Category Archives: 2015 Winter Tours

Adventures with Rudy: PART II

IPSWICH

Saturday to Monday, September 12-14

After arriving that morning and settling JUANONA into a temporary berth at our winter marina, we were already planning our next adventure:  watching the second-to-last stage of the UK’s highest ranked cycle race. Anne had mentioned it the day before when we met at the Pin Mill, and she followed it up with an email asking if we wanted to join them at the finish line and see some ‘hunky thighs’. I could do that, no problem.

So, early afternoon we headed towards the center of Ipswich with Anne and Peter and some other boaters, Ange and James and their daughter Gracie. We had arranged to meet up with Helen and Gus Wilson as well, bringing our group to ten amidst 100s of other spectators.

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It was a zoo, but a fun one in spite of the yelling and nudging as everyone attempted to reach the barriers next to the finish lane.

Fortunately, they had a screen so everyone could follow the cyclists as they paced themselves.

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Not knowing anything about cycle racing except it’s hard and, yes, it requires those hunky thighs, I was happy just observing everyone and absorbing the high energy of the crowd. It helped that it was a beautiful day and that there would be hunky thighs to view.

Sure enough, I saw heads turn from left to right, which was the only indication of racers crossing the finish line. Then the awards were given out of which I had no idea who was who and which prize was which; however, I did see hunky thighs:

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And, I felt really bad for the poor soul who raced his heart out only to receive a stuffed doll. I felt almost worse for the unfortunate guy who had to dress like the doll and present this ‘prize’.

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Upon the crowd dispersing we headed to a local pub to enjoy some quiet and pints on the back terrace. It’s also where Rudy showed his affinity for youngsters, and Gracie must have reminded him of his spunky little sister, Acadia. Must say it was a wonderful Ipswich welcome for Rudy.

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Road Trip: BLETCHLEY PARK

Tuesday, September 15

Because this was Rudy’s first time in the UK and he had a couple more weeks to enjoy it, we wanted to show him a bit of the historical sites. Finding meaningful places to visit is easy here. From Roman times to post WWII we’ve toured some amazing places; so, we made a list of some we had seen and thought he’d enjoy then asked him to check out those plus any others he might like to see. The list then was culled down based on geographical area (primarily SE England) and time (back by Saturday night), and a road trip became a reality starting Tuesday.

When we do this, we find staying in an airbnb or VRBO-type place allows us to not only economize (generally less expensive than inns or hotels, sometimes even hostels) since we can cook our own meals and easily make lunches, but they’re also more relaxing (generally room to sit around after being out all day and don’t have to suss out any restaurants). So, Rudy and I researched plenty of apartment/condo/cottage offerings including homestay.com and other UK-focused sites, and we hit upon two places that would be fairly equidistant amidst the six or seven sites we’d been visiting over the next five days.

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First we drove counterclockwise from Ipswich landing at Bletchley Park, located N/NW of London.

We began in the main museum where Max and Rudy tried their hand at code-breaking.

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Next, we picked up audio guides and started our tour of the grounds.

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Due to the movie “Imitation Game” released last year I had some familiarity with what Bletchley Park meant to the Allies during WWII; yet, seeing this site in person really made one understand the scope of the code-breaking operation.

It’s a huge area:  it began in the mansion and quickly grew to take over the stables/cottages, then expanded to huts; over 9,000 people worked there with 131 daily buses bringing them in. Actually, it was a good opportunity for women to get good jobs. Unfortunately, the pay (of course) wasn’t commiserate with the men and jobs reverted back to the men post-war.

I had mistakenly assumed everyone lived on-campus but only one family did. All others stayed in the nearby towns, many boarding with local families. Yet, absolutely no single person could tell anyone what they did at Bletchley Park. They all had to sign the Official Secrets Act and it wasn’t until 1976 that they were released from that agreement. Many of them were astounded to learn the scope of what had gone on around them.

I also wasn’t aware of how important code-breaking was during WWI. Two separate organizations, one established by the War Office–‘MI1(b)’–and another one–‘Room 40’ were set up under the auspices of the Royal Navy. It was the intelligence gathered by Britain that led to the US getting involved in the war thanks to an intercepted telegram (see description of the Zimmerman telegram below). Prior to WWII Room 40 and MI1(b) evolved into Government Code and Cyper School (GC&CS), and in 1939 the codebreaking division took up residence at Bletchley Park.

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Churchill’s appreciation of code-breaking was evident during WWI when he followed the work of Room 40 closely. In WWII when the head of Bletchley Park sent the Prime Minister an appeal for more resources, Churchill immediately signed off and made it a reality. Matter-of-fact he requested all important translated messages to be sent to him daily. And, trust me, there were a LOT of messages with thousands being derived daily to Bletchley Park from the radio interceptors located all over the UK and beyond.

What was truly mind-blowing to me was the code-breaking exercises and thought patterns used by these code-breakers. Even they (except for a few) appeared humbled by the magnitude and importance of their work.

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Some were rather eccentric such as Dilly Knox who cogitated best when soaking in this tub.

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Eisenhower said the codebreaker’s work shortened the war by two years; and, a German said thank god the war didn’t drag on, otherwise, Germany may very well have been hit with an atomic bomb like the one which horrifically decimated Hiroshima.

Thanks to the Poles who cultivated a German spy after WWI, the Brits were given a head start to some key elements of the Enigma machine. To see a sample machine used to break the code was mind-numbing. Especially when the staff started to explain what was what. [It was called the Bombe, so named because the Poles had built a precursor and called it after some ice cream they were eating (bomba); the Brits changed it to Bombe.] By the end of the war there were about 200 Bombes, mostly operated by Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) and most of them at two other locations. Even the Americans had built some.

Unfortunately, all of us felt the suggested touring of the campus could have been better. For instance, at the end of our three hours of walking around, we reached Block B where there was an excellent display on the wall explaining the Bombe. We should have gone there first as the exhibits carried the clearest explanations of Bletchley Park’s work. Just to recap that linear display:

1.  Y stations (located elsewhere in case of bombing) intercepted and listened to coded enemy communications.

2.  The transcripts of the messages were all sent to Bletchley Park by teleprinter, underwater cable, and motorcyclists.

3.  When received at Bletchley Park each message was meticulously logged and cross-indexed in the Registration Room.

4.  From each batch of messages received from the Registration Room, one or more were selected to identify, if possible, the message’s topic.  The messages were scanned looking for “Cribs” – frequently-used salutations or headings such as “To the Group” or “Weather Forecast”. The codebreakers were greatly helped by the fact that no letter could be encrypted to itself–in retrospect this was a fatal shortcoming of the Enigma machine.

Max observing Alan Turing’s tiny office in hut eight.

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5.  From the crib, electrical settings were derived and ‘plugged up’ on the back of the Bombe machine by the WREN operators. The Bombe would then test thousands of possibilities and stop whenever a possible rotor setting was found. One of these settings would be part of the Enigma key. The others were due to the effects of chance.

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6.  A separate machine called the ‘checking machine’ was used to test whether the possible solution worked (its rotors were set to the possible solution to see if messages typed in translated to German). The wrong rotor settings had to be identified first and rejected (are you confused yet? and, trust me, this is the simple explanation. I won’t even go into the addition of a fourth rotor…)

7.  After the complete Enigma key had been found then all of the messages in that corresponding batch could be decrypted (by hundreds of women) using the British Type-X cypher machines, which had been modified to emulate Enigma machines.

8. The deciphered messages came from the machines in five-letter groups. The letters were divided into individual words so they could be translated into English, assessed for level of importance, and then forwarded to the appropriate people.

9. Before these intercepted Enigma messages could be passed on the information had to be rewritten and attributed to another source (reconnaissance plane, or a spy, for example) so the enemy didn’t realize their coded messages were being deciphered.

Max, who’s currently reading a book about the code breakers has even more information:  “Since the Germans changed their Enigma rotor settings (the Enigma machine began with three, then the Germans added a fourth) every 24 hours, the entire codebreaking exercise had to be repeated daily. The codebreakers were often under tremendous stress, knowing that breaking the day’s code a few hours earlier or later could spell the difference between say allowing the RAF to intercept a German bombing raid, or having a city bombed with the corresponding loss of life. For more information go to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombe.”

Before I sign off on my laborious description of the codebreaking, one last panel that I hope helps explain the Bomba:

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At times like these I wish for a mind like a friend’s daughter named Amy who would probably have been one of those figuring out a crib if she’d been born way back when.

Max generally asks after we tour a site, a city, a region, a country (I’ll stop here) what was/were the highlights each of us carried away. This exercise enhances the memories of a particular time we’ve shared. The answers also remind me of a particular, acute informational nugget I may have forgotten when overwhelmed by a site. Rudy mentioned one that I felt was particularly poignant:  The guilt individuals felt at not being able to express how they were helping the war effort. Some said their parents were ashamed to tell others that their children were sitting (safely) at a country house doing office work of some sort (standard job description when a Bletchley Park staffer was asked). Hard to imagine the regret not being able to share such an important mission, one that helped thousands survive the ugliness of war.

Still, it was a beautiful day (only a few sprinkles) and a fascinating glimpse into the efforts of many who kept a secret. Oh, what a secret.

EAST HARTING

By the time we arrived at our airbnb several hours away it was dark, which meant we had a couple of missed turns before we actually found where we were supposed to be staying for the night. We were met by Chris who welcomed us warmly and ushered us into a fairytale abode.

