Snorkelling at Pulau Aur.

Tuesday 08 April 2013 – Pulau Aur.

I managed to get a couple of hours sleep in the cabin before it got too hot, so I went to find a spot on the deck and discovered everyone in the cabin again as it had poured with rain sometime early in the morning. I pulled up a piece of floor and surprised myself by getting another hour or so on the hard wooden floor. Most people just sleep on a blanket on the floor so I will try that tonight.

I think I will enjoy life travelling on the boat, as everyone has a turn on watch people came and went all morning, once your daily chore was completed there was no routine to anything, though you needed to be quick for breakfast or lunch.

There was little wind in the morning so we continued to motor north east, we were free of the main shipping lanes by mid-morning and had the sea fairly much to ourselves for the rest of the day. It was still quite overcast, which was not such a bad thing though it did of course keep the humidity levels right up there.

After lunch it was my turn on watch again, there was not a heck of a lot to see as we headed towards Pulau Aur (Aur Island) our stop for at least tonight. We dropped anchor at 2:30. Almost as soon as the anchor had found purchase on the sea bed people were jumping overboard into the warm South China Sea, relieved to wash some of the accrued sweat away and relieve some of the stickiness. A few people jumped off the crows nest, I only managed to go from a third of the way up but will work up to it over the next few days, maybe…

We had lunch after the swim and then after a wee break a large group of us donned masks and flippers and swam over the island for a look, it was a long swim.

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We had a small explore on island, climbing up one of the many rock falls to above the tops of the trees.

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The reef goes right up to the sandy beach so we could not get the dingy in there until full tide, but there was plenty of drift wood on the beach so we will come back later for a beach fire. It is a great spot and right now we are totally alone. Though you can see that there have been fishermen here quite regularly and there is the usual collection of rubbish all over the beach and into the tree line.

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It was a slow swim back to the boat, stopping to dive down on the reef and I took a few pictures with my snorkelling camera. There was a reasonable amount of small fish to see and the reef was lovely with some stunning coral. I very much enjoyed being back in the sea again – and being able to see clearly.

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After the chores were all completed in the afternoon we prepared some food to take to the beach for an open fire BBQ. It was very nice sitting on the sand, listening to the sea wash on the shore and eat some freshly speared and cooked grouper. A nice end to the first full day at sea.

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Out to sea.

Monday 07 April 2013 – On the sea.

After a brief attempt at sleep in the cabin I moved back into the library room and slept on the wooden floor and surprised myself by getting a couple of hours sleep before getting up around 7:30.

Much later in the day I discovered there was a duty roster stuck to a wall by the door, I was expecting there to be one, but no-one had pointed it out to me, so I had missed a couple of chores. One of the daily jobs is to be up early to make bread, so I had fresh homemade bread with vegemite for breakfast.

I was going to go into town with one of the dive instructors, Zach, to pick up some new tanks and a couple of other bits and pieces. I also wanted to get myself a mask, a dive log book and if possible a rash top for snorkelling.

We caught the train into China town mid morning and got the shop just before 12:00. The tanks were not going to be delivered until 1:00 so Elvin, the shop owner took Zach and I to the local food hall for some lunch and I had more noodles, this time with tofu chicken, it was pretty good.

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I managed to get all the stuff I wanted from the dive shop and Elven took us and the tanks back to Infinity which was cool. We got back at 2:30 and I was keen to get a swim in the pool as it was quite warm and very humid under a low and thick sky. I was advised we would be leaving in twenty minutes so took a quick walk up to the convenience store to grab some supplies for the next leg of the journey as I was not sure how long till we arrived at Tioman Island, the next location with shops.

There had been a lot of thunder and lightning all afternoon and just as we were about to up anchor the skies finally opened and the rain came down in buckets. Which meant we were not go depart for a while, at least until it had slowed to a mere storm. I put my boardies on, took my shirt off and went and stood outside in the heavy rain – it was lovely and cool out there in the rain so I grabbed my little waterproof camera and hung out on deck for a while.

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We finally departed Singapore at 5:00, it was an interesting exercise getting a 36metre boat off of its mooring. Not something I had been involved in before. It was a frenetic few minutes of shouted commands, rope pulling and running around in the small tender boat disconnecting the ropes from the buoys holding us in place.

