Little People, Big Things

“Unstuck”. The quotation marks in this post below are all too familiar. They stemmed from well-worded conversations that traveled across the 16,894 kilometers between Kochi, India, and Costa Rica. Between me and Crist Inman. About “getting back in”. Going back and forth on happiness and redefining it. On dreaming. Together.

And, I remembered this bouncing, hugging ball of happiness that owned me by the beach at Xandari Pearl in Kerala. Little person, but home of good things.

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When the Sun Goes Down

About seven out of every 10 households in rural India have no access to electricity. Many of these households still use less efficient energy sources that are harmful to the environment, such as kerosene. Even in places where electricity is accessible, shortages are frequent and the supply is inconsistent. In such a scenario, solar lamps come as a blessing and are revolutionizing lives in the country and around the world.

PRASHANT MANDAL FLIPS ON A CANDY-BAR-SIZE LED LIGHT in the hut he shares with his wife and four children. Instantly hues of canary yellow and ocean blue—reflecting off the plastic tarps that serve as the family’s roof and walls—fill the cramped space where they sleep.  He shuts down the solar unit that powers the light and unplugs it piece by piece, then carries it to a tent some 20 yards away, where he works as a chai wallah, selling sweet, milky tea to travelers on the desolate road in Madhotanda, a forested town near the northern border of India.

“My life is sad, but I have my mind to help me through it,” Mandal says, tapping the fraying cloth of his orange turban. “And this solar light helps me to keep my business open at night.”

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A Scooter That Charges Faster Than Your Phone

Ather Energy's e-scooter - S340 - is powered by a battery that charges within an hour

Ather Energy’s e-scooter – S340 – is powered by a battery that charges within an hour

India is the world’s second largest market for two-wheelers, and more than 14 million two-wheelers were sold last year. But electric scooters, so far, aren’t too big a part of that pie. When electric two-wheelers were first introduced nearly a decade ago, companies were betting big. They had a brief honeymoon period between 2008 and 2010, with sales more than doubling during that time. But all that dwindled once the government slashed its Rs22,000 ($346) subsidy for lithium battery packs in 2012. From selling 100,000 units two years ago, sales plunged to 21,000 units by 2014. But Ather Energy is bent on revising the trend.

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When Soap Makes the Difference

Sundara is a soap making operation in Mumbai that collects bar soap waste from hotels and recycles it for underprivileged children who cannot afford to buy soap. PHOTO: Sundara

Sundara is a soap making operation in Mumbai that collects bar soap waste from hotels and recycles it for underprivileged children who cannot afford to buy soap. PHOTO: Sundara

Ever wondered what happens to the barely used soaps that you leave behind in hotel rooms? Think they get reused? We’ve got bad news – they don’t. In fact they are normally tossed away, cluttering our already crowded landfills. The solution at our Raxa Collective properties is to use dispensers filled with all-natural liquid soaps to avoid the waste of bar soaps. Sundara, a soap making operation in Mumbai has a community-based solution to the problem. They collect bar soap waste from hotels, sanitize and recycle it and distribute the new soaps to underprivileged children and adults who cannot afford soap. To date they have regular soap distributions reaching over 6,000 underprivileged children and adults in Mumbai slums. They have also saved thousands of kilograms of waste from going to landfills in the process.

And it started with a University of Michigan graduate. And she didn’t let a near-death experience with dengue hemorrhagic fever stop her from making the world and its people a little more clean.

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When Ideas Take Flight

A team of Indian students won the fourth edition of the Airbus Fly Your Ideas global competition organised in partnership with UNESCO to encourage innovators . PHOTO: Airbus

A team of Indian students won the fourth edition of the Airbus Fly Your Ideas global competition organised in partnership with UNESCO to encourage innovators . PHOTO: Airbus

A few weeks ago, Hamburg hosted the fourth edition of the Airbus Fly Your Ideas competition. The city is where the most popular single isle A320 family aircraft are finalised, where A380 cabin interiors are fitted and where the revolutionary A350XWB sections are manufactured. Organised in partnership with UNESCO to encourage the next generation of innovators, the competition saw 518 multi-disciplinary ideas, representing 3,700 students from over 100 countries – all to better the future of flight. And a team of four Indian students and their “good vibes” took home the top prize money of €30,000 (£21,500). And here’s the best bit: the winners physically met only on the day of the finals.

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A Culture in Need of Safeguards

Each year since 2009, UNESCO puts out two lists that closely look at indigenous practices across the world. The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding is composed of heritage elements that require urgent measures to keep them alive. During the period from 2009 to 2014, 38 elements have been included on this List. These include Mongolian calligraphy, the Paach (corn-veneration ritual) of Guatemala, the male child cleansing ceremony of northern Uganda, practices of the Kayas of the sacred forests of Mijikenda in Kenya and more. The second list –  Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – comprises practices that help demonstrate the diversity of heritage and raise awareness about their importance.

