Monday, September 6, 2010

Net, Line, and Sinker

One of the more unique sights in Fort Cochi is the Chinese fishing nets that line the waterfront. Not being on too much a sightseeing mission, it was the one thing I wanted to make sure we saw but figured it would be a quick stop for some photos and maybe get to see the nets get raised and lowered a couple times. As we approached the nets, our driver steered us toward a particular net (hard to believe this wasn’t planned) where the fishermen invited us on to take a closer look. As we started to board, the driver pulled me aside and said, “have them take pictures and maybe give them some rupees.”
Chinese fishing net in Cochin
Fair enough, though the sad tale of the Keralan fisherman soon followed. They showed us there morning catch, which literally amounted to one or two sunfish. They were unlucky, they said. After walking around a bit longer, we thought we were through and started turning around to walk the plank back off the rig. They stopped us and said, “You pull rope.” There were five ropes rigged to the net, counterbalanced with rocks tied at the other end. Figuring this was probably the only chance I’d have to raise a Chinese fishing net, I jumped at the opportunity. The others slowly joined and we spent the next couple minutes vigorously pulling the rope that raised an empty net from the sea.
The morning catch
The entire time, the fishermen were busy snapping pictures of the scene. Upon checking the photos while still on the rig, they had done a surprisingly good job, snapping maybe fifteen to twenty shots on each camera. Even the guy with whom I’d entrusted my DSLR took a variety of horizontals, verticals, zoomed, not zoomed. And there’s actually some good shots. Obviously, we weren’t the first tourists on this structure. And if the state of their fishing business was as bad as they claimed, surely they could make a good living instructing tour guides throughout India (and let’s be honest, beyond India) how to take a decent picture.
Pulling rope
After the photo shoot, the sad tale of the Keralan fisherman swung into high gear. Before there were oil spills in the gulf, floods in Pakistan, Hurricane Katrina, and mud slides in Ladakh and China, there was the tsunami of 2004. Apparently, the lasting effects of that disaster had had a permanent effect on their business. Always a skeptic but in no way trained in marine biology, I wasn’t able to refute their claim with any scientific fact. In the skeptic’s defense, there were numerous fish markets set up right next to the nets with copious quantities of numerous species of fish larger than the sunfish they had showed us.

I don’t mean in any way to minimize the impact of the disaster, but Kerala is on the west coast of India and was only minimally impacted as the wave rounded the southern tip of India and lost power as it traveled up the west coast. We were actually in India when it struck, and I remember the death estimates in the newspapers rising by the thousands with each passing day. It was a HUGE deal and incredibly devastating to many coastal regions in the Indian ocean. So while I have no doubts that Kerala saw an impact, I have to guess that an area that is 250 kilometers from the southern tip probably isn’t still seeing the impact of a devastating event that took place nearly six years ago.

Regardless, this was the tale that was woven. They had a very exact figure in mind as to how much our little visit was worth. As we huddled to determine what we thought the trip was worth, we slowly came to the realization that as a group, we lacked the necessary small bills to get the sum we deemed appropriate (not that I’d expect “change” in this type of situation but the inability of anyone to make change is an issue I’ll address at a later time another post all together for a future time and helps explain why we didn’t have small bills). Slowly I came to the realization that, while Rs. 500 seemed exorbitant, it was only Rs. 125 per person ($3), and they had proven that people in the tourist trade could take a decent photograph.

At the end of the day, we overpaid. However, in the grand scheme of things it was an example of “only $3” being relatively little for us given the unique nature of the experience and hopefully being relatively more for the four fisherman.

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