A Travellerspoint blog

August 2016

Elephants

I slept great last night! I checked out of the hotel with a bit of drama about me wanting to use a credit card (which they said I could use when I checked in), and left my luggage at the hotel. I grabbed a tuk tuk to the botanical gardens, paid the entry fee for foreigners, and wandered in. The grounds are kept up quite well, and the have a large variety of species. I'm sure that if I were a plant person, I'd go nuts over everything they have there, but as I'm not, I just enjoyed the greenery. There were plenty of visually interesting species- I just don't know enough to have a reaction deeper than "pretty!" or "neato." I found the canonball trees particularly interesting, as I don't think I'd seen much like that before. I also enjoyed some of the odd-looking flowers.

After all the hustle, bustle, noise and pollution of the city, it was incredibly refreshing to wander such a green area, especially through the woods. There were moments where I was only aware of the existence of one or two other humans on the planet. Then, there were moments where the hum of the maintenance crew's motors or the whirr of the electric golf carts carrying tourists around or even just some loud Italians broke any sense of serenity. Despite these interruptions, birds, bats, and other animals twittered away, somewhat restoring the peace. I had a great walk, but towards the end, the crowds grew, and I took that as a sign for me to return to the city. I was low on cash, and not totally sure how much I'd need for the remainder, as some of the prices in my LP were out of date. I knew I'd need batteries soon, so I decided that a grocery store lunch was the ticket, since I could use my card there. I ended up with an odd assortment of junk food, cheese product, woodapple yogurt, and an exciting banana. One thing I'd noticed about the banana sellers here is that they sell quite the variety. Unlike most of the world, cavendish isn't king here. The bananas range from tiny, to medium, to red, and even the grocery store carried 4 varieties. The tiny one I got was much chewier in texture than a Cavendish, and not nearly as starchy. The seeds were more pronounced, although not particularly a problem. After grabbing my luggage from the hotel- literally nobody was there and anybody could have taken it- I ate all of my purchases while waiting at the train station. The Kandy train station is much nicer than the one in Colombo. There is a larger quantity of seating available (relative to the busy-ness). They have a special bathroom just for tourists, which I'm assuming is much cleaner than a general public bathroom. And the ticket guy was somewhat more helpful. When the train arrived, I was dismayed to realize that my second class ticket (highest class available, but still dirt cheap) wasn't going to actually get me space. The seats were all occupied before the train even pulled in, and the standing room was pretty packed as well. I faced a situation not so different than the third class train ride I accidentally took the other day. I got a spot relatively close to the door, so it was breezy. And then the people around me started to sing. Some guy had a drum and he and his friends were singing what I can only assume are the Sri Lankan version of camp songs. At it was a bit annoying, but after a bit, I was glad they were there to entertain me. The music wasn't that different than the music from the show last night, and I was listening for free. Well, the cost of a selfie. I seriously have taken more selfies to oblige random strangers on this trip than I've taken on my own phone for myself. Meanwhile, gorgeous mountain jungle scenery passed by. The ride was through some extremely lush and verdant territory. I would love to come back and hike some of this sometime. After over an hour of standing and listening to the musicians, moving out of the way for people trying to enter the bathroom, and watching guys with baskets of food try to hawk them on the train, the train arrived in Rambukkana, my stop. Surprisingly, no other tourists got off here. There was nobody obvious to split a tuk tuk to Pinnawala with, so I had to pay the 500 rupees all by myself. Before I went though, I made sure to check the train schedule with the very useful guy behind the counter, and buy my ticket, just in case. Then, off to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I was a bit conflicted about visiting it since I had heard that their goals had shifted. They had been started as a place to rehab orphaned elephants, but now some