‘Film and other trivia relating to the island of Kauai’.

The little tour bus was filled with a quirky bunch of folk as you’d expect -from the two large and quite immobile American ladies who failed to get out of the bus at most stops, to a Japanese lady with her 103 year old Mum and weird looking American boyfriend. Then there was a family with a little girl , Ava, who was a whiney little thing all day long. There was apparently only one real film enthusiast, the man with a Jurrasic a Park t-shirt on.

Well off we went and Andy , to be fair, was a good tour guide. Very knowledgeable and witty and during the day we stopped at about 8 film locations and learned what had been filmed there. We watched old (mostly) black and white video clips so we could compare film with reality. There were some really lovely locations such as Wailua Falls (Castaway Cowboy, Firefly), Moloaa Bay (Pirates of the Caribbean, Gilligan’s Island), Hanamaula Bay (Voodoo Island, Donovan’s Reef)and of course Opaekaa Falls (Seven Women from Hell). So, yes I think you will generally get the picture here! Not all the films are recent and they’re certainly not all good!

The particular highlight of this tour is that you get to visit the Coco Palms Hotel which was the first major resort style hotel in Hawaii back in the day. It’s the only bus tour that allows this. It was also where Elvis Presley filmed Blue Hawaii. I have always loved this film since I was about 13 and all its exotiqueness. But the hotel itself was totally destroyed during the 1992 Hurricane Inniki and whilst there are plans to redevelop it, it hadn’t happened yet. We had to sign a waiver here to be let out of the bus as it is basically a building site. Some of our fellow guests would not sign the waiver so they had to stay on the bus and watch a clip of the film Dinocroc v SuperGator where a giant alligator sneaked up, and ate a Movie tour bus and its occupantsat Coco Palms hotel!

It was rather sad wandering around looking at the canal where the canoes delivered Elvis on his wedding day. Such a shame , let’s hope someone can restore it to its former glory.

As we were leaving we were entertained by Larry Rivero who had actually played music alongside Elvis in the film. He then went on to be the resident entertainment at the Coco Palms for the next 10 years. He is now 88 years old and still plays and sings in the bars near here 4 nights a week. He played his ukulele and made us join in singing his gentle songs. Larry handed out his business card which described him as Kauai Living Legend of Music. If you ask Larry ‘Did you know Elvis ? ‘ he replies ‘Elvis knew me!’ It was all a bit scary as he had an array of CDs ready for us to buy but we escaped leaving Jurrasic Park boy to do the honours!

Talking of which, another ‘highlight’ was seeing the fields where Jurrasic Park was filmed and we watched the movie , listening to the music as we drove past the fields where Sam Neill and Laura Dern first see the dinosaurs.

I also learned a lot of trivia about the island of Kauai. I won’t bore you with that now but please do just ask if there is anything you’d like to know. Oh one thing though…they don’t like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame much. He bought a $100million plot of land and built a lava stone wall all around it and just one house. They don’t like this…as it was originally thought that it could be two whole neighbourhoods.

Along the way we had a very pleasant lunch at a resort and chatted to a couple from South Carolina. Our final stop was the lighthouse at Kilauea (Lilo and Stich) before we made our way back to our sunny side of the island whilst watching Blue Hawaii.

By the time we got back we were both tired and a bit crotchety. All this having a lovely time is exhausting you know. But we did manage to drag ourselves out to the Beach House restaurant for a tasty meal watching the sun go down.

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Grass skirts and snorkels packed. Hawaii we are coming to get ya! 

