Visa Run to Vietnam

8 August 2019 – Visa Run to Vietnam

Last week, our Indian visas were going to expire, so we flew to Vietnam for a “visa run”. We’ve been to Ho Chi Minh city (commonly known as Saigon) in the south of Vietnam last year, so the fact that we flew to Hanoi (in the north) this time is an indication that we liked the country. 

On the way out, we checked out the International airport at Cochin India and learned that it is the first one in the world to be solar powered. The plant comprises 46,150 solar panels laid across 45 acres near the international cargo complex. The plant was installed by Bosch from Germany. The plant system is without any battery storage as it is directly connected to the Kerala electrical grid. Apparently, they even harvest vegetables under the solar panels.

Once you get inside the airport, it is one of the emptiest places in all of India. Over the past 5 months, our experience when going to the hospital, the dentist, the shopping mall, even the grocery store – is that Indian people travel in packs. Everywhere they go, they bring along whoever they can rustle up from home – grandma, the cousins, etc. With tight security at the airport, there isn’t anybody there that doesn’t have a reason to be there!

We had a “first” with our Malindo Air (a Malaysian carrier) check-in. Our Expedia booked travel had ZERO baggage allowance on the outbound flight and 20kg on the return. After going to 4 check-in counters and dealing with 4 agents and 2 supervisors, we became really pissed. We were expecting to purchase luggage allowance when departing, but we discovered that if we bought baggage allowance “on the spot”, we were forced to pay about $600 CDN for one 16kg bag. We were actually considering abandoning the trip and flying somewhere completely different with another carrier – and then I came up with an idea. We simply bought an additional one-way ticket, WITH a 20kg baggage allowance for about $300 CDN. It made the final situation palatable. 

Having been in India for the past 5 months, there is now no doubt in my mind that it is cheaper than Vietnam. The first night in Hanoi we paid $22 CDN for a 10 minute taxi ride. In Kochi, you could ride all day in an Uber for that price. The next day we took a GRAB ride, about 15 minutes or 5 kms in duration for a cost of about $4 CDN – that’s more reasonable. This is another reason to stay away from “taxi” drivers, and stick with Uber and GRAB. The day after we arrived in Hanoi, we found ourselves right in the midst of torrential rains, thunder and lightening – courtesy of Tropical Storm Wipha. We flew all this way to get out of the area of the SW monsoon! With all the rain, we decided to go to the big shopping malls for a day of people watching and mall browsing. There was not a hijab in sight, and I made an interesting observation. You can people watch all day long in Hanoi and hardly ever see a man with a moustache let alone a beard. In contrast, when we’re in India, you could spend all day watching people and never see a man without a moustache, as clearly most men have beards of some sort. At the food court, I was surprised to see so many people eating “hot pots”. In India, Thailand and Malaysia – I never saw “hot pots” being brought out to the food court tables. If you come to Hanoi, be prepared to struggle with English, because very few of the locals appear to be willing or able to speak English. 

On Sunday evening, we went for a light dinner at “Wrap-n-Roll” down by the lake in the old city centre (only a few blocks from our hotel).  We had one order of aloe vera salad with prawn and pork, and one order of sweet and sour beef salad – together with juice made from pineapple, carrot and rose jelly. I don’t think we’ve ever had these Vietnamese dishes or drinks before, and we did enjoy them. 

Monday, since the storm had passed through – we took a day trip to Ninh Binh (pronounced Nim Bing) just North of Hanoi. The first stop was to see the location of the first capital of Vietnam and the temple that remains there. The temple itself wasn’t spectacular, but it is very old and contains a lot of history. Nothing but an empty field remains of the former first capital. Apparently, the emperor took every single stone to the new location…

Then we bused it to the Tam Coc mountain, where a magnificent dragon sculpture has been erected. I didn’t take this Google image, but the dragon was there – at the top. To get this photo, you need a drone – and it is a much better picture than anything I could have taken.

This is Diane at the bottom of the climb, “500 steps” that took us about 20 minutes. There were much younger people that were wheezing as we climbed up. 

Here are two selfies of me at the top, and yes, I was drenched in sweat.

Diane looks much more relaxed about the climb than me. 

There was a little temple up there as well.

The next stop was for a great lunch and to pickup bicycles and cycle about 20 minutes to the lake. At the lake, we took a 7km boat ride through 3 caves and back, amidst the rice paddies and at the foot of the mountains. 

Our boat captain spoke a little English but I found him much more fluent in French. He told me that he learned French in school starting at grade 3, but nowadays the schools teach English as a second language and no longer French. All of the boat handlers/oarsmen and women, after leaving the jetty – reverted to rowing with their feet and not their hands. They were quite good at it. 

Walking about the city of Hanoi is pretty interesting and very clean – in stark contrast to our experience in India. This is St Joseph’s Cathedral, a late 19th-century Gothic Revival church that serves as the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi to nearly 4 million Catholics in the country. The cathedral was named after Joseph, the patron saint of Vietnam and Indochina. Construction began in 1886, with the architectural style described as resembling Notre Dame de Paris. This church was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina when it opened in December 1886.

