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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA | Wednesday, 2 January 2008 | Views [2709] | Comments [2]

Sat 22nd Dec - Rapid south Indian breakfast at the hotel and free drop-off at the airport international terminal. Sri Lankan Airlines Flight UL122 due to leave at 10:30am for Sri Lanka, so straight to check-in via the usual baggage screening at the entrance. Got rid of my leftover Indian rupees at the Thomas cook agency. Bad exchange rate, but an easier alternative. Next through the immigration to stamp out of India. This takes a long time as they have the usual snaking queue and intentive officers that painstakingly go through everyone's details. Chennai airport is a nice one, with good facilities and it's tidy. Flight took off on time, so it is Namaste to India.

Arrived in Sri Lanka at v11:45am to 26 deg C and drizzle. Apparently, the weather is very unseasonable, well how's hat for bad timing?

First stop after baggage collection is to get some Sri Lankan Rupees. There is a Union Bank ATM in the exit area where the row of money changers are, but as usual it gives you large notes only. Had to ask one of the money changers to swap some notes for smaller denominations. Some refused but sorted it eventually.

Decided not to get ripped off with exorbitant taxi fares, so headed for the bus bay. Got a free shuttle bus to the 'Katanaratake juntion' bus station, which stops just to the left of the airport exit. Simple then...ask for a bus to Negombo? Got directed onto a bus...the driver said it didn't go there and pointed me somewhere else...who said it didn't go there andpointed me somkewhere else. Now, the books say you can get by with english here. Not where I was you can't. Got mostly blank stares asking for a bus to one of the areas major towns! Eventually got on the right bus for 15 rupees. Didn't have a clue where to get off but for the help of an old guy. Then jumped onto a rickshaw for the final stretch. Arrived at the 'Sunset beach hotel' at Carron place in Ethukala and sorted.

Off walkabout to explore this verdant area and beach. The hotel is straight onto the beach and a pleasant breeze blowing. Could hear some reggae sounds from down the beach, so followed. Surreal is one way to put it, seeing a christmas tree on the beach decorated with tinsel and bawbles and a reggae style band knocking out rhythms under brightly coloured marquees. They stopped soon after for a short break to draw a raffle - 1st prize a fridge...won by a young girl of about 15...her mother looked delighted! 2nd prize a mobile phone...won by a guy who walked so slow to collect it I thought he had died on his way there! 3rd prize a free stay at the hotel hosting the event....now isn't  that just great...you probably cannot afford the return fare abut can stay for free if you make it!

The sun finally came out...yippee!

Saunter back to the hotel for a meal as getting really hungry and chatted to a lasy from Holland for a while, whilst waiting for a menu to be delivered. Was then told that they couldn't do any meals because there was a big party on tonight and all of their efforts were going into preparing for it. The best they could offer was a snack. Not happy with this I asked to see the manager, who went to see the chefs and came back with the same news. Dissapointed, I set off to go and find somewhere to eat. Just outside the hotel, I saw a guy who looked interesting, so I stopped for a chat. Lucky move... He turned out to be a frind of the hotel chairman and was horrified at me not getting a meal...he was on his mobile in a minute and the chairman came down to see me. Got the inquisition on who said they couldn't provide a meal. Ended up giving me their 'Star meal' which doesn't appear on the menu and one of their best bottles of red wine all for free, and joined me for dinner for a chat along with the swedish guy I met earlier. Had a really nice time too, so thanked them for their wonderful hospitality. He reprimanded the staff for not providing a good enough level of service in the first place.

The shame was that the party they had organised was laid out on the beach with a barbeque and decorated boat in the background. Really nice, until about half an hour before it was due to start and the skies opened and deposited a vast amount of water on it. No justice eh? So, ran for cover to the bar where two dutch guys were drinking their lives away....literally. They had both been travelling for many years trying to find a place in the world they liked enough to want to live permanently. Hadn't found anywhere yet as everywhere is boring after a while they said. After 6 months in the most beautiful place on the planet you've had enough. There's no hope for me then! The problem is they had nothing to do but drink. No work, no hobbies, no women... No wonder they got bored.

