Detroit: Put It On Your List

Detroit isn’t often a destination choice for a winter family vacation, but there are reasons it should be. The New York Times chose it as one of 52 Places to Go in 2017 and Lonely Planet put it at #2 for Top Cities to Visit in 2018. If their motive is to encourage tourists to go spend money in a city working hard to make a come back, I support that. Detroit is a great choice.

We have a couple of major Pistons fans in the family and I grew up as a Celtics fan and so did my kids. The Pistons played the Celtics at the brand new Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit last Friday night, which coincided with Emilio’s school vacation. So Adrienne, Matt, Emilio, and Ava traveled to Detroit from New York, Sam and Mariah came from Tennessee, David and I flew out of Manchester. The three planes arrived within minutes of each other. I walked off the plane, went one gate over and waited five minutes before Emilio emerged from the jetway in his Detroit Pistons hat and Andre Drummond shirt.

The AirBnB we rented was a three-story house, once abandoned and bought by a nonprofit that hires local unemployed people to learn a skilled trade while rehabbing properties. The returning prosperity of Detroit is less evident in the North End neighborhood. The AirBnB had a boarded up house beside it and one across the street and every block had vacant, littered lots.

But there were also houses occupied by friendly people. Everyone I passed as I walked to a coffee shop with David, Emilio and Ava on Friday, or while Emilio and I ran on Saturday gave us a hearty hello. An elderly man on the porch of a big brick house on a street scarred by boarded up windows and junk-choked yards cheered Emilio and I as we passed him on our two mile running loop through blocks varying from high end to abandoned.

Adrienne had tapped into her enormous network and found a friend who knows someone who knows someone and we were met at the Arena by a tall, handsome black man in a long camel hair jacket who escorted us to center court before the game. He took our photo while Kyrie Irving and Andre Drummond drained three point shots on either side of us. The photo was in a collage on the Jumbotron several times during the game, along with a shot Adrienne posted of Matt and Emilio in Pistons gear posing outside the arena.

The Detroit Institute of Art is a first rate museum worth visiting just for the Diego Rivera “Detroit Industry Murals,” a series of frescoes that cover the walls of an interior courtyard — huge, detailed, layered and complex. But you don’t have to go to the museum to see first rate art. Murals cover the sides and fronts and center strips of buildings all over the city.

The Heidelberg Project is the most bizarre and exuberantly expressive street art I’ve ever seen — a city block of sculpture and installations constructed from recycled toys, shoes, wagons, metal, plastic, and stuffed animals, bleached and wilted from the weather. Piles of discards of every sort are a central feature. Large and small rectangles of crudely painted plywood were nailed to trees and buildings, decorated with clock hands pointing to different times.

Every where we went we had good food, good beer and a good time. People in shops and restaurants and on the street were friendly and happy to know we were visiting from out of town. There was a vibe of welcome everywhere. A Lyft driver waited for us to all to load in her car after the Pistons game, even though it got her yelled at by an overly aggressive policeman because she didn’t move as soon as he said to. She was impassive and polite, then rolled up her window and drove us back to the AirBnB.

Yesterday morning Sam, Mariah, David and I dropped off our rental car and took a shuttle to the airport. As we boarded, the driver asked where we were headed. When he started to drive, he said, “You folks from Tennessee?” Sam and Mariah both said yes, that’s us. “When you get there, I want you to find someone for me.” “Okay.” Then a bluesy jazz version of Candyman came on and the driver laughed full and happy. Everyone on the shuttle laughed.

“And you from New Hampshire? How about when you get home you find some boogie.” More loud funk and we all laughed again. I got up and danced.

Clifden to Donegal

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Clifden Castle in Connemara

David and I love open air swimming, so we had it on our list of must-do’s in Ireland to get into the northern Atlantic at least once. Our second day at Dolphin Beach Guest House in Clifden we took our first dip. Nestled into the side of a steep ridge of rock, heather and gorse poking out the end of Connemara, the guest house has a small beach that is sometimes visited by dolphins and always tricky to walk on, as it’s all small rocks. There were no dolphins the day we went in, but I’d been running and was hot and the day was warm enough (in spite of mist), and the tide was high, so we went for it. Well, not exactly a swim. More like a dunk after hobbling over rocks.

