A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: rd wrld1yr

Week 78, 21.Aug.10 - 28.Aug.10

Embudhu, Maldives to Atlanta, USA

View Week 78 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Embudhu Village, Maldives
Today Svenja and I rented masks, snorkels and fins, and dipped below the water - amazing colorful coral, plenty of different kinds of fish (parrot, napoleon, moorish idols), turtles - even reef sharks!

There was a shipwreck we also saw - actually, in my experience, the snorkeling here was about as good as any dive I've been on.

Velidhu, Maldives
This morning Svenja and I got up before dawn - with the help of unrequested wake-up calls and physical knocking on our hotel room door by staff - to head down for breakfast at 06:15 so that we could check out of the Embudhu Village early. We boarded the speedboat back to Hulhule, arrived at the airport and were told our seaplane to Velidhu Island would be checking in at 09:00. We boarded the shuttle bus to the domestic terminal (basically floating in water, like the planes) on the other side of the island,

and waited for our flight. Relaxed atmosphere continued even on the seaplane, with barefoot pilots lifting us off the water and flying over the atolls,

here to Velidhu island, a 4-star resort, and definitely feels like it.

Much posher bungalows, and much less crowded, than Embudhu. We walked the entire white-powder sand island (about 1/2 hour, also a bit bigger than Embudhu), collecting some seashells and playing with hermit crabs.

Stopped at the soccer field for a quick match (I won),

met the parrot who hangs out at the bar - I was given a cheese sandwich for him to nibble on (he also seemed to like my ear).

We also got to wade in the water and say 'hello' to small rays and reef sharks.

Now, after missing lunch for the first time in 4 days (only could afford the 1/2 board here in Velidhu!), we're famished and heading to dinner.

Not too much excitement today. Well, with more laying on the beach reading books, swimming, collecting seashells, playing with the rays - not too much to complain about, either!

Unfortunately, the front desk staff never posted a signup sheet for the 1/2 day "island hopping" tours, normally held on Tuesdays, so Svenja and I weren't able to visit any inhabited islands ("traditional" Maldivians in their native settings, not dressed up in a chef outfit standing behind a buffet grill serving Europeans). Fortunately, having an awesome breakfast then spending time reading on the beach and going swimming is still time well spent. But, the all-you-can-eat buffets are beginning to taking their toll!

Today Svenja and I signed up for a manta ray snorkeling trip - we rented the masks, fins and snorkels (the cheap, leftover crap) and headed out on the boat with some other passengers. The tour guide/boat captain was overly-intense, calling out (or rather, yelling) for passengers to come to the side of the boat when it would pull up next to a manta, only to hold people up once it swam away, having the boat take off in another direction. But, eventually getting in the water snorkeling around - and then with - the mantas, was awesome. Some of them would just let you follow side-by-side for several minutes...

until you looked up and realized how far away from the boat the darn thing led you! One time I snorkeled on the surface while an enormous ray - its wingspan easy 2m wide - was swimming below, and then noticed a medium-sized shark following along, swimming under him - yikes! When I looked around and noticed no one else - nor the boat - close by, I decided to abandon the giant ray and find others to snorkel with for a while.

We headed back to the island, and after a couple exchanges of snorkel equipment for Svenni (who unfortunately was handed a faulty one for the boat trip), went back out and snorkeled around the island for a couple hours, spotting more fish and corals, plus our ray "buddy" - great day.

Male, Maldives
Back in Male, and just completed some souvenir shopping - unfortunately, no time to do any real sightseeing, as our seaplane was about 2 hours late picking us up from Velidhu and now its already dark. I guess I should feel fortunate we made it at all, as the pilot was forcing the plane up bouncing on the waves during liftoff after a stop over in one resort, with some alarm going off. During the flight, couldn't help but notice a "Flight Operating Manual" sitting on the cockpit floor - hopefully today was not the first time it was cracked open...

Well anyway, today Svenja and I were able to enjoy our last morning in Velidhu strolling on the beach, collecting shells.

Dubai, UAE
Here in Dubai at the airport, and have a long wait for my connecting flight tonight as I'm growing a bit antsy on the prospect of heading home to the States. The layover is about 8 hours, but it feels much longer than that after having just said goodbye to Svenja; just boarded her connecting flight back to Frankfurt. After spending nearly every minute with each other the past 5 weeks, the past 5 minutes after watching her plane depart have felt very lonely. At least I have some guy sitting next to me chewing his lunch with his mouth open smacking to distract me.... 7.5 hours of layover to go....

Atlanta, USA
I'll be landing in about an hour, back in the USA for the first time in exactly 18 months - departed to Guatemala on 28.Feb.09, with a 1-way ticket from Newark.

Complete map link


It is difficult to believe I've just spent 1.5 years of my life living out of my backpack.

Sleeping in different hotels, hostels and guesthouses, people's couches, people's roofs, and of course lots of times my "bed" were busses & trains, less occasionally, airplanes. The past 1.5 years, I've had to calculate currency conversion over and over. And over again. I've miraculously stretched the limits of getting by essentially knowing only English. I've bumped my head more times than I can remember. I've now become more accustomed estimating distances in meters/kilometers, than feet/miles. I've gotten in the habit of, the first thing I will do when checking into a cheap hotel/hostel (after smelling if the sheets/towel are clean, of course), would be to check and see if there was a bucket I'd be able to do my laundry with. Not to mention, never - and I mean never - leaving my backpack/daypack unlocked whenever it was out of eyesight (or while traveling on the bus overnight).