I have booked onto a small group tour for the next 12 days and not sure it was a good idea as I have  become accustomed to being independent now. Met the tour guide this evening and hadn't realised that, this really is a small group....of just 2, me and a retired lady from Australia. And the preamble from the guide wasn't encouraging, as the itinerary was going to need to be changed due to the really bad weather. Will have to see.

Sun 23rd Dec - Early start at 6:15am as the first stop is elephant feeding at the elephant sanctuary in Pinnewala. The journey north goes through the lush green jungle which covers a high proportion of the island.

The elephants at Pinnewala are allowed to roam around a beautiful jungle setting along with their young. One poor elephants had its foot blown off by a land mine some 20 years ago. After the feeding ritual they are walked down the street to the river to bathe, and most are allowed to roam as they get a call when it's time to return. Next to the bathing place is a nice restaurant with balconies where you can watch or go down to the water's edge to get a closer look, or even pet them.

Next stop was at 'Yapahuwa' fortress which is on a spur road of the A28 underneath a 100 metre granite rock, rising out of the relatively flat surroundings. A fairly easy but steep climb (although by now, it is heaving it down with rain) up some granite steps to where the old fortress once stood. This used to be the capital of old Sri Lanka in the 14th century. Construsted with an inner and outer perimeter wall, separated by a moat.

On the way to our final destination at the hotel, we stopped for a photo opportunity as a full moon procession passed, comprising women buddhists. They where on their way to the 'Bhodi tree', which I will see tomorrow. Our hotel for the next couple nights was the rather lacklustre 'Nuwarawewa' rest house, complete with mouldy walls caused by the excessive damp, but not too far from Anuradhapura centre. Unfortunately, the town was almost closed as it is sunday, and a full moon too, which is celebrated here. Not much choice for eating in the town, and what there is, isn't too great unless you want to eat at 'Casserole' which is attached to the supermarket on main street. Ended up at a rather dingy restaurant with no english signs to identify what it was called, and a buffet style arragement of cold fishy dishes tha looked set to kill. Loads of locals queueing up for takeaways, which is always a good sign. Don't think much of their tastebuds as I could only manage half of it before wanting to leave. Fortunately, the meal including drink was only 150 rupees, which is about 75 pence. Wish I had eaten at casserole now! Packet of biscuits and a cereal bar and a can of red bull to finish off dinner tonight then! Must find better tomorrow night as it's christmas eve!

Mon Dec 24th - This is the first time ever that I have spent christmas away from my family, and it feels weeeird! Last year at this time I was building up to a trip to Edinburgh with my then partner, to celebrate christmas and Hogmanay. The excitement was uncontainable and presents were under the tree, dance parties on the go, and visits to make. That is all a thing of the past and my family are a long way from here. I had arbitrarily decided a long time ago that Sri Lanka seemed a nice place to spend christmas - In my present circumstances as a nomad! It feels strange now that I am here, and my children are in the UK. I love them more than words can explain, but have to get used to the present situation. Christmas will never be the same again!

Anyway, I digress.....

I was right to feel suspect about the place I eat last night, as spent the whole evening on the toilet, so shattered and drained this morning. Great! ..... So it's cheeks clenched and dosed up with bunging pills as off sighseeing today around Anuradhapura and don't fancy having to run from one loo to another.

Off to see loads of Dagobas today (aka Stupa). There are some massive examples of them here. First stop though was the 'Isurumuniya Vihara', a rock temple from the 3rd century BC. The site is is also home to the 'Reclining Buddha', what has been cut from a single piece of rock. Next the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba, which is due to get another coat of paint next year. The main feature here apart from the dagoba itself, is the perimeter wall of hundreds of elephants shoulder to shoulder. They are a modern replacement for the originals from 140BC.

