Porthcurno. Seals and Dolphins

It was decided that our dog Reggie would be taken with us on a 3 mile circuitous walk within the Penwith peninsular of Cornwall. We drove to the car park above Porthcurno and followed a guide picked up from our lodgings. It was windy of course as this was Cornwall after all. It has wind a lot here as evidenced by trees standing shocked at their perpetual efforts to  escape eastwards, their stubborn roots being their only thwart. We parked at the car park above Porthcurno beach and walked back up the road to find a lane opposite the telegraph museum. The museum is sited here as Porthcurno, ironically, was the spot where the first telegraph cables came ashore connecting Britain to India and the rest of the world. Ironic because today 142 years later you’d be hard pressed to get a phone signal and in some Cornish villages the ‘internet’ is regarded as an urban myth.

Artists impression of the first comms to come ashore via telegraph in 1870

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We took a left along a footpath and came out past a stone cross on to open land. Just as I spotted the church of St Levan, the sky turned black – because of approaching rain – I’m not called Damien – and the stroll turned into an its about to pour down jog and then to a canter and we reached the church porch with convenient bench seats literally as the heavens opened.

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So we sat and ate a Crunchie each waiting for it to go off but this didn’t seem likely so we thought we might as well carry on but not before having a look at the church. Stepping inside we found a bubbly lady addressing the Christmas decorations as tonight was St Levan’s big night – the annual carol service. We chatted and learned that they would be using real candles and Health and Safety be damned as the glow sticks from previous years just didn’t cut it.

She told us that her father was born, bred and died in Cornwall and only left the county once in his whole lifetime and that was to go one mile into the Devil’s county of Devon to Plymouth hospital when nearing the end of his life. We discussed the ongoing hippy influx to Penwith and the local lady explained that England is the shape of a Christmas stocking full of fruits and nuts with all the nuts always finding their way to the big toe.

As for the church it was thought that it, or more accurately the site, had pagan origins – don’t they all – as there is a stone outside that was said to have been venerated for its holy powers and fertility rites and St Levan himself decided to riven the pagan rock and then uttered the prophecy,

When the panniers astride,

A Pack Horse can ride,

Through St Levan’s Stone,

The World will be done.

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Thing is, Christianity has been playing with me a bit of late. For example, when we were on the plane to India the man sat on the end seat of our row of three told us that he was a British born Pakistani Christian and said that if were ever travelling out of Gatwick again, to come and stay with him for free as he only lives 20 minutes from the airport and he has a large house. He said it was the Christian thing to do. When we were in India and stuck at a train station not having a clue what to do, what train to catch, where to go, an Indian youth who spoke perfect English helped us – at the station, on the train on what to do and how and even got us transport from our destination to the hotel and he thought it was the Christian thing to do.  Later that night and two hundred miles further on a family took us in, made us tea whilst ringing around to find us a room, all to no avail, but not before arranging us transport. Their home was adorned with Jesus and Mary’s. The transport took us to one of the best and friendliest hotels we’ve ever stayed at where we were made very welcome and invited to meet the whole family and eat with them, which we did. They were Christians. None of these people wanted anything in return. Then later in the week, when we were in Cochin, we were hit by a horrendous storm whilst out walking and the first doorway to run into happened to be that of a church – in mid service. We went in with such a head turning bluster that we decided to sit down and wait the rain out which of course stopped about the same time that the service did.

All this Christian help in a predominantly Hindu country wasn’t lost on me and it was reminisced upon as we left the Cornish church of St Levan  – at exactly the same time as the rain ceased.  It was then that I quipped, ‘well maybe I’m Jesus’ and at that exact moment my foot slipped on a wet stone and for the first time in over 20 years I fell over with my elbow hitting the ground first followed by my arse which settled in a deep puddle. Arm in agony and bottom drenched I involuntarily looked up and shouted ‘WHAT?’

Just saying.

After this we traipsed over a headland to join the South West coast path and quickly got the dog onto his lead as cliffs were new to him and he kept jumping on to overhangs doing his best impression of the Lion King – which we know he’s never seen.

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The path was muddy and I no longer trusted my boots but under the circumstances I tried not to curse at them. We soon came down into the coastal hamlet of Porthgwarra, pronounced Porthgwarra. It has a rock with a hole in it.