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Fixed-Dome Bio Gas

Bio-

Bio-Gas Plant

In my opinion sustainable tourism/practices, if done correctly and efficiently, will both benefit the environment and a company or individual. Although today, we are still trying to accomplish the previous with as much at hand as possible. Ideally, sustainability will come hand in hand with positive environmental outcomes and social and economic benefits.
However, some practices are more beneficial (in both instances) than others. Take recycling paper for example: the margin in producing new paper vs. recycling is much lower so incentives are likely lower. Aluminum cans on the other hand are much more cost effective to recycle, bringing higher benefits to both the producer (by reusing material) and for the environment (aluminum has a longer decomposition time). Continue reading

The Backwaters of Kerala, India

Upstairs deck/lounge

Upstairs deck/lounge

Our group of four was greeted with “tender coconuts” to drink while we got settled into the boat and into our bedrooms. Our houseboat was over 100ft long with three bedrooms, a dining room, an upstairs lounge deck and all the amenities of a hotel (including AC), I was in awe. The outside was covered in a coconut palm woven shell tied together by coconut husk rope. Truly a product of “Kerala”, meaning “Land of Coconuts”. Continue reading

Kuttanad – “the rice bowl of Kerala”

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If you are like me, you enjoy the fresh air, green scenic views and appreciate a variety of cultures. Kuttanand, south of Cochin is a promising destination with its rich rice picking culture and its backwater systems. It also offers diverse species of animals, especially birds which can easily be spotted due to the open landscape.

Next on my Kerala bucket list!

To read more click here

(photo credits: Keralatourism.org)

A drive to Fort Kochi, India

Sunrise over Cochin Harbor

Sunrise over Cochin Harbor

I flew into the Cochin airport in Kerala a few days ago for the first time. This is my first time to Asia and to a country whose language I do not speak (fluent in english and spanish). I was greeted by Udayan, one of Raxa Collective’s drivers who began driving me to the hotel. If you had read my last post, you would know that I am here to do an internship under Crist and Amie Inman (owners and operators of Raxa Collective), who I have been communicating with for months now. Amie especially, had warned me of the driving and how “In some parts of the world, people drive on the left side, others on the right side, but in India people drive everywhere”! That could not have been closer to the truth. As soon as we leave the airport parking lot, I hear horns going off, almost in symphony to one another, communicating back and forth. Tuk-tuks (a type of small yet quick 3 wheeler) are swerving in and out of traffic, motorcycles and cars zig-zagging in and out. The driver, completely calm and very good at what he does tells me that it will be a 45min drive. In my mind, I thought this wasn’t driving, but a type of noisy tetras.

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Introduction & Upcoming posts

I would like to take a quick moment to introduce myself, my goals for the next few months and what I will be posting in this blog. I am a recent graduate from the University of Central Florida, Rosen School of Hospitality Management and I was born in Costa Rica.

I am excited to be interning at Marari Pearl (Kerala, India) starting this January. I don’t believe there will be a lack of material for me to write about in Kerala with its unique culture, customs, spicy foods and amazing animals! This will be my first time to Asia and I am quite sure it will be a great and rewarding culture shock and I want to convey my observations and thoughts about something totally new to me. Continue reading

Trance Around the World

A Goa Sunset. Image Courtesy: http://howanxious.wordpress.com

As a young, avid and ferocious consumer of music dabbling in amateur production, this post has been a long time coming.  No doubt everybody has their individual preferences when it comes to music, and I don’t want to be that person with the single-minded elitist views on what someone should or should not listen to (for the record my favorite band is The Doors), because I’m not.  I love trance music, it’s melodic, it’s uplifting, it’s beautiful, it makes people dance, it has great history, and when it’s done right it can be very emotional.

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Navigating the Backwaters of Kerala

Have you ever felt like you were in a book ?

 Traveling on a houseboat  in the Backwaters was a desire of mine for quite a while, and I had been told the monsoon was the ideal period to take a trip on the Backwaters. The boats are fewer on the waterways, you can see locals compete in spectacular snake-boat races, the rice-paddies fill-up with rainwater, everybody gets around by canoe or ferry. It’s as different to my everyday life as can be. Continue reading

Sanskrit poetry: “If my absent bride were but a pond”

Sanskrit lyric poetry is often noted for its sexual nature and flourished in the eleventh century where it was compiled by Vidyakara under the title “The Treasury of Well-Turned Verse”. Vidyakara, was a poet and a scholar of the XIth century.  Although he is thought to have been a buddhist monk, his “Treasury” is well versed on the matters of heart . This anthology of sanskrit court poetry addresses themes such as sex, love, and heroes, peace and nature.

Ponds in the woods of Thekkady

If my absent bride were but a pond, Continue reading

Simple health tips to travel in Kerala from our Ayurvedic doctor

The first aid kit I packed to come here in Kerala is the size of a small shoebox. Except for mosquito repellent and cold cream I have yet to use it, and although I should be relieved, I am annoyed. It’s the heaviest part of my luggage and I’ll probably carry it all back home ! A lot of this medication treats tummy-aches and Kerala has a strong system of traditional medicine, Ayurveda, that handles those issues well and without the long tail of potential side effects.