people claim that they're in it more for the money than the elephants. However, it's my understanding that they do still take in babies who need homes, and I;m ok that they use tourism as a way to fund the place. As long as they're not keeping them in cruel conditions, I'm not sure I have a problem with them having the elphants earn their keep. When I arrived, the elephants were playing in the river. A sprinkler kept them wet from the top, and the river was keeping them cool from the bottom. A simple chain was all that was separating the elephants from the tourists, and occasionally not even that. While there were signs everywhere saying not to feed or touch them, there were also touts offering bananas to feed them. When an elephant would cross the chain or somebody would feed them, the mahouts were extremely slow to react. Most people were smart enough to back away, but there were a few who had to be told to move on occasion. The elephants may be highly accustomed to humans, but they're still wild animals deserving of respect. When it was time to move some of the herd, they cleared the people out of the way, and then sadly started chaining some of the elephants. They weren't circus-chained, and I'm guessing it's more of a mental thing than physical, since the chains didn't really go anywhere, but it's still a sign that wild animals are being asked to do something outside their nature. The elephants paraded back to the compound, some with mahouts on their backs. Their path was surrounded on all sides with shops selling tourist items, which took a bit from the experience, but it was still exciting to see. I did take a second to stop in one of the poo paper shops. They collect the elephant dung and turn it into paper. Nuff said. Back at the compound, some elephants were being showered with a hose and were playing like kids in a sprinkler. Others were eating. Again, many were chained, but this time the chains were attached to a ring cemented into the ground. Some elephants were ok with this, but others were tugging on their chains. The best analogy I can think of is if you took your kids to Pizza Hut and plopped a variety of pizzas in front of them. Some would sit and eat and be happy. Others would want to hop out of their seats and run around the restaurant, or see/steal what others were eating. Maybe it's justified to keep them like that, maybe it's stunting their curiosity. I don't know. I was absolutely mesmerized by the elephants eating. One squashed a whole watermelon with one bite. Another used the fence as a tool to hold a log up at an angle so that he could stomp on the middle and break it in two. Others simply played with their food, waving it around and rustling through their piles. I could have stayed and watched even longer, but the rest of the elephants came back, and it was time for me to catch my train. I could not afford to miss the train back to Colombo, as I had a plane to catch. I started standing on this train as well, but eventually somebody put their kid on their lap to make room for me to sit. I was very appreciative. I returned to Colombo, and managed to make my way to the bus area. I was even oriented well enough that when I asked a guy to double-check myself and he told me the other direction, I was smart enough to get a second opinion before going to far out of my way. I made it to the stop and was waiting for the 187 bus to the airport. A bus marked 187 came by and almost didn't stop for me. I flagged it down, and said "Airport." The driver said no and moved on. What?!? I thought 187 was to the airport. I checked with some guys around me and they said that 187 is to the airport, but not all of them. Who knows how long it would be before another came by. So, when a Tuktuk guy asked me if I wanted a Tuktuk to the airport, then offered me a price less than what LP suggested it should be, I took him up on the offer. That was a smart move. On the way, we passed at least 4 187 buses that were stuck in traffic. It could have taken me hours to get to the airport on the bus. It still took quite some time given the short distance that it was. However, I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I was there early enough that they hadn't opened the check-in gate. If I had luggage to check, I would have been stuck sitting in the airport with very few services. Since I had only my backpack, I was able to go right through and get to the area with the shops and restaurants. There still wasn't a ton open, but at least I was able to grab a bite to eat and finish off most of my Sri Lankan Rupees.