Starting out in Latin American countries, I became accustomed to expecting a bout of sickness after eating the local food, even though I'll always remember the delicious fresh fruit sold for pennies on the streets. I relearned a bit of my broken Spanish, which I've since forgotten again. I saw incredible landscapes, beautiful people, and very poor countries - something that would become a common theme in most places.

In the Far East Asia, fish and noodles/rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I never got used to. I became accustomed to sleeping in shoebox-size rooms in hotels, but never quite getting used to taking my shoes off before entering a hotel lobby. There certainly is beautiful architecture and history, that I'll always remember.

Mongolia and Russia were both unique and memorable places - Moscow became one of my favorite cities in the world.

It was wonderful spending the summer last year traveling through Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe - I know there's no chance I'll remember all of the castles & museums I visited, but will easily remember the weather changing suddenly and realizing I wasn't carrying enough clothes for winter!

There's no place like the Middle East, with its ancient cities and foundations of history. In Muslim countries, I've become conscious of people watching me eat with my left hand (despite having hygiene habits that allow me to use toilet paper and soap washing my hands). Also in these countries I became accustomed to being woken up at 05:00 for prayer calls - most unpleasant thing about that, usually the muezzin sounds more like he's screaming, than singing. I'm still mesmerized when I see women in full burqas, with only their eyes showing, wondering whether they're feeling repressed or thankful for being covered. And if there is no place like the Middle East, then Israel is truly unique - such a tiny country with all the history, different cultures in a melting pot.

Africa is complicated - sometimes it is such a heartbreaking place, witnessing how little consideration some people have for others. Western and Eastern Africa are by far the most difficult places in the world to travel by public transportation. There were days when the heat and boredom were outdone only by aggravation - unbelievably poor roads, stopping for flat tires/dropping passengers off/waiting for busses to fill up with new passengers, or any combination thereof. I've had cookies ("biscuits") for breakfast, lunch and dinner countless times on these all-day bus rides, usually having traveled only a couple hundred km and ended being covered in dust/dirt. The fact that I ALWAYS had to be on guard to ensure I wasn't being overcharged for everything because of my skin color, became exhausting. Of course, I did meet people across Africa that were also friendly and helpful, without looking at me as dollar signs, but I sadly can't say it was the majority. There is such a diverse landscape across the continent: sands to tropical rainforest to mountains and back to sands. Nowhere else is there such amazing wildlife, anywhere in the world.

Sri Lanka is a country that is emerging from a tragic natural disaster and decades-long civil war - I'm sure it will see more and more visitors every year. The Maldives are exactly what I expected - everything pricey and resorts on tiny islands with too-good-to-be-true beaches & ocean, and exactly what I was looking for a "vacation" to wrap up my vacation. I'm glad that I had met Svenja to share some of my travel experiences with, and look forward to seeing her soon.

On one hand it seems that the 1.5 years flew by - it doesn't seem so long ago at all I was sitting at a desk for my job in New York, doing my very routine lifestyle of work, working out, eat, occasionally going out, sleep, get up and do it again. To think about going back to that routine, and listening to the loud Americans around me now on this flight, is causing anxiety & panic a bit. But then I also think about my friends & family - and get so excited to see them again. With my travels, I am beginning to feel a bit disappointed with myself, like I haven't appreciated the experience of traveling to its fullest; that too often I was thinking about the comforts of home - running water, reliable electricity, riding busses where only enough people as there are seats are on board, being able to eat something and not wonder if I'll get sick. But I supposed that these "luxuries", I will no longer take for granted (along with books to read, on long bus rides with no radio). Some of the details of this trip I'm sure I'll soon forget, but I hope that I'll remember as much as I can about the experiences I've had, for many years to come. And thankful I kept this journal to help remind me. I'm weighing my options on what I'll do for the the next phase of my life, but whatever that will be, will begin with another single step.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 07:24 Comments (0)

Week 77, 14.Aug.10 - 20.Aug.10

Induruwa, Sri Lanka to Embudu Village, Maldives

View Week 77 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Induruwa, Sri Lanka
Today after breakfast entertainment at our guesthouse watching the squirrel get his bread,

Svenja and I took a sobering trip south along the west coast to see the visible remains of the 2004 tsunami. We couldn't find any type of official museum or memorial dedication that was listed in our travel guide books, which would seem odd considering how hard Sri Lanka was affected by the disaster - an estimated 30,000 victims that day. But, Svenja did notice a sign indicating something to do with the tsunami along the side of the road as we were heading up from Galle, so that is the direction we headed. We took the bus south along the coast, noticing many damaged buildings still in disrepair, and beachfront cemeteries.

Hopped off the bus and walked a ways, then had a tuk-tuk approach us and asked us where we were going, and offered a free ride. We mentioned that we were heading down the coast, looking at some of the remains of the tsunami. Well, he asked us specifically what we were looking for, so I told him we were very interested in what happened, and was hoping to see some museum or memorial. And, we had also heard the remains of the train where 1,200 victims drowned was still there. But he said there wasn't anything left, it had been moved to Colombo a couple years ago, and there wasn't anything around to see. Well, we get dropped off along the side of the road nearby Telwatta, and walking a bit down the way, we actually did spot a memorial for the train victims.

