A Travellerspoint blog

December 2007

Two Kinds of Tours

Our Days in the Cairo Area

sunny 18 °C


Dec 22-25



Getting to Cairo from Mumbai, about seven hours total flying, was a grueling 24 hour process. The main feature of this trip was a nine-hour layover in Abu Dhabi from midnight until morning. It's not that big or interesting an airport, but it was open all night. More importantly, a comfortable lounge in the transit hotel was open (for a fee of $46 U.S.). So we got free buffet, drinks and wireless internet and couches for sleeping. By the time we had a real night's sleep in Cairo, I'd had nine meals. Jenn and Anica said no to a few of these opportunities, like on the plane, which turned out to be wise. Anica got airsick just before we landed, from a combination of turbulence and being queasy from being overtired.

Our first impressions of Cairo were: it's so clean, it's so spacious, it's so pretty! Well, we had just spent two months in India. There's nothing we saw in India like the grand, spotlessly litter-free bouvelards that lead from Cairo's airport. And, when we did see more of the hectic jumble of Cairo and Giza, it still seemed so different from India that we felt reinvigorated and ready to explore this unique nation and its cultures.

There's nothing better than being shown around by the local residents, and, for our first two days in Cairo, that's exactly what happened. It was the tour-before-the-tour, as we met the son and daughter of Jenn's Dad's co-worker (got that?), who live in Cairo. Jenn's Dad works in Saudi Arabia, and although we'd never met Taha, let alone his children, they graciously arranged to meet us...and treat us! Salma and Kareem took us for dinner on our first night at an Egyptian restaurant along the popular strip called "El Mohandeseen."

We had, among the other kebabs and spreads, our first-ever pigeon. It was stuffed with rice and served whole (except the head), with crispy skin. After a lot of food, we walked it off a little along Mohandeseen before stopping at an extremely popular hangout that served fresh fruit drinks (kind of like a smoothy with fresh fruit on top). We also sampled some of the bulk nuts and seeds for sale (and got a few paper flutes full of these to take away). We were simply not allowed to pay for a cent of this ourselves. Before helping us get a taxi (much cheaper than the hotel's car), we saw the apartment block where Salma and Kareem live and which their grandfather began building when he first came to Cairo.

The next morning (my birthday, incidentally) we met Salma outside the Coptic Museum. She chose it as one of the most interesting sites to see that we wouldn't get to on our Imaginative Traveller tour. Good choice! The museum itself is beautiful, with painted carved wooden ceilings, stained glass, Islamic-style wooden screen windows, and palmed-treed courtyards. The early Coptic Christian finds show how the Ankh was linked to the Cross, and Isis was likened to Mary. There's a painted niche that, surprisingly, shows Mary breast-feeding Jesus (who of course looks like a tiny adult). Most amazing to me was the collection of books from the Nag Hammadi library. Found in the 20th century, they include Gnostic gospels, and a Gospel of Thomas from the 4th or 5th century. The leather covers are even intact.

The Coptic Museum part of a larger complex, closed to most traffic, where we got to see six churches and one synagogue. One church is called "The Hanging Church" because its foundation is a Roman-era Tower, cut away at one end. There's also a monastery dedicated to St. George, St. Sergius Church, St. Barbara Church, and a nunnery.

From this district, we got on the subway with Salma. The Cairo Metro sets aside the first two cars for women only, and the rest are mixed. We got on the mixed so I wouldn't be alone. We went for lunch and had kushary, a delicious dish of pasta, beans, chick peas, and dried onions, which you then mix up all together in a bowl and pour tomato sauce over. There's also a spicier red sauce, which Jenn and I used. For dessert, we went to a corner place that served "sopia," a coconut pudding sprinkled with cinnamon. That was more of a hit for Anica than the kushary. Both places were extremely popular, and we were the only tourists there.

Finally, Salma took us on a walk through a traditional Cairo neighborhood in the Islamic quarter (judging from all the mosques), and we went in one. I had to go in on the men's side, so I wandered through the mosque alone, in my sock-feet of course.

On December 24th, our tour began. The previous evening we had met everyone. There are lots of kids Anica's age, which is nice. There are three families from Australia, and one family from England, and us, totalling twenty people. Our tour leader, Jackie, is Canadian, and her husband is Egyptian, also a tour leader with Imaginative Traveller. So, in a sense, Jackie has local knowledge, like Manu did in India.