The downtown core of the old city is a maze of 36 streets and alleyways full of shops selling all kinds of wares and services. Several blocks might be hardware stores, and then just one street over you find several blocks of fabric and sewing shops. Wandering around, its very easy to get lost because the streets are not rectangular, but Mr Google comes in handy – if you’ve got a SIM card and a signal. 

As we took a city tour of Hanoi, we saw even more tourist sites. There was quite a bit of walking and it was very hot and humid. More temples.

This is one of many pagodas.

Their 100,000 Dong banknote was designed around this small pagoda on the grounds of the Ho Chi Minh park. 100,000 Dong is about $ 5.74 CDN at the time of posting.

The President Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum serves as the final resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, who died in 1969 and the construction of the mausoleum started in 1973. I read that the mausoleum was inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow but incorporates some distinct Vietnamese architectural features. 

Ho Chi Minh specifically stated that he wished to be cremated, but despite this – the people are able to be view him at this mausoleum. Supposedly, his embalmed body is preserved in the cooler, central hall, which is protected by a military honour guard. There is controversy surrounding Ho Chi Minh’s mummy, as those who have visited believe that he is not naturally decaying as he should. It is even rumoured that the casket contains just a model of Ho, since even an embalmed body would eventually show signs of decay, which Ho’s body has not. We never went inside though, because the building was closed for periodic “mummy” maintenance. 

This is a panoramic photo of the beautiful area in the old downtown core, Round Lake. 

Here’s a small restaurant in the old downtown core made famous because Obama once ate there. Back in May 2016, President Barack Obama and gonzo chef Anthony Bourdian sat down for a $6 meal of noodles and beer at this casual restaurant in Hanoi. The celebrity visitors continue to be a draw for Hanoi restaurant Bun Cha Huong Lien, so much so that people refer to it as Bun Cha Obama. To preserve its claim to fame, the restaurant recently sealed off the table at which the two men sat—complete with staged plates, chopsticks, and beer—as a sort of shrine-slash-museum-slash-photo-op. Sealed in protective glass, the table is now an attraction of its own, with numerous people offering to buy the stools or table or glasses from the restaurant. I wonder if Donald Trump would allow the same use of his name? 

The other activity we engaged in while in Hanoi was spa treatments. We visited 3 different spas getting foot massages, full body massages, scrubs, facials etc. This is the place to get that kind of treatment. 

Still here in Kochi.

24 July 2019 – Still Here in Kochi

Wow, another month has flown by and I haven’t blogged, not much to write about I suppose. Well, we’ve been “hunkered down” for a good portion of that time, staying dry and out of the rain. The rainy season has picked up, sometimes raining night and day for several days in a row – and then the sun comes out and Diane does the laundry. We still go to the market (rain or shine), we go to LuLu Shopping Mall for shopping relief when required. 

The first big excitement came a few days ago when we caught a rat, not on the boat, but on the dock. Here, rats are attracted to traps that have a piece of ripe banana inside. There are a lot of rats. Thankfully, we’ve not had one on the boat, but we know of an unoccupied boat that got a rat onboard and the “boat watcher” had to trap and dispose of “them”. 

Last weekend, we went over to Fort Kochi Island for a few hours. To get there, we first had to take an Uber ride of about 10 minutes, for about $ 2 CDN. Next, we boarded a very crowded ferry that moves people, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, cars and trucks from Vypin Island over to Fort Kochi Island. The ferry costs about $ 0.20 CDN per person. 

Next, we were met by Nazar and his tuk-tuk, or more properly – his “auto-rickshaw”. He is very proud of his vintage 2002 single cylinder petrol powered tuk-tuk.

The first stop was to check out the Chinese fishing nets “in action” and up close. They weren’t catching any fish, but it was primarily just a show for the tourists. They are quite large and if full of fish, I’d imagine very heavy, and that’s why they have counterweights. 

Alongside the West shore, you can’t help but notice the erosion caused by the annual SW monsoon. On this day, the waves were quite minor, but that isn’t always the case. 

Next, we drove by an old Catholic church, St Francis Church. Originally built in 1503, this is one of the oldest European churches in India and has great historical significance as a mute witness to the European colonial struggle in the subcontinent. The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 when he was on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church, but after fourteen years his remains were removed to Lisbon.

Outside, in front of the church was yet another example of an Indian “Harley”. There are millions of these Indian built Royal Enfield’s in this country, and in many different styles as well. 

Next on the list was a “drive by” of the Dutch Cemetery. The Dutch had a big influence in India during the period 1605 to 1825. 

