Category Archives: Places

India’s Kerala

Our initial plan was to spend 2 months in India, covering both North and South. However, our visas were granted for 1 month only which forced us to leave India at the end of 30 days in the country. Good thing so many travelers had suggested a visit to Sri Lanka, as it made for a convenient stop before our re-entry to Kerala, in South India.

We began our trip in Fort Cochin, a slow paced cute area protected by water. We had a wonderful hotel, Fort Abode, with 2 spacious rooms and pleasant service. The staff helped arrange additional places to visit in Kerala. We took a car to Munnar, which is the tea region of Kerala, with cooler temperatures and tea plantations covering the hills. We wanted to have a homestay experience and booked 2 rooms at the Rose Gardens Homestay. To our surprise and, considering there were so few hiccups during our previous 8 months of traveling, the Rose Gardens we booked was not the same one that we were dropped off in Munnar. Yep, same homestay name, but different town. The “new” Rose Gardens homestay was booked up and also a lot more expensive than the one we (thought) booked. Not a good start in Munnar…Our driver then took us to another homestay that we did not like and it was getting late with pouring rain. Everyone was exhausted from the winding drive and unfortunate accommodations but we finally found a hotel in town for the night; not great but 2 beds to rest and a good meal.

Munnar is cute and we enjoyed the Tea Museum despite the crowd of tourists. We also managed to reserve another homestay where we stayed for 2 nights with a nice family and cute 3-month old puppy that the kids loved. We ate all of our meals with them – delicious local food, very tasty, and home cooked!

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Tea Plantations of Munnar

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From Munnar we went to Thekkady and stayed at the Beaumont Plantation Retreat. It was indeed a retreat, such a relaxing place that we certainly did not want to leave. Ironically, this stay was unexpected on our part and thanks to the staff at Fort Abode for putting it together. Between hikes, eating, sleeping and eating more, we did not do much other than enjoy the views and tranquility. Louisa and I had a culinary demonstration and learned how to make some of the yummy dishes we ate. The hotel was also on the boarder of Tamil Nadu state, with wonderful views.

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Tamil Nadu in the background

 

Our next stop was Alleppey, where we stayed for 2 nights in a forgettable place – it was bad and it was cheap. We went to the beach but did not go in the ocean as there are strong currents. Nobody was swimming either and the beach was packed of fully dressed Indians – we were the only foreigners. After 2 days in Alleppey, we started our Backwaters trip in a Houseboat, which is one of the main attractions in Kerala. Our Houseboat was quite comfortable with 2 bedrooms and a nice living area where we lounged for hours just watching the beautiful scenery. The most amazing part was also the South India food that the staff cooked for us on the boat – plenty of delicious meals for the 4 of us. We wished we had stayed one more night!

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Alleppey beach

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Our houseboat

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Backwaters of Kerala

 

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Houseboat Banquet

Our trip was coming to an end and we headed back to the same place in Fort Cochin. Chris had these wonderful healing Ayurvedic massages during the 1st stay which really helped the tightness on his shoulder. Amazing how a good natural massage can heal your body. We had our Farewell dinner at a great Indian restaurant that we found while walking around Fort Cochin – “51”, at the Xandari  Harbour Hotel.

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Ayurvedic massage

On our last day in India we went to an Amusement Park – WonderLa – at the recommendation of our Australian friends. I will let the kids do a separate blog on WonderLa as it was a very unique experience for us to be in a “Disneyland” type of place with hundreds of Indians and the only foreigners being our family. We had to stop every 30min or so to take group pictures with the locals, so fun. We all loved our day, it was the perfect way to finish our stay in India.