And finally we left the marina in Sentosa into the open sea.

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Once out of the harbour we spent half an hour rolling ropes up and tidying the deck before raising the tender for storage on deck.

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We motored out to the edge of the shipping lane ‘super highway’, two streams of east and west bound vessels, there is a vast number of ships here, mostly huge! We had to wait to be cleared by Singapore immigration and customs and then further for clearance to cross the ‘super highways’ to the lane we were going to be motoring in. The sun was setting under very cloudy skies and the lightening was still flashing over the city.

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And then finally as the light slowly disappeared we were under way – for me to a whole new adventure of living on a boat for a month, and hopefully some awesome diving.

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I had my first dinner on the boat, a spicy vegetable dish with rice. The kitchen is pretty well appointed but it gets furiously hot when the oven is on. When I was cleaning duty the other day we were working in the kitchen while coffee was being made and it was roasting in there.

There is a watch roster for all the crew and my turn started at a reasonable 10pm. I tried for a nap prior to my shift as it was not too hot in the cabin, however we seemed to have mobile data for most of the time before my shift so I was on the internet for a while rather than sleeping.

The shifts are three hours long and split into three one hour sessions. Watching, steering and supporting – in that order. It is surprisingly hard to spot things in the night, especially on the Singapore / Malaysia coast – there are so many vessels it is hard to work out what is a vessel and what is something on the shore. It was my job to keep an eye on everything that was moving and we were passed by some massive ships as we cruised east at 5.5 knots. The three shifts mean there is three people plus a master on duty at any one time, with a new person on each hour, so plenty of people to chat to while on duty.

The steering part was challenging to start with, it is a large boat so takes quite a few seconds to react to any steering changes – and by the time it does I would have over corrected and be heading a few degrees in the wrong direction. It took a while to get used to :

My final session of supporting started with filling in the log book, a task that is done every hour as the steering shift changes and then it was hanging around till 1:00 am till my shift was over, no one wanted coffee so there was not much to do.

I collapsed into bed at 1:15 and fell to sleep fairly quickly. It is so good to be out of the marina and on the way to new adventures. I had a good day.

Infinity

Saturday/Sunday 05/06 April 2013 – Singapore.

My next adventure begins today!

I have just over one month on the yacht Infinity, sailing out of Singapore to a number of dive sites around southern Malaysia.

My flight out of Colombo was at 10:50 pm and with little else to do in the evening  I left Trudy’s place quite early. Which was quite fortunate as the traffic was really bad and it took almost two hours to make the 30km journey to the airport, The first 13km alone taking up most of took one and half hours.

Colombo airport was an odd place, we walked through scanners and were patted down on entry but the bags were not scanned or checked. Check-in was a bit confusing but a breeze to complete as I was there fairly early. A latte was $7NZD so I flagged that as a really bad idea and then sulked for a while in the lounge. I had given my Sri Lanka SIM card to Colleen so she could loan it to visitors, even after a month of constant internet use and a few text and phone calls I had only barely used half of the $10NZD I put on it. Mobile is such great value in Sri Lanka.

The flight was a little late and fairly full, I am flying Tiger Airways for the first time, it is Singapore’s budget airline and apart from not getting anything on board the flight was excellent, comfy seats and as I paid for an exit row I had a ton of leg room as well. I think I even dozed for an hour – miracle upon miracles. Colleen had given me a few sleeping pills but I stupidly did not have any water so couldn’t use them. Doh… I am sure they will get used on the yacht though.

We did arrive on time in Singapore at the charming hour of 5:30 am, Singapore is two and a half hours ahead of Colombo which is really going to screw with my head timing wise as I have just got used to daylight savings changes in the UK when I arrange Skype calls with El. The best thing about Singapore airport at 5:30 am is there is no one about, I breezed through immigration, grabbed a bottle of gin from duty free, and was on my way out the door when I realised I did not have my pack! So back to the baggage carousel to collect it!  I found an ATM and got myself a much needed coffee and a bottle of water. I was most of the way out of the airport when I realised I had left my pack in the coffee shop! This has not been a good start to the day at all – and I was lucky it was still there.

I took a cab to the One15 Marina on Sentosa Island to meet my home for the next five weeks – the 36 metre yacht Infinity! It was dark and raining when I arrived and of course everyone was asleep. I climbed on board and found myself a spot to sit and wait for everyone to wake up, with the first person struggling out just before 8:00.