Next, we went to the Indian Naval Museum. Here, I recalled some terminology based on my career in the Canadian Forces. I’m well aware that UK ships are referred to as HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship) and that Canadian Ships are referred to as HMCS (Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship). I also recall that India was a colony of England, and is still part of the Commonwealth. Naturally, India had the equivalent of HMIS (Her Majesty’s Indian Ship) up until 1947 when India gained independence. What I didn’t know was about the mutiny of the Indian Navy, which broke out on February 18, 1946 – and, in only five days, delivered a mortal blow to the entire structure of the British Raj. Apparently, this is one oft-forgotten saga.  The entrance fee for the museum was a bargain at about $ 0.80 CDN per person. I didn’t bother asking about a seniors discount. On display was a Sea King helicopter, a sister to those in service with the Canadian Forces “up until about a year ago”. 

Taking Care of our Boat

24 June 2019 – Taking care of our Boat

Another week of the rainy season has gone by, and we’ve still managed to stay slightly busy. About six months ago, while in Thailand, we noticed that our 20 year old Lazy Boy Love Seat recliner was getting worn – very worn. In time, we came to notice there were actually holes in the “leather”, mostly on my side Diane said, and action was needed. 

The question was – should we repair or replace? By the time we got to India, we had decided that we wanted to repair, to reupholster this sofa. It was still very functional and did fit perfectly into the space. After all, I did build the cabinetry around it. The challenge then was to find out where to take it. Upon a recommendation from our friend Varghese, we took the sofa to Peter at C.C. Creations, where his team did a complete reupholster in about 10 days time. They used a heavy grade of green dyed leather and we are very, very pleased with the outcome. The cost, by the way, was a little less than $500 CDN, probably a quarter the price of a new model (if we could have found one). After bringing it back to the boat, I sprayed some Corrosion X on the working mechanism and springs and then we bolted it back to the cabin sole. 

I’ve also been working on a modification to my home-grown hookah system, something that I developed when we were in Malaysia last year. Peter on SV Kokomo was throwing out a steel air pressure reservoir. I gratefully accepted this gift, had a welder put on a few fittings, bought a few more air pressure fittings – and had Nazar paint it up for me. The result is a small air reservoir to complement my hookah, and give me more air to breath when I’m a little deeper, at the bottom of the keel. I haven’t tried it in the water yet, but it does hold air – a lot of air. 

We took a step to make our drinking water even better. We have two aluminum water tanks, one for water-maker water and one for “other” water; which means de-chlorinated water from the dock, slightly filtered rainwater and/or recently distilled water from our new air conditioner. Our drinking water NEVER tastes like aluminum because our expensive SeaGull filter (.4 micron) does a very good job of cleaning it. We realized that our rainwater might have been a source of algae, so we had our water tested and both the tank water and the water from our SeaGull water filter turned out to be perfectly fine. None the less, we decided to chlorinate the tank overnight (the first time we did this), clean the tank and add new water. The reason we thought this was necessary was mostly because our expensive ($200 per filter) SeaGull filter only lasted 6 weeks instead of 12 months! In addition, we installed a new 5 micron filter for the rainwater, replacing the curtain shear material we had been using for more than 10 years. Lastly, we added a new filter housing and a new 5 micron filter specifically to protect that SeaGull water filter. I had read online that somebody did this, to prevent the SeaGull from getting gummed up too soon. 

When we went to the market on Friday, I saw something that struck me as unusual – a man carrying an umbrella hooked into the collar of his shirt. When I saw him, I realized that I had already seen many men carrying their umbrella this way, so I had to get a photo. There are different styles here in India!

A Night Out

16 June 2019 – Visit to the Kerala Kathakali Centre

We took a rare evening out to visit the Kerala (State of) Kathakali Centre on Fort Kochi Island. During a few hours, we saw two different cultural things at this Centre, first was a demonstration of the ancient martial arts of Kerala, Kalarippayatu. Kalaripayattu (sometimes thankfully shortened as Kalari) is an Indian martial art and fighting system that originated in Kerala and was practiced by warriors of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is considered by some to be the oldest martial art still in existence, with its origin dating back to the 3rd century BC. 

Where are the strings, one wonders?

This guy was spinning around with this very dangerous flexible blade sword. 

These two guys were attacking one unarmed man – and they had knives! 

Diane went down into their gym and got up close with them.

Our “main man” at the marina, our tuk-tuk driver and problem-solver —- Nazar —- is a Master of Kalari, having trained extensively in his younger days. This form of martial arts is not only ancient but its still quite popular. 

The next thing we were introduced to was Kathakali, showcasing the ancient ritual plays of Hindu temples and various dance forms that are believed to have been gradually developed in Kerala from as early as the 2nd Century until the end of the 16th Century. Many of its characteristics are very much older than its literature, as they are a continuation of older traditions, but these did not crystallize until the 17th Century when the Rajah of Kottarakkara, a small principality in central Travancore, wrote plays based on the Hindu epic “Ramayana” in sanskritized Malayam (the local language), which could be understood by ordinary people. Before this, the stories were enacted in pure Sanskrit, which was known only to the well educated.