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The little home was charming (not the least due to some wonderful artwork adorning the walls,

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along with a poster commemorating Chris’s wife’s father, the late John Crittenden, a well-known British sailor who competed in numerous around-the-world races–in both directions)

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and perfect for the three of us to drop our bags and cook our frozen pizza (it was late, we were tired, and, hey, pizza can be wholesome :) and nosh on a fresh salad. But, not before we had received an email from our sailing friends Helen and Gus asking if Rudy would be interested in a possible crew position aboard some friends’ boat setting off for a winter’s crossing to the Caribbean from England. Can you tell what Captain Max thought of this? :)

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PORTSMOUTH

Wednesday, September 16

The next morning we breakfasted on our usual yogurt/fruit/cereal and coffee with Max performing culinary geometry by building symmetrical lunch wraps…

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then headed to Portlsmouth on the southern coast a half-hour away.

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Max and I had visited the Portsmouth Historical Dockyards when we were working our way up the southern coast last summer. With Henry VIII’s flagship, the MARY ROSE, and Horatio Nelson’s HMS VICTORY and associated exhibits and museums, taking Rudy here seemed like a no-brainer.

Rudy was in his element with his knowledge of different ships and battles. He and Max went off to visit the two ships after the three of us had perused the Nelson museum (where we snapped a shot of Nelson’s chair from HMS VICTORY. He had difficulty sleeping and often napped in this chair).

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I ensconced myself happily in one of the several coffee shops leaving the boys to their boats as I enjoyed a lovely hot cup of coffee and read. Oh, it had started to pour rain, so you can imagine I was doubly happy not to be out and about. Fortunately, most of the exhibits involve inside tours so they didn’t get too wet either.

One notable fact (out of many) I’lll mention here is Nelson’s inventing a new signalling system using flags. He assigned each flag a number associated with a word noted in a special code flag. The most famous message is the one he sent prior to the famous Battle of Trafalgar located off of Cadiz, about two hours west of Gibraltar. The message “England expects that every man will do his duty” is flown even now.

An excellent exhibit in the museum covered the British attempt to halt the slave trade. The true horror of this evil business is difficult to portray, but it’s always a strong reminder of how prejudices and racism twists human souls and minds to the nth degree.

The obligatory “Nelson died here” photo

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and, those from Henry VIII’s flagship:

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Max and Rudy also did a quick tour of M33, the last remaining ship of its kind from WWI.

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The docklands are still in use today for current naval operations, which is why some gates are guarded by police with guns. Although, when we were there, the gates were being sandbagged, which left us with a bit uneasy feeling. But, all turned out fine.

Back to our English cottage for our second and last night, we arrived early enough for Rudy to put on his chef hat and prepare an amazing, and, I mean AMAZING, homemade Ragu alla Bolognese sauce.

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We gorged ourselves and just writing this makes me wish that was our dinner for tonight. Afterwards, we enjoyed the lit fire and played our nightly OH HELL game. Life was brilliant :)

Springing forth from Ipswich

SATURDAY, APRIL 18th

Sutton WHO? Which is how the conversation began a recent Saturday morning as Max leapt out of bed (actually, crawled out of our V-berth) and landed in the main cabin. From there we almost began an Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” conversation.

“Let’s go to Sutton Hoo.”

“Sutton WHO?”

“Yeah, Sutton Hoo. It’s that old settlement an hour or so away by bus.”

“Now I remember, but how soon is the bus?”

With that he looked at the clock (that has been temperamental lately) that had decided to continue to tick-tock through the night correctly and said “in twenty minutes.”

So, with quick gulps of yogurt with coffee and clothes donned, off we jogged to the bus stop fifteen minutes away.

Max had first heard about this from other cruisers, notably Helen and Gus Wilson, and then recently again by Sandra and Barrie Letts. He filled me in as we trotted in the beautiful daylight through Ipswich lanes to our first destination, the bus.

In a few words Sutton Hoo, located on the Deben River just outside Woodbridge in Suffolk, is the 6th-7th-century burial ground of Anglo-Saxons. The site was discovered in 1939.

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Mrs. Edith Pretty on whose estate 17 suspicious mounds were laying had invited a local archaeologist, Basil Brown of Suffolk, to excavate. Knowing war was soon to arrive on their doorstep, Brown with the help of volunteers began to dig. An archaeologist Charles Phillips of Cambridge University soon got involved, and history was made.

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They discovered the richest Anglo-Saxon burial in Britain ever found, including the most silver (most of it tableware for feasting). These extraordinary treasures now reside in the British Museum.

The 500 pieces of a helmet, which has become an emblem of the site itself, has been painstakingly pieced back together… twice. As one of the Sutton Hoo guides told us, it took two times to have an accurate restoration of this helmet. In 1947 the British Museum got it wrong when they assembled the hundreds of tiny pieces because they used preconceived ideas. In 1968 it was dismantled and reconstructed based on the fragments’ evidence. Now you can see the actual helmet as well as the detailed shiny replica. Both are impressive.

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Other priceless findings are a shield, belt buckle, sliver platters, jewelry, and musical instruments.

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One of the artifacts is a hanging bowl, which indicates wealth because it was used as either a wine holder (my preference) or for cleaning fingers after feasting (probably the only body parts cleaned way back then).

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All of these artifacts were found inside the iron rivet remains of a 90-foot long ship along with the outline of a body presumed to be Raedwald (560-620/17/25? C.E.), the ruler of the East AnglesThe archaeologists were fortunate there were still items and outlines to be found. Many of the artifacts and all of the body were destroyed by rain leaching the acidic soil into the site since the early 600s. 

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What’s fascinating about this king (also spelled Redwald) is his connection to the Anglo-Saxon epic poem, BEOWULF, set in southern Sweden. In that poem the grand ceremonial burial site was that of a man and a ship, the same type of boat and associated wealth found at Sutton Hoo.

Raewald also helped spread Christianity. He was baptized in Kent, most likely at Canterbury were Augustine had set up shop in the late 500s (see Blog on Canterbury October 2014 for more of that dude). Yet, this ruler may not have been convinced Christianity was the way to go. The Venerable Bede (English monk, 672-735 C.E., known as the Father of English History) recorded that Raewald could have lapsed since he had a temple with altars to both Christian and pagan gods. Smart guy.

Further digging and mapping (1965-71, 1983-92) brought new discoveries such as the graves of an Anglo-Saxon warrior with his horse and execution burials estimated to be from the 8th-11th centuries. Of the 17 mounds one had been pillaged by grave robbers but another escaped that fate because the robbers didn’t dig down far enough. Many had been plowed down over the centuries but now the site is preserved. When we asked one guide why more mounds hadn’t been excavated he told us nowadays archaeology involved high-tech equipment enabling exploring sites without disturbing them.

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The site is only open on weekends, and we were among quite of few visitors checking out the exhibit rooms and grounds on this bright spring day.

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After touring the informative visitor’s center we walked out to the mounds. Sheep grazed amidst the mounds

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and a temporary tower stood at one end. Temporary because a permanent one would depend on tourists’ feedback over the next two weekends. We were fortunate to have timed our visit with a chance to climb for a an overview of the site. When asked on the the visitor survey if the tower added to our understanding of the site, we said not really but it did enhance our overall visit, especially the guide’s knowledge who answered our questions. 

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We headed back to the bus stop, passing by a free-range chicken farm and onto the main street.

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Max hiding some chips (our lunch) behind his back. He’s onto my snapping a pic when he’s eating, and Chris (his son) and I know how he eats his potato chips (‘crisps’ here), which means it’s worth a photo.

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Instead of continuing back to the bus stop we decided to walk along the river to Woodbridge. We passed sailboats moored in a creek or on the mud (with much of the river draining out each tide, boats are made to rest gently on the ground),

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other Saturday strollers usually with pups, barges/house boats advertised for sale,

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and even spotted Sutton Hoo across the water.

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Spring had definitely sprung, and thanks to Max we were out in it.

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And, thanks to Sutton Hoo, I’ve since discovered ‘hoo’ can mean a strip of land or a spur or ridge. So much for an Abbott and Costello routine, which I use to practice with my colleague Wayne much to the rolled eyes of our fellow coworkers at the Bath Y :)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22nd

Almost a year to the date when we launched JUANONA it was time to see just how much gunk of sea encrustations had adhered to her bottom. Max arranged to have her hauled out during a lunch hour so the bottom could be cleaned, prop scraped, and zincs exchanged (the latter are sacrificial lambs because they corrode before other metal parts of the boat; hence, the need to keep these fresh).

With Peter’s help (always nice to have extra hands when handling lines) we took JUANONA around to the haul-out pontoon and then watched as the yard crew oh-so-carefully put slings under her hull and lifted her out and into the parking area.

And, she looked great with a pretty clean bottom, so to speak :)

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So, Max and I were able to just hose her down (my hosing, Max brushing) without having to use a pressure-washer allowing us to save on the ablative paint (paint that sloughs off with growth leaving a less encrusted hull). Within one hour, she was cleaned, prop scraped, zincs replaced and ready for being swung back into the water.

One more task checked off the to-do list!

 

THURSDAY, APRIL 23rd

Where do we PUT this STUFF?! Wednesday night, thanks again to Anne and Peter, we were able to do one huge provisioning at a big supermarket a bit out of town.

First we figured out what dinners to make as staples (Gail, your Indian stew is definitely one of them) followed by the ingredients per dinner; add in all the other staples needed (tea, coffee, condiments, baking needs, dishwashing liquid, tp, sun screen, etc.); tally up quantities required for 12 weeks (knowing we’ll be using and replacing as we head up the coast/Scottish Isles); then plan to spend at least two hours going through aisles and checking off items. Hence the need for spreadsheets.

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The result? A pile of dry goods and non-perishable items needing a home not just on, but in, JUANONA.

