Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mysore toe

 It would be a joke if it wasn't. Maybe it's a known medical condition. Anyway, the rest of me is fine - and even the toe is starting to get better.
What a contrast since leaving Agonda (above)! The train ride provided a pleasant, sometimes spectacular, view down the coast from Goa to Mangalore.  As I may have said, train travel gives you a view of people's back doors while bus travel shows the front. Sometimes the back view is more than a person wants to see!

On arrival at Mangalore at 9.20 p.m., I thought I'd do the independent traveller thing, so I strode off to the centre of town, the filling in my backpack sandwich, running the gauntlet of the rickshaw drivers offering guest houses ("my brother's, very nice place ...") but by the stage in my solo hotel search that I had met the third "all full" response I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my bravado. I was almost contemplating having to surrender to the clutches of a rickshaw driver when my fourth choice, a huge hotel, had space. "No A.C.!" they apologised. "No problem!" was my response ... and even fewer problems when the room turned out to be very comfortable and with profuse hot water - I was soon a very much cleaner me. Not so much can be said for the Mangalore skyline ... (view from the room)
 It was beginning to dawn on me - as was reinforced several times over the next 48 hours - that a weekend approaching New Year's is a difficult time to travel. Too many people, particularly Indian tourists, are doing it at the same time. Deciding to book ahead, I found that there were no rooms at all to be had in known venues in the Coorg region (spice plantations in the hills, trekking opportunities) and, even after I switched objectives to Mysore, I again had to try several places and only got the last room in the hotel I hit on by booking on line - and immediately had to rush for the bus (it was by then nearly noon and the trip from Mangalore to Mysore is 7 hours +).

I had been planning a drive-by appreciation of the countryside of the Coorg region but some kids on the bus had other ideas.  In some circumstances, I would have found them a bit trying but this was a group of primary school kids off for the weekend with their families and they were actually bright and engaging, educated and good at English. First we had the usual mutual interviewing, then looking at pictures, then of course cameras came out and there was a lot of camera play, then songs, games (scissors, paper, stone seems international; they also had lady, tiger, hunter: apparently the lady slaps the hunter. Hmm, he might need more than that!) And jokes and storytelling.  And this was the girls.  The boys just sat back watching, being cool - or shy (how often that happens!).  I couldn't help reflecting that such a thing would be highly unlikely to happen in the UK, what with "stranger danger" and all, even with the parents and relations right there.  Should I worry about their innocent trustfulness - or be glad?


The girl in the middle has the same birthday as me good opportunity to teach new English phrase: "That's a coincidence!". Old habits die hard!

Arriving at Mysore, they suggested I get off at the same place but I'd already paid for my room so I thought I'd better go there - although in the event it became a bit of a saga.  I'll spare you the details but it was a crumbling old-style government-run place where the A.C. room I'd paid for turned out to have no operational A.C., no hot water, defunct TV etc. but it was late to look for another hotel (and I'd paid etc..). My requests for a discount (down to non-A.C. rate anyway) were met with job's-worth obstruction, procrastination and evasion (at which some Indians are particularly good). None of which has soured me against Mysore; rather, I've been reminded how stately and civilised the place is, largely as a result of the reign of Maharajahs influencing the development of the city over many centuries right up to independence. Lots of colonnades, towers, marble, wide streets - and the air perfumed with flowers, sandalwood and other more pleasant scents than usually waft through the Indian air. And finally I found a room in another hotel with A.C., hot water and a view - and much better value. I can even view the Maharajah's palace as I go up in the glass lift! Whatever happened to the rugged backpacker?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day hangover (in a manner of speaking)

I have to admit my time here is running down when even an attempted trip to a vaunted bird reserve was a bit of a disappointment. I set up a rickshaw and got up early for the purpose, trundled through various towns along the road south then turned off into some scrub. At the checkpoint was a scruffy little zoo (a few cages: a snake, a small crocodile and some mangy looking deer) and then off to find "Treetops". Eventually found, it turned out to be a minor version of the Western Australia's Gloucester Tree [elevated lookout tower reached via a spiral of hefty spikes driven into the trunk of the tallest tree around], only with metal steps and not half as high, therefore dwarfed by surrounding trees.  Alone at the top I could detect not a bird in sight or to be heard.  It didn't help that an Indian family with three noisy children coincided with my visit.  I heard some birdsong on the way there and back to the road but only saw ... a spider!  It might have been better if I'd gone on a scooter when I could have explored at my own speed but, with a rickshaw driver counting time as money, there was little hope of that.  Today's man won the record for being unable to respond facially (smile? forget it!) away from a dogged scowl. C'mon! You set the price, didn't you? [PS Got the same man for the run to the rail station!]