While at the memorial, there were some younger kids who were staring at Svenja, and giggling at us. Now, I'm not surprised about the kids giggling at western tourists, as that seems to be the norm here in Sri Lanka, but at the tsunami memorial?? It is very interesting how most people here seem to deal with the tsunami, like the tuk-tuk driver - maybe they already have forgotten it happened, or just want to ignore it completely. Well, we walked down the road a bit to what Svenja had noticed the day before - a photo museum, where a local woman greeted us and answered questions, while we walked around looking at the sad pictures and stories of victims.

It turns out this museum used to be the woman's home, but all was washed away except the floor during the tsunami. The pictures showed young and old, locals and even tourists, who became victims. It is hard to believe that this tragedy happened so recently, and that so little was known here about tsunamis before/no prevention put in place prior (there are now warning signs on the beach).

One inspiring point; in the museum there were also quotes placed around from survivors, and photos of locals one year later full of smiles and hope...

Negombo, Sri Lanka
Today Svenja and I checked out of the nice guesthouse in Induruwa and even though we wanted to see the Perahera festival back in Kandy, decided that since all hotels there were either full, or way overpriced during this time, we'd head to Negombo for our last couple days in Sri Lanka.

Today Svenni and I took a day trip from Negombo and returned to Colombo, to see some sights we missed the first time around. We took a minibus to sketchy Pettah neighborhood where the streets were lined with the iconic Sri Lanka cargo trucks,

and made our way to the 18th c. Wolvendaal church, which was so-so. We then headed to the Grand Mosque - also so-so. Well, it was beginning to feel like maybe we did see all the main Colombo sites already! Later, we took a tuk-tuk around Viharamahadevi park to the town hall, even though we asked to be dropped off at the national museum, a couple blocks over! Well, fortunately our driver was nice enough to realize his mistake, and while we were walking over toward the museum he came back to pick us up and take us around the corner. And this museum made the trip back to Colombo worth it - great collection of ancient artifacts like ancient urns (800 BC)

and urinals (8th c.),

dating from prehistoric times. Actually got lost a couple times wandering around the museum with its unusual corridors,

so although didn't get to see everything, was enough to make the trip worthwhile. The bus ride back, I was chatting with some nice guy I was sitting next to, who kept sneaking sips of arrack, fermented palm juice.

At the airport, just visited the duty free and Svenja and I are getting ready for our flight to Male. Today, we walked around Negombo seeing the few sites available, like St. Mary cathedral's fresco ceiling,

and the not-so-glamorous lifestyles of people living by the canal.

Spent quite a bit of time souvenir shopping - but with the innate need to barter on them, still not done!

Male, Maldives
Arrived here in Male - well technically, Hulhule (or, "Airport Island") - late last night, and sweated a bit clearing customs. The bottle of arrack I picked up from Colombo's duty free is not legally allowed in the Maldives, it is a "dry" country outside of resorts, which the cashier at duty free reminded me of ("No, its a gift for home and I'll leave it in the airport in Male...." yeah, right). So after immigration and getting our checked luggage, I casually ripped open the sealed duty free shopping bag and stuck the pint in my front pocket. Svenja told me that she could see it sticking out of the pocket - I told her not to stare! And I just put my hand in the pocket and stood by while the luggage bags were put through x-ray machines. I thought I heard one of the security people say, "alcohol", but not entirely sure. Fortunately, I collected my bags and walked straight out without incident. We boarded a ferry to cross the ~2km channel to Male, and while avoiding the speeding mopeds all over, walked a short way to our hotel. This morning, we walked around trying to find a restaurant to eat breakfast, only to discover we're visiting the Maldives in the middle of Ramadan ("Ramazan", they call it here). So, virtually all restaurants are closed until sundown, and most shops/stores as well. Well, with the time that we had, walked a bit around the small island, got to see the old Muslim cemetery

and the unglamorous Maldives garbage dump on the south side of the island.

We called around and visited a few tour agencies to try and book a last-minute deal to a resort - the first company we spoke with found us on the street, and after listening to their sales pitch and thinking they were a bit shady, instead went with one recommended in the guidebook (with the amount of $$$ this is going to cost, better have a reputable company!). Well, because of Ramazan, we had to wait until 21:00 for their office to reopen, and booked a stay in 2 different resorts - off tomorrow to see the "unreal" Maldives.

Embuhdu, Maldives
Got an early start this morning from our hotel in Male, and spotted the small, loud-mouth parrot across the way that woke us up the last 2 mornings before 06:00 - of course if I had idiot owners who chained me up to a pole, I'd probably be yelling also.

We waited for the tour company guy (showing up 20 minutes late with no apology) to lead us to the boat at the dock, which departed Male,

stopped in Hulhule to pick up some other passengers arriving from international flights. Then, set off for Embudu village island resort, in the South Male Atoll (ring of coral islands). The resorts here in the Maldives are one per island, giving them all sort of unique and exclusive feeling.

From the point we docked, with someone carrying my backpack (not quite used to that!), and arriving at the reception with its sand floor and welcome drinks,

knew this was going to be a relaxing time! Svenni and I walked around the entire small island, which took about 20 minutes total, checking out the lizards,

flightless birds,

and above all else, beautiful white sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise-blue water!

Today Svenja and I spent more time doing what they do best in the Maldives - swimming in the turquoise water, and relaxing on the white powder beach (sharing space with the herons).

After the beach, we signed up for a night fishing trip. Basically, the boat took us about 1km off shore and we were given some rudimentary fishing device - handle with the line wound around, and hook tied to one end.