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The people you meet at a Backwater homestay

When we went to Northern India one of my blog posts was about the three people you meet when you go to Varannasi. On that occasion they were all local Indian people we came across and who made a strong impression on me.
This time around I want to tell you about the different people we met at our Homestay in the Backwaters of Kerala because they were fascinating and we found it bizarre, the mix of people who rock up at this basic Homestay.
Firstly, we met a young Indian couple (Varun and Amrita) who now lived and worked in New York, USA. He was a Sikh and she was half Sikh, half Hindu. They helped run the family garment manufacturing business out of NY and were clearly from a very wealthy family. They owned and lived in an apartment near Grand Central Station in Manhattan. They were really sweet and funny and desperate to open their bottle of wine but didn’t have a corkscrew. As the Homestay didn’t have one either they had resorted to drinking the toddy complete with insects. They contemplated several alternatives but in the end we agreed to open ours and we all shared that. We chatted a lot about politics (American, UK and Indian) and travels and I particularly liked their wicked sense of humour. We’ve exchanged email addresses so I hope we will get to meet them again, maybe in NY
Next up was the tall skinny girl who was travelling by herself. It turned out that she was an International model , Ekaterina who was 35 and originated from Vladivostok in Russia. She was ‘spotted’ when she was just 16 and had then lived and worked in Japan, Paris and New York. She’d been partying pretty hard and had been travelling to India regularly in the last year to try and sort her life out. She was doing lots of yoga, Vipassana practice (hours sat in silence) and now exploring Ayurvedic healing with her ‘doctor’. She was also really good company and had been at the Homestay for about five days so was useful in terms of ‘the knowledge’. For example, she explained to us that, at this place you only have to ask and they’ll get you something, but if you don’t ask very specifically, then they’re unlikely to make an assumption. For example, if you BOTH want a banana dosa for breakfast, then you have to specify that or you’ll just get one. Ekaterina was largely travelling on her own and would be here until Jan when she had to return to Paris to work for US designer, Thom Browne. She seemed very chilled out here in Kerala so I hope she continues to travel safely and find herself, as that seemed to be what she was doing.
Finally, on our last night at the homestay we had a new guest who arrived in a taxi. She was a lovely American lady in her 60s and her name was Linda and she was an award winning children’s author and illustrator, who lived in The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with her husband. She again was travelling by herself round India for a month. Her reason for travelling was that she’d had a bad accident about a year ago and clearly it had been very serious and she took time to recover. As a result she’d clearly decided it was time to get out there and see some more of the world, even if her husband didn’t want to go with her. She was great to talk to about writing, art and of course travels. She was having the most amazing, scary adventures. For example on day 1 of her arrival in India, she found herself being deposited by the busy roadside in Mumbai, expected to find her way onto her bus to Mysore. It sounded horrendous but she was adopted by some kindly Indian ladies who made sure she got safely on board. It was a sleeper and she had to spend the next 14 hours on there with no toilet. ‘How does that work?’ she asked herself and to be honest, we never did find out the answer to that. I loved Linda’s attitude when, having woken up on the bus the next morning she said to herself ‘Well, I survived that so everything else is gong to be ok!’ I hope that Linda again continues to travel safely and enjoy the wonderful encounters with other people that India serves up daily.
Namaste, one and all xxxx