Canonball tree

Canonball tree


Bats

Bats


Lobster claw flower

Lobster claw flower


Last view of Kandy

Last view of Kandy


Train schedule

Train schedule


Kid on shoulders on crowded train

Kid on shoulders on crowded train


Guy selling food on the train

Guy selling food on the train


Drummer on the train

Drummer on the train


View from the train

View from the train


Elephants playing in the sprinkler

Elephants playing in the sprinkler


Riding an elephant back

Riding an elephant back


Elephant struggling with chains

Elephant struggling with chains

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Buddha's Tooth

It's a good thing I cam sleep through anything. There were no curtains on the windows and the dorm door is opaque, so light came in from both sides of the room. Street noise filtered through the window, although it wasn't really worse than most city apartments. I still awoke feeling pretty refreshed. That is, except for my calves. Those needed a lot of help. I grabbed toast, jam, and water from their life straw at the hostel, and headed out for the lake. I planned on walking around the lake, but before I got there, I found myself at the Tooth Temple. I walked just the part of the lake next to the temple, and then explored the temple itself. The Temple of the Tooth is the major site in Kandy. At the museum at the back of the grounds, you can learn all about Buddha, who used the tooth to eat when he was alive, and then about all of the various forces who stole, fought for, captured, hid, or built housing for it after he died. To enter the temple itself, I first passed a ton of flower vendors selling flowers that people could bring in as offerings. went through a security check that wasn't much of anything, then walked the grounds to the ticket booth. Before I got there, I noticed that everybody was leaving their shoes lined up on the wall. I removed mine and placed them in the long row, but by a lamppost I hoped I'd remember. I went to get a foriegner's ticket (more expensive) and some guy tried to advise me. First, he wanted me to go get my shoes and give them to the "foreigners' shoe guard" (not included in the expensive ticket, but probably not expensive either. I wasn't going to go get them (half out of laziness) and that really bothered him. Sir, you don't know this, but my shoes are a nice used-to-be- white-but-now-brown color that makes them probably the dirtiest shoes there. Also, there's not a woman in your country my shoe size. Plus, I have faith in humanity. My shoes are fine where they are. Then, he wanted to lead me to the entrance. But he was walking away from everybody else. It was a secret entrance that everybody else doesn't know about, he claimed. That may or may not be true, but I wanted to see how everybody was coming to pray. So, I waited with everybody else to enter. I was part of the crowd bearing flowers inside and upstairs. The walls of the temple were painted with people carrying flowers in, and the people more or less carried their flowers exactly like that. It was a bit surreal to see them walk past the ancient depictions, while they were doing exactly what was depicted. The line flowed up the stairs to the second floor of the temple. Everybody was pushing to place their flowers on a long table, but also moving on and making room for others to offer to Buddha. In addition to the main tooth house, the temple contains several other beautiful shrines. I didn't get to see them all, as they were closing (I guess Buddha has to take his lunch break), but I did view several. I definitely recommend exploring a bit there beyond the tooth house. The entire area is filled with artful depictions of Buddha, his life, flowers, and other pretty things. The style is different than a standard cathedral, but the concept is the same- cover every inch of every altar with as much art as possible. Don't leave any space blank, except to set off the art that is displayed there.

After I was finished seeing the main building, I ventured into some of the museums on the grounds. I learned all about Buddha, his tooth, and the history of everybody who had anything to do with it. They were worth the free admission, plus it was a place to get out of the sun. (Sorry, no AC.) Around the grounds, there were plenty of places to sit, relax, pray, and light candles. Some families were having little picnics in one pavilion. It wasn't green, it was covered in stone, but it was still a pretty relaxing place to be. On my way out, I passed a chained elephant. Why the temple needs a chained elephant is beyond me. The elephant didn't look too happy, and it didn't look like it had friends to play with. I was saddened to see it in such distress, but am no sure what I could have done. I also noticed that I had missed a building. It appeared to be some sort of free food, like a Jewish oneg. The adherents lined up with some sort of leaf that acted as their plate, and then received a mass of food in the middle that they ate using only their hands. While I was incredibly tempted, the line was ridiculously long, so I passed. Instead, I ate at Oak Ray restaurant, located in a historic building of some sort, and with a nice view of St. Paul's church. The lasagna there wasn't exactly the most Sri Lankan item I could order, but it was the spiciest lasagna I've had in my life.

I wandered around town a bit, just to see what there was to see, and found myself back at the hostel. I had booked another place for tonight, just because I wanted to make sure that I got great sleep- enough for 2 days. So I grabbed my bag and then tuk tuked to Days Inn. No, there is no connection between this and the American chain. This Days Inn is a small guesthouse up the hill from the city. Actually, there are a lot of fancy hotels up that way, probably because the view is amazing. As such, there are a surprising number of tourist shops selling very expensive items. One of the fancy hotels that was mentioned in the guidebook was Helga's Folly. It was right next to my hotel, so I went to take a look. The best way I can describe it is painted by somebody depressed and on drugs. But, it is quite the sight to see. Despite the extra few dollars I had to spend to constantly taxi up and down the hill, walking was not a good option. The roads didn't really have any shoulders, so even going downhill would be treacherous, and with my legs still aching, uphill was not happening. So, as soon as I got settled, I tuk tuked back down.