From that point onwards, Kathakali emerged as an individual style of dance-drama into a “people’s theatre”. The plays were performed by the Rajah’s own company of actors, not only in temples and courts, but from village to village and house to house – and became very popular. The feudal chieftains of Malabar (as the area was then called) began to vie with one another in their efforts to produce the best Kathakali troupes and this competition contributed to the rapid development of the art in a very short period. After watching it, my own assessment is that it seems to be a combination of theatre, ballet, opera (but there are very few words spoken) and maybe a bit of pantomime.

Before the performance started, we observed the two principal actors applying their makeup. It looked like a tedious process, particularly when you have to put on your own makeup. 

We went to this theatre with Varghese, who was obviously hyped up to see the performance. It was very dark in the theatre and the use of flash photography was discouraged. Varghese joked that he had to smile showcasing his bright white teeth so that we could see him!

This is a good photo that shows what Kathakali looks like “in action”. There are two principal actors in this performance, with a drummer and a “singer” or “story-teller” in the background. None of this is in English, by the way.

You can get an idea of what’s happening in the story by watching the facial expressions of the actors. They don’t do much talking anyway. 

He looks like he has his mind made up.
She looks pissed!

On the ride home, I was hungry for some street food, particularly fried banana – which I’ve learned is usually available in a bakery. I soon realized that like Tandoori chicken (which is only available in the evening), fried banana is only available in the afternoon and not the evening. In the end we had to settle for some vegetable samosas and chocolate treats, which I usually enjoy. 

This photo is something completely off topic, but I’ve been meaning to talk about it. Lots of women ride side-saddle on scooters and motorbikes, not as the driver – but as the passenger. Sometimes there is only one female passenger, sometimes the whole family. My point is, that there are lots of side-saddle passenger riders and I find it unusual. There are also lots of women driving scooters and motorbikes. 

There was a story in the newspaper a few weeks ago about a woman who had a bad accident because her sarong became entwined with the rear wheel, something to be careful of. 

The SW Monsoon is here.

10 June 2019 – The SW Monsoon is here

The total length of the Indian coast line is approximately 7500 km, and with many inland rivers and lakes as well. You might think there are plenty of opportunities for recreational water sports, but this is not true, at least not from what we’ve seen. The use of the water ways seems to be mostly dominated by the tourist industry and not by the locals (except for fishing and industry of course). In fact, India does not have many marinas or all weather anchorages either. The International Marina in Kochi (where we are staying) is the Headquarters of the Kerala Watersport & Sailing Organization (KWSO). This Organization was founded 10 years ago and teaches locals how to handle a small powerboat or sailboat. Since inception, over 200 people have received a certificate to operate a powerboat and another 300 to operate a sailboat. A few days ago, another powerboat course was successfully completed and the participants (all local) received their certificates. Many officials came to the ceremony and promised their future support for the organization. We were very fortunate in that all cruisers in the marina were invited to attend, witness the ceremony and meet many of the students and staff. (Photos and some of the text – courtesy of Peter on SV Kokomo). We talked with one young man who was excited because he’s going to Halifax Nova Scotia in a few months to enrol in College level merchant marine courses. Amongst the dignitaries was a retired Chief Court Justice (who took the course this year) and a retired Navy Commando turned movie producer.

Since installing our second portable A/C unit in the boat, we’ve noticed that they are both sucking a lot of air. If the hatches are all closed, this air has to come from somewhere. One such entrance is the air intake to the engine room. In order to prevent the unauthorized entry of mosquitoes, we covered this intake with fine curtain sheer material (a mosquito net of sorts). This is what it looks like after a couple of weeks. I suppose this is an indicator of the air quality, although you wouldn’t know it, from day to day. 

Another Ramadan has come to a close. Nazar paid us a visit at the marina and he was all spiffed up and was even sporting a fancy ring on one of this fingers!

When we were out and about one day, I saw 5 Muslim boys waking together on their way to school. For fun, I called out MOHAMMED – and naturally all 5 of them turned around. Maybe they were all named Mohammed?

Today we walked and took the ferry over to the “mainland”. Its an alternative to taking an Uber or tuk-tuk. This is what the ferry dock, and ferry looks like.

Sadly, there is nothing unusual about the amount of garbage or debris, this is India. The ferry was on time, and dirt cheap, 10 rupees (about 20 CDN cents per person, each way). I even got to drive the ferry.

Along the way, we always talk with many people on the street. They are curious to know where we come from, why we’re in India, when we will leave. Many of them want to take selfies with us. This is a Hindu family, or least part of one. 

It started to pour down rain, after all, this is the rainy season. The forecast for the next week, or next 30 days – is rain, cloud, wind – repeat. The daytime temperature has dropped from 36C to only 28C. I feel like putting on a sweater.

This is obviously a very new bus, it has windows or at least shutters!

