Cochin, India.

Southern india.

After Karen’s arrival from Melbourne, she and Michelle left by train the following day to Varkala, 4 hours south of Cochin, to go surfing. Three days later they took the train to Alappuzha, in the “Backwater” area to spend two days exploring these waterways. Annie and I in the meantime, took the bus from Cochin for a 5-hour trip into the mountains to Munnar. The young driver of the bus, has aspirations to join the formula one circuit and managed to turn our already grey hair, white. Traffic on these narrow roads is chaotic and we had many near misses with trucks, cars, cattle and pedestrians. He had three rules: overtake on blind bends in the road; avoid eye contact with any other road users and blow the horn for 50 minutes of every hour. I think horns and hooters on vehicles here are replaced once a month, when they are worn out.

“CH–ST” ….  The bus nearly ran me over!

After a recovery nap in our B&B room, we set of to find a calming beer, white or red wine. We spent two hours and walked about 5 km’s before we found a government hotel, where we could order a beer and dinner. Evidently, alcohol is government controlled. After a Tuk-Tuk ride back to the B&B we had an early night. The temperature difference between Cochin and the mountains was substantial, so we had to buy sweaters to add to the jumpers, we had brought along.

Mr Blossom Dinesh Munnar

At 9 am the following morning Mr Blossom Dinesh Munnar our guide and us, set off on a 12 km hike up the mountains. The route took us through beautiful tea plantations, up to forested areas, before cresting in grasslands at the summit of the mountain we were climbing. Far below, we could see the town we set out from, before taking a different route to descend, back to town. Opposite us, we could see the highest mountain in southern India. We also took a Tuk-Tuk out of town to visit an herb and spice producing farm. We had a most informative tour of the farm with the owner, before buying some of their spices.

Starting fresh at the foot of the mountains.

Climbing higher through the tea plantations.

And higher – taking a breather.

At the top.

The view down to Munnar town, below right. Anamudi mountain, above left.

Winding our way down to Munnar.

Tuk-Tuk trip to the spice and herb farm.

Arriving at Green Valley farm.

Our guide and Annie.

I can’t believe these are figs!

Crucifix flowers.

The trip back to Cochin by bus, was again white knuckle stuff, which required two stiff shots of calming whisky when we got back to the boat the following evening. The next day we took delivery of 200 litres of fresh water for the front tank, as the town water on the marina jetty is only good for washing and showering. The rear tank is used for the town water, but we cannot use our water maker as the water we are in, is a Petri dish of contaminants. I also updated our GPS charts for the Red Sea, whilst we had good internet reception at the Bolgatty Palace Marina.

The girls returned from their travels the following day, very happy with the trains and their experience, despite the lack of good waves to surf down south. I did a run with Mr Nazar to the government liquor store to purchase beer. This store was specifically for tourists, even though it resembled a prison, with limited stocks of beer, wine and spirits. At this store, tourists can buy unlimited quantities of booze, unlike the stores for Indians with queues outside, where they can only buy 6 x 500ml cans of beer a day. I walked out with 4 cases of beer – 96 x 500ml cans at 100 rupees/can, which equates to less than AU$2/can.

Varkala.

Little surf.

Three of the yachts in the marina had left for the Red Sea run and in their place arrived “Soul” a NZ cat and our old friends the Rigney’s from California on “Kandu”. We have established a large sailing group with satphone and SSB comms, to exchange daily reports on our progress. We are leaving in batches of yachts with similar speed potential and 44ft Esprit will team up with a Beneteau 44 “Elas” from Switzerland and a Jeanneau 45 “Balickil” from Turkey. We will give them a 36-hour head start to rendezvous about 1,000 nm from Cochin, before entering the shipping corridor south of Yemen.

We are all registered with UKMTO (United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations) and MSCHOA (The Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa). Travelling through the HRA (High Risk Area) in the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia (potential pirates) and Yemen (war), through to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait before entering the Red Sea. These organisations co-ordinate the coalition naval vessels patrolling the HRA. Wish us luck!

Passage to Bab-el-Mandeb, into the Red Sea.

Michelle and a friend from Sydney set off on Friday to Munnar, to climb Anamudi, southern India’s highest mountain, over the weekend. I did final maintenance on the boat and spent the warmest parts of the day at the hotel pool, while Annie and Karen visited the markets for fresh produce and finally the “Lulu” shopping mall for provisions.

Going up.

And up.

Selfie.

Sunset.

On the Sunday before we departed, Mr Nazar insisted that we join his family at home for lunch, so we took the ferry across to Fort Cochin where his family lives.

Waiting for the ferry at Fort Vypin.

The ferries are packed on a Sunday.

Lunch with Mr Nazar’s house – Grandma at the back.

Mr Nazar’s pride – his, and his son’s Tuk-Tuks. A far cry from Sydney’s BMW’s and Merc’s.

After lunch, we explored the Fort Cochin area where Vasco da Gama landed in the late 1400’s. The state of Kerala has the highest percentage of Christians, with churches everywhere. Followed by the Hindu religion and then the Muslims – all living in harmony.

Santa Cruz cathedral – first church built in 1505. Named cathedral 1558. This cathedral blessed in 1905.

A more modern Catholic church.

The Fort Cochin area was first settled by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and then the British. It has some grand homes dating back to the colonial times.

Councilor Shiny Mathew’s abode really shines.

Around the corner, the overhead cables hang low and is an obstruction for pedestrians – “No worries”

After the long walk, we needed a drink. This little cafe poured us cold Kingfisher beers in coffee mugs, because they were not licensed to sell alcohol. They also had a resident eagle.

Karen and feathered friend.

We were walking past the big fishing nets on the beach. I was intrigued with how they worked, so the chief fisherman showed us the process and enlisted our muscle power to lift the huge nets out of the water – aided by big rocks tied to the boom.

Fishing net contraption.

Father and daughter helping to pull the nets out of the water.

Finally, for you bike lovers, the second world war Royal Enfield motorbikes (Single cylinder, Twinspark) are still built in India, as are Jeeps by Mahindra. These range from the stock standard to the customized versions on the streets. See below:

The standard Classic 350cc version.

The Classic 500 cc version.

A customised 1969, 350cc Bullet version. (Harley-Davidson 1400cc ghetto blasters take note – these machines purr).

Mahindra Jeeps – still produced by the hundreds.

Stop Press: We have updated the “Follow Esprit” page with charts taken from our Open CPN navigation programme, to graphically show our progress. These will be updated with every post, to make it easier to follow the places mentioned in the text.

Cheers for now.