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Farewell to India at WonderLa

 

 

 

Barbers Three

As a boy, one of life’s rituals included the trip to John the Barber in Corte Madera, California. Like many young lads, I was never a fan of the haircut but my mother certainly was. For the record, my mom is beautiful – a fashion runway model that also made TV commercials and dresses impeccably well – she was justified in her obsession with my hair! Around that time, school sent us to our first opera called the Barber of Seville; isn’t that sweet vengeance for a sports obsessed boy?!?! Back to the story, mom would consult, critique, and have John correct any blemish on my scalp. John, meanwhile, raved about my thick hair and how wonderful it was to cut; something I still don’t understand to this day other than that thickness has nothing to do with hair loss – apologies to my sweet pea daughter and any future grandchildren! 

Flash forward to the present and my hair loss has multiplied abundantly. I’m blessed with a receding hairline and common balding on top. Super califreakadocious I say but I don’t have to look at it and thus, I don’t fret. Leticia has become my new John except that she uses one of those big razors to shave it off every 4-6 weeks; easy peasy and quite cost effective.

We brought a razor on this trip around the world specifically so I can continue my free cuts on the road. Well, it literally burned up  and nearly scalped me in Christ Church, New Zealand thanks to the wattage that razors don’t comply to! In Australia we started anew buying a cheap unreliable one that worked for our two month stay and then self-combusted in Indonesia. Finally, I consulted with my barber (Leticia) and we concluded that we might as well return to the traditional shop for my future cuts in Southeast Asia and that, my friends, is where the fun began.

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Rico suave!

I’ve tried cuts in nearly every country since. It usually starts with me walking around the town that we are residing searching for something close to barber status. Upon discovery, I enter with caution, evaluating the place to decide whether it really is a barber or a front for drug smugglers; I have this slight fear about barbers ever since I saw a gangster movie (I forget which one) where the barber slices the aorta of his mobster client and blood spurts all over the place. Anyway, I have yet to turn tail and run but some of the places have been questionable in nature.

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Sri Lankan goatee with fans in the background!

One of the early adventures was in Bangkok. Sebastian needed a cut too and we searched for a cheap spot which was tough since there are so many fashionistas prancing around that you can hardly tell the men from the women. We finally found one near our budget ($5 a head). The women took one look at us and you could tell they were excited to cut some western doo! We walk down this dark empty corridor, get separated into two rooms, and I cross my fingers that it’s all cool. It felt like we were in a western movie waiting for the evil Jesse James to come blasting in. My Bangkok lady – and no, this is not going where you may be thinking – starts cutting in this room with mirrors on all sides and a huge antique barber chair. Speaking no English, I worked on my pantomime to show her where and how much to cut which worked…and neither of us were kidnapped which is another bonus! The best cut was in Vientiane, Laos by a gay guy in a fashion stylist store; one of the benefits of Laos is that it is cheap and that guy gave the best head massage (no pun intended).

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And then I remember the two not so good but memorable cuts. The dump in Bali, Indonesia was packed with men sitting around their barber and smoking. Too tempting for me not to inquire, I immediately found myself in the chair ahead of everyone else as the center piece for the next 10 minutes. I fell victim to my first dry straight edge cut. Let’s just say that I got the cut but my skin felt a wee bit roughed up! Last and certainly not least is Kerala, India which was the worst and best if that makes sense. I scouted out this guy and told him I’d return with my son. Another complete dump shop but the price was right at $3 for both Sebastian and myself; note, this is where my mother cringes while reading back home in California! Anyway, me being the brave soul that I am, I have Sebastian go first – ha ha! No, really, and I do my best to act like my mom by critiquing as our barber, Saneesh, chats and cuts. Sebastian gets his cut, a nice head massage, and he looks ok to me. I jump into the semi-broken chair and am the recipient of not just a cut, but also a hair massage, chiropractic back straightening, and shave with full blown shaving cream and straight edge! Ok, so the cuts themselves were far from the best and our barber’s entertaining buddy asked me for a tip (for simply sitting there) but the perks of everything else was more than worth the $5 total. Thankfully, Leticia performed some manual corrections on both of us and we were happy campers in India.

