We all slept so well. The pillows and beds comfy, the air conditioner lovely. I was yet to make out why there was a filing cabinet with 4 drawers in the room. But then I worked it out – this was a dorm room so people who were sharing the room each had a drawer with a lock to store their valuables for safe keeping. What a great idea. So we placed the electronic devices, clothes and bits and bobs into the filing cabinet drawers to make the small room clear of clutter and easy for us all to live in.
We walked downstairs to chat with the owner and check in. His name is Binu and was just as friendly as I vaguely remembered him in the early hours of the morning when we first arrived. He served us black tea in his friendly reception area downstairs, and talked about the things we could do and see while we stayed in Kochi. There were tuk tuks for a tour of the old city (where we were staying), temples (lots of varieties), ferries to other areas including the new Kochi (city), a stroll to the beach, Chinese fishing nets, cemeteries, and cafes. Yes that’s what we were after a café to get some breakfast and start the day off well.
After sitting and chatting about our options – do we go to Goa or not for New Years Eve? – we left the small Rampart reception area and headed out to explore our first taste of India as a family. It was warm, it was busy, it was hard to walk down the street with no footpath and the chaos of traffic coming from all directions at all times. We found a little café/restaurant down the main road Jacob Street called Kushi Restaurant that Binu had recommended and eagerly sat down to order food and drinks. While we were there the power went off so Steve and Dacey didn‘t get their fruit lassis delivered. No one told us they weren’t coming, we just had to guess I suppose. But the scrambled eggs Steve and I ordered on toast was tasty, the green tea slightly overpoweringly bitter. The club sandwich was not to Charlie’s liking, nor the dishes of sweet and sour chicken for Ash or prawns in a dark gravy sauce for Billie (why would Billie order that anyway for brunch?). However, Dacey enjoyed her fried rice dish which proved not to be overly spicy.
Charlie and I decided to walk down the street while the others waited for their other drinks, but we had been gone for quite some time (time means nothing on a chaotic road) and we returned to some angry family members and questions – “where did you guys go…we’ve been waiting here for ages!”. We had walked right up the end of the street to the beach area trying to get our bearings and understand how the place worked. It’s what I seem to do when I land in a new place, to get out straight away and take a walk around the block, getting to know street names and landmarks so I can get more confident with directions to and from our accommodation.
We found a Tourist Booking Office that we popped into and enquired about trains to Goa or another option taking a car and driver with one stop off. He quoted us 29,500 Rupees ($641) which seemed a bit pricey for our journey. A 10-hour car ride in cramped conditions. So after talking with Steve and Binu we are going to get in touch with Dr Moses to cancel the wait listed train we booked in Langkawi, and will go to a tourist operator in the morning to work it all out for us. We’ve been informed to use Taktal (a site for last minute train bookings that you may pay more for, but you get on the train at least) and get our sleeping beds for 6.
On the street, if we stood around discussing things, we would be approached by numerous tuk tuk drivers wanting to take us around on tours for 50 Rupees to 100 Rupees but we just shook our heads. What I was amazed about the most was how genuinely friendly they were. There was no nastiness in their approach and they just went on without nagging at us. But we were approached by 15 tuk tuk drivers within 15 minutes of walking along the main street.
We walked back to Rampart Homestay, had a rest in the coolness of an air-conditioned hostel room. Charlie was finalising her first GoPro video which she uploaded onto social media (it took a long time with weak wifi) and then we were ready to hail a tuk tuk driver or two to show us around this old city of Cochi. It didn’t take long while we walked up the street to be approached by an older tuk tuk driver who spoke quite good English. After establishing that we required two tuk tuks for the tour, and Steve negotiating the price, the old man called a friend on his small Nokia and within a second another tuk tuk appeared. We negotiated the price on the street at 400 Rupees ($7) each tuk tuk for 2-3 hours of touring. Agreed with a handshake.
Our first tour stop was an open air laundry. I had always wanted to see an authentic Indian laundry and here I was standing at one. I was that excited the girls were looking concerned for my mental wellbeing. But it had been something I had seen on documentaries in Australia, and now being at one was exciting. The old Cochi hotels, homestays and hospitals use the outdoor laundry to clean their linen, towels and guests’ clothes. It was exactly how I had seen them set up on TV – concrete cubicles for washing, and rows of unending lines for hanging them to dry in the open air. No pegs are used either – they use twisted rope to pinch an item of clothing to hang it. Men and women worked in the ironing area with coal fired irons; some were using electric irons. It was a sight to behold for me; the others less enthusiastic.
