Serendip aka Cylon aka Sri Lanka

This is gonna be a short one, since I’ve had no sleep for 23 hours straight, just got into the hotel in Colombo.  Wasn’t really excited about this trip, if anything I was almost dreading it, don’t know why really but maybe because it wasn’t long since I’ve been back from Tunisia and this time next week I’ll be flying again to Johannesburg so too much of a good thing I guess….I know boohoo me (I can feel the eyes rolling).

My Colombo hotel and view

Have to say thought, I’m impressed with the hotel, nothing too fancy but more than I expected really.  The beach is literally just there.  The people seem friendly and I’m about to get some shut eye before I head on some sort of trip either to the tea track or the ancient temples…there is potential with this one! P.S. met this Canadian from Winnipeg/Burlington teaching in Kuwait and it was an interesting conversation through the whole flight. (6:30 a.m. Colombo)**

Well, where to begin – utter madness really, I’m definitely in a place I didn’t think I would be the last time I wrote.  So just to put things in context a bit,  I had three hours of sleep the last 36 hours and I’m still “okay” and somehow functioning as a human being;  with frequent moments where I wasn’t sure I would make it.  Anyway, I ended up booking this driver for the next three days for about $200 USD (my work college whose been here a few times said $180 is reasonable…so not too bad).  Don’t think I will see everything I wanted to see, especially Adam’s Peak and one of the holy cities – BUT, I did manage to see things I wasn’t expecting.

First of all it was a LONG drive, if I rented the manual wrong side of the road car, like I thought I would, I would have stayed in my hotel all three days, without a second thought; assuming I find my way back to the airport if at all (please see previous blog on the Tunisian car fiasco).  So it was well worth the money, and the driving

here is crazy, especially on the smaller roads…it’s chaos.  There are absolutely no signs, as I was warned, which is really the reason I didn’t push the car rental thing – so I would have been lost for months (upon future reflection this may not be all that bad).

So along the way, and after some prodding from the driver, I tried this orange-y, coconut like fruit with a straw in it and some raw cashew nuts…absolutely incredible – even though I got “ripped off” by Sri Lankan terms with the cashews, well worth the ripping off –  and tried this crazy pineapple (totally fresh tasting) with chilli powder….it was AWESOME! Loved it so much!

Beautiful but wet drive

We headed off to this elephant conservation area and I rode one…if I was to ever regret a vacation item that would be it. I felt painfully sorry for the 45 year old elephant (aptly named Somalia) – visibly chained and pushed along by a “guide”.  As I know in my limited wisdom and life experience, nothing is quite black and white; and so I didn’t get off until the end which is probably was the worst thing I could have done.  Didn’t help that I was in the same company as a religious Saudi couple, who devoid of all principals pushed their “guide” to make the elephant go faster.  They were moving in the opposite direction with a lame joke about “Saudi Arabia – no elephants, only camels” well who the fuck asked you?

At the elephant conservation area

After that unpleasant period, I went off to an Herbal Medicine plantation of some sort, got a “semi-message” –  which should be a welcome activity after the tension I had on the elephant, but I still wasn’t comfortable with the whole message idea of random strangers touching me. The driver though was all over it, had the time of his life! Got some herbal medicines, not sure if they work. All in all though it was quite an experience, and the tea was great.  Will see if all that herbal stash works, got something for Diabetes for my brother and Mom, arthritis soother for my Aunt, plus an acne thing for yours truly…you know for the odd spot I get at the mos ridicules times.  The herbal medicine “doctor” tried out this potion in my hair (apparently for …ehm… hair loss and dandruff), he suggested a hair removal (thanks for letting me know I’m Chewbacca), and this red potion on my legs.  that last one was really kneaded into me;  it was burning at first and then was quite a cooling sensation…it was a good feeling actually.

Made our way into Kandy…finally, after going through crazy rain storms and much needed fits of sunshine; thought I was gonna be hit by a car a few time…the usual.  So got another hotel (worth noting that I wasted some cash, after I signed off from the first one loosing two nights in the process, but worth it – and there was no way after all that we could have gone back to Colombo).

Exotic Kandy

Went to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and learned a lot about Buddhism (much of it still goes over my head and beyond my realm of intelligence).  It was interesting to understand how everything symbolises something…it also helped that I went at a time when apparently all the processions were open and offerings were being given…so pat on my shoulder for good timing.

Temple of the Tooth

Just before that got a mass amount of artifacts for the family (with what I thought was smart negotiation and bargaining on my part, most likely that’s ill placed confidence there) and then got some cool silk shirts (very Asian) and a scarf – again with “superstar” negotiation from yours truly…let me live in my own world where that’s true .