Neither Svenni nor I were successful in landing a fish, and one time in my attempt to "cast" my line, accidentally let go of the handle and overboard it went (oops!). Someone, we're not sure if it was the small Asian lady, bagged a huge fish which no one could identify (likely to wind up in the buffet dinner tomorrow, though). Well, although we came up empty from the ocean, still were able to enjoy an amazing sunset.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 05:40 Comments (0)

Week 76, 7.Aug.10 - 13.Aug.10

Dalhousie, Sri Lanka to Induruwa, Sri Lanka

View Week 76 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Dalhousie, Sri Lanka
Svenja and I are about to have dinner in our hotel restaurant here in Dalhousie village, debating whether to wake up in the middle of the night to climb Sri Pada, or Adam's Peak, to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, this is the rainy season so there's no guarantee if we'd see the sun at all tomorrow. As it is already cold & rainy weather now, it doesn't seem like a safe bet. This morning back in Nuwara Eliyia, after breakfast we checked out of the hotel. Looking over our bill, I asked why they were adding 10% service fee to the room charge, in addition to the food charge. While we were being told of the "service" the hotel provided with the room, like "towels and sheets", Svenja and I were watching the other hotel worker laying out our used, wet towels on the front lawn to dry (unwashed), and then the next door room's bed sheets being shook out and re-made onto the bed (unwashed). I remarked to the manager that the "service" they claimed to provide, dirty towels and sheets, shouldn't be charged, but he was conveniently ignoring my observation and ultimately just adjusted the bill to 5% service fee. Not wanting to dwell on the issue any longer, we left and visited Victoria Park to walk around a bit - even though the park charges an entry fee (ridiculous), it was still nice.

Grabbing our bags from the shady hotel, headed to the bus station and tried to board the next minibus to Hatton, but after looking at our packs, the conductor told us it was "too full", even though there were clearly seats open down the center row. It is definitely an adjustment after traveling in Africa 7 months, for a bus ever to be considered "full". We got on the later minibus to Hatton, which of course was empty so no problem with the luggage. But, as that bus was about to depart the driver said something in Sinhalese (Sri Lanka language) and everyone got off - some problem with the bus. By the time we collected our bags and followed the crowd, the THIRD bus to Hatton was already full! Finally, the fourth bus we got on, and successfully departed, arriving later in Hatton. Changed busses for Dalhousie, and called a guest house on the way to make a reservation. Upon arriving in Dalhousie, instantly a flustered tourist boards the bus and begins talking German to Svenja, followed by some local tout on the bus trying to get us to stay in his hotel, right outside where the bus was parked. A long time listening to the German man, joined by his wife and daughter, but eventually we walked toward the guesthouse I called earlier. Passing the police station, after some guy asked which hotel we're going to and I responded, he points back to the other hotel where the bus stopped (even though I knew it wasn't). Well, when we got to the guesthouse, I could tell right away it wasn't very nice. The woman owner tried to increase the price I was quoted on the phone, then went back down. They were obviously pretty desperate for business, but I didn't have a great feeling. So despite feeling a bit bad, we decided to head back after all to the hotel by the bus stop.

Cold, windy, rainy - not the best elements to climb some 4,000 steps & 7 km up the side of a mountain, but thats what we just finished up doing. Woke up early this morning and saw the rain, so decided since there wasn't any opportunity for a a sunrise view, slept-in and had breakfast. The rain continued pretty much all day, but I figured if we didn't climb it, then there wasn't anything else to see or do in this village. So, we set out sometime around 13:00, despite the rain still falling.

Passed by mini-temples and dagobas,

and one giant reclining Buddha on the way up,

with views of pretty waterfalls all around.

We decided to pass the time (4.5 hours up) by playing "The shoe game"; counting abandoned shoes/sandles scattered up the mountain (Svenja won 8-2, but some of the rules were ridiculous!). Along the way we met the German family descending, father ranting on for several minutes (Svenja later translated: complaining about the tough conditions, bad weather and disappointment at the summit). We continued on, and being low season, saw no other tourists and only a few locals hauling stuff. Pausing for a snack, soon Svenja's freaking out as she discovered a mini leech on her leg, then I see one on myself also - damn! Brushing them off, we continued up. More than once we considered quitting - not really a difficult climb, but very unkind conditions.

But eventually reaching the narrow, steep staircase to the top.

We were greeted by the lone gatekeeper/guard man staying in the hut at the top, he unlocked the gate to the temple at the summit, saying something along the lines for us to not lose the key or we'd have to go to Colombo for the spare. We stayed at the temple for oh, 5 minutes or so, as the cold wind and rain weren't exactly fun.

The guard invited us into his hut for tea, and as we removed our shoes, thats when I noticed it - one of the leeches found its way into my sock and had itself a meal with my ankle - huge spot of blood. Now I was freaking out! Well, at least we could warm up a bit with the gatekeeper's electric hot plate.

Over tea we tried to have a conversation with his limited English - all I understood was the types of tourists he meets, and gifts he receives (torch, t-shirt, money, etc.). Although, when I told him which hotel we were staying in, he had a positive reaction, and proceeded to condemn the guesthouse where our original reservation was made (what, does everyone in the town has some kind of vendetta with this place?!?). We thanked him (100 rupees) then started making our way back down. Took about 1.5 hours and just started getting dark when we arrived back at the hotel. Getting undressed for the shower, I then noticed on the other foot the second leech bite of the day.

Panicking, I did a full body search... thankfully, there weren't more on other areas!