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The reason for such a large stash was our plan to not buy anything in Norway other than some fresh fruits and veggies. For the past year or so we’d heard from everyone, cruisers and land travelers alike, how expensive this Scandinavian country is. So, now JUANONA was loaded to her gills with cans and packages all needing a home.

We began on Thursday morning and fine-tuned the stashing through Friday afternoon until everything was labeled, organized by shapes and usage, and placed in lockers leaving JUANONA shipshape.

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Another task completed… although, remembering exactly where everything landed will take another spreadsheet…

SATURDAY, APRIL 25th

With boating season already begun (these Brits are hardy sailors) we wanted to meet more marina folk so we held another BYOBW on one of the last Saturdays we’d be in Ipswich.

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Primed with Max’s now famous deviled eggs (our Orr’s Island friends will recognize these in spite of his not being able to locate his caviar sprinkles), we awaited any attendees.

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Within a few minutes our friends Anne & Peter arrived, soon followed by marina folk, some we knew such as Rick & Julie (below) and some we hadn’t met yet. And, the party began.

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Because of the short notice on posting the signs and with a lot of boats out for the weekend and cruising season, there were fewer of us than last time; however, it made it easier to speak with more folk. Once again we discovered how many great boaters there are hanging out at the marina both full- and part-time. Another reason to return next Fall.

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The last gasp photo of Anne, Max, Peter, and VJ as we turn off the lights and lock the door until the BYOBW Round III.

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SUNDAY, APRIL 26th

Max had heard from Julie and Rick about their recent visit to the Mayflower Project just down the way a piece in Harwich, the birthplace of this historic ship, on the Stour River (we’re on Orwell, NE of Stour).

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Anne and Peter kindly said they’d like an outing to Harwich having never really explored this historic town. So, off we trundled, driving down to locate the building of the s/v MAYFLOWER.

Actually, it’s the third building of a MAYFLOWER, the first occurring in the early 1600’s, a replica in the 1950s as a thank-you from the Brits to the U.S. (now residing in Mystic Seaport, CT), and now this one just beginning to take shape.

We arrived in Harwich parking along the harbor and oriented ourselves via the displayed map (across the way is Felixstowe, which we last saw when entering the Orwell River to head up to Ipswich September 2014).

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We found the center was open only during the week, but we headed off anyhow thinking we may be able to espy some sort of building going on.

It was easy to spot thanks to the colorful murals surrounding the center.

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We peered through the locked gate,

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then discovered an unlocked one around the corner where we met Roy who was manning the small visitor center.

The project is headed up by an enthusiastic and extremely likable and knowledgeable local named Sean Day. We met Sean, head of the Harwich Mayflower Trust, when Roy in the visitor’s office called him at home to say there were four people here interested in a tour. Sean immediately said he’d be there in five minutes, and so he was explaining that he had been in the midst of fixing a plumbing issue at home. Technically, no tours were available unless pre-arranged for the center really operated as a training center Monday-Friday targeting young people in the art of ship building, successfully, I might add.

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Sean proceded to explain how the project began (the interest in and the success of the recent replica of HM Endeavour, James Cook’s vessel)… what their goal is (construct a full-scale, seaworthy replica while helping to rejuvenate Old Harwich via the training center and increased tourism)… the current status (keel’s being laid and frames will go in soon, as well as raising funds for a half million British pounds for bronze bolts)… and how many Mayflower descendants on both sides of the pond are now showing interest (Max is a descendent, specifically one of his ancestors fell off the ship and luckily caught a line to haul himself back in. Fortunate for me :) let alone him!).

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It was difficult not getting caught up in Sean’s excitement and passion about this project. At many times it must be a thankless task, but you’d never know that being in his company. He’s managed to catch Sir Richard Branson’s interest, which raised the project’s credibility and visibility considerably.

Sean mentioned he was considering getting rose buses donated with the idea of planting one for each original crew and passenger from 1620. Deciding to be the first to do so, we offered to start and a gentleman’s agreement was made.

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After the tour Sean said he’d walk us through Old Harwich where the Master (captain and part-owner) of the ship, Christopher Jones, lived.

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While strolling through the lanes Sean would stop every now and then to point out some architectural interest, such as a 15th century building where graffiti from Tudor times still decorates the wall.

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We reached the harbor and he pointed out Mi Amigo, one of the Pirate Radio ships. These ships served as the Davids against the Goliaths (well-established networks, such as the BBC and Radio Luxembourg). The BBC only had one program a week playing the rock and roll music that was hitting the airwaves, and Radio Luxembourg, in addition to having a weak signal, would only promote those artists with big record labels, the ones who could afford to pay a fee to the station. Consequently, many up and coming artists wouldn’t be heard. So, a way around this was to take a ship, outfit her with a studio, radio transmitters, and an antenna, plunk her three miles offshore in International waters.

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Sean had more than just a connection to the history of Pirate Radio ships besides Mi Amigo being moored in Harwich. His brother Roger helped build one of the antennas as well as ferried contraband supplies to one of these ships. For an entertaining history of these ships, check out the 2009 movie “The Boat that Rocked” with Bill Nighy and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

We said good-bye to Sean, stopped in for a pub lunch, then headed to the Redoubt (‘Redoubt’ means a defensive fortification providing a 360-degree coverage). Built in 1808 this fort was one of the original 103 Martello Towers. These circular forts were constructed along the Essex and Sussex coastline as a defense from Napoleonic invasions.

Being so close to Europe and having an excellent port, Harwich had to prepare in the event of any sea invasion. Fortunately, none occurred although over 100 German U-boats surrendered there in 1918. And, in WWII an anti-aircraft gun was stationed at the fort to try to fend off the bombing raids that struck a large part of the town.

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We toured the fort where Anne pretended to be a gunner,

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and then pretended to be a shot gunner.

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We saw where troops would sally forth to meet the enemy,

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and, a Nazi missile that just missed Harwich.

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Then headed home through country roads lined by blossoming rape seed. A lovely Sunday drive :)

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SPRING Boardings

We can’t say good-bye to Ipswich without saying how great it was to have new-found friends aboard JUANONA. These are only two of the occasions but at least you’ll get an idea of what we mean about enjoying company with others.

Here’s one dinner with (l to r) Jo, Paul, Lily, Jayne. Jo, a young woman from Tasmania, crewed with Jayne, Lily and Paul on their boat, s/v DELPHINIUS, last summer in the Baltic then was first mate on a boat taking charters to South Georgia in the Southern Ocean. You’d never know she did this because she’s so gentle and self-effacing. We had to pull the stories out of her for she isn’t one to talk about herself. She’s now finishing up a trek along one of the historical pilgrimage walks to Santiago de Compostella, Spain. Her dream is to skipper her own boat for global exploring. We have no doubt she’ll achieve that.

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Another small party included Sandra and Barrie from s/v PASSAT II.

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Julie and Rick off of s/v BELIEVE are some other cruisers who wintered their boat in Ipswich while they returned home to Florida then left for Rwanda and Kenya on a medical mission. They attended the BYOBW (photo with me) mentioned above. They’ll be heading south to the coast of England and then France about the same time we’ll be going north.

VJ, who also was caught in a shot (last gasp photo) at the recent BYOBW, will be heading off to the southern coast of England. He once single-handed his 21-foot boat across the Pacific Ocean. He’s on a little bit bigger boat now and planning on heading south soon.

We’ve also met Andrew on s/v CHILD OF THE WIND who played the viola for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and who’s deciding where to head later this spring.

Becky, a Kiwi, and Trevor, a Scot, off of s/v DIGNITY have provided great info for cruising the coast of England and Scotland. Trevor also tells a wonderful story about his mother’s parrots. Made me almost want a parrot aboard JUANONA.

And, we don’t know what we would have done without Anne and Peter off of s/v SACRE BLEU. As you can see from this blob blog and previous ones, we’ll be looking forward to seeing them as well as Becky and Trevor at the end of the summer when we hope to be back in Ipswich.

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So, here’s to Ipswich and all the wonderful people we’ve met. We couldn’t have asked for a better winter home.

“There’s simply not a more congenial spot…”

Barton Mills and environs Wednesday, April 8, to Friday, April 10 If anyone knows the lyrics to “Camelot”, you’ll understand why I use this excerpt to introduce our time with our friends Maya (below with fellow visitor Noodles) and Hugo (in the Spring sunshine) Morriss. IMG_7353IMG_7383 On Wednesday, April 8th, we took the train to Kennett to be met by Hugo and whisked away to The Dhoon, their country home in Barton Mills. IMG_7341 (In asking how the house name came about, they briefly mentioned that previous owner Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, had named this Suffolk country retreat and used to come here from 1921 until his death in 1955.) IMG_7343IMG_7354 Immediately we immersed ourselves into the lovely indulgence of a springtime stay with friends who welcomed us with sumptuous meals, a lovely room, IMG_7213IMG_7214

a head with a tub (!), daily tours, two adorable pups, IMG_7378 IMG_7379 an introduction to their good friend Wendy, IMG_7348 some race-horse knowledge, and wonderful conversations. We couldn’t have asked for anything more.

I had first met them in northern Scotland, January 2001, at a birthday party held by Marci and Joanna, the latter a first cousin of Hugo. Later we caught up with them again in London, November 2002, at another event staged by Joanna. Besides these connections there is another link due to Maya being a fellow Mainiac whose family lived around Mount Desert for years. Yet, even if one had just met this couple, you would be embraced by their genuine hospitality. And, we were the lucky ones to find ourselves in their home.