Now after this crazy day about to take a shower, EAT (I’ve been real hungry all day), have a drink with the driver (forgot his name…what else is new for me) and then unwind, do the photos and pack things up for an early start tomorrow.  Hopefully I can find a bank that takes my card and off to the ancient ruins tomorrow. P.S. after the shower I could really feel my legs burning from the potion….not quiet really that concerned yet though…I hope I’m not dying. (7:36 p.m. – Kandy)**

Well, the day started well enough, with me having a good night sleep- which I haven’t for a while now, and no buzz from the two full glasses of Arag yesterday at the hotel buffet dinner.

There were torrential rains, but that didn’t stop us – and off we went.  We started off with buying stuff from the local Kandy bakery – got two almond cakes that I really wanted that by day’s end I still haven’t tasted.  Then the first bad news came, that “oh well we changed schedules and now going to the ruins city of Polonnaruwa or whatever”  so will be charged more.  Can’t help but think I’m being ripped off left right and centre, but then I realize that no choice is at hand especially no choice involving me drive around this place…no way.   In hindsight I also think the torrential rains and road closures had something to do with changing routes – at least that logic makes me feel better.

Heading off to the tea country was a must, and although the factory itself wasn’t what I expected (not very impressed) the way there was something to behold.  The views were unbelievable (really felt like we were driving on clouds) and the waterfalls…wow.  So definitely worth it – got to see some crazy villages perched right at the edges, its no wonder people die here from landslides.  The beautiful scenery was nicely complimented with jolts of panic as I kept thinking we were gonna run over people and dogs on the way there.

Tea country in Sri Lanka

After that we set off to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa and what was insane was that on the way there we saw a wild elephant near one of the grocery stalls. Even my guide who loves elephants hasn’t seen anything like it before in his life, a pure wild elephant coming out of the jungle just moseying along like he owns the place.  So of course I took pictures and the driver insisted that I send him the picture of him and the elephant…apparently he didn’t believe me so he said he would buy a CD for me to burn it on…that was really special.

Wild elephant sighting

We also saw some wild monkeys willing to pose…hilarious.  Upon reaching there we met this guide, Maxi, and he had a very formal English accent  A short guy with an umbrella that doubled as a cane for him….very English!  Frankly wasn’t all that impressed with the site…although it was massive and there was a lot to see.  Future note to self though, wear slippers and no socks next time, I got my shoes and sock soaked when I took the shoes off to go into these ancient temples.  There were a lot of local pilgrims there which was cool, and for the first time since the airport saw some fellow tourists.

Polonnaruwa (spot Maxi)
Those crazy apes

On the way back we ended up at a wood factory…really interesting.  I did got conned into buying something, and had this nagging feeling that I was quickly running out of cash (not ATMs buddy)… hate that, distracts from the whole experience, but always thinking ahead (or worrying ahead that is).

At the wood factory

We were going to go to Sigiriya to stay the night but instead ended up at this hotel (where I’m typing from) real nice and great view of the water reservoir and hills.  After a shower I plan to take a few more shots.  I almost forgot that I had this awesome lunch in an authentic restaurant on the way to the ancient capital and man was I spiced up, beered up, ad full after that….great day, spent lots (SHIT!) but lots of memories (memories don’t come cheap mofo).

Great views and papaya

The fact that the guide saw things today with me that he hasn’t seen before in his life proves again that it’s been a special trip overall. As long as it’s not “too special” (circa thinking I was gonna die on a hiking trip in the Troodos mountains in Cyprus, literally one of those fateful days, really thought I was gonna die).

So good news finally came in the form of avoiding Adam’s peak, which we passed on yesterday.  It was completely flooded today and we would have lost two days there….so good on us for that. Unfortunately we ended up in Dambulla, it too was so flooded, the police was there, hospitals were closed and it made the news…apparently usually this is a dry place and they’ve never seen anything like those for a decade – nice to know that’s not a horse shoe up my ass.  P.S. also tried chilied mangoes…real nice and the papaya  was the first time I taste a non-plastic papaya in my life…real good (5:23 p.m., near Sigiriya)**.

Well here I am back to square one on the last day….shitty thing is I paid for an extra night at a hotel I already paid two nights for and didn’t use.  Due to my usual rash mannerisms and lack of thinking, I checked out on the first day, had I told them to just hold the room until I come back I would have avoided paying for this extra night. So they asked for 4,000 Rupees and I only paid 3,000 (it was not due to negotiations but the counter guy made a mistake and let it go – clearly another rip off moment).