A short walk along the path by the dagoba leads to the 'Sri Maha Bodhi' sacred tree. The huge bodhi tree was grown from a cutting from the original bodhi tree in Bodhgaya in India, where buddha achieved 'enlightenment', and has been protected by guardians for over 2000 years. As last night was a 'Poya' (full moon) day, many new prayer flags had been added by buddhist pilgrims. Some of the branches are so long that they have to be supported by fancy brass poles.

Next, the 75 netre high 'Abhayagiri' Dagoba from the 2nd century BC. This used to be the centrepiece for a monastery of 5,000 monks.

Short stop a the 'Kuttam Pokuna' (twin ponds) bathing tanks. At the moment, one of these is covered In bright green pondweed that made for a dazzling photograph in the sunshine. The larger  pond is fed with water through the mouth of a 'Makara', which was a mythical beast. The smaller pond is fed from the larger by an underground pipe.

The final visit for this area was another dagoba at Jetavanarama. This used to be the 3rd tallest monument in the world (at 100m, although it is now only 70m), after the pyramids at Giza in Egypt. Someone calculated that there were enough bricks in this dagoba to build a 3 metre high wall from London to Edinburgh!

Next headed east to Mihintale, the birthplace of buddhism in Sri Lanka. 1,840 granite steps lead up the hillside to the complex at the top, although you can drive part way up and miss out a fair amount of the steps. The main points of interest at the top are the white dagoba with a superb view of the surrounding countryside, and a magnificent white sitting buddha.

After a hot day in the sun, time to head back to the hotel after lunch and a dip in the pool to cool down. Seems odd to be in a pool in the sunshine on christmas eve. Even odder is that the hotel has stuck cotton wool balls onto the windows to simulate snow...for a country that has never seen snow a bit strange!

Dinner at the Cadjan restaurant, which is part of the Grand Hotel. Nice food and theoretically reliable... Up thru the night again. I know every inch of the toilet by now. I don't think it was the food at the cadjan.

Tue 25th December - Christmas day. Our tour leader has had to leave us to go home as his wife had been whisked into hospital yesterday with a stroke. A new leader has been draughted in at short notice to take over from here, called 'lucky'...we'll see!

Down for breakfast to the sound of chrismas carols on the TV, singing about a lovely white chrstmas. At 7:30am here, the gauge on the wall registered 26°C ... The two just don't seem to go together. Equally odd was leftover christmas pudding for breakfast, along with curry and chapatis alongside cornflakes and fresh mango and bananas. A real hybrid christmas morning breakfast offering.

Off eastwards towards Polonnaruwa which was a slow drive as many of the roads are bad with subsidence caused by the flooding and generally heavy use. It turned out to be a very interesting drive. Due to the high water levels, fishermen were out with nets on the rivers, and catching subsantial quantities of fish too. Saw mainly corallie, tilapia and eels. Heavy presence of armed soldiers along the route as there is a large army camp here that was attacked a couple of months ago by the Tamil Tigers from the north.

Saw a wild elephant being fed by a shop keeper. Beautiful to see these graceful animals roam free. Also saw a pair of 'water monitor lizards' about 1 metre long with mottled dark skin. Plus a bright yellow lizard, as well as mongoose, peacocks and loads of birds including kingfishers, eagles, white egrets. A real animal spotting trip.

On the way we stopped a 'Aukana', which is home a really superb 12m standing buddha. Conflict exists over is age between the 5th, 12th or 13th century. Aukana means 'sun-eating' and refers to the best time of day to see it being at dawn. There is a mark on the ground between the statue's feet, where according to legend a single drop of water would land if it fell from the end of buddha's nose.

Polonnaruwa is a large area of many ruins spread around an area called the cultural triangle. A single ticket covers all of the monuments. He advice is to start the tour of the area at the archeological museum, but it was closed today as a tree had collapsed across it and destroyed part of the roof. The tree surgeons were there with chain saws when we arrived. There are many ruins to see here but for me, the highligh was the 'Gal Vihara', which forms part of the Parakramabahu's monastery. A group of four buddhas carved from a single piece of granite. From left to right, the first is a seated buddha followed by another smaller one in a recess followed by the 'standing  buddha', which is 7m high and then finally, the reclining buddha which is 14m long. The publicity photo shows grass in front of it that does not exist and there is also a metal roof over part of it but they are still superb.