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Most people normally sleep the night on the deck but it rained very heavily in the night so there were a number of people on mats on the floor in the main cabin. I met so many people in a brief period of time I had very little idea of who was who by the end of it. Most seem to be in the mid-twenties though there are a couple of people closer to my age, there are eleven nationalities in the twenty people as well, everyone speaks reasonable English. Everyone seems friendly and all are here for diving and adventure, so it should all be good fun.

Infinity is in Singapore until Monday, which was longer than I anticipated so there was not a lot of running around on my behalf. I went to the nearby mall to pick up a few bits and pieces and had my first laksa in ages in the foodcourt and it was damn good too. While I was in the mall the heavens opened outside and it just poured for most of the rest of the day.

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After lunch I went to the swimming pool in the marina and had a nice swim in the rain on my own. The tables and chairs were actually in a small pool, which I have never seen before, but then I do not think I have been anywhere this fancy either…

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We all went for dinner to one of the big food halls in the middle of downtown Singapore, I had a really nice Bombay noodles, but was fading after no sleep in thirty six hours so went back to the boat with the half the group after eating.

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My first night on the boat was OK, my room was not going to be available until tomorrow so I slept in the ‘library’ on a couple of mats on the floor. It was an OK sleep. The boat is quite quiet considering the amount of people and the fact that all doors are open to allow as much air as possible to move some of the stifling humidity. It was a warn night, but not too bad due to the rain.

Sunday was a busy day with virtually the whole day spent on chores on the boat, it was scrubbed inside and out and from top to bottom and we pretty much did not finish until 5:00. After that it was back to the pool for a relax and then to the beer shop for a couple of cans. I moved into my bunk in a room I am sharing with a young Swedish guy and that was about it really.

I took a photo of Infinity, next to a massive super yacht.

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And my room a small box with two bunks, mine has the pack on it. There is some storage and each bunk has a small fan.

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In the early evening the boat captain, Clemens, went into town with a small group to go grocery shopping for the next leg of the voyage. They arrived back at Infinity at 3:45 AM – having taken over five hours in the market. There was a lot of stuff and we all had to help get it to the boat.

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I started the night in my bunk but it was so hot, even with the fan on, that I went and lay on the desk, I think I had just dropped off when the food arrived. It took an hour to sort out so I didn’t get back to bed till 5:00 and ended up sleeping on the floor in the library again. Tonight I will be more organised and find a squab to take on deck as they had been moved during the clean up and 5:00 am is not a good time to go looking for things.

It is Monday afternoon now and we are heading out to sea now so will update when I can when I next have some internet – no idea when that will be !

Farewell to Sri Lanka

Thursday/Friday 04/05 April 2013- Colombo.

Again I was in no real rush this morning, all I have to do is make it the few kilometres to the train station in Galle for the 1:15pm train to Colombo. I wasn’t planning on doing anything else with the day so did not get down to the restaurant for breakie until almost 8:30 and then I took over an hour to consume it. While I was eating the sky just opened up and poured with rain for quite a while. I was hoping it would clear the skies and the air and we would have a clear day with much reduced humidity – it was a forlorn hope. It seemed even worse!

The roof in my room leaked while I was at breakfast, fortunately not onto, or into my open pack, but near enough for me to organise everything into a pile on my bed while I lazed about for an hour or so before checking out at the last possible minute.

I took a tuk-tuk to Galle train station just after checking out at 11:00 and was surprised to find there was no 1:15 train, there was a 2:45 train. This meant over three hours in Galle station, oh well. I bought my ticket and settled down on a step to do emails to kill some time. I was, of course, an immediate target for a variety of touts and beggars and finally got sick of it and threw my pack on back and walked off to find somewhere less public to sit.

I found an unlikely home for a couple of hours – Galle KFC. I have not been into a KFC in decades- McDonalds and BK, yes – but not KFC! I ordered a coffee and a vege burger and took a seat in quiet and uninterrupted air conditioned luxury. It was a good choice!