There were many other aspects of our visit to Connemara that were equally thrilling, Just getting to the Dolphin Beach was exhilarating. It’s on a loop of road that climbs over and around the ridge, giving views in every direction. And those views are stunning. Sea, mountains, surf, wildflowers and the ever-changing show of clouds forming, racing, floating, opening, raining, and misting. The exhilarating part? That road is one lane with sheer cliffs on one side, so driving in and out from the guest house required total attention and occasional pulling over into small spots to let another car coming from the other direction go by.

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Connemara bogs

But we managed the drive, and all the other one lane roads around the peninsula that makes up Connemara. There are areas full of small loughs, or lakes — ponds, really — where there is nothing but peaty bog and pockets of water. Driving across it was like driving on a different planet. Lough Inagh sits in a fold between two mountain ranges and the road along its shore is dramatic, with mountain slopes falling to the water on every side.

From Clifden we drove to Donegal in northwestern Ireland. When we drove up the steep pitch leading to the Rossmore Manor B&B David and I were smitten. The view across the tidal inlet to rolling hills of green pasture outlined with the darker green of hedgerows is the perfect of image of Ireland.

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Rossmore Inlet

But Donegal County is more than rolling green hills. Again, there are vast patches of boggy land where we could see peat harvesting in progress. Slieve League, perhaps the highest sea cliffs in Europe (hard to say for sure because everyone gives you a different answer here) is on the southern shore and the day we climbed up beside and then over the top of the cliffs we were often walking through mist and then heavy rain showers.

But we could see that out at the end of the point there was sunshine holding on, in spite of the clouds stuck on the top of the Slieve League ridge. We headed for the sun. In Glencolumbcille, where we’d planned to do a small loop hike, we were stunned by more cliffs — only 200 meters, not the 600 meter cliffs we’d just seen, but still incredible.

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Glencolumbcille Cliffs

But we still weren’t in sun so we kept going until the road ended. Stunned again. We found ourselves at Malin Beg which we’d had no idea was a scenic spot. Below the parking lot was a long scallop of white sand in the curve of 100 foot cliffs, falling away from green fields. The water looked turquoise over the white sand. We climbed the many many stairs down to the beach to get a better look.

The sand and rolling waves were beautiful and the sun was out, warming us up after our chilly couple of hours on Slieve League. When we got to the end of the beach, where no one could see us because we were so far away, we talked about going in the water again. We had no bathing suits or towels, but here was the perfect spot. Sand under our feet instead of rocks, sunshine instead of mist, and the most beautiful beach either of us have ever seen.

We took off our clothes, left them in a pile under out boots so they wouldn’t blow away, and ran for the water. It was warm enough to be bearable, and cold enough to make us feel brave. We came out laughing and ran back up to our clothes so we could dry off and put all our layers back on.

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Malin Beg

Today we drive back south and tomorrow we fly home. The trip has been terrific in so many ways — scenery, being outdoors for most of every day, walking, walking, walking, meeting lovely people everywhere, eating local fish, meats and vegetables, and best of all, boiled new potatoes with butter and mint.

Nothing better than all that.

In and Out of Clouds

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Ireland is constantly in and out of clouds, so it only makes sense that David and I have been walking in and out of clouds.

On Saturday we crossed a ridge from Ardgroom to Lauragh, climbing a steep pitch off the road into a bowl of valley with a green field on the opposite slope where we could see sheep dogs rounding up sheep in a cluster that kept moving over the bright pasture. Mist threaded around us as we followed the boggy trail and heard water roaring in streams criss-crossing the pass. The inch and a half of rain the day before was rushing off the hills and everything was wet.

Everything is always wet in Ireland. I’ve come to think of it as the land of perpetual dampness.

We passed the Cashelkeelty standing stones, one of the many circles or lines of stones we’ve seen. The stones are aligned to mark solar occasions like the solstice or equinox and the fields and high passes on the Beara peninsular have many of these ancient remains — 3,000 years old or older. It’s impossible to fully understand what it means to see such ancient constructions.

Meanwhile, more modern stones stacked in walls covered with moss, fuchsia, ivy, brambles, and all the other green growth that makes Ireland seem like a jungle are everywhere, and often mind-boggling beautiful.


