Thursday, 5 May 2016

A wedding (or two) in India

Taj Mahal

What I kept repeating to local people, is that I was quite astonished that India was not at all like I expected it to be. And people told me that they knew the world had a bad image of India. After seeing movies like Slumdog Millionaire and hearing a lot about the overwhelming poverty in India, I arrived there positively surprised.

Busy street in Delhi

Visitors at Amber Fort, Jaipur

Obviously, poverty in India remains present, as in many other parts of the world, but it's not worse than in other Asian countries, and I would say, a lot better than most African countries. India's economy is not too bad off, I think and people are willing to work.

So back to the trip now.

Rajasthan

Cenotaphs in Udaipur

At first the trip around Rajasthan was all about visiting a lot of historic monuments and not at all about meeting people. But you know me, I managed to meet some interesting fellows anyway. Don't ask me about the hundreds of monuments, I don't quite recall which belongs where.

Well of Chand Baori, Rajasthan

So I met the local gems mafia bosses of Jaipur, who are international gems dealers who travel a lot to Europe, Dubai and other places. Everyone has a particular country in which he acts. They stopped me because I looked like a friend of theirs, so I ended up drinking chai with them on the side of the road. Originally, I was looking for a festival that was already finished...



In Udaipur, I met Lokesh and his family. Lokesh is a miniature painting artist. Mostly he copies paintings over and over again because people ask for these particular paintings. But I also found some different paintings, some of which I bought. If you want to buy some, feel free to ask me, I can put you in touch. And also, Lokesh now has a Paypal account for overseas payments.

First wedding in Udaipur (no I don't know them)

Guests at first wedding

On the first evening, I was strolling back to the hotel, when I met Lokesh's mother. She yelled for his son to come and meet me (in Hindi I guess). After showing me his paintings, he invited me to my first Indian wedding the following evening, and to a late dinner the same evening. That's when I first met his wife and his daughter Sakshi. I ended up spending two days with the family.


Rajasthani Thali

At the wedding in Udaipur, we basically went out to eat, and came back after we finished. On the second evening, it was said there were around 5'000 attendees.

Tanvi & Venkatesh's wedding in Delhi

Tanvi & Venkatesh

Back in Delhi after a horrendous 14 hours bus drive (including 3 or 4 hours of waiting), I found my hotel where they were astonished that my next stop was the Piccadilly hotel in Janakpuri.

The first night was spent at Tanvi's parents appartment where the men drank whiskey while the ladies got a lot of henna applied to their arms and legs.

Lokesh and me in Shilpgram Udaipur

Sakshi in Shilpgram Udaipur

On the following day, the whole family and many guests moved to the Piccadilly hotel. In the evening there was a reception in one of the smaller halls. There was lots of food, animation and the gift ceremony. Tanvi's family offered many gifts to Venkatesh's family (that's the part I remember).

On the third night it got more interesting. Being one of 4 people in traditional gown, I was the center of attention during the procession. The procession, was all about Venkatesh sitting on a horse with a band of musicians and dancers playing in front of him. Dancers included the guests and the official hired dancer ladies. For some obscure reason, many of the guests really enjoyed my dance style.

Woman posing for her husband

After this, we all went to the big reception hall, where all the guests (including many newly arrived) went in to have dinner. We danced a bit more and had some food. Then some friends went upstairs to have a beer or two in the rooms. There was no alcohol at any of the wedding ceremonies.

At around one in the morning, the religious ceremony started. This would go on until the groom and bride walked around in a circle seven times. This would happen shortly before five in the morning.

Kerala

Kovalam Beach

In Kovalam I met this French dude Damien with whom I travelled a bit. We met a bunch of nice fellows in Fort Kochi, with whom with went to the cinema the first evening. That was quite a story. The guys didn't know how to book tickets on Internet and we went pretty late. As it was the first night the movie was showing, most cinemas were full. We drove across Ernakulam like crazies. In the end we found some spot in a faraway cinema. The movie was not a great movie, but it was fun to watch a Hindi movie in Hindi in a mostly non-Hindi community. Not too many people in Kerala speak fluent Hindi. They speak Malayalam.

Train in Thiruvananthapuram
Apart from that, the trip was pretty relaxed and uneventful.

Despite people's advice, I managed to take the train without booking three and a half year in advance.

Backwaters of Kerala

Fishermen and their "catch" in Kovalam

Incredible India it is.

