On our first morning in Fort Cochin, at Coconut Grove Homestay, we were presented with a delicious breakfast of fresh pineapple juice, masala omelettes; spicy and tasty; toast and chai. Despite being full from last night’s feast we still managed to eat everything up.
Promptly at 1000hrs, we met up with Mr. T as arranged. He was to take us to all the main sights around Fort Cochin in his auto-rickshaw.
He joked about the free air conditioning as we sped through the narrow streets and weaved in and out of traffic, pedestrians and pot holes.
After that we were in need of a caffeine fix so stopped in a local coffee shop for a very sweet coffee and a basic lesson in Malayalam, the Keralan language, from the charming Mr T.
Next stop, was the laundry or ‘dobi’ business. Here clothes, bed and table linen is washed by hand, by the dobi wallahs, in the traditional method. There are cubicles where the washing takes place. It is then hung out to dry on rows and rows of washing lines without the aid of pegs. The edges are tucked into the twisted coconut sisal lines.
On our way out I noticed a hut where a man was ironing a huge pile of clothes. He was using a very old hot box style of iron. It was filled with burning coconut shell charcoals and was very hot. I couldn’t resist having a go. The iron was incredibly heavy but slid over the clothes brilliantly. My ‘boss’ sprinkled water onto the clothes and they came out sharply creased and smart. It was very hot work and I much appreciated the patience with which my attempts were met.
After a lunch of vegetable pakora, chickpea curry and rice we set off again. We passed old Portuguese style buildings, ram-shackled spice warehouses and wharfs where spices from the Malabar region of Kerala were transported around the rest of the world in times gone by.
Sue was encouraged to take a turn of sifting the pieces of ginger in order to grade them for size. She and one of the women from the co-operative each took a hold of a handle on a large tray with a mesh in the bottom. The ginger pieces were placed on the mesh and the tray was shaken vigorously from side to side to loosen the smaller pieces and then the remaining pieces were thrown in another pile. This was physically demanding work. Outside, in the courtyard, women were bent double over the drying ginger and sifting by hand in the blazing sun. Elsewhere, there where blankets of black, white and brown peppercorn covering the courtyard, giving off a nose ticking aroma as they dried
in the sun.
We bought some of the spices and herbs on sale in the higgledy-piggledy old warehouse.
Soon, we were off again, zooming through the streets marvelling at what we saw left and right.
We arrived at the water front where the Chinese fishing nets are deployed; hanging suspended above the water like gossamer witches hats. The product of their canti-levered workings was being sold on nearby stalls. We saw the amazing canoes and dug outs along the shoreline.
We arrived back in the late afternoon and settled with Mr T (INR 800 – about £8). What a fantastic day! We totally agreed with the street art down near the waterfront.