The lake in town is quite beautiful. One of the Kings of Kandy (real thing) had it installed when Kandy was the capital. I walked around it and admired the wildlife. There are actually quite a variety of bird species here. Some of the ducks looked pretty diseased though.

The cultural center is right on the lake, so I took a bit of a detour there. First, somebody showed me where to get tickets for the evening cultural show. Then, I got to watch some craftsladies make actual product. One lady was a wood carver. She has been carving for over 40 years. She took a block of wood and turned it from a blob to something resembling an elephant's head right before my eyes. Another lady wove with her loom. She didn't have a pattern she was working from, but she just seemed to know what came next.

My timing was perfect- just when I was done circling the lake, it was time for the cultural show. I went back to the nice big auditorium at the cultural center, only to find that the ticket I bought was for a different venue, right next door. This venue looked more like a high school auditorium than a professional theater (like the cultural center). However, I had a reserved front row seat, somehow, so that was good. The show began with some drummers playing traditional music. Shortly, dancers came out in traditional costumes and joined the spectacle. The costumes were pretty interesting and enjoyable to look at. Each act had a different combination of drummers, dancers, woodwind, and costumes. One act had a guy who spun and balanced plates. Another involved fire dancing. They were all quite entertaining, but not super professional. The dancers and musicians weren't always on beat with each other. One drummer with a great smile was talking, laughing, and just generally having a great time, while others had their concentration faces on or seemed new and lost. One of the fire dancers dropped his fire stick, and I didn't really get the point of the fire walking outside at the end. I was a bit upset to have paid the full price for the show, until I asked a few people coming out of the cultural center show how theirs was. It seems that theirs wasn't so much more professional. I enjoyed my dinner so much last night that I went back to Cafe Aroma. I felt comfortable ordering anything, even salad. The waiter recommended the stir fry with a spicy gravy, so that's what I ate. It wasn't super exciting (mostly rice, corn, carrots, and spring onion), but it was tasty.

Kandy in the morning

Kandy in the morning


Kandy Lake

Kandy Lake


Tooth temple

Tooth temple


Ducks at the lake

Ducks at the lake


Flower sellers

Flower sellers


Shoes

Shoes


Paintings on the wall

Paintings on the wall


Inside the tooth temple

Inside the tooth temple


Buddha with offerings

Buddha with offerings


Crowd giving offerings

Crowd giving offerings


Buddha's life story panel

Buddha's life story panel


Food line

Food line


Girl praying at the tooth temple

Girl praying at the tooth temple


Elephant in chains

Elephant in chains


Sari store

Sari store


Helga's Folly

Helga's Folly


Wood crafter

Wood crafter

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Stairs, stairs, stairs

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.

On the road

On the road


Tourist warnings

Tourist warnings


Near Sigiriya entrance

Near Sigiriya entrance


Near Sigiriya entrance

Near Sigiriya entrance


Wildlife

Wildlife


Sigiriya Rock

Sigiriya Rock


Buddha (the Redeemer?)

Buddha (the Redeemer?)


A tiny portion of the stairs

A tiny portion of the stairs


View from the top area

View from the top area


Pools at the top

Pools at the top


Top of Sigirya complex

Top of Sigirya complex


Monkeys

Monkeys


Second way up

Second way up


Batik

Batik


Central veg market truck

Central veg market truck


Dambulla

Dambulla


Beginning of stairs to cave temples

Beginning of stairs to cave temples


Expressive money

Expressive money


Shoe guard

Shoe guard


Sleeping Buddha's head

Sleeping Buddha's head


Sleeping Buddha's feet

Sleeping Buddha's feet


Line of Buddhas

Line of Buddhas


Buddha "wallpaper"

Buddha "wallpaper"


Peppercorns

Peppercorns


Kandy

Kandy

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

SCUBA!!