Once we got to Lauragh we visited the Derreen Gardens, an estate transformed in the 19th century into a sub-tropical garden at the head of Kilmakilloge Harbor. The tree ferns and tree-size rhododendron made it seem we were walking some place much further south than Ireland.

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Yesterday we crossed a ridge  of mountains from Lauragh to Kenmare, starting out in mist and walking into sheeting rain. We passed the Uragh stone circle, with a ten foot entrance stone, set on a hillock between two lakes. We felt particularly isolated and lost in time, as we stood in a pocket of rain and fog.

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Climbing our second ridge, the fog got thicker and soon all we could see was each other and the boggy path a hundred feet ahead. Thankfully the Beara Way is very well marked, and just as I would feel uncomfortable about whether we were still on the path, I’d see another sign post ahead with the familiar, bright yellow image of a walker and an arrow pointing us on.

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Nearly at the top of the ridge David and I talked about the views we were missing, wondering what mountains and hillsides we’d be seeing if the mist cleared. I looked across the open land to the top of the ridge on our right and realized it was clearer. Then I turned around and the mist was gone, revealing the last mountain we’d climbed, bright in the distance. I could even make out the gray of the Uragh stone circle far below.


When we finally cleared the top of the ridge, there were the mountains of Kerry, patched with bright green fields ahead. It’s become clear that worrying about poor weather here isn’t productive and makes no difference. Days are sunny then cloudy then rainy then clear then misty then back to clouds breaking open to blue skies again.

IMG_8929In the moments of hiking, there is only what I see ahead of me, the sound of water finding its way downhill, and planning my next footstep to avoid as many muddy sink holes as possibleFullSizeRender (17).And then there are all the flowers.


Ireland – U.S. Cultural Exchange: Craft Beer and House Painting


The Irish have certainly figured out exuberant and charming paint color for houses. The villages we’re walking through on the Beara Peninsula have houses painted in over-the-top colors, but it works.

What doesn’t work is the craft beer. In Cork, and here in these tiny villages, people talk about the new craft beers from local breweries. I’ve been trying them all and have yet to find one that comes any where close to what I can get in the U.S. There’s a hollowness in the middle of the taste, with no complexity and or layering of flavors.

But then, houses are usually painted boring colors in the U.S. I think we need a cultural exchange. Brew masters and house painters from each country should travel to the other and exchange ideas and recipes and tips. Then we could all have flavorful beer and cheery villages.

Meanwhile, heavy rain is whipping past the window of our B&B, blown horizontal by 40 mph winds. We left Eyeries early this morning, knowing a storm was coming. We got about halfway to Ardgroom before the rain started, and at first it didn’t seem that bad. Then we traversed a ridge to come into the village and by then the wind was fierce. I got blown off my feet a couple of times, staying upright only by planting my hiking pole downwind and leaning into it. It was wild and exciting and a bit scary, then very satisfying to get to the B&B with a friendly hostess who put our wet gear in her dryer.

Today is the exact opposite of yesterday. We had bright, warm sunshine and gentle breezes as we crossed the Slieve Mishkish Mountains with Coulagh Bay below us. We sat in the sun for the second night in a row and watched the sun set over the ocean to the northwest, green green green everywhere we looked.

That’s what all this rain does.

Coulough Bay

And We’re Off

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Derreenataggart Stone Circle

David and I have been in Ireland since Monday morning, but didn’t start our walk of the Beara Way until today. We spent Monday and Tuesday in Cork, which is a lively and scruffy-around-the-edges small city. We walked a lot, sampled a few pubs and had an amazing meal at Café Paradiso, a vegetarian restaurant that’s one of the most popular spots in the city. The new potatoes with butter and mint was one of the most delicious dishes I’ve eaten in a long time.

We visited Sin É, a highly recommended pub with trad music, eclectic customers, and a riotous display of posters (many of Led Zeppelin), signs and cards tacked on all the walls and the ceiling. We met a lovely young woman there, who asked what I was drawing and when I said I was sketching, trying to get better at drawing after a life time of writing, she agreed that it’s always good to be learning new things. She’s a photographer, cyclist, dancer, writer, and most importantly, a plámáser. A plámáser? It’s an Irish word that has no English equivalent: someone who can sweet talk others into doing what she wants them to, but not in a creepy or manipulative way. Kinder and more clever.