The grand old trees out the front of the laundry were absolutely glorious. When you looked up into their network of branches your breath was taken away. They had been planted by the Portuguese in the 1600’s! Really? I was in awe of their majestic limbs reaching out over the road and their wrinkling bark. I could have sat under the shade of that tree all day and just admired its majestic and historical beauty.
Next stop – temple and a fruit stall (where we purchased some lovely fruit – Dacey loves her fruit), a ginger and spices factory, the Dutch Palace, and lastly the beach area which showcased original Chinese cantilevered fishing nets. It was all pretty cool to see here at Fort Cochin. While we were at the beach area, the sun was setting and children frolicked in the water, young people on the beach taking selfies (they love selfies) and there was a wrestling competition on the sand too to watch. We walked to Vasco de Gama point to admire the scene but unfortunately saw two dead dogs – one in the water and the other on the sand. It made Dacey a bit upset so we moved away from the point.
While we visited the Dutch Palace we saw an elephant but s/he was shackled in chains. Our guide said he often saw the elephant cry. The elephant belonged to the Palace, and was there to offer photo opportunities and a grand sight. It was again pretty unsettling to see such a wild and beautiful animal stuck under a palm tree in chains. We watched while India and other Asian visitors to the Palace took selfies with the beast, while its mahout (elephant rider/trainer/keeper) napped under the shade of a tree. That was not a pleasant experience for Dacey either so we moved on shaking our heads at the sight and feeling helpless.
Inside the Dutch Palace showcased an amazing historical array of original mural paintings by the Portuguese on its walls, and a historical timeline of the kings and the royal family’s costumes. It was a little too packed for our liking, so we hurriedly walked through the Palace, escaping the stifling feeling inside. It was 5 Rupee to enter and free for children under 15. We received funny looks from the woman at the desk when we said Ash was just 14!
We bid farewell to our tuk tuk drivers – one a Catholic Indian, the other his friend a Muslim Indian at the beach area. What an amazing friendship. We learnt that our old tuk tuk driver was actually an engineer who worked for many years until the company he worked for folded. He had a daughter who was a teacher who taught English classes, which is probably why his spoken English was quite good and the amount of time he now spent in a tuk tuk with foreign travellers. We gave he and his Muslim friend a tip and at that point of Steve handing over the 500 Rupee note, their eyeballs nearly popped out from their sockets! “Where did you get this note? You can’t use this anymore…Modi take all these notes away.” Steve had not realised that somewhere between purchasing packets of spices to take with us to Dr Moses in Buldana and the purchasing of fruit at the fruit shop, someone had handed over a now illegal 500 Rupee note. It created quite a commotion between the two, when Steve said he thought he had received it off the Women’s Co-op Ginger and Spice Factory. So the Muslim tuk tuk driver ran across the road somewhere to get the number for the spice factory and returned to the old man with a number who dialled it immediately on his old Nokia phone. He spoke for a bit, and then handed his phone to Steve to talk. In the end we established it was not them that handed Steve the now defunct 500 rupee note but most likely the fruiterer. We gave the old man the note and wished him luck in exchanging it at a bank!
So it’s been a long and hot day. Steve and I are wanting a cold Kingfisher beer and a soft drink for the girls. A place to stop for a refreshing ale is quite hard to find around here. There are hardly any restaurants or cafes that stock or serve alcohol. We did find a place a street back from the foreshore where we could sit and enjoy a cold Kingfisher beer (or three) some soft drinks and food. All up 2,100 Rupees ($50). We then went down Princes Road – a shopping strip and got well and truly lost in the dark streets. We had to stop and ask a tuk tuk driver, who safely returned us, via tuk tuk, to Rampart Homestay.
It was an early one last night. I was feeling exhausted. The girls had been fighting at the dinner table and I could not take another moment more. I think I fell asleep by 9pm on the top bunk listening to the girls chatting together in the room.
Tomorrow we need to work out how to the heck we are to get to Goa and where to stay and if that’s not going to work then we stay in Cochin for New Year’s Eve and watch the Cochin Carnival that takes place on New Years Day.
Extra Information (might be a double up!)
