Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

India 2


Even though it has only been a couple of weeks since I last did a newsletter, I have decided to write another. Firstly as I will shortly be in another country, so it is easier to compartmentalise my experiences with separate newsletters. Secondly, it should avoid some of the epics you have been subjected to.

So, getting to the point. I returned to India after an uneventful couple of flights from New York to Paris and then from Paris to Bombay, where I arrived approaching midnight. Bombay, in my opinion at least, doesn't hold any charm, it is the epitome of the third world megalopolis. So, after a day there I got the train down to Goa, where I planned to take it easy. On the train I met an older Indian guy who has been living in London for thirty five years. It was interesting to see how slanted his opinion of India and the UK were. Generally how negative he was about India and bestowing undue praise on the British systems etc. He invited me to stay in his apartment in Panjim (our mutual destination), and as we were arriving in the wee hours of the morning I took him up on his offer. The following day he showed me around the town and I started to realise how monotonous he was, so when the opportunity arose I thanked him for his hospitality and left for a dingy little hotel.

There I met another English guy (one of the reasons I had decided to go to Panjim was because I had heard that there was a Carnival there, in the same fashion as Mardi Gras or the Carnivals in Latin countries) and we decided to try and find out about the carnival. After wandering around for some considerable time trying to find even a tiny bit of a party, we gave up and just went to a little bar. There we enquired about the carnival. We were informed that the Carnival should be taking place that very evening. We were a little surprised as the atmosphere was about as energetic as a mortuary run by a very depressed mortician on a day when he had received some particularly depressing news. This was explained to us, "the carnival should be going on right now, but the government isn't funding it, so people have decided not to bother". Apparently the government has never funded and this year the people just decided not to bother, especially if they weren't going to get funded to have a good time - only in India. So, Nick and I consoled ourselves with a couple of beers and called it a night, but not before making plans to go to Gokarn, just south of Goa, in Karnataka, allegedly a good place to chill out.

So next day we got four buses for a total of six hours to travel about a hundred and fifty kilometres to Gokarn. When we got there it was thankfully not as humid as it was a little further north in Goa and it generally seemed to be a nice little place. Whilst there we lounged on the beach during the day, played cards in the afternoon and had a couple of beers in the evening, a stressful life, but we felt equal to it. One time as I was leaving the beach I noticed a big hairy old bloke walking towards me. As he continued to walk towards me I tried to work out whether I knew this fellow or what, until the penny suddenly dropped just as we drew level with each other. "Pierro" I called, "I haven't seen you since Shiraz". I had originally met this six foot four, fifty year old, Italian with a long flowing beard in Esfahan, Iran last June and for about a week until parting in Shiraz, we had been staying at the same hotels and often chatted late into the night. In the eight months since I had last seen him, he had returned home several times and visited various countries on a whim, as is his travelling style. It was nice to catch up a bit and it is always a little bizarre, yet refreshing to see someone one already knows when travelling. Anyway, from Gokarn, Nick, Pierro and I all parted company and I headed down to Cochin in Kerala.

Cochin has some very old buildings, some of which are not so typical Indian. It has the oldest church in India, St. Francis, built by the Portuguese in 1500, it was also where Vasco De Gama was interred for some years (after he died, obviously) until his body was returned to Portugal. Cochin also is home to the oldest synagogue in the British Commonwealth. Cochin used to be home to a large number of very prosperous Jews. Part of the town is still called "Jew Town" with Synagogue and Jew roads running through and stars of David on a number of the older buildings. After the foundation of the State of Israel most of the Jewish population left for Israel and now the local community numbers less than twenty. I also visited the local palace, was also built by the Portuguese for the local Rajah, in exchange for trading rights, which was of moderate interest. In the evening I attended a Kathakali demonstration which is a dance peculiar to Kerala, whereby the Hindu mythology is acted out. The demonstration I attended was specifically for the tourists, which was good as otherwise I would not have understood anything properly. It started with the actors being made-up, which takes a couple of hours, using natural face paints. Then it was explained that the minimum training for anyone involved in the Kathakali, from the singer/narrator and drummers to the actors is six years and what is involved in this. It was also explained that the actors don't talk at any point in the performance, but use sign language, involving the whole body to display the words and emotions. Some demonstrations were given and the way in which the eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, neck and facial muscles were used to express things was very impressive. Then we were given a short performance, it only lasted an hour and a half whereas the standard length is all night. I was surprised how clearly one can understand the storyline, considering the lack of words, but with the melodramatic acting and the music, it was not difficult to follow. I was much more impressed with the whole thing than I thought I would be.

From Cochin I headed further south to Varkala, which had been recommended to me by a Spanish couple in Gokarn, they also recommended a good place to stay. I decided to get there in a leisurely manner, instead of going all the way by bus I did a portion of the journey on a slow backwater cruise, which was very pleasant. From Kullon, where the boat dropped me I got a rickshaw for the forty kilometres to Varkala, and the "Sea Splendour" resort that had been recommended to me. However, when we went through town there was a temple festival taking place with blaring music, fireworks, elephants, people in costume and a general carnival atmosphere. As a result of the festivities the police told my rickshaw driver he couldn't go through town, so he spent some time getting confused trying to find a route around. When we eventually arrived, the accommodation seemed modest, but the host (as he was more than just a hotelier) was the reason for the recommendation. Immediately he had his wife make me some fresh juice and within half an hour a dinner. As I was the only guest I was constantly subjected to his hospitality, which also included feeding me ridiculous amounts of very good food. On one day he managed to force me to eat four meals (whereas when travelling I often only have one, rarely more than two), none of which were small and the lunch could have served several, yet was for me alone. The food was excellent and the host was over attentive if anything. When I returned from town by rickshaw one time, he berated me for not having called him to pick me up on his motorbike. Another local guy showed me around the local area and was interesting to chat with, there was beautiful weather and beaches, not a hard life. Yesterday, my last day there I met a couple of guys from Yorkshire and we went along to one secluded beach, where the waves were generally rather large and spent hours body surfing the waves into the beach and then threw a Frisbee around for a bit, until the sun set. As you can tell it is a hard life.

Now I am in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala (which incidentally is the first place in the world to have ever elected the communists into power and is also the state with highest literacy (almost one hundred percent) and best healthcare in India) in order to catch a flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka in a couple of days. Where I will only be spending eleven days before coming back to India and heading north. Unfortunately the ferries that used to go from India to Sri Lanka have not been running for about five years because of the civil war in Sri Lanka.



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