Yesterday we took a three hour bus trip to Castletownbere, which turned into a four hour trip when the windshield wipers on the bus stopped working and we had to stop in the small town of Dunmanway to wait for a repair van. David sat in the open luggage compartment playing his guitar and I had time to shop for a hairbrush, since I left mine at home.

Castletownbere is scenic and charming. It’s the busiest fishing harbor in Ireland, with the hills of Beara Island just across the water, creating a quiet space for boats and a small bay for mussel farming. From there we set out this morning to walk across the ridge of small mountains that forms the spine of the Beara peninsula, headed for Allihies.

Not only were the long views spectacular, the close views were too. When I imagined this walking tour I thought about the green fields and ocean views. I didn’t expect such an abundance of wild flowers. There are hedges of wild fuchsia, heather in multiple shades of purple lining the walking tracks, small purple flowers that look like pincushions, yellow gorse, and pink foxglove. Also many flowers I couldn’t identify.

Walking in such open land, with patched green fields and ocean views in every direction, and ancient standing stones along the trail, is magical. Walking is perhaps the best possible way to spend a day. We’re delighted we have many more days ahead.


The Beach
The Beach

This has been a volcano vacation.  Volcanic cones sit at either end of El Médano, Montaña Roja on the west, Montaña Pelada to the east.  I’ve climbed both, not long or strenuous hikes, but fascinating.

Roja was formed by a coastal eruption and is connected to the island by a causeway of volcanic debris and sand and what I assume is frozen lava, bands of pocked rock that reach across the beach into the water, holding pools of sea water in the crevices.  According to legend, one band, Peña Maria, is the remains of a woman whose lover was lost at sea returning to Tenerife after sailing to America to make his fortune.  Waiting on the beach for Juan’s return, Maria forgot to go home, lost her voice “and from her throat came only an anguished howl, analogous to the bellow of the waves.  The fishers gave her food out of pity and each time sadder and thinner. . . she ended up disappearing, like Juan, without trace of her body or the rags of her dress.” She was dragged into the sea to join the remains of her lover, and an enchanted goblin turned her into a rock — the Peña Maria. Quite a dramatic story for a placard on the boardwalk of a beach.

On Wednesday I was running on the trails by Roja and thinking it would be nice to run in to David, who was out walking, so we could climb the mountain together.  As I started on the trail back to our apartment, there was David.  We climbed to the 171 metre peak (I’ve been trying to think metric while I’m here and it’s not easy), a scramble in a few spots but mostly an easy hike along a red path, scattered with black and red rocks.  The magnetite in the soil, a naturally occurring iron oxide, gives the mountain and the surrounding landscape its color.  From the top the range of Teide, the large volcano to the north, dominates the horizon, with many smaller peaks — all volcano cones I assume — rising across the landscape.

On Friday we climbed Montaña Pelada, much smaller and pale by comparison, tan basalt sculpted into curved cuts on the ocean side by wind and waves.  Pelada was created by the process of hydrovolcanism (the interaction of magma from a volcano with a body of water), which created a caldera almost a kilometre in diameter.  (I know, I’m getting pretty technical here, but I’ve been surrounded by volcanos for a week and understanding how they got here has taken over my Google activity.  I admit I don’t understand all of what I’ve read about how Tenerife was formed, but at least I know more than I did.)

David and I scrambled to the peak of Pelada, following a crevice in the rock, and found a wide path across the shoulder of the ridge.  I was expecting a big hole at the top, but when David pointed out the wide scoop of land to the east I realized how big a kilometre is and of course, there it was, an expanse of the desert landscape in a depressed ring.  Both mountains have fossil dunes and as we climbed Pelada I found an embedded black rock studded with shells.

Yesterday we tried to drive to the base of the Teide cable car in the national park, but after sitting in stalled traffic near Vilaflor, 4,000 feet up from where we’d started, sharing the very winding road with many bicyclists and a long train of cars, we learned the road in Teide national park was closed ahead due to snow.  We turned around to head back to El Médano, disappointed but still admiring the view and puzzling over the people we’d seen parking their cars and walking uphill, carrying sleds and boogie boards to use as sleds. Did they really think they could walk, some of them in sneakers, the thousands and thousands of feet before they got to the snow line?

