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…

To Tissa

Thursday 28 March 2013 – Tissamaharama.

I was awake ridiculously early considering we were aiming for the 9:15 bus to our next destination which  is about four hours away – Tissamaharama, or Tissa for short. As the coffee and pancakes had no negative impact on me yesterday I totally abandoned my no eating or coffee before a long bus ride rule and repeated yesterdays breakfast as there was time to kill before the bus. We got to the bus stop by 9:00 and there was already a small group of westerners waiting for the bus. The main drag of Ella was pretty deserted.

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The bus was late and a few more people had turned up before it arrived, we got to talking to an English couple, Adam and Jules while we waited and exchanged numbers to talk later in the day about sharing a jeep for a safari tomorrow morning. There was the usual scramble to get on the bus, which was already fairly full. Adding a dozen westerners all with large packs seemed to be a challenge the conductor relished, he moved other passengers about, put packs here and there and managed to get everyone seated, an amazing piece of work as I would not have thought it possible!

The driver was the fastest so far in Sri Lanka and we howled down from the hill country towards the south coast beaches. We were all hanging on tightly to prevent being tossed from side to side, it was a crazy run down, though strangely I did not feel at all terrified – unlike Vietnam. We only had one eye closing moment as we overtook a car into the face of an oncoming truck. We stopped a few times on the way, seemingly at random and usually incredibly sharply. At the main town we had the usual vendors board the bus but also a lottery ticket seller which I haven’t had on the bus before, though there are dozens in the street of every town. The guy standing chose to stand exactly next to a row of three girls even though at one stage the seat in front was empty. No one else was standing…

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In the last village before Tissa the bus was boarded by a whole bunch of touts selling the various guest houses and safari rides, it was all a bit hard sell and I didn’t particular enjoy it, though it was worse once we all got off the bus. As we did not have anywhere to stay we ended up being the last ones in the bus stop and were mobbed by a group all yelling hotel names and rides to various places. I told them all to keep quiet so Benne and I could talk. I was remarkably polite too. We eventually decided on a place and got a free ride in their safari jeep. The hotel was nice, cheaper than some places and exceptionally clean and tidy. I elected to take a room without air con – a decision I regretted all night long. We arranged with Adam and Jules to use the safari company from their guesthouse as it was cheaper than ours. Wahoo – a game drive in Yala National Park tomorrow.

After a fried rice lunch Benne and I went for a walk to find a tuk-tuk to take us to a nice old dagoba we had seen on the way in, though on the first attempt we ended up at the wrong one, but decided to take a look anyway. I loved thr rice drying in the drive way.

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Our next attempt was thwarted as the tuk-tuk driver did not speak any English, though he faked it enough to get us in the tuk-tuk. As we went the wrong way at the lake I spotted the dagoba out of the corner of my eye so we got out and walked.

Tissamaharama Chaitya was constructed around 150BC and is 180ft high, it too is supposed to contain a Buddha tooth relic – he must have had one heck of a large mouth ! It was my favourite Dagoba in Sri Lanka, I liked it for the roof supports from the buildings around the outside. It was also great to be the only people there. Tourists don’t come to Tissa for the ruins, they come here to access Yala National Park.

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We walked into town after as I wanted to get a new hat and I found a nice ‘Adidas’ cap for five bucks – score! We bought some beer from the beer shop. This is a fairly non-typical one, they are usually dirty and grungy with solid steel bars and a small point to hand money in and bottles out. I find it ironic the way they are called wine stores, but don’t sell wine, only beer and cheap spirits. There are always customers…

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We stopped by the lake on the way back to the hotel but had missed the last of the good light. I would loved to have been able to wade out there and get into the trees, but there are lots of crocodiles here!

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We went back to the hotel and had a beer before walking around the street looking for some dinner. The one other place open was selling meals at London prices so we ended up going back to our hotel, where they opened the kitchen for us. There are not that many people here!

After a very average meal we went to bed. It was so hot and humid and the fan barely penetrated the mosquito net which I had to use as it was mossie city here. It was not a great night. I ended up having a nice long email conversation with El from 3:30 until it was time to get up at 4:30 and get ready for the safari It was a pity the internet was rubbish and we couldn’t Skype, but it was a lovely way to start the day.

Meet the greedy little bastard who almost ruined my day.

Wednesday 27 March 2013 – Ella.

Benne and I were out the door for breakfast at a reasonable time and went to a small place just up the road from the guest house that had been recommended by some other travellers. I had coffee and sugar and lime juice pancakes. My stomach was not exactly stable so I wanted something solid and boring in there. They seemed to work OK. There was enough to take one away for a snack later and the coffee was not bad either.

