Monday, November 19, 2012

Elite Tour

I began cruising not even two years ago when Wyona offered me the chance to go on a budget trip to Russia.  “We have to email before midnight; you have one hour to decide if you want to go or not.”  That was pretty well a no brainer.  A chance to go to Russia.  I didn’t have to think for very long.  Since then, she looks for interesting places to go and I am either the third with Greg and her, or she finds a way to compliment our party of three with other people.  This has happened until I have achieve Elite Status – a word I don’t really like, and a situation that is a little goofy, since the perk is a pre-dinner drink, something that would only make it impossible for me to really eat a good dinner. 

However this cruise is the Captain’s Club Cruise, only one a year, run this year from Dubai to Singapore and so instead of having a small number of people on the boat be elite members, there are 1200 of them.  We have been feted in a royal fashion.  A lovely gift was a tasteful shoulder pack – just right for the number of things you might take on a five hour trip off of the ship.  Last night there were special ear buds in a velvet bag, just made to come out of the top of that shoulder bag.  The queen of the perks was an Elite Tour of the Highlights of Cochin.  Partners of Elite Travellers also have the perks – so Moiya and David sport a bag over their shoulders as well as we boarded the bus yesterday for the tour. 

We visited the Church of St Francis were Vasco da Gamma was buried, the oldest European constructed church in all of Indian (1503).  We took pictures of the Chinese Fishing Nets, a picturesque area, made for tourists, since the water no longer gives up the fish as it used to for these nets that drap over the bay.  We admired the murals in the Mattancheri Palace – which was a gift for the Raja of Cochin, and later rebuilt by the Dutch.  Now the mansion is sometimes called the Dutch Palace.  “The outside doesn’t look like a palace,” said the guide, “but you don’t want to miss the murals on the inside if you can possibly walk up the stairs. Original colours and the murals tell the mythological stories of Cochin.” 

Each guide boasts that this area has religious tolerance – 40% Muslims, 30 % Hindi, 30 % Christians, and a smattering of Jews – 10 of them in a population of 1.2 million people.  Soon the synagogue will be come a museum, for as things stand now, there are not enough males among them to merit having a rabbi for the congregation.

Our afternoon tour was too late for David and excited me to step on Indian soil, so after we stood in the Visa line-up for a face to face processing of papers to get us off  the boat, we headed down the gang-plan, following others around 2 story high piles of scrap metal and past the visa check-point.  That is where the tuk-tuks were lined up, offering their services.  Ten dollars would take us six miles into town.  One block later, the price was five dollars to get us to the shopping district.  By the third block, the price was two dollars.  “Come, on, mama, you can’t walk that far.  I take you.  Good price.”  David and I walked along, deep in conversation and the tuk-tuk driver beside David ran along saying, “I can take you.  Very cheap price.  I have an Indian farari; I show you any place you want to go for $10.”

“No, I am talking to her,” David said, looking at the driver, but pointing at me.  At this point the tuk-tuk driver ran behind David, came up on the right side of me, hen in front of me, saying, “Please, you don’t talk to him anymore.  I need to talk to him.  He talks to me. Not you..”  Then he ran back to David’s side and said, “I talk to you now.  I was laughing so hard inside.  We walked on.  David and I agreed that the morning hour and a half stroll through the streets adjacent to the dock was where we got a taste of India that other travellers will have missed.  We walked by women sweeping the streets with straw brooms, past the local bus shelters, felt the soft dirt under our feet in the ditches, hopped over broken pieces of cement on the side walks, and kept turning down the occasional tuk-tuk driver who would dart across the road to say, mostly to me, “Mama, you are too tired.  I take you where you want to go.  Free.”

Yes, David and I had fun.


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