Backwater bimbling

When Mood Music
2006-05-16 23:39:00

Well, I’m in a much better mood than yesterday: today has been a fun but touristy day and I may have a chance to get first-hand info on Assam, another must-do place to visit.

I know I’m in a better mood: Radio Bruce has stopped transmitting Pink Floyd and Roger Waters music and is instead regaling me with blasts from the past by those American punk-meisters, The Dead Kennedies: especially from Fresh fruit for rotting vegetables. The first tune to assault my mental eardrums had these lyrics:

Efficiency and progress are ours once more, now that we have the neutron bomb: it’s nice and quick and clean at gets things done…

Of course the meisterwerks are Holiday in Cambodia and California Über Alles. I’m torn between the original and the reworked version of the latter, retitled We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now: original power or sly, thoughtful reworking – the choice is yours, pop pickers!

Anyway, after a disturbed night, I got back to the tourist desk at 8.30 this morning and was driven to the start point for the tour. On the way through Ernakulam, we picked up a family from Assam and a Nepali economist who works with a US-based development-promoting NGO.

At the start point, a Qualis van with several more Indian families drew up. I think most were Tamils (the mens’ build and bearing reminded me of Sopranos characters!) but there was one Sikh family from Delhi: in all 18 of us. We were loaded onto a ‘houseboat’ which took us downriver to where the river broadened into a huge lake with several ‘exits’. Here, men legally dig and dive for freshwater bivalves (there was some confusion as to whether they’re oysters or mussels) and illegally excavate sand for the building industry. Despite being highly illegal because it apparently increases flooding after monsoons, sand is big business here.

"" setting off
"" waterfront activity
"" mussels and sand come from here
"" a dunny?
"" the lake was huge!

Along the edges of the lakes and rivers, traffic flowed slowly by and there were glimpses of a still extant, simpler life.

We were taken to a ‘factory’ that processes bivalve shells into calcium hyroxide for the chemical, pharmaceutical, paan and paint industries. They mix the shells with coke in kilns and set light to the mix: the burning coke – almost pure carbon – ‘pushes’ carbon dioxide out of the shells (almost pure calcium carbonate) according to:

C(s) + O2(g) –> CO2(g) – ΔH
CaCO3(s) –> CaO(s)* + CO2(g) + ΔH
*calcium oxide, aka quicklime

(I’m quite pleased I can get that all right first time.)

The ‘burnt’ shells are still intact but are pure white. Addition of water causes

CaO(s) + H2O(l) –> Ca(OH)2(s)* – rather large ΔH
*calcium hydroxide, aka slaked lime

"" where the shells are roasted
"" storage for the slaked lime

In this village (and presumably others), people grow a lot of spices and ayurvedic-medicinal herbs: a trainee homeopath amongst us was taking copious notes. The guide, a villager, seemed at first to say that diabetes can be cured by using a certain herb. It turned out that he wasn’t saying this but that the herb seems to mimic insulin injections without the accompanying injection traumas and that, according to him, it avoids the microvascular damage that repeated hyper- and hypo-glycaemic events cause. I wish I’d taken notes here but I’d brought no paper, assuming that if I did it would get wet.

This is nutmeg, beloved of out-of-pocket junkies, those in need of sexual rejuvenation, those suffering from (er, I forgot!) and cooks alike: remedies are available from the fruit, the red seed-coat and the seed itself.

"" nutmeg

This is a vanilla creeper. Vanilla powder may be worth more weight-for-weight than finest charlie!

"" vanilla creeper

There is also a fruit that looks very similar ot a mango but has a high concentration of HCN. It’s apparently the top method of suicide in Kerala.

We passed several other tourist boats during the day. There are also local ferries from place to place but apparently no timetable that would enable me to island-hop.

"" more tourists

Of course, being in a boat travelling through jungle brought out my Apocalypse now fantasies.

"" 75 clicks

But these were dispelled by a hearty lunch. Half of the Indians availed themselves of cutlery. I didn’t – maybe I’m a poseur but I like this way of eating.

"" lunch

The youngest child of the Assamese family had a name that sounded remarkably like Mutley.

"" Assemese and Dheli-ite girls playing with a local goat

After lunch, we were taken to a smaller river and loaded into smaller canoes that took us along streams through tiny islands. I lost count of the times we interrupted people bathing in the water and I wanted to join them.

"" That’s Cambodia Captain.
That’s classified, soldier!

Our first stop was a settlement/home where people manufacture coir rope from coconut husk. Once the husk has been soaked and dried to get the raw fibre, it’s spun into string. Two ‘ends’ from both of these women’s bags are hooked onto the spinning wheel which twists the string that’s created as the women walk backwards. At the end of the ‘wicket’, one woman uses a wooden gizmo to twist the single strands into two double strands. She then loops these, puts them on a pile of finished loops and then the process starts again. I was told they get 50 rupees a kilo of finished product: some guesses at time and distance and another relevant piece of data which I now forget enabled me to estimate they can make 50 rupees’ worth of rope in an hour.

We were also given fresh coconut milk to drink: just an unpleasant as the first time I tried it. The shells were then cracked open so we could ‘enjoy’ the fresh coconut ‘meat’. Sorry but it’s slimy and yucky and needs to be dried before I can enjoy it.

"" fresh coconut
"" spinning coir
"" spinning coir
"" spinning coir
"" spinning coir

Finally were were silently puntedd back to the startpoint and driven back to Ernakulam.

"" more tourists
"" kingfisher
"" boat construction
"" pretty!



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