After a delicious dinner we headed to bed only to be awoken by the lovely fragrance of sizzling bacon. Downstairs we found Hugo at a huge, old-fashioned oil stove frying up breakfast. Maya’s homemade marmalade (and Hugo’s bobbing ducky tea infuser) along with poached eggs, toast and good java ensured we wouldn’t be touring on empty stomachs. IMG_7372 Hugo then shepherded Max and me to his car where we set off for Cambridge where we’d spend the day exploring some of this city’s historic sites. Our initial destination was the Scott Research Institute’s Polar Museum. IMG_7219 A boating friend on our pontoon had mentioned her exploration of this gem, and it was one Hugo had visited some years ago. The three us entered this small museum only to be captivated by the large amount of information available via displays and accompanying audio guide. Both North and South Pole explorers were examined, and I won’t go into all of their exploits here. Max gravitated towards one of his inspirations, Ernest Shackleton. IMG_7227 Here he saw the sextant and journals from the navigator of that 1915 expedition, Frank Worsley.

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For those of you who haven’t had the chance to read the story of Shackleton’s ENDURANCE expedition, do so. You couldn’t make that stuff up.

We also saw artifacts from Robert Scott’s doomed TERRA NOVA expedition (1910-13), including the black flag marking the Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s December 4, 1911, arrival at the South Pole (imagine how you’d feel seeing that in the distance realizing you weren’t first in this historic race)…IMG_7228 and, the abandoned sleeping bag of Lawence Oates, who with Scott, Henry Bowers and Edmund Wilson, died on their return from the North Pole. They were only 35 days behind Amundsen.

Not wanting to be a burden, the ailing Oates left his tent to walk into a blizzard in spite of pleas by his fellow explorers. (His sleeping bag is slit open so he could keep his frostbitten leg out of the warmth; it would hurt too much to have it thaw.) IMG_7258 Recently discovered photographs from Scott’s expeditions were on display. IMG_7245 Looking at the stark and magnificent beauty of this perilous continent, I could understand the magnetic pull. Yet, the sacrifices made were more haunting. IMG_7240 IMG_7238 Sketches of the terrain by Wilson illustrates the scientific aspect of Scott’s TERRA NOVA expedition. Here, Scott took a photo of Wilson as he took pencil to paper. IMG_7243 IMG_7242 IMG_7244 On one of the audios there was a reading of Wilson’s letter to Oates mother testifying to Oates’ bravery. Also on display was the poignant farewell letter Wilson wrote to his own parents after it was clear he, too, would not survive the Polar journey.

A year earlier, Wilson had figured prominently in another mind-boggling event when he, Henry Bowers and Apsely Cherry-Garrard made a 120-mile round trip in the dead of the Antarctic winter (in complete darkness and temperatures I can’t even begin to imagine) recovering some Emperor penguin eggs. This feat is immortalized in Cherry-Gerrard’s book The Worst Journey in the World (1922). Wilson thought this flightless bird’s egg would prove the evolutionary chain between birds and man. IMG_7251 The northern hemisphere explorations covered the many attempts to reach that Pole as well as traverse the Northwest passage, one currently becoming more and more feasible thanks to global climate change. Those from Maine who know Eagle Island may be familiar with Robert Peary’s claim  of reaching it on April 6, 1909, as well as the tragic Franklin expedition. One of the many interesting items was a rescue fox collar, IMG_7231 and the message cylinders used by explorers to protect their information from the elements. IMG_7233 After an hour or so looking at the display of the ‘Heroic Age’ of polar exploration, I couldn’t agree more hardily with Cherry-Gerrard’s description: “Polar Exploration is at once the cleanest and the most isolated way of having a bad time that has ever been devised.” Fortunately we weren’t on either pole, which meant we found ourselves at a wonderful restaurant Hugo had booked. IMG_7271 Fortified by some Scottish seafood and libations we walked across the street to another Cambridge landmark, the Fitzwilliam Museum. The IV Viscount of Fitzwilliam of Merrion bequeathed his collection and library in 1816 to University of Cambridge. He thoughtfully also included funds to house them hence this museum, which opened in 1848.

In addition to artwork by El Greco and Picasso, we also saw some special exhibits. One was of the two bronzes recently attributed to Michelangelo and, the “Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment” featuring 300 items representing the purchases by European shoppers during that time, from exquisite pocket watches to  gold snuff boxes to high-heeled shoes. imagesimages

We left this museum knowing it was another place we’d like to return and headed off to the King’s College campus, one of two royal and religious foundations (the other is Eton College) begun by the young King Henry VI (1421-71) in 1441. These two schools would each enroll a maximum of 70 students from poor backgrounds, with those from Eton guaranteed acceptance to King’s. Nice scholarships way back when. Once there we strolled into another Cambridge showpiece, the King’s Chapel. imagesIMG_7281 The chapel was begun by that same king in 1446 and later renovated by his descendants, one being Henry VII. We saw the banded iron chest from which had carried 5,000 GBP (worth roughly $4 million in today’s currency) compliments of Henry VII for completion of the chapel. IMG_7324 It’s a stunning example of Gothic (perpendicular) architecture and features the largest fan vault in the world. Your eyes can’t help but float upwards to gaze at the soaring height banded by huge stained glass windows. IMG_7292 This chapel’s poster explanations of ‘who was who’ and ‘what happened way back when’ cleared up some of my confusion regarding England’s medieval royal family and the Wars of the Roses 1455-85 [Red rose stood for the Lancasters, white for the Yorks, with both of these families being descendants of Edward III (1312-77)]. A diagram (god bless pictographs) showed that Henry VI descended from the Lancasters whereas Richard III was a York. FYI:  Richard III is the guy who reputedly murdered his two nephews, one who was briefly King Edward V. Richard III, also, was the king whose bones found under a car park were recently reburied in Leicester Chapel in March of this year (he died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth).  IMG_7328 Henry VI was a pious king and not the best. However, it was in the Tudor’s best interests to build the VI up as a saint while maligning Richard III (politicking never changes). Some people say even Shakespeare got into slinging mud on Richard III.

This King’s Chapel at King’s College is beautiful with its light-filled, stained glass windows. Not being a huge structure, you can absorb the architecture by simply walking down the long nave, through the wooden screen donated by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn between 1433 and 1436 to the choir stalls (we found his initials but not hers)… IMG_7329IMG_7298 and into the choir area on the other side. We ducked into several small chapels along the sides with more examples of stained glass including the Tudor red rose and fleur de lis representing their French rule… IMG_7309 IMG_7321 IMG_7320 IMG_7316 IMG_7310

and a memorial to King’s College alumna killed in WW I, one being the poet Rupert Brooke. IMG_7307 Exiting we walked down towards the river Cam to which King’s College and other colleges back up. We saw many punters out, both guides as well as families who were trying their hand at this ancient boating technique of poling up or down a river. IMG_7267 Throughout Cambridge we saw evidence of a busy college community… IMG_7283

a pub named the same as the good friends (Colleen, Billy, Mary Lee to name a few) frequent Friday nights in Portland…

markers note famous events, and we saw two while keeping a look out for others. Yet another reminder of the historic events this city hosted. IMG_7280IMG_7338

That night Maya had invited a good friend of theirs, Wendy, who arrived with her little pup, Noodles. More fun was was in store along with another excellent dinner a la chef Maya. IMG_7350IMG_7351

The next morning greeted us with an even warmer day with Maya and Hugo’s garden smelling of fragrant spring. Do you know how wonderful it is to be amidst all this flora when one’s view has been of an industrial marina? It was heaven scent. IMG_7205IMG_7365 IMG_7367 IMG_7366IMG_7361IMG_7371 Good bye fall :)

Hugo, Max and I set off again only this time to Ely Cathedral. Once surrounded by marshes and later drained by Charles II (1630-85) to form extremely fertile farmland, this cathedral is often called ‘Ship of the Fen’. images This cathedral was sited on an ancient Christian community site founded by Queen and Saint Etheldreda in 673 C.E. IMG_7409 After two marriages, neither of which she deigned to consummate, she retired to Isle of Ely (so called due to the water being filled with eels) and built a Christian community. St. Audrey (shortened from ‘St. Etheldreda’ because her name was a mouthful) died in 679 from a neck tumor reputedly from her vanity of wearing necklaces in her youth. The fairs held in the town sold cheap necklaces in her honor, thus, the descriptor ‘tawdry’ was coined. Not the best way to be remembered. Supposedly, when her body was brought into the church in 695 the tumor (actually from the bubonic plague) was healed and the linens clean.

Her community thrived over the next 200 years, becoming one of the richest abbeys in England until destroyed by Danes. In 970 it was resurrected as a Benedictine monastery. Then, in 1081 work began to convert the original building into a cathedral. In 1322 one of the stone towers fell, and work began in the same year to replace it, this time out of wood, resulting in the Ely Octagon completed in 1342.

Keep in mind it was a guessing game as to how the structure would stay in place. As the guide told us, this was before the time of measuring the exact forces on structures. Luckily, it worked.

IMG_7430 When gazing at the next group of photographs just imagine looking up and seeing this painted ceiling with the light splashing through. The guide was talking while I kept snapping due to the stained glass effect. IMG_7400IMG_7404IMG_7403 The exact dates are known of these constructions because they were carefully chronicled throughout the years; and, unusually so, the actual names of those working on the wooden tower were known in addition to the master carpenter (in today’s world he/she would be considered an engineer who concentrated on wood construction), William Hurley, provided by the then King of England, Edward III. Due to the growing popularity of the cult of Virgin Mary the Lady Chapel was erected in the same time period and completed in 1349. This side building was also considered unique due to it being separated from the main cathedral building and was exceptionally wide. IMG_7416 Similar to how the King’s Chapel educated me on the Wars of the Roses, this cathedral gave me the clearest example of Norman vs. Gothic architecture. A later renovation added the pointed arched windows of Gothic structures to the earlier rounded windows of the Norman period (remember William the Conqueror who came over from Normandy? This is from his time.)