It's getting time to move on. I think I'll head gradually south tomorrow to or towards Mangalore, maybe stopping short at Udupi. There's an afternoon passenger train that should be a gentle run. My aim is then to head into the hills between the coast and Mysore and find some more tangible wildlife before going down into Tamil Nadu and some temple towns and the Hindu side of life. It's been rather Christian so far.

Inland from Mangalore is the area known as Coorg/Kodagu, which I remember from Dervla Murphy's On a Shoestring to Coorg: an Experience of South India  but have never been there.  A little further south is a group of reserves in the Nilgiri Hills, some of which sound really promising.  I really need to push on to places I've never been: Kochi and Agonda were both Old Ground!

Not sure when the next blog will be but I'll wait until I have something uplifting to report. Meantime, mustn't grumble, there's beachcombing to be done and a beautiful long beach to do it on!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Beachcombing at Christmas and all that stuff

 A glimpse from Agonda beach: ex-sunset worshipper, crow and beachcomber. The last-mentioned was collecting shellfish buried in the sand - as I did another day until I had a pocket-full. Why? Well, I was pleased to have worked out how to spot where they were hidden (slight discolouration of the sand) and then I thought, again, "Why? Am I going to eat them?  Are they really edible?" (although evidence from the woman in green and red suggested yes)? "How would I cook them?" So I released them back onto the sands, hoping they'd survived in my damp pocket.  The next day there was no trace of empty shells. Apart from shell-collecting, though, and a bit of beach-cleaning, there's very little beach-combing to be done.

 Out for a walk away from the beach and I saw this piece of loving gardening - a sort of Indian raised-bed approach, with the added feature of water retention: judging by results this plant TLC seems to work well.

Actually I was en route to the post box - the only one in Agonda, a mile of so away from my abode - and in went three of my cards. Would this fill you with confidence that your post was in safe keeping? I actually drew some confidence from the English annotation - perhaps the cards started their journey on Monday although they may be having a rest today.

Not everyone in Agonda is beachcombing or taking a stroll to the postbox. This scene of intense activity occurred most afternoons when the midday heat was over. A procession of workers came from the sand-and-gravel (and cement) area with measured basketfuls on their heads, which they tipped in turn into the mixer. The woman behind the blue drums added measured amounts of water. The resultant slushy mix was then tipped out and scooped into flat plastic pans and passed along the chain up the face of the building, tipped at the top and passed down the other chain. When it got going it was as good as any machine - and gave work to quite a large gang.

Back to the beach and a view of the kind of place I stayed 7 years ago, when this would have been pure seclusion. Now they are just a few of many such huts and secluded they are not.  This tiןאצק (whoops: what happened there? They get everywhere!) time I'm somewhere more substantial and genteel, with a friendly Goan family, set back a little among the palms and away from beach-side action. Just the place for some quiet reading and, after "The Book Thief",  it's on to (believe it or not) Proust.  Actually his languorous pace, his stirring of memories fit the setting very well.

The answer to what one does on a hot Christmas noon-time, when walking, beach-combing and building work are out of the question: go into an air-conditioned internet facility and blog a few pictures for readers to enjoy, perhaps, after their turkey and trimmings. Happy digestion!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Like a bird on a wire ...

 Well, yes, I do. And there's not much to do by the sea quite frankly (apart from sit, read and wait for sunset!) so the quest for those hard-to-get bird shots takes up some parts of the day. There are lots of bee-eaters up on the wires around the village and they sit quite amenably while I zoom, frame and shoot.  The crock of gold is to catch them when they set off in a wheeling mazy flight to catch an insect they've spotted, when their silhouette is very characteristic. No luck so far.

I've still to see a hoopoe and only a possibly glimpse of another favourite the Indian roller.  There's more chance of seeing both if/when I get to Tamil Nadu. Meantime I have to content myself with these lovely green, blue and tan birds and hosts of little waders (never so hot on wader ID but they look familiar from Holkham beach.  They seem less nervy now than they were 7 years ago when Agonda was a rather different place. They have had to get used to humans and learn to co-exist.