Ratnapura, Sri Lanka
This morning in Dalhousie, after seeing evidence of chewed curtains and droppings on the floor over the past 2 days, we finally found the "mouse" in our hotel room - in fact, the small squirrels/chipmunks climbing on the roofs outside, and into our room at night through the cracks in the windows. We checked out of the hotel and made our way to Ratnapura, which is only 15 km from Adam's Peak, But since no busses pass directly between the two, we had to take the annoyingly long roundabout bus rides to Maskeliya, Norton Bridge, Avissawella, Kiriella and finally Ratnapura, about 150 km. Well, the good thing is we really like our guesthouse here - friendly staff and geckos having dinner.

This morning Svenja and I signed up for a 1/2 day "gem tour" here in Ratanpura. After breakfast, our tuk-tuk driver picked us up from the guesthouse and first stop was the gem museum - not so much of a museum with information, but more like a place with outdated displays of gems. Next our driver took us to an active gem mine - not on the side of some mountain like what we really expected, but dug underground in some pretty flat area. We first saw the washing/filtering pit, where our driver explained, "They work very hard here". Well, all we saw were workers standing around looking at tourists - I had to ask the guy to do his job so I could have the photo op!

Then we headed to the active mine. The driver encouraged us to strip to our underwear (so as not to get our clothes muddy), and climb down the rope into the pit. While I removed my shirt, not surprisingly, Svenni kept her clothes on. I climbed down first - slippery, muddy boards to step on while lowering yourself on the rope, probably a good 5 meters.

Waited for Svenni ,then we crouched our way through the mine, becoming pretty muddy.

The narrow passage about 1 m wide x 1 m tall, isn't an ideal place for anyone suffering from claustrophobia.

We met the guy who spends the whole day digging for gems (not ideal work conditions),

and then having enough, backed out and climbed back up,

rinsed off the mud at a water spout then our driver took us to the gem "market", which was just a bunch of guys standing in a parking lot pulling gems out of their pockets and trying to sell them. Not the most exciting thing, so our driver took us over to where merchants were shaping and polishing gems delicately by hand - cool enough to see, but not cool enough to purchase any.

Our driver then offered to take us to a waterfall outside of town for an extra Rs 500, and having most of the day still with no plans, headed over. Upon arriving, and then navigating over some slippery boulders in the river heading upstream, came to a really nice waterfall and swimming area.

After stripping down to our underwear (Svenni keeping her shirt on), washed our clothes and climbed in the swimming area - felt cool & really nice; then felt some fish nibbling on our legs & feet - luckily, not piranhas!

We swam for a while, had some snacks then navigated our way back on the rocks to the parked tuk-tuk, then back to the guesthouse. It was still fairly early so we headed down the hill back into town to visit the National Museum - overall, a so-so collection, but aided by a really nice guide who genuinely seemed to want to help explain displays, despite struggling a bit with English. We brought a pineapple with us, so after the museum tour Svenni and I sat in the back lawn of the museum and had a small picnic. Headed back to the guesthouse and balcony outside of our room, for nice views of the valley and sunset to finish the day.

Galle, Sri Lanka
Here in Galle, Sri Lanka's main city in the south. This morning Svenni and I checked out of the guesthouse in Ratnpura, walked down the hill to the bus station - but no busses left for Matara (to connect to Galle) for a few hours, so we took a detour route and instead went to Panadura on the west coast, then changed busses south here to Galle. Walking around a bit this evening, can tell already this city has a different feel than others in Sri Lanka - cows resting on the sidewalks,

kids playing cricket inside the old dutch fort walls -

very nice atmosphere. Had dinner at the guesthouse next door to ours with some older English man Eric looking to buy an investment property here in Galle - certainly can't blame him!

This morning Svenja and I had a great breakfast at the cafe a couple doors down (french toast with bananas - yum), then took a tuk-tuk to Unawatuna.

Along the beach, there were certainly signs this was a more tourist-oriented place... very laid back beach filled with foreign women dressed in bikinis and actually not being stared at (usually in this country Svenni gets stared at just for having bare shoulders), touts constantly approaching trying to sell spots on glass-bottom boat rides or jet skiing. Several homeless dogs hung around our blanket while we ate snacks, and sure enough, one walks by and marks my daypack... I was so p*ssed! I washed it off in the ocean, and shooed away other dogs, that then began to bark at me -- I was about to whack one with my sandal but decided just to leave - needless to say, I wasn't a dog lover while in Unawatuna. We headed back to Galle, visiting the unimpressive national museum, then across the road to the Dutch reformed church (1640 AD), with its floor paved with gravestones.

we headed to the historical mansion "museum", which was actually just a bunch of antiques some guy collected over the years (decades); some of which was for sale.. as we were led through, predictably wound up in the gem shop. Finished off the day with a sunset stroll around the fort walls.

Induruwa, Sri Lanka
Today Svenja and I had another great breakfast at the cafe in Galle, checked out of our guesthouse and grabbed a minibus to Induruwa (actually, a bit too far, as the conductor didn't stop the bus at the correct place), and headed into the Sea Turtle Project Conservation, organization which serves as a refuge and hatchery for turtle eggs laid on the beach,

helping to ensure the baby turtles have a fighting chance before being released into the ocean. We got to see a couple turtles during feeding time, then the highlight: seeing,

and then a chance to hold,

the baby green turtles, only a few days old.

There were a few disabled/blind turtles that had been caught in nets and bitten by sharks, and we got to see a rare albino turtle.