The first stop was the Citadel, and the Mosque of Mohammad Ali (not the boxer, but the 19th century Egyptian nationalist), which is modelled on the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

The Mosque of Mohammad Ali, The Citadel, Cairo

Also, from the top of the Citadel there is a great panoramic view of Cairo. I was a little surprised at how the local guide, Aladdin, gave everyone a long lecture about Islam, as we sat on the carpeted but still cold floor of the Mosque. Actually I was a little surprised that we all could just go in together, males and females, and that the only visitors seemed to be tourists, because that's completely different from the mosque we visited yesterday.

Next we went to the Egyptian Museum, after a forgettable falafel sandwich lunch in a touristy market area. The contents of the Egyptian Museum are embarassingly good. It would be even more mind-blowing if it weren't so amateurishly displayed. Almost all the King Tut objects are there, for instance, only the identical pieces are loaned out to other museums. We saw the famous golden death mask, the four shrines that fit inside each other like Russian dolls to hold Tut's sarcophagus, and many, many other objects. The real highlight, however is the Mummies room. This holds only royal mummies, and you can get up really close to them (right across the glass, which has no alarm or perimeter). I was nose to nose with Ramses II, the great pharoah who ruled Egypt for 67 years, for example. Another favourite of mine was the Narmer Palette, on the first floor, which illustrates how Narmer (King Menes, the first dynasty) unified Upper and Lower Egypt. Here is recorded history on display from 3100 BC (more than 5,000 years ago)!

Christmas Day was even better. Importantly, Santa Claus found Anica in Egypt and filled her stocking, and left a couple of gifts as well. Although it was less than other years, Anica was thrilled, because Santa knows we've been travelling light, so he brought more than she had even hoped for.

Then, it was off to the Great Pyramids of Giza. We'd seen them, driving by, several times. Mere glimpses really. As we got closer and closer, their enormity is revealed. It's not the height, but the fact that each stone block is taller than a person, and weighs at least two tons. All 12 million blocks. And for me, as a historian, it's their age. Built more than 4,500 years ago, the only wonder of the ancient world still standing. At the base of the biggest pyramid is one of the white marble slabs that was once the facing stone for all three pyramids. They must have been dazzlingly white in ancient times. Leaning back against that block also showed us how steep the angle really is. You can still climb up a little bit of the pyramid, but for our tour group, a special treat was climbing down into one of the three little pyramids.

Anica, back in daylight, after a trip down into one of the queen's pyramids at Giza

From a panoramic viewpoint some distance south of the pyramids, we had a camel ride to the other side, close to the Sphinx. The Sphinx, too, was impressive. Everybody says it's small, but that shows a poor understanding of this enormous figure carved directly from the quarry. Having this great experience, everybody soon forgot it was Christmas morning. The visit was very enjoyable, too, because the crowds were small, and the hawkers were very low-key, not interrupting us hardly at all.

In the afternoon, after a group lunch out, and a visit to a papyrus institute, Anica got to play with the other kids at the hotel's playground for a couple of hours. She was already making friends with a nine year old girl named Jacqui, and they were sitting together on the bus, but this free time to play really helped the kids get to know each other. This first hotel, the Oasis Hotel, has been excellent, despite being in the middle of nowhere (just like a real oasis!), and despite the fact that the weather's too cold for swimming (it's peaked at about 16 during the day, but it's closer to zero at night - this is the first time in five months we've needed to layer our clothing).

Christmas night, it was dinner on the train. Not exactly a Christmas dinner feast! In fact, since the cabins are for two people, I bunked with Wayne, the dad in another family of three. We were on our way overnight to Aswan, a thousand kilometres south of Cairo. I ranked the Egyptian train as nicer than India and Vietnam, but not as nice as China. Our Egyptian train, however, is a special train for tourists. We have armed guards. We will also travel in convoys of buses as we make our way north, also with armed escorts. Egypt takes no chances with its tourists.

"Pyramid Time!!!"


Dec 22

We arrived in or at Cairo Internatinal Airport from Abu Dhabi at about 12:00. And we were very surprised when our driver from Imaginative Traveller meet us before Custems! So when we got to the Oasis hotel (a very nice 4 star hotel) we checked in, saw the playground (!) and swimming pool and finally arrived at our room. A beautifull room with two separate beds (they were going to add an extra one), tv, preatty nice washroom and a desk. We spent most of the day playing and resting before going out to see Salma and Kareem. We had a lovely Egyptian dinner which encluded Chicken cream soup for Mommy and Daddy and tomato soup for Salma and Kareem, Pita and 5 different kinds of sauces, pigeon stuffed with lightly seasoned rice and french fries and all diffrent types of kebab meat. Then they took us to a drink place and bought us sdink that had mango, strawberry and bana juice. g.n.

