A Christmas in Kerala

Fort Cochin and Allepy, India
Christmas 2009

Photo taken while Christmas dinner was STILL in Ollie's belly

This is Ryan and I want to wish everyone a good evening from Bangalore, India. Ollie is in our hotel room playing with the new toys that Santa brought him for Christmas and Emy is wearing an Ayurvedic green mud mask that she discovered really helps purify her face (every time she wears it she scares Ollie to death as he thinks she is a monster). I have decided to exit stage left and am sitting on a very comfortable couch in the South Park Hotel, listening to the various sounds from the Gandhi Bazaar below, including auto-rickshaws, feral dogs, blaring TVs, honking horns, chai wallahs and the like.

Travel insurance does not cover 2yr old equestrians

Over the past 29 days, we have experienced two nights in New Delhi; an amazing twelve day tour through Rajasthan – the cultural heart of India; a two day drive from Bangalore to Fort Cochin with a young Indian fellow who had no idea where he was going and who was a little heavy on the gear shifting; a five day respite in Fort Cochin for Christmas; two nights in Alleppey where we took a canoe out into the ‘back waters‘; two nights in Ooty – the South’s most famous hill station where Emy, Ollie and I rode horses through the majestic hillside (I managed to make my horse trot a few times, but that was about it); two nights in Mysore for New Year’s where we went to the zoo, were charged the equivalent of $20 US dollars for one dirty martini because they charged us for the 30 ml of vermouth (just to clarify, this was Emily’s New Year’s Eve drink; I of course celebrated with a club soda and a chocolate brownie); four nights in Bangalore where we saw Avatar twice (2-D and 3-D), caught up with a few sloth bears and rescued circus lions in Bannerghatta Biological Park; and generally tried to get our feet back underneath us for the next six or seven remaining months of our trip.

While there is a lot to say about India, I am going to focus on Christmas and Emy will write about the rest. Even though Emily was slightly homesick and longed to be home for the holidays, we had a wonderful time over Christmas. Our travels took us to historic and picturesque Fort Cochin, a small town in southern India’s state of Kerala that was discovered by Vasco de Gama in the 1500s and cultivated by the Christian Portuguese and the Jewish settlers (there is a section of Fort Cochin that we visited that is called ‘Jew Town’ and seeing that I am an honorary member of the tribe, we were warmly received). Within Southern India, and Kerala in particular, there are small but ardent pockets of Syrian Christians, people who first heard the gospels from St. Thomas himself nearly two thousand years ago.

The ride to Fort Cochin was not the most pleasant as our driver did not know how to drive a stick shift and had no idea how to navigate the way down from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu on into Kerala. As accurate road maps of India do not seem to exist (or at least our driver did not come equipped with one), we stopped 50-plus times to ask different folks how to get there.

As we approached our destination, a hotel Emy had reserved months in advance while we were still in California, I started to get a little uneasy as it appeared to be located in a rather dodgy part of town. When she made the reservation from the States, Emily was told that the hotel was located in Fort Cochin, but we soon discovered that it was in fact 25 kilometers away and actually located in Ernakulam, a raucous and somewhat seedy transport hub that was heavy on neon lights and indoor bazaars, but light on charm.

The hotel was a cavernous restored mansion that lacked any kind of climate control and was positively bursting with chintzy Christian décor. While sweltering in the front parlor as the proprietor checked our passports, porcelain statues of the entire canon of saints peered at us from all corners of the room. Behind the dining room table, an enormous Technicolor version of the Last Supper was rendered in stained glass. Once in our room, we discovered a cockroach the size of my size twelve shoes crawling up our curtains and a gecko reclining near the bed. Needless to say, Emily and I quickly decided that we needed to make a break for it. We packed up Ollie and set out to find Fort Cochin and hopefully a new place to stay.

Cantilevered Chinese fishing nets of Fort Cochin

Instead of taking the ferry boat over, we jumped on the local bus and 75 minutes later, we arrived at Fort Cochin. Fort Cochin is a beautiful place right on the Arabian Sea. Huge cantilevered Chinese fishing nets lined the water and the town had an air of friendliness that we had not felt up to this point during our travels through India. While we had a reservation for three nights back in Ernakulam, Emily and I both knew that we had to move and we luckily came across a lovely place called Victory Dawn that still had availability. We immediately booked four nights and hired an auto-rickshaw to take us back to the mainland so we could grab our bags and hightail it out of there. Needless to say, Emily and I were both nervous as we had never backed out of a hotel reservation before and we had no idea how the owner would take our departure. I had never even dined and dashed as a kid, but I suspect Emily might have in her young, rebellious ‘raving’ days. When we arrived, we told the rickshaw driver to keep his engine on as the next few things were going to happen very quickly. Luckily, we were given our passports back by an unsuspecting worker at the hotel (we learned a valuable lesson that you always give photocopies of your passport and never the original) and three minutes later, in a never-before-seen maneuver, Emily and Ollie dashed back to the rickshaw while I explained to the proprietor that Ollie had quite suddenly and mysteriously become gravely ill. She insisted that we pay, but I kindly told her that it was not going to happen and I abruptly left.