We went to the guesthouse to check in, then joined a British girl and French couple on their way to visit a different conservation site - well, just about the same deal as the first, although a bit better guide. Also, able to hold the adult turtles (careful not to drop them!).

Posted by rd wrld1yr 07:30 Comments (0)

Week 75, 31.July.10 - 6.Aug.10

Vavuniya, Sri Lanka to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

View Week 75 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Vavuniya, Sri Lanka
Here up north in Vavuniya. Unfortunately, this is the second time we've been here today, as our connecting bus coming from Vavuniya stopped at a checkpoint north on the way to Jaffna, and Svenja and I were denied to go any further without Ministry of Defense authorization, taking the next bus back down. The MOD, based in Colombo, apparently still restricts travel to the Tamil-dominated north even though the civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels has been over for one year. The military officer apologized profusely, but said we needed to turn around and take the next bus back to Vavuyiya, where we could call the MOD and try to arrange the permission letter to be sent via fax to an internet cafe... only thing is, the MOD is closed until Monday. So, with that, we're sweating like crazy here in uninspiring Vavuniya, and figuring out next plans.

Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Svenja and I just had dinner here at our hotel on the beach in Trincomalee. Although, it was not the first choice hotel we tried after arriving; that one on the other side of town apparently is full... for the next month? Well, after sweating through breakfast this morning back in Vavuniya, we sweated our way to the ATM of a couple different banks, then sweated over to the bus station (so in other words, its hot) for the ride out to the east coast, passing the odd scarecrow or 2 on the way.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Today in Trincomalee during breakfast, I composed a letter and faxed it, along with Svenja and my passport photos, to the MOD requesting permission to travel up to Jaffna. After sending it off, we went and visited the few sites available. First to the sky-blue 1852 St. Mary's cathedral surrounded by curious school kids staring away.

Walking down Dockyard Road, bought another thambili king coconut nearby the photo-worthy Kalikovil Hindu temple,

and passed the not-so-interesting fish market, before entering Portuguese colonial-era Fort Frederick

and ascending up the peninsula hill. The temple at the top was not nearly as impressive as the views overlooking the Bay of Bengal

and Inner Harbour.

Went back at the hotel a few hours later, only to discover no return fax from the MOD. When I called them up, after being disconnected a couple times while being transferred by the b**chy receptionist, finally got through to the officer I had spoken with this morning - only to find that 4.5 hours later, nothing has been done. He said he'd have to call the Secretary of Something, which would take "a couple of hours"... Well, not quite convinced by the guy, decided I couldn't take anymore aggravation on attempts to get up to Jaffna and settled instead to head here to Sigiriya. Got checked in to a guesthouse, and saw our room was already occupied by a guest in the shower....

Just returned from walking up the huge and frighteningly high ancient Sigiriya rock, now grabbing a bite to eat at our guesthouse. This morning, after a slight detour to the main entry gate thanks to the guidebook's inaccurate map (seems I'll be getting lost a lot while here in Sri Lanka), Svenja and I walked around the ancient ramparts and moats

to get into the grounds.

Sigiriya has many different gardens/ancient settlements - including the terraced gardens where thieving monkeys will quickly steal your bag of gummy bears left on the ground while stopping for a rest - leading to the steep/spiraling and frightening staircases halfway up the rock,

to the beautiful frescoes (5th c.)

and polished "mirror wall".

Another stairway leads to the platform where huge "lion's paws" are stationed at the base of yet another frightening staircase clinging to the side of the rock up to the summit.

Along the way we say an amusing "beware of hornets" sign,

until we actually saw the numerous huge hornets nests vibrating... ok, definitely won't be provoking them!

Reaching the summit, with ridiculously windy conditions,

we had a snack and enjoyed the breathtaking views all around as Buddhist monks likely did, over 1,500 years earlier.

Dodging the army of school kids, we descended down the rusting staircase safely on the ground

in time to check out the museum. While Svenni and I were looking at some of the pictures on my camera I had taken up on the rock, soon became surrounded by a team of paranoid security men reminding me over and over I wasn't allowed to take photos in the museum. I explained I was just reviewing earlier photos, not taking new ones, but apparently they're not familiar enough with English (even though they were speaking English) to understand me so I put away the camera before I got arrested. Interestingly, many of the modern-looking information displays in the museum still claimed this area was once King Kassapa's (AD 477-495) palace, even though Sri-Lankan archeologists have verified this was only used as a Buddhist monastery.

Just returned back to the guesthouse in Sigiriya from a long trip (over a relatively short distance) in a slightly crowded bus

visiting Polonnaruwa today. Our first stop there was to the interesting archaeological museum, with tons of displays like Hindu and Buddhist relics, and slab inscriptions of King Nissanka Malla (12th c.), who seemingly left his mark everywhere in the ancient capital.

Passing the Rest House group where Nissanka's palace, royal baths and king's council chamber ruins were being invaded by modern-day school kids,

we headed to the Royal Palace group. The Audience Hall and bathing pool were both impressive

but paled in comparison to the enormous Royal Palace itself - giant pillars still remain from a structure that was once seven stories high.

Walking north past the Hindu Shiva Devale, the very detailed carvings were not lost among the masses of schoolchildren.

Then entered the concentrated quadrangle ruins - Vatadage,

Gal Pota,

Satmahal Prasada,

and other sites - all impressive. We searched around for a tuk-tuk to head up to the northern group, but wound up taking a small motorbike taxi (not the most comfortable ride!)

where the price was, "As you wish... maybe 200 (Rupees)". We rode up to Gal Vihara, a group of 4 Buddha images carved from the same long slab of granite.