Dec 23

We got a taxi to the Coptic musem were we met Salma, and saw lots of Egyptian stuf, then went to 7 churches, 1 Islamic, 1 Jewish, all the rest Christen. Then she took us to lunch where we had a dish with pasta, chickpea, lentils, rice and dried onion. Then we went t this sweet place where we had cocunut pudding. Then went inside a mousqe, said goodbye to Salma, took a taxi back and had dinner, mett out tour leader Jackie. G.N.

"Christmas and Camel"

Dec. 24

We had just arrived at a citadel in Cairo and we already had to take out shoes off. We had a very long talk with our local tour guide Aladdin about the religen, Islam. I also knew the story about Abraham! After that we took a little drive to a bazzar, where we tried to find an ATM, but no luck! So for lunch we had fallafel sandwhices with Aladdin, a girl named Jacqui, Tim, Lockie, Melanie, Phil, Wayne, Alce, Rachel and Rhiannon. When we were having lunch this man walked over to Alice, shaked her hand and kissed it!? Then we went to the Egyptian museum, drove home, had dinner. G.N.

Dec. 25


Today we got up and saw presants! What I got for Christmas was in my stocking: airplane, English dictionary, 2 strawberry shortcake figures, chocolates, a big bag of mixed candy, scrabble cards, and a Polly Pockets car. And the big present was a BARBIE FASHION FEVER! which came with clothes, jelarey and shoes. From Mommy and Daddy, Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince, a digital watch (!), a mouse, etc. P.S. Santa also gave me a duck too.

We arrived at the entrance to the Giza Pyramids at about 10:00 and Jackie got us tickets and entered! First, me, little Jacqui, Lockie and Tim climbed up some of the rocks on the pyramid, before the Tourist Police came along.

Not busted yet! Anica and some of the kids scamper up the north face of the Great Pyramid

Then we went into one of the little Queen's Pyramids, where you had to go down really steep steps. Then we went on a CAMEL!!! (very fun)! Then we went to see the Cat-King-Tut-like Sphinx (neat-o-rama). Then we had a yummy lunch of pita and sauces, falafel, chicken, french fries and pudding. Then we went to the papyrus institute, went home, played, had dinner (on the train)! G.N.

Posted by jennrob 22:25 Archived in Egypt Comments (5)

Mumbai: Last Stop in India

Conclusions after two months?

sunny 32 °C

Anica looks out over the bay from the Marine Drive boardwalk, near Nariman Point

Dec 18-21


Mumbai was our last stop in India, and we were anxious to get some errands done (buy warmer clothes and Christmas shop for Anica) and then move on smoothly to Egypt, so we weren't expecting to get much out of time there. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Mumbai did not inspire us to wish we had more time in it. Mostly, it's filthly. Nowhere else we've been in India, not even Agra or Delhi, has the dirt and the poverty so evident. From right outside the airport, Mumbai has pockets of squatters' shantytowns wherever there's space available. Some look semi-permanent, while others are just a spot on a sidewalk. Two whole families lived on the sidealk across from our hotel, the boy (perhaps three) had no pants. And they weren't beggars; they just didn't have employment enough to afford somewhere to live.

Some children, and adults, sell Santa hats this time of year. There was an article in a local newspaper explaining how they have no idea who Santa Claus is, just that they will be able to sell these hats in December. One child was asked why he wasn't in school. He said, "if I'm sitting in school, who will earn for me?"

It's surprising, then, that the hotels don't hide the newspapers from their foreign guests, considering what stories get printed. We got not one, but three newspapers delivered for free to our door each morning. We read about the goats in Mumbai (and we'd seen them, in a city of eight million people, there are few good places to stable a cow or goat) that were brought to the city to be ritually slaughtered for the Muslim feast, but then got so sick, they weren't healthy enough to be killed. So the vet hospitals are filled with goat!.

And there was the story about a rapidly-growing city near Mumbai that now has 33, 000 millionaire residents. A staggering 15% of the population of that town are millionaires! That's where they're hiding, we thought. There is wealth in Mumbai itself, too: a non-descript Nariman Point's penthouse recently fetched a record price of over 30 million dollars.

At the same time, however, the largest shopping mall in India, Crossroads, has just shut down. That made our Christmas shopping more difficult. But we found some good areas to do our shopping, with department stores and bazaars.