And then, of course, there are the kingfishers, often gone in a flash but some clearly more into posing. Look at that beak: who'd want to be kingfissured by that?

Anyway, to the business... Not much to report on the beachcombing front so I thought I would add a bit of exploration. So today I had another mad cycling expedition. I've been trying to train myself not to pass opportunities by and regret them later: I'm now into the phase of passing them by but turning back in time. Two examples today: first one was seeing a nice looking bike (but still no gears!) and walking on by but then returning, arranging and cycling off.  [I had intended to hire a bike but hadn't come across one.] I soon realised why nearly everyone hires scooters round here: it's the hills! The direction I took (north towards Cabo da Rama - some hint there: capes are usually ridges sticking out to sea) started manageably enough, with a climb and then a flat bit and then a freewheel wheeee but then the climb began and went on and on and on. Some parts I cycled, standing on the pedals but a lot I pushed. I refused to believe that it could go on so long and just wouldn't turn back Eventually I got to the top of the ridge and was rewarded with (a) a good view of the ocean and (b) the longest downhill wheee for quite a while.  

Nearing home, my water bottle fell off in the road and as I was retrieving it some kids called out and I did the usual hello-hello stuff and vaguely noticed something hanging half-hidden on the front of the shack they lived in announcing "Massage and Yoga Centre" - but it seemed distinctly unlikely - I thought it was some discarded material they'd used to weather-proof the shack.  Anyway a little way down the road I thought of the trouble my shoulder has been giving me and then "oh why not try it?" so for the second time today I looped around and went back. I asked the man who appeared with the children if it really was their sign and he said yes and proceeded to get out some oil and get to work on the offending shoulder.  He certainly knew what he was about and seems to have done more good (for a pittance by UK standards) than I get at 30 times the cost from my osteopath in the UK - I might even go back for seconds if I can find the place again!  After lunch, I chose a more sensible route along the relatively level coast road south to the more popular beaches of Palolem and Patnem. It was a much more pleasant ride, with the sun losing some of its strength and the road mainly favourable.  On a bike you do get a feel of the countryside you pass through that you don’t on faster transport.  My conclusion re P & P: if I had any doubts that I was better off at Agonda, they were quickly laid to rest.  Although I could at a push cope with Patnem,  Palolem is a full-on beach resort with crowds to match. After a bit of experience of how the other 90% live, I gratefully turned for home.

At the guesthouse they've built a full-on nativity scene, with the figures and all, and terrain - hills behind for the sheep - plus lots of lights and - a local touch - a scattering of seeds on the earthen parts with the idea that they should be grass-like by Twelfth Night. I won't be here to see but I do look forward to a Goan Christmas tomorrow.

A Merry Christmas to anyone out there still reading.  Have a good one!

Friday, December 21, 2012

From haven to haven

Travel round India can sometimes feel like a hassle through turmoil and dirt to get to the next haven. The last 22 hours were a mild example really: walk and rickshaw to ferry, rickshaw to station on the other side; leave luggage for 2 hours while I hunted out a Bienniale venue on the other "mainland" side; buy food for journey; board train into a clean! "compartment" (i.e. alcove of 6 sleeping benches) until invaded by 5 young men - actually very pleasant but hugely ebullient and talkative (Keralans do seem to talk and laugh and smile a lot) and taking a lot of air time and physical space. 14 hours of train passed partly with upright dozing, partly watching the scenery, partly with fitful sleep when the benches went down. The train was good as Indian Rail goes (do they make their rolling stock last for ever? Or just stick to the same old pattern: why not?) Arrived on time in Margao, capital of South Goa, but it was 3.10 a.m. so I sat out, paced out, dozed out and read out the time until dawn and then, as the sky began to lighten, I took my fate in my hands on a motorcycle taxi, me as pillion in the form of a backpack sandwich, day pack in front, main pack behind, as we wove our way around potholes and close misses and via a pedestrian overbridge to the centre of town where quite soon I was able to catch a bus south for about 15 miles, change to a local bus, not much wait, dropped on the road with a gesture to the sideroad, 1/2 mile walk as backpack sandwich (but the day was still young) until I reached an only-vaguely familiar road junction (a lot has changed in 7 years) where I met an English couple who happily recommended a quiet place to stay - "Dominique's, at the end of the beach. Their instructions were excellent and after another say 500 yards walk to the end of the main drag (quiet side) I found the place easily and met a warm welcome. Sound easy? It was really, certainly in Indian terms, but when you factor in the noise and the filth and the fitful sleep I'm glad to have arrived and glad that the place has not utterly changed beyond recognition, glad to have found a charming place to stay (an old-style guest-house rather than a beach-side straw hut), glad then to have walked to the end of the beach and back (1 hour each way) and glad finally to have slept off the deficit - or most of it. (How easy in the heat (and at my age and some lack of sleep) to just crash out.) And now I feel human again. I had to commit for several nights to secure the room in the run-up to the 25th but in fact this is a dangerously pleasant place that could be hard to get away from for the dash to the next haven! At least I know where I'll be for Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