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You can of course continue on the South West coast path and head to Lands End only 3 miles away but we turned around here and back tracked a few hundred yards before taking a right fork and passing St Levan’s Well. St Levan, it seems, was obviously a bit of a lad in these parts in his day as he had his own church, cracked huge rocks open whilst making up prophecies and has his own well – and a sacred one at that!  But no matter how we tried, Reggie was not going to drink from its water. Reggie will drink from any vestibule or puddle, even from water that’s settled in concave cow pats, but he was simply having none of this, hind legs dug in and reverse lights on. I took this as a sign so I just bathed in it, meaning I splashed some water about my head rather than lolling around in it, in my altogether splashing and singing auld lang syne.  It was much too cold.

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We continued on walking just above Porth Chapel beach with its untrodden sand like freshly fallen snow and so we left it that way. We climbed up to the ridge to traverse the car park of the dramatic outdoor theatre that is Minack. The lady of St Levan’s Church had told us that hardly a show had been cancelled in 2012 despite it being the wettest year on record in England. Minack’s astounding setting is iced off by the view it affords of Porthcurno beach and I think you would have to trudge more than a few miles of coast path to find a better view.

Minack Theatre and Porthcurno

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At this point the pathway down to the beach turned into what was nearly a scramble – very steep – and I was still wearing the same boots that had been the earlier victims of divine intervention. Reggie had run ahead to check out what the only other dog on the beach below was chasing after.  Then I noticed that two large rocks on the beach were moving and that a man further down on the path had grabbed Reggie to stop him getting on to the beach and approaching these rocks because these rocks turned out to be huge grey seals having a snooze and seemingly the gent wasn’t worried about Reggie attacking the seals but the seals attacking Reggie. The man obviously was ignorant of Reggie’s fears. Reggie is a sheepdog and his dad was a farmer’s cow herder but the genes didn’t get passed down as Reggie is scared witless of sheep, cows, alighting Heron’s, hay bails that are covered in black plastic, scare crows, other dogs and definitely moving rocks. Reggie just ran for the sea and I was saluted by one of the photogenic seals.

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Sadly further up the beach, a baby Dolphin lay. Thankfully at least it had been reported as it was tagged.

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Back to the car to make our way back to St Ives. We stopped for refreshment at The Engine Inn in the hamlet of Cripplesease (which I thought aptly poetic).

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This is one of those pubs that you would take visiting Americans to, if you had any, as it is so quintessentially English that it feels like it’s straight from a Hollywood set – just remember to stay on the road, keep clear of the moors, beware the moon lads…

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How to Avoid Delhi Belly

The qualification for daring to write such a blog is that we recently spent three weeks travelling through Southern India on dirty, sardine packed buses, on trains that were so unclean that even the flies got off at each stop, to cafes without adequate sanitation such as running water from the one tap in the loo with no paper with the one toilet which might flush if your luck was in.

We ate and drank well, we didn’t wear plague suits and none of us got even slightly ill.

We could have just been very, very lucky as over 70% of all visitors to India succumb to the DB or it could be because we had a disciplined regime that we adhered to, what Buddhists might refer to as mindfulness – and that is the first thing you must have – especially in India.  If you’re the sort of person who loses their keys every five minutes then go to Disneyland or Center Parcs instead.

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I was given lots of advice about the dreaded ‘Delhi belly’ for months before the trip. None of it however was how to actually avoid it but what to do when you inevitably get it which included, ‘take lots of Immodium’ and  ‘if you’re not better within 48 hours go and see a doctor’ – the latter advice has to be noted. We met a frantic girl whose boyfriend had been losing weight at an accelerating weight she said for over three days and she needed to go to Goa. We said that he needed to go to a doctor and not the Dr Pepper sort she was buying to hydrate him.

The best bit of really bad advice I was given was, ‘you’re going to get it whatever you do, so you may as well, as soon as you get there, drink a few pints of water straight from the taps and get it over with’ – DO NOT DO THIS. The favourite tip I collected and one I did put in to my top pocket was, ‘don’t travel on buses with it, as they don’t have toilets and they don’t stop’ – a combination, I admit, that I wouldn’t like to put to the test.

So, here is a list I complied mentally in the quieter moments on the long train rides;

Don’t expect immunity by staying or more particularly eating in 4 and 5 star hotels or restaurants. Eating at a 5 star and expecting to stay DB free is like buying a Volvo for safety reasons and then constantly pulling out at junctions in front of oncoming traffic thinking the side impact bars are made of armoured iron. We all know those Volvo drivers.

