Tag Archives: sri lanka

That’s travelling folks!

14 May

And so we said goodbye to SE Asia. Sensing this, the taxi driver who dropped us off at the bus station took his last chance to rip us off and charged us 5 more ringgits than it cost on the way there because he refused to use the meter, but at 7am we weren’t going to argue. He had a good go at trying to convince us the buses would all be empty and would wait for hours before going to the airport and that we should actually pay him lots of money to take us all the way there, but we’d heard this many times before on our travels and just politely smiled, nodded, and then insisted we went to the bus station, where we caught the bus for £2 each and it left immediately. Can’t blame him for trying though!

Unlike the other airports we’ve visited, KL’s is quite big and full of people, so although we left with plenty of time, by the time we’d worked our way round the various queues and check points, the gate was already boarding. By luck of the draw, I managed to get a seat in the centre by myself – the third time this has happened, win! [Except seconds after writing this, a snotty kid came and sat next to me playing his bleepy little game thing. Giving him the death stare like I owned the plane didn’t work so may have to resort to actual violence, or at least making him kill himself. In the game, honest…I made him move in the end. I did give away my copy of Marie Claire to an Aussie girl to restore karma, but not sure that makes up for kicking a small child. Probably not going to heaven after all].  And the meal I’d booked whilst in Koh Samui before the tiny fish eyes incident was actually edible and Malaysian so that evens up our junk food:Malaysian ratio somewhat.

I ordered an Asahi beer and ended up with a bottle of sake but that was soon corrected and a little bag of Bombay mix was placed in front of me to go with the lager. I immediately gave this to Craig as I hate nuts…after inspected these he informed me that actually, it was a bag of tiny battered fish (with and without eyes). Yummy.

So I guess it’s time to do a round up of SE Asia seeing as I did one on Sri Lanka (don’t look at our ‘where are we’ page – our route looks like a plate of spaghetti)…

I was going to do a list of good things and bad things but it’s impossible as they often cross over. For instance, the first thing that hits you when you get off the plane is the wall of heat. That never, ever, goes away. If you don’t have a fan, or can’t afford aircon (like us mostly!), you will be sweating at all times. Even in the shower. We ended up getting used to it after so long, but the only time I really felt cold was when we were in Vietnam in January and when we had airconditioning in the room but weren’t given sheets. The rest of the time, you’re either slightly sweaty or very sweaty. But pretty much guaranteed sunshine every day was a never ending benefit despite the feeling of being hot all the time. It took a while to fight the English urge when the sun came out to immediately drive to the seaside and sit on the beach, no matter where you are. When you live in the Midlands, as far away as possible from the beach, sunshine is a rare pleasure and one that you can’t complain about.

Smells is another one. I will never get tired of the smell of frangipani trees, or jasmine, incense, delicious food cooked on the street, limes, spices and rain on hot pavements or grass, but all too often you’re half way through enjoying a wonderful combination of these and you spy a bin full of warm, rotting food, or fish drying in the sun and you tell your lungs ‘abort, abort!’ but it’s too late, it smacks you in the face before you can do anything about it and all you smell and taste is bin juice and fish guts.

One thing I feel really bad about though is the way they treat animals here. There are some people who look after them but I would say the vast majority don’t. From puppies in a cage in the boiling hot sun all day without food and water, to zoo exhibitions where the animals are in tiny cages, to stray (or pet) dogs covered in fleas and mange, it really broke my heart. I saw a Doberman like Holls in a cage in a petshop yesterday: clearly distressed and pacing in a sun-filled shop window and I really did consider buying it but there would be no way to take it over to Australia. Poor thing was docked and cropped within an inch of its life and was bored senseless. I am not sure why the state of the animals affected me more than the way the poorest people lived or seeing children begging on the streets – maybe it’s time to sort my life out? Or accept the fact and just work in a kennels?!

On that note, here’s a quick update on the puppy we adopted in Cambodia and rehomed with Geordie, a Canadian expat, and his family

From starving mongrel to pampered pup in three short months!

Something we could both embrace was the food though. Aside from the junk fest we’ve been having over the last few days, purely because it was there and it was a link to back home, not to mention laden in fat and therefore scrumptious, we have loved pretty much every minute of trying Asian food. We didn’t bother trying the things that we knew were going to make us sick (spiders, bugs, kidneys etc) but everything else was lovely and the worst times we got food poisoning was when we ate at restaurants, not street sellers. They have some of the cheapest and nicest food out there give it a try :)

Noise is another omnipresent presence in SE Asia. I hate not being able to sit in silence and it really began to wear me down that I needed to be underwater before getting any kind of peace and quiet. Whether manmade or natural, you will not find a quiet spot. I think that’s why I’ve read so much here – it helps block out the madness around me but eventually I’ll have to put it down and Asia will come flooding back in until the next time!

Philosophy – whether it’s Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim or other, we very rarely saw people get angry or shout whilst we were out here. We know it happens as we spoke to the only farang Thai police on Koh Samui, and he definitely saw violence, but in day-to-day life, everyone we spoke to was very calm and resigned to the fact that being angry helps no one. If you want to bargain or disagree, it’s best to smile the whole time than get cross. This was incredibly difficult at borders where we charged huge amounts of money over the official price, or when we got robbed on the ferry etc, but I think it’s good to take a leaf out of their book generally and try and get on with things without bearing grudges or teeth. They also have some of the best manners – everyone is addressed as sir or madam in English and most countries’ people were very friendly and welcoming. In Thai they use ‘kaa’ if you are a woman and ‘kup’ if you are a man to show respect. This bled into English on Koh Samui so every morning you got ‘GOOD MORNINGKAA!’ or ‘HELLOKUP!’ depending on who was speaking. The exception to traditional manners is the habit of hocking up whatever is in your throat and then spitting it where you feel like – on the bus floor, on the street, over bridges, up walls. A custom I really couldn’t get on board with!