Yes, the hotel. This was another trip back in time to the 1950s. There was an elevator operator, for instance. The "Chateau Windsor," near the Churchgate Railway station, was actually a pretty good place to stay, but seemed so overpriced at $90 a night. That's Mumbai, I guess, compared to the prices we'd enjoyed in Kerala. In the neighborhood of Churchgate, there was a nice grocery store, a bakery (called Gaylord's), a pizzeria (called Pizzeria), and a couple of English-language bookstores (an "Oxford", and "The Strand"). So we did find some familiar big-city conveniences, but not an abundance of them.

Just down the street there was a huge, Art-Deco movie-bouse called The Eros. We managed to see "Jab Me Met" (the title is an example of Hinglish) on the last night of its seven-week run in this cavernous theatre. It was understandable enough and quite entertaining, our second-favourite Bollywood film on this trip (Om Shanti Om is still #1!). Also, on the day we left, we killed time by seeing "Bee Movie" in a shopping mall's multiplex. I think it just opened this week here. "Bee Movie" had an interval (intermission) even though it was far shorter than the typical three-hour Bollywood movie. At both films, we all stood for the Indian national anthem. Our waiter today said he'd interviewed with Farimont to work in Canada..."somewhere that starts with s," he said. For us, it's not home to Canada yet (nope, not even halfway done yet), but on to Egypt.

Dec 18


Title: "Eeeeew! Indian cities! Grrrooosss! Beggars, hockers, what else? Even just after five hours, we wanted to go to Cairo"

We had just arrived at Mumbai International airport when we were flying from Kovalam in India! (Because for some - weird - reason Air India wants you at International departures in Kovalam and Mumbai international for landing!) So we got an ordinary taxi (for them at least) and said "Windsor hotel, please?" "Yes." But what could happen next? So when we were about there I said Mommy we just passed a Pizzeria and according to these (guidebook) pages that's on the street our hotel's on! And..before we knew it we were in Colaba! But when we finally got to our hotel (45 minutes later) and got out and walked away our driver was probably thinking (by the look on his face) "why didn't I get a tip?" So we checked in and walked down to our room since reciption was on the fifth floor and our room on 2nd floor. Beatiful room, one bed, sitting area, tv, desk, fridge, hot water, and clean! (too). So we went to the Pizzeria and had a lovely lunch of garlic cheese bread for me and pizza for Mommy and Daddy, walked around, looked in shops, had dinner, Good Night.

Posted by jennrob 08:08 Archived in India Comments (5)

Deep in Kovalam's Labyrinth

Also: Indian Junk Food Confessions

sunny 28 °C

Kovalam's Lighthouse Beach, as seen from the top of the lighthouse

Dec 11-17


We moved a little south along the coast for one more relaxing week at a beach town in India. We are now in Kovalam, which has a completely different look to it when compared to Varkala. Kovalam is a series of four crescent-shaped beaches along a coast, bisected by a classic, red-and-white-striped lighthouse tower. The beach itself is, as advertised, not as nice as Varkala, but that's why we got a hotel with a swimming pool!

Getting door to door service from Villa Anamika in Varkala to Hotel Thushara in Kovalam proved technically impossible, because there are no roads wide enough for a car as you get closer to the beachfront in Kovalam. But, with only mild prompting, our taxi driver gamely got out, put on the biggest of our backpacks and started calling out "Thushara? Thushara?" and leading us along as various bemused locals pointed this way and that.

In a couple of minutes, we'd found our hotel, and thanked the driver. We'd also had an introduction to one of the fascinating features of Kovalam: the rabbit-warren of laneways that criss-cross the area between the beach and the western-most main road. They run in all directions, some like alleyways, with frequent ninety degree turns. Various properties are glimpsed as you go: small guest-houses, stores, homes...and the backyard of one may be the front of another, which could be across from the side of a third. On a later day, we actually set out to find our way back in a completely different way. Like rats challenging themselves in a new maze!

Despite all these buildings, hundreds of palm trees anchor the sloping hillside, rising up improbably between the densely-packed buildings. So, when we're lying by the poolside, we're staring up mostly at sun and palm trees.

The boardwalk is built up just three feet above the black-sand beach. These beaches are working fishermen's territory. Despite the umbrellas and lounge-chairs for rent, and the endless number of seafood restaurants that line the boardwalk, the characteristic sight remains the hand-fishing. Huge nets are paddled out to sea in wooden boats, then later pulled in from shore by a group of men in a tug-of-war formation. At times, call-and-response singing aids this work. As the net gets closer, some of the men hop into the water, and, from inside the net, slap the fish down! The boats not in use are brought right up unto the beach. Meanwhile, a huge crowd will gather around as the contents of a net is finally revealed. It's a variation on the "Chinese fishing nets" of Fort Cochin that I'll forever associate with being in Kovalam.

