Conspicuous Lack of a Midget

Trip Start Jun 25, 2003
Trip End Sep 2004

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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Hi Everybody,

Well, after an entire week in Rishikesh under the tutelage of Mr. Bob it was clear Jordan would not reach enlightenment, so it was time for us to move on. Unfortunately, leaving Rishikesh also meant parting ways with our friend and former trip leader, Jenny, who had continued to shield us from the mayhem that is Indian travel even after our Intrepid trip was over. We were on our own for the first time in India, and had to get all the way south to Mumbai in one day. (Technically we weren't on our own as we were still travelling with John, an Irishman chock-full of historical trivia, but knowing the dates of 19th century British-Afghan wars doesn't help us get to Mumbai.) Needless to say we had our most harrowing travel day yet. I won't elaborate, but at one point an elephant walked by our stalled bus window.

Despite everything India had to throw at us, including a parade of orange-robed sadhus, we did finally arrive in Mumbai. Which is a good thing because we were meeting our very good friend Kim who came all the way from New York to travel southern India with us. Mumbai, formerly Bombay, was the gateway to India during British colonial days and even has a very impressive gate down by the harbour to prove it. Surrounded by water, modern office buildings nestle right up to stately colonial relics providing a modern, bustling feel without losing a sense of history. Crazy bazaars blend easily with lazy cricket games in the many parks. After recuperating from our travels and giving Kim a word of warning "Welcome to India, watch out for the poo", we headed to the India Gate to take pictures and catch a ferry for Elephanta Island. Despite the name, there are no elephants on Elephanta Island, which was a bit disappointing. We wandered among the 1500 year-old rock-cut temples filled with magnificent Hindu bas reliefs and sculptures all the while entertained by a wonderful tour guide telling stories from Hindu mythology. Jordan really enjoyed it, especially as there were monkeys everywhere trying to steal from the tourists, should have been Monkeyanta Island.

With only limited time to spend in Mumbai we wanted to make sure not to miss the highlights. One of which Kim found, Laughter Yoga. Jordan wasn't interested as he was loyal to the teachings of Mr. Bob but I managed to persuade him to go. Laughter Yoga began in Mumbai and has since spread all over India and the world. The premise is that by laughing with others you feel better. So each morning groups of people meet in parks and stand in circles going "He He He, Ho Ho Ho". Seems silly but that's the point. I found myself down by the picturesque India Gate in the early morning light standing in a circle with a group of Indians all going "Ha ha ha, He he he". Looking around at each other we all couldn't help but laugh for real, it was really funny. They even had special laughs, e.g. very reserved for Brits - Huh, Huh, Huh; Holding your sides and silent for Chinese. They asked where we were from and then were sorry they didn't have one for Americans, but they did have one for Canada so we all laughed as we pretended to shiver stamp our feet and rub our sides.

The other must do in Mumbai is see a Bollywood blockbuster. From the billboards plastered all over the city there appears to be two types of movies, drama = dancing and singing or action = guns, dancing and singing. We chose to go for the drama, no matter that it would be in Hindi, Bollywood movies aren't known for elaborate plots so I figured I could follow along. We saw one of the more popular movies Kal Ho Naa Ho. Basically a guy loves a girl, but she loves a different guy, but he has a problem with his heart and can't marry her. So the second guy tries to convince the girl to love the first guy, oh and there is a lot of singing and dancing and in the end everyone is happy except the one guy with the bad heart who is dead. The movie is a real tear jerker and Kim and I cried the whole time(except during the dancing - that was happy), Jordan and John claim they were dry-eyed but I definitely heard sobs coming from their direction.

From Mumbai we got the overnight train to Panaji down south in Goa. By this point we were experts at overnight trains and managed the long trip down south with no problem. The south of India is a very different place from the north, not just the palm trees, heat and humidity but also the colonial influence. Goa is a former Portuguese colony and the Catholic influence is very apparent, not nearly as many cows and the people aren't as lean - not sure if there is a connection. We spent an afternoon wandering around Old Goa, known for its colonial churches but were beaten by the heat and gave up our sight seeing to sit in the shade an drink fresh lime sodas - a drink designed for the south of India.