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What a morning view people!

So now that that is out of the way back to the beginning of this day.  The Gilarmi hotel or whatever was our stop last night was nice, other than the power going out due to all night rain.   I did find a lovely cockroach and his partner a mosquito in my stuff from our trips to Polonnaruwa…other than that it was a lovely stay.

We headed off to Sigiriya and the rain was crazy…even the guide said this is one of the worst monsoon season he’s seen…..great.  Anyway Sigiriya was awesome and although I didn’t make use of the breakfast at the hotel, another wasted opportunity due to my spastic way of doing things, we ended up at this farmer’s house and had milk rice with potatoes and chilies with onions…amazing! Had it in the traditional hand eating method, it was damn hot, and all was impressed I could handle the heat of the food and the chili.

Glad we did that little detour, the mother in law was shy for the picture but in the end she gave in…very nice old lady.  Really gave me perspective on the simple way of living and life in general,   the farmer’s biggest stress was the family of porcupines he kept as pets (yeah those things with the pin sharp scales) and how the government killed them off for safety reasons….gonna side with the government on that one!  Did feel for him through.

Farm life

On our way there we saw mass floods, roads being washed out and houses under water, like nothing I’ve seen before…really was impressed with how nonchalant people were and persevered to go on.

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More wet drives

In Sigiriya, finally, we ended up with Abhi as a guide and it was raining like hell…was relatively touristy but the fog made it look like we were in the middle of nowhere particularly at the top.  Looking at frescoes at the top, this guy let me in places where frescoes were still being excavated.  One of them showing a painting of concubines from around the world including a Mongolian, African, and Indian for the king of that fortress, really cool how everything was still original.

Awesome Sigiriya and its frescoes

This guide tried to sell me this “secret wood book” which opens up in a strange way and has little compartments to hide things, would have bought it (really kind of wanted to) had I not bought that jewellery box at the wood factory…oh well some other time, I’ll live – it was kind of cool though.  Another cool thing about Sigiriya were the ancient fountains that used water pressure from the peak to run….how the hell did they think of such things??  Made me feel slightly useless in this modern world of mine.

Ended up in Dambulla and the Golden Buddha shrine, forgot my ticket after we reached the top, went down thinking the lady forgot to give it to me, then I was really embarrassed to find it in my pocket…oh well.  The temple was overwhelming with many frescoes.  The statues were unbelievable, and apparently we aren’t allowed to take pictures, but with no one there, all the tourists (yes I’m one of them), took pictures like mad.

Golden Buddha shrine in Dambulla

It was interesting to see so many local tourists, one of the infinite number of public holidays coincided with my visit, so they got one cause it was a full moon….I seem to be living in the wrong country. Plus, they get at least two to three days holidays a month on top of weekends, how does anything get done?

Shitty moment, my camera began acting weird and started vibrating, pissed me off but moved on, was hoping this wouldn’t happen again. On the way to Colombo, we saw a cool procession due to the full moon with weird clothes and drums…sort of like a mini parade, the camera acted up again but I took fuzzy pictures anyway…was really angry with the Sony corporation at that stage.

On our long trip back we bought snacks and I had the much craved “Bombay mix” along with “Woodapple” juice, this weird nectar from this fruit that is only in Sri Lanka…was alright I guess.

We passed by jungles and amazing fluorescent green rice paddies, all this with on and off rain (more on than off).  The driver also gave me his card to send him pictures (he really wants them bad…he asked how long it would take to get them and if I can to send them ASAP…okay buddy got the hint already!)

In the morning he showed me this orchid flower that if boiled and eaten (although sweet) would kill you and is used for suicide…but the flower apparently rotates 360 degrees weird, we also had a small glimpse of the national bird of Sri Lanka found in the Sri Lankan airlines logo (forgot the name though-would be great if someone can comment back with the name).

So there were wasted money and setbacks, but when I look back at it, it was quite the fascinating trip (my first to real Asia) and the people are sickeningly friendly and genuine.  For a trip I wasn’t excited in doing initially, I was really glad I did, lots of unforgettable memories…loved it and will remember it for years to come. (Colombo – back at the same hotel paying again for something I already paid for…yeah not gonna let that one go just yet!)***

Have you been to the eastern or northern parts of Sri Lanka?  Heard it’s gotten really expensive lately to travel there is that true?  Comment below and inform the inquiring mind that is me.

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