We rode back down and - pretty insistent was our driver - stopped by the huge headless Buddha at Lankatilaka,

then continued on to the enormous Rankot Vihara.

When our motorbike taxi driver brought us back to the main gate, he was suddenly much more specific on the price, telling me to pay 300! I laughed, but he was only getting 200 from me. Svenja and I then walked back to the round about and waited seemingly forever for a bus to come by - squeezing ourselves aboard (I was still standing on the steps for entering the bus for 1/2 the ride!), made our way back to Sigiriya.

Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
I can't believe it, but dare I say I'm actually cold here in Nuwara Eliya. The mountainous region of this "Little England" town is a welcome respite from the sweltering lowlands of Sri Lanka, but frankly I wasn't prepared for pulling out my turtleneck and fleece! Bussed it from Sigiriya this morning, passing curving roads around mountains,

which took pretty much took all day to arrive here. We headed to a restaurant recommended in the guidebook for dinner, only to find about 5 other groups of tourists already inside, no locals. Leaving that restaurant and heading to one not flooded with tourists, vowed that would be the last time I bought that particular brand of guidebook!

Today after breakfast Svenja and I wanted to visit a tea factory and took a local bus to Pedro Tea Estates.

There were friendly tea "pluckers" (apparently not to be called "pickers"), all Tamil women, heading out of the Estate as we were walking in -

as it turned out, the pluckers were already finished for the day, and no more tours! Fortunately, the manager told us of another tea factory, Labookellie, just outside of Nuwara Eliya and offers similar tours all day. So, taking the bus back to the station, and switching busses for Labookellie, we arrived at the factory. Confusingly, there were no signs mentioning where to go for a tour, yet loads of people were being led around on tours. We asked a woman who was working in the gift shop for information, and was told we could have a tour once she finished up with her current visitor, and were told to wait in the cafe. In the cafe, the waitresses noticed us sitting for about 10 minutes, but for some reason didn't come ask for an order - even after talking to each other and looking over at us - but seemingly only wanted to serve tourists who had already passed through a factory tour... weird. Eventually one came over and took our order, but we weren't "allowed" to add milk to that particular blend of tea. Anyway, the woman from the gift shop showed up and gave us a very scripted tour (didn't seem to appreciate questions being asked), but still interesting enough to see the drying, fermenting and firing process in action.

After the tour, we searched around to find some tea where we'd be allowed to add milk.... We made our way leisurely back to town, walking quite a ways to see the tea pluckers along the landscape.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 08:37 Comments (0)

Week 74, 24.July.10 - 30.July.10

Colombo, Sri Lanka to Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

View Week 74 on rd wrld1yr's travel map.

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Svenja and I are heading to dinner at our new hotel in Colombo - much nicer, better location than the last 2 nights place (uh.. and a lot pricier). Today we went back to the city center, picked up a guidebook to figure out what and where we'll go over the next 4 weeks. Headed over to Galle Face Green where the locals were flying kites and blaring music by the seaside.

Kandy, Sri Lanka
Svenja and I are about to turn in, on our hard-as-rock bed in the pretty nasty and small room in our very cheap hotel, here in Kandy. We're dealing with ittle tiny bugs or mosquitos (not quite sure), flying around our room now. Which, after our unexpected cockroach dinner guest last night munching on the bread ("uh, yes waiter, we're finished, thank you."),

is actually not so bad, as far as insects go. Got a late start this morning (4 flight jet-lag still rearing itself), then took a crowded city bus to the train station, bought our tickets for the 15:35 train. While waiting in the ticket lobby for the train, I proceeded to make a baby looking at me cry by trying to make a funny face (the mother didn't seem amused). The train ride was really nice - beautiful landscape changing from the coastal area inland to the hill country,

and photogenic spectators along the way.

A few guys played daredevil hanging from the outside, ducking and dodging past trees and signs.

Arriving in Kandy, instantly felt the relief of cooler air.

I'm afraid I may not eat a decent meal the whole time in Sri Lanka - just returned from dinner where my chicken teriyaki with rice was dry, small and not too tasty. This was following chicken pad thai made with instant noodles for lunch. Oh, well. Today, we spent some time walking around the man-made lake from 1807 - lots of ducks, egrets and other birds with temples and dagobas all around, providing a nice background.

We visited a cultural center for the obligatory "traditional" song and dance show. Well, I've been to plenty of these shows and can say this wasn't the greatest - the "Pooja dance" with their singing was forgettable, to say the least.

Although, the drum-balancing "Raban dance"

and fire-walking finale - awesome!

Heading to the pub for dinner - and hoping for my second good meal in a row (lunch at an Indian restaurant finally broke the bad meal curse). Today Svenja and I started the morning at Sri Dalada Maligawa, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and one of the most important sights for Buddhists.

Supposedly, so the story goes, a tooth was taken from Buddha during his cremation in 483 BC, kept in India but eventually smuggled into Sri Lanka during 4th c. AD. The temple itself and ceremonial puja, or offering, with drum and horn procession were entertaining,

but the tooth itself is hidden in a golden stupa, so couldn't tell for sure if Buddha suffered from cavities.

The surrounding shrines,

Sri Dalada museum, Audience Hall, and Raj Tusker Hall (shrine)

were also nice. The whole area had impressive details liked carved Buddhas and guard stones on the stairs,

and moonstone carvings on the ground.