Short stop at a woodcarving workshop, which had some incredible carvings, one of which took over 6 months to make and would retail at $20,000! After another long day sighseeing, off to 'The Royal Lotus' hotel at Giritale for the night. A beautiful sunset over the reservoir or 'tank' as they are known here. Great set buffet and the waitr even conjured up some christmas pudding when I asked him for some, although it wasn't on the menu. The only problem...as it is a religious holiday, alcohol cannot be served, so no wine with dinner to celebrate christmas...boo hoo! I was looking forward to that.

A big highlight of the day....I managed to get a call out to the UK to talk to my children. Miss them so much, it was great to hear their voices.

Wed 26th Dec - Boxing day in the UK, but a normal day here from what I hear. Headed off early to get to the flat-topped 200m high rock formation at 'Sigiriya' (means Lion's rock). The rock is actually the hardened magma core from an extinct volcano that has long since eroded away. There is conflict over the historical purpose of the site, but later evidence seems convinced that it was a monastary. Either way, it became a unesco world heritage site in 1982. The clibm to he top is via a sequence of steep granite steps interspersed with manmade steps. The top itself is a labyrinth of ruin walls and ponds, but the view of the surrounds is superb. Took a couple of hours to do the return trip to the top.

Feeling nice and fit after that bit of exercise, we went to the Dambulla cave temples. I personally think that these should be nominated to be one of the wonders of the world, as they are awesome. Before you get to the temples themselves, at the bottom of the hill where you buy the entrance ticket is the incredible 'Golden temple', which has only been there since the year 2000 and was built from japanese donations. A 30m high gold buddha sits on top of it. The walk up to the caves isn't too arduous and being buddhist, you have to leave your shoes outside. The sequence of five caves house an amazing collection of 150 reclining, standing and sitting buddhas and have to be seen to be appreciaed.

Next after a lunch break and heading towards Kandy, was a stop at one of the many spice gardens of the area. Similar to other spice plantations I have previously visited in other countries and nicely laid out, but specialising in herbal remedies.

Had to hurry as we had to get to Kandy in time for te Kandyan dance theatre performance at the hall by the lake, and this was peak time in Sri Lanka, so bit the first busy raffic I had sen since getting here along with chaotic traffic as we neared Kandy. The dance performance lasts about 1 hour. Comprising a sequence of ten dances, from the opening 'blowing of the conch-shell', followed amongst others by the 'pooja dance', 'mask dance', etc and culminating in Fire walking, where the entranced guys walk over burning coals.

Yet another rush now as closeby is the 'Temple of the sacred tooth relic'. This houses Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist relic, which one of Buddha's teeth. It only opens for a short period in the evening when the shrine housing can be seen, and visitors are shepherded past in rapid sequence to see the golden casket itself behind the doors. The tooth has become a symbol of sovereignty, and whoever holds It has the right to rule the island. The whole building is very interesting and was worth spending an hour looking around.

It's been a long and tiring day, so off to the hotel, staying at the 'Kandyan Arts residency', a very nice hotel with great facilities and excellent food.

Thu 27th Dec - First stop of the morning the 'Peradeniya Botanical gardens' a bout 6km from Kandy centre, the largest Bot gardens in Sri Lanka. 

The gardens contain a fantastic range of exotic plants, shrubs and trees. One of the avenues is aloud with the noise of many hundreds of really cute fruit bats. A guy came along with one on a branch for a closer look. Its wingspan was about 2ft. On of the nicest parts (if you are into it of course), is the orchid house. A superb range in full flower are on show.