The rules are not necessarily about where you eat but what you eat and how it is cooked and whether all the staff who handle your food and that you may never see have washed their hands.  It is far, far safer to eat from a street vendor wearing disposable gloves (a lot do) who has just cooked your food right in front of you than it is to put literal blind faith into an unseen chef in the sealed off kitchen.

Forget all about meat in India. You don’t need it and the risk from illness is high. The Hindu diet is vegetarian and rather than having to endure the token Vegetable Biryani at your local curry house which always tastes like a meat dish with the meat removed, the quantity of vegetarian dishes to be enjoyed in India are incalculable and all the ones I tried were astonishingly gorgeous, particularly Pea and Cashew Nut Curry and of course any non-meat Dosa. If you think you can’t live without meat, visit a local market and that should sort you out, possibly for good.

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Do not eat the skin of fruit such as apples, pears, plums, peaches etc as these may have been washed in DB causing water or had flies land and play footsie on them, and/or been handled by many hands. Rubbing fruit up and down your arm mimicking a Cricket bowler simply will not cut it.  Stick to bananas and oranges or peel everything carefully yourself.

Bananas, however, are everywhere!

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Otherwise eat only cooked food, ideally vegetables and always try to be able to view the cooking of it.  There are plenty of Pizza Huts and international corporate chains with their pre prepared fayre that we tried occasionally in the bigger towns and they have Air Con! Do not eat salads as they are nearly always washed in water.

Chai Tea. If you go to India and don’t have a Chai Tea from a street stall at least once a day, you should be sent home. It truly is the taste of India (and Glastonbury Festival as it happens) and it costs only 5 to 10p a cup (In India that is, more like £3 a cup at Glastonbury) and each vendor uses a slightly different recipe so every time it’s a slightly new experience. We must have had 10 cups a day each and each time they were served in small polystyrene or plastic – used only once, bad for the environment, but good for your intestine, cups. We were served in glasses only a couple of times and in those instances we tipped the scorching tea around the edges of the glass where our lips were to go as a form of crude albeit risky sterilisation.

Water. Don’t allow water from any tap or dispenser into any bodily orifice so avoid home-made colonics and keep you mouth shut whilst in the shower as it really doesn’t take much. Travellers are advised to always check the seal on bottled water as they can be tampered with and then filled with tap water for more profit. We checked every time but never discovered a broken seal. Before going back to your lodgings, buy an extra bottle of water to use to clean your teeth. Loads of people, it seems, come a cropper here by using the sink taps and thinking that not swallowing will save them. That is extremely high risk. Use the bottles.

Ice Cream and ice in drinks. Don’t touch. When ordering drinks that would normally come with ice such as shorts and soft drinks, always and firmly say ‘no ice’. It’s of no benefit to fish the ice out once in as the damage is already done.

Alcohol. And here lies a problem. The bonus is that drinking out in bars in India would probably turn you tee total as they are always darkened to the point that you’d think there was a power cut, women are not forbidden but I wouldn’t dream of taking a woman into one as the men seemed far more pissed than they do in any bar I’ve ever been in, they re all in a state of total squalor and the smell of urine is nostril ticklingly overwhelming – so if you find yourself in a typical back street, hidden away Indian bar – as they all seem to be, you can assure yourself that you are definitely an alcoholic. I did put my head into quite a few in different towns for reasons of research for this very blog but was careful not to touch anything. God knows what the toilets were like or even if anyone bothers to leave their seat to go one!

However, towns that attract a lot of westerners have more approachable bars, and hotels often have bars for non residents and here lies another risk and that risk is getting drunk, because once drunk you forget about the ice and may miss the not perfectly clean glass rim and may end up eating anything. Kebab houses only exist in the UK for this very reason.

There is a golden elixir that each person must carry a vial of at all times – and that is alcohol hand gel. I can’t emphasise enough how essential this is. Every time you’ve been to the loo and had to open the door or  touch any surface in there really, have a squeeze of hand gel.  Do not touch a surface and allow you hand to get to your face before first stopping at the hand gel.

I’m not advertising for Dettol – there are many brands to choose from – but the picture does say a 1000 words

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But the item that we thought was the ‘be all and end all’ was a homeopathy travel kit that we purchased for this very trip. In fact it may well have been the use of its contents that was the only reason we didn’t fall ill. There is really no way to know other than going again and not taking one of these kits – and we won’t be doing that!
The one we used and would certainly suggest checking out was from
http://suzyparkerhomeopath.com/

I’ll add-on to this list as I think of others but if it all goes wrong and you find yourself stuck in a bedroom and toilet for two days, be sure that you have the sort of room and loo that makes that time more comfortable and if you must travel whilst ill then either breakfast on Immodium or dress in Pampers.

see also ‘North India, Glastonbury to Delhi’ at
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/12/north-india-in-23-days-day-1-glastonbury-to-delhi/

and ‘North India. In Search of Gandhi (Part 2) at
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/23/north-india-in-search-of-gandhi-part-2/

Hello India!