The main building was renovated several times, the first due to that disastrous falling of the East tower, the next during Victorian times when two volunteers painted the wooden ceilings. Upon entering I was amazed at the length of it considering its overall size; and, I discovered it’s the longest nave in Europe measuring 565 feet from the west porch exterior to the eastern buttresses’ exterior. IMG_7387

One guide began our tour due to the original one being delayed due to a traffic jam. Both were informative but the latter, you felt, could go on for quite awhile. Our clue was his question ‘what time did you think you’d be leaving?’  Normally this could cause some nervousness on my part along with my feet turning sideways to inch out a door, but his knowledge of and excitement only meant we truly were taken back in time.

As we walked through this beautiful cathedral we also spotted some tombs of famous bishops. Both would have been folk I would have liked to have met: St. Hugh of Lincoln (Bishop of Lincoln 1186-1200) known for his kindness, good sense of humor, and the swan who followed him about. He was also able to tame temperamental kings, such as Henry II who sent Thomas Becket to his grave for misspeaking. Another favorite was Bishop Richard Redman (Bishop of Ely 1501-06) who, when traveling, would ask to have a bell rung so he could invite the poor to join him in a meal. His was the only tomb not relocated due to renovations or damaged. IMG_7407 One of the most splendid examples of why this is a glorious place to visit is the Lady’s Chapel mentioned earlier. Here, there was a choir practicing for a concert later that day. Our guide said this chapel was often used by visiting choirs to record due to its beautiful acoustics, including an echo. I loved hearing the singing and music rolling out of the doors as we peeked in at the rehearsal. It also was one of the brightest church buildings from that time that I’d seen. (Not that I’ve seen a ton.) Unfortunately, all but a small portion of the stained glass had been smashed by Henry VII’is thugs during the reformation. IMG_7414 They also managed to scrape off the beautifully painted murals and smash all the tiny heads off the statues recessed along the walls. Reminded me of the intolerance and destruction by other fanatics (ISIS for one) of other historical monuments. Some things never change. Oliver Cromwell also caused suffering during England’s Civil war 1642-51; but, since he’d moved to Ely in 1636, he and his soldiers didn’t do as much destruction as they easily could have. Hugo had mentioned one of the unique aspects of Ely Cathedral is the way it is still surrounded by large open spaces, and this greeted us as we exited. Ely also boasts the largest number of medieval buildings still in use.

Another wonderful lunch reserved by Hugo meant we walked outside the cathedral, through the green, and into an old fire engine house. IMG_7426 IMG_7424 We once again ate a delicious meal begun by some beer and wine, then left for our last exploration of the day, a neolithic flint-mining site. Grimes Graves is one of ten flint mines in England. Over 400 pits are found in this cleared area named Grim’s Graves by the Anglo-Saons. And, to this day we could see the pock-marked landscape where miners over 5,000 years ago picked flint out of the white chalk. IMG_7448 Their tools were antlers and animal (I hope) shoulder-blades for picks and shovels. Used for axes, a highly prized tool, this jet-black flint was a valuable commodity traded up and down the British Isles. We were able to visit one pit and descended the 30 feet with our yellow miner hats. Not one of tunnels or height, I was thankful to climb down, peek about, then quickly return to the surface. IMG_7439 IMG_7441 IMG_7443 IMG_7447 With time for a tea prior to catching the train back to Ipswich, we stopped back at The Dhoon were we found Maya comfortably resting under the furry warmth of Treasure and Barry. IMG_7449 As we said our good-byes we realized how much we were going to miss Maya and Hugo, and, yes Treasure and Barry. They had opened their home to two cruisers from Ipswich who definitely felt this spring week end could not have been spent in a more congenial spot. IMG_7370IMG_7340

Magical Mystery Tour: PART VIII (finale)

Mumbai Tuesday, March 10 – Thursday, March 12 We landed in Mumbai, the city of Slumdog Millionaire, and immediately began our tour with a cab driver Noel knew. IMG_6965 From the relative peacefulness of Kerala to the loud, smog-drenched city of Mumbai, we were in a bit of a culture shock. The air was chewable, like it had been in Delhi. No A/C in the cab so we got our lungs full in prep for our 48 hours here. IMG_6977 Our first stop was a five-minute sighting of the word’s largest, open-air laundromat, Dhobi Ghat. Dhobis are the traditional Indian laundry men, and their occupation is passed down through the families living here. Hotels and hospitals use this outdoor facility for clothes and sheets with open-air concrete baths called ghats and flogging stones. The process is: soak in sudsy water… thrash on the stones… boil in starch… hang to dry…then iron/fold. IMG_6987 IMG_6985 IMG_6988 After snapping a few shots we hopped back into the cab to reach Mohandas (later called Mahatma by others as it means “Great Soul” in sanskrit) Ghandi’s residence when he visited Mumbai. IMG_6990 The Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya is a home converted into a museum. In this home where he stayed when visiting Mumbai, Gandhiji (1869-1948) learned to card wool and to spin here. This man of nonviolence and civil disobedience began his fight against injustice when he was thrown off a train in South African 1893. He was riding in the whites-only section. His search for equality for Indians took him back to his native land in 1915 where he often visited Bombay (Mumbai). In this house on the terrace he was arrested in the early morning of January 4, 1932. IMG_7002 This museum, in addition to a chronological display of Gandhi’s life, houses a library, research institute auditorium and his room. Here, he used to live and work, and some of his artifacts are on display. IMG_7001IMG_7004 In the picture gallery we view photos of Gandhi from early years to later and read letters he had sent to world figures. Here he is reaching his destination at the end of the famous Salt March in Spring of 1930. Britain held a monopoly on the production and sale of this critical seasoning, forbidding Indians from competing, and heavily taxing it. Thus, this famous march became the symbol of Gandhi’s mass civil disobedience or “satyagraha” against British tyranny. Over 60,000 Indians were arrested after participating in this 240-mile walk. IMG_6999 And, here’s a photo of Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964). The latter represented the younger generation, and, although from completely different backgrounds, these two men shared a vision for India, one of independence from British rule. IMG_6993 One of the most poignant displays was this quote mourning his wife who died in captivity. IMG_6995 However, Gandhi wasn’t always the sparkling, pure hero that history has white-washed. This fighter for justice actually supported racial segregation. When protesting his treatment in South Africa he supposedly said ‘respectable Indians’ should not be made to use the same facilities as ‘raw Kaffirs’. Nice. At least the tactic of non-violent, civil disobedience was used by others who actually did fight again inequality, such as Martin Luther King. The next morning we arrived at a local train station to meet up with our Reality Tours guide who was going to take us into the largest slum in India, the second largest in Asia:  Dharavi. I had initially said ‘no thanks’ to doing this. It felt voyeuristic. But Max said read the company’s web page and Trip Advisor ratings. So, I did and was impressed. The business model for Reality Tours is set up for local development. Eighty percent of the profits go back to the community via their sister-NGO Reality Gives. That NGO reinvests the money into education programs where tours are run, such as in Dharavi. The tour guides are respectful of the inhabitants and ensure their customers are as well (we weren’t allowed to take photography and only stopped at pre-arranged places of business). The success of this social impact model has spread with other tour operators interested in replicating Reality Tours’ practices. Over a million people live in this area located in the middle of India’s financial capital Mumbai. The slum is split into commercial and residential areas. Millions of dollars (over $650 million) is generated by businesses contracting with local laborers, the bulk from recycling plastics, sewing apparel, and leather works. Unfortunately, almost all profits go back to the owners who live elsewhere and don’t reinvest in the workers or their working conditions. As Max noted one of the saddest memories he has is walking by a room where three young teens were squatting on the damp and dirty cement floor sorting plastic so quickly he could barely see their hands. We entered the residential area, walking into a dark, narrow warren of alleyways barely three feet wide. Our feet were squishing on planks sitting atop gray mud with electrical cords drooping down from the sides of curtained doorways. Glancing inside you’d see an old woman and young baby in a dimly lit, one-room apartment. No natural light made it down inside the alleys so you couldn’t really see where you were going. Thankfully the guide kept close tabs on all of us. We’d still be there if we’d lost him. Once out we breathed a sigh, then continued past a garbage heap, just missing a rat scurrying from the side of the building towards the trash. Then we came upon a more spacious area of apartments that actually faced some trees and had open-air balconies. Our guide explained this is where Hindus lived. When asked why they had the better living area, he said they were the first to populate the slum, and as more and more moved to Dharavi, the newcomers, such as the Moslems, got the less desirable dwellings. We only have three photographs, which were allowed:  two right before we entered, overlooking this huge area; IMG_7051IMG_7052 another in a manager’s office selling handbags. We had a wonderful mixed group of fellow tourists: IMG_7053two young guys from New Brunswick of all places (Andrea, you would have enjoyed them and they, you!), an aunt and her niece from Chile, and a young German couple. We ended up at the little gift shop where we purchased a few items including a t’shirt with one of the most informative clothing labels I’ve seen. IMG_7055 After the travel and tours we were ready for some R&R, and, boy, did we ever get it. The hotel Noel had booked for us was amazing. We didn’t want to leave our room. We were perched on the top floor, which overlooked this huge city. IMG_7040IMG_7044 Here Max is speaking with Noel while enjoying a non-ice G&T :) IMG_7047 I must admit we felt so privileged. To walk from the poverty-strewn streets into a posh hotel lobby, ride an elevator to our clean and air-condiionted room, turn on hot and cold running water, while considering what we wanted for dinner… well, it was an extreme comparison, and one with which we weren’t always comfortable. But, it didn’t keep us from enjoying as many amenities as we could! IMG_7067IMG_7061 We did stop in at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel where in 2008 ten terrorists murdered 257 people and injured 700. A memorial at our hotel reminded us of this horrific event, an event that is occurring with more frequency throughout the world. IMG_7057 It’s also the reason for the security measures seen around our hotel and many other tourist sites. IMG_7074 IMG_7076 While walking towards our hotel I spotted a sculpture that was a bit scary and odd. IMG_7071 It reminded me of a good friend’s gift from her oral-surgeon daughter:  a fridge magnet of an open brain… And, when I emailed this head to her she responded “No new magnets, but I will definitely ask for another.  Last week she went to a training conference in Tampa on some new plates for broken jaws.  They each got a human head, yes, only the head, to operate and practice on for the day.  Other body parts were given to other conferences for training.” Not something I could handle! After four weeks our journey to India was over, and as we rode to the Mumbai airport (another impressively designed building), IMG_7136 Max and I knew we wanted to return. I had expected to be intrigued by this country but not yearn to return. Yet, the unexpected happened, and we do want to return. I have a feeling in my soul we’ll do just that.