Our drivers car had packed in, so he had to recruit a replacement whilst he got it sorted, so that our plan wasn't affected. Joined by driver number 3 (remember, the 1st one's wife had a stroke, so he went home), we set off south through the beautiful scenic hill territory towards Nuwara Eliya, and stopped at a tea plantation along the way. The road climbs about 1400m on the way through the 'Ramboda Falls' pass.

As soon as I opened the car door at the Glenloch plantation the wonderful aroma of tea hit my nostrils. We had a factory tour followed by a nice fresh cup of their finest brew, overlooking he stunning views of the plantation. The process was exactly the same as the one I had seen in Darjeeling but with more modern equipment, and the machinery and areas clearly marked as to their function. Onwards to Nuwara Eliya (6,200 ft above sea level), and a little diversion in town to book tonight's dinner at the famous 'Hill Club' which was founded in 1876 by british coffee planters as a 'home away from home'. Full of colonial feel. More on that later....

Stayed at the really nice Heritage hotel opposite the racecourse, which used to be the british governor's residence. Off to explore the town for a short while, although there isn't that much to see here.

Dinner at the Hill club... This is one life's great treats. To get in you have to become a temporary member, for the princely sum of 100 rupees. For gents, jacket and tie is compulsory, so off to the cloakroom to select the best green/black club tie and a rather nice tweed jacket from the wardrobe. Looked great with my white shirt and matching white sports shoes ( the best I had and they did say they weren't normally allowed, but I had nothing else). Ushered into the dining room for pre-dinner drinks by smartly dressed waiter. Sit by the lovely open log fire waiting for dinner. Being british of course, I had to have a dry martini and lemonade (shaken not stirred in true bond fashion, but feeling more like Michael Palin). Set dinner is served at 8pm precisely, by white gloved waiters in full white uniform. Five courses of wonderfully presented food, washed down by a superb red wine. Truly spiffing experience and excellent value too!

Whilt waiting for the tuk-tuk to pick up for the return to the Heritage, a really nice guy from Germany approached us for a chat. He was a judge at the horse racing event that was being staged over the christmas period, and used to be a very successful horse breader and race manager, but now lives permanently in Sri Lanka. With the hill club on offer, I don't blame him. Would definitely go there again.

Fri 28th Dec - 7am start as off to Horton Plains as the weather if left too late in the day, can make for poor visibility as mist starts to come in. Also, the temperature gets too hot later on. A fairly long drive due to the poor state of the roads and the steep climb in parts, rising around 1400m to reach the drop off area. The route in has great views of two of Sri Lanka's highest mountains (Tatapola & kirigalpota) as well as Adam's Peak. Just before reaching the main office, a pair of Sambar deer were stood at the side of the road, so we got out to feed them something from our breakfast packs. They are grand animals, very similar to reindeer. There was also a single wild boar scurrying around by the ticket office. There is a statement in the guide that leopards exist in the park, but nobody you talk to has ever seen any or knows anyone who has. You are not allowed to stray from the fixed route around the park and it is fairly obvious where to go. The walk took about 3 hours return (about 10km) to cover the main attractions of 'World's End' and 'Bakers Falls'. World's end is a sheer drop from the plateau of around 880m. The terrain is quite tough in parts, so glad I had my hiking boots. The falls are nice enough for a cool down from the spray. There used to be a free entry alternative to world's end, called 'Poor man's world end', but this has now been fenced off and you can be fined heavily for going in there. At $12 entry for the main circuit, it isn't a surprised they fenced it off! A visitor centre near the entrance has some useful information about the geology of the area. One funny story on one of the boards caught my attention.....Major Thomas Walters, a colonial officer was credited with killing over 1400 elephants in Sri Lanka. He was struck down by lightening, a fate considered by some as an act of the angry gods. His broken gravestone lies ignored behind the golf club in Nuwara Eliya, having been hit by lightening twice!