SE Asia was incredibly beautiful, particularly in the more undeveloped areas such as Cambodia and Laos. Whereas the ancient temples and buildings we saw were stunning, the landscape was breath-taking and it even made long and otherwise boring bus journeys a joy. We were never happier than when we were climbing the mountain in Vang Vieng, or cruising down the Mekong in Luang Prebang, or trekking through the jungle in Banlung. Even though I couldn’t afford to buy new lens for my camera, I am most happy with the nature shots of all the places we’ve been as they will cheer me up when I’m back in England staring at four grey office walls and wishing I was elsewhere :)

Toilets are fairly hard to find, never mind negotiate when you’re laden with backpacks and carrier bags. Carry babywipes with you and don’t breathe in. Don’t put your bag down because the floor is inevitable wet with water from the bucket and ladle (or worse) and don’t forget to check for spiders and cockroaches in the bowl or paper before you go! I found the bucket and ladle quite good though, especially when this was your shower option, as some of the showers we used were so weak you couldn’t wash the shampoo off. Best use the ladle and pour as much as you want over you!

Shopping was fairly amazing – we wished so often that we weren’t travelling and could take all the gorgeous things home with us. Even more tempting was the relative cheapness of everything! But we couldn’t carry much and the things we did buy were little bits and pieces for friends and family, along with some clothes for ourselves as the temperature changed. And best of all, you can haggle! If you’re going anywhere in SE Asia, never pay the first price. Or the second. Or even the third! Craig is more ruthless than I am so we got some pretty good deals.

And then of course there are the people. Obviously you get the scammers who are just after your money, but generally we found SE Asians to be the friendliest, gentlest, happiest and most generous people. Some people we met had been through the most horrific experiences but were still laughing to tell the tale, some people had nothing but offered us a shady spot and a cold drink when we had gone on one of our stupid walking adventures without water; from the old lady who fixed my skirt with her sewing machine, to the man in Laos who patched up our tyre and gave us two drinks for less than £2, to the many guesthouse owners who let us stay in their rooms with a six week old puppy, we’ll never forget you!

Things I have lost:

Sunglasses

Nail file

Bra

2 combs

Hairbrush

Phone

Needle

Towel

Bikini bottoms

Needle

Things I should have brought on the trip:

Something to wear on my lower half other than one skirt

Less cardis

DVD drive

Things we found:

60,000 dong in Vietnam

1 puppy

Total number of miles travelled:

19,037

Backpacker’s bad luck bingo:

Top 5 favourite experiences:

Thai New Year/Craig’s birthday on Koh Samui

Swapping a hat for a dog in a Cambodian jungle village

Gorgeous botanical gardens in Kandy

Messing about in a Cambodian waterfall

Mountain climbing in Vang Vieng

All in all, a great trip and something we were very lucky to get the chance to do. Saw a lot, got our eyes opened, laughed a lot and met some amazing people. Can’t wait to go back…although I have really missed cooking my own meals, gardening, having a bath instead of a grim shower full of frogs and spiders, the relaxation of being able to speak to someone in their own language and of course Marmite. The Aussies have this poor imitation called ‘Vegemite’ but I’ve asked my stepdad to bring the real deal over from England as our stash ran out in Sri Lanka. Oh happy days!

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Sri Lanka musings

5 Apr

I thought I’d do a quick round up of thoughts about Sri Lanka before getting back into writing about Thailand :)

British influence

I said to Dad the other day that Sri Lanka is strange as there is so much that is similar to Britain it kinds of makes you feel like you’re at home, but then there’s so much that is very different and completely unfamiliar that you can’t forget you’re away. They drive on the left (when they feel like it), there are the same road signs, road markings and roundabouts (the rules of which are universally ignored – give way? You give way!), red post boxes, lots of tea, ‘devilled chicken’ – although I can’t remember the last time I heard someone in England described spiced food as ‘devilled’, ginger beer and best of all, THEY SELL MARMITE. Stupidly I forgot to stock up though after eating nothing else for breakfast for a week :(

Incredible food

Hot and mainly vegetable based, delicious and served by the ton. I think Sri Lankans are offended unless you leave their houses or restaurants visibly bulging. If you finish one dish, more often than not it will immediately be replenished, whether you want more or not. Tiny Thai portions will be difficult to get used to.

People

Most are lovely, very friendly and interest in hearing your thoughts about Sri Lanka or teasing you about the cricket. If you stand still long enough, someone will talk to you and ask how they can help. Sometimes this is finally motivated, or they might just want a cigarette, but more often than not, we found that Sri Lankans are just happy to chat and find out a bit more about you. You can be standing at a bus stop and even though you know what time the bus is, where it is going to and where it stops (the ‘bus halting place’!) at least one person will check with you where you want to go and tell you you’re in the right place! It can get quite overwhelming and sometimes you do feel like saying “I KNOW! I am now 27 and I am able to get on a bus BY MYSELF!” but they are so eager to help you just end up smiling and saying thank you very much. I think getting lost would be nearly impossible here though!