Anica with one of the fishing boats parked on a beach, Kovalam

Meanwhile, the touts and hawkers continue to call to us. It's frustrating, but there have been a few purchases we took advantage of. Here, you can "rent" books. You pay the given price for a used book, say 250 rupees, and if you return it, you get back all your money minus 10 rupees per day. Kind of like a library run by people who don't trust anybody. Well, they're losing money on us. Jenn and I can read a book a day sitting by the pool, so we've been only paying 10 rupees (that's 26 cents) per book!

The pool here is lovely and clean, and the people staying here are quite nice, almost all British, here on package deals by the week. We've found a couple of restaurants that are a cut above the others. One is called "Fusion" and has a three page menu ("East," "West" and "Fusion"). The other is called "Waves, the German Bakery," which has Indian and "German" dishes. One night, at Fusion, we saw a couple who were in Kumily (staying where we did) and Varkala at the same time as us. It turns out they're Canadians, from Montreal. They're on a six-month trip, and our stops overlapped at these three locations. We'd never talked before, but the mutual feeling of "are we following each other" got the better of us.

On our last day in Kovalam (seeing as how we left at 4 AM the next morning), we walked up the 142 steps of the lighthouse, accompanied by Bev and Steve, an English couple also staying at Hotel Thushara. We were rewarded with a spectacular view - and it was a perfectly clear day. On the way back, all five of us tried to thread our way through untested laneways. We promptly got lost, emerging, laughing, just a few feet down the beach from where we started. The labyrinth won again!

Finally, before we leave India, I must mention "Kukure." We have become addicted to this Indian junk food (which, if you read the fine print is manufactured by "Pepsico"). It started in Goa, when I was buying a pack of Lays "Magic Masala" chips, and the girl at the counter cracked open a pack of Kukure "Masala Munch." They look like Cheetos (for you North Americans), but are much spicer! Jenn and I both have had Kukure throughout India since Goa.

Dec 11-15


"Another Beach"

We found a lot of restaurants in Varkala, but here we've only found two super good ones, called Fusion, which has fusion, west and east (yum) and Wave also known as the German bakary which has quiche for Mummy. For Daddy, fish fried in local spices. And for me, frankfuter susges with hot mustard (not very hot) and baggute.

The beach isen't very good but our pool is good!

There were no Dairy Milk Fruit and Nut bars or any Dairy Milk product in Varkala, only Mars, Snickers, Country (a sort of cocunut choclate bar) and Saifari a choclate bar with chocolate, marshmellow cream and wafer). And Mommy likes it here because they are.

"A List of Important Tips to India by Anica for Daddy and Mommy, Published 2007"

Tip #1 Always get Kukure Masala Munch whenever you can get them, not Lays!

Tip #2 Never give money or food to beggars because they might be faking it. Who knows if they are?

Tip #3 (This one for Mommy) Stop getting mosquito bites!

Tip #4 Do not go to Trivandrum; Mumbai is enough for big cities.

Posted by jennrob 20:53 Archived in India Comments (3)

The Cliffs of Insanity

Life on the edge in Varkala, Kerala (India)

sunny 28 °C

Varkala Beach nearing sunset

Dec 6 -10


A beautiful drive down from the Cardamon Hills near Periyar (which unfortunately made Anica feel car-sick). Just six hours to cover 190 km! The Ambassador cab we were in had neither heating nor cooling controls on the dashboard. Of course, it got much hotter as we got closer to sea level.

On the way, we saw some of the pilgrims on their way to Sabrimala. We were still about 50 km away from it, but this is the second-largest pilgrimage in the world, so there was a fair bit of traffic. In a two-month span, over one and a million people (men only) will visit the Ayappan shrine. Whether they go by tuk-tuk, car, or bus, their vehicles are decorated for the journey, so the worshippers are very easy to spot.

We also drove by (more like through) a cattle market. We actually asked our driver to stop because it was such an incredible scene. There was cattle on both sides of the road, and hundreds in the gully below the road. Most of them had their horns painted to identify them, so, as it often is in India, the gathering was vividly colourful.

Our cab managed to negotiate the narrow laneways of Varkala and dropped us off right at the door to our guest-house, Villa Annamika. They have five rooms in their house, and ours was surprisigly spacious for just $18 a night. That even included an extra mattress for Anica.

A brief walk (less than 200 meters) got us to the "main drag" here in Varkala, which is a cobblestone sidewalk that runs along the cliff's edge. Below, down about 60 feet of red, volcanic rock is the beach. Very dramatic! And great views from anywhere along the cliff. All the restaurants line up, along with the usual souvenir stores, etc. for a view out the Arabian sea.