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All clean in London

Let me close with the multi-national joke of the trip. Have you ever traveled with a near-expired passport? Mine is set to go next year and it shows me of prior life (10 years ago) with full hair. It caught me by surprise the first time in New Zealand but every country since then, I get the double-take stare, followed by a knowing smile and laughter (I like to entertain passport control dudes) at the photo comparison on my passport and balding reality today which is more of the wimpy skinhead look! Never ceases to ease my entry and put a smile on a boring job’s face! Now, time for me to go get my next cut…Cheers!

BRAZINDIA

combo flagYou are what you experience. Those experiences shape the way you think about everything from food and places to people and culture. It also creates bias, which I am when discussing Brazil and India, two beautiful countries with beautiful people.

handshake flagMy first visit to Brazil (1996 – wow, 19 years ago) left an indelible mark on my life. I had a productive professional time meeting with various companies and an even better time as a tourist of Rio de Janeiro and the Carioca culture. I have always joked that the one deal I did close was meeting my wife, Leticia! Ever since, I’ve loved getting to know more of the people, the music, food, and culture. We’ve traveled far and wide in Brazil and I’ve had a long-standing desire to live there someday for full immersion. Yes, the country has its problems with crime, drugs, and corruption but the beauty of Brazil is that the people are truly happy.

I then had the opportunity to travel to India (2000 – 15 years ago) on business. It was a short 2-week jaunt to a developing city, Ahmedbad (now major industrial city) between Mumbai and Delhi. I had a wonderful time working with a group of enthusiastic and positive Indians that are friends to this day. I remember flying home thinking how similar the Indians were to my Brazilian friends in terms of culture and demeanor. Ever since I have preached the commonality of these two cultures and here’s why:

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Demographics:

  • Population: India #2 (1.3 billion) + Brazil #5 (200 million)
  • Size: Brazil #5 (8.5 million km2) + India #7 (3.3 million km2)
  • Traffic + city crowds – controlled chaos!
  • Wildlife: Amazon jungle and tiger reserve parks
  • Long coastlines – Brazil’s beaches get the crowds while India’s don’t; one has tiny bikinis and the other has full pants!

Religion:

  • Largest Hindu + Catholic countries in the world. India is also the largest country for Sikh, Jains, Bahai, #3 for Muslims, and top 10 for Buddhists!
  • Weddings: Big, colorful, and expensive events!
  • Carnival in Brazil and Holi festival in India

People:

  • Super friendly and live life in the present.
  • Social butterflies: Watch the social interaction of each and hands wave, arms move, bodies gyrate to complement the words spoken.
  • Cool cats: The men act cool everywhere!
  • Spontaneous and loud: Don’t be surprised to see kids jump into a museum fountain or ladies screaming to be heard.
  • Gorgeous self-confident women! My personal bias speaketh.
  • Indian slums + Brazilian favelas: Slumdog Millionaire / City of God
Two of the Top 5 @ Miss World

Two of the Top 5 @ Miss World

History:

  • Colonial to independence.
  • Portuguese – Brazil + Goa/Kerala states in India.
  • Government democratic chaos known for corruption.
  • Both have had female leaders. Go Girls!!

Economics:

  • BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
  • The great divide: Billionaires along side masses of poverty.
  • Agriculture: #1+#2 in world sugar production – sweet!
  • Both countries are always on the cusp of breaking through but…

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Entertainment:

  • Wonders of the World: Taj Mahal & Corcovado.
  • In the arts, both are growing at a fast pace to world acclaim.
  • Brazil has its bossa nova music and India has Bollywood.
  • Cricket is to India as futebol (soccer) is to Brazil.

 This certainly does not do justice and you simply have to open your eyes to see the amazing people of both cultures. Once you do, you will find that we are all quite similar despite our different backgrounds and that it is better to compare positively to the masses than react negatively on the actions of a few. Thank you to all my Brazilian and Indian friends and family!

Namaste & Beijos