This was our destination, the Airtel shop – our mobile phone network service provider. Our phone plans were expiring today.

We recharged our phones with exactly the same plan as when we arrived. We each have our own unblocked iPhone 6 and we use Airtel SIM cards on pay-as-you go plans. Each phone network service cost 484 rupees for 84 days service, including daily 1.5GB data, unlimited national calls (in India) and 100 SMS per day. That works out to about $ 3.23 CDN per month, per phone. Its hard to beat these kind of prices! In Canada, it would be 20X as much.

While standing outside, waiting for the shop to open at 10am, I noticed some sparks from the wires above our heads. Then I looked up. All throughout SE Asia, I have noticed the rapid proliferation and untidy, confusion of telecommunication wires. However, this was the first time I’d noticed this similar treatment with electrical utility wires. The transmission lines are actually wrapped (yes, just wire wrapped) with cables feeding down to street-level consumers. Do these lines then feed into meters? I doubt it. 

Does this impact on the reliability of the electrical grid? You bet. In the marina, the power goes out (Monday to Friday) 5 or 6 times per day. Thankfully, the resort has a huge generator which comes on a few seconds later. On weekends the power is much more reliable. 

I didn’t take this photo, but it is very representative of traffic here in India. I don’t think either of us will be driving in this country.

Time Goes By in Kerala

30 May 2019 – Time Goes By in Kerala

Nearly every day, we see something different from our own culture. One afternoon, we noticed small fishing boats moving with the current flowing past the marina. We watched a group of fishermen in round boats (yes, round and built of bamboo, not plastic) pulling in a net. 

There are several women working in these boats, and at least one of the women has an infant next to her chest as she works. 

The marina staff told us that these people are gypsies, living a nomadic lifestyle. They make camp everyday on a shoreline, and then break camp and move somewhere else. Their boats are called a Parisal (english name is Coracle), a traditional round boat found in South India. Apparently, these little round boats are an effective fishing vessel because they hardly disturb the water or the fish, and they can be easily maneuvered with one arm, while the other arm tends to the net. The paddle is used towards the front of the coracle, pulling the boat forward, with the paddler facing in the direction of travel. (Photos courtesy of Peter on SV Kokomo)

About 2.5 hours drive North of Kochi lies the city of Thrissur, still in the state of Kerala. We went there for a day trip to visit the zoo. Started in the year 1885, the Thrissur Zoo and Museum covers an area of approximately 13.5 acres. The zoo houses a wide variety of animals, reptiles, and birds. I’m not a fan of zoos, I have to say, because its concerning to see caged animals, particularly animals that we have often seen in the wild. I suppose the most interesting to me was the opportunity to see a Bengal Tiger, yes it was confined to a cage, but at least the zoo visitors were safe.

Here you can see that they take security seriously. 

This is a large water buffalo of some kind. It had an unusual name.

This resting but very alert jaguar is a beautiful animal. 

A purpose built building houses the reptilian collection of King Cobras, Cobras, Python, Kraits, Vipers and Rat Snakes. This is an Indian Rock Python. 

The Art Museum located in the zoo has a good collection of wood-carvings, metal sculptures, Kathakali figures, ancient jewellery etc. It also has some historical items like swords, jewellery, rocks, stuffed butterflies, etc. 

I’ve been to the doctor for my 6 week post surgery knee checkup. He pronounced me “healed” and fit to do “as much as I can”. I’ve got good flexibility and I’m still working on building strength and endurance. 

This is a custom “barnacle scraper” that I had a local welder make up for me using SS 316. For 10 years I’ve been scraping the hull and cleaning things off using production made drywall and putty scrapers, but they always rust and break after a few months of use. Lets see how this one makes out. It is definitely “heavy duty” compared to what I can buy in a store.

Our friend and driver Varghese has told us that many Indian expatriates go to the Gulf countries (Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia etc) for a decade or more of work. If they work hard and save, many of them invest in affluent properties on their return – an 8 bedroom house with only 4 people living in it. We’ve seen many. Maybe this is one example?

Our boat is docked at the outer edge of the Kochi International Marina docks. Since our boat is pretty heavy, we don’t suffer much from the wake of passing boats, and we have never complained about the wake. However, we have complained a lot about the nuisance of passing tourist boats. Many have passed within only a metre or two of our docked boat, while travelling at 3-5 knots of speed. This is reckless and unsafe. The boats are jam packed with tourists and loud music is playing. If we happen to be on deck, they yell and holler at us and are desperate to take a few photos of “white people on a yacht”. These actions, we have viewed to be dangerous and rude – and we have been very vocal about it. When on the back deck, Diane has used the water hose to spray the boat Captain and even the guests – but they keep coming back for more! The latest action on our part has been to pay for and install three large signs warning boats to stay at least 20m away and not to take photos – in both English and the local language of Malayalam. The next step will be to bring in the news media.