[/i]Looking up at the cliff from the beach, Varkala[i]

Unfortunately, there's a sameness to these restaurants, in both menu and decor, which are pretty much just for tourists. Also, both the stores and the restaurants have their "touts" out front, trying to entice you in to buy. Especially with the souveir stores, this just annoys us. There's really no chance we're going to buy a cheap trinket and either carry it around for months or ship it home. So, as we stroll along the cliffside, we have to use our strategies for fending off touts and hawkers that we've honed these past four months. The best one is probably to just pretend you're deaf and say nothing at all. But what fun is that? Jenn prefers a strong, clear "NO," while I like to be more creative. But that sometimes backfires on me. From our time on Nathan Road in Hong Kong, I came up with a response to the calls of "Hello Rolex," etc. My response would be "Hello maple syrup," because that's a typical Canadian tourist product that's representative my homeland. It did tend to cofound them. Here in India, the hawkers often ask if you "like" what they're selling, as in "do you like wooden flutes?" And I'd say, "No, wooden flutes killed my brother." The first time I said that Anica said "You don't have a brother!" so I had to say, "yes, because of the wooden flutes." But soon she caught on and thought it was funny. Yesterday, out walking in Varkala, a man asked me if I liked small drums. "No, small drums killed my brother," I responded. Like a good drummer, he didn't miss a beat. "I have a bigger one," he said. Wow. That's persistent.

Anyway, down on the beach, there's almost no hawking, so it's a very nice scene. You haggle for an umbrella rental and then you're left to enjoy it. The water's warm and clear, but can be rough. The waves are quite strong, so we played near shore with Anica, and at times it took both of us to keep her from being knocked over. After a couple of very full days at the beach, we suffered our first sunburns of the trip. Jenn stayed out of the sun completely for a day, and Anica and I only went swimming in the early morning and at sunset yesterday. Every day, we've run into the same family from Switzerland, whose little girl, May, is a couple of years younger than Anica. May doesn't speak any English, and Anica doesn't speak any Swiss-German, but they've had a great time with the waves and the seashells.

Dec 6


"Car Drive and Villa Annamika"

Today we got up, had breakfast, and ran upstairs, grabbed our stuff and ran downstairs to get in the car. After about half an hour in the car I started to feel motin sick which was weird because I had taken my (adult) gravol (adult because every pharmacy that we went to didn't have it). So after a long time of (acuttly felling barfy) I said "Mommy I'm going to lie down." "Ok." But it actully made me feel worse, so I told Mommy and she said "It's probbley the turn turn every now and then." "Mommy?" "Yes." "Can I listen to the i-pod?" "Yes." "Thanks." So I listened to the i-pod, and made a on-the-go of 41 songs! These are the artists: Bruce Spingsten, ABBA, Eva Avila, Avril Lavigne. So when we arrived at a (very nice) Villa Annamika, we checked in , looked at our room, and went on a walk. We saw the (nice) beach, saw a restarnt ad had diner. Good Night!

Dec 7


"Varkala Beach Cliff"

Today we woke up, put on our swim-suits and walked down the beach for breakfast (at Cafe Del Mar). Then walked down the beach and played in the water for a bit before reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoneix. Then well we were playing we met this nice girl called May. So we played with her. Then we had lunch, went home, rested, had dinner. G.N. (Good Night)

Dec 8-10


Yesterday we played with May, a girl we met on our first full day, in the waves, which was very fun.

The waves were so big they knocked us over 3 TIMES!

Thers this one restaunt called Sea Queen, but I prefer to call it Monster restraunt because they attack us to come in there restaruant every time we pass!

The girl who owns Villa Anamika does paintings and owns a dog.

Posted by jennrob 21:11 Archived in India Comments (5)

Spice in Every Step

A "pure for sure" time at Periyar

sunny 19 °C

"Pure for sure" with a picture of the "okay" sign is seen all over India at gas stations. It's become a catch-phrase/motto for us!

A Bamboo Raft waits to take us across for a morning hike in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

Nov 30


Today (the last day in Cochin) we slept in really late. Then we went to look around Kochi for a bit before having lunch at Kashi Art Cafe. Which was a declious meal of Bean soup, cold pasta salad and garlic toast. Wed decidad to have chocolte cake for dessert, which was very yummy. Then after a quick trip to the playground, we decided to go home to rest! So we got our math, spelling, diary done before I played the Amazing tuck tuck! [Rob's editorial note - this is what Anica means by "rest"] Then we went to Dal roti for some of the decilous chicken and nan (lick)! Also the man there drew me a picture of him! Then we went back to our hotel and cause I got water on my p.j. top I slept half barnaked! g.n.

