It took a good few hours sleep and a shower for Kochi to be revealed before us. Fort Kochi, the former Portuguese colony, fortified location and spice port is now a delightful old town. Still bustling, still vibrant and still defiantly not just a tourist destination. These are a few tourists but we’re out numbered, considerably so, by the locals who are going about their workaday lives. Shops, restaurants, cafés and, yes, travel agents, still pack into ramshackle old buildings that lines the narrow winding streets of Fort Kochi. There’s an air of business being carried out, of money being made and deals being struck. The shops are beautifully laid out, bright colourful and enticing. Fruit shops are bursting with neatly stacked fruit, erupting through the shop fronts and onto the street. Clothes shops bursting with colour, the wares which are hung on rails outside the shop, waft and dance in the breeze enticing you to buy. Everywhere there is noise and colour, the street is crowded with people, walking and riding bicycles, tuk tuks and small motorcycles also compete for space on these busy streets which they all share with goats, cars and the occasional cow.
We walk through this maze of buildings completely entranced, any residual negative feelings about Kochi from this morning’s taxi ride in, cannot survive this joyous onslaught. Within half an hour we are completely seduced by it’s charms. Eventually the maze delivers you to the waterfront. Kochi has a beach, but it’s a beach in the Asian style, a working place not a leisure place, as in Europe.
Most of the waterfront has been given over to the fisherman who operate the Chinese fishing nets, giant pivoting wooden structures which hold a horizontally stretched net between four huge curved wooden fingers spanning out radially from a central suspension point. This whole contraption is rotated, dipping the net into the water. Around an hour or so later it’s lifted again scooping out the fish. These fish are then sold on the seafront the moment they are landed. Should a particular fish take your eye, then any of the restaurants in the town will cook it for you.
We didn’t buy a fish, that’s a treat that will have to wait for another day. We did walk past the Vasco de Gamma cafe however, not that it was a cafe when Vasco de Gamma lived here, it was his house. He’s buried in a church near by. Or more accurately he was. His body was removed by his son sixteen years after he died and returned to his native Portugal where he is still, I presume, currently interred. His grave is still marked, given pride of place even, in the church of his former internment.
The people of Kochi seem completely at ease with the their former colonial past and speak about it very matter of factly. Kochi has had many colonial masters over the years, the last being the British, this is just accepted as ‘that’s just the way things were’. And in a way they are quite right, we seem to have more trouble coming to terms with it than they do, admittedly we were the conquering power so perhaps that’s only right and proper.
The Voyages of Discovery, or exploitation, call them what you will, were the precursor to colonialism and ultimately to our Global market – they had to happen. Our current viable global civilisation is a direct result of these voyages, they needed to have taken place as the Earth’s resources are not evenly and fairly distributed. Maybe it didn’t have to happen in the way it did, but happen, it had to.
I wanted to call in to Vasco’s cafe on our walk back, but my navigational skills appear to be a long way short of Vasco’s and we failed to find it again. What we did find however, was The Greatest Restaurant on Earth…………