However, some people (mainly tutktuk drivers) are what Craig brilliantly termed ‘endearingly shifty’. They are by no means native to Sri Lanka, but here they are so disarmingly friendly, you know they are up to something, you just don’t know what. Our barriers were lowered significantly here because everyone seems so nice, but there was one man in Kandy we met who said he could take us to a place to stay for 300-800 rupees (£1.50-£4) per night. He smelled of alcohol that morning and there was just something about him we couldn’t put our finger on, but it is difficult because most of the time when travelling is spent going “shut up instincts, I have to get on this bus as we can’t afford to fly everywhere” or “shut up instincts, a bit of mould on the walls will not kill you (unless you lick it). Do not lick it.” This time it was a case of “actually instincts, you might have a point here” and we walked away. It might be that we missed out on a very cheap lovely room; or that we could have ended up in pieces in a suitcase somewhere. Not going back to find out!

Tuktuk drivers

They actually deserve a special category of their own as they were one of the most frustrating things about Sri Lanka. In everywhere else we’ve been, if you agree a price at the beginning, that’s what you’re charged. Twice now we gave tuktuk drivers money and then they added 100 rupees on top ‘for petrol’ or ‘because the traffic’s bad’. My advice is always carry the correct change on you because they won’t give you any. Hence the reason we tried to always travel by bus as it’s cheaper to go 100km by bus that 100m by tuktuk. I also hate the way they ask you where you’re from…you can actually see them mentally accessing the Sri Lankan Tuktuk Driver’s Index of How Much to Overcharge by (Listed by Country) whilst you’re talking to them. We tried lying for a while but it didn’t seem to make much difference. If you say ‘how much’, a driver will say ‘500, 600, 650 rupees? 675 rupees!’ without any input from us! On all of the tuktuks, there are little moral sayings – ‘peace begins with a smile’, ‘there is no fury like a patient man’s’, ‘still waters run deep’, ‘we can change the world’…oh the irony.

I only got hassled once during my time there and that was when Craig wasn’t with me. I’d got lost on the way back to the hotel from the beach and was walking along the main road, looking for the right turning. A tuktuk driver turned up and I waved him away, but he didn’t take no for an answer and just drove alongside me, telling me I was beautiful and very nice…this was funny at first but after 10 minutes I wanted him to go but couldn’t think of any more polite ways of saying it. The only thing that popped into my head that I knew would get my message across was from an assembly from middle school – the headmaster said if someone’se doing something you don’t like, you just need to shout the following: “STOP IT, I DON’T LIKE IT!” With that eloquent dismissal, the tuktuk driver finally drove off :D

But the above was only a very small annoyance during our trip, we loved Sri Lanka with the amazing people, mix of cultures and religions (on one street you will see little Buddhist, Christian and Hindu shrines), stunning scenery, ‘cool spots’ (shops selling cold drinks), hotels (confusingly, little takeaways that sell ‘short eats’ or quick bites!), the infamous ‘head wobble’ (usually meaning yes or ok), beautiful local dress, hot weather…which reminds me. What I also love about Sri Lankans is that THEY DO NOT LIE ABOUT THE WEATHER. They say the same as us – sometimes it’s just too hot! SE Asians will deny it’s hot until the cows come home, even if it’s 40 degrees. They go around in jeans, jumpers, scarves and hats and look at you like you’re crazy for diving into an airconditioned ATM when you’re scarlet and a sweaty mess (which is all the time) just to cool down a bit. In Sri Lanka, a lot of the men wear loose sarongs and maybe a short-sleeved shirt, and the women wear flowing skirts or saris and all carry a little handkerchief for dabbing when they sweat. It makes us feel a lot more normal!

I’m not sure what we were expecting when we got here but we’ve had a fantastic three weeks and some great experiences, met some new friends and have lots of nice memories to take away. I know we missed out on seeing a lot more of Sri Lanka than we did, but it was nice to stay a bit longer with Ajit and his family in a big, airy room near the beach, potter around on the bike and get to know him and his family better.

I am afraid, Adam and his peak will have to wait…there will be a next time!

 

Carnival time in Ambalangoda

1 Apr

We woke up the next day to find that Rosie had finally had her puppies

She had eight but one died during the night. When she had her little last, year a monitor lizard ran off with one of them so Kumari made a bed for her near the house. The other seven appear to be doing fine though – Kumari is going to have her hands full when they’re all up and running around…

After a day’s flopping on the beach, we went to meet Pathum to go the carnival in Ambalangoda.

It was a bit like the funfairs at home – candy floss, very, very unsafe-looking rides, games and stalls but with bands and dance performances on two different stages. We were the only tourists there so also a bit of a novelty for the local people; they kept asking how we knew about it :)

I finally managed to get some new flip-flops that are non-mandals too and they’re even pink! So goodbye Craig’s old ones that are too big and hello shiny new girly pink ones.

The best thing we saw was the Sri Lankan version of the wall of death

It was a tough call at the beginning to work out whose safety I was most worried about – the riders inside or our own as we were standing several metres up along with a hundred other people on three bits of bamboo tied to scaffolding poles with string.