Back on Google when we returned to the apartment, I found a page that announced the closure of the road to the base of Teide, with a one way route created by cars ascending on the TF38 and descending on the TF21 (which we’d been on).  Free buses were running between Vilaflor and the base all day.  All those people we’d seen walking up hill, and the crowd we glimpsed further into town, were taking buses.  That made sense.

Today is our last day here and the winds are forecast to be below 20 mph all day — calm for Tenerife.  It’s sure to be sunny, as almost every day here is, and I’ll be soaking it up.

An Atlantic Playground


Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, and from what I’ve seen in a day and a half, it’s a perfect playground.  We’re staying on the beach in El Médano, and when I say on the beach, I mean it.  The balcony of the AirBnB apartment we’re renting is directly above the boardwalk that runs along the beach and as I sit here typing in the pre-dawn light the white lines of small waves breaking on the sand roll towards me and lose their edges on the dark sand as the next line moves in.

El Médano is on the southeast corner of the island, with a 12,000 foot volcano behind it, to the north.  Teide is the highest peak in Spain (while 300 km off the coast of Morocco, the Canary Islands are politically part of Spain), the tallest land mass in the Atlantic Ocean, and the third tallest volcano on earth, after two in Hawaii, when measured from the ocean floor. Capped with snow, it makes an impressive sight from the shore, sea level to 12,000 feet in one view.

Known as the island of eternal spring, the trade winds moderate the climate on Tenerife — in the 60’s in the winter, the 70’s in summer, though it’s been in the low 70’s since we got here, with a hot sun and cooling wind.  While the water isn’t warm — mid-60’s — it’s certainly swimmable, and there are plenty of people in the water, including David and me yesterday. And likely again today.

The playground part?  Yesterday morning I went for a run, starting out along the boardwalk, headed towards Montaña Roja, a small volcanic mountain at the end of the beach.  As I got around the stores and cafés along the waterfront, I could see runners on the rise of land that leads out to the mountain.  When I got up on the rise, I found a network of hard packed paths, leading through the scrubby landscape that looks part New Mexico, part moonscape.  With its volcanic origins and the arid climate on this part of the island (the north is much cloudier and wetter, due to the weather created by Teide) there are patches of frozen lava, cut banks of rock and sand, and patches of low shrubs.  Perfect running territory — ocean vistas, the red slopes of Roja and the snow-capped ridge of Teide to the north.  And the trails are also perfect for hiking, with mountain biking trails intersecting the network.

The wind picked up, as it does most days, and by mid-morning the water off the beach was filled with wind and kite surfers, the colorful sails and kites dotting the water and flagging across the sky all day.  El Médano is the site of World Cup windsurfing events and it’s easy to see why.  At one point I counted over 80 wind and kitesurfers on the water, bright sails scooting over the wind capped waves like colorful water bugs.  And it isn’t only the surfers who have fun — further down the beach, where the surfers fix their gear and enter the water, people sit behind whatever wind break they can find on the beach and watch the kitesurfers fly, flipping and turning on their boards.  Knowing there are a lot of people playing in this small bay, the beach is clearly divided for swimming and windsurfing, with the swimming area marked off by buoys 200 yards off shore, an ample area for the fast and serious swimmers I’ve seen following the buoy line back and forth.

The beach and cafés filled up by mid-morning with Europeans, but no other people from the U.S from what I could hear of languages and accents.  Of the 12 million tourists who visit the Canaries every year, only 12,00o are from the U.S.  This is where Europeans come to play in the winter, with their topless beach tolerance and laid back ability to stop and enjoy a beer on a sunny afternoon.

I’m still thinking about our time in India, and what it means to be a tourist in a country so challenged by poverty and visible inequality of means.  This world of sun and sand and appreciation for play is a welcome change from the intensity of travel in India, so for now I’m going to take a cue from the Europeans around me and enjoy these moments.  Being aware of the privilege and good fortune that brought me to such a wonderful playground helps me savor it even more.  As does the advice from my mother.