Dec 1


By Ambassador cab today, we made the (as it turned out) six hour drive to Kumily, on the edge of the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, where our next accomodation was arranged. The distance is less than 200 kilometres, but we averaged 30 km an hour on the twisty, poorly-paved roads that wind up the Cardamon Hills to almost 1400 metres above sea level. We stopped once because we were over-heated and once because the car was over-heated. The latter part of the drive was spectacular: one of the three greatest drives we've had so far on this trip (the other two in mind being the drive from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and our first overland trip across Rajasthan). In the final two hours, the ascent became more noticeable, and we were treated to views across great valleys. Then the hills became greener, and more distinct in their crop: tea plants quilted the hillside, replacing the rubber trees, with their plastic-bag-and-cup appartus, which dominated the earlier part of the drive.

Arriving at Chrissie's, we were thrilled with this budget-to-midrange "homestay." Our room runs us $46 a night, and it's on a quiet street, with a view of the treetops and the mountains on the horizon. The rooms are in a building set back from the street, with the lobby and restaurant (veg. only and very good) in the front building. You walk up cooblestone steps to where the rooms are. And then keep walking! We're actually on the third floor (which is the fourth floor, really, right North Americans?), and no elevator. The hallway is outside, and the trees on one side of the building practically brush against us as we open our room's door. On the other is our generous balcony, rounded for better view, with two rattan chairs and table/ottomans to match. It's a new, spotlessly clean hotel. Perhaps the only catch is that there's no heating or ac or even fan. They're relying, I suppose, on the near-perfect weather at this elevation. All year it's between 15-30 celsius in the day, and cooler at night. Our first night was fine, except for the dog who barked all night long. Sorry, I'm exaggerating: he must have dozed off between 2:30 AM and 3:00 AM.


Today we got in a very long car drive to chrissie's (the view was great). when we arived we got checked in and looked around . theres an eco tourism ofice just down a stret so we asked them a couple quistions. Then we walked down to gt some kukures and lays! Then went home rested had dinner. Good night!

Dec 3


Today we got up at 5:30! I said "I don't want to get up (yawn). "But you have to!" "Okay!" So we had a yummy breakfast of horliks crackers and pinaple jucie. then we walked down the stairs and went outside and found a tuktuk and said how much to Peryair? 40. Chrissie had told us that 40 was a good price so we said okay. The tuk-tuk ride to Periyar was amazing! The tuk-tuk felt really breezy to! When we arived at Periyar, me and Mommy stayed in the tuk-tuk whell Daddy got tickets (which took a bit of time). t

Then we took the tuk-tuk inside Periyar! When we got to the boat landing which we asked the tuk-tuk to go to, we got some hike tickets. Meanwhile I'm running around with my pirate scarf on like maniac! Then this guy came over and said I will take you to meet your guide. "Okay." So we walked over to meet our guide. Meanwhile Mommy was talking to this girl about traveling and Daddy the same but with a boy. then I said Mommy I have to go the washroom. "HMPH!" So I told her "there might not be one anywhere else to go. "Oh!" So we went behind a tree :) Then we had to put these boot things on. Then this bamboo raft came over to bring us to the forest. So we got to balance! "Yay!" Mom: "boo." Then we got to the forest and the first thing we saw was tadpoles! Then we saw some tiger paw prints. Then we saw a giant squirrel, a spider, 1 wasp nest and 11 honeycomb nests. Then we did a lot more walking before going back to the bamboo raft. Unlukly all of us had at lease two leaches in our shoes (there not big!)

So we got a tuk-tuk back, had lunch, got a tuk-tuk back to Periyar and entered. Then we got to the boat dock and got tickets on the lowwer deck. then well Daddy was getting the tickets this monkey jumped up on the women. Then we got on the boat and took off. Then well we were on the boat we saw deer, bison, and lots more! Then we got a tuk-tuk back and had dinner. Good night.


Our "day in the park" today, which Anica covered well in her diary! Although we didn't see any of the "big game," on our morning hike (7-10), we saw the evidence: the tracks and the poo-poo (that's the scientific term for what's commonly called scatology). The smaller animal I found most fascinating was a frog that looked like it was wearing a leaf on its back as a stylish cape. But it wasn't a leaf; it was its camoflauge. We also saw huge termite mounds with tunnels carved into by monitor lizards, honeycombs high in bare treetops and honeycombs fallen and draped over bushes like discarded towels, and some really huge spiders. "Is it poisonous," I asked our guide of one spider. "Probably," he said with practiced indifference. I took that as a yes.