Once it started however, I could see that the riders themselves were crazy. There were two riding – one on a little go-kart thing that had to be repaired just before the show and push-started, and the other on a bike. The first guy swapped halfway through the show to another bike so he was going round at the same time as the second rider. The “wall of death” was just that – bits of driftwood nailed together…some had holes in it and there were large gaps between the wood. There was a little trapdoor on the side where they brought the bikes in, and then nailed it shut behind them. Absolute madness

I did take a video but Youtube has just told me that it will take 575 minutes to upload so that treat is denied to you I’m afraid. Once both riders were going round together, they got even more crazy – one took his teeshirt off whilst riding round, the other had his arms outstretched for a couple of minutes, not holding on. They then both joined hands so were going round at the same time at breakneck speed, and then let go and put their feet on the handlebars. Just the most dangerous and insane thing I’ve ever seen but for 30 rupees you can’t argue with that! I was very glad to get off the matchstick frame we were standing on safely though.

The next day Craig went fishing again – he didn’t catch anything but was given four fish by the fisherman he went with as a gift

The triggerfish on the right was still alive when Craig brought it home and was flopping about all over the place :I Kumari said that we should have a barbeque so we gave them to her for cooking and went to Hikkaduwa to have a skype chat with Dad and some beach time. After lunch, we went back to Kosgoda to release the baby turtles they have been looking after into the sea at sunset

Apparently flinging them into the sea screeching “You’re freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” is frowned upon so you draw a line in the sand a little way from the sea and they scurry across the beach towards the waves. They were very cute

And this being Sri Lanka, the man from the turtle farm immediately invited us to come back at 10pm to see the turtles coming on to the beach to lay their eggs and have a meal at his house. We declined as we had to get back to Akurala for the barbeque, but it never ceases to amaze me how friendly people are here. I can’t imagine meeting a random tourist in England and inviting them back for a meal – maybe we should try it!

The barbeque was lovely – the fish were wrapped up in foil parcels with limes, chilli and herbs and left to steam. We had them with fried rice and salad. The less lovely thing was that I got the triggerfish, and its mad flopping in the morning replayed in my head. It also had teeth like Camilla so altogether not particularly appetising!

It was very nice to have a “family” meal again though as our last proper ones were at Christmas with our own families. We usually eat by ourselves or with one other person so a big group was a nice change

Tomorrow we leave for Colombo but not before stopping off at Pathum’s for a proper Sri Lankan breakfast and a quick goodbye. We plan to buy Pathum and Ajit’s families a plant each so next time we see them we can see its progress :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

One of the best things, and also one of the absolute worst things, to happen to me whilst travelling. And all in one post!

30 Mar

Next morning we found that Rosie still had selfishly not given birth

She surely must be about to any minute though :) We had the breakfast of champions (toast and Marmite) and headed off for a quick swim. We got on the bike to go and see the nearby Buddhist temple, but Craig hadn’t got long trousers on so according to the sign we weren’t allowed in. The road to it was very pretty and decorated with Buddhist flags

We thought we’d go for a bit of a wander on the bike and drove round “inside”  as the locals would say – anything that is off the Galle Road is referred to as Inside (as opposed to Beachside). If you want to say go round the back, it’s Backside, which never fails to amuse me.

We also saw this man carrying a bedframe in the best way possible – I told you they don’t take anything on buses here!

We went to see England play Sri Lanka at a pub in Hikkaduwa; glad to see they’re up to their usual glittering form. Thanks for making everyone laugh at us when we say we’re from England. Cheers. We enjoy that.

After a quick bite to eat on the beach, we went back for a nap before going back to see Pathum, his dad Silva, his mum Nonny and his sister Delinda for dinner. We brought a bottle of arrack with us, knowing it was Silva’s favourite, which he poured out in thankfully thimble-sized glasses, mixed with ginger beer. We sat outside and watched the sunset, chatting and eating fried tuna with squeezes of lime juice and poppadoms. Lovely. In true Sri Lankan style, after every sentence Silva instructed us to eat. So it would be ‘I’m just going to the kitchen. EAT!’ ‘I used to work as a fisherman and before that I was a tailor. EAT!’ ‘If you come back to Sri Lanka, you must stay with us. EAT!’ I think we were force-fed an entire tuna but it was yummy.

After a couple of hours we were pretty tired and said we should think about leaving…to which Silva replied, ‘But we have dinner now!’ Yep, more food. Delicious coconut rotties, dhal and tuna fish curry (guess we hadn’t eaten the whole fish then). We could only manage about half before we were in danger of exploding! He also gave us a pineapple in case we were in need of snack on the way home. So generous (he didn’t want any money for the drinks or food and also gave me a new needle and thread after I lost mine to fix one of my skirts) and a great evening but we are becoming more beachball-like every second! I think we’ll have to eat at least seven Thai meals a day to feel full after this :) We arranged to meet Pathum the next day to go to the carnival in Ambalangoda which should be fun.

Craig got woken up by me, having not slept at all so I was already awake, at 5.15am the next day as he had arranged to go fishing with one of Ajit’s friends. He got up and had a shower, looked at the weather which was thundering and lightening out at sea, and said it was too dark and he didn’t want to go. Then he looked at his ipod and worked out that yet again, I had forgotten about the time difference as we are still on Bangkok time. That meant it was actually 3.45am. Ooops. I was already in his bad books because the day before, when I asked him whether he had the keys, he made some kind of mountain lion noise which I took to mean yes, so I locked the guesthouse door behind me. It turned out that ‘Grrworrrrlllll’ did not in fact mean yes, it meant no. And Kumari did not have a spare key to the room. So Craig, wrestling with a hangover from the tree party the night before, had to clamber onto the hot roof tiles of the extension, try and unscrew the bars on the window with a bent screwdriver, remove them and then climb in. I inexplicably found this hilarious, which I am sure didn’t help at all.