“You were right to take precautions, when traveling you never know where you’re going to land and what you’re going to find.  Kerala is rich in water sources and is not at risk for Malaria. But you may want to travel to other parts of India which are less fortunate in those regards.” Dr Sulficker reminded me. Dr Pameela Sulficker is the Ayurvedic doctor here at Cardamom County, she introduces travelers to ayurveda at the Ayura Wellness Center. Continue reading

So I’ve arrived at Cardamom county #2: Eating as a physical activity

Sunday breakfast indian-style: a meal that just requires to be eaten with the hands

I was about to start my meal at the canteen with my colleagues yesterday when I decided it was time to take the dive and eat with my hands. Boy, was it an exercise, I mean a physical exercise.

As a first-timer I was quite slow: I’ve read it is most polite to use your thumb, pointer and middle finger, and to let only the first two joints of those fingers touch the food.  I’m not sure that I did all that. Also you only eat with your right hand,  even if you’re a lefty. The left hand will take care of menial things such as wiping your tears of eyes after a spicy curry. The whole meal activates so many muscles that it left me exhausted.  It got me thinking about the lack of thought and the lack of physical effort me and my folks, in  westernized countries, put into the act of eating. Eating with the hands is common in many areas of the world, including parts of Asia and much of Africa and the Middle East and it has plenty of health benefits. Continue reading

The Bishnois of Rajasthan: The First Environmentalists

Khamu Ram Bishnoi fights against the pollution carried by discarded plastic bags in India since 2005. Every year during Mukam festival, the Bishnois, his community, must bring sand on top of dunes to solidify them and block the advance of the desert.  Lately pilgrims had taken the habit of collecting the sand in plastic bags, causing a widespread pollution in the Thar desert. To protect the landscapes and the animals who regularly ate plastic bags, Khamu Ram started to demonstrate noisily to educate his community about alternatives to plastic bags.

In 2008, he was invited to talk at a series of environmental conferences in  France. When looking at the street dustbins in Paris, Khamu Ram had the idea of a mobile public dustbin.  Since 2010, he installs these dustbins complete with jute bags in public places, during festivals, pilgrimages, and organizes their collection. Last February Khamu Ram Bishnoi received the award of “Extraordinary man of India” in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

If Khamu Ram Bishnoi is an extraordinary man, he’s also part of an extraordinary community. He is a bishnoi. Continue reading

Not A Creature Was Stirring…Or So I Thought

Like many people that can’t sleep at two o’clock in the morning, I let my nose lead me into the kitchen.  In the wee morning hours, I was surprised to find one, lone and hardworking chef, Jimmy, preparing the morning’s breakfast buffet.  I was drawn to the beverage station where I stood aghast, hoping my drip coffee machine would appear.  As I looked pained with an overwhelming desire for caffeine, Jimmy’s hospitality ensued.  He lowered the heat to his Aloo Bhaji, grabbed a saucepan, and began making me some coffee the “old fashioned” way with only a pot, water, ground coffee, and a sieve.

With my fuel source performing caffeinated magic, I observed his hard work ethic, learned how to make Kozhukattai, and had good conversations despite my poor and minimum Malayalam and his frequent inability to understand my East Texas “twangy” accent.  I was filled with respect when I found he alone prepared the delicious breakfast for the guests of the retreat.  I grew greater appreciation for my Wusthof knives; and, once again, I was, and continue to be, awed and inspired by the hospitality and giving character of the people I’ve met in Kerala.

Rarely do I find such great rewards for sleepless nights, but this night I found gold.  I’m thankful and I “remove my hat” to Jimmy of the Allspice Restaurant.  It’s people like these in this culture that increase my fondness for this state of India and strengthen my wish to stay or repeatedly return.

Reflections in the Rain

The song of the rain washes over me.  It soothes my soul and calms my buzzing thoughts.  Never would I have imagined forming a sense of respect and admiration for this wet, and often noted, overwhelming natural phenomenon.  Yet, the monsoon rains of Kerala are magically revitalizing, relieving, and so much more.

Like blessings the droplets fall on my skin, awakening my soul from its lazy trance.  I am increasingly able to understand how artists find it inspiring, how birds find it song-worthy.  I am as thankful as the parched earth that I relinquished many of my hesitations towards the rain; my mind is open and ready for more.

When the rain ceases and the sky reveals the sun’s rays, it is a rainbow I hope to see.  I find its colors in the cheerful tunes of the birds, the slow rustle of the leaves, and the intermittent chirps of the emerging insects.  These few, along with many other, “colors” create a reflection of hope in the puddles of my mind.

As my days increase, I do not expect my puddles of misunderstanding, disbelief, or hesitation to completely dissipate.  I only desire that, like I have with the rain, I am able to find positive and inspiring reflections within them.

Looking: Over and Out

India’s Western Ghats are one of our planet’s most biodiverse zones – as well as an intensely beautiful geological spine that separates the southwestern coast of the subcontinent from the southeastern. Kerala’s border with Tamil Nadu coincides with the range, which poses no mysteries. Transportation over the hills and mountains is tedious, and each side has it’s own cultural and meteorological identity; the border makes sense to an outsider. Continue reading