Before we left on this trip I was talking to my mother about my ambivalence about going away — her recent illness and the troubles of some friends making me want to stay close by — and she told me we needed this trip.  “Go!  You and David spend so much time taking care of other people.  It’s time to take care of yourselves.”

So, we are.

Hazy Wonder


My friend Anne had told me southern India was quite different from the north, more relaxed, less crowded and intimidating. She and Peter were there in 1984 so I wondered if that was still true. It is.

From the moment we stepped off the plane in Delhi I could tell the difference. Actually, I could tell from the people getting on the plane in Chochin – a man kept pushing his luggage cart up against my feet, then knocked me rushing past when I stopped for a moment as soon as the queue opened up inside the airport. There was a lot of impatient pushing as we boarded. When we landed in Delhi no one waited for the seat belt sign to go off. People hopped up from their seats and jockeyed for position in the row.

Walking out to our car to the hotel, men stared at me. Anne had told me that too – that she’d been stared at in northern India. But she was young and attractive, I thought, it wouldn’t happen to me. But it didn’t seem to matter that I’m 30+ years older than she was then. Wherever I looked, a man was looking back.

Everything we saw in Tamil Nadu and Kerala – busy streets, shops and carts and stands and signs and plastered posters lining every road, chaotic traffic, people living in marginal shelter – we saw in Delhi and Agra times 100. With many many more cows – cows wandering down the street, cows feeding from a heap of garbage on the side of the road, cows on the median of a divided four lane speedway.

What does it mean, to drive through a slum in Delhi, in an air-conditioned car with a hotel driver, on your way to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and to find men looking directly at you through the car window as you’re stopped in traffic? To watch an old man struggle to pedal his cargo bike with a load of boxes 5 times bigger than him and the bike? To have to stop looking at the young girl (maybe six?) who is knocking on the car window to sell flowers to the cars stopped at a light because she won’t stop knocking as long as you look?

Okay, stop removing myself from the reality of my privilege and incredible luck in the world’s birth lottery in terms of material resources. What does it mean for me?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know I’ll be thinking about it. A lot.

We went north because I wanted to see more of India than only the south and Doug wanted to see the Taj Mahal. David had been there 40 years before and was enchanted.

The dense smog of Delhi followed us the 210 km to Agra. David had wanted to get to the Taj at sunrise, to watch the changing colors of the marble as the light rose in the sky. But there was no need to get there early. The day was smoggy and dim, and when we walked through the Mogul Gate that leads to the central square crowned with the Taj Mahal standing above a symmetrical set of reflecting pools, it was shrouded in haze. The reflecting pools were lined with scum or empty. None of the fountains were spraying and two of the minarets were wrapped in scaffolding with men scrubbing the marble. As we got up to the building we could see the inlay work was corroded in many places so the striking designs on the exterior of the great mausoleum were muted. There were gates and stanchions to direct crowd flow that weren’t there 40 years ago, and David remembers there being more light in the interior. It was very dark.

Still, the Taj Mahal is magnificent. The symmetrical design of every feature – the corner gates, the minarets and mosques on each side, the interlocking design of the stone walkways, the star patterns of brickwork outlining garden beds, the stars and V’s and floral inlay work on the Taj, the height and width and depth of the building all being exactly the same – is breath taking.

And the Taj itself, its grand dome rising even in to a smoggy sky, is truly a wonder, a wonder I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

In India

Five Rathas, Mahabalipuram
One of the Five Rathas, Mahabalipuram

After a week in India I’m still coming up blank when I try to describe the experience. I could write a typical travel blog – an afternoon touring Chennai where we saw the Kapaleeshwarar Temple to Shiva; another afternoon in Mahabalipuram to see the Shore Temple and Five Rathas built over 1,400 years ago; a flight to Cochin and tours of the oldest synagogue in the British Commonwealth, constructed in 1568, the Dutch Palace Museum from the same era, Fort Cochin, on the Arabian Sea where fishermen still use Chinese nets, tall structures that dip in and out of the water with long weighted poles; a searing hot day on a houseboat touring the cooling backwaters of Kerala, shallow lakes separated from the sea and made in to a maze of channels through man-made islands that form rice paddies, the lunch served onboard a banquet of southern India food – fried whole fish, chicken curry, rice, thoran, dahl, chapatis, papadum, yogurt, pickle and three more dishes I can’t name — afternoon tea  served with fried bread (so much better than the fried dough at the Deerfield Fair) and fried bananas.