After, we took a tuk-tuk up the mountain to visit the 1925 former Hanthana tea factory, now a museum filled with 100+ year-old machinery used for processing tea leaves into a commercial product.

Learned about Thomas Lipton's stop over here to begin harvesting the household brand-name crop. One the top floor of the museum, in the cafe, while the telescope wasn't working so well,

the catwalk was open, and working (and, a bit frightening!).

After exploring, we got our free cuppa Ceylon tea.

Our tuk-tuk driver next took us to Udawattakelle sanctuary where we strolled on "lover's walk", past huge trees filled with monkeys.

Unfortunately, along the way I was attacked by an ant who managed to crawl up to my upper thigh. I had to drop my pants to get the darn thing! Svenja was nice enough to capture the moment...

Back in town, we stopped for a juice (where we discovered woodapple is not tasty, even with sugar added), then to Kataragama Devale joint Hindu-Buddhist temple (this apparently is normal in Sri Lanka) filled with tacky neon flashing signs, but pleasantly without any other tourists.

A monk gave Svenja and me a safety/peace prayer chant, sealed with orange string bracelets to be worn for 1 month.

It was actually very nice, and worth the 10,000 rupee donation.

This morning, after visiting a fantastic juice place for breakfast (2 "cereal in a glass" and 2 fruit salads for under US$4!), Svenja and I visited the uninspiring and overpriced National Museum - a couple humorous displays like a palanquien, or chariot, from 18th c. ("Ancient tuk-tuk", the museum guard called it) and gara yaka, or demon, mask with the silly expressions.

We then took the train to nearby Rambukkana, and grabbed a tuk-tuk with our coconut snack (stupid driver spilling most of it when opening) over to visit the Pinnewala elephant orphanage - where abandoned/orphaned elephants are looked after.

They were very tame and approachable, allowing you to feed it some tree stalk.

The babies were obviously cute, but we were moved by the disabled/injured adults as well. One had one foot blown off by a land mine, one had some injuries who spent seemingly all day hosing himself down.

We exited the orphanage, then saw the procession of elephants being led out of the orphanage to the river, stopping traffic (ala Beetle album cover),

for an afternoon dip -

some were completely submerged, others donning a mud layer. One became was trying to get frisky with several of the other elephants!

While spending time there, we ordered tea at a cafe where I had my palm read, despite not requesting it, by some guy (who dressed conspicuously the same as the waiters in the cafe, allowing him to more easily approach tourists). Apparently I'll live to 90, no, 98, and be very wealthy and have 2 children. But, one prediction he got the wrong, thinking I would give tips to uninvited, self-proclaimed fortune tellers...

Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Long day on the bus from Kandy to Anuradhapura, just checked in to a hotel straight out of "The Shining" movie set, with beds long enough for anyone to sleep comfortably on... provided you are 5' tall.

Just returned from a long day bicycling around Sri Lanka's ancient capital city of Anuradhapura, on 2 very ancient bicycles.

After breakfast, we headed over first stop to the Mirisavatiya Dagoba, built by Dutugemunu, where we were greeted by a police officer looking for some sort of tip (didn't happen).

After picking up our pricey "Round Ticket", for the Cultural Triangle (other ancient sites in the region), headed north to Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba for our 2nd stop. We weren't sure where the entrance was exactly, so parked our bikes and hopped over a fence to get inside. I really liked this dagoba, from 140 BC, with the hundreds of elephants circled around guarding it, lined shoulder to shoulder.

We left and bought a large thambili (king coconut) for a refreshing drink under the blazing hot sun, then continued on. Third dagoba, Thuparama, dates from 3rd c. BC - one of the oldest in the world - and surrounded by crooked pillars

Next, after greeting some friendly locals,

went to Ratnaprasada monastery, which were essentially ruins.

Then, after following some pretty confusing maps and locals all pointing in different directions, located the Samadhi Buddha - regarded as one of the finest in Sri Lanka (I thought it was fairly average).

We next rode over to the Kuttam Pokuna, twin ponds that looked like swimming pools.

The next dagoba, Abhayagiri, was completely covered in scaffolding, so not too impressed. We literally rode in circles trying to find the nearby yet elusive Mahasena's Palace - unsuccessfully - before cutting our losses and riding to the Abhayagiri museum, which, while not covered with scaffolding, didn't have the most friendly museum staff (closing the place while we were still inside). I enjoyed seeing the ancient artifacts like moonstones, guards and Buddha footprints.

We next headed to the (unnecessarily) heavily guarded Sri Maha Bodhi tree, said to be the "oldest historically authenticated" tree in the world. Not quite sure what that means, but do know that it has been guarded uninterrupted for over 2,000 years. In fact, probably tighter security than at US airports. The tree itself wasn't as awe-inspiring - nor as big - as I would have predicted.

But the story, that the tree seedling came from Bodhgaya in India by Princess Sangamitta (sister of Mahinda, who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka), was pretty cool. Due to the overprotective roadblocks, we were unsuccessful in making a visit to nearby (about 100m away) Brazen Palace, as the detour route would have been a few kms at least. So instead, we went to the new town for dinner at a guidebook recommended restaurant. Well, not only was the guidebook map completely wrong about the location (most locations today, for that matter), the food was certainly not memorable in any way. Riding back in the dark in the streets with barely-functioning brakes on the bicycles was an interesting way to end the day.

Posted by rd wrld1yr 06:56 Comments (0)

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