However, Karma is a force to be reckoned with and once Craig had gone back to bed last night, understandably grumbly, I nipped to the loo only to find that the only toilet paper left was a little bunch on the side that we’d obviously nicked from some restaurant or other. Once in the bowl, from the middle of the bunch, a live cockroach ran out of it, furious and plotting my tortuous demise. Oh, the horror. I flushed the loo, but no, he still glared defiantly up at me, his nasty little legs thrashing around and getting angrier and angrier. I tried filling up a bucket of water and poured that on him whilst flushing – his expression said ‘Keep going, this is only making things worse for yourself. I’ll start by BITING YOUR EYES.’

Finally I got the empty roll and fished him out into the bucket, sprinted across the room whilst simultaneously trying to protect my eyes, not be sick or wake Craig up, chucked the enormous bug and the cardboard roll over the balcony, and sat in a blisteringly hot shower for 20 minutes. Practically crushing one of Earth’s most disgusting creatures into intimate areas by using cockroach paper is not how I’d usually choose to start the day. Excuse me whilst I bathe in bleach.

Anyway, Craig enjoyed fishing and although he only caught crabs (:I) and two coral fish, he had a really good morning on the catamaran. We had breakfast and went off on the bike to Kosgoda to see if we could arrange to release the baby turtles they look after there back into the sea (which they do every day) the next day. We eventually found the place and they said yes so we’re really looking forward to that.

On our way back, we bought some rope to try and make a swing for Ajit’s daughter, Atma. She’s only three and has two older brothers who are into cricket and boy things and we thought it would be nice for her to have something to play with. Twenty metres of rope cost about a fiver and we found some wood in Ajit’s garden, so Craig and I set about trying to make one for her in the boiling heat. Craig came up with a clever system which meant that the ropes could be lassoed onto the very tall coconut tree (chosen for the angle it was growing at and also because it is right outside the kitchen window so Kumari can check on Atma as the girl has no fear). Atma came to help, beside herself with joy at the thought she was getting a swing

 

And finally it was done. She was a little shy at first but we showed her how it was done, and she went and got Kumari for a trial run. Kumari was also delighted as she explained that by absolute fluke, we had managed to help them celebrate the Sri Lankan New Year (13 April, Craig’s birthday) in style – swings take an important place in the New Year festivities. A large swing is tied onto a strong tree so that all the women and children can join in the fun. They recite special verses which are known as Varang Kavi – swing songs – and our choice of red rope was perfect as that is a sacred colour for Buddhists.

As soon as Atma joined her mother on the swing, she started singing a swing song to Kumari.

Her mum got off to rush and invite the neighbours for a short impromptu pre-New Year celebration. The nearby houses’ women and children all came round and sang the swing song together whilst Atma and Kumari swung, followed by the other women and their children. A really lovely moment and one that made us feel like even more part of the family. Atma loved her new swing and insisted that I got on the swing with her too, and she started singing to me, throwing her head back and laughing all the time. Things like this makes me really sad we’re leaving for Bangkok in a couple of days!

I left my heart in Akurala

29 Mar

The train station at Kandy (and throughout Sri Lanka actually) is like it’s out of the Railway Children – there is a Chief Station Master’s office, the timetable is carefully hand-stencilled in white letters on a blackboard, the smartly uniformed staff have silver pocket watches and there are first, second and third class seats, plus an Observation Saloon.

All of the trains are diesel and still make that lovely cluh-clunk noise as they slide along the tracks. It’s quite odd to feel nostalgic for an England you’ve never actually known yourself! Our train left on time (so maybe the English influence isn’t so clear after all!) and cost us £1.10 (second class) to go from Kandy to Katarula South, which is a five hour trip. Unlike the buses, our carriage had enough space to put our bags in the overhead lockers and each set of four seats had a window that could be fully slid up so you could have uninterrupted panoramic views of the Hill Country and the West Coast. They don’t seem to be as health and safety conscious here – this would never be allowed in the UK for fear of someone leaning out too far and chopping their head off. Here there seems to be more of a ‘use your common sense’ attitude.

Window: ‘If you lean out of me too far, do you think it’s likely your head will get chopped off?’

Me: *small voice* ‘Yes’.

‘Then are you going to do it?’

Me: *small voice, looking down* ‘No’.

‘Excellent decision Sarah. Now get on with your journey and enjoy the view.’

It was also very nice to hear the usual “I’m sorry to announce that the [pause] 3.15 to [pause] the place you really need to get to on time is delayed” on repeat. You’re not sorry, you’re a computer and you’ve programmed to say that by someone who clearly does not give a tiny rat’s ass about whether my train is late.

Anyway…we watched the sunrise

and curled up through the mountains

We arrived at Katarula South to change buses as the train only goes so far at the moment due to works on the track. Got the bus with no problem, and even met one of Ajit’s friends at the station (he knows everyone in Sri Lanka it seems). He offered us a tuktuk for £15 but we said again, firmly, that we would get the bus. [Insert bloody battle scenes here]. Victorious, we got the two hour bus for £0.32 each and went and surprised Ajit and his family.