Then there was the trip to Munnar, a mountain town of tea plantations which quilt the slopes with deep green tea planted in tight rows that circle around hills, cross valleys and climb steep ridges in varying patterns drawn by the narrow paths kept open for harvest.

But none of that describes what it’s like to be in India, it’s just what we’ve done.

I think the real problem in trying to write about traveling in India is that being here absorbs so much of my sensory processing capacity there’s nothing left to think, to abstract into language the immensity of the unceasing jumble of people and crazy driving and streets lined with ramshackle shops and trash and rubble, cows wandering along the roadsides, almost all the women in saris and the men in western clothes, fancy new high rise apartment buildings going up next to abandoned, half-built high rises with naked concrete corroding in the salty, tropical air.

That temple in Chennai?   It was covered with scaffolding because it’s being repainted and it’s in the middle of a slum, the approach to it from one side down a narrow alley with piles of trash and litter.  All this next to a fancy department store selling silk saris and suits for men.  When you enter the shop, any shop, any tourist attraction, you’re met with multiple men ready to sell, sell, sell, “please, ma’am, come in to my shop, do you want postcards, promise you’ll come back, see these carvings I did myself, buy this shirt, buy this bag, buy, buy, buy.”

Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai
Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Chennai

Driving is a wild game of chicken, with cars, trucks, buses, auto rickshaws and motorcycles passing in any zone at any time, often needing to squeeze three vehicles in to two lanes because the passing car coming at you hasn’t made it back to its own lane, the whole dance incessantly announced with horns. And more often than not pedestrians are added in to the mix and they move out of the way even less than vehicles. I’ve never been in a country before where I didn’t think I could drive. Here having a driver is a necessity.

One way I’ve tried to capture some of the constant intensity is taking videos as we drive – shop, hut, poster plastered wall, women walking, men huddled around a tea stand, cart of oranges and cucumbers, empty building shell full of trash, fancy house, pile of concrete rubble, children in school uniforms, motorcycles parked in knots, a “cool bar” with bottles of soda hanging in front, empty open storefronts, shuttered storefronts covered with sheets of corrugated metal, and on and on and on. As we drove up in to the mountains there were some stretches of road with nothing on either side – because there were sheer cliffs, up on one side, down on the other.

Doug, David and Me with Sai Nudhee, Amazingly Skilled Driver and All Around Terrific Person
Doug, David and Me with Sai Nudhee, Amazingly Skilled Driver and All Around Terrific Person

Tonight we’re flying to Delhi and I’ll be able to see a bit of northern India because I’ve only been in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the two most southern states. India has 29 autonomous states with far more diversity than among the United States. While Hindi is the official language, it’s spoken by less than 50% of the people. Imagine if half of the states in our country spoke different languages.  We’re going to Agra tomorrow to see the Taj Mahal. I expect to be as overwhelmed as I’ve been all week.

But here is another side of India – the dinner we were served on the plane was vegetarian, as it has been on both our flights, so many Indians being vegetarian and restaurants all advertise “Veg and No-Veg.” The airplane food was excellent, two different curries and rice and raita. Every meal in India has been outstanding.  I can say one thing for certain. India is delicious.

Entrance to Temple in Munnar
Entrance to Temple in Munnar



In Hindi, godhuli is when the cows come home, or more literally, when the cows raise dust heading home after a day of grazing: go means cow and dhuli means dust.  Villagers in India who had no other way to tell time would often use godhuli as a way to mark time.  “It was last week at godhuli when I saw him.”

India is overwhelming — people, food, trash, cows, temples, shops, crazy playing-chicken-like driving (seriously, how is there not an accident every two seconds?), fragrance, slums, dozens of fishermen on the beach pulling in boats and nets with long ropes, silky wind cooling the evenings, more temples, some over a thousand years old, mehendi (henna tatoos), raucously loud singing, karaoke, dancing, drumming at a banquet, five people ready to help you do anything at a resort, hawkers showing you the same set of postcards over and over and over no matter how many times you say no, heat, sun, and now, sleep.