Magical Mystery Tour: PART VII

Kerala:  Mitraniketan in Vellanad

Monday, March 2 – Tuesday, March 9

After flying into Trivandrum’s airport trom Jaipur we were met by a nice guy from Mitraniketan (Mi-tra-knee-kee-ton). He ushered us into the Ambassador vehicle, a car synonymous with India. Manufactured by the Indian company, Hindustan Motors, since 1958, this car was styled on the British Morris series and was called “the king of the Indian roads” but the company was shut down in 2014 due to bankruptcy. In spite of it being a hot and humid night, it was a pleasant ride especially as we neared our destination in the small village of Vellanad, an hour NE of the airport.

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We were returning to the campus we had visited briefly at the beginning of our trip with Noel and Diana. Wanting to volunteer somewhere while in India, Noel arranged for the three of us to do so at the NGO, Mitraniketan. Diana would be helping them with a revised web site while Max and I would be working on development and marketing plans for a U.S. Friends of Mitraniketan organization soon to be started by Noel.

Not feeling too well from Jaipur and it being late, we opted out of dinner and and quickly dropped off to sleep at the visitors’ dorm.

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The next morning we rose and headed to breakfast where we met another volunteer, Marcel, who was working as an intern for a college semester.

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Hailing from a small town in New Mexico, this young man was teaching English to the youth attending the Vikas Bhavan High School (although called high school it actually begins at first grade and ends at tenth).

We visited his class one day and discovered just how difficult it is to teach a language to a classroom of energetic kids without knowing theirs.

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Our friend Carol W. will soon be doing the same in Nepal only she does have a teaching background and has taken an ESL course to prep for it.

My hat and Max’s sunglasses soon became photo props…

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We also witnessed the closeness. It was these times when we realized that these young children left everything familiar to them to attend this school.

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With an average of 250 students, the majority of these young kids (at the tender age of five) begin as boarders from the tribal District of Wayanad, 600 km north, and graduate at age 15 (grade 10) where they then can join mainstream schools. Headmistress Sethu Viswanathan, the founder’s wife, leads a staff of 20 teachers and 5 craft instructors. We enjoyed her company at meals served in her home by one of her three daughters who was an artist and had taught batik (something I’d love to learn).

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Since our volunteerism didn’t include any structured activities, Max and I were there to interview the leaders and participants for the purpose of obtaining as much knowledge as possible about this respected NGO. Our meeting with Reghu and Sabith would be later in the morning so we proceeded to wander around and poke our heads into various activities, including a stop at the Creche and nursery school. Here we were quickly and lovingly surrounded by an inquisitive and bright-eyed flock of tots. And, I so wished I had my polar bear puppet from the Y!

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As the founder’s philosophy stated, these children are embraced by a community that teaches them the power of being self-sufficient and contributing to others’ well-being. This included such mundane tasks as doing one’s laundry (starting at age ten), and we saw many clothes line hung around the boys’ and girls’ hostels as proof.

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They definitely enjoyed being part of the action.

When there in February our three-hour tour enabled us to meet briefly with the co-director Reghu, head of the People’s College, a school teaching practical skills, leadership development and personal empowerment to those individuals 18 years of age and older. We had been impressed by his dedication (and the work load) then, and, after discussing more with him and his associate, Sabith, we were in awe of not only the scope of their work but also their accomplishments.

Prior to visiting Mitraniketan I had mistakenly thought of this organization as a school for disadvantaged tribal kids. After being there I realized the multi-faceted programs this NGO offered and quickly expanded my perception. When asked what exactly is Mitraniketan, Reghu aptly described it as a rural community development center. Founded in 1956 by Vellanad native, Sri K. Viswanathan (1928-2014), this secular, non-profit organization thrives on a 60-acre campus comprised of over 400 members including teachers, students, farmers, and volunteers.

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Viswanathan and now his successors follow principles and practices drawn from Mahatma Gandhi (humanity is the real educator), Rabindranath Tagore (the Upanishad philosophy of abolishing ignorance through a teacher sharing knowledge with a group of students, some say similar to Plato’s line of thinking but, please, you can read more to get a much better understanding than what I’ve tried to describe here), Gurukula System of Education (development of mind, body, and soul to create a healthy and mindful individual with community spirit), and the Danish Folk High School (a public school alternative to university elites, based on informal, open dialogue between teachers and students).

From these guiding lights Viswanathan stated “Progress of society through the total development of individuals is the avowed mission of Mitraniketan. This ‘Abode of Friends’ has evolved over the years with rural development at its core.” And, the best part is his experiment is working.

Having studied in the U.S., the U.K., Scandinavia and India, Viswanathan was influenced by Arthur Morgan (1878-1975), a social philosopher, civil engineer, educator, and public servant, who believed in a holistic approach to education–study, work, and community involvement. Mitraniketan (“abode of friends”) took root in Viswanathan’s home village on family land, and the campus evolved into not only a boarding high school and a community college but also an agricultural science center (Krishi Vigyan Kendra), where we met a class learning better ways to irrigate,

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a rural technology center (RtC),

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a women’s empowerment center, and a production training center.

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During our stay we visited all of the areas with the exception of the women’s empowerment center, which occurs at select times during the year.

As I had mentioned earlier, the scope of Mitraniketan’s programs is a surprise, especially since both Max and I thought of it as a singular school. The campus spreads over a verdant and serene landscape, one populated with open-air classrooms and red brick buildings springing out of lush vegetation and rich earth.

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And, everywhere we walked we were greeted politely with smiles and, from the kids learning English, ‘how are you? what is your name?’. We felt like honored guests, ones who had wandered into another world where children grew into thoughtful adults.

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During our discussion with Reghu and Sabith we heard about some of the specific programs geared towards building self-sufficiency and empowerment. One was a women’s group where a savings fund created a micro-lending program and some of the agricultural research performed at the farming center taught better irrigation methods.

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Our conversations with these two along with the brochure created by Sabith served as excellent background for both Max’s and my projects.

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After a formal tour with a young woman who had showed us around in February, Max and I walked back to the Rural Technology Center. Here we were enthusiastically hosted by entrepreneurs who had fashioned several machines, such as one for digging the deep holes required for banana planting and another for more easily husking a coconut.

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Pottery, rubber-making,

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and jute weaving were other industries taught at these buildings along with water conservation.

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I don’t know which impressed us more–the products or the creators. It was a fitting end to our wanderings.

After two days we decided to find a hotel in Trivandrum where we could use the Internet and a computer to start our plans. We landed at the Hyacinth where we were hosted by the nicest hotel staff we’ve ever encountered. At one point, after receiving complimentary cookies and fruit in our room, we thought they must think we’re writing a travel article (I was often at the business center working on a draft plan).

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I’ve never stayed at a hotel where everyone, from the doormen to the cleaners to the waiters to the front desk, seemed genuinely welcoming.

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Once again we felt spoiled causing Max to revert to a familiar pose as we wandered around the hotel’s premises.

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Our time in Trivandrum coincided with one of the most famous festivals in Kerala, the Attukal Pongala. To quote a Trivandrum (or Thiruvananthapuram website)

“Attukal Pongala is celebrated late February/early March, every year, at Attukal Bhagavati Temple. It is a ten-day festival. On the 9th day, thousands of women devotees from many parts of the state gather in the vicinities of the temple to prepare pongala, a favourite offering to the goddess. Pongala (literally means to boil over) is a ritualistic offering of a sweet dish consisting of rice porridge, sweet brown molasses, coconut gratings, nuts and raisins. The uniqueness of the festival is that only women are allowed to do the offerings on that day.

Devotees offer pongala to appease the presiding deity of the temple – the Goddess – popularly known as Attukalamma. Right from the night before the Pongala day, thousands of women, regardless of religious faith, assemble at the temple premises and on either side of the roads leading to the shrine, to make the Pongala offering. Devotees from across the country and even from abroad participate in the ritual.”

We had arrived the day before the ninth day, so the next morning we strolled out the hotel to walk amidst the preparations and then the cooking for this goddess. We didn’t see any other foreigners and were, once again, thrilled to be embraced and welcomed by everyone celebrating this time-honored tradition.

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The women of Kerala have set a Guinness Book of World Records as the single largest gathering of women for a religious activity; and, the smoke burning our eyes was proof it was an extremely large celebration.

