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How / Travel Guide

The mysterious sea world

Fishermen & Boats

Rikshaw & Comedy

Backwater &


Racism & again money


Water & Food

Fishermen and Boats
Ever since the legal ban of dynamite fishing, Kovalam's fishing industry has become sustainable. If you get up early in the morning you can hire a boat and watch the possibly last generation of fishermen performing their century old duties: net fishing, clam diving, hunting with the harpoon or catching lobsters and cuttlefish by hand.
Some fishermen will be happy to take you along to bolster up their income to sustain themselves and their families during the jobless monsoon season.
"What we know is a drop,
what we don't know is an ocean."
Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
The traditional fishermen use boats they themselves call "catamarans". It is said that they originated 5000 years ago in Africa and have not been modified since. These boats consist of four long and heavy logs which are tied together every morning. After work they are untied and left at the beach to dry. Some catamarans even still have sails. Due to their weight and their flexibility these boats are safe even if the sea gets a bit rough.
While the divers go down to find clams, fish are happily jumping around the boat looking for food.
Mussel diving is a great sight even for vegetarians.
Under water the fishermen check regularly if the mussels have enough meat. Sometimes the playful divers feed the fish under water with the meat from the clams. The fish then snatch it out of their hands.
With an incredible elegance they dive again and again until the boat is filled with the needed amount of mussels.
The clam divers do not have many natural enemies: One is the eel fish, hiding among mussels and lobsters. Unwary fishermen can receive a painful bite while trying to retrieve their prey. The other, less traditional enemies are the speedboats. Once I asked a fisherman about this and he replied: "Well, the eel fish are not really the enemy, they also help us." (see below)
Typically a speed boat tour takes three to five minutes, very popular among the Indian tourists. The concept is easy: The thrill comes from speeding over the water, jumping the waves and leaving behind noise, the smell of burnt fuel and a trail of oil on the water.
According to the regulations the speed boat business is permitted after 11am since it would not disrupt the fishing at that time. Unfortunately the owners go by demand, often before 11am. Apart from their bothersome noise for people trying to relax on the beach, their dangerous maneuvers make swimming aggravating and even dangerous. The ubiquitous tourist police are a good address to file your complaints.
If you are looking for fresh seafood at the restaurants all along the shoreline you will be disappointed. They obtain their frozen seafood from cheap wholesalers.

But if you are lucky you can buy
freshly grilled fish or lobster from the fishermen on the rocks by the sea. Just take heart and approach them. They don't bite.
Make sure to buy a fresh lime with it.
The fishermen's social network is worth mentioning.
Up to six persons help carrying and tying together the catamaran before heading out to sea, they also help dismembering, cleaning, and drying the logs.

Remember this when you haggle about prices.

A little math on the side? Let's say a fisherman has a turnover of 1000Rs. a certain day. After paying for all the expenses -see above-, that leaves him with 300Rs, the minimum amount he needs to supply for his family's daily basic necessities.
300 Rs, this amount is what we spend in Europe or Café Coffee Day (the Indian Starbucks) on two cups of coffee.
And did I mention the days where the fishermen come back to shore with an empty boat?

The small jobs include selling the fish, taking the fish to the market and such.
Whoever doesn't have a task waits on the beach till there is something to do. There is always a little something to earn.

Even the elderly who can not go out to sea anymore come to make a few Rupees.

With the dumping prices at which the frozen goods are being sold to the local enterprises the local fishermen can not compete. That is why you will rarely find Kovalam fish at the beach restaurants.
By the way, there is a mistaken belief that fishermen of different religions and beliefs don't fish on the same shore in Kovalam. Muslims, Hindus and Christians do share the sea and the bay. You might witness some quarrels, but they are mostly about money and not religion.
The eel fish
mentioned above is not a food fish, but the locals use it as medicine. It is supposedly great for treating asthma and restoring the overall health. "The eel fish clean the water as do the crows on land: Any dead or injured animal? The eel fish smells it immediately and is as fast as a shark to remove it. Eel fish and lobster are sitting at the same table and debating friendly. The eel fish is the lobster's front door guard. It protects the lobster. But should the lobster ever be hurt, the eel will throw itself quickly onto the prey."