I sent a text to Benne to say farewell and it turned out he was already on the train I was catching Having got on at an earlier stop in Matara. Small world, I found him when I got in but we did not get to sit together on the journey as the train was quite full

I hung out a door for a while before the rain started to come down Once the conductor came round checking tickets and kicked the non class 2 passengers out I managed to get a seat for the rest of the three hour ride. Sadly it was on the wrong side of the train and I did not have a window seat.

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The train track from Galle to Colombo runs pretty much directly up the coast, often times only metres away from the beach, so the views were great, though with rain and other passengers there was little opportunity to take photos.

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We arrived in Colombo Fort station just before 6:00, I said a farewell to Benne and we agreed to try and catch in England or Germany at some stage. I enjoyed travelling with him, thanks Benne !

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Before I got a tuk-tuk to Trudi’s place I picked up a couple of rotis to eat on the way, my last ones in Sri Lanka. Most of the time the take-away food comes wrapped in newspaper or whatever paper comes to hand, often it is stapled together to make bag. This was the first time I have had some school book, maths or accounting I guess. I am not sure on the hygiene of it all, but what the heck – it is what it is!

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Trudi was away back in Australia but had a friend, Colleen, staying in the apartment and minding her daughter, so I had someone to let me in when I arrived. It was great to have a good hot shower and even better to have a glass of red or two. I spent a very pleasant evening chatting to Colleen before making my 11:00pm Skype appointment with El. Maybe the last one for a while as I am not sure what internet access I will have on the boat. As always, lovely to see her again.

Friday morning was not too much of an early start and I got to eat toast and Vegemite for breakfast which was just absolute magic – sometimes it is the little things that are missed the most. I got all my washing done and dried, even my month old sleeping bag liner, which was a relief – probably to all. I was going to post a box of stuff back to NZ and asked Colleen about getting to the post office. She volunteered to take it and post it to my mum as she was off to Auckland next week, that was very cool and I off loaded a bunch of stuff I was not going to need on the boat.

We went for lunch to the Barefoot Cafe, a very popular local hang out, the food was great as were the couple of bottles of Shiraz we made disappear as well. I had a great afternoon, and then it was time to pack up and head off to the airport for the flight to Singapore.

I really liked Sri Lanka, if I ever chose to come back to a country again I would put it on the list, the Sri Lankans are very friendly and hospitable and with the exception of some tuk-tuk drivers and guest house operators are honest as trustworthy as well. The country is mostly beautiful and clean and has a great mix of things to do from the spiritual to the profane, from the active to the restful. The best thing is the food is delicious, plentiful and cheap.

A couple of dives in Sri Lanka

Wednesday 03 April – Unawatuna.

I was up at the crack of dawn this morning, by 7:00 anyway and was down in the restaurant before they started serving breakfast at 7:30! I wanted to make sure I had a reasonable feed to make up for my lack of dinner last night. I had had a very late lunch! Today was diving day and I wanted breakfast fully digested before I hit the water.

I walked round to the dive shop and arrived on time to the usual dive shop scene of vaguely organised chaos. There were a lot of divers going out today, more than I have seen anywhere else on my travels, and it I think more than the dive shop staff could really cope with. Fortunately we split into three groups and even more fortunately I ended up with a group who were primarily English speakers rather than Russian. Usually I am not so lucky! We had a very hurried dive plan brief, were split into buddy pairs and then got our gear sorted. You can see how close the buildings are to the sea…

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Our first dive was a thirty metre deep wreck dive on the Rangoon. I don’t know anything about the wreck and disappointingly we were not told anything either. I guess I could google it! The dive was OK at best, visibility was rubbish and the dive master was too quick to move round the skeletal remains of the ships infrastructure, we really did not have time to look at much as we were constantly lost. My dive buddy ran low of air early so it was a short dive – though to the dive plan time I guess.

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We started making our way back to the shop to get a second set of tanks when the outboard on the boat stopped dead in the water. It took a while to get started, though there was no need to worry as we were only a kilometre or so from shore and well within cell range. Finally the engine took and we were off again. There were five customers on board and a pretty good group to chat with which was really nice for a change, I have had way to many silent rides on dive boats.

Once we had loaded up with fresh tanks we were off again, I thought we would change boats due to the engine failure but no, same boat and same problem on the way back from this dive. I think it summed up the dive shop for me, shonky!