India – First Real Tourist Trip

10 May 2019 – First Real Tourist Trip

We finally had a real tourist outing. In one of our many trips to the dentist, the doctor or the mall – we came across Varghese, who drives for Uber. Varghese spent nearly 20 years working for the Catholic Church in Dubai. As a result of that experience, Varghese speaks very good English, at least English that we can understand. He also takes people out on private tours, and turns off his Uber-meter. Together with Peter and Donna on SV KOKOMO, we took a day trip to the Athirappilly and Vazhachal Water Falls, managed by the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department – and finished at the Hill Palace just on the outskirts of Kochi. The total driving distance was just under 200 km, but it took us out of the city and into the back areas, where there was lots of unspoilt jungle with monkeys and other wild animals.

At the Athirappilly Water Falls, the ground was uneven and challenging for me to walk on, but I trudged along, determined to get some mileage in and see some of the Indian wilderness.

I promised Varghese that I would immortalize his image on my blog, so here he is together with Peter.

Much to my surprise, up there in the hills I found this police station just for tourists.

Our next visit was to the Hill Palace at Tripunithura (just outside of Kochi). It was the imperial administrative office and official residence of the Cochin Maharaja. Built in 1865, the palace complex consists of 49 buildings in the traditional architectural style, spreading across 54 acres – although I have to admit, I only covered a fraction of this territory.

The complex has an archaeological museum, a heritage museum, a deer park, a pre-historic park and even a children’s park – although I didn’t see it, and nobody could take photos of it anyway because they confiscate your camera and cell phone at the entrance.

Presently, the palace has been converted into a museum by The Kerala State Archaeology Department and is open to the public for a small admission fee. My impression of the Hill Palace is that it a little worn and tired looking, basically in need of a paint job – although this photo certainly makes it appear to be in very fine condition.

While in the grocery store yesterday, I came across this display of cricket bats, pretty much dominating the sports section. There was no baseball or ice hockey gear in sight.

Second Post from India

4 May 2019 – Second Post From India

It has been nearly 7 weeks since we arrived in India, how time flies! This is a typical sunrise at the marina. The water is quiet and there are only a few boats on the docks. 

At the 3 week point, as planned, I embarked on my Total Knee Replacement surgery, addressing an injury that came up about 1.5 years ago. Although I was able to walk, sometimes for 10km or more in a day, over the past year I was often in great pain and the bone-on-bone grating was just getting worse. Rather than fly back to Canada for the surgery, I decided to have it done here in India, at a fraction of the cost. The planned recovery would be done entirely in our home, our boat. The surgery was done by Dr Bibu George at Aster MedCity Hospital (a large, private care facility right here in Kochi). This is the Johnson and Johnson artificial joint that was selected for the job.

As I write this blog, I am now 26 days post surgery. Three days after the surgery, I walked out of the hospital with a cane, not a walker, and not crutches – a cane. We stayed in the Marina House hotel (part of the Bolghatty Resort Complex) for the first 4 nights and then moved back onto the boat. I have been walking unaided since day 7, when we moved back onto the boat and I ditched the cane. The staples and bandage were removed on day 15, and I was permitted to resume my daily swimming pool “activity” from day 18. The pool has made a noticeable difference in my recovery, but of course – so has my daily self-paced physiotherapy. On discharge from the hospital, I was given an exercise sheet to follow, and I do the necessary exercises nearly every two hours through the day. At first, when walking, it felt like I was walking on a prosthetic leg, and I realize now that this was because my thigh quadriceps had been cut/altered with the surgery and I had to relearn how to walk and build those muscles up again. Every day its getting better, but I’m still not walking more than about 1.5 km. I’m sure this will gradually increase over time – as will my flexibility. 

We are still going to the market, at least once every week. Last week we bought a fresh chicken from this man. When I say fresh, I mean the bag was still warm when I picked it up (and not from cooking).

I also bought fresh mutton from this man. He told me that he only operates his shop in the mornings. Its actually his father’s shop, but his father is off wandering about India right now. He tends to save up money for 6 months and then leaves to go travelling for 6 months – and then returns to repeat the pattern.

We had to buy some rice a few weeks ago, and although this is a fuzzy photo, it does illustrate the variety and volume of rice available at this one shop.

I took this photo of Nazar one day, he was a bit sad because his Tuk-Tuk had to go in for extensive and expensive repairs. His Tuk-Tuk is his way of making a living, and he needs it back on the road. 

Here, Nazar’s Tuk-Tuk is in the shopping getting the full treatment.

His little grand daughter helps to cheer him up.

On another day, after his repairs were made, Nazar took us to the “Indian Cafe” near the court house for lunch. The food was Indian, of course, and of good quality and low price (they are all cheap, unless you eat where the tourists go).

This food server was even dressed in a uniform to suit the establishment.