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My legs were a bit tender from the walk up Adams Peak on Monday, they were not too bad, just the second day ache, which was totally expected. Benne was feeling a bit more pain than me so we decided to do separate things with me taking on the challenge of Ella Rock.

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Mornings has consistently seen clear skies and today was no different, a perfect time to do the walk. So off I went.

I had very vague directions from the guest house and was hoping (ridiculously of course) that there would be some sort of signpost, there wasn’t.

I found my way up to the road that leads to the railway track OK and once up above the houses could clearly see where I wanted to go, and I knew I had to cross over the waterfall, so at least I had a visual on the end result.

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I found the railways easily enough and walked along them for a couple of kilometres, there were a few other tourists on the walk which made me feel OK and a number had guides, but they were all so slow so I sort of ended up ahead of everyone – as usual. I had seen the rain the day before and wanted to make sure I had completed the supposed four hour return journey before the heavens opened; so no point in mucking about. I passed a nice small rice paddy terrace.

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I crossed over the top of the waterfall and was immediately struck by a whole variety of paths heading in different directions, most of them up, I was standing there looking very confused when this little old bloke in bare feet came past and said he would show me the way. I thought that was pretty cool, not realising that this was an offer of a couple of hours of guiding which was not wanted I wanted. We walked through the edge of the farm he works on.

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And then it was almost a race up the hill, he set a cracking pace, which I actually enjoyed and we ascended quite a way before stopping for a break. I surprised myself by keeping up though I was sheeting sweat and it was barely 9:00 am. We stopped at the view-points as we made up way up through mixed pine and eucalyptus forest.

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Once on the steep final section the going was harder, I could feel my legs getting heavy and at once stage I started getting some twinges of cramp in my calves, but there was nothing to be done about it but carry on. As is normal when I do these things I didn’t carry a huge amount of water either, which really is a bit daft! We stopped for a break half way up so I could slug some water and he could get some betel nut from his pocket to chew on. I don’t think he was even puffing. I would love to see a race up a hill between these barefoot old blokes who eat barely nothing, smoke cigarettes and drink homemade liquor and some of the finest trail runners. Would be interesting to see who made it to the top first!

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The view from the top  back down over the small village of Ella and the surrounding valleys was just lovely. I met two French couples who I had spoken to at the guest house in Dalhousie and asked one of them to take a photo, it was a wee bit glarey. Notice – no hat, I lost the damn thing on the way. I had been using that hat since I started travelling and it had been sweated in in three continents, I was really annoyed with myself.

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I was shown a small side rock that allowed a good photo of the top.

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From there it was all downhill, in both meanings of the phrase. I loved the downhill section and at one stage was actually running down the tight and twisty single track, cannot wait to get some runs in back in New Zealand ! (Vicki – if you read this, I think a Piha loop and that Huia loop that I cannot remember the name of have to be run – not on the same day though !!!)

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We soon got out of the trees and into a farmland section, my ‘guide’ pointed down the hill and said if I went that way I could get to the cave temples I was going to visit in the afternoon or across the hill would take me back to where I started at the waterfall. Obviously I chose downhill. This was where we parted and he asked for money – way too much money, I negotiated him down to an obscenely large amount and then found I did not have the right notes to make it so ended up giving him what he wanted in the first place. He was a greedy little bastard and ruined the day for me. I did learn a lesson and it was my fault for letting it happen – but he was still a greedy little bastard and my wonderful memories of Ella will be tainted by that experience.

I started walking down the trail towards the main road way below, there was a great view of the waterfall on the way down.

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It was a fairly straightforward walk though I missed a turn to the cave temple as nothing is marked, but the time I got to the main road I could not be bothered heading back up again. I had completed a four hour walk in two hours so was hot and tired – even though it was still only 10:30…. I took a tuk-tuk back to town and the guest house and had a wee rest before heading out for an early afternoon lunch.

I did not have anything in mind until I walked past the sign that said ‘latte’ and that was it, I was sold on a western meal, first one in Sri Lanka. Pizza and red wine – preceded by a latte; which was actually not too bad at all.

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I enjoyed a pleasant hour or so in the cafe, reading, writing post cards and eating a very large pizza. My hands were shaking with anticipation when I took this blurry shot!

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Sri Lanka still has many left over artifacts of its colonial past, including lovely red British post boxes. Which I used to post the cards.

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As expected Ella Rock disappeared from view in the afternoon – though the rain never really came. I could have had a far more leisurely morning!

