I wasn't feeling fabulous when I woke up, although I certainly wasn't feeling nearly as bad as during the night. I packed, drank some water, and skipped breakfast. My driver picked my up promptly by 7 and we started out to Sigiriya. On the way, he taught me a few things about Sri Lanka, and I eventually ate about a handful of crackers for breakfast. As we left Trincomalee, I expected to leave the city behind and see a lot of rural scenery. Not so much. Yes, there were lots of cows and dogs, but the streets continued to be packed with houses, shops, and industrial areas. It was a long time before we entered the jungle. To be fair, the jungle just looked like regular forest to me as a non-botanist. But the guide showed me where some of the areas had elephant fences that they closed at night to keep the elephants away from people. He told me jungle animal stories. And then we saw the rock. You can see Sigiriya from quite a distance, but only if there's a break in the jungle. Otherwise you're just suddenly at the base of a massively tall rock. Entrance is expensive for foreigners and they only take cash, but I still think it's worth it. You start in some gardens that weren't particularly green (other than the small pond), but have some amount of wildlife. From there, cross the river and start heading up the stairs, past the ancient toilets and other sites to get to the entrance where they check your tickets (55 stairs to the base). Then you really start climbing. 523 more steps up (578 so far), you have seen some great views, had your tickets checked again, waited in a slow, single-file line and are ready to see some ancient art. Put your cameras away like the sign says. There are cops there to "pull over" anybody who takes pictures. Some tourists were pulled aside, sat in a time-out chair, and had to register in some book the cops had. I'm not quite sure what the penalty is ultimately, but they were pretty serious about the no pictures thing. The paintings on the wall looked like typical buddhist or hindu paintings to me, but it was cool that they survived so long. One of the things to watch on the way up, other than how the people in the entrance gardens slowly turn into ants, is the big Buddha. It's like Sri Lanka's version of Rio's "Christ the Redeemer." It's a ginormous white Buddha statue that sticks out of the top of the jungle canopy and can be seen for miles. All of the way up, you can see him standing there, saying "patience, you'll make it soon enough." After descending a bit, it's another 112 stairs (current tally 690) to the big Buddha feet and a great view. There was a nice breeze, which made the climb bearable, but it was still hella hot and nice to take breaks. Also, both the ancient and modern stairs were very uneven- sometimes shallow, sometimes close together, sometimes tall. There was really little consistency, but there was a good handrail the whole way up. It was still exhausting though. However, after only another 334 steps (1024 total), I was at the top. What a sense of accomplishment! The view was great- could see so much jungle and so many other mountains. Plus, of course, the ruins of the temple that used to be here long ago. It was so nice, that I was willing to ignore the various steps needed to walk around and see everything. And then it was time to descend. The bright hot sun was enough to make anybody happy to move back into more shady territory. On the way, I passed some men doing some sort of construction or restoration on the rock. They had large bags of sand or another similar material that they needed to move up the hill. It was all manual. About a dozen or so of them stood in a line, each a few feet above the last, and they passed each bag from person to person until it got to the top. They operated as if motors, ropes, or pulleys never existed. Towards the bottom, there are direction signs to tell the tourists where to exit (not where we came in). I followed them, admiring the gardens as I went. I thought it was horrible that they put the tourist exit up another flight of stairs- how cruel! I got to the top and saw a ton more stairs. No way! I found a guide who was with a couple to confirm that I was headed in the right direction because I kept hoping I wasn't so that I didn't have to keep doing stairs. I wasn't. This was an alternate (very uncrowded) path up. I had started reclimbing the rock. I descended and found the real exit. Like most tourist sites, the exit forced you through stuff to purchase. However, these seemed like independent businesses and not like part of the park service. Exhausted, I flopped into the air conditioned car. Probably, a handful of crackers and 3 liters of water was not enough for that climb. I'm sure I sweated out more than that. Next, on to Dambulla. It wasn't very far, but the driver offered to drive