We’ve had a bit of bother with the local tour boat operators and some of the fishermen. These tour boat operators are coming closer and closer to our boat. They are loaded up with tourists (sometimes on two decks) and pass by often only a meter or two from our hull. I’m afraid that one day, one careless Captain is going to scratch/dent the side of our hull – and then there will be hell to pay! We’ve written to the Port Captain, the Marina Manager, the Resort Manager, everyone but the English language newspaper  (not yet) and there are signs of improvement, but in our opinion – it is still a risky business. Not only are these boats passing unnecessarily too close to us, but it is a gross violation of our privacy. These people are leering and taking photos and they are so close I could reach out and slap them! Diane has taken to sitting on the back deck, with the water hose in hand – ready to give a soaking to any boats the pass too close — and she has soaked several, with cameras and mobile phones in hand! This is a photo I took of some jack-ass fishermen, two minutes after they accidentally bumped into our hull, twice, at 8 o’clock in the morning. What the hell? The river is flat calm, 300m wide, with not another boat in sight. Why in hell are they bumping into our boat? I sure gave them a piece of my mind. 

Next week, we’ve arranged for our very first day tour, a bonafide tourist trip that will take us out of Kochi, away from the boat, away from the market and the mall – if only for a day. I’m looking forward to it!

First Post From India

8 April 2019 – First post from India

We made landfall in India on 17 March, arriving at about 7pm, just at dusk. Immigration works 24/7, so while we were still anchoring, they were “hovering” with a borrowed boat, ready to pass us a clipboard to fill out. After anchoring, they came aboard and did the initial Immigration processing. We completed this step the next day when we went ashore and had our first tuk-tuk ride with Nazar.

Unfortunately, Customs doesn’t work on Sundays, so we had to wait until Monday afternoon for them to come aboard, and then Port Control gave us permission to move from the Customs/Quarantine anchorage on to the Kochi International Marina at Bolgatty Island about 4nm away. We had to do this at “high” tide (only a maximum of 3 feet in this area). At the marina, we got on the end of a T-dock and secured the boat, although we do seem to sometimes lay on the bottom for a couple of hours every day when the tide is low. 

Gabriele and Mariona hung on with us for a week after arriving in India, first to help with the cleaning and tidying up – but next to do some real maintenance. I gave them a contract to take apart and grease all the winches! It put money in their pocket and relieved me of one of my boat maintenance jobs, a job well done. 

On one Sunday afternoon, a local driver/guide (Nazar) invited us (and 3 other cruisers) to his home for lunch. It was an interesting excursion, first taking an Uber, then a ferry and then finally a tuk-tuk to his home. Nazar and his family don’t have much in the way of material assets, but they are certainly blessed with family and friends. Nazar has been very helpful driving us around and demonstrating his local knowledge. It was a special time to be welcomed into their home together with their children and grandchildren.

We bid farewell to our crew on 26 March. We hope they will come back to join us for the next leg, the passage through the Red Sea all the way to the Med and Cyprus.

We have been busy getting things organized on the boat. The first challenge was getting the A/C working well enough. The external temperature fluctuates between a high of 36C in the daytime to a low of 27C at night. Also, the humidity fluctuates between 85% and 65%. Its the humidity that causes us to sweat so much, and makes sleeping uncomfortable. We setup our portable A/C unit in the aft cabin, as usual, and bought a second portable unit for the main cabin. With both A/C units running and our water heater or battery charger operating (both are just temporary loads put on for an hour or so in the morning), we are at the maximum of 16A @ 240V. So far, it is working OK, although the shore power often shuts off during the day for a few minutes at a time. It does produce a lot of water, probably 60 litres per day that has to be frequently emptied. We just haven’t yet figured out how we can actually leave the boat overnight with these A/C units on. 

Oh, and our aft cabin unit had to have the compressor replaced due to overheating. It cost about $160 CDN to have the compressor replaced and re-gassed, and it seems to be working fine now. 

We’ve been getting fresh fruit and vegetables at a local market, and sometimes go to the big glitzy shopping market, the LuLu Mall. We buy the packaged goods at the LuLu Mall, but definitely buy the local fruit and vegetables at the market. This is a sampling of what the local market looks like. The fresh produce is amazing and cheap. 

The grapes, red and green – are especially good. 

These local guys wanted to practice their English and they asked if they could take a photo of me with them – so I countered by taking their photo!

Ah, I’m 62 years old now, and I’ve finally seen first-hand the Indian “bobble-head”. Within the first day, I was talking with a local and his head was shaking back and forth, it looked like NO, NO WAY – but it was the “Indian Bobble-Head” in action. What he was really indicating was yes, he was considering what I was saying and agreed. Without a doubt however, the head wobble is the one universal gesture that unites all Indians. Cultural and language barriers miraculously dissolve with a wobble!

The traffic on the streets in Cochin / Kochi is something to behold. There are bikes, scooters, motorbikes, tuk-tuks (passenger and cargo), trucks, buses, cars etc. I’m amazed to see Mercedes and BMW with no scratches! People are honking their horns constantly and looking for any edge to get ahead. 