Exasperated and out of breath, Emy and I looked at each other once in the rickshaw and laughed. Those feelings of longing for home suddenly vanished as we both knew that our home was each other and these little adventures were what made life worth living.

After Bonnie and Clyde made a run for it from our first hotel, we had a wonderful Christmas, just the three of us in Fort Cochin. We decided to splurge and go to an all-you-can-eat PLATED Christmas Eve dinner that cost about $60 USD, our most expensive dinner to date. We were able to order anything and as much as we wanted from the menu, so we went ‘Rauch style’ and ordered four main courses to start, which included stuffed turkey, garlic prawns, a seafood platter, broccoli soup, pork loin with maple syrup, and more.

While we thought Ollie had managed to kick the bug that had been plaguing him throughout our last days in Rajasthan, we were sorely mistaken. After packing down a plate of fried calamari and with his toy auto-rickshaw in hand, the little guy started wobbling like a punch drunk sailor and proceeded to barf. Luckily, Emily jumped up like a fox, held her hand over his mouth and sprinted to the front door. On Christmas Eve, dressed in our finest (read: cleanest) attire, we held Ollie’s head up as he puked all over the doormat in front of the fanciest hotel in Fort Cochin. Needless to say, our little rock star was not quite as popular as he was before we sat down to dinner and our all-you-can-eat plated dinner ended abruptly without us even being able to pocket any leftovers. I can hear my father’s voice chastising me now (love you, Dad).

After our lovely Christmas Eve dinner, Emily made a midnight mass service at the 400 year old Santa Cruz Basilica where the bishop of Kerala gave the sermon in both English and Malayalam, the local language. I had the good pleasure of staying home with a sickly Ollie and getting our hotel room ready for Santa. While Oliver is not quite old enough to understand the concept of Santa Claus, every time he saw Santa on the streets I told him to yell, “Hey Santa, I want toys for Christmas!” It was rather hilarious as, just like the good soldier he is, he yelled that each and every time he saw anybody with a white beard, even those that looked like ‘dirty wizards‘. On Christmas morning, Ollie ran around our hotel room saying “open this one, open this one.” He was so excited by the trucks, miniature rickshaw, motorcycle, balloons, bongo drum and other small gifts that Emy and I smiled for days to come, although he has now lost two of his new toys and has thoroughly destroyed most of the rest of them. Despite his obvious enthusiasm for the gifts, for the first time he started to show an inkling of understanding of the true meaning of Christmas, and became solemn when he saw the small crèche in the vestibule of St. Francis church. After looking on for a minute or two, he quietly sang his version of Happy Birthday to the Christ child.

Santa managed to find us ALLLL the way in South India! WOOT!

Christmas for Emy and I was not about the gifts, nor the location, but it was about being able to share the time together. As we held each other’s hands and looked into each other’s eyes, the gift that we were given this Christmas could not be un-wrapped. That gift is still with us today as it the love that we have for each other and the daily reminder that it is not where we go or what we see, but that we are DOING IT TOGETHER.

May the New Year bring you and your families only life’s greatest blessings. Try to remind yourselves each and everyday that life is about the moments and you have to give it back in order to receive it. Grab your significant other and children and remind them how special they are to you. Take your kids to the park tomorrow or get off work early on Friday and walk down to the beach. Life is about the moments so try to embrace every one of them and do not put off until tomorrow the love you can give today.

More than ever, the time in India has helped me become more patient and has re-focused me on all of the blessings that I have been given. I feel extremely blessed for Emy, as our relationship continues to grow stronger, and Ollie, who is as popular with the locals as ever, and this time that we have to spend together. I am eternally thankful for my sobriety and for the second chance that God has given to me. India is a country where it is difficult to take a breath, but once you have a moment to reflect, it is hard not to feel a sense of peace and joy for all that we have been given.

We are almost to the half way point of our trip. While we were going to head to Mumbai and on to Singapore, Bali, Northern Thailand, Laos, Australia, New Zealand and then Fiji, we decided that the 24 hour overnight train ride from Bangalore to Mumbai was more than we could handle so we are now flying from Bangalore to Bangkok to do 17 days in Northern Thailand, 17 days in Laos, 10 days in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, and then 4-5 days in Singapore and 30 days in Bali/Indonesia. We now tentatively plan to be in Australia by the end of March and will most likely not be back in California until late July/middle of August.

Stay Tuned. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


  1. we are having a wonderful time

    we hope you, Mike and the kids are well

    we miss you and wish you only the best



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