Sri Lanka was the next choice. We spent three months in India in 2018, last year, and we were there in 2005, we’ll do India again some other day. The actual reason had to do with our wanting to cross the Wagah Border at Amritsar, India and go on to Lahore, Pakistan to see Brendan. Soon after Narda did all the work of getting us there, India and Pakistan began shooting down one another’s planes and there was talk of war then the Wagah Border was closed. After much looking how to get to Lahore, Narda found flying from Colombo, Sri Lanka would be the easiest, so she spent months planning a month trip around Sri Lanka and had us booked into hotels, Airbnb’s and train trips around the country by Easter (2019).
Then…on 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, three churches and three luxury hotels, a housing complex and a guest house in Colombo were targeted in a series of coordinated terrorist suicide bombings; 259 were killed. The targets were Christians and tourists.
Indian intelligence agencies had provided specific information to Sri Lankan authorities about the method and target locations for the potential terrorist attacks to Sri Lankan authorities as early as 4 April, and again on the night before, and as close as two hours, before the first attack. This included information about the threat to churches, gathered from interrogation of a suspected ISIL recruit in Indian custody. The Sri Lanka government did nothing, and the attacks went ahead.
Nevertheless, we proceeded with our plans.
September 28 Colombo (Narda)
Slept well in the Amari Hotel (Bangkok). Alarms woke us up, we dashed around had a shower and packed, and headed to the departure lounge, checked in our luggage, paid for a good seat (about $22 USD). Our seats, 2E and 2D where in the front row, lots of leg room and we had a really good flight. I watched episodes of “Unbelievable” which I had downloaded from Netflix onto my phone. New technology for me!!!
Airport arrival was easy, friendly, not long to wait. Seemed to be very few tourists around. We bought a month long 16 GB simcard each which they installed for us. Now we are Sri Lankan locals. The public bus took us right to the central station in Colombo. First a fast freeway with tolls, then stop start crawling through a very busy Colombo. We got off at the Central Station and caught a tuk tuk to the hotel.
Since the time change meant it was earlier, we were settled by about noon. Easy. We enjoyed a buffet lunch in the dining room upstairs, with a speccie view of the harbour (closed to us unfortunately) It’s all pretty high security; they checked our bags coming into the hotel, and then again later going into a shopping mall. Then we took a nap, as we do!
Later we decided to walk along the foreshore; really nice actually, though lots of development coming. We had a few conversations with people asking us where we were from and so on, but always steering the conversation to….’now would you like to take a tour with my brother’s tuk tuk, would you like to see the gemstone shop, everything is very cheap today’. Kinda gets exhausting.
We came upon a lovely gathering of locals, some in the water, lots of kids, and lots of food stalls. Nice.
Slept well and ventured out to find some more evidence of Dutch settlement in the Old Fort section, where we are. Again a conversation with a friendly guy ended in him hustling us into a tuk tuk, an instructing the driver to show us everything. BLIMEY We put the driver straight and said we just wanted to go to the Buddhist temple and see the baby elephant. Which we did. But when it came time to pay (after being reassured that this tuk tuk was on the meter, he tried to charge us 10,000 rupees each. I laughed and said that’s a funny joke. He said no, just 1,000 rupees each……and he would not take no for “NO TOUR PLEASE. Really annoying.
Anyway…… the Buddhist temple, Gangaramaya Temple, was a nice experience, lots of little kids dressed in white, for some sort of trip and visit. Some of them wanted selfies with me, just like in Shimla. Cute.
Then off to the local mall to watch Downton Abbey. Nice movie, no violence. And we happily negotiated a public bus home. I think our tuk tuk days are over. We had to cancel the first part of our next leg as there is a train strike, so now we’ll stay 3 more days in Colombo..in the burbs.
OK here we are, still in Colombo. This train strike shows no signs of being resolved. When I google this, it appears that train strikes are rather regular. I see concerned tourists back in June, 2019 asking, on Trip Advisor forums, ‘when is the train strike likely to end?’ So this is not the same one, just a new one, now about a week old. Teachers are on strike too.
