It’s 7:30am and I’m sitting on the restaurant patio of Xandari Resort, overlooking the harbor of Fort Kochi. As I eat a massive dosa masala with a side of fruit and plenty of black coffee, I watch the crows, clinging to boats’ metal poles with their talons, chewing on chicken feet. These aren’t feet like the dehydrated snacks so often chewed upon by men on Chinese trains; these are straight-up fresh foot bones and cartilage. Other than this intriguing/disturbing vision (is this a form of cannibalism?), I enjoy the view of this man-made river and marvel at the fact that I’m actually in fucking India. Essentially, my first impressions of Kerala are: When am I going to wake up from this trickery?
It’s been over 11 years since I originally planned to come to India. Instead of trying to fit India into a two-week trip back in 2006, I opted to take my time exploring Japan and China. India would surely come soon, I believed. But the years went by, and I got distracted by grad school, delving into the world of Latin American politics, and a string of relationships that left me smitten and sidetracked. Nonetheless, the desire to see this enigmatic land just grew and grew until I realized I couldn’t ignore its call.
I like to believe that things happen at certain times in our lives for a reason. Maybe in 2006 I wasn’t yet ready to delve into India. After all, that was my very first trip to Asia, and the culture shock I felt- even in Japan- was overwhelming. Maybe, if fate and destiny do exist, I was to wait all of those years so that I could fully appreciate every second of my time here, and to absorb all of the lessons this country has to offer me. All I know is, right now, I’m exactly where I should be, and there’s no better feeling.
Kerala Blog Express has brought me across the Atlantic Ocean, stopping in Doha, Qatar after a 16-hour plane ride, and half way across the Indian Ocean. I’m in Kochi, a place I’d never heard of before this year, about to explore the southern state of Kerala, which also had never been on my radar. Originally, when I thought of my Indian adventure, it was to include to Golden Triangle, a few wildlife safaris, a few caves, Mumbai, and perhaps Goa. I still have the paper where I loosely planned my visit. Clearly, at the age of 24, I had no concept of how completely vast this country is.
Come to think of it, I still have no clear perception. Although I’d like to blame it on jet lag, I’m not experiencing any, and this sense of the unknown stems from a) an itinerary I have yet to see and b) having only been in India for a mere three days. Within those days, I’ve spent the majority of my time either asleep or working, so that shows you just how much I’ve experienced. These are, after all, my very first impressions of Kerala, and of India as I know it (so far).
OMG, goats! If you know anything about me, you’re aware that I’m obsessed with animals. (Even if you just take a glimpse of my Instagram account, it becomes instantaneously clear.) Riding into town from the airport, my first observation was unsurprisingly that of Kochi’s fauna. There weren’t many to speak of while driving down the left side of the freeway, but once we got onto the city streets, my eyes widened as I saw goats prancing around, crossing the street, rummaging through garbage, and being cute as all hell.
Frankly, I’d been expecting cows (after all, this is the land of the holy cow), but the ubiquitous cuteness of goats was an unexpected joy.
- The billboards are astronomical.
Have you been to Vegas or Tokyo, or anywhere else with massive signage everywhere? Well, hold onto your neon posters and flashing lights, because this place is about to one-up you. The massive proportions of their billboards, combined with the powerful use of vivid color, will make you whip your head around, jaw agape. It doesn’t matter if they’re advertising 3G cell phone service, the latest Mohanlal movie (from what I’ve learned, the dude is like an Indian Clint Eastwood or Chuck Norris), or jewelry that would bling the hell out of Flavor Flave, you’re going to look. And damn it, you will be curious, and you will want to know more. The billboards aren’t just signs, they’re effective arsenals of entrancement.
And, by the way, who thought that so much English language would be used over here? Why are more than half of the signs I’m seeing in characters that I can decipher?
- What is Che Guevera doing all over town?
Okay, I was aware that India is a place where all different types of religions, languages, and belief systems coexisted, but I missed the memo on communism. After immersing myself in Political Science during my grad program, learning about the powerful effect guerrilla communism had throughout the world (and not just Latin America), I’m left quite puzzled. Yes, this political ideology was deep-seated in China, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, but I’m blown away.
Never did I think I would see red flags, imprinted with white sickles and hammers, waving defiantly in India. Never did I think that the ever-important (if not idealistic) Argentine guerrillero would maintain such a strong presence in India.
- The Indian head-nod is real.
Having grown up in San Jose, California- aka The Silicon Valley- I’m fortunate to say that I’ve grown up with a widely diverse range of cultures. (I’d even argue that other cultures are what give the United States its own identity, but that’s a discussion for another time.) As such, I like to believe that I’m somewhat familiar with Indian body language as well. I’m not sure if it’s due to pressures of assimilation, or that Indians in the States have naturally changed their ways over time, but I’m telling you, the Indian head-nod is very, very real. And I love it.
I’m so glad that I watched this video explaining the intricacies of the head-nod before I came to India, because it’s in full effect here. I like it. Just like the hand gestures I picked up in Argentina, I feel like this might be something that stays with me. It makes sense.
- Is this really India?
Sure, I’m sweaty as all hell in this humidity, people are dressed colorfully in their saris and lungis, but for some reason, this doesn’t feel like the India I expected. I see some reminders that this is a developing land, what with the amount of litter, the absurdly low prices, and the stray animals roaming around, but I expected something different. People told me stories of seeing dead babies on the street. Of immense poverty and desperation. Of intolerable situations that stifled their minds and their breath.
But here? I see coconut trees everywhere. People out on the streets, living their lives. Clothing stores and fruit stalls. It’s like a mix of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, without Angkor Wat or Mexican food. The traffic really ain’t that bad. It’s congested, but it reminds me of calmer version of Hanoi, Vietnam. I’ve heard that Kerala is nothing like northern Indian states, and perhaps because that’s what I’ve known, this almost seems like a different country.
And so, my first impressions of Kerala are bound to change, as I’ve only been here a few days, and have only explored a limited amount of Kochi. There is much yet to see, and I’m off to my first real day here on the press trip, off to meet the other bloggers I have not yet met, and explore this land with 29 other people that have traveled from all points of the globe to be here.
I’m beyond elated, and I can’t wait to explore what India has yet to teach me.