Tuk Tuk ride around Fort Cochin
First stop was to an Indian laundry – I had always wanted to see one of these, after seeing a program on TV in Australia about the open air laundry places of Mumbai. They clean sheet and towels and clothes for big hotels, hospitals and homestays. It was a big laundry, and it became clear that our tuk tuk drivers were ever so eager to be tourist guides as well which was really nice.
The laundry was an old building, and standing outside was the massive trees apparently planted by the Portuguese. I looked up and was in awe of their sheer size and spread of branches. Nice and cool underneath them too. We entered the laundry to a production of skinny Indian men without shirts on ironing clothes and neatly folding them. Women in saris moved about too. I think our guide said there was about 100 workers in the laundry. The irons were stoked with coal, burning hot, weighing about 8kg. They also had electric irons. Then we moved through to an open area of concrete facing small concrete cubicles where the actual washing takes place. None was happening when we arrived in the late afternoon, but we walked through to the clothes line area which sprawled line after line of hanging sheets, tea towels, and clothes. Colourful in the gentle breeze. I loved the experience, something totally authentic Indian and so unique to anything we in the West know these days.
Next stop was to Mattancherry and Jew Town on Fort Kochin
There were old bazaars, and the centre of the spice trade. We entered a ginger factory and witnessed two women sorting the extra good from the good ginger. We took some photos, she asked for money. I gave her 10 Rupee for the pleasure. The pile of ginger was extraordinary, and she said it would take her a day to sort through. The sharp smell of ginger wafted up my nose and caused me to cough outside in the clear air as we left. Next we walked upstairs to a women’s spice cooperative. There they sold many products for many uses – ground spices for meals and marinades, tea, coffee, perfume (with no alcohol). It was a cute little shop and the women there stalked us until we purchased.
We stopped off at a fruit stall and tried lots of fruits and purchased some as well. Dacey loves her fruit, and it was good to see everyone else jump on board with it too. We went to a Hindu Temple, Basilicia, St Francis Catholic Church – it is still very Roman Catholic and Jewish. The drivers receive some form of reward if they drop tourists off at expensive gift stores so we walked in and out of many of them.
We said goodbye to our tuk tuk drivers and guides at the shore line. We had our photo taken, and as Steve was about to pay them, we noticed he had an old 500 Rupee note with numbers written on it. Where did you get this? How do you have it? Since the government eradicated the 500 and 1000 notes from Indian trading, to impact the black market, these notes are null and void. I was going to keep it, but Steve gave it to the man in the hope he may be able to change it at the bank.
Our last and final stop was to the shore to see the cantilevered Chinese fishing nets – a legacy 1400 AD of the court of Kublai Khan. It takes 4 people to operate the counterweights – the lifting of the large wooden structure to place the net into the sea. There was a line of Chinese fishing nets hugging the shoreline – great photo opportunity. Dacey and I walked out to the net and got our photo taken – more money requested for the pleasure.
We walked along the shoreline amongst the clutter of litter and seaweed as the golden start started to set. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of people on the beach taking selfies, walking and talking, or just sitting on the sand together. We found a sand wrestling competition occurring, and a group of young children squealing as the waves rolled onto the shore. I kept thinking of our pristine Australian beaches, something these locals will never ever know. It was so littered with rubbish, it was heartbreaking but it didn’t stop the younger generation frolicking in the small waves crashing onto the Arabian Sea coastline.
We walked to Vasco Da Gama point and back again in search of a place that sold a cool, and much needed refreshing beer. It’s hard to get alcohol in Cochin. The government has cracked down on it and to get a liquor licence is a hard thing to get for cafes and restaurants. So many do not serve alcohol. I had noticed a place a block back from Church Street that hugs the shoreline, a hotel serving alcohol. We went there and enjoyed Kingfisher beers and shared an assortment of different dishes for dinner. As we got up to leave the dark had arrived, and we were uncertain on our bearings and got lost. Had to ask a tuk tuk driver where to go. In the end we jumped into 2 tuk tuks and realised we had turned right instead of left! Stopped off at an tm to get money out, as atm’s were empty in the main area. Our cash was diminishing, and we were yet to pay for our Homestay accommodation – cash only. We learnt that while in India we would have to make bookings for accommodation through Agoda rather than Booking.com as the former uses credit card to pay up front, whereas the latter uses cash to pay the hotel manager upon arrival.
Home and into bed. I was knackered. The kids were not! They sat up and braided their hair and chatted away. I had my light blocker on and went to sleep easily on the top bunk.