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Turn off the relentless news and escape – India part 4: The Spices of Kerala

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Since this is the only way to travel right now, kick back enjoy this rollicking good tale from Gerry Feehan. 

This is the last in a four-part series on India

After three chaotic days in Mumbai we boarded a plane for the relative calm of Kerala on India’s extreme southwestern tip. The “land of coconuts” is a tropical paradise dense with rain forest, wild elephants, monkeys, tea plantations – and spices. Kerala is home to a wonder of zesty flavours: pepper, cinnamon, licorice, chili, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, turmeric. For centuries the colonial powers fought, won and lost wars over the exotic spice trade.

And from these amazing seeds and roots comes India’s great contribution to world cuisine: curry. We ate curry dishes breakfast, lunch and dinner for a month and never tired of the infinite variety and flavour. In north India meals were largely vegetarian, with the occasional chicken or mutton recipe thrown in. In Kerala, seafood is king and coconut accents every dish.

High in the hills of Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary we were enjoying a birding and spice plantation tour when I heard a loud voice boom through a bamboo thicket: “What da ya call that? How many acres ya got here? What’s the name of that spice?”

It was Joe Tourist (see Part 3 in this series). Our serene ornithological outing was ruined.

We’ve all met Joe Tourist. He’s actually quite an affable, well-meaning fellow. JT maintains a permanent grin even when fumbling through his pack or staring incomprehensibly at a map. He’s overbearing and yet teddy-bear likeable. He is demanding – but tips generously. His impatience is legendary. Mr. Tourist is not a “stop and smell the flowers” kind of guy.

When the guide explains something Joe Tourist repeats it, in case you weren’t listening. And when he isn’t listening (which is most of the time) he insists the story be repeated in precise detail. His wife chides him for his foibles – but loves him dearly.

I suppose we all have a bit of Joe Tourist in us.

Nilgiri Langur

After a spicy few days in Periyar we abandoned the temperate dry hills, the monkeys – and J.T. – for the hot muggy coast.

Kerala’s shoreline is chock-full of brackish waterways and canals, used for transportation, fishing and, during the annual monsoon, to irrigate the endless fields of rice. These beautiful languid backwaters have also given rise to a robust tourist industry: houseboating on a kettuvallum. We boarded our quaint floating lodge at Alleppey for a gentle overnight cruise.

 

kettuvallums ply the Kerala backwaters

The European colonists left a curious legacy in Kerala: many Keralans have a Christian given name. Thus our captain Matthew guided us down the canal while mate Mark manned the lines and, in the galley, Luke prepared roti and fresh prawns. The fourth member of the crew was named, naturally… Ganesh.

Kettuvallum crew

Keralans are a warm, gentle people. In the morning, as we disembarked and walked the rickety gangplank onto shore, the four disciples bid us a polite adieu. We had arrived at the luxurious Kumarakom Lake Resort where we would spend our final two nights in India.

Safely parked in a sea of hyacinths

When you ask an Indian a question, the answer is often a non-verbal head-bobble. This gesture can have a number of meanings: yes, maybe, maybe not. To us Westerners, this cryptic side-to-side head movement can be confusing, frustrating – and also enormously entertaining.

After checking in at the Kumarakom I noticed we were short towels. I returned to the lobby and asked the chap at reception if he could remedy the problem. “I shall try my level best, sir,” he said with an assuring head-bobble. “Room service will fulfill your request, anon.”

Curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Indians have borrowed many quaint British niceties; the bobble is theirs alone. And the towels did indeed appear – quite a bit anon.

After a hectic four weeks, it was odd lounging around a quiet resort, removed from the overwhelming crush of humanity. We were soon bored with lazing in the infinity pool. Florence and I exited the guarded gate for one last dose of India. People nodded shyly as we strolled the narrow lanes. A storefront business advertised Ayurveda – Kerala’s ancient form of therapeutic massage. On a whim we pulled out our last rupees. Within minutes I was laying flat on a wooden-slatted table slathered in aromatic oil. When the session was done the masseur handed me a glass of water.