These little kids don’t look too stressed about it. I think they keep off the streets. 

We are staying at the Kochi International Marina at Bolgatty Palace Resort. More on that in the future. 

This is a view (from shore side) as you enter the marina property.

This is a view as you walk through the building and see the docks and our boat at the end.

This is one of the thousands of “Chinese” fishing nets in the interior “back” waters. Apparently they lower them in the evening and then harvest fish and shrimp at night. It works.

Since arrival, I’ve been seeing thousands of Royal Enfield bikes on the streets and several dealers. Some look brand new, although in the same styling from 40 years ago. As it turns out, Royal Enfield is an Indian motorcycle manufacturing brand with the tag of “the oldest global motorcycle brand in continuous production” – manufactured in factories in Chennai in India. Licensed from Royal Enfield by the indigenous Indian Madras Motors, it is now a subsidiary of Eicher Motors Limited, an Indian automaker. The company makes the Royal Enfield Bullet, and many other single-cylinder motorcycles. First produced in 1901, Royal Enfield is the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production, yes, even before Harley Davidson, with the Bullet model enjoying the longest motorcycle production run of all time. This is just one of many in use.

Our expectation of India was that we thought it would be hot, crowded, noisy, dirty and smelly. Well, it is all that – and more, and in a good way. We look forward to exploring this country further in the months to come.


16 March 2019 – On passage to India

We arrived safely in India after a 9.5 day, 1280nm passage. Before setting out from Sabang, Sumatra Indonesia, we topped up with 270 litres of Indonesian diesel (very dark, although surprisingly clean) and hoisted our Code Zero light air sail on a flexible furler. This is what it looked like on a beam reach.

This is what it looked like on a downwind run, with the boom on the opposite side.

We bought this sail and furler 3 years ago (from Far East Sails in Hong Kong – while we were in Fiji), but never really had an opportunity to try it. In summary, I can say that we do like this sail, very much. Its easy to deploy and mostly easy to put away. But, you have to be careful not to leave it up in high winds (greater than 16 knots), or it can be a bugger to furl properly.

Our crew Gabriele and Mariona did a sterling job. As time passed, they assumed more and more responsibility and learned more about our boat and its systems. They did all their shifts, and called if there were any problems. We are really hoping that they will come back to join us for the next leg in January 2020, from Kochi to Cyprus through the Red Sea.

Its not always a hard time, is it?

Gabriele was very eager to fish, from Day 1. After 10 years of cruising, I hate to admit it but I have become lazy when it comes to fishing. You won’t catch fish if you don’t put out a line! I showed Gabriel our fishing gear and he took over. Over the 9 day passage, he caught two tuna and one Mahi-Mahi (dolphin fish) – usually at about 5pm. Here’s a good practical photo of me reaching down (its a long way) to try and snag a tuna with our gaff. It can be a little challenging when the boat is rocking back and forth.

The tuna were relatively easy to bring in, but they still took work. Here are shots of tuna numbers 1 and 2. There was lots of blood with the second tuna.

This Mahi-Mahi was a real fighter. Gabriele played with him on the line for 15 minutes to try and tire him out. We even let the sails out a bit to try and slow down. It took both of us to haul him in. He changed colour from green to silver in about two minutes once on deck.

Gabriele caught all the fish – and Gabriele and Mariona cleaned all the fish. A couple of hours later, they were busy in the galley and made incredibly fresh sushi and ceviche (a seafood dish typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with chilli or other seasonings). Wow, that was good — its goes without saying that we all ate the fish.

As we were sailing very close to the shoreline of Sri Lanka (about 10nm), we could barely make out the island features (low profile and haze) but there were plenty of fishermen, and many came out to great us and ask for water, smokes, beer, wine etc.

This is something new to me. I took a photograph of our OpenCPN Chartplotter AIS target. Its a commercial ship called SELINA and the destination says “ARMED GUARDS ONBOARD”. I know that many ships in these waters have armed guards, but putting this in the AIS information box is new to me.

This is a new source of frustration for me. I bought a new Garmin GPS chartplotter when in Indonesia 1.5 years ago, and its under “2 year warranty”. The GPS date shows July 1999. That’s bizarre and no doubt will be a pain in the ass to get sorted out.

As we were approaching the 500 foot shelf of Indian waters, we came across about 60 fishing boats in open water at least 20nm from shore. Each boat had about 30 men onboard and they were all hand-line fishing. The boats were not at anchor but using their motors to stay in a fixed position. It was much more crowded than the photo shows, and challenging to safely pass between them.

We sailed for nearly all of this passage, 80% of the time under full sail, on every point of sail from dead down wind to this close reach.

Now, we’ve been dockside in Kochi India for a week – and we’re still eating frozen fish cooked on the BBQ and in the rice cooker. We’re busy with boat jobs, and installed a second air conditioning unit in the main cabin to help keep the heat and humidity down. Its working. With the next blog, I’ll talk about India.