A much appreciated shower and change after getting back to the hotel. Not much time to relax, as hit the road again after lunch to Bandarawela, a very winding road through the hill country. Sri Lanka should be a relaxed country, and is in parts. Here though, they drive like maniacs, constantly in a hurry. Reminiscent of india, always honking their horns and overtaking on blind hairpin bends. On many occasions we narrowly missed a head-on collision. Makes travelling unnecessarily stressful.

Stayed at the 'Orient Hotel' in Bandarawela, which is a noisy, busy town so didn't bother exploring it as I was shattered and need to sleep.

Sat 29th Dec - Another early start at 7am as booked onto the train to Ohiya. Supposed to leave at 7:20am, but confusion for the unaware. A train pulled onto the platform at 7:20am and was about to get on it but not the right train. It reversed out of the station the way it had come, and shortly re-appeared on the opposite track. Our train then shuffled in. Picked up our guide 'Arti' who was to lead us on the trek. The journey to Ohiya goes through some stunning scenery of tea plantations and mountains. The occasional coffee shrub can be found, and the beans when red, can be eaten - just the outer shell as the inner bean is too hard. The land is so fertile that just aboutanything can be grown. The quality of the vegetables and the range available is superb. Arrived at Ohiya. Not what I expected. A platform in the middle of nowhere really. We headed off through the steeply undulating landscape of tea plantations. Luckily, there was lots of picking going on, so was able to get right in amongst them for some great close-up photographs. They all giggle a lot which is really nice. As normal, they are thrilled to see themselves on camera. The terrain is very demanding, especially when the temperature fealt as if it was in the lower 30's. Our desination was 'Bambarakanda falls'. These are the highest in sri lanka, and very remote to get to - about 18km from the train station. Coupled with the terrain and diabolical roads where they exist, it feels more like 40km. Stopped at a private house near to the falls for a cup of tea and 'hoppers' (a kind of odd tasting pancake), before completing the last stretch. The falls are 790ft and empty into a lovely pool which you can swim in if mad enough and don't mind freezing.

Back to the private house for lunch, typical sri lankan style vegetable curry with accompaniments and fresh mango and bananas to finish off with. Just what was needed after the long walk. Back on foot again after lunch for around 6km to the nearest major road where our driver picked us up.hot and knackered with my boots trying to prize themselves off my feet to get away from the heat, we drove on to our lodge for the night in 'Belihul oya', staying a the belihuloya rest house. This has a great position right on the banks of the river. Built in 1868 by major Roger, the engineer in charge of the Columbo Badulla highway construction company. Lovely room in the tree tops, with the sound of the river rushing by outside the balcony - magic end to a tiring walk!

Retrospecive note that I only remembered at dinner this evening...christmas pudding....isn't it odd how you just have to have something on christmas day...or else! For me, it was christmas pudding. At dinner on christmas day I asked for it, to be told that it was served on christmas eve here. Oh no! Fortunately, the chef dug some out for me. So I had it for breakfast at the rest house in nuwara wewa and then dinner a the lotus hotel in Giritale. Sorted! Although not like I would have it a home, close enough to mak me happy. Easily pleased!

Tonight's dinner was a simple one as I was 'spiced out' so had some pasta to give my systm a break,  until I got onto the 'Arrack'. This is a local spirit made from coconut. I started with an 'old' brand and the tour guide then turned up having bought a bottle of 'extra special' to share at 33.5% alc. Well, couldn't say no as had to be sociable! You lose track after a while, but there wasn't much left! Not sure if I will make it to breakfast in the morning?

Sun Dec 29th - Getting fed up with early starts as knackered. Up at 6am to head off for an jeep safari at the 'Udawalewe' National Park. Mainly elephants (about 400 live here), but also have water buffalo and some interesting birds (Hornbill, Crested hawk eagle, bee-eater to name a few) as well as loads of peacocks.

Back on the road with a short stop to try out some very unusual local fruits. Wood-apple is nice and can be used to make a sweet juice too. Another one was like the familiar pomegranate, but a smaller version with larger seeds. A really nice fruit was small, like a pink/green soft pear shape, but with cream pulp surrounding blackish seeds. Really pleasant taste. Saw a couple of land monitor lizards as we drove. Doesn't take much disturbance and they gather speed and run into the bushes.