So what's with Fort Cochin?

Having been here now for 8 days, I do wonder what makes Fort Cochin such a resort, so popular. It hasn't got a beach to speak of: Sunset Point is unswimmable and debris-strewn and Cherai, at the end of a 15-mile trek, can hardly be called convenient.  Nor has it the got ruins or monuments of the sort that tourists normally flock to. Neither is it rich in wildlife: the crows and the sea eagles compete, with the former winning in terms of sheer persistence and numbers, and out on the rafts of weed in the harbour there are herons and egrets.

So what is there? In brief: history, atmosphere, relative seclusion, location and facilities.

History it has in spades, from the early arrivals of Jews and Christians in the vicinity in the first century A.D. through to the explorers (Vasco da Gama died here), traders and the colonial period - first Portuguese, then Dutch, then British - each leaving behind marks and buildings, which have survived more or less, often less, into the present time.  The general feeling is of genteel decay, with old trading warehouses, glorious in their day, now crumbling back into the clay. Some buildings do survive, such as the ancient synagogue, or have been renovated for new functions.

The atmosphere comes partly from the silt of history and partly from the fact of its being still a living community, mainly dependent on the water - fishermen, customs officials, port activity - but also on its historic role in the spice trade, with a range of aromas scenting the air as workers lug great sacks of the stuff around or merchants sit sleekly complacent at the doors of their laden premises. Every morning early there's a fish auction, with a wide range of fish, sharks, prawns and some unrecognisable by me as any of these. Traders come and bid and carry away their purchases on the back on scooters/motorbikes but some fish remain to be bought by locals and tourists for instant fresh fish dinners. Meanwhile out in the port, large container vessels load up, dredgers pass back and forth, tugs busy around, tramp steamers sneak in and out, customs frigates rule the roost and towering above most the occasional cruise liner calls by.

Relative seclusion? Well, these days you wouldn't call Cochin quiet as it once was. It's the victim of its own success as a resort - but still it's quiet compared to the "mainland". In fact, although it feels like it, it is not an island but the end of an extended promontory. The island feel is emphasised by the usual way of getting here: by ferry and by the fact that traffic tends to be smaller-scale and less aggressive than across the water.

Location: Thanks to the success of Keralans in getting work in the Gulf there's an airport very close, which principally serves their needs but is also well located for tourists who come for what Kerala has to offer: backwaters, hill resorts, seafood and a gentler pace of life than some other areas of India.

Facilities: Above all, Cochin stands as a working port as it has done for many centuries - and currently the Archaeological Department is excavating the remains of a harbour dating back to Roman times. More recently, in the time of the Raj, the area was radically dredged to form a deep-water port facility - as well as a huge new island. In fact, I remember a conversation with an Indian on a previous visit who was certain that the Raj had been a "a good thing" above all because of the infrastucture (railways and ports principally) that the British developed and left behind. Of course, it must have been the Indians that did the donkey work but the Brits who made it happen - and if you believe my dentist those are our relative strong points.  The infrastructure helped unite the country and although the colonial power ended up by bequeathing Partition the unity of the rest has survived. But subsequent to all this has been the development of tourism and the facilities that come with that - so that it is now possible to stay in a converted merchant's house and take day trips out to many of Kerala's attractions or maybe stay overnight away and return to the familiarity of Cochin the next day. And of course the usual stuff - shops, restaurants, homestays as well as lots of Ayurvedic therapy centres for those with time and money to spare. Oh and ...