Can’t complain though. We extended our stay here. It’s a lovely house, we have tons of room, nice kitchen, comfy bed with aircon and a giant lounge. So we have decided to go into ‘long term, just living here’ mode. It’s pretty hot, but the fans are plentiful and effective. And lots of screened open windows, tropical style. I do like it. Our hostess is lovely, actually we found out she’s an Aussie citizen as well as Sri Lankan. We have had some nice chats with her about the local stuff.
Local buses are everywhere, many decorated with flashing lights and Buddhist bits and bobs. I think perhaps that we have ‘mastered’ the buses. Using Google maps, it’s pretty easy to get from A to B. Yesterday we ventured right to the other side of town, two buses, didn’t miss a beat. Had a nice lunch on the other side of town, near Decathlon. I had beef lasagne. It was so yummy, I ate the lot and felt very bloated for the rest of the day. OK vegetarian friends, I can hear your reprimand.
A note on the buses in Colombo. Holy Cow! They drive insanely. If you want the thrill of a lifetime take an owner’s bus (they are blue) not the government bus. How to tell? The ones that are colourful, driving erratically and very fast. They race one another to the next stop or wherever there is a passenger standing waving to them. On board there are a lot of shrines; Buddhist and Christian; hedging their bets of who will save them, loud music and sometimes video. Be ready to get on quickly, they don’t stop, just slow down. see our clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUjj6bd5dS8
Checking out the local library was great; a 5-minute walk away. You can sit there, under the fans, reading whatever you want. Quite a civilised way to spend the day. While Terrell happily devoured English newspapers, I found a book by Paul Theroux that I had not heard of. ‘Elephanta’; about America tourists trying to navigate India, three different stories. Well written as always, good for a chuckle. I started the book, sitting in the English section of the library (can’t borrow it, even with a passport..oh well). I thought we’ll see how those people go with a trip like that, feeling very superior. But, here is my confession, they sound rather eerily similar to us. So now, having crashed back to earth, I will finish this great book (perhaps on Kindle).
Spar is our favourite supermarket (I think the word is from the Dutch…meaning save). Not that Dutch though, not a salted dropje to be seen. We met Helen over coffee in the café section of Spar. She (Scottish) and her husband have been in Sri Lanka for some 20 years, running a textile company with a 45 million-dollar turnover. They also have factories in India, Pakistan and China. Amazing! Nice lady, recently retired and bored shitless. After a job like that I guess it’s hard to adjust to slumming around, as we are. We saw her again a few days later, this time in our other favourite supermarket, Cargles (sp?). Expat community probably not so large.
We’re sleeping well. Afternoon naps as well as early nights and getting up at 6am. It’s the humid heat; makes you pretty tired.
We are bus people over taxi people. Being so, we took the 45-minute airport bus to Colombo Fort, ($2.20 USD for the two of us including baggage) see our little clip of that ride at https://tinyurl.com/y3nhaua8
Off to the main bus station near to the Fort area. We took what would become the first of several overpriced hustling tuk tuks to our hotel for the outrageous cost of 600 Rupees for a ten-minute ride. OK, so that equals $3.30 USD but it did seem a lot in comparison to the cost of stuff in the area. We are at the Grand Oriental Hotel, https://www.grandoriental.com/ which is old and huge and on the waterfront. Narda had originally booked us before the terrorist’s attacks for three nights at their usual price of about $60USD/night. We cancelled and rethought our trip planning to stay only two nights and rebooked and the rooms were $20/night, no doubt because so many people cancelled their trip to here due to the attacks, which were about a block away, plus this is low season.
The hotel is 180-years old and showing its age as we all do. The rooms are comfortable, the outside is crumbling and in desperate need of restoration. We had their lunch buffet as we were settled by 2 pm (there is an hour and a half difference from Thailand, earlier here). Our second buffet of the day. It was nowhere as good as the breakfast buffet back at the Amari Hotel in Bangkok but there was enough to keep us full and entertained for about $8USD. It is the view that makes it worth the effort overlooking the port. It is one of the busiest ports in the world. Wikipedia has info about the two-thousand-year history of the port if that floats your boat. After lunch we went for a walk. As so often is the case when we go for a walk in Asia someone will suddenly appear, very friendly, asking questions about how many children we have; blah, blah, blah. The first one tried to sell us a tour, then a trip to his gem store; very special today only due to some bloody holiday, and on and on until Narda got us away from him. In our first day or half-day in Colombo we had five different people tell us about some bloody gem show. We told each the same; we are not into gems, we don’t know one from another, I don’t wear jewellery; blah, blah, blah. One fellow who saddled up to our walk said he worked at the Australian Embassy. We doubted that but as he seemed a bit more sincere than some of the others, we took a tuk tuk that appeared seemingly out of nowhere, as they all do, to the gem place. We went in to use the loo, and to be polite we thought listening to a five-minute spiel would pay the price of the loo. No, they had to show us this stone and that stone and tell us this story and on and on and ; blah, blah, blah, we got a tuk tuk home.
