Fancy Meal in Cochin, India

Steve took Dad and I to the local Ramada resort. Cochin is kind of the Hawaii of India, so as you can see, there’s a full and gorgeous resort here! Wow, right?

We had a meal that was more incredibly delicious food than we could eat, and Dad and Steve had fine drinks, and the bill was $56. I thought it was a misprint, since a meal like that would have easily been >$100 in the US.

We have a trip to Hawaii next month, and the cost of the flight was about the same. I wonder how the relative cost will look on the ground.

Now, I’m back in my (non-resort) room resting and trying to get my energy back. I am so glad that I made a pretty quick recovery. ☺️ Things look very different when I am not super sick.

Dogs: they are everywhere. – Notes from Varanasi, India

“Free life,” said the guide yesterday.

But they are literally starving to death. I saw a dog laying with its head in the river, dead. I saw a dog with its head in the gutter, dead. I won’t post photos of them here, but I felt it was important to witness their cycle with open eyes.

I wanted to give them a home. They are so friendly and kind, wanting nothing but a scritch on the head. They are all good dogs.

 

There are active campaigns to reduce the dog population and monitor against rabies. So, there’s that.

Small margin for error

Here we are in Alleppey taking a river tour. People live right on the river. Kids go to school on a school boat instead of a school bus.

But with climate change, the people here have had to change their lives. On the way here, we passed rice paddys that are now fish farms because of rising sea levels. A few inches rise in sea level can make a dramatic change of life.

Every driver in India is a stunt driver.

Our preferred method of transportation is tuktuk, which is an open-air motor-tricycle with a canopy. There are no seat belts. There are no roll cages. There are no helmets. It’s just you and your stunt driver (who is now my facebook friend, Achuashraf), hauling ass down the highway as cars loosely observe the direction of traffic lines.

This video was one I just shot on a relatively calm stretch of road. The concept of “side of the road” is just a guideline.

Mopeds: monorail family transport.

I can’t believe I only took two photos of this phenomenon: Whole families on the back of a moped, usually with the woman sitting side-saddle on the back, often on the freeway or other high-speed environment. The woman on the back of the pleasure bike looks very sad, but for the most part, women were smiling and laughing. It seems like a fun family activity. I saw no accidents at all, despite the reasonably chaotic way of driving down often incredibly narrow old streets.

Transportation in India is one of the most amazing things I saw here. I am delighted and impressed.

Today, we come back to Delhi and stay near the airport to board the flight home at 3:00 am tomorrow morning. The flight home will take about 20 hours, with a 4 hour layover in Beijing.

I didn’t expect to love India as much as I did. It’s a complicated country with challenges I see them mightily struggling to resolve. Infrastructure is sorely lacking – they don’t have trash pickup where we stayed in Cochin, so people either throw trash on the ground, or burn it. There are few regulations, so many homes aren’t built to code. Few power lines seem professionally done, and many of the posts look tangled with vines that are abandoned power cords, dangling uselessly, and maybe dangerously. There are SO MANY PEOPLE everywhere. The population is about 1 billion more than the US, in a geographic area about 1/3 the size of the US, in a country facing water and other resource shortages.

It is both a very young country, since the British only withdrew about 70 years ago, and a very old country, since traditions go back thousands of years. I look forward to seeing what happens with India in my lifetime, since I know the country will accomplish great things.

I’ll compile some travel notes in a future post, in terms of how to get here and stuff like that.

The future is green

As a follow-up to my trash talk, I’m not saying India is counting on the US to save the planet, and I’m not saying India is a shithole.

India is increasingly committed to sustainable energy. The photo on the left was one I just took getting onto the airplane just now, and the one on the right is from a nature preserve we visited a couple days ago.

The Cochin airport is the first airport in the world to be 100% solar powered.

The prime minister is behind the MASSIVE clean-up efforts on the Ganges River, and especially cleaning up the trash on the gant steps. He is committed to eliminating the corruption in the government and, as I’ll talk about in a few days, that’s its own massive dredging job.

Trash: I want to talk trash about trash.

It was an intentional choice not to take photos of the trash, except in rare circumstances. I tried to capture the beauty of India in a way that would translate to our American sensibilities, while excluding the parts that would not have enough context to be acceptable… See, India has very little infrastructure for 1.3 billion people, and that means no one is there to pick up the trash. And even if some do-gooders wanted to get out there and clean it up out of the goodness of their hearts (my friends did this), the trash comes back. There are no public waste cans, and no trash pickup, so there’s nowhere for the trash to go… except on the ground. And you might think that biodegradable materials would be favored, given India’s population density and incredible ecosystem, but nope. Plastic. All the way, everything, in as much packaging as possible (it seems to me — heck, I just got a muffin, and it came with a non-recyclable paper wrap, a plastic spoon, a napkin, and a plastic plate… for one muffin).

So there’s litter on almost everything, and it was work not to take photos of it.

This “unspoilt wilderness” idea we have about India is misled.

In addition, countries like the US and Europe look to countries like India and China to handle their waste. We make too much, and someone has to take it, so why don’t we pay a lot for it to get shipped far away? Well, it’s not working. We can’t ship our problems to countries that have their own significantly larger problems.

We need to make a commitment to be leaders in trash reuse and elimination. The world has looked to the US for innovation on everything: computers, apps, cars, whole industries… we have the brainpower and the resources, we just need the WILL.

India’s trash problem isn’t unique: This is OUR problem too. We just have the infrastructure to hide it from our view. For now.

How I got to India, what we spent, and if it is feasible for you…

Many people have expressed jealousy about my trip to India, so if you want to plan your trip, here’s some information about costs.

The ticket there was $570, tax included, round trip. This, I found, was a pretty average airfare if you shop around a little.

The biggest expense was hotel and airfare within the country. If you don’t want to travel on airlines at the last minute, and make your own hotel reservations (read the reviews), you can probably get by with about $30-$50/day. If you don’t mind staying in people’s homes, you can do it even cheaper. I bet you could do it for $10/day, all included. If you do want to go with a travel agent, I recommend Chandeep (tagged in the comments), since he organized everything for us.

A big expense for me were vaccines, which weren’t covered by my insurance. Including the post-trip Hepatitis shots, that will be about $500. If you have kaiser, I think they cover all the vaccines in their travel clinic.

If you want to go on the cheap, stay in home stays and mindfully eat well-cooked food (a good meal is about $5, no drinks included).

If you are a digital nomad (working from the road), the time difference is a pain in the butt, and WiFi isn’t nearly as prevalent or consistent as I need for my work. It just wouldn’t work for me if I had a full time job.

I signed up for the international adjustment on AT&T for $10/day to use my existing data plan. Yes, that was a lot, and cell service was spotty, even then, but being able to stay in touch with friends and get photos from home, and for Russ and I to wish each other good night and good morning in our respective time zones was well worth it.

All in, I believe it ended up being about $2k for 2 weeks, not including vaccines, which I imagine y’all have health insurance for.

Any other questions about financial and/or logistics?