It was lovely to see everyone again although to our disappointment, Ajit’s dog had not still not had puppies. She was enormous when we last left but now she looks like she’ll explode any second. Can’t wait until they’re here. We gave Atma, Ajit’s three year old daughter, some bracelets to play with and asked his wife, Kumari, to cook us lunch, having dreamed about her food since we left. She said it would be a while but we knew it was going to be worth waiting for so despite being literally starving, we said ok. Mountains of rice, jack fruit curry, poppodums, dhal, devilled chicken and spicy vegetables arrived within an hour. Just amazing and worth coming back for alone!

We went to cool off in the sea and paddled around for a couple of hours, before coming back for chicken noodles (you don’t really order here, Kumari just cooks up what she has and it is uniformly lovely so we leave it in her hands). We met a girl from the Ukraine who was staying here, and introduced her to arrack as she was leaving the next day and hadn’t had any. We had a free beer on the house to say thanks for coming back, as well as a 150 rupee-a-night discount, yay. Ajit had just come back from a tour of Kandy with some Russians, who had tipped him $140, an unbelievable sum, so he was in full celebratory mode and was really drunk early on. He kept dropping his cigarettes, insisting that the Ukrainian girl should cancel her flights and stay in Sri Lanka, telling us inappropriate details about his marital life (Just. Stop. Talking!) and giggling away to himself. He then decided that we needed to go and see whether there were turtles on the beach. Why not? His wife was not happy as it was quite late and there wouldn’t be turtles as it wasn’t a full moon, but he insisted.

As it happened, there was a party on the beach (well, in the middle of some palm trees and bushes), which a more cynical girl would say Ajit knew about, but not me. It was great though because they’d got green apple arrack, Sprite and Bombay mix and wanted us to join in

Craig went off on some enormously complicated mission to get the boys some more arrack, but by the time he got back everyone was very drunk and getting maybe a little too friendly so Ajit, the Ukrainian girl and I went back to the guesthouse, leaving Craig to play his harmonica for them and sing Sri Lankan songs. They asked me to sing an English song but I could only think of Jingle Bells, which is used by the bakery tuktuks as their advertising song so I think they thought that was quite strange.

After a long sleep the next morning, we had dhal and rotties for lunch (and chicken curry, despite not ordering it, as I don’t think she thought we could possibly have enough food) and then went off to Hikkaduwa to get a book for me and to skype Craig’s mum and nan. We decided to surprise some people we met last time, Pathum and his dad, on the way back, but our plan was foiled by Pathum spotting us in Hikkaduwa. But they were still pleased to see us and immediately invited us round for dinner the next day so we could catch up.

Kumari cooked us rice and curry for dinner yesterday but despite us saying just a small amount, there was tons of rice, sweet potato curry, chicken curry, loads of veggies, poppodums  – the full works. We couldn’t do it justice and felt really bad, but she assured us it wouldn’t go to waste. I gave some of the chicken to the cat who has taken up residence on the top floor of the guesthouse over the last week – he was really scared of me but I gave him chicken two nights on the trot and now we’re like, best friends

Just as we were thinking about rolling our tummies to bed, Ajit said that there was a devil dance being performed in his village and would we like to go? We had heard that these dances were hard to find and really interesting to watch so we agreed. Unfortunately they start quite late so by the time we got there, it was already 11.45pm. The reason a dance was going on was because a village man was suffering from a skin disease on his head and other ailments, which was thought to be the result of his mother, who died in the tsunami, coming back to haunt him and cause the illnesses. The devil dance is a way of chasing the demons out of the house, returning the person affected back to health. The whole village usually attends.

The house was covered in candles, floral offerings and ornate handmade decorations and shrines made out of entirely natural materials

Outside, the house and garden was surrounded by white string, with an opening near the gate, to let the demons out. Once the ritual had been completed, the string would be retied, closing the gap. A rooster had been sacrificed and laid out on the ground outside, and there were offerings of food and drink for the spirits inside. A pot of charcoal burned on the ground inside in front of where the dancers were, so they could throw powered incense on it to make the room perfumed. A drummer dressed in a white and red sarong kept the beat, and the main leader, danced in front of the shrine first, chanting along with the other two dancers

Once he had finished, a man in a red sarong, who was meant to represent the man’s mother, began to dance in a trance-like state. As the drumming intensified, so did his dancing, until he was shouting and jumping around the room. He told the man (who was behind a white linen screen the whole time) about things that had happened to his mother and finally threw himself on the floor. He was very emotional and looked completely spent.

The drumming then started again and the main dance leader began to pray and chant. By this time it was 12.30am, so Ajit took us back, but he said that the ritual goes on until at least 5am. It was amazing to see and a real insight into local culture.

However, when I got back, despite being totally knackered, this happened.

I put in my earplugs and looked forward to drifting off to sleep.

Me: Ahhhh sleep.

Brain: JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE ALL THE WAY!

Me: Shut up brai…

Brain: JINGLE BELLS, JING…

Me: You go shush now!

Brain: Jingggggggggggle bells, jingle bells!

Me: Oh come on now, it’s 1am!

Brain: JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS, JINGLE BELLS.

Me: I hate you goddamn brain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And we kicked off our shoes, and walked barefoot into the garden.