I quaffed the whole jar and then asked, “Is this water safe… bottled?”

Cruisin’ on a Sunday afternoon

“Oh no sir, good water, not bottled,” he assured me, pointing to an earthenware vessel in the corner. I detected a slight head bobble.

It was Monday. We’d be home Wednesday. I prayed that any intestinal distress would be deferred for at least 48 hours.

Now that’s an infinity pool

The journey home was a two-day endurance test. To avoid a nation-wide general strike and highway blockade brought on by the demonetization of the rupee, we left for Cochin airport at 5 a.m. for our flight back to India’s capital. We then had a half-day layover in Delhi before a 14-hour flight to Toronto.

So long Kerala!

As we searched for the Calgary departure gate at Pearson International, a hubbub emerged from the Air Canada first-class lounge. A guy was bellowing to his wife, “Okay, okay, we’ve done India. Where’da ya want go next. I say we see Belize.” It was Joe Tourist.

We hurried by.

It was tough navigating the icy road home from Calgary. On arrival in Red Deer, unable to keep eyes open, we collapsed into bed at noon. Before passing out I turned to Florence and said, “Oh my god, we’re going to Belize next year. Do you think we might run into that Joe Tourist guy again?”

“You never know,” she said. ”It’s a small world.”

Thanks to Rod Kennedy and Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for helping to make this series possible.  Please support them.

 

If you go: Explore India from Vancouver B.C. (www.exploreindia.ca) capably and professionally handled all aspects of our private month-long tour – air and land travel, hotels, meals, guides, drivers, entrance fees and activities – for one all-inclusive price.

 

 

Here’s are Parts 1-3 of Gerry’s series on India.

“India? Are you nuts?” Join Gerry for Part 1 of his series on India.

India Part 2- Terrific photos! Experience the Taj Mahal and Ganges with Gerry Feehan

Join Gerry for a wild ride through the Slums of Mumbai Pt. 3 of a 4 part series

We hope you enjoyed The spices of Kerala.  Click here are more travel stories.

 

 

 

 

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CAM TAIT’S SPIN NO 4: Obama, Trudeau, Gord Whitehead

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‘Adventures in Pandemica’ or ‘What I did on my Isolation Vacation’

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Adventures in Pandemica’ or ‘What I did on my Isolation Vacation’

Our trip to Pandemica was unplanned. It began March 17, 2020, on a sunny St Patrick’s Day. The voyage was short, comfortable and hassle-free. No packing, no suitcases, no plane tickets – and no jetlag. We simply got out of bed and we were there. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this strange land or how long we’d be here, so I acquired a couple of travel books. Fodors Guide to the Living Room has come in handy and Lonely Toilet has been indispensable.

The climate in Pandemica is quite lovely. The weather hovers around room temperature year-round and there’s very little precipitation – with the exception of an occasional morning shower. The sights and sounds are unique, wondrous, spectacular. I never get tired of staring into the refrigerator. There’s something raw and primal about gazing vacantly into an appliance, the barefoot uncombed silence broken only by the perpetual tick of a kitchen clock. Pandemica is a fun, exciting place. Every day brings new adventure, challenges and occasionally, life-defining choices. Should I brush my teeth before or after checking the mailbox? Is that stale-dated yogurt edible or shall I just heave it?

Although not a big place (as vacation spots goes), Pandemica has lots of interesting, undiscovered regions to explore. Don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path. Move that fridge. Open the hide-a-bed. Look behind the stove. Venture outside your comfort zone. Here you will discover strange sights, ancient artifacts, long-forgotten foodstuffs. And before vacuuming up the primordial grime and decades-old grit, reminisce and enjoy the moment. Take the time to really examine that plastic letter ‘K’ you found under the oven. Time will fly. Before you know it, it’ll be time to stand naked in front of the fridge again.

