Monday, December 27, 2010

Orchid Hunting in the Western Ghats

We have been orchid hunting in the Western Ghats. I should really leave it at that. We went to Kerala, Southern India just before Christmas because that is the season for the flowering of Vanda wightii - a Vanda not seen in Western greenhouses, and not recorded in the wild for a hundred years. We also needed to check on the range of Vanda tessellata -we have the smaller northern Vanda tessellata in the greenhouse and the much bigger Sri Lanka version. These from Travancore were betwixt and between.

I had planned to stay back at the hotel with The Hindu Times and CNN. I've read enough old accounts of orchid hunting: "Despite the terrain we only lost one man..." But orchid hunting in the Western Ghats turned out to be a lot less strenuous than Christmas shopping. It involved an SUV on loan from the Trivandrum Botanical Gardens, with driver, and Indian colleagues with my sense of humor. Sorry, America, only those who have been through the British school system and the old caste system of the English can, deep down, be on the same wavelength.

We were hunting orchids along the roads because that is where the oldest trees are: not chopped down but left for shade, not jungled up but separate, receiving their share of sunlight. And it's only on the oldest trees, Dr. Motes says, seventy-five years or more, that orchids have time to grow and can find that crusty old bark they love.

Kerala is the most populous state in India. True, whenever we stopped under a particularly old tree on those country roads, there was always a house and garden nearby where we could negotiate for a bamboo pole, be observed by grinning groups of school children walking home or locals on crowded buses charging by, their elbows jutting out of windowless sides.

We did not lose one man on those trips; we did find a Dr. Motes, more than happy, as he saw these Vanda species in the wild. And I was more than happy to just slide into my SUV seat to go hunting orchids in the Western Ghats.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

India ate my homework

Home from two weeks in India. Back in BC (before computers) that would explain silence but with laptops and wi fi (a whole line in Abu Dhabi airport) it's no longer an excuse.
But pounding away on greasy metal keys? Now the closest the big old desk computer. And pounding along later, one is less likely to announce I'm at the airport! OMG need coffee!

So Toronto to Trivandrum, Southern India on Etihad, the Emirates airline. (Cheap joke: "Jihad" airlines?Ha Ha!) Maybe had is a verb or noun, just meaning a journey... and ji is the nasty bit. Ask the handsome young Arab attendant who bashfully explains Etihad is Arabic but a made up word. Like those Japanese car names.
ANYWAY, Etihad, economy class, is the way to fly: foot rest, individual movie screen, real earphones, printed menus with choices! (Not everyone needs to eat mutton) AND free drinks. Scotch, wine - and the smiling attendants return unbidden to refill your good-sized glass with no hint of disapproval. My advice to strict Moslem parents: book your children and wives on American Airlines where the head sets cost, the drinks cost, the glasses are small and the attendants hide behind the curtain in business class to avoid refills.

Watched a great Indian movie, "Three Idiots." Students at Imperial College of Engineering, pressure to succeed. The young flight attendant said it was made in response to the great number of student suicides. Note: Read later in The Hindu Times it's the biggest grossing movie ever.
Nearly asleep: changed categories to Arabia. The young gardener is falling in love with the rich young daughter who lives on what looks like a golf course and goes riding in jodphurs with a little scarf at the neck just so. They hold hands passionately in the shrubbery; no kissing. Years ago I hitchhiked down to Florence with two Egyptian girls I met at a youth hostel in Venice. Safinaz said for an Arab girl to kiss a man is like sleeping with someone. She was a journalist- sat up at night in the hostels writing her articles: First Egyptian girls ever to hitch hike! Forget how she got her material back to Cairo. Sent me a magazine. There we are, thumbs out, by the side of an Italian road. Said she told her readers how surprised she was to find she could be friends with an English girl. (We have ended the Suez crisis! she announced.)

OK. Trivandrum, Kerala, three in the morning. Hundreds of people waiting, dark faces, flashing smiles like it was midday. Down the darkened streets but could see hammers and sickles painted on walls and fences. Yeah, Toto we're not in the US anymore.