As if that wasn't enough, there has been one more thing to add to the mix right now:  India's First Biennale.(Isn't that a contradiction - you don't know it is one until you've had at least two!) But, pedantry aside, it was a revelation - lots of mixed media art work displayed in renovated old warehouses and traders premises - the buildings almost as interesting as the exhibits. One highlight was a series of 4 videoed performances by street/informal performers in sequence one on each wall - a blind North African singing on the Paris Metro, a Tibetan (I guess) performing throat music to the accompaniment of a sort of ethnic cello, a black woman standing in a swimming pool playing percussion on/in the water, a black (?)taxi driver just whistling but beautifully.  Downstairs in that venue a Saudi photographer had a vast room themed on crowds - mainly Mecca pilgrims. Some of the most effective pics were after the crowds had gone but with crowd noises echoing through the warehouse. Anyway lots of that sort stuff and very varied and interesting.
It began on 12/12/12, the day I arrived, and will go on until 13/3/13 (didn't they just wish there were 13 months in the year?) but didn't really get going until after the start date, which is why I only woke up to its possibilities a little late.

 Smell the spices!

So all in all, although it isn't "my kind of place" (too urban, too touristy) it's been a good place to be while getting my teeth fixed. Every day, except Sunday, the day of the epic bike ride, was punctuated at some point in the morning by The Dental Appointment. Around it, there was plenty of things to do.  Now at last I'm all teethed up and ready to go. I'll spare you the Before-and-After pictures (and absolutely the During) - the first you may remember, the second you may see. Anyway, glad that I've done it and glad that's it's over.

The equipment hardly led to confidence but the expertise was excellent.

This afternoon I take the overnight train to Goa, not knowing what facilities I'll meet there. I'm thinking beach huts so maybe limited or no internet access - so don't worry if those quiet for a while. The beach I'm heading for is not the deserted strand it once was but still reportedly quiet. (At Christmas? Quiet? - we'll see.)


Monday, December 17, 2012

India reminds me


India reminds me ... of old lessons:

.."Keep your wits about you" (aka "Be in the present")- not just to watch out for the next weird thing, or for crafty deals or sticky fingers, but any time out on the roads - now more than ever, now that one in every thousand has a car and one in every hundred a motorbike [my wild guess not govt stats] Now when you're on any sort of road, the traffic can come at you from any angle and, although most of India's new drivers/riders seem to have learnt quickly how to survive the creative approach to the rules of the road applying here, there's still the odd one who's yet to sharpen up.

.."Don't make fixed plans" I thought my dentistry would be finished on Sunday but no, for various reasons, some of them Indian, some of them mine. Anyway, it'll be more like Wednesday now so I'll be Fangful Fred for several days yet. A lesson to learn there too about what it feels like to feel hideous! It also means that my plans to get to Goa and out again before the notorious Christmas rush need to be re-assessed. Maybe it's best to spend a Christian festival in a non-Christian region, neither Goa nor Kerala but Tamil Nadu, maybe. Keeping an open mind (but trains need booking well ahead!)

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.."Everything has a price" (it seems, even acquaintanceship) After a pleasant 20 early morning minutes spent chatting with the crew of a Chinese fishing net (by invitation), I go to leave for my ferry, when I'm prompted for "tea money". They seemed happy with 10 rupees, and so was I.

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India also reminds me of other travel from the past, things buried deep in the memory, travel not only in an earlier pre-private-transport India but also Indonesia, Thailand etc (although Thais might not thank me for the comparison). The ubiquitous tuk-tuks (autorickshaws), similar heat, smells, fruit, flora & fauna, pace of life all prompt memories but also remind me of parallel events.
Today, Sunday, another reminder: cycling in the tropics can be a real pleasure - if you get the right balance - slow enough to stay cool, fast enough to stay cool (wind-"chill" factor). If - as is usual - it's a sit-up-and-beg boneshaker, speed is unlikely to be an issue, although getting up anything steeper that a shallow slope might be. Foolishly, perhaps, I set out on one such bike to cycle 30 miles plus to a much vaunted beach at the end of a long thin island opposite Cochin. I hadn't reckoned with the whole route, virtually, being urban or the seat getting quite so sore - but I made it and feel proud to have done so. (30 miles in England on my UK racer is a cinch: here, pedalling a no-gears heavyweight was quite a different matter.) In the end, at the end, the beach was quite pleasant and amazingly empty for a Sunday but steep-shelving and uninviting for a swim. Ok for watching the fisherman, the crabs, clams, bright electric blue kingfisher and various fauna. Nearby was a scenic area of "backwaters" with the obligatory Chinese fishing nets.