When we finally arrived in Trincomalee, I was still tired. I just wanted a nap. I asked for a tuk tuk with a meter, having learned in Colombo that was smartest. But the guy said that there are none in Trinco. (I have to say that I never saw one there, despite looking, so he was probably telling the truth.) I overpaid to my hotel, and was greeted. The guy told me that I should enjoy their beach for now, which I figured was a great place to hang out until checkin. Naptime on the beach was just what I needed! At some point, it got too hot to stay out in the sun. I moved to a beach-view chair inside and pulled out a book to relax in the shade. Despite the fact that it was hours until check in, they offered me my room early. I guess they could see how exhausted I was. My reservation said a room with a beach view, and the room they gave me certainly didn't have that. Three walls were solid block, and the fourth had both a door to the main eating area/hallway and a window that opened onto the same. I didn't care. It had a bed, so I slept on it, door and window wide open for circulation. I felt sooooo much better when I awoke from that nap. I grabbed some snacks, read for a bit, and got ready to dive. Nilaveli dive center sent a free tuk tuk to pick me up right from my hotel. The ride wasn't too long, but it was interesting. The roadside temples were beautiful and plentiful. We had to stop or swerve several times in order to avoid cows in the road. We eventually reached an area that was clearly just a bunch of tourist resorts. This is where we pulled over. For people who don't need the shops and restaurants of a city, this is a great place to be. It's calmer, quieter, and there's nothing to do but beach. The dive center got me all geared up, including a shortie suit, which surprised me, as it's so jot here. We were scheduled for 2 dives. The divemaster asked, "it's supposed to storm later. If we do a second dive, we may surface into thunder, lightning and rain. Is it ok if we only do the one dive instead of 2?" Uh, yeah, I'm a huge fan of coming back alive. Why is this even an option? So we went out onto the boat and sped out to their favorite dive site. We rolled off the boat and I promptly lost a flipper. Fortunately, the dive master recovered it quickly and I was able to continue the dive. We descended into some coral on rocks, and saw a bunch of fish right away. (Sorry the pictures are very blue. I got a new camera and apparently didn't turn the filter on.) The dive took us in a few circles around the area, and we observed plenty more fish, an eel, some urchins, a few poisonous coral, and more fish. Nothing was super large or crazy, but it was fun. The divemaster pointed out several lionfish, but there weren't nearly as many here (where they're supposed to be) as there were in St. Kitts (where they're an invasive species). At one point my mask started to slip because I don't have my usual ponytail to keep it on. Only experience let me know that I was having to clear my mask too much. I was able to catch to and resecure it before it fell completely off and I lost my second piece of gear. Instead, the second thing I lost was a weight that fell from the BCD pocket towards the end. Again, the divemaster was able to retrieve it. It was only a few seconds, but I was able to react appropriately- empty the BCD, swim downwards and toward the weight, grab ahold until the weight was replaced. I was pleasantly surprised by my underwater emergency reaction skills. We ascended without incident, and returned to the beach. As we were getting sorted out, we heard an ice cream truck jingle. Here, they have bread trucks instead of ice cream trucks. The dive masters all ran out to the bread truck to buy their dinners because there aren't any other places nearby to get food for locals. If they miss the bread truck, they're out of luck. I split what could best be described as an empanada with egg and potato samosa filling. I walked over to the resort restaurant for real food though, but they said that the kitchen was closed for another hour or so. Oh well. I got the free tuk tuk back to the hotel, showered all of the salt off of me, and headed into town for food for now and provisions for tomorrow. The market area in Trinco was the same as Colombo- tiny shops side by side with no space in between, all selling the exact same stuff. Want sandals? Every sixth shop has the exact same sandals. Want the pants patterned with elephants that all the tourist have (I think because you can't wear pants so many times in this heat as you normally can, so people accidentally underpacked)? Every sixth shop has them. Want samosas or spicy donuts? Every sixth shop has them. Want jewelry? You guessed it- every sixth shop. Actually, as I was looking for a sit down restaurant, I kept thinking I saw one, but they all turned out to be jewelry shops. If only the food establishments here were half as clean as the jewelry shops, I think people would be much healthier. Eventually, I ran into some Swedes staying at the same hotel as me. They recommended Green Park Hotel's restaurant, as they enjoyed it yesterday. It was also recommended in Lonely Planet. So we ate there. One thing I've noticed about the Tourists here is that everybody (including myself) is carrying around Lonely Planet. Usually, I see a large mix of Rick Steves, Fodor's, Frommer's, Michelin, LP, and others, as well as people making do with the free hotel maps. I checked before I came, but really nobody else has much on this country, so LP is sort of the only choice. Also, other cities have that tourist map that tells you what to see, where to eat, and where to buy (10% discount included!). Even Colombo didn't have one, making getting around a bit difficult. Not a chance a tiny city like Trinco would have one. The restaurant had a wide variety of Indian dishes, local dishes, and other. I got one of my favorite Indian curries with rice, and was pleased. They added "tutti fruttis" (like those gelled "fruits" that go in fruitcakes) to the curry, which I'd never seen before, but they added a pleasant sweet contrast. I returned to the hotel, chilled, and went to bed. Then the fun started. First, the room was incredibly stuffy. With the door closed, but window (to the main room) open, curtains drawn, I was pretty sealed in. That was good against mosquitos, but a fan can't do so much under those circumstances. Had I been in a position to be picky in the morning, I probably would have rejected it, but it was now too late. Second, my stomach was screaming in pain. I'm very careful about water- the thing I hate most about bad-water countries is brushing my teeth out of a bottle. I always wash my hands before eating, and try to use silverware when possible. I don't know for sure that it was dinner, but I don't know what else I put in my body that was even remotely risky. I took the first cipro I've ever taken in my life, although in Greece I probably could have used one. It felt like somebody had started doing their science fair volcano in my stomach, but at least it stopped being painful. Between the heat and the bathroom breaks, I didn't get the best sleep, although I still felt more rested than when I got off the night train.