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Room without a view

After our two nights in Periyar we were on the move again and off to one of the stops I’d most been looking forward to. We were on our way to the Keralan backwaters. First we’d be stopping in the Backwater Heritage Homestay for two nights and then we’d be on a houseboat for one night.
The drive down from Periyar was again a really long, bendy, precarious route and we seemed to be heading downhill for most of the four hours it took. Once again we passed through some splendid scenery and by now we were able to point out the various different plantations (tea, coffee, cardamon, rubber etc) as we passed through. The road was incredibly busy with folk coming and going to the two and a half month long Hindu festival at Sabarimala. They might have been pilgrims but they weren’t very good drivers.
We had a few stops along the way. First of all at a quirky old fashioned cafe for a cuppa coffee and a loo break, then Jane wanted to stop in a ‘real town’ and have a look at their shops. Vaiju pulled up in just such a place and out we got. The temperature down here was incredibly hot in the sunshine so it seemed a little incongruous that we were visiting their local Christmas shops trying to find the best giant hanging star! We’d seen these all around Kerala and we needed our own. We also found that we needed to visit a local hardware store where we once again bought presents for the lucky people back home. We finished our Xmas shopping trip with a very acceptable cornetto.
The next stop involved the purchase of alcohol from a Government store. This one was in a very busy city called Kottayam. They are exceedingly seedy places only frequented by men, but they do sell their beer and wine very cheap (compared to hotels) and something was telling us that we’d need this to get through the next few days….
We also needed to exchange some money as we were by now running out of rupees. Vaiju found the place down the back streets of Kumarakom which is itself in the backwaters and Jane got excellent service from the three ladies who served her.
Finally, after much driving round some really tiny lanes and over bridges over the narrow waterways and asking for directions several times, we found ourself at the Backwater Heritage Homestay. The place looked really lovely from the outside and Xavier greeted us warmly, although with limited English.
Vaiju left us to it as he was off to stay with his sister for the next couple of nights so we were on our own. As he left, we were being distracted by some duck herding that was going on in the backwater river just by the garden. Basically, two guys in canoes herding about one hundred noisy ducks up river.
Well, when we were shown our room it was the hottest little box I’d ever had the pleasure of sleeping in. It is a really old traditional house but this room was like a cell. It was small, dark, humid and had no windows. In addition there was a welcome party of at least 3 mosquitos that we could see. Oh gawd.
Anyway, before we had to put up with that we went for a short walk with the other guests who we’d get to know better later. We walked along to the local fish farm and watched a man climb a coconut tree to tap toddy. Then we brought some back to taste. You have got to me kidding me. The stuff looked revolting. It’s basically coconut water/sap which ferments but the stuff in the bottle had brown sediment at the bottom and a variety of insects floating on the top. Er, no thanks, we will open one of our cold beers.
When we got back we ate our dinner on the verandah of the other part of the property where the other guests were sleeping. The food was good, simple, plentiful and definitely local with a mix of fish and veggie dishes. Bananas for pudding were by now starting to take their toll on my tummy.
We had an excellent night talking with the other guests putting off the inevitable of having to go to our cell to sleep.
By the time we did, Jane was completely paranoid about the mosquitos and she had completely covered herself in Deet, said she was wearing all her clothes to bed and turned the air conditioning (oh yes) down to 17 degrees. The room was absolutely freezing and so I too had to put my fleece and tracky trousers on but still couldn’t get warm as we only had a sheet for cover. It was horrendous and in the middle of the night (4am) I’d had no sleep and had developed both a cold and a serious sense of humour failure when Jane asked if I was ok. The air con went off but the temperature barely lifted. Not good. The scenery on these backwaters had better make up for it.

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Into Da Bundu

We only had one night at Mundackal Estate so after a delicious breakfast of Dosas (crispy pancake), the sweetest, best tasting bananas in the world and honey we said our farewells to both Jose and Daisy and our new best friends, Cynthia and Janet.
We’d really enjoyed our stay here but it was time to move on and Vaiju then started driving the one hour 30mins drive up to Munnar. Munnar is high in the West Ghats (hills) and it wasn’t long before we commenced the climb. Early on we passed through several towns where the local Communist Party are very popular as evidenced by all the little red flags with the hammer and sickle on them and lots of bunting along the streets. The road bends and winds for miles and miles as we climbed ever higher. We had a couple of stops to look at waterfalls along the way along with lots and lots of Indian tourists who make a colourful scene in their splendid saris.
Eventually we arrived at our next homestay where we’d be for the next two nights. This was the one I’d been really looking forward to as it looked really sweet and was called The Rose Garden Homestay. It was in fact about 20kms down from Munnar.
We were greeted this time by Tommy, his wife Raji and their son Dilip. They were lovely and smiley and welcomed us in.
Up here the temperature had dropped considerably and I’d go as far to say that it was cold. They served us a simple, tasty lunch on the balcony where we sat and admired the view through the trees. After this I decided to do a little painting sketch of the view. Unfortunately there was no electricity but just one light in our room powered by battery back up when we arrived and as a result no wifi. They thought it would be back on quite soon.
At 4pm we agreed we’d like to do Tommy’s tour of his garden. Compared to Mundackal it’s only small but he operates a little nursery growing and selling plants to local people and hotels. He had lots of lovely flowers and his garden was very pretty and he enjoyed taking us around and showing us all the different plants and especially his bats! He also took great pride in showing us his tank where he used kitchen and garden waste to produce enough gas for the household! You were left wondering ‘why don’t we all have one of these?’. Once again he grew lots of fruit, veg and spices and it was interesting to see where cardamon comes from. Basically, a very large (6ft) leafy plant in the same family as ginger and turmeric where the nodule seeds just grow at the base and can be picked every 45 days. He also had a very impressive vanilla plant which had about 100 pods growing on it. I’m not sure how much he gets for them though compared to how much Waitrose charge!
After our tour he suggested we walk upto the viewpoint just up the road which we did along with other guests Pamela and Ian from Yorkshire. It was getting a bit late and it was cloudy but the views back down and across the Ghats are excellent.
That night we all dined together so we also met a nice couple from Leeds and we enjoyed exchanging tales of our various travels. Remind me never to go camping in the Argentine Pampas looking for Anaconda. Apparently you get eaten to death by mosquitos! Talking of which, unusually it is me that has had a few bites here…Jane has remained unscathed. Touch wood.
That night everyone was warning that a storm was coming in and Dilip even told Jane that ‘this sort of weather normally means there is going to be a tsunami.’ Thank god then that we were high up in the hills. However, that night a storm did indeed hit. Before it went dark it became really, really windy and we saw some branches come down even from our balcony. We went to bed and listened to the sound of the wind and rain pelting down on the house’s tin roof. I must admit I was wondering why on earth we had travelled all this way to this place and its English weather and unreliable electricity supply which was still off and on every five minutes.

