Friday, January 05, 2007

Spice Heaven

Kerala is the center of the spice universe.  On the drive here my new driver stopped and pointed out the cardamom, black pepper, coffee, mango, orange, coconut and banana plants.  Every other store here in Thekkedy is a spice shop, for real. 
So, if someone happens to know the U.S. Custom's rules regarding spices, can you please email me or leave a comment, because their web site is way too image heavy so it just won't load on these 156 modem computers.  Thanks in advance, and requests for spices will be considered depending on the baggage space I have left.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Do you have many jungle cock?"

The title of this post should really be: When Wild Animals Corner and Terrify Me, but the quote by John the Crazy Brit during one of my safaris was too good to pass up. It turns out the very colorful ancestors of our livestock brand roosters live in the Indian jungles and are called, yes, Jungle Cock. Imagine that quote in a proper British (oh how I wish it'd been cockney) accent, and you've just witnessed a hilarious if juvenile moment in the back of a safari jeep.

So, back to the wild animals and my slightly horrifying encounters with them.

Story 1: Yesterday we did the long, eight hour drive from Bandipur to Munnar, which crosses from the state of Karnataka into Tamil Nadu and then into Kerala. There's usually a guard station at each border and sometimes a small toll. Monkeys LOVE these stations. Lots of people and snack stations and thus, lots of dropped food and trash. We're stopped at the border to Kerala, and my driver gets out of the car to check in with the guards. The A/C is broken, so we both had our windows down, and I have my head poked out mine, chatting to a guard and taking some photos of the monkeys wandering around. I see something to my right, and thought my driver had come back. Oh no. There's a FUCKING MONKEY IN THE CAR, perched on the headrest of the driver's seat, reaching to grab a small paper bag on top of my backpack sitting on the seat next to me. Believe me when I say you will never see someone rip a seat belt off and get out of a car faster than I did right then. These monkeys are totally adorable, especially when there's a little baby clinging to it's mother's belly or they're rolling around playing, but you just know if you got too close to one it would screech madly and rip your face off. The bag he grabbed was empty, but it formerly held that homemade chocolate I bought in Ooty and had rationed off until I finished it that morning. The guard was like, "What's the matter?" and I pointed to the animal sitting in my seat. He yelled to the guard on the other side who gave this Iron Man yell and whacked the car, a signal the monkeys clearly know because he jumped out and the rest scattered. Fortunately, I was holding my camera at the time, but I wasn't quick enough on the draw, so I only got a photo of the monkey's tail as he jumped out of the car, with the guard's belly seen through the window. Whew. I'm kind of engrossed by the omnipresent monkeys, but that was way too close for my taste.

Story 2: While I was at the jungle lodge, I asked the manager if it was safe to take a short walk down the road. He found an English speaking guide who took me on a short trek through the sparse woods that border the local farmer's fields. It was very nice and I got to meet some of the locals, and finally got some interesting photos. Towards the end we passed a large watering hole, and the guide told me the elephants come there everyday. Just around the bend we actually reached the hotel - this pond was only about 30 ft from my lodge! So I asked if it was okay if I went back at 2pm - when they arrive. He said sure, just try to stay hidden because they will stampede or attack if provoked (they've been known to attack the safari jeeps).

So I go back later and as I'm approaching the clearing I see some animals by the water. Score! But as I get closer I realize it's a large herd of bison. Oh well, it's still kind of neat, and I can wait around. Just to describe the area, there is the small, person sized trail that I walked down, about twenty feet from the road. I'm standing there and facing the clearing. At my three o'clock is the large trail the elephants use. To my eight o'clock there is another smaller trail that leads up around to the road and to another trail between two farmer's fields. Everything else is woods. Got it? So the bison have noticed me, but they're not very vicious of course. They do stare at me curiously, probably trying to determine whether I'm a threat and what that thing is I'm pointing at them (my camera). There's a brown one who stares at me constantly as he passes, it's a little unnerving. I decided to take a short video, so I'm sort of panning back and forth, and suddenly I hear this rustling behind me on the trail. I turn around and there is a god damn bison walking down the trail towards me. Unfortunately, he startled me so bad that I hit the shutter to stop recording, cause this moment would have been priceless. The huge white bison doesn't even pause, forcing me to walk into the clearing where the other guys are. They all suddenly pause in their meanderings and turn to stare at me even harder, wondering why I'm encroaching on their space. White Bison reaches the end of the trail and stops at the edge of the clearing. He's huge. Over six feet tall and 8-10 feet long. Sharp horns over a foot long. I have no where to go because the bison herd have blocked the other two exits, so I'm just standing there, hoping White Bison will keep walking and I can go back onto the trail. No such luck. He stands there, barely ten feet away from me, and stares. And Stares. I'm thinking, wow, I'm totally going to die right now, because I've got White Bison in front of me and Brown Bison to my left, and neither of them like me here. I may not be describing the stare down very well. Animals kind of terrify me, because you never know when they're going to snap and freak out on you. This is the moment I was waiting for. So for about five full minutes we face off, until White Bison decides the water is more important, and finally meanders off. I run back up the trail to my room.

Whew. The lesson is, stay in comfy America where they keep animals behind bars or on leashes or something. Or come here and get your adrenaline pumping. I did eventually see the elephants by the way, later on my safari with John the Crazy Brit. It was perfect timing, we were so close and there were three babies. I took photos and a video to share with you later. I also rode an elephant later, which was kind of fun, and I made friends with a German family who's going to send me the photos they took of me from the other elephant. We didn't see any tigers, but we did hear the loud warning bark of the sambar to indicate a tiger was nearby during one safari. We waited and waited, hearing the monkeys follow suit with their own warning, but we never saw the tiger appear.