Landscape from train

Landscape from train


Beach at Dyke Rest

Beach at Dyke Rest


Hindu temple in town

Hindu temple in town


Beach by SCUBA diving

Beach by SCUBA diving


Cows in the road

Cows in the road


SCUBA diving

SCUBA diving


SCUBA diving

SCUBA diving


Mosque

Mosque

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Colombo for Tourists

Today I woke up super-late for me for vacation- almost 8am!!! But since I couldn't get a tour and there's not a whole lot planned for today, that was fine. I packed my bag to leave at the hotel, and headed out in search of pancakes or something because I was craving sweet. I used my method from the other day and sat down somewhere that was pretty full. They brought way too much food. While the breads definitely fit what I was looking for, the condiments were burn-your-mouth spicy again. However, because I had bread instead of rice, I didn't make the same kind of slow mess that I did yesterday. I was relatively successful at eating with my hands. With a heavy tip, the more-than-I-could-eat breakfast was a whopping $4. I took a tuk tuk to the National Museum, although he didn't know where it was. Good thing my guidebook had a map or we wouldn't have gotten there. The National Museum is heavily under repairs. There is scaffolding covering all of the gorgeous building exteriors. The courtyards and gardens are swamped with corrugated metal buildings and dirt piles. Workers laze all over the place. I hope it looks great when it's done, because it's kind of a mess now. The inside is a little better in that most (but not all) of the work is hidden off in closed sections. The inside looks a bit old and run down, but the displays are in English (and other local languages) and are somewhat interesting. I learned a bit about the history of the island. To summarize: different Buddhist and Hindu rulers took turns controlling different parts of the island until the Europeans got into the mix. Then, different European powers took turns. The museum had a lot of stone carvings from the various areas and time periods. They had some pottery (lots of it from trade with China), some coins, some tools, some weapons, and some everyday goods. Not much stood out to me, except the urinals. The collection of ancient carved stone piss holes was quite amusing to me. The museum continued on to contain 70s-museum style dioramas and a few paintings by a Brit. I enjoyed the interactive "animal scarer" instrument that I could play with, but otherwise, it was all just something to look at. Had the museum been air-conditioned, I probably would have spent longer there. As it was, I spent a lot of time at the exhibits near the fans, and less at the others. The weather inside the museum was shadier than outside, but just as hot and humid, and not as well-ventilated. My ticket to the national museum also included entrance to the Natural History Museum. The weather in here was just as bad, but with an added moldy/musky scent. The museum starts out with a bunch of falling-apart taxidermy and formaldyhyded animals and plants. Towards the end, there are some better and actually educational displays, some of which talk about technology from this century, but that are so degraded by the poor museum environment that they look like they were installed in the 1960s. Don't even bother trying to use the "toilets" at the museum, if you don't have to. The National Art Museum is right next to the history museum. Based on what I could see through the open doors, it wasn't worth going into. However, right out front, an artist was displaying and selling his works, which were quite good. The free show he was putting on seemed much better than the room I could see in the official museum.