The next day, today, Sunday, the 28th, we got the same, someone walks alongside us telling us the quality of their tour, what they could do to help us; blah, blah, blah. We had two or three of those today. We just wanted to go for a long walk. No one understands that. Finally, we let ourselves get talked into ‘a short ride in a metred tuk tuk to a special temple…’ ten minutes later, with the tuk tuk driver trying to sell us tours the whole time, we got to the temple. The tuk tuk was not a metered one and the driver at first said ten thousand each ($55USD). We laughed, then so did he, well at least he tried it on. I think it is because we said it was our first day in Sri Lanka and they figured we are dumb as a brick, which could be true. He threw out a bunch of other figures, then continued about taking us on a tour after the temple. He said finally one thousand each ($5.50USD). We gave him five-hundred and walked away. Last night a fellow drove us home, it was a long way as we had walked for a couple of hours along the shore (see our video of that walk; https://tinyurl.com/y4uycbnk) , and he got lost, but thanks to our GPS we got us home. He had a meter and it came to 230 Rupees, so we gave him 300. We understand the difference in our economy, and that it is difficult for people now with so few tourists around but being hustled gets our back up no matter what country we are in.
We ended up at the Gangaramaya Temple and spent about an hour there. As so often happened in India, people, especially children, wanted selfies with Narda, so I watched that wondering why no one ever wants a selfie with me. https://tinyurl.com/y3ol83hp
The day before was some big deal holiday with an elephant that was 75-years old, ten feet tall, leading a procession. We saw a baby elephant that was tied from front and back feet and whom was very unhappy. There are many statues, a lot of ivory carvings (I thought that was illegal) and a jade Buddha which is one of their centrepieces. Apparently, it is the oldest temple in Colombo. When we were there today, Sunday, there were a lot of school children having classes and like school children anywhere they seemed quite jumpy/disruptive. Here is a twenty-second clip of them. https://tinyurl.com/y6slzdon
Before leaving the temple, we used our GPS to see if there was a nearby shopping centre and how to get to it without a million tuk tuk drivers descending upon us. Lucky for us, we found that The Mall at Colombo City Centre, Sri Lanka’s largest shopping centre was a five-minute walk away. So off we went, gleefully saying we didn’t need a tuk tuk. Even going into the shopping centre drivers came up to us saying they could take us for a tour when we came out. We got lunch, found there was a cinema and that was where we ended up. We saw Downton Abbey. The cinema was not as luxurious as ones in Chiang Mai, Phnom Penh, even Adelaide but the seats were comfortable, and the tickets were $5 bucks USD. We took the city bus home for 25 Rupees for the two of us (14-cents USD) and walked two blocks. It was a much more pleasant experience than the tuk tuk for so much more.
Narda spent so much time planning our trip around Sri Lanka, mainly by train. Guess what? There is a train strike for the past three days and no one knows when the strike will be over. We were to leave tomorrow, Monday, for Anuradhapur which would have been a three-hour train ride. The way to get there now is by crappy bus which would take six to eight hours. So, we just cancelled that trip and now are booking an Airbnb for four more days here in Columbo. If the strike is over in that time, we will continue our trip, if not, I don’t know. Perhaps we will just hang out at the shopping mall and watch movies.
A couple of examples of travelling in different-than-what-we-are-used-to spaces:
As we could not get to our next destination due to the train problems, we cancelled our accommodation and tried our best to get another place through Airbnb. We found what seemed quite suitable in another part of Colombo and booked it. The host wanted some national ID which we didn’t have, though we have our passports and photos on Airbnb. After an hour back and forth and Narda spending way too much time on the phone with Airbnb; getting to another of her speaking with the supervisor’s supervisor person with little progress. They would fix it within 24