28 Mar

We got up early the next day to catch the bus which was a fairly uneventful two buses but amazing value at less than £2 each to go a hundred kilometres or so. By the end of it though, we were quite sick of diesel fumes and just wanted to get some food and chill out. This time our dirty caff strategy didn’t pay off…the place was full of gas fumes from the cooker and the food was the worst we’ve eaten the entire time we have been here. But it was at least cheap (eventually, after we pointed out that 140 + 150 + 250 did not equal 2,150 :I). Our guidebook is hopelessly out of date price-wise so after trudging round a couple of guesthouses that wanted £20 a night, we hailed the font of all knowledge, a tuktuk driver, and asked him to take us somewhere cheap. We ended up somewhere that charged £6 so not too bad (and a nice view of the neighbouring monkeys)

– until the lady came home and said that actually, there had been a mistake and it was £9. We could move into one of the rooms round the back instead for £6 tomorrow. Ho hum. We didn’t really want to because the hotel was being used for hourly visits by local unmarried couples and we were basically getting a ‘sexy time’ room but we thought for one night it wouldn’t be too bad. However, it was the most depressing ‘sexy’ room ever – the one window was broken so had cardboard instead of glass, there was mould on the walls and general unnamed grub everywhere. Not somewhere you’d want to have a romantic weekend away! Luckily we’d bought our own sheets! Onwards and upwards tomorrow!

We did use our time at the grubby hotel wisely though – as it was so dirty we had another bash at dyeing Craig’s hair, figuring that if the dye got everywhere you wouldn’t be able to tell.

There’s been a murrrr-derrrrr

End result: all kinds of awesome

Wow! It’s so funny because now Craig’s got red hair, everyone asks us whether we’re from Japan :D Before that it was Germany, I think because we’re too brown to be English now.

The next day was spent at the Botanical Gardens just outside of Kandy. We had our usual battle with the tuktuk drivers that laid in wait at the bottom of the guesthouse’s drive…patiently explaining yet again that we would get the bus.

“But tuktuk is better.”

“But the bus is cheaper.”

“I do you good price – 700 rupees.”

“But the bus is 15.”

“But tuktuk is better.” Repeat ad infinitum.

Needless to say, we got the bus without any problems and it dropped us at the door. The entrance price was £6.50 which was very good value, but slightly less when we saw what the locals paid – £0.25! But the park is 60 hectares of utter gorgeousness and once you see the time and effort that has been put into the place (over several hundred years), it is absolutely worth it and I would say an unmissable experience if in Sri Lanka. It was stunning, so peaceful and crammed full of plants, trees and flowers that we’d never seen before. We took our shoes off and padded through the entire park for six hours.

There were nice foresty-bits with trees that look like they should be in a fairy tale

This Giant Jave Tree’s canopy covers an area of 2,500 square metres.

This was covered in yellow flowering vines but because it was so massive I had to stand about 3 miles away so you can’t really see them.

There were manicured floral gardens with all sorts of exotic flowers

 

…an orchid house with every type of orchid under the sun

And just general gorgeousness

A lovely bunch of coconuts – they take 5 years to grow and weigh up to 20kg each.

A healthy population of enormous fruit bats…

…and even the rare, Lesser Spotted Cotton-Headed Ninnymuggins

It made me miss my garden so much – during the April bank holiday last year we turned the patch of scrubby lawn into a proper garden together and I miss pottering around weeding and watching things grow. It was really rewarding to see all our hard work pay off

Whilst we were having a drink in the evening we got talking about Ajit’s place and how much fun it was having a bike and being near the beach. You can rent a bike in Kandy but it’ll cost you 2,500 rupees, whereas we got ours from Ajit for 500. Suddenly we knew what we had to do: go back across the country and stay at Ajit’s for our last week, hire a bike, zip off to the beach and chill out a bit more. Sorry Temple of the Sacred Tooth Replic, I am sure you’re lovely, but you’re no match for Akurala. So we walked to the train station and found that the first train to the West Coast went at 5.10am. We booked a tuktuk driver to come and meet us at 4.30am but in my confusion about times, I set the alarm for 2.30am (1am Sri Lankan time) and 4am (2.30 Sri Lankan time) thinking I’d covered all bases in case Craig had changed his ipod time yet, but it actually needed to be set for 5.30 so we could get up at 4. Luckily I realised my mistake the first time the alarm went off!

The tuktuk driver pulled up in a cloud of incense, beads and tassles. “Good morning!”

“Good morning! Home please!”

I…want Kandy

27 Mar

We trotted round the Fort in the morning

and saw a bit more of the local wildlife

We also explored the Dutch Reformed Church which was a very beautiful and peaceful church built in the late 19th Century

and the madness that is the Historical Mansion – a gloriously cluttered showcase of one man’s private antiques collection. He collects everything and anything: jewellery, pipes, china, spectacles, antique lace, coins, knives…you name it, there are at least 20 of them in there.

It was a bit sad as the collection was dusty and mouldering away, unloved, but the number of interesting items there was amazing. I asked why the man collected all this stuff, and the guide shrugged and said it was because he was crazy. Of course! He makes his money selling gems and then buys shiny things and puts them in his museum. I think he needs about eight more of them to fit everything in properly!

Craig went off to get his hair done, but unfortunately still not the bright red result he wanted. The lady kept asking “why??” when Craig said he just wanted a little bit at the front to be red. “Like a bird!” she kept giggling. But the finished product is actually quite good – just a little bit redder so we don’t stand out any more than we already do!