Today, I was watching my health more than other days. Based on how I felt at the end of the day yesterday, I realized that this vacation would be much more fun if I wasn't dehydrated, heat-exhausted, sun-almost-burnt, and foot-sore at the end of each day. Since I was already in the Cinnamon Gardens area, I took a walk to an Ayuravedic Spa recommended in the guidebook. Their toilets were just fine. As for the spa though, I have to say, I was expecting something else. The entrance was a store selling various soaps, oils, and other home beauty products. The spa area itself was not bright and light, but dark and earthy. It was not air conditioned at all. Before I could get my treatment, they had me sign a medical form with about 4 real questions on it, some disclaimers, and a line explicitly saying that this is not sex and that they'll kick you out if you hit on the girls. Then, they took my blood pressure. They didn't weigh me and measure my height, but they had the equipment to along with a chart to identify if you have a "large frame" or not. I sat down in a big comfy chair, removed my shoes, rolled my pants up, and was ready to watch the magic. The first thing they did was put teabags of wet sandalwood on my eyelids so I had to lay back and relax. I tried to feel what she was doing and reverse-engineer it. She put some oil on and started out with some pokes, moved to some rubs, and then I faded off into lala land and wasn't really paying attention until she cracked my toe and finished the foot. I tried again with the other foot, but again, I was so relaxed by the hum of the fans, the drowsy weather, and the foot massage that I couldn't focus on what was happening to my feet, but was off in my own world. After she snapped that toe to finish that foot, she took off the eye bags and had me dip my feet in some sort of tea concoction full of leaves and twigs. She brought me a tiny cup of tea, and cleaned my feet with the leaves before drying the and letting me know I was done. While it definitely felt good and relaxed me, the pain in my foot didn't go away, and my leg muscles didn't feel that much better than before. It wasn't that expensive though, so I really can't complain. I headed back towards the museum because I had seen some interesting stuff on the way that I wanted to check out. One was a Chocolatier, selling chocolates at similar prices to what you might find at a fancy chocolatier in the states- $1 maybe gets you one piece. I tried a couple, and they were good, but not stellar or worth the price. Since it was a little after noon and hella hot, I stopped into an air conditioned international chain (Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf) for lunch. My bagel and cream cheese was not great by US standards, but not bad, and since I wasn't too hungry, and the place had wonderful AC, it sufficed. I think my appetite is being suppressed by all the heat and dehydration. For the number of liters of water I've been through today, I definitely should have had to make more pit stops. The clientele here is mainly international. I feel a bit bad about not eating local food at a local place, but I've been doing plenty of that to the point where my judgement was questioned, so I figured that this one place will be ok. I saw my second person (a foriegner) smoking since I've been here. Sri Lanka is quite advanced and pleasant in that way- nobody seems to smoke. They do seem to have a thing for the lotto though. Every block or so, there's a little kiosk selling lotto tickets, and all of them seem to be constantly swamped with crowds of people scratching off long rolls of tickets. That's a "vice" that doesn't mess up my air, so I'm cool with it. Though I didn't have great expectations for it, I headed over to the main part of town to see the currency museum. This museum was nice. The displays didn't always match the coins shown, but the really nice air conditioning motivated me to learn a lot. The second floor is where most of everything is, and the first floor seemed to be where they allowed the locals to go. I think that the reason the museum is free is so that they can attract people to sell coins to, and they figure locals aren't spending big money on coins. While I was inside, it