Dec 4


Today we got up and had a yummy breakfast of chocolate crepe with hot chocolate for me, toast with butter and jam for Mommy, and toast with butter and honey for Daddy. Then we went downstairs and asked Chrissie and Adel "How can we get to the spice plantaion?" "By jeep, tuk-tuk or van." "Okay, can you arrange a Jeep to come and get us?" "Yes." "Thank you." "Your welcome" "When will it be here?" "In ten minutes." "Okay." Then we walked upstairs, got ready, went to the washroom, and walked downstairs to the reciption desk and said is it here? No. So we waited for them to come. When they arivved we got in and went to the spice plantian! When we arived we met the tour guide and our group. the names were Anica, Rob, and Jenn (ha ha). We tasted and smelled every different spice you could think of! Then he took us to the viewpoint and saw really far away! Then we drove home, rested, had dinner. Good night!


Effortlessly, Chrissie (as in Chrissie's Homestay) arranged a Jeep and driver to take us to a spice farm this morning. The drive was about 20 minutes more of going even higher in elevation than we were already at. We were the only ones there (and it was a beautiful day, too!) and the owner of the farm took us around the field. Every step seemingly brought us to another plant. He would pluck its leaf, flower or fruit, explain what it was and then brusquely, but gently, command us to eat it or smell it or rub it on ourselves. And we went along with all of it, even Anica! It was great: Anica did her nails by rubbing tumeric, we ate mint leaf, cinnamon bark, allspice, pepper. There was aloe vera, lemongrass, and dozens more. A couple helped with asthma, but I was doing fine today. Another they used to make "hair oil," which is pronounced "heroin" by this farmer. That made Jenn and I exchange glances of "did you hear that too?" We knew it was illegal to cut down sandalwood in Kerala, but perhaps heroin was okay.

Then I had a cup of their coffee (meaning from their own coffee plants) and our driver walked us up the road to the promised "view point." This was such a beautiful vista, and again we were the only ones there. The whole town isn't even on the one road map of India we do have.

The view looked out over the state of Tamil Nadu from the border with Kerala. There is a vast valley, a mile below us, almost like a plain, except that there's another mountain range visible on the other side. In fact, the valley is nestled in a horseshoe of mountains and at the closed end is a waterfall that falls most of that height in a thin stream. It seems to take several seconds for the water to reach the bottom. Beautiful!

What a view, high over Tamil Nadu!

Dec 5


Jenn's nursing a cold, so she had a quiet morning while Anica and I went on safari! Well, not safari, but we did ride an elephant through the jungle, heavily guided. I was pleased to see Anica not the least bit afraid of climbing on the elephant. She's been on an elephant before, and a camel, and her confidence has grown. We rode together on one elephant, saddle-style, not chairs, and the handlers were on the ground, not on the elephant with us. So it was different from Thailand. We also got to feed and pet the baby elephant, Carmen. During the ride, the handler took pictures with Anica's camera, so eventually we'll have those to post and share.

We've had every meal at Chrissie's, mostly because there's few desirable options. Also because the food is good. That's means vegetarian, no alcohol, and (oddly enough) mainly Italian food for five days. Sometimes we bring our novels, diaries and Anica's schoolbooks and stay at the table for two or three hours. The owners, Adel and Chrissie, are genuinely welcoming, and really seem to enjoy just chatting with their guests. Arranging the little outings we've done has been absurdly easy. And we've enjoyed our balcony view!

Latest reminder we're in India: live amplified temple music performed until one in the morning last night that echoed across the whole valley.


"Elaphant Junctin"

Today we got up and had brekfast. Then me and Daddy got in a tuk-tuk to the elaphant juction. When we got there and feed the baby elaphant named Carmen. (We feed him with palm leaves). Then we took a movie of me feeding Carmen. Then we took pictures of his mother and father and me sitting on this giant bamboo bench. Then we walked over to the ride place and bought tickets for this half-hour ride on an elephant, when our elaphant came we got in it and asked for its name and age. "Maria," that is her name...."Age?" "25." And that's her age . After our ride we took a little walk back to say goodbye to Carmen and went home, rested, had dinner, good night. (we also met this really nice family from Israel and had dinner with them and ran around outside. They had two girls, Lea (same age almost) and Ona, younger

Posted by jennrob 04:32 Archived in India Comments (5)

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