More of Kerala Culture

15 September 2019 – More of Kerala Culture

We have been in India now for 6 months. In that time, we have seen poles like this adorning the grounds of Christian Churches and Hindu Temples, but never at a Muslim Mosque. I’ve never seen such a pole, in all the countries I have visited, other than in South India.

I’ve asked several people what this pole is, and have gotten various answers – so I decided to do my own research. It appears that in South India, where fatal lightening during the rainy season is common, long metallic poles have been erected, to provide a good ground. Traditionally, these poles used expensive metals such as traces of gold, silver, copper, bronze etc, as they were found to be more effective (better conductors). Later, to prevent the theft, either small temples were made near these poles, or these poles were made part of the temple. After many centuries, it became then an integral part of temple and Church architecture. Today, many Kerala Churches, try to replicate the original design by including the metallic post, with a cross on top. In the present day, this post is typically used by the Church or Temple staff as a flag pole. They will hoist a flag or pennant at the start of temple or church festival.

Last week, we were invited to the private home of our friend Varghese for an Onam lunch. Onam is an annual Harvest Festival, a big deal here in Kerala, a 4 day state holiday – on par with Christmas back in Canada.

Though originally a Hindu festival, non-Hindu communities of Kerala participate in Onam celebrations considering it as a cultural festival. The meal, of course, was entirely vegetarian and home-made. It was delicious and had many different tastes.

Here, Varghese’s two sons pose with the family Royal Enfield 350 Bullet, fully restored. I love the classic look and feel of this bike.

Yesterday, we drove to Thrissur to witness the Pulikali (Tiger Dance), one of the ancient folk art forms of Kerala. On the fourth day of the Onam festival, artists paint their bodies like tigers with stripes of yellow, red and black and dance to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments such as thakil, udukku and chenda. The Swaraj Grounds in downtown Thrissur plays host to this carnival that has people appearing in various unique hues and masks, with the locals and visitors alike joining in on the revelry.

As we were walking through the city (after parking the car), of course we stumbled upon the usual cows laying down in the street. Nobody owns these cows, they just roam around wherever they want. These ones, of course, are sitting in the shade on the road.

Then, of course, we made our way through the crowds to the city centre, encountering literally hundreds of people who want to say hello and take a selfie with us. Now, I’ve started the policy that if they want a selfie with us, then I want one with them!

There was kind of a drunken ambience with the crowds, although I saw no vendors selling liquor, nor anyone that seemed to be drinking alcohol or using drugs of any kind.
While waiting for the parade to start, we spent several hours “people watching” – just watching average people walk by.

“The streets of Thrissur swelled with people from across the State and the world to view this special event.” That description from a review sounds exciting, but there are a few facts missing. For example, I read in the news that there were more than 1,000 police officers on hand for traffic and crowd control. Yes indeed, I did see a lot of police officers but I thought they were largely ineffective. This is what we came for, what we expected to see, based on Internet reviews.

Together with Peter and Donna (from SV Kokomo), we sat on a steel water pipe from 2:20pm to 6:45pm waiting for the procession to pass by – and still there was no sign of the parade. We had initially been promised that the parade would pass by at 4pm, and that was changed to 5pm. I think if we had stayed, sitting on that pipe, it might have been 11pm by the time the parade passed.

The crowds were massive, in my estimation at least 100,000. The crowds were mostly well behaved but when you got near the dancers, there was a fair amount of pushing and shoving going on. It was dark and very, very crowded. I also read that there were more than 300 people (men and women) dressed up as tigers, but in reality, we probably only saw about 50. This is the first float we saw, and we were very close to it.

It was being reversed, yes, driven backwards down the parade route.

Although there were good viewing opportunities from the road side, side walk or neighbouring grounds, in my opinion the police made no attempt to clear the actual road way. The road was so congested with viewers, the crowds, that the floats and parade had great difficulty making any headway. It was dangerous, something that is not seen in any parade that I’ve seen in a Western country.

This is the second float we encountered.

After this float, a crowd of people followed that were holding a rope and pushing the crowds back, as the “Tigers” came into view.

Finally, we saw some “Tigers”.

14 the tigers.jpg

This YouTube video, although not in English, does provide a visual explanation of the effort that these artist undertook to get into costume.

In retrospect, I’m glad to have had the experience, but it was quite unsafe and overall left me with an unpleasant feeling. There were just too many people, and too much trash – and the crowds made it a risky venue. I would have much preferred to watch this event from the safety and comfort of my home, on the Internet. I have to recall that this tour was indeed my idea. Oh well, this is India.

New LiFePO4 Battery Bank

1 September 2019 – New LiFePO4 Battery Bank

Nearly 8 years ago, while we were in the Eastern Caribbean, we became “early adopters” of an expensive and promising new battery technology. We switched our house bank from lead acid (initially wet cell then AGM) to Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) technology. Starting batteries for the engine and generator remained as sealed lead acid batteries, primarily because they were charged with internally regulated alternators. That switch prompted the requirement for a new purpose built battery charger as well as some minor adjustments to our existing charging systems.