started raining. I originally thought this was a good thing because it would translate to cooler weather, but it was still way hot when I exited. I still had some time to kill before my train, and the guidebook said the train ride to Mt. Lavinia was nice, so I got a ticket (about a quarter), asked what track, made sure the board matched what the guy said, and got on. It was like you see in the movies- people were packed in like sardines, some were hanging out the open door, and just standing there was causing everybody to sweat and smell. When we started moving, it wasn't quite as bad, since I was standing near a wide open door and the breeze was nice. But I kept being afraid that I'd trip and fall onto one of the guys hanging on the edge and knock them off. Fortunately, I was the second-tallest person on the train, and I could grab on well to the bar. Unfortunately, I was on an express train and not a local, so we blew right by where I had wanted to get off, and kept going for another half hour. The tallest person on the train had the same problem I had- a tourist's misunderstanding. We debated jumping off and grabbing a taxi at one point when the train slowed to wait for another, but the jump was too high and we couldn't see well enough to know we wouldn't get hit by an oncoming train. So, I got an extensive view of the coast. Within Colombo, poverty isn't so obvious and rampant. Outside, we passed plenty of corrugated-metal shack towns, where the residents were burning stuff and the beaches were littered with trash. We also passed some nicer areas with cement block homes that reminded me of the government projects in St. Kitts. It was a mix. Finally, the train stopped and we considered whether to taxi or train back. We ended up deciding to get a second class ticket to Colombo and take the express train. Second class isn't so packed, although there still weren't any seats free. I just sat on the floor by the door, which was actually quite pleasant, as I got a good breeze. Occasionally local burning wafted in, but for the most part, it was nice. My goal had been to find a cool place to pass the time, and while this wasn't quite what I had in mind, it worked. I grabbed my luggage and headed to Dutch Hospital (a mall, not a hospital) for dinner. I had seen a Thai place there earlier, and had gotten a craving for Thai food. For some reason, the place was completely empty. It was huge, but I was the only one there. Maybe they should station somebody downstairs to greet people and convince them it's open? In any case, I got personal attention, including the chef himself making suggestions. The food was good, and tasted Thai, so it hit the spot. I can recommend it. From there, I headed to the train station to wait. It was a while, but the ladies waiting room had a fan and was open until about the time that most of the daily grind crowd cleared out. The night trains were fewer and fewer people tried to cram onto each. Finally my train arrived. I had bought the highest class available on the pre-booking website- "sleeper class," so I thought I was getting a cabin to lay down in. No. Sleeper is second class and is like wider airline seats. Fortunately, there was nobody assigned to the seat next to me, so I had more room to spread out. Unfortunately, the sleep quality was worse than airline sleep. The lights were constantly on, the train did a lot of honking and stopping, and I was a bit more protective of my bags. The one nice thing was that the open windows provided a nice breeze. However, any external smells also came in with the breeze. For the most part, it wasn't an issue, but since the toilets are latrines, there was occasionally aromatic evidence of previous passengers in need. The sleep wasn't great, but I managed until morning. Then, I observed the scenery as the sun came up. It wss much more rural than the east, with lots of cows and farms. Since this is the mail train, when it stopped at a station, some guys would come out carrying mail bags, and exchange them for incoming ones. It was neat to watch.

Museum art

Museum art


Ancient toilet

Ancient toilet


Train station

Train station


Spa

Spa


View out the train

View out the train

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)