Ps In da Bundu is a reference to a trip to S Africa with Laura H. It means you are in the back of beyond. Or at least that’s what we said it meant and have done ever since.

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Cooking up in Cochin

Our itinerary for the second day in Fort Cochin was much more relaxed and after a lovely breakfast in the hotel Vaiju collected us at 11.30 to take us to our cookery lesson. We drove out along the Beach Road and gradually the houses along here got smarter and smarter. Eventually our driver found the right house which said on the outside that it belonged to Nimmy and Paul. It’s funny, lots of the nice houses here have the owners names outside and I can tell you that Shiny Mathew (MP) has one of the finest houses in Fort Cochin!
So Nimmy is an Indian lady, she was 57 and very slim and sophisticated looking. She welcomed us into her home and kitchen and explained that we were going to make four dishes today, two vegetable and two fish dishes. She gave us a little booklet with several recipes printed in there including these.
Then we got to work, heating the oil in clay pots over a gas ring and then frying things off . All of the chopping had been done by her two assistants who worked outside in the huge extended kitchen area.
The dishes we cooked were
1. Meenmolee (Kingfish in coconut milk)
2. Thoren (vegetable stir fry in fresh coconut)
3. Mezukuperatty (vegetable stir fried in garlic seasoning)
4. Prawn Ularthu (sautéed prawns)
It was all quite easy and Nimmy did a lot of the work , we just tickled the pan every now and then! The aromas were incredible and it was nice chatting to Nimmy about her 13 years running the cookery classes.
After our time slaving in the hot kitchen we got to sit outside on her lovely patio and eat the food which was then served to us. It was all delicious although I have to say the prawns were my favourite. This was only the second time in my life that I have eaten prawns and both this year in cookery classes!
We got on very well with Nimmy who was interested in us and also told us about her family. I must admit it was a bit disconcerting though when she asked what jobs we both did. Jane explained she worked for the Legal Ombudsman and got a respectful nod. But when I explained that I was a banker she seemed to audibly let out a snort. Rude.
Before we left we met her husband Paul , a retired stockbroker, he was very nice too and we were by now getting on famously. Nimmy admired both my flip flops and my Fitbit and she immediately got in touch with her son in Singapore to ask him to get her one. Just before we left she told us she’d let us into a secret. She was a little tired today because she’d been sleeping very deeply when her husband woke her up at 6am. She wasn’t ready to be woken up so she told us she hit him and told him he was a ‘terrible dirty old man’. This made us snort out loud too!
With that we were back into the car and back to the hotel.
After a short rest we were then on the go again. We set off in the car the very short distance to the harbour by the Chinese fishing nets where we were to catch our harbour cruise boat. It was very busy around here but Vaiju lead us through to the front where lots of people were waiting for a ferry. We marched right through and our boat was waiting for us. And just us! We sat on the plastic chairs on the top and off we went. The cruise takes place around the big lake area and we had a chap who explained everything to us. The only slight problem was that Jane couldn’t understand anything he was saying so this left me trying to pay attention. And I could only understand one in twenty words. It went something like this……mnar, mnar , mnar 360 rupees for a coffee, mnar mnar mnar 650 thousand rupees, Government building (rubbish), private building (v good). So I can’t say we came back particularly well informed. But it was rather lovely seeing both old Cochin, new Cochin (lots of tower blocks going up fast) and then our favourite bit- the fishing harbour where the colours and reflections were amazing.
We got lots of friendly waves and ‘hellos’ from the other boats we passed as well as the fishermen as we watched the sun go down. As we approach our get-off-point we were told to put on the life jackets that we’d been given at the start (and which until this point, had sat on the chairs beside us).This was so that we could go across the channel back to the harbour. It did get a bit choppy so it was a really convenient place for the Police boat to pull alongside us and ask to see the boats captain’s papers. We sat on our plastic chairs holding tightly onto our life vests and tried not to look too guilty for not wearing them earlier. After a bit of bumping of the two boats all was good and even the Police went on their way with a wave.
It was a very good trip and afterwards we went back to our hotel and made use of the wine and beer lounge again and had some tapas at the bar. What a great day.