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I did very little for the rest of the afternoon – yet again. More washing, blogging and reading until Benne arrived back from his day. In the evening we caught up with a couple of Austrian girls that Benne had met during the day  for dinner in a local restaurant. I had the best rice and curry I have had so far in Sri Lanka, very nice. The licensing laws here are vigorously enforced so though the restaurant advertised beer it was not allowed to sell it. We could however, buy beer in the beer shop and as long as we had a receipt proving the restaurant did not provide it, then we could have a beer with our meal. Which we did.

We all decided to go for a drink at one of the other, more western, restaurants – i.e. – it had a bar. But they would not serve us as is it was 9:30 and too close to the 10pm curfew – just in case we lingered over our drinks. So we headed up to the local beer bar and bought another beer just before that too closed. We got to see a small part of the other side of Sri Lanka – groups of men getting very drunk on very strong beer in small smokey beer bars -it sounds like a few other countries I have been to sadly. The men were very interested in the Austrian girls and we had a wee audience for the few minutes till closing time. At around 10:15 we walked back through town to our guest houses and we were the only people on the street – now that is weird.

It could have been a great day, I loved the pizza, the wine and the coffee. The walk was great, the views were stunning. But it was only a good day.

A train ride through the hill country.

Tuesday 26 March 2013 – Ella.

I was up and packed so early I had to time to break one of my cardinal travel rules and drank a couple of coffees before a long journey; but hey it was 7:30 and coffee is always good at that time of day. I was interested in seeing how the guest house bill turned out as no-one seemed to write anything down when I ordered things, but it was perfectly correct and actually came to less than I expected. Considering most orders were stuffed up, this was quite remarkable !

Benne and I were walking up to the bus stop in Dalhousie village with our packs when a bus came past, so we jumped on for the one and half hour, thirty km ride back to Hatton. It is a lovely journey and I kick myself for not spending a heck of a lot more money and taking a tuk-tuk so I could stop and get photos on the way. But we had a train to catch and the buses rule the roads here so it was the safest option.

We arrived at Hatton station with heaps of time to spare and I got us tickets for the 11.15 train to Ella – 2nd class. Hatton is a busy centre so it had a bank and I was able to get some cash out as I was getting low. Which was wise as the bank in Ella did not take my card…. I loved the hand written chalk board for train times – we were on the Badula 11/15.

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The station has separate men’s and women’s waiting rooms, a rather antiquated option, but no-one was in either of them as the platform is the preferred waiting area for everyone.

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I broke another long journey rule about eating before a ride and bought a vegetable roti – but it was so hot with chilli I could not eat it. And the coffee was grey – but I drank it anyway. Galya and a crazy French woman arrived soon after us and joined us on the platform.

The train was a little late, but not of any real consequence, and as the arrival time approached more and more people started flooding on to the platform and it was looking like a scramble to get on the train. As soon as it stopped we all crowded round the doors waiting for the people to get off and then it was pushing and shoving to get on, I managed to block some other tourists – who had arrived after us, I am a firm believer in first in first served, and allowed Galya and crazy French woman on first and they got the last seats. Just before the train departed two people got up and left so Benne and I dived in – sorted ! Though, after the first stop and a passenger shuffle around everyone who wanted a seat seemed to have one. The seats are very comfy, plenty of leg room and at 1.60 NZ for four hours, good value…

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There were of course people sitting in doorways, but this is not such a populated area so there were not the crowds you see in some pictures.

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The ride to Ella was fabulous, the train is slow, the countryside delicious and the ride was immense fun, I spent lots of time hanging out the door just feeling the wind in my face and listening to the clatter of the wheels on the track, as I said before – fabulous.

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About three quarters of the way we picked up a whole bunch more westerners. The ride from the town of Haputale to Bandaruwela is supposed to be the most beautiful part so some of the tour operators drop the passengers at Haputale so they can make the journey. Though it did get a wee bit foggy!

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At Bandaruwela a lot of people got off and the final section to Ella was quiet, though definitely less scenic.

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We arrived in Ella just after 3:00 and Benne and I found ourselves a guest house with a great view of Ella Rock. We are sharing a room this time to save a bit of money. Ella Rock looked er um – where the hell is it ?

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We wandered up to the tiny village of Ella, there is not much there apart from restaurants and guest houses. We found a place that sold beer and then found out that no-one sold beer as it is a public holiday…. so we had a bowl of chips and I had a healthy fruit smoothie instead.

I went back to the guesthouse to do the usual, blogging, photos etc etc as it rained for the rest of the afternoon. We went back into town for dinner once the rain stopped and I had a very nice fish Kottu Roti and a ginger beer. After dinner Benne bought a couple of beers under the table from another restaurant and we drank them on the terrace of our guest house and chatted to a Danish guy who was staying here as well.