slow so that I could recover a bit. I thanked him. He offered to make some stops at various craft shops along the way so that I could souvenir shop. I wasn't particularly interested. I'm not one to buy little trinkets, and not particularly interested in the pushiness they generally use with tourists. However, we passed a Batik place on the way, and I did ask him to stop there. I love Caribelle Batik in St. Kitts, and I was curious to see how the process here compares. At this place, a teenage-looking girl gave me tour of the process. She showed me how they trace the design onto the cloth. She had a wall of demos that showed they paint the designs on, and one girl was actively painting wax on when I was there. She dipped an example cloth into the vat of color so that I could see the dye process. She said that it can take a whole week just to do one piece. Their designs are much more detailed and intricate, with many more fine lines, whereas the Caribbean ones are bigger and bolder. At the end, they took me to the shop, of course. I bought a beautiful piece that I'm happy with. I negotiated the price down a bit and still probably overpayed, but I enjoy watching the process, and figure that the overpayment amount is maybe the cost of the tour. From here, we continued driving to Dambulla, and the driver kept trying to to convince me to go slower. He pointed the market where all of the wholesale produce comes in from around the country to be sorted and sent out to the rest of the country. While there was nothing to really get out of the car and go see, I did get a great view of produce trucks from the vehicle. The driver mentioned that now isn't a great time for Dambulla because it was midday and very hot. I knew Dambulla as caves. In my mind, caves = cool. I'd be fine. He brought it up again- there's a long hike to the caves. In my mind, flat because caves are underground. I'd manage. He kept driving slowly. But, he cautioned, the hike is hundreds of meters up stairs. OH. Hmmmm. Maybe I should eat something first, both for energy and to make it further past the hot part of the day. Just before Dambulla, we stopped at a restaurant he knew and brought people to regularly. He promised people never got sick after eating here. I still ordered the safest thing on the menu- spaghetti with cheese sauce. Actually, it was really good. It was very peppery and bold. I felt a bit like I ordered a kid's meal, but one I'd order a second time if it was in a restaurant at home. Feeling very refreshed by the nice lunch and rest, I tackled Dambulla. There are two ways up that are right next to each other- a ramp and stairs. I was feeling a bit invincible, so stairs it was- all 359 of them. Plus of course, there were a lot of ramps in the middle of the stairs. I was about dead at the top.
On the way up, I took lots of breaks to stop and watch the monkeys. There were adorable baby monkeys clinging to their mommies. Adults took turns picking at each others' fur for food. (Reminds me of somebody's beard.) And they generally showed no fear of humans. They were crossing the paths that we were walking on. They were sitting in trees so close that we could reach out and touch them. And some were somewhat curious about us and were staring back at us. Overall, I missed my bf a bit, but not at this moment. If he were here, he'd have to try to pet the monkeys and probably get bitten or attacked. Some of them clearly were diseased, and a bite might not make the rest of the vacation super fun. But for those of us who made it to the top of the hill without catching some funky monkey disease, next step was the Buddha caves themselves. I removed my shoes and handed them to the shoe guy, then tried to go in. They further had me roll down my sleeves and remove both my hat and bandanna. Finally, I was respectable enough to enter. Basically, there are a series of caves that have been painted in repeating Buddha wallpaper motif. Each contains a slew of Buddha statues, some of which are several buses long. Like any good cathedral, it must have taken man-lifetimes to paint and sculpt all of what was in those caves. Many people there were clearly tourists, but a lot of people were actually praying. With so many ground-level options, I wonder why they'd come all the way up here. I retrieved my shoes from the shoe guy for about a quarter, and realized that he was pretty much useless. A lot of people had put their shoes just a little distance away, and nobody was touching them. Meanwhile, the shoe guy was handing over whatever shoes people claimed. There was no ticket to make sure they were the correct ones. I descended, and then decided to continue being a glutton for punishment. I went up the many steps to the Buddhist museum, because why not? I was here anyway. The museum was air conditioned ,but you couldn't feel