The second dive was a shallow reef dive. Though there was not a lot of coral or anything much else to see, a few fish and that was about it. Visibility was poor even at ten metres and there was a reasonable wash that made buoyancy awkward and looking into all the small overhangs almost impossible. I was pretty unhappy with it, possibly the worst diving I have had yet, though I was OK, buoyancy and air use were both good, a shame about the dive site.

I was not impressed with the dive shop, as always I don’t name names, it is not their fault the visibility sucked, but I thought our dive master was very average. Having said that, there was a minor incident underwater with one of the other divers and the dive master reacted with utmost professionalism to ensure that diver safety was not compromised. That was at least a good sign.

The other thing I didn’t like was that the staff all smoked in the shop, it is reasonable normal in SE Asia, but I didn’t sit around for a coffee and chat after because the air was thick with stinky smoke. Bad customer service… On the subject of smoking the boat boy threw his cigarette butt into the sea, something I have never seen before, they always put them in a bin on the boat. I think it summed up the shop and probably Unawatuna; little or no respect for the environment that has given them the opportunity to make money.

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I walked back along the beach to my hotel at the far end. I had extended my stay here by a night, and just like the place in Tangalle, I had to change room, so my stuff was all moved while I was out diving. The room is nowhere near as good as the last one and I have the noisiest bed I have ever had the misfortune to sleep on, it didn’t just squeak at every movement, it yowled and screamed, a shame as it was quite comfy.

I had a much needed shower and then went down to the restaurant for a late lunch of pizza and beer. It was the best pizza I have had in Sri Lanka by a million miles, very nice – chilli chicken. It was the first chicken I have eaten as well, I have been sticking to a mainly vegetarian diet with the occasional egg, fish or sea food meal. The food has all been good though, I have not had a bad meal in Sri Lanka and have eaten a lot of the ‘short eat’ snacks, curry roles, curry wrapped in roti etc. I will miss them.

I hung out in the restaurant for a bit after the pizza, got a blog post completed and a few emails done, making the most of the wifi while I have it. I went for a short walk in the afternoon before heading back to the beach bar for another G and T or two on the beach while reading my book. Once it was dark I headed back towards my hotel. It was depressing walking past all the deserted and semi-deserted restaurants. I was not particularly hungry, but if I had found a restaurant with the right atmosphere I would have gone in and found a snack to go with a final, or two, G and T. There just was not one, the thought of being alone or joining the other sad lonely bastard sitting there with his or her book was too much. So I went back to my hotel and became the sad lonely bastard there; sitting over a laptop with a G and T.

Though I was not sad or lonely – just alone.

Galle Fort

Tuesday 02 April 2013 – Unawatuna.

I was in no rush to do anything much today so I mooched in bed till 8:30. I had been trying to avoid using the air con all night but the room is so vast the fan just did not create enough cool air so in the end I had to turn it on to try and bring the humidity down to a sleepable level, it barely worked. I had a western breakfast in the hotel, part of the room charge so I wasn’t going to go hunt down a Sri Lankan one, much as I would have enjoyed string hoppers and dhal again.

Late morning I Skyped my mum and youngest son back in NZ, I wanted to update them on my plans and it is always so nice to see them. I had the added bonus of being able to see one of my sisters as well and I have not seen her in ages ! I will update a bit more on my plans in the next couple of days.

In the early afternoon I wandered through Unawatuna and out to the main road to catch a bus into Galle, which is a few kilometres up the road. As I was standing in the bus stop a tuk-tuk came past after dropping people off and gave me a price for a ride into Galle that I could not turn down – win / win for both, so I took the ride into town.

Galle Fort was first built by the Portugese in the 16th century and then added to by the Dutch in the 17th and finally by the British in the 18th. Galle, as a significant port has been on world maps since the 2nd century, so it has a fair amount of history. Like a lot of places on the Sri Lankan south coast it was badly damaged during the 2004 tsunami. Though the old sea walls were largely undamaged, there was damage to many of the historic buildings inside the walled area. The fort section of Galle is a UNESCO protected site and is quite cool, sort of. Like a cross between Hoi An in Vietnam and Stone Town on Zanzibar.