At the time, many people scoffed at us, saying that we were paying “big bucks” for unproven technology. The manufacturer, Lithionics in Florida, guaranteed a 5 year lifespan, which approximated to 2,000 cycles. There is still dispute amongst users as to what constitutes a “cycle”, but I estimate that we have had more like 3,000 cycles in the 8 years that we have been operating these batteries.

We are changing the batteries now, and the primary reason is that they have lost approximately 50% of their capacity. Why? Well, to start with, recall the phrase “early adopters”. Now, 8 years later, there are thousands of other users out there, consequently there is a lot more experience and understanding of how these batteries operate, what is good and what is bad for them.

For example, it is bad to charge a LiFePO4 battery to 100% and let it sit there for weeks at a time. It is better to charge it to 60% and then take it offline. It will easily hold the charge for a year or more. Once full, it is bad to float, or trickle charge Li batteries. Similarly, on a day to day basis, it is better to operate in the 20-80% range than it is to operate in the 60-100% range. It is said to be bad to fully charge the battery to 100% every day. This information was not known 8 years ago simply because there weren’t enough users out there.

All that being said, we realized about 10 months ago that our battery bank was dying. We were about to leave Thailand heading East to India, and although it would have been cost-effective to change it out in either Thailand or Malaysia, it would have also taken time (months) and we didn’t want to postpone our trip to India for a year. The components are rarely found on the shelf, and have to be ordered in primarily from China with lengthy and complicated shipping arrangements. So, we proceeded to India with the expectation that we could replace the batteries here, during our 10 month hiatus. A few weeks after arriving, we learned that importing parts from the USA is probably the most expensive approach, with the high cost of shipping and particularly high tariffs on goods made in the USA. To be frank, ALL of the manufacturers (namely North America, Europe and Australia) rely on Chinese built LiFePO4 modules, similar to the one pictured below.

Although our first LiFePO4 batteries were “made” in the USA, they used modules made-in-China, and still do.

I also investigated bringing in material from China (modules, Battery Management System (BMS), connectors etc), but I found that battery modules would have cost about $2,000 USD, with another $2,000 USD in shipping costs and more than another $2,000 USD in duty. That would have been an investment of $6,000 USD (approximately nearly $8,000 CDN) to make my own “bare-bones” 400A bank (same size as what I currently have). I found the Trojan battery dealer in India and considered buying the new drop-in Trojan Trillium batteries, but that was going to cost nearly $10,000 USD. Alternatively, I sought out and dealt with a reputable, experienced USA-Indian manufacturer, UltraLife (primarily a defence contractor), that worked with me to design and build a custom 400A battery for about $4,400 CDN (approximately $3,300 USD). UltraLife took the specifications that I provided (dimensions, capacity, maximum current draw, maximum charging current) and designed/built a professional solution to meet our requirements.

Last week we drove to Bangalore to meet with the UltraLife people and in particular the Sales Team headed by Jaideep Nandy. They provided us with a briefing to show how the battery was built, how we should operate it and what to expect. This is what the battery, and charger looked like on their test bench.

They cranked up the charging to about 55A and I had a good look at the inside. These are interior photos of the UltraLife battery showing the quality of workmanship.

When we brought the battery to the boat, it was fairly heavy at about 80kg, but it makes a very nice, neat package, ready for installation. The box is made of galvanized steel, with powder coated paint.

These are final, in position photos showing the installation. The battery is a good fit, and there is cramped but sufficient room for the two busbars and 3 current shunts (Magnum, Victron and Balmar) used for the metering systems.

Several months ago, when I was setting up this purchase, I requested a Victron BMV-712 Smart-Bluetooth Meter. This Victron meter is very popular and has been in the market for several years. A few weeks later, I learned that there is an even better meter on the market, the Balmar SG200. This is a very smart self-learning monitor that is said to give a State of Charge (SOC) reading that is accurate to within 97% after only two cycles. SOC is an important parameter to monitor, and one that has proven difficult for the industry to pin down. Most meters “slip” over time, and may give an SOC of 95%, when it could be only 50%. It depends on how long it has been since the battery has had a full, dock-side charge. This is apparently not the case with the Balmar meter, it self-learns with only partial charging, so I had to get one. My strategy will be to monitor current in/out using the Victron display, and at a glance see the SOC on the Balmar display. After using both meters for a few days, I much prefer the Balmar model. The Victron is quite hard to read, with or without the backlight. For this kind of money, they should have put a little more effort into human factors design. The Balmar, on the other hand is top notch.

Not related to the batteries, two months ago we had all our interior upholstery in the settee replaced. The material is excellent, much better than we had before. The workmanship first-rate, at a discounted Indian price.

Road Trip to Bangalore

29 August 2019 – Road Trip to Bangalore

Bangalore in the state of Karnataka is the high tech mecca of India. Last week, Varghese drove us to Bangalore so that I could take delivery of our new house battery. The next post will talk more about this battery, while this post deals with the road trip.