In the heat of the south there was only one thing to do and that was head for the beach. And that we did. After a short drive we were relaxing on the golden sands of Palolem, supposedly one of Goa's more "untouched" beaches. But I think the hundreds of thatch huts, English language menus, and ubiquitous sun-burned Europeans, indicates a fair bit of "touching." Because of our eternal summer of traveling Jordan and I were able to handle the sun, however John and Kim quickly burst into flames and sought shelter in the shade playing cards and drinking lime sodas. We spent the days relaxing on the beach, swimming in the ocean, playing cards and putting the lime soda vendors' kids through college. The biggest excitement of our time there was watching the local fisherman pull in a massive net one sunset. Men stood in the surf hauling in the large net as seagulls circled overhead and fish jumped in attempt to escape, all in the beautiful light of the setting sun. Colorfully dressed local people gathered along the shore to collect the fish. While fat pink Europeans gathered around the locals to take photos. The struggle of pulling in the large net lasted almost 45 minutes and Jordan and I both agree that it was one of the more remarkable sights we have seen while traveling.

From Palolem, we took our very last overnight train to Cochi in Kerala. The best part of arriving in Cochi is that after a week and a half we were no longer on our own. One of Kim's friend's uncle, Anthony, was there to meet us. Anthony lives in Kerala and was more than happy to serve as our tour guide and travel agent. He organized a great place for us to stay that we would have never found on our own, took us to the best restaurants, and helped arrange all of our sightseeing. Cochi is an old trading town with various influences from both East and West. Gorgeous Portuguese houses and narrow European lanes lead down to the waterfront lined with huge Chinese fishing nets. The town is so beautiful we wish we could have stayed longer. We even saw dolphins jumping as we took a boat between the many islands that make up this eclectic city.

The highlight of our stay in Kerala was the backwaters tour. Anthony arranged for us to have the best houseboat EVER. The beautiful houseboat, looking as if it was made of wicker, was truly luxurious. It even had a cushioned rooftop lounge from where we could sit and watch the world float by. We spent a day and a half cruising the narrow canals and channels gazing out as we watched village life go on upon the narrow spits of land that separated the winding waterways. We even saw a cricket game occur on a strip of land no more than five feet wide. They must go through a lot of balls. The bright sun, green pastures, blue waters and brightly clad locals created such a beautiful picturesque scene that we even stopped our ongoing card game, going on since Goa, to watch it.

Unfortunately it was time to say good-bye as Kim headed back to New York, John headed up to Goa and Jordan and I headed further south to Trivandrum to catch our flight to the Maldives. After six weeks in India we were ready for a week on a tropical island.

While traveling we had often heard that the Maldives was the perfect combination of world-class diving and beautiful white-sand beaches. Having spent lots of time in the South Pacific and southern Thailand, I thought I might be a bit hard to impress, but the Maldives are travel-brochure perfect. We even got the Fantasy Island treatment by flying in on our own sea plane. Jordan was slightly upset there was no midget there to meet us, I told him Herve Villachez is dead, to which he then mumbled something about Gary Coleman being available. But we both forgot about the conspicuous lack of a midget when we saw how beautiful the island was.

We spent a week on our tiny speck of a white-sand island surrounded only by other coral reefs and shallow turquoise waters making up an atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It seemed the definition of the middle of nowhere. Which is exactly the break we wanted, and our only activities each day were scuba diving,laying on the beach and eating.

Over the week we dove seven times. The highlight was a school of six or seven manta rays each 10-15 feet long and 7-10 feet wide and absolutely beautiful. We also saw a whale shark which is the largest shark in ocean (Mom, don't worry its a filter feeder, no teeth). We saw countless moray eels (big teeth, but not so bitey), enormous schools containing hundreds of fish, eagle rays, sting rays and of course the ever-circling white tipped reef sharks (big teeth, only bitey if you jam your hand down their throats). All this upon a backdrop of gorgeous hard and soft corals, sea fans and spectacular outcrops and overhangs that provided swim-throughs and caves. We even got to dive a wreck for the first time. I found it kind of eerie and swimming inside it brought back all my Borneo cave anxieties which really isn't a good thing 100 feet down, but at least there is no guano to smell underwater.

So, we are now back in Mumbai before beginning our next adventure in Africa. India proved to be all the good and bad things we thought it would be and so much more. It is definitely a place we hope to return if only to catch the sequel to Kal Ho Naa Ho - Dead Men Dancing.
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