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Our trip was blessed from the start because, although unbeknown to us at the time, we were met in the Bangalore arrivals hall by Lewis Hamilton very cleverly disguised as an Indian taxi driver.

If you only do one thing on your travels to India, make sure that you pre book a taxi to greet you with a sign with your name emblazoned upon it on arrival, otherwise the very first thing you will be subjected to the second you step through those airport doors is 3500 taxi drivers who all want you in their cab and all have a hotel that you must stay in, whether you’ve booked one ahead or not.

Our driver had driven 4 hours from Mysore, had waited over an hour at the airport and then driven us back to Mysore which took 5 hours because of a serious road accident, that we thought he might have caused on the way to get us, and it cost us a total of only £28!

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You will hear people say that the Indians are crazy drivers but there are hardly ever any accidents and it’s all perfect chaos. This, you must understand, is complete balderdash. India is the number 1 country in the world for road traffic deaths with an astounding 15 % of those killed being pedestrians – though not so astounding really as pavements don’t really exist in a way we would expect them to, such as being able to walk more than two metres before having to circumnavigate a huge tree or climb over a parked car, limbo under a parked lorry, hurdle endless motorbikes, avoiding the taut, metal neck high cables whilst falling down a pothole.

170,000 people were killed on India’s roads  in 2010.  The injured are in the millions.

Luckily I hadn’t researched this before we went there and so was surprised when after only an hour being in India to have witnessed a horrific crash when 4 un-helmeted people, two of them small children, and all riding on the one motorbike were nudged off by a passing 4X4 at speed.  However, we never saw anything else in the three weeks we were there, though we were involved in approximately 18000 near misses.

It is true what Judi Dench says in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, that you either fight the wave and risk near drowning or you dive through it and rise above and float along which I assume is code for you either let go or go mad. Perversely the accident we witnessed and the revelation that there was nothing whatsoever we could do made us face this choice at the very start and we took the former.

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I fell in love with India within an hour. It was like coming home and the only thing I could compare that to was the coming home feeling that shrooms had instigated when I was a young man. The colours, the vibrancy, the sheer lifeforce was astonishing and breathtaking and it never left me once – nor of course did the noise, the rhythmic beating of the countless and constant horns. They even beep at red lights, so much so that local governments have started erecting countdown signs at junctions to assure drivers that the lights will go to green.

On the 5 hour trip in the back of the taxi to Mysore I successfully managed to decode the beeping system. They don’t beep in anger and I never saw one inkling of road rage. It works like this – as the car or tuk tuk or lorry or bus or motorbike your riding in or on approaches another vehicle, they beep to warn of their approach, they again beep as they are about to pass and again if they think the vehicle ahead wasn’t listening. The vehicle ahead will beep acknowledgement of your beep whilst at the same time beeping ahead to the ones in front and to the sides of him. Once passed, another beep says thanks.  Also beeps are made at any approaching hazard whatsoever, be it a junction, a pedestrian, goat, dog, elephant, drunk or cow of which there is one or the other about every two metres. Each and every vehicle will also add its own beep approaching any one of these hazards and all hazards will ignore all beeping as if it wasn’t occurring – indeed after only three days I was wandering across roads oblivious myself.  So the only word one can realistically use as an adjective is ‘cacophany’

This new car owner took his vehicle to the local temple to be blessed. I saw this a few times and think it a very good idea

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Our driver, presumably delayed by the accidents went faster and faster and demonstrated great skill in multi tasking as he drove at 80 ( I was watching from the back seat), talked constantly on his mobile and all the while partaking in the pastime of the afore mentioned beeping.

By the time we arrived at our first weeks digs I felt as if I’d been strapped in an unstoppable dodgem at Disneyland for 5 hours with the only difference being that the dodgem would have had a seatbelt.

But we’d arrived, I’d fell in love and after a few hours sleep we would experience our first of what would be a hundred plus tuk tuk rides (Think the vehicular equivalent of bungee jumping without the rope bit).