My favourite vendor: chai in the street

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Les 7000 biscuits de Noël


Il s'agit d'une opération d'envergure à en faire pâlir les plus assidus confectionneurs de biscuits de noël. En tout, une quinzaine de personnes participent de près ou de loin à la production massive. Plus de sept mille (7'000) biscuits en dix-sept (17) sortes sont préparés en deux jours de travail intense.

Albert concentré sur ses Spitzbuebe

Quand nous sommes arrivés chez Nicole, avec Daniel dit Zinet, elle était en train de faire une pause avec Samantha la responsable de l'inventaire des biscuits et Alexandre, chef pâtissier.

Truffeau aux fourneaux
Depuis des années, l'usine à biscuits se mettait en route au début du mois de décembre, pour produire des milliers de biscuits. Tout le monde est impliqué. Bien entendu, les préparations se font à l'avance. L'on décide des sortes grâces aux discussions dans un groupe WhatsApp et les ingrédients sont achetés peu avant le week-end. Le week-end est lui, agendé bien à l'avance. L'étagère à plaques à biscuits aussi a été confectionnées peu avant. Les deux dernières semaines avant le week-end, Thomas, le compagnon à Nicole, s'est mis en tête de la fabriquer. Il en avait trouvé à acheter pour la modique somme de CHF 200.-, mais avait laissé échapper les quelques occasions. Il l'a donc construite de ses mains. Elle est d'ailleurs démontable pour qu'ils puissent la ranger facilement ou la transporter ailleurs.


L'opération a commencé avant que Nicole et Thomas emménagent à Mollie-Margot. Déjà à Nyon, ils faisaient beaucoup de biscuits, se rappelle Samantha. "Nous nous sommes dit qu'il fallait les aider", confie-t-elle.

Depuis, des années se sont passées, et l'opération prend de l'ampleur. Les gens viennent de loin pour participer. Manuela fait le trajet depuis Bienne pour deux jours de pâtisserie. Audrey et Albert font le chemin depuis Moutiers. Il y a beaucoup de nouveaux cette années. Ils ont entendu l'appel de la fabrique à biscuits et sont venus. Il en résulte un groupe mixte en âges et en cultures. Presque la moitié travaillent aux CFF, plus de huitante pour-cent parlent le suisse-allemand en plus du romand. Il y a même un valaisan qui ne veut pas entendre parler de bricelets salés.


Pour Thomas jr, Manuela et Fanny, c'est la première. Ils n'auraient pas voulu manquer cela. D'ailleurs la maison est remplie. Personne de plus ne peut être accueilli pour la nuit sans avoir à dormir par terre.

Manuela, Zinet et Fanny
Audrey et Albert nous relatent comment ils en sont arrivés à participer. Un jour, Samantha et Alexandre n'ont pas pu être présents à cause d'un événement heureux: ils se sont mariés ce jour là. Ils ne l'avaient annoncés à personne, mais il y a eu des fuites. Quand ils se sont présentés à la maison, il y a eu fête: tous en pyjama, les hommes avec cravates, leur ont lancé du riz dessus. Ils ont décidés de ne plus cacher de nouvelles.

Même les voisins ont leur part de travail. Pour Marion et Mike c'était les lasagnes du souper à préparer pour 13 personnes. Pour les voisins de l'autre côté c'était les trajets pour chercher et amener les gens à la gare de Lausanne.

L'étagère à plaques à biscuits
Pendant ces deux jours c'est toujours la bonne ambiance. "Mer hei no nie es böses Wort verlore" (Nous n'avons eu aucune méchante parole) nous transmet Albert, qui participe à l'opération depuis 3 ans déjà.

Chacun s'installe à sa tâche. C'est naturel. Les postes changent selon les biscuits et les préférences des participants. Chacun y trouve son compte et chacun y met du sien pour faire avancer la confection au mieux.

Audrey & Alex à la pâtes






Les pâtes sont faites en quantités de 3 à 5 fois la quantité de la recette de base. Les jaunes d’œufs sont gardés pour les truffes à Truffeau. Thomas, le plus jeune à 11 ans, participe de plein cœur à couper les formes à biscuits. Il est concentré dans son travail. Du plus jeune au plus âgé, ils sont tous concentré sur leur tâche. Mais pas au point d'en oublier de se lancer des fions dans la bonne humeur et sans aucune méchanceté.


A la fin, Samantha et le reste de l'équipe ont décomptés 7'674 biscuits produits. Tout le monde est heureux du résultat et l'on se félicite d'avoir dépassé le record de l'année précédente.

L'équipe au complet

Fanny, l'une des nouvelles recrue, nous garantit qu'elle a apprécié et qu'elle est motivée pour l'année suivante. Des rumeurs courent qu'il faudrait une année de pause l'année suivante. Mais ils risquent de s'ennuyer.