We left the boat at 0730, for the start of a 3-day 550km road trip, including two overnights in Bangalore. A 550km road trip in Canada might take 5 hours, or even less, but in India – its a major production, because most of the roads are unsuitable for high speeds. Until we went on this 12.5 hour road trip (each way), we had never been in a moving vehicle faster than 60 km/hr. That may be why India, with its poor roads and reckless drivers – doesn’t suffer many traffic fatalities. Also, it seemed that we needed to stop every 20 km to pay a toll, a small cost, but it took time. Our drive originated in the state of Kerala (population 33M), passed through the state of Tamil Nadu (population 72M) and ended at Bengaluru (Bangalore) in the state of Karnataka (population 61M). Bangalore, by the way, is the birthplace of the famous WWI invention “the Bangalore torpedo”. A Bangalore torpedo is an explosive charge placed within one or several connected tubes. It is used by combat engineers to clear obstacles that would otherwise require them to approach directly, possibly under fire, usually lots of barbed or concertina wire.

This is the route we took, and the states we passed through.

Along the way, we left the lush tropical green environment of Kerala (which they refer to as “Gods Own Country”) and were surprised to see some mountains in the interior. There is a lot to see here, but we were just passing through.

This is probably the best road in all of India, and its a shame you have to stop every 10 minutes to pay a toll. There is not a pothole in sight – and its a divided highway.

At a restaurant alongside the highway, we stopped to have lunch. Most Indian people eat with their hands, they don’t use a knife/fork/spoon. They wash their hands religiously before and after every meal. This gave me an opportunity to photograph Varghese eating with his hands. My Dentist told me that even he eats rice and noodles with his hands and it gives him a verification of the meal temperature.

Although India, in our experience, is an incredibly dirty and rubbish strewn country, there are signs that it is changing. As we entered the state of Tamil Nadu, there was a huge roadside sign advising of the new rules with regards to single-use plastics. The times are “a changing”.

This roadside view illustrates the typical agricultural land that we passed through. Although India has more than 1.2 billion people, there is a lot of green space and incredibly large tracts of seemingly wild land as well.

In the city of Bangalore, we found construction everywhere. The roads were jam packed with traffic of all sorts and there were a lot of detours. In all of India, the driver of a motorbike is obligated to wear a helmet, but most of the states don’t require a passenger to wear one. Here are some enterprising guys that are not only meeting the helmet obligation but also trialling a unique back safety harness!

Cows are sacred in much of India. What we didn’t realize was the impact this presents in the cities. Although we have been in the state of Kerala for 5 months, we’ve never seen a cow on the street. On this trip to Bangalore, we saw plenty of un-owned, “wild” cows just wandering around. This presents a hazard to drivers, as well as pedestrians as they struggle to avoid stepping in cow droppings! The cows wander around, munching on grass and even stopping alongside to eat “treats” left out by the human population, specifically for their benefit.

We did visit with UltraLife India (subject of the next blog) and picked up the battery, all according to plan. On the way back, we drove a similar route (there are several alternatives) and finally ate a traditional Indian breakfast with masala dosa. This dish is a variation of the popular South Indian food dosa, which has its origins in Tuluva Mangalorean cuisine. It is made from rice, lentils, potato, methi, and curry leaves, and served with chutneys and sambar. It was kind of like an omelette rolled up in a thin pancake, very delicious.

We had a great breakfast.

These next photos fall under the category “strange things you see along the road”, or at least “strange to us”.

Here is a truck transporting what appears to be farm labourers.

Let there be no doubt, this commuter bus is full, so full that that about 6 guys are hanging on by a thread.

Nearly every bus and truck is adorned with English writing, all advising nearby drivers to SOUND HORN. I don’t know why because I doubt very much that many of the drivers actually speak English, but then consider this. India has 22 official languages. The total number of mother tongues spoken in India is 1,652. However, only around 150 languages have a sizeable speaking population. So, what about English? British colonial legacy has resulted in English being a language for government, business and education. English, along with Hindi, is one of the two languages permitted in the Constitution of India for business in Parliament. Despite the fact that Hindi has official Government patronage and serves as a lingua franca over large parts of India, there was considerable opposition to the use of Hindi in the southern states of India, and English has emerged as a de facto lingua franca over much of India. I have seen people’s driver’s licenses and notifications from Government and business, and its all in English. Despite the fact that only 10% of the population (the educated population I might add) speaks English, this has emerged as their “common” written language.

This truck is obviously carrying some dangerous cargo, perhaps explosives. It says “DON’T KISS ME – – – I AM ON FIRE”.

Finally, as we passed through one of the multitude of toll booth checkpoints, I began to notice the ubiquitous employment of street sweepers, invariably women. This is one of the lowliest and most common occupations in India. There are hardly any trash bins to be found, but its always possible to see someone who is actually paid to pick up trash. I wonder if all these street sweepers might take offence to a nation-wide self-imposed clean-up, thereby making their occupation obsolete?

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.