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Another day we visited the royal palace of the local rulers and the nearby landmark, the Shri Padmanabhaswamy Temple.

IMG_6796 IMG_6810 IMG_6807 As non-hindus we couldn’t enter the temple but we had heard the story of a royal treasury found in 2011 worth $22 billion (yes, billion) dollars of gold jewelry, utensils, weapons and coins. We heard more about this mysterious treasure when we met a journalist, Renu Malhorta, editor-in-chief of the Afro Asian Business Chronicle, staying at our hotel. To say she was a live wire is understating her exuberance. Growing up in northern India and raising two children and leaving an abusive husband, Renu was irreverent, full of stories, and a walking, talking example of creating one’s own world in a male-dominated one. Her tales of putting the kibosh on male interviewees’ sexual advances were brazen and hilarious, and she definitely provided an insight into the workings of doing business in a testosterone-centric culture. She said she’d send us her article once it’s published, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

The Kuthiramalika Palace Museum or Puthenmalika Palace Museum is a lovely two-storeyed palace next to the above temple. Built by Maharaja Swathi Thirunal Balarama Varma, the King of Travancore, it features beautiful wood carvings as well as priceless artifacts collected by the family. No photographs were allowed inside but Max was able to shoot the famous horse-head carvings, giving the residence the nickname “the horse palace”.

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Unfortunately, the building isn’t being maintained very well by the owners, the royal family; and, the tour guide made sure to point this out to her group of ten visitors, us included. We had also heard that there was a court battle occurring between the royals and the government over who owned the treasure found in the Temple.

It was still a bit ironic to see this sign,

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and then see this:

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Saturday we re-visited Kovalum Beach, which had resembled Maine’s honky-tonk beach in Old Orchard the night our group went with Noel. What a surprise, then, to find it relatively uncrowded and tranquil. Populated by a few swimmers and surfers, most, if not all, being sun-worshiping foreigners, we took turns frolicking in the surf and resting on the sand. The bus ride to and from was also easy and only 60 cents each for the A/C version and half that for the non-A/C bus.

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Enjoying authentic Indian food was a bonus during our travels. Or course there was the odd mistake where I offered what I thought was a green bean to Max…

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only to discover it was really a green chili.

Sunday was our day for visiting the most southern tip of India, Indira Point, named to commemorate Indira Ghandi (1917-84). Located in the city of Kanyakumari in the state of Tamil Nadu, this peninsula is the meeting point of three great water bodies: the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

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A short and wavy ferry ride takes you to a pilgrimage site, Vivekananda Rock Memorial built in 1970 in honor of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) who swam, meditated and became enlightened on this rocky outcrop. He raised awareness of Hinduism as a world religion and Indian nationalism. He also helped introduce the pretzel-bending discipline of yoga to the western hemisphere.

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His philosophy based on the philosophical part of the Veda, the ancient Indian scriptures, is quoted below:

“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or mental discipline, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free.

This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”

Standing on another rock is Thiruvalluvar Statue, 133-foot stone monument of the Tamil poet, Tiuvalluvar, begun in 1979 but only recently completed in 2000. This poet born before 1 B.C. E. wrote down-to-earth couplets, 1330 of them, espousing virtue, wealth and love. He was practical and felt learning was useless unless passed onto others, that farmers were important to society, poverty was destructive and that virtue without some sort of wealth was difficult to sustain.

It was quite an experience to once again be the sole whiteys amidst the orange-bedecked Indians as we rode out to the Temple.

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What was also interesting to note were the bunny trash cans. They looked good but I’m not sure how effective they were.

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Our two-plus-hour ride back gave us another opportunity to glimpse the busy life of India, spotting the over-crowded buses, baby on scooters, agriculture and tree hauling, and even a car carrying a coffin.

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We also spotted quite a few churches, and I knew we’d been in India for a bit when Max pointed out what he called a ‘Christian Temple’.

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Back at the Hyacinth we fine-tuned our plan drafts for our meeting with Reghu and Sabith the next day, our last full day in Kerala.

Riding the local bus to Vellanad we passed the ubiquitous billboards advertising wedding jewelry, which explained the large number of gold and silver shops lining Trivandrum’s city street. Believe it or not, I didn’t purchase any of the precious metals.

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Monday’s discussion at Mitraniketan was another wonderful day of learning even more about this successful NGO. We also heard about an upcoming visit of Saudi princesses who were interested in this organization’s community development programs. What they intended to do with this knowledge is unknown but it’s no surprise Reghu is sought out for speaking about this NGO’s success.

We walked back to the bus stop hoping that we’d be returning in the future to Mitraniketan for it’s a place that gets into one’s heart before you know it. Yet another reason to return to this beautiful and intriguing land.

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Magical Mystery Tour: PART VI

Jaipur

Friday, February 27 – Monday, March 2

We left the next morning to catch the train to Jaipur. Chhotaram escorted us to our seats where we found a cleaner ride than the one we all took to Agra. The trip was an easy six-hour ride. Bedding was provided, and I napped thanks to the wheels’  rhythmic clacking on the track. I also practiced my tactic of immediately using the toilet removing the future dread of having to use the head.

Jaipur is called the pink city, a color associated with hospitality. It began back in 1876 when the maharaja ordered all the buildings to be painted pink in order to welcome Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. To this day the law requires all residents to maintain that color. It does help that red sandstone was commonly used for construction.

This city, located due east of Jodhpur, is the capital of the state Rajasthan. Named after the boy king Jai Singh  II (1688-1744) Jaipur is known as Northern India’s first planned city. The king began building this new city in 1727 due to a growing population at the old capital Amber and the need for water. Jaipur soon became a magnet for those seeking knowledge about the world via science, art and religion. The king even constructed an observatory close to the City Palace, which one can still visit today.

Our hotel here was a mock-heritage hotel meaning it was built in the style of a former maharaja residence but wasn’t one; however, it certainly didn’t detract from the archtectural style, which reminded me a bit of a Dr. Seuss house with terraces and stairways criss-crossing every which way.

The entrance boasted its altar to a deity with bowls of floating petals.

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Our rooms was large and comfortable (with the exception of directly being under the breakfast dining room where a herd of elephants must have been dancing). The only disappointment was the staff, who were surly and not too happy to be waiting on visitors, both foreign and nationals alike. Thankfully the general manager at the front desk didn’t fall into that category for he was friendly and helpful.

That night we ventured out to the main street and dodged tuk-tuks, cars, and trucks to reach the opposite side. We found some refreshments for the room down one of the side roads only to then take a tuk-tuk to literally just cross the busy street (by now it was dark and there was no way I was going to risk stepping into the unorthodox streams of traffic).

Outside our room there were balconies, a private one where I hung laundry (and one day opened up to find a monkey staring back at me) and a public one where I noticed some construction going up in the distance.

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Curious about safety measures I zoomed in only to find these guys hammering away on the edges with no preventive lines while a women loaded bricks on her head and another one tended to two small children. A brief glimpse into some people’s lives made me feel overloaded with luck. That saying ‘there but the grace of god go I’ never seemed more appropriate.

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Our first full day Max woke up with Delhi Belly. We think it was the mutton we had shared the night before but it easily could have been some bug he picked up earlier. Whatever the cause, he needed to remain in bed whereas I decided to brave the streets alone to check out some handicrafts.

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All was fine. I took tuk-tuks to certain areas then walked to others. The only harassment was by three small street children who, if I hadn’t had a tight watch on, would have grabbed that off my arm and run. I felt awful telling them strongly ‘No!’ when they began hanging off me. This experience was one of the saddest and worst of my entire Indian trip mainly because I felt like such a rich tourista who didn’t know how to give these kids what they really needed, which was definitely more than a watch.

Max rallied the next day so off we went with a hired driver/guide to see some of the area’s famous sites such as Amber Fort located roughly six miles on a hillside outside Jaipur. On the way we stopped at Palace of the Winds or Hawa Mahal. This five-story building was built in 1799 by the maharaja for ladies of the royal household to people watch without being seen. We didn’t go in but snapped the obligatory shot while craning our necks upward.

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Back in the car we headed for the main attraction, Amber Fort. Built in the late 1500s by Raja Man Singh I and expanded by subsequent maharajas until the move to the new capital, Jaipur, this fort was the palatial home for the royal family.

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It was pouring when we arrived but armed with a purchased umbrella and rented audioguides we proceeded to explore the four sections each with its associated courtyard. Later the rain stopped and we were able to wander around without getting soaked.

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A close-up of the above stairway entrance shows some of the marvelous detail found in this palatial fort.

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And, the view overlooking the Maota Lake was also stunning in spite of the overcast sky. Note the gardens atop the structure on the right.

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The complex was impressive, especially the Hall of Victory with its inlaid panels and glass-covered paint and colored foil that sparkle even today. Imagine what this must have looked like when new and in candlelight. The pink hues, the delicate designs… I kept aiming and shooting and couldn’t stop.

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In  the courtyard of the Maharaja’s apartments a channel of water would cool off rooms while flowing eventually into the gardens for irrigation.

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We wound our way up and down stairways, some with impressive risers and found ourselves in the back hallway of the zenana or women’s quarters.

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In one of these courtyards we also found some translated plaques commemorating the fort.

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On the backside of this compound we peered into the hillside and immediately felt an airiness not experienced in other sites. We finally realized this was due to the lack of people. Only some monkeys occupied the view.

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Peering down into one of the courtyards facing the hill there was a colorful array of women in saris while a little bird kept watch.

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We left the way we came in after admiring more monkeys keeping guard at the Moon Gate.