My tuk-tuk dropped me off outside the main gate into the old forted part of town, the walls were mightily impressive even seen through these fairly jaded ‘been impressed by walls in the past’ eyes. I started walking up into the town, mainly in search of a cool drink and a wee lunch time snack, however I got latched onto fairly quickly by an old guy who assured me he was not a guide and then proceeded to guide me. I gave him five minutes, a couple of bucks and told him I did not want a guide. He left in a huff, but only after I got him to take a photo of me…

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I walked around the walls for a while in the sun, a habit I started in the Angkor temples, walking around the outside of a site first – look at the walls, look inside the walls, look for some of the interesting things to see outside of the centre.

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Like all the major tourist places I have been to in Sri Lanka there was a large school group visiting Galle Fort, I think it is very cool that the young people of this country visit some of the historically important sites, and in this case bring a drum and have a sing and dance as well.

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There are a number of large signboards around the town showing where the major highlights are, a couple of them, like the Black Fort are out of bounds to tourists. I fail to understand why a place as cool sounding as the Black Fort has to be the office of the deputy police commissioner.

Which brings me to briefly comment on people in uniforms carrying automatic weapons…. They are everywhere in Sri Lanka, every major tourist town seems to have a military base of some description, Galle has navy. I have no idea what was in Tangalle, but the whole town seemed to be covered in serious faced young men with guns. I know there was a long and ugly civil war here, but, come on, guns suck ! Remove them from the streets, especially in places like Galle. I want to see the Black Fort, I want to know why it is called the Black Fort, I probably would take a photo. Why does it have to be some deputy friggin cop’s office…. grrrrrrr

I spent the next couple of hours (calmly, I will add) wandering around the inside of the fort area, me being late in the tourist season it was quite deserted which was really nice, though it did make me an easy target for tuk-tuk drivers and others with things to sell.

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I loved this sign.

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I did eventually stop for a cold drink and a snack, but found it difficult to find much that was open and not selling western food, a bit like Hoi An, pizza and lattes seemed to be the choices of the day.

I took a walk out of the fort area and back to the high street area, I walked around for a while looking for a pair of board shorts but didn’t find anything that appealed.

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I ended up grabbing a tuk-tuk back to Unawatuna. I got the driver to drop me on the highway so I could walk back up the street and enjoy the much nicer atmosphere than that on the beach.

As I was walking I heard the music from a New Zealand ice cream van coming up behind me, but it turned out to be a small truck selling local foods, so grabbed a couple of egg and vege rolls – lovely 🙂

I had a cool down shower in my room then read by the pool for a while before heading to one of the beach bars for a G and T and to read some more. I had been put off by the whole beach bar thing, not that I am opposed to them, I love them, just don’t like the way it seems so rapacious here, but I did enjoy a drink until it was too dark to read anymore.

I had dinner at my hotel and went to bed early and read some more. I am reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and it is beyond addictive, it was a late night.

Paradise Lost.

Monday 01 April 2013 – Unawatuna.

I had another one of those terrible sleepless nights with the inevitable dropping off into a doze around 6:00 and getting an hour of sleep before waking and getting up ready to leave Tangalle. I kinda liked Tangalle, it had a good mix of plush – and not so plush tourism as well as dusty old daily Sri Lankan life. I cannot say the same about my next stop though…

I had breakfast and coffee at the guest house before leaving, a very radical concept given I was about to catch a bus, though in theory it was only a short journey of seventy ish kilometres to my next stop of Unawatuna. I took a tuk-tuk back into town to the main bus stop and got on a bus heading towards Colombo. It was very hot and humid under cloudy skies in the bus station so I spent most of the time standing outside with the wise locals as we waited for departure. I feel entirely secure here in Sri Lanka, there are not many places where I would leave my pack under a seat and my day bag with laptop and camera in it on the seat, while I stood outside. Admittedly I could see my day bag, but in some countries that means nothing at all. In the main the Sri Lankans are an honest people – no one will steal your stuff anyway.

The ride to Unawatuna was the wildest yet, man – we were going so fast, the horn blaring loudly all the way, the bus was absolutely packed and I was stupidly on the inland side so missed seeing all the famous beaches as we screamed through village and town, screeching to a halt to pick up and drop off passengers at seemingly random points. The conductor gave me a couple of minutes notice so I could untangle myself and my possessions from all the people around me and get off the bus without delaying it too long at the stop. This will be my last bus ride in Sri Lanka. I am not sure if I will miss them or not.

