Cue Manchester terminal 2, 5pm, "What the hell have I done?!" I found myself stressed, "Where will I stay first night? How do I get there? What should I pay? Will there be massive cockroaches…?"
Stress turned back to pride when the pleasant fella next to me was genuinely in awe of my imminent adventure….his wife snoring next him, She had booked fully inclusive, with an extensive non-curry range.
“I am going to find out exactly what happens to coffee before it turns up at the office in hessian sacks, that’s the point of the trip”
Having endured our ‘nothing’ weather in the London for the best part of 9 months, stepping out in to the sun to explore is like therapy. The sun this close to the equator warms you to the core. My fifteen minute walk down the hill to the beach started alone, but by the time I arrived 6 kids had joined and asked me everything, from whether India would win the cricket, to where Wales was in England and, most importantly; did I happen to be carrying any Bieber merchandise....Then back to India will definitely win the cricket. Being so alone, somewhere so far, was going to be fun.
Capturing everything through a lens and moving from place to place, picking local foods and home-stays; every new place brought different personality and experience, a different feel. Everything is bigger in India. Besides the obvious scale of the country; noise and interaction is bigger, trees tower and nature holds its own. Nature is unafraid, it really is an incredible place. The beaches are crystal clean, the cities grubby, overpopulated but completely vibrant.
On a 14hr train journey to Kerala, a family loaded me with bananas, rotis, omelette sandwiches (decent) and Chai tea. They would not accept money. It’s surprising how quickly such a long journey can slip away with a carriage of new friends firing questions, exchanging music and stories, advising on what to see. This is an experience to remember forever by itself. A bit different to the Victoria line, earphones in, music on!
Food in Kochi is to pick a freshly caught fish from the harbour, and then find someone to cook it for you. Anas, my tuk tuk guide of the area for the day, offered a ‘whatever you think I’m worth’ price guide before setting off! He took me to temples, shrines, his cousin's shop, Chinese fishing nets, street performers, elephants, his other cousin's shop, Kerala’s most famous local biryani restaurant, his brother's shop, then his friend's shop. Then I told him off. I told him to take me somewhere where there weren’t wooden elephants or pashminas…..he took me to a water temple, used only once a year, overgrown but completely beautiful.
Having checked coast was clear, over the fence we went for better pictures. Overgrown in the UK means creepy crawlies, maybe a rat or two: Overgrown in India saw me face-to-face with an 8ft black Cobra, that had just caught it’s lunch; the biggest toad I have ever seen.
Hands shaking and with Anas terrified, jumping up and down, I took as many pictures as I could without dying! It was ruthless, apex predator, etched into memory forever. Heart recovered I paid Anas 1200 rupees (£14) for the day, unbeknown to me, 3 days salary for the man. He was taking the next 2 days off to be with his family……the experience for me with Cobra was worth every penny and more.
I could go on and on, story after story, but it’s tough to share. It’s the experience that only travelling can offer, stepping out of comfort and genuinely into the unknown. Being alone magnifies it, I wasn’t wearing a sign that said ‘come and talk to me’, but I might as well have been. The people, they just want to chat. It’s great!
And so I headed to the Coorg region and as far as the eye could see, the incredible site of coffee plants spread out, met by Dinesh, Daya and Rupesh my coffee education was about to begin, we were heading to meet Geoffrey.
I love coffee, love being able to talk coffee, love being able to make coffee. It’s a wonderful position in which to sit: More knowledgeable than most about such a relevant thing. I work with a team who share and live my passion. We make great coffee, we are proud of it and it’s variety. We have great kit to help deliver the coffee. I care about my company, I care about my job. But how much did I actually care about the coffee itself. On meeting Geoffrey, one of our coffee farmers, I was about to find out.