it unless you were right in front of the unit. It had a lot of Buddhas in the first room. Those, I'd seen. The other rooms weren't super-great either, but I did learn a bit about Buddhism. Fortunately, we had a slightly longer drive to the next stop, so I got some good recovery time. There is a stretch of road where almost every single sign is for a spice plantation. As a foodie, I love seeing where food really comes from (the answer is not the grocery store). My guide said he knew a good one, so we stopped there for a tour. I enjoyed seeing raw pepper on the vine, watching some guys strip cinnamon right from the branch, and tasting their cocoa. The rest of the tour contained mostly plants that didn't have fruits on them (not their fault if it's not the right season), and ayurvedic nonsense. This cream will eliminate dandruff!!! This one is great for baldness and the common cold!! This one prevents varicose veins if rubbed on your legs and indegestion if swallowed!!! Please don't misunderstand me- I get that there are plenty of completely valid natural remedies- prunes if you need to go, matzah if you need the opposite, citronella for bugs, etc- however, no treatment is really 100%, and there's no science behind most of what he told me, I'm sure. It's belief in this kind of stuff that prevents people from seeking real treatment for real things, and can end up making things worse. The last part of the tour was a massage by one of their "students" the deal is that the student uses their product to coat you with oil, in case you weren't already coated in tester products, and then works on your shoulders, head, and arms for a bit. You're not in a massage room or anything, just sitting on a bench out in the air, so your clothes stay on. My masseuse asked if she could lift the back of my shirt a bit in order to give me a lower back massage as well. She was sitting there in public, with her fingers going all the way to the top of my buttcheeks in my pants a bit. It was definitely odd. But the shoulder part was normal and good, although not really long enough to get me relaxed. At the end, she snapped my fingers, just the way they snapped my toes at the spa the other day. This time, I asked why. The answer reflected a real study I had recently read about- cracking joints may lead to short-term looser/more flexible joints (no long-term data or fully conclusive data available). Of course, there's the shop on the way out where you can buy all of the miracle cures you just heard about. However, they didn't have much available in under 300 ml, so they weren't really plane-prepared. After that fun diversion, we drove on to Kandy. I wanted to pull out some more cash, and tried the first ATM that we saw. No good on either card. Apparently, some ATMs here don't take foreign cards. So if you have a problem at one ATM, don't panic, try a bank one nearby. It worked for me. I thanked the driver and entered my hostel- Clock Inn- tired, but satisfied with my day. I was ready for the next adventure- capsule sleeping! I'd seen articles about these and I was excited to try one. When the front desk told me that they were on the fourth floor (keep in mind, that's fifth if you're counting like an American) and that there were no elevators, I just laughed. Yay, more stairs. There actually isn't really a fourth floor, there's just a roof. It's outside, concrete, and the bathrooms are inside. The polluted city air with its city smell surrounded me. The capsule had a small fan that would bring in the nasty air for ventilation, but it didn't look particularly powerful, or like it would do much for temperature. No thank you. I'll pass on this adventure and try a capsule somewhere where they're inside a building. I schlepped my stuff all the way back down to the front desk to beg for an upgrade to a dorm room, whatever it costed. They kindly obliged. Ten points to their customer service. The dorm area was super clean, air conditioned, and the bathrooms were a few steps from the room door. Much more comfortable! After getting settled, I ventured out for food. The front desk gave me directions to someplace, but instead, I stumbled upon Cafe Aroma. This place was CLEAN. The open kitchen allowed us to view chefs wearing gloves for sanitation, the signs directing them as to what sinks to wash their hands (maybe some sinks had safe water and others didn't), and just general good food safety. Bravo! When my double-decker pan-fried veggie sandwich (called veggie burger on the menu) arrived with raw lettuce in it, I went ahead and ate it anyways. There was no ensuing sickness. While the meal wasn't what I expected when I ordered a burger, it was delicious. I was so happy with this place. A nice shower refreshed me further, leaving me fit to interact with the others in my dorm for a while before I fell asleep.