I am going to stay in Unawatuna for three nights and then catch a train from nearby Galle to Colombo for my final night in Sri Lanka. I am staying in a hotel, which is by my standards very expensive, at 60NZD a night. I have a massive room, air con, a TV and mini bar. But the wifi sucks – it is always the way. Wifi works great everywhere except my room!

The first thing I did once I had gotten to my room was to flick the air con on and then take a shower to remove the deep sweat from a solid humid day. My room is quite well covered and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around in the cool air in um, not many clothes, as it were – luxury !

I have come to Unawatuna to do two things, to dive in Sri Lanka and to visit the historical fort section of nearby Galle city. Unawatuna is a tourist town on the side of a bay that allows for reasonably safe swimming – unlike other parts of the coast. I took a walk through the single main street of Unawatuna back towards the highway where the main dive shops are. I had a short feeling of good will towards the town, it reminded me a bit of El Nido in the Philippines – a town I have fond (rose tinted maybe ?) memories of. Unawatuna too, is dusty and beach side and touristy and a bit jaded and faded and I kind of liked that.

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Though I would not stay here – ever.

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This all changed when I had found the dive shop I wanted and booked myself a dive and then headed back up the beach rather than the road. They have completely ruined what would be a nice beach, guesthouses and restaurants and bars litter the narrow beach, in some cases, past the below tide line. It is a scene of unrelenting destruction and I decided there and then I didn’t like Unawatuna anymore. OK, I will admit unrelenting ugliness is a massive exaggeration, but it could be so much more than what it has become and I am sad for Unawatuna.

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I walked dejectedly back to my hotel and had a cooling swim in the pool, not being able to face the thought of swimming in the sea. I had another great Skype call with El, maybe the last for a while before I head out on the yacht in a few days time – I will miss her smile and her sort of East London accented voice. I went to bed early feeling a wee bit melancholy.

Unawatuna is definitely the best sounding town name I have been to, so much easier to say than Anuradhapura!

The last Buddhist temple visit for a while, I guess.

Sunday 31 March 2012 – Tangalle.

Another month gone, this year is disappearing so quickly!

I was awake way far too early for comfort, 4:30 or so, so I was up and ready for breakfast when the restaurant opened at 7:00. A large pot of coffee to start the day. My room comes with free breakfast, normally it is standard guest house fair of toast, eggs and fruit, but today was Sri Lankan breakfast day and finally, after three weeks in Sri Lanka I got to try string hoppers and dhal. I will say it was mighty fine…

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I had originally planned on staying here for two nights but decided on doing three as I was enjoying the atmosphere. The catch was I had to move rooms this morning, which was not such a hassle. After breakfast I packed my stuff up and left it in my room before heading out to the road to meet the tuk-tuk driver I had booked yesterday – and he even turned up on time.

He was taking me out see the cave temple at Mulkirigala which were built approximately fifteen hundred years ago and started by King Saddhatissa. The temple is built on three layers up a rock bluff that stands out from the surrounding countryside. We got a wee bit lost on the way and ended up doing a bit of three wheel driving – well sort of, at one point I thought we were going to tip over, it was fun 🙂

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The temples are accessed through a school for monks and as usual there is little signage. I sort of wandered through in what appeared to be the right direction and hoped I was right – and this time I was! After a short stair way I found the ticket office and the first layer of rock temples.

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As well as the ubiquitous troop of monkeys – eating all the offered food and flowers.

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The reclining Buddha figures in the caves were all behind glass, but I guess most of you who read my blog have probably seen enough of them, I think I finally have as well. I admired the lovely old stupa inside one of the caves as well as the murals on the walls and ceilings.

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I decided to walk to the top and then work my way back down through the levels, get the climbing done once and as early as possible. So I started up the stairs.

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Followed by some more.

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And then some more.

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Man, the Sri Lankans loved to put things up high.

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Wahoo, the top.

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Well almost, but finally there. 530+ steps later.

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Frustratingly there was no view from the top ! Too many trees, and only a small stupa as well, oh well. I enjoyed the climb and there was a reasonably cool breeze at the top so I relaxed for a short while before heading back down again to the second level of cave temples.