Another good day, I loved the train!

Adams Peak

Monday 25 March 2013 – Dalhousie.

I think I managed to sneak a couple of winks in before my alarm went off at 1:50 am, though I was woken by the neighbours going out at 1:30. It is that sort of town, all the early morning noise is from people going out walking rather than people coming home.

The reason for the early start is to walk to the top of Adams Peak for the sunrise. Most of the path is well lit and there are always people going up and down all day and nightand this is the time to do it.

I met up with Benne and Galya at 2:15 and we started the walk up to the village and finally on to the path. There are no photos for a while as it was dark, though it was a clear sky with an almost full moon.

Just after the start of the path we crossed over a small river and arrived at a T intersection, we saw a couple of guys coming down the road from the left so started up the path, assuming it was the correct way. We assumed wrong. After about ten minutes of walking gradually up the hill I realised that too many things were wrong, mainly that there were no people and no lights. I said we were on the wrong path, but as we were kind of going in the right direction we agreed to carry on further. Soon enough we could see the lights of the real path below us and decided to duck a small track in the tea fields. We had used up over half an hour and had gained approximately two hundred metres – sadly not vertically!

We split up soon after hitting the main path. Benne wanted to make sure he was at the stop for the sunrise and Galya was not going fast enough (though she did make it in time) I wasn’t bothered either way so stayed with Galya for most of the next hour until we caught up with other groups of westerners doing the walk. I felt uncomfortable leaving her alone prior to that, though I am sure it was perfectly safe.

For the first hour the path was not overly steep though there were many steps between long sections of a gentler gradient, but the higher up the more steps there were and the steeper it got. The final three hundred and fifty steps were quite steep indeed and I took a few rests on the way. The surface is mostly good, some parts are very rough and on the lower section there were a number of large puddles, though I only managed to stand in one of them, thank goodness.

There are also numerous shops selling snacks and drinks, or full meals if that was what you wanted. Things got more and more expensive the further the shop keeper had to carry his   goods. I had not eaten as I did not want to risk any urgent need for a toilet stop on the way so was relying on Milo drinks and water. At half way this cost me 160 rupees, closer to the top it was 300. Demand was high !

There were a lot of westerners climbing and at the last cafe before the top I stopped for coffee, which was made with tea instead of water – yes it was foul, but it had caffeine. I met a kiwi couple there and chatted to them for a while before climbing slowly and with heavy breath to the monastery at the top. It took me just under three hours, including getting lost and I caught Benne at the top.

I was totally drenched in sweat by the top, I was expecting it to be colder up there than it actually was and I all I needed to put on was my long sleeve shirt. I obviously carried too much stuff up. Though it did speck with rain just before sunrise so I did used my jacket, mainly because I had humped the thing all the way to the top.

I walked around and had a brief look round the outside of the temple. There was a lot of people up here, but nowhere near what it would have been like last night.

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The sun started rising just after 6:00 am and we had to jostle for a spot facing east. The sunrise was not very spectacular at all, I had seen some photos from one earlier in the week so was a wee bit disappointed with my luck, but it was still lovely and the atmosphere was nice so I have no complaints at all.

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As soon as sunrise was done I left, Benne wanted to stay up for a while and visit the monastery but I wanted to start down before the crowds got to the narrow stairway, I was hungry and wanted coffee, as well as the opportunity to stop when I wanted to take photos.

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Just below the steep section I ran into the kiwi couple again and stayed with them all way back down, nice to have some-one from home to chat to about some of the things happening in NZ.

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Walking down in the early morning light was very nice, the scenery is fantastic from up here and as it was cloudy it remained a did not get really hot, enough to get a good sweat on though!

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After an hour and a half of descending we were through the entrance gate, past the big Buddha, past one of the many shops selling plastic crap and I was back to my guest house.

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I grabbed a much needed shower under a pathetic trickle of water before hitting the restaurant for breakie and coffee… just after 8:00 am…

It was a good start to the day, an awesome walk to a very spiritual and much loved place.

I did not do much else for the rest of the day, I watched one of my all time favourite movies “Fever Pitch”, wrote a blog post for the previous day, did a load more washing and dozed. Situation normal really. I was lucky with the weather and got my clothes and shoes dried before the rain came. When if finally did arrive it rained fairly solidly for the rest of the day.

At 3:00 Benne, Galya and I walked down to the neighbouring guest house as they had beer, we had a celebratory glass or two and some fries – very yummy. We chatted for a while and then they left and I had a final glass and contemplated life before leaving too.

Dinner at the guesthouse was a quiet affair, we were all tired, though I still managed seconds of rice and curry!!