P.S. On the way to the internet cafe, a boy reached out and touched me on the arm as I walked down the street. This shit is going to give me an ego.

P.P.S. On the Indian version of the Discovery Channel (one of the few English speaking stations on basic Indian cable), they've been advertising the heck out of Saturday's premiere of Jeremy Pivans: Journey of a Lifetime, which follows him on his "path to enlightenment" in India. You know, the path to enlightenment that comes with a camera crew and a fat paycheck. One clip shows him walking along the streets and shouting loudly to no one in particular, "It's just so completely different here!" Enlightenment indeed. Really, the best part is the lost in translation voiceover which describes it as "one Hollywood actor's search for his soul." Ha. Poor soulless Jeremy Pivans. Please, if in my travel stories I ever start to sound like this windbag, just punch me in the face.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Excuse me, Madam, I would like to be your friend.

23. That's how many times I was asked to take a photo with someone this afternoon. I'm going to be in half the photo albums in India, so, that'll teach me not to wash my hair. I really didn't expect this kind of attention, like I'm, as Maisnon aptly noted, the cardboard cut-out white girl prop. I went to this nice, relaxing boat park slash amusement park this afternoon. They had paddle and motor boats, but it's not something you can really do by yourself, so I just walked around the carnival rides (what's more awesome than women in silk saris eating cotton candy and riding the SpinMaster?) and munched on some ice cream (naturally). Afterwords I took a seat on the grass along with the other Indian families and wrote in my journal. Pretty soon some people came over and asked if they could take a photo, which then opened the floodgates for all the other people who'd apparently been waiting for someone to do it. A lot of them are men my age, which is, I know, totally creepy, but they're actually very kind about it and thank me and shake my hand, and you know, I'm sure Playboys are hard to get around here. Zing! Or wait...ew. Anyway, becoming some angry person who says No over and over and over again would start to ruin the rest of my time, so fuck it, I'll take a photo with you. And yes, I'm very careful about pickpocketers.

The other people are parents who want me to take photos with their children, which cracks me up. One father had me hold his toddler, who screamed and cried the whole time while I laughed awkwardly and said, "I don't think he's very happy..." I started asking the parents to take a photo with my camera too, so I've got a few to share with you later. One cute little girl came by 10 minutes after her photo and asked for my address so she could send me a copy. Then 10 minutes later came back with her address, so that if I'm ever in Coimbature, I should stop by. (And I actually may be, ha...but I think a postcard from the U.S. might be better.) Later another girl came over, knelt down next to me and said, "Excuse me, Madam (everyone says Madam here, emphasis on the first syllable, not like you'd think), I would like to be your friend." Me: "Um, okay." Heh. Luckily I'm getting pretty good at this talking to children thing (omg, what if I actually start wanting one! ahhhh) so we had a nice conversation followed by a photo to commemorate our new friendship.

So anyway. I saw a monkey masturbating today. NOW my trip to India is complete. I also went to a tea factory to see how they process the leaves, which was pretty cool actually, and worthy of some good photos and a purchase of a couple of bags for gifts. I discovered why the tea and coffee here is so damn good. Well, I already knew, but now I know the recipe. It's not just hot water and coffee/tea like we drink at home. It's 80% milk, 20% water, a tablespoon of tea/coffee per 5 cups, boiled for 2-3 minutes. Add some sugar and you can call me seriously addicted. I usually don't drink tea, but I had samples of the cardamom and chocolate teas, and Mmmmm.

Earlier this morning we went to Lamb's Head point and I got a guide to take me on a little trek through the woods ("Don't bring any food. There are monkeys."). What a workout. And this was the first time I saw the lush India that's been in my head. So far it's been much, much more arid than I pictured. We drove past the jungle I'll be going to tomorrow (hopefully, Maisnon just said the travel agent fucked up her reservations somewhere, so I'm crossing my fingers), and it'll be much more like what I imagine an African safari would be like, then through kind of tropical jungle. I hear that it gets more tropical and lush as you head further south, so hopefully I can experience that, too, except Maisnon just told me her father said there's some outbreak of this awful disease I'm not vaccinated for, acquired through mosquitoes, so a lot of people are avoiding things in the south, like the houseboat tour everyone tells me is not to be missed. Arg. I'm not sure what to do. I have 100% deet, which will probably just give me cancer instead, but maybe it'll be fine if I use it for a couple of days.

I'm realizing more and more, with my 20/20 hindsight, that I had no idea what I was doing planning this trip. You really need either firm reservations in places, or you need 10 back up plans. Just coming here and figuring you'll wing it is more difficult than I anticipated, i.e. this outbreak thing. I mean, what do I do now? Not go south? Go where then? There's nothing else I want to see down here, as the temples and things don't interest me all that much. I still have my reservations in Aurangabad, and I met an American couple today who told me the caves there were NOT to be missed. But to do that I'll have to get to Bombay. Then back to Bangalore because that's where my flight to Delhi is out of. Yeesh. The logistics thing is seriously the one thing weighing me down with this trip. I don't mean to complain. I just have to look at this more as adventure travel then leisurely see-the-sights travel.

Okay, I'm off to celebrate New Year's Eve with some jewelry shopping, room service, and a broken toilet I need someone to come fix. 3-2-1!

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