On the way back, I decided to take it in stages, relying on roadside shops to tempt me in. One proclaimed "Sip up" so I stopped for two bottles of soda. And then Arafa Family Restaurant - how could I not? (and no, I wasn't on that scooter. Bone-shaker was out of shot! NB: Close-mouth pose to protect those of nervous disposition.)

NB Don't think I'll be uploading photos at this rate in future. Blogger seems rather slow and stupid as far as photo uploads are concerned - or maybe it's just me! Also, when not delayed by prolonged dental work I'll be more on the move.

The first post ("Indianize") has a new and beautiful shot, even if I do say it myself.

Monday: another day, another Indian challenge: trying to book rail rickets, exacerbated by a UK-based issue - all my cards seem to be getting blocked! I'll post this anyway, not know where my next destination will be. Hasta luego!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The answer is: Indianize!

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That's how to survive happily in India: Indianize. Watch and learn - crossing the road, navigating crowds, queueing, eating thali and a hundred other things: when in Kochi do as the Keralans.

Previously in India I have chosen a spot where I can chill out and do the Indianizing at a gentle pace. First time: Kovalam beach; second time: Varkala beach; third time: Bharatpur Bird Reserve. Not so much this time. Objective 1 being to sort out my teeth, I came straight to Cochin/Kochi. Not too challenging in fact but not a beach resort or a nature reserve - in fact pretty urban, particularly on the "mainland" side.

Indian Eyes: hmmm! How easy to forget their power; how quick to be reminded. No wonder they're highlighted in film, no wonder they're exploited in life. Including in reproof: a woman on the train stretching her eyes at me across 10 metres of compartment as if to say, I assume:"You're staring". Honest, ma'am, I wasn't - just half-asleep after a long flight and moving slowly, eyes, everything!

Arriving in the middle of the night worked out quite well. India in my face (from the moment I stepped from the terminal and into the hordes massing around the arrivals exit) but muted being 4-ish in the morning. Streets empty but looking like a war zone. Railway station floor like a night shelter dorm: bodies everywhere. Long queues at the ticket hatches, even before 5 a.m., but moving along well. Lucked onto a train almost immediately, although its progress north from Trivandrum was spasmodic at times. No matter - time to really land, time to snooze, attune, adjust to the "ambient pace", wake slowly to a fiery dawn over the backwaters and coconut groves half hiding their gaudy villas - and get caught "staring".

A lot has changed in 7 years, a lot has stayed the same. The change is that some people have money - cars, motorbikes, iphones, smart clothes. The same is what you might call eternal India, except that some things (the rubbish!) only accumulates. The change and the same was symbolized at the airport: large slick new building but behind the doors, in the loos, nothing was working!

Kerala still seems gently good-natured, educated, happy. People look well, almost glossy with it. Me, however, I'm half-way to a bit-part in a horror movie, the prep part for my dental work being half finished. I keep the fang stumps hidden in case of emergencies - a quick snarl might unsettle the unwary. Another day or two of tooth torture (9 teeth in all) and then a few days waiting for the caps to be made. A gamble I know: I remember that it takes a while to adjust to a friend's new look even when changes to the familiar "mask" are ever so slight. Unconsciously we seem to store quite a precise image of our nearest and little changes still register. In my case I will look at bit different whatever but 9 teeth up front were getting pretty distressed and worn down. Hopefully by Monday I'll be fit to smile properly again.

On the move, more things seem to happen (chatting to a 28 y-o authoress on the plane, getting into trouble with security guards on the beach when I crossed some invisible line, people-watching on the sunset promenade, finding one's way on unknown paths, watching the white herons perched on floating weed as their vantage point or some likely lad videoing the passing water on his smartphone, oblivious to the risk of sudden loss into the wake of the ferry, reading the unintentionally amusing notices e.g. some tour recommended by Risky Agency, Finland etc., 100 little incidents every day. Oh yes, and on the flight Abu Dhabi to Trivandrum, someone tried smoking in the loo. Guess what nationality! I was in there right after him: phew! He got soaked by some automatic sprinkler facility: ha!) Of course things happen at home but, because they're familiar and habitual, they don't figure as happenings, I suppose. The lesson is being in the present, I know, but ..

Suffice to say I'm happy to be back again and not just to be out of the ice and into the swelter, although that helps too.