Nicole devant le résultat fini

Et pour terminer, voici quelques impressions des membres de l'équipe.


Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Philippine Islands - Part III

El Nido was again rainy as in rain season. But this was also because it was not only rainy season but also typhoon season. We had a typhoon sweeping by over Manila towards Japan rippling some rainy effects upon us.

The view from Aquanaut and Camembert rocking the rain

We went out diving anyway, as underwater we would be wet anyhow. We took our rain ponchos for the trip, in order to be warm before, between and after the dives. Caribou chose not to come with us for the sightseeing tour as to stay on a boat in the rain for a whole day really didn't appeal to him.

Aquanaut dive crew

We had a great time diving to about 25 meters and coming up slowly with the reef to our 5 meters safety stop. Vanessa, our personal photographer for the trip was a great person to be diving with. She's got quite some energy and is always up for a laugh.

The islands are a stunning view. A little bit like I would expect Ha Long Bay in Vietnam to look, but smaller. The Bacuit islands are a protected marine area.

Bacuit Islands

Bacuit Islands

Not to mention, we ran into Amir and his new wife Shani again. We exchanged what we did the last few days and our plans for the trip ahead of us.

Ferry to Coron

After diving with Aquanauts, we spent a day on a transfer ferry to Coron. On the way we met Lisa, a French girl roaming the world. Lisa was a great addition to the group. As she stayed with us for a while in Coron, she and Caribou explored the land areas while Camembert and me explorer old shipwrecks from the second world war. Whose the crazy guys?

Fun & Sun Dive boat

Again, upon arrival in Coron, we looked up different dive shops. We visited every single one of them in the main road. From good to bad we had all kind of impressions. The almost last we visited we hadn't heard about in El Nido, but it ended up being the best. First of all because they have the biggest boat, and that's no small thing when you end up spending 10 hours a day for 3 days on a boat. But no, we actually chose them because the two dive instructors / operators Maxine and B were just great from the start. We hadn't stepped into the shop that we already had a good impression. They also had dive maps of the wrecks and quite new gear. The experience was great, although I ended up having to pour a bucket of ice on top of B. (oh no wait, it was the other way around, Maxine put ice into my wetsuit because I poured a bucket of ice on B. while she was changing in the open-air cabinet).


Cabinet

Our first dive was in the famous Barracuda Lake, a brackish water lake with temperatures up to 40 °C. It was quite an interesting experience. The view around the lake reminded me of the Tsingys of Bemaraha on the shore of the Tsiribihina river in Madagascar. But these "tsingys" had a direct contact with sea and the lake. To access the lake, we had to pack our diving gear on our backs and climb a few staircases steps up and down the other side. A small wooden platform had been built where we could kit up and go in.

Barracuda Lake entry (view of sea)

Barracuda Lake

Barracuda Lake

Barracuda Lake temperature (bottom left corner)

For 3 days we roamed the wrecks of the second world war. we had a blast discovering wreck diving. We started with big holes to swim through and ended up with holes barely big enough to go through (alright you can always take of the tank and push it forward and go through much smaller holes, but then we're not tec divers yet).

Me in jail

Camembert following us through the opening

Maxine, not smoking

In Coron we met with Shani and Amir again, and went for supper together. We planned to get wasted, but everyone was just exhausted.

On our last day in Coron, which was a little sad as we didn't go diving and it would be the end of our trip very soon, we didn't do much except sleep, read and eat. We were lucky because during our 3 days of diving it barely rained.

Scorpion fish

The Philippine Islands - part II

In Puerto we stayed in Villa Travelista Travel Lodge, a small homestay type of accommodation run by the family living there. We stayed there for two nights with the husband and wife and their latest daughter. If I remember well, they had 4 daughters and maybe even a son. Two of the daughters were Miss Palawan at least. The latest was more interested in watching TV at home. The lodge is located out of tourist's way. I quite enjoyed it, although it was full of mosquitoes.


Puerto is a little town without very much of interest in itself. So we rented motorcycles the following day and went out to Viet Village, an almost abandoned village that had been built for Vietnamese refugees.