 

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Kathakali night out.

After our day tour of old Cochin and my swim in the rain, it was time to go out again as we were going to the Kathakali performance. We left in the pouring rain but luckily Vaiju and the car were waiting for us. The Kathakali hall is down some narrow alleys and when we went in the make up application was already underway.
For the first hour we sat and watched the men apply their make up. No, we weren’t just early , this is the best part. One big chap lay down on the floor whilst and older man applied lots of green, black and white makeup to him. He also used quite a lot of glue and attached several carefully cut paper strips to him. Meanwhile another fellow sat there and applied his own orange make up. Then they swapped places and were joined by a third fellow who applied a more natural looking (well that’s what the blurb said)yellow make up to his face. It was all very fascinating but there was also quite a bit of prima Dona behaviour mainly from the make up applicator who seemed to think he was in charge and got very annoyed when his make up sponge wasn’t in the right spot.
After this some band members arrived and a man who was in charge of cymbals explained what was going to happen next. So we had a little demonstration of cymbals and drum playing followed by an excellent demo of one of the main aspects of Kathakali which is the use of the eyes and face to portray various emotions. This varied from the waggly eyebrow look which represented ‘love’ to the nasty smell under the nose look which represented ‘sarcasm’. All very good and fun.
Next up was the main performance and here we were in for a treat. The blurb said we’d be seeing a story from the Maharabat. This seemed to involve a peasant , a prince and a monster from the forest who was generally being annoying and needed to be killed. It was all very gripping although there was an awful lot of flouncing about in over sized skirts. I found it very off putting that the peasant bore a very close resemblance to Joseph in a kids nativity play back home. Complete with very poor beard and t cloths for a headdress.
The monster did quite a bit of growling and the prince flounced about stamping his feet and waving with his red truncheon whilst Joseph just sort of meowed at the back and stroked his beard. It all came to a climatic end when the Prince poked the monster in his stomach with the truncheon and then followed a Shakespearean death scene surpassing anything we’ve seen at the RSC.
Marvellous, the crowd rose as one in rupturous applause. Well maybe not quite…but we did get up and leave thinking it was time for dinner.
Tonight we’d decided to eat at the Old Harbour Hotel as Joyce and Enid had stayed here I think and Sam F had recommended it too. The meal was really good. I had a keralan chicken curry and Jane had Masala Fish and orange prawn and we shared a couple of Kingfisher beers. We were too chicken to walk the 200 years back to our hotel as it was very dark and a little bit scary so Vaiju had waited for us and drove us back to the hotel. Bless. All was well with the world.

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