I could kick myself sometimes, instead of relaxing and taking time to cool down – even at 9:00 am I was pouring sweat, I was worried that I was holding up my tuk-tuk driver – even though I was paying him.

I do wonder about myself…. I did peruse the caves at my leisure, but I could have taken more time. I do not know much about the paintings, but most of them are dated from the 18th century.

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And there was a view from here too.

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Back at the base I took a shot back up the bluff and then we left.

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We did not get lost on the way back to my guest house and I only paid the agreed price. I have heard tales of people getting lost and then being charged an additional fee to cover petrol. Some tuk-tuk drivers cannot be trusted – a surprise I know!

I was back at the guest house by mid-morning and found I had been moved to my new room, equally as nice but the wifi was not as good. After a bit of washing I lazed for a while, had a swim, lazed some more before a nice long Skype with El over a glass of wine in the sun.

I had pizza again for dinner, it was mighty fine, especially as it had a good covering of delicious cheese – I do miss cheese so much 🙂 Dinner was over by 8:00 and the place was just about shut down when I left the restaurant. With not much else to do I retired to my room, finished this post and started watching the classic rock move “This is Spinal Tap”, though I did not make it very far in to the movie – too tired, so I elected to read for a short while instead.

I am reasonably sure this will be my last opportunity to visit temples for a while, there are only a few more days left in Sri Lanka and I hope to get a scuba dive in on one of those days. Never say never though!

Beaches.

Saturday 30 March 2013 – Tangalle.

Now that I am in Tangalle and on my own I pretty much intended on doing not much at all. I am looking forward to some time on my own – just chilling. I know it sounds like my life is one big holiday and you may question my need to chill, but I find travelling tiring – especially when it is so damn hot and humid. I am also keen for some alone time with a month of enforced company on a yacht coming up in a few days I want to maximise the opportunities that I have for some solitude.

After breakfast I did not do much for a while before heading over the road to check out the local beach, I had heard the beaches close to Tangalle were not that nice but this one seemed perfectly fine and it even had a wee spot for swimming in, which was even finer. So I took the opportunity and had a quick dip, the water was incredibly warm. The surf was good but the beach was so steep it was impossible to body surf in, a shame as being able to body surf would have been very nice indeed.

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I walked out to the point for a look and found numerous remains from the buildings that were devastated in the 2004 tsunami that caused havoc along this whole section of coast.

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Sadly greed and stupidity has meant that not too many lessons were learnt and buildings have cropped up right on the beach again.

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I lay on the beach in the sun for a while, I want to start building a base tan before I get on the yacht, hopefully it will prevent me from getting burnt. I took it easy though and only spent a short time. While I was out my room was cleaned. Like being in a hotel !!! I have paid a whole more for a whole less in some places.

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In the afternoon I took a tuk-tuk over to the eastern side of town to the big beaches where the bulk of the guest houses are, I was looking for a piece of street art by my favourite artist Phlegm and thought this would be the most likely place. I had a brief walk around, but the place is bigger than I expected and I could not find it. I also did something radical and asked some people if they knew it at all, I even showed them pictures on my cell phone, but no one knew it. Even the infamous tuk-tuk drivers could not help. Oh well ! I wandered down to Medaketiya Beach and started heading east. I had not gone too far when I hear my name called from the road and there was my German friend Benne, heading back to his guest house up the beach. We had a wee chat for a while before he went to his room and I carried on walking up the beach. It is terrible 🙂

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I walked for forty minutes or so and never really got any closer to the end so turned round and headed back towards town, finally grabbing a tuk-tuk on the edge of town and back to my place. I arranged with the tuk-tuk driver to meet me at 8:30 tomorrow morning to go to some cave temples which are about twenty five minutes out of town. I was going to do it today, but in the end could not be bothered. Even though it was late afternoon it was still hot and I was in need of a shower and a cool down.

I had agreed to meet Benne for dinner at one of the local Lonely Planet recommended places with a specialty in kottu roti, it was OK, definitely not as good as the Muslim Hotel in Kandy. I had to walk all the way back into town to get a tuk-tuk to take me back to the guest house. Most things were shut, even though it was only 9:30 in a tourist town – I like it!  It was a long dark walk, but I felt totally secure – more so than I would in Auckland, Sri Lanka is like that!

A very chilled day, and one I enjoyed immensely…