The view from my armchair is comforting but yesterday, throwing caution to the wind, I snuck out the back door to dump the garbage. I scanned the perimeter for Covid-19 police, then made a dash for the alley. The fresh air on my face was intense and exhilarating – but also unfamiliar and a little unnerving. I looked up at the clear blue sky. There were no contrails. I shuddered involuntarily and scurried back inside to seek comfort from the daily White House briefing.

Often, we sleep in. But one day, it was a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday, I got up early… and sat on the couch.

Time in sequestration can pass slowly if one doesn’t keep mind honed and body occupied. And since I’m a ‘get things done’ kind of guy, early on I created a to-do list:

  • look longingly out window
  • observe woman at other end of sofa knitting something
  • check corona virus stats
  • wander aimlessly from room to room wondering what it was you went in there for
  • descend into YouTube wormhole/re-watch Groundhog Month
  • stare vacuously into refrigerator
  • (repeat above steps as necessary until mind is comfortably numb)

Before you know it the day will be over and it’ll be time for bed. And you can look forward to tomorrow – and another pathetic day executing the same monotonous rituals. But remember, a steadfast routine is what makes life worthwhile, consequential, meaningful.

We borrowed a 1000-piece puzzle from the neighbours. It took forever. Cleaning each chunk before assembly was enormously gratifying and a real time killer.

 

For moi, self-isolation has ratcheted up the agoraphobia factor a couple of notches. The more I’m confined, the less I’m socially inclined. Humans are an adaptive species – but also remarkably sheep-like. The new awkward requires that, on those rare occasions where we dare step outside to seek provisions, we keep our heads down, move quickly to the other side of the vegetable aisle and, at all costs, avoid eye contact. I’m really enjoying it.

And it’s interesting how quickly we have evolved to accept and adopt strange new mores, such as physical distancing. On the thirteenth straight night of Netflix, I began talking to the television, quietly berating the stars of a ‘90s sitcom. The actors were co-mingled around a coffee table, unabashedly unmasked. I really lost it when they hugged, high-fived and then broke bread together. Disgusted, I switched over to watch Gravity, not my favourite flic, but at least the cast had the decency to wear space suits.

From the heights of my step ladder in the dining room, the vista is stunning. I have an unobstructed look at the neighbour’s garage and a bird’s-eye-view of our entire ceiling. Overcome by this stippled splendor I nearly forgot my purpose atop the ladder. But I was quickly brought back down from my lofty reverie when my wife hollered, ‘Are you or are you not going to remove the dead flies from that light fixture.’

We so enjoyed our trip to Pandemica that we decided to exercise the full two-month extension. And I’m proud to say I’ve now checked off some lifetime bucket-list items: taking down the Christmas lights before June, vacuuming the wood pile, discarding a pair of mis-matched socks, sharpening a drawer full of dull pencils. There’s more but I don’t want to boast about my less sensational achievements.

At the end of week nine we finally caved and invited a couple of friends over for a social-distancing dinner. What with catching up, toasts to the ‘new normal’, etc., it went rather too well and, since no taxis were operating, our friends and their car had an impromptu sleep-over. After breakfast, unwilling to don her previous evening’s formal attire, our lady-friend exited the house barefoot, clad only in a pair of borrowed pajamas. Fortunately, no nosy neighbours were extant. But a murder of crows, blissfully ignorant of their obligation to self-isolate after a winter abroad, were on hand to raucously caw Barb’s ‘walk of shame’ down the driveway.

When this mess is finally over, I’m not sure I want to go back to work. Come to think of it, since I didn’t have a vocation before this compulsory vacation, I’m pretty sure I’m not going back.

Thanks to Rod Kennedy and Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for helping to make this series possible.  Please support them.

 

“Can you tell me if there’s a good spot to fish around here?”

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august, 2020

fri07augAll Daymon17WALK TO BREATHE from Calgary to Edmonton(All Day)

thu27aug(aug 27)12:00 amsun30(aug 30)11:59 pmHUGE Garage Sale for Crime Prevention12:00 am - 11:59 pm (30) PIDHERNEY CURLING CENTRE, RED DEER, AB, 4725 43 St, Red Deer, AB T4N 6Z3 Event Organized By: The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre

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