Onwards to Galle with a lunch stop on the way near to Tangalla. Hammock on the beach watching the waves crash against the lovely sand...ah, good to be back on the coast again! Galle is a nice town. The last match of the cricket series was played here last week, on a pitch that was specially re-built following the damage caused after the tsunami. There are dutch, portuguese & british influences here. Opposite the cricket ground is the dutch fort. Originally built by the portuguese but subsequently enlarged and split up by the dutch into the star, moon and sun bastions. A nice walk along the sea wall was nice in the late afternoon heat. Didn't have enough time to explore, as had to get off to our hotel in Bentota. Staying a the 'Lihiniya Surf' hotel on the Bentota beach. An enormous hotel that occupies a long stretch of the beach and with plenty of facilities (albeit at a price). There's going to be a big party here for new year, so looking forward to it.

Mon 31st Dec - Well the last day of 2007 has arrived, and what a year it has been. So many changes have happened, that at times I cannot believe it. More on this later.

Off to explore Bentota and surrounding area this morning, before it gets too hot. Too late...it started roasting by 11am. Not much to say about the town other than there was a market today in Aluthgama that wasn't going to win any prizes for excitement level. Loads of fruit sellers and sarongs in every colour plus a wide array of the local tribal style masks, that would give a kid nightmares.

Time for a haircut so treated myself to a really short one, so that it lasts a while.

In the afternoon, went on a boat ride around what is called the Bentota 'Ganga'. A massive lagoon surrounded by palm trees and mangroves with swamp-like areas. A young kid paddled by on one of the typical canoes of this area, very narrow with an outrigger. He had a baby crocodile in a box which he let me have a play with, which was nice. Cute little thing up close and it behaved itself and didn't bite. Also saw. But didn't touch, water monitor lizards about 1 metre long. Plenty of birds such as herons, egrets and cormorants. The other thing you see here is 'Stick' fishermen, they perch on sticks out in the water. Also see people fishing from trees sitting on narrow platforms nailed to a branch. The fish they catch seemed tiny, but in abundance.

Stopped off at a coconut 'factory', where they make rope and carvings from the shells as well as from the wood from the trunk. Shown how the rope is made by hand and a quicker version made from a bicycle wheel.

Had a nice meal at the Golden grille in Bentota, before returning to the hotel for the party. They had put on a really good gala dinner spread (crazy price unfortunately, so had the meal outside the hotel and gate-crashed the party to get puddings for free - typical backpacker). They had made an enormous ice sculpture in the shape of 'Welcome 2008' and an intricate sculpture out of frozen butter, that was clever. Really cheesy music laid on by a group called the 'Rubber Band', and a sound system with so much echo on it, that it was painful, but funny at the same time. At midnight, the compere counted down the time using his watch - which was a bit suspect, and a great fireworks display then followed. All along the beach, most hotels put on a fireworks display, so good entertainment watching them for almost an hour. I had promised myself that I would bring in the new year with a cocktail on the beach, which I did. A strange feeling, as was christmas, to be so far away from my family on such an occasion. Sat on the beach for a while, reflecting on the situation. Made me feel sad actually, as I would have loved to hug my kids. Something I miss so much. Virtually everyone here is either a family or a couple who don't mix with anyone else, so it fealt a bit isolated even with lots of people around. The dance floor was full with couples, or parents with their kids, and the DJs trying to get people in the mood (one was dressed like a Michael Jackson look-alike). One little kid was going mad smashing things and his father didn't do anything about it. I bet the staff will be glad to see him leave.

Tue 1st Jan 2008 - A new year ahead....started it by going diving at 'Canoe Rock', with my dive buddy, the Michael Jackson look-alike from last night. Nice relaxed dive, although the visability was only 7 metres. Plenty of types of fish to see (Indian grouper, various trigger fish, lobster, puffer fish, lion fish (standard and clear), wrasse, angel, emperor of various types, long nosed file fish, spotted box fish, rays, plus many others. A good start to the year. I was the only diver that made it up this morning, two others cancelled. Too much to drink last night probably. Seas a bit choppy, so they would have seen last night's dinner a second time!