Difficult to see in this picture but it’s the nice reddy-brown henna usually turns people’s hair.

We had another delicious lunch (this time, banana flower and also jack fruit curries, yum) on a rooftop terrace. The bottom floor of the restaurant was a shop, where I was severally tempted by this apron

In the evening, Craig went off to the hole in the wall alcohol dispensers for some arrack and ginger beer

I like how this makes him look like a giant :)

We sat on the roof by our room with candles and the arrack for a bit, wondering why everyone went to bed at 8. Perhaps they are also on Bangkok time after all…

The next morning we caught the bus to Mirissa. Although I don’t love their speed, you can’t argue with the bus prices. We have never paid more than £2 each, despite travelling significant distances. I think the bus from Galle to Mirissa was 28p each. The only thing that is weird after getting used to people travelling with live animals, big bags of vegetables, new bicycles for their children and the kitchen sink, is that the buses here do not have any storage. And I mean none. On some there is an overhead rack which is not big enough to hold a small bag, never mind a big backpack, on others there isn’t even that. We are confused as to how they move their stuff. Tuktuk?! Or maybe they just don’t travel long distances? Or hire a van? Either way, you can feel people huff and puff when they have to manoeuvre round our bags, but we don’t really have a choice! Craig raised a few eyebrows when he got on the bus with two massive bags plus a carrier bag full of calamari to use when fishing. He kindly hung it on the hook right over my head.

We found a nice guesthouse near the beach for 1,200 rupees per night with the added bonus of a balcony and wifi. We later found out that the wifi is free because they turn it off when they think no one’s using it! Very annoying when you’re trying to chat to someone or upload something and all of a sudden off it goes! The internet was so slow there though that I struggled to load pages, never mind the blog. But the location was great as it was only a few minutes’ walk to the beach and opposite a little shop.

Craig went off fishing (without success sadly) and I went to lie on the beach for a bit. We had tea – you can tell it was more touristy as the quality of the food went massively downhill – and then went to search for Gemma and Joe’s friends, Babi and Sunni. Two wrong Babi’s down, we asked at the next bar and the guy said he worked with a Babi. He called him and it was him! Five minutes later, there he was, beaming away and asking why Joe wasn’t with us. I hope this was the right one Joe!!

I think he thought Joe was coming too so we had to let him down that we were second prize unfortunately. I don’t think he minded too much though as gave him his presents, bought him a beer, told him Gemma and Joe missed him lots and heard about what he’d been up to since he’d seen them. The conversation was slightly interrupted by having to cook all the time, but he said he would be finished by 11. I went to bed but Craig took Babi back to the guesthouse later to fetch his harmonica so he could accompany Craig on his drum, and it turned out that Babi knew the owner so there was a fair amount of arrack drunk

but we ended up getting up fairly early the next morning to catch our bus to Matara where you can get the train or bus onwards…only we couldn’t because the bus was packed and they took one look at our bags and said it was too full; which was fair enough as we do take up more space. We went for breakfast – Craig went for coffee and I a tradition Sri Lankan breakfast – only to be rewarded with the usual string hoppers (rice noodles), dhal and sambal, but also a bread roll, pineapple, melon, oranges and bananas…more food than one person could eat in one day! So Craig gamely joined in and we managed about half of it between us.

As full bus after full bus passed us, we decided to treat ourselves by going by tuktuk. Despite how cheap the buses are, tuktuks are a minimum of 100 or 150 rupees, which seems odd considering you can go probably 25km on a bus for 100 rupees, whereas by tuktuk it will be 100 even it’s just round the corner. We settled on 500 rupees and off we went. As Mirissa didn’t have a cash point, we had to stop on the way to get some money. I think the driver saw his chance as by the time we got to the train station, he suddenly demanded 600, giving us the old “ah the petrol is so expensive…” speech. It’s not, we filled our motorbike up the other day for 400 rupees, went here there and everywhere and still gave it back with half a tank left. But Craig folded and gave him the extra hundred :I When we got to the train station, we found we couldn’t get to Kandy as the only train went at the civilised time of 4.05 am. Huff. We had decided to go to Kandy rather than work our way slowly up North as we could do day trips from there to everywhere we wanted to go, and hopefully saying we were going to stay for a week would enable us to get a good price.

So it was back to trying to get a bus for us, but luckily there were a couple of empty ones to Ratnapura (the direct ones to Kandy having left at stupid o’clock). It was a very long journey but unlike South East Asian buses, they don’t stop. At all. So if you need the loo, or some food, or water – tough. They don’t even stop to let people on – unless you start at the bus station, you have to take a running jump to get on or off! So we pulled into Ratnapura at about 2 o’clock and went to get some lunch. You could tell it was an area that tourists didn’t often visit as the food was very cheap. We went into the nearest dive we could find – napkins made of newspaper, grubby, dirty floor – and ordered the rice and curry and four cokes. This strategy works most of the time – if the locals are in there, the food is usually good, and if it’s fairly dirty, the food is usually cheap. The food was amazing: mountains of rice and curry arrived which we fell upon, not having eaten for what seemed like days. We finished a couple of bowls and immediately new bowls were put in front of us and another plate of rice! The bill was £2 for everything. Unbelieveable.

After eating, we found that we were stuck in Ratnapura because the last bus to Kandy had left. We found a little place for £4.95 a night with a balcony, and settled down in the evening to watch the sunset over the mountains with two newspaper parcels containing hot kottu :)