Street name shield in Viet Ville

An extract from http://vietnamesevillage.palawanshore.com/:
Vietnamese migrants first began arriving in the Philippines after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. The boat people who arrived in the country were given aid and shelter, unlike other Asian countries where they were persecuted and abused. But when the refugee program ended, the Palawan camp was declared closed in 1996, and the Vietnamese left behind were set for forced repatriation. Nguyen Van Lam, assistant administrator of Viet-Ville says the community, which includes numerous houses, a noodle factory, two French bread bakeries, Catholic and Protestant churches and a Buddhist temple, now has only about 150 residents. Viet-Ville, a small community of Vietnamese refugees in Palawan, has stood as a symbol of local hospitality and tolerance.It has become a tourist attraction, providing a taste of Vietnamese culture and French-Vietnamese cuisine to both local and foreign visitors. But it is now facing a looming crisis: it is running out of Vietnamese.



From there we went further north on a nice winding road. We drove until once more, the rain decided to pour down on us. We stopped at a petrol station for about 15 minutes, until it slowed down. We put on our rain ponchos and took off to look for a place to eat. It was Sunday, and not much was open. We found a small place that had opened especially for the people going to church. Luckily, there weren't too many people wanting to eat, and we were served quickly.

Small eatery in Bacungan

As it turned out, we chose the right fork off the main highway, because we saw that it led to Nagtabon beach. The lady at Travelista told us about it, and we decided to go there. The rain was almost over, and we decided it was worth a look at least. A few kilometres further, there was a gravel/stone track down to the beach. It was a little bit tricky for some, but we managed without an accident. Down at the beach, we were rewarded with a remarkable view of the local jungle surrounding the small bay area. 

Group of students on Nagtabon beach

A view of Nagtabon beach

We met a group of young folks on the beach with whom with talked a while. They were students from different fields enjoying there week-end at the beach drinking rhum and having fun. At around 3 or 4 we decided to leave because we didn't want to drive at night. We followed the road a little further northward to check out the view and again, were nicely rewarded with a hilly view of the countryside behind the beach. Afterwards we returned to Puerto and went to Baywalk, where the tourists go for sunset. Sunset was amazing. This is also where we met the Israeli couple on honeymoon for the first time. Apart from them, we met a lot of Israeli people, as it was an Israeli holiday during that period.

Sunset in Puerto Princesa

The following morning was spent looking for some artefacts for Caribou, but he didn't find any, and for checking out what was next on our trip. We didn't exactly know where to go from there (north was sure because Camembert was not confident going to the out-of-the-way south). So we stopped at a couple of travel agencies until we found a nice lady explaining to us how nice Port Barton is. She showed us a couple of pictures of her in P.B. on her smartphone to entice us even further. That's how our next stop was decided. It was also decided to leave Puerto the following morning, as we didn't really know what we should further do around there. From our point of view, it turned out to be the best decision.

Caribou quite unsure about the gravel road

The minivan to Port Barton, of which there is only one service running, took us about 4 hours. During the trip, we got acquainted with a German girl going back to P.B. to become a yoga instructor. The last hour or so, we spent on a dirt track full of holes (due to rains) and squeezed between other people who were picked up on the road. Reminded me of Africa, except, we could've picked up even more.

Caribou taking a picture under a basketball hoop

Camembert playing basketball on the road with some kids

We spent our first afternoon settling into a nice beach hotel with an upper deck to read, chill and relax, swim in the sea and later having dinner and drinks with the German girl and another soon to be instructor from Columbia/Mexico/Chicago. Tlawil, with her Aztec name walks on naked people. That's how she describes her occupation. She does that to give people massages. She was kind enough to give us all a small sample.


The rest of the 3 to 4 days in Port Barton were spent eating, resting, walking around and swimming in the ocean.

Activity in Port Barton

One day I followed a path to some other village called Pamuayan where there is a beautiful beach with barely any hut visible. The village is only accessible with this trail.

Walking around

Local cowgirl on a carabao

Another day I followed the same path until the road sign where it split off to the waterfall.

Pamuayan village with its empty beach

After Port Barton we went to El Nido. We didn't stop in between anymore, as there was no real interest point to us. There were some minor interests, but we also wanted to go diving. 4 days of farniente was all it took to get us active again.

Whole fried fish in our hotel

Upon reaching El Nido, we looked around the dive shops until we found a French guy selling cakes, burgers and other really tasty things. He told us about Aquanaut and that's whom we ended up diving with for our first 3 dives in the Philippines.


The French owner of the shop told us his shop is a franchise of his daughter's shop in Toulouse. She had studied with a really old Jew in New York who taught her many good recipes. The owner and his wife went to Toulouse to take a course with his daughter, and then came back to set up the shop. If you stop there, go eat something and say hello. It's located opposite Aquanaut dive centre. Don't ask me its name though...

Crocodile fish in Coron