Wed 2nd Jan - Picked up from hotel to be taken to Colombo for tour of the Sri Lanka's capital city. Part of the tour has had to be scrapped as there has been an explosion in Colombo 2 area. Another atack by the tamils on military targets. Colombo is divided into 15 suburbs (Colombo 1 thru 15). Colombo 2 for example is also called 'Slave Island'. Colombo 1 is 'Fort'. There are many expensive areas in the city where the wealthy live as well as many more poor areas.

First stop was the 'Memorial hall' also called 'Independence' hall as it commemorates Sri Lanka's independence from the british in 1948. A nice granite structure of carved pillars and roof with nicely kept gardens around it.

Next, after driving through 'Cinnamon Gardens', one of the city's poshest areas, the awesome 'Gangaramaya' buddhist Temple. Not just a temple, but a complex of fascinating buildings. Built by one dedicated monk through vast donations of money, statues and other artefacts, there are many buildings on the site including a library and museum with superb detailwork. He has also built up a nice collection of vintage cars which are also being used to teach the locals mechanics as part of a school. This place is a real 'must-see'.

Next, the town hall (looking like a mini US whitehouse), and the 'Viharamahadevi' park opposite. Originally called 'Victoria' park. Obviously too easy a name to remember, so that had to be changed! Actually, it was named after the mother of king Dutugemumu in the 1950's. Apparently much better in the spring when the trees are in flower, but fairly ordinary at this time of year - apart from a nice golden sitting buddha at the main entrance.

Final part of the tour, past the oldest hotel in Colombo, the 'Grand Orient' and a short stop at a more interesting second oldest hotel, the Galle Face' hotel. 143 years old with a nice old attendant waiting outside, who had worked there for 64 years and was decorated with an impressive collection of medals. Got a personal tour around the hotel, which was hosting a wedding party in the main ballroom. Lovely old place.

After lunch, a brief stop in Negombo to drop off my travel partner for the tour and then whisked off to the airport to fly off to Malé in the Maldives tonight.

Sri lanka is is beautiful island, with much to see. There is much more than I have seen in the 12 days or so I have been here. I would have liked to climb 'Adam's peak' in the center of the island, got to 'Yala' National Park in the south, and maybe explored the eastern coast. Could easily fill a month here. I will be back for a few more days after the Maldives, but that is only a stop-off before going to Thailand, as I missed a seat on an earlier flight due to not having any access to either the internet or a travel agent for most of this trip. All that was left were expensive business class seats. I can easily fill a couple days when I briefly return.

There are continuing problems here with terrorism from the tamil LTTE organisation, which leads to a high presence of military check-points around the country. The roads are being improved, but are very poor in many areas. But, like I say, they are slowly being improved. Traffic is very high in many areas and they are very impatient drivers. They could do with having the horns removed from their vehicles, much like in India, but you get to accept that after a while. They are trying to do something about the pollution from the traffic where they can, by forcing the engines to be changed on the 3-wheelers and striving for more cleaner cars. I have heard nothing about the buses or wagons though, and they kick out a significant amount of black smoke. A start has been made though.

So, 'Aayu bowan' to Sri Lanka - for now anyway.

Tags: Sightseeing

 

Comments

1

Hi Jeff, Happy Xmas
Hope you enjoy Sri Lanka as much as I did - have you seen the HUGE bats migrating up and down the river at Kandy each dusk and dawn? I found that an incredible eerie sight
Sigyria is awsome too, glad to see you've done that.

  stewart lythe Dec 28, 2007 3:05 AM

2

Way to go Jeff, you keep on trucking.Happy New Year!!XX
Love to everyone in beautiful Sri Lanka!

  caroline Jan 2, 2008 4:44 AM

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