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On our way back to Jaipur we stopped at a former duck-hunting, water palace, Jai Mahal. Constructed in 1799 by Madho Singh as a royal summer resort, this waterlogged structure sits in Man Sagar Lake created by damming the Darbhawati River in the 16th century.

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 Heading back into town we passed tarp homes along the busy city roads. Another reminder of the world’s have-nots living amidst the haves.

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The rain that had stopped sprung up again, so we pulled out the umbrella and puddle-jumped our way to the entrance of the City Palace. Everyone said it was unusual for this time of year, that it was too early. It made for some interesting walkways.

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At the City Palace we visited the impressive reception hall. Surrounding the large audience area there are large portraits of former maharajas including the polo-playing Man Singh II who was the last maharaja prior to the state becoming part of India. From there we wandered into the armoury and a museum sporting royal costumes from earlier years.

It was also in the complex that we saw the huge silver urns made for the devout ruler Madho Singh II so he could bathe in the holy Ganges water when attending King Edward VII’s 1902 coronation. There were two, and each one was over five feet high.

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And, it’s also where my husband, who doesn’t believe in psychics, deigned to have his fortune told only to have the guy say almost the exact same words to me.

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We ended our day back at our hotel and got ready to leave early the next morning. We were returning to volunteer at Mitraniketan, the NGO we’d visited with Noel and Diana earlier in our trip.

The next day it was my turn for not feeling well but luckily it didn’t include keeping vigil at a toilet. It did help when our stopover of five hours was in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India. The airport was new, modern, clean, and comfortable with lounge sofas where I slept for a lot of the layover. And, after three hours I had recovered enough to check out the shops… :)

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Next stop, Mitraniketan!

Magical Mystery Tour: PART V

RAJASTHAN:  Salawas

Tuesday, February 24 – Friday, February 27

We got in the cab for Delhi airport having no idea what to expect when we exited the other end in Jodhpur, a city located in the western part of the Rajasthan state. When Noel asked what we wanted to do after the group tour, we didn’t know what to say except we’d like to get to know the people. He mentioned a homestay the first week and a place to volunteer the second. We signed on for both.

Now, the day had come for heading to the homestay in some village where your room was a mud hut (thankfully, with western toilets) and where optional forays included camel hikes. Hmmm. Maybe I agreed too quickly?

At the airport we parked ourselves next to the gate and proceeded to read up on whatever we could on Chhotaram Prajapat’s Homestay. While waiting we heard someone call our names only to look up and see Noel! He was here for his flight. We were so excited to see him you would have thought it had been years since we last were with him.

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Our flight was easy, and we landed in Jodhpur’s airport, which was modest compared to the large, international ones we’ve flown through and to. We picked up our bags and toted them outside only to be greeted by a sign ‘Max & Lynnie’. It was Chhotaram, our host, who loaded us into his jeep and off we went for a bouncy, dusty ride to his village and home.

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There we were introduced to some of his family, including his wife Mamata, brother Shambhu, Shambhu’s wife Dariya, and the children:  Chhotaram and Mamata’s daughter and two sons; Shambhu and Dariya’s baby boy. Others in and out were the two youngest brothers of Chhotaram and some other young cousins. The patriarch and matriarch of the family weren’t due home until late the next day after attending a funeral in another village.

That first afternoon we settled into our room while trying to figure out what to do next. There was really no routine or expectations of us other than to experience their lifestyle. The feeling was a bit uncomfortable for we didn’t want to intrude, yet their living space was literally an outdoor patio and courtyard with a small kitchen with an open fire pit, a washing-up place next to the kitchen for dishes, a covered veranda off of which were two rooms, one where they kept their inventory of dhurry rugs, and the other serving as an office, sleeping area, nursery and closet.

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On the opposite side of the courtyard stood another open-air room where the dhurries were woven.

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There was another building across the way where most of the family retired for sleeping.

Access to our mud hut was either via the driveway or through the office and past the buffalo and cow pens, jeeps, and laundry line.

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On the backside of our hut was the fire wood and where Mamata made cow dung patties for burning (I saw her doing it but ungraciously didn’t offer to help).

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Coming back to the patio, Chhotaram offered us lunch, which was a simple meal of healthy chips and buffalo curd. We soon learned almost every meal involved buffalo curd, either plain or curried. In addition to freshly made and baked millet bread or wholewheat chapatis, we had a cooked veggie, potatoes or rice, and an optional chili sauce that was excellent (they kindly left it as an add-on in deference to foreigners’ concern over too-spicy of a dish). The first day required a bit of getting use to, but by the time we left three days later we were truly enjoying this fresh food. It was the healthiest, purest nutrition I think I’ve ever eaten. Just writing this makes me wish I was sharing one of those meals.

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We also quickly learned Chhotaram is an extremely healthy eater. He only drank water or milk, never ate meat, never ate processed food (the mother and wives cooked using all fresh ingredients), and only used water to brush his teeth. Going by the look of him and his teeth, his diet was something we all should be doing.

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Chhotaram and his family are weavers, and he runs a 40-family cooperative ensuring that those making these lovely rugs are reimbursed fairly for their work. He demonstrated the art of dhurry weaving, which is long and involved and something I couldn’t do, especially since I couldn’t sit like that for longer than 15 minutes.

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Chhotaram is also an excellent salesman as we ended up buying several of these rugs, and we live on a boat… However, we know we’ll find a place in our Orr’s home for them.

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Early evening the third youngest brother took us for a walk around the neighborhood. Chhotaram asked us to converse with his brother in English (not that we could have spoken in his language) as he wanted his brother to practice. This discipline of learning English obviously paid off as most of the adults spoke it.

Along the way we saw a woman herding her goats home, a runaway camel, peacocks (where I couldn’t help but think of my artist friend Ellen and Max’s Aunt Phyll), the water truck (we saw it deliver a tank load to Chhotaram’s cistern), and lots of boisterous kids beckoning us for photos.

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What’s lovely to see is the natural affection among guys as opposed to only among girls.

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Back at the homestead I saw Mamata creating her delicious meals. Look at her spice rack in the second photo. She used it to make an excellent, fiery chili sauce.

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I tried my hand at tforming a flat, circular millet patty but failed miserably. Mamata just smiled, took the sad, misshapen lump and expertly turned it into a perfect circle.

Night fell quickly and soon we were off to bed. The next morning would be our village safari, which is comprised of visiting different families and businesses living in and around Salawas.

We left around 9:00 in Chhotaram’s trusty jeep and made our way to a home owned by a Bishnoi family. The Bishnois (translates to ’29’) follow the 29 principles teachings of Lord Jhambheshwar, a Hindu who believed in a casteless society, not killing or eating any animal, no cutting down trees (he reached his enlightenment after sitting under one in the 15th century), and no drinking of alcohol.

In addition to the belief in conservation the Bishnois also believe in welcoming strangers with an offer of opium. How this got started I don’t know, but Max enjoyed a simulated puff.

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From there we stopped at a small lake where we saw some of the local animals and a huge flock of migrating geese followed by a visit to a shepherdess’ home.

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Another cooperative, this one composed of men and women who created lovely scarves and used old saris to quilt wall hangings and bed spreads.

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We have learned that you can’t enter a store without having everything pulled out for display. And, yes, it works. We ended up getting some.

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One of our final stops was at the local potters. To turn his wheel the potter used a stick to quickly build up centrifugal force, then began shaping his pot. I tried but was definitely not successful. This attempt only made me realize even more how talented our friend Rebecca Esty is.

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What is amazing to me is these people’s livelihoods are passed down from one generation to the next. The shepherdess, the potter, the weavers, all worked in the same field as their parents, and their parents’ parents, in many instances going back hundreds of years. Chhotaram continues to weave like his father, and, no doubt, his children will, too. This pre-destined occupational path felt odd to someone who grew up with little expectation of following in my parent’s footsteps. Here, it worked.

We landed back at Chhotaram’s and retired to our hut. Soon we heard our host saying he had a surprise for us and to join him at the house. Up we went only to turn the corner and find Layne there! Talk about a wonderful shock! She and a friend of hers living in India were staying just outside of Jodphur and had also gone on a village safari. What was ironic is we passed them in our jeep, and Max mentioned ‘I just saw someone who looked a lot like Layne.’  She did the same only she asked the driver, who happened to be Chhotaram’s brother, if some people named Max and Lynnie were staying at his house. As a friend Steve Keener says, the world is a small, small ball.

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Later that day five new guests arrived, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses travelling around India. They were all young, all friendly, and not preachy, which was a good thing. Our last event of the day was walking fifteen minutes to perch atop an outcropping of boulders as the sun set.

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Our second full day was spent relaxing and catching up on emails and news, then strolling with Chhotaram around his own village. It also gave me plenty of opportunity to take some photos of his beautiful family.

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Talk about a family who could model joy. I couldn’t stop snapping photos.

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My hat provided some photo ops, and it looked much better on Chhotaram and his younger brother than it did on me.

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A french family (grandparents with their granddaughter) arrived in time for dinner, and Max took the opportunity to demonstrate, then teach, his one card trick. We enjoyed the brief time we were with them and would have liked to have visited more, as well as heard how they were adjusting to Indian fare compared to France’s. I did give the little girl some power bars as I had noticed she wasn’t eating much.

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Our home stay was definitely an eye-opener. Chhotaram is an impressive entrepreneur, one who is dedicated to preserving the heritage of local livelihoods while adapting to modern ways.

Although some customs (e.g., women have to cover their faces to show respect to their mother-in-law, and arranged marriages – Chhotaram was married at age 19, his wife, age15) were so startling different from a westerner’s viewpoint, the underlying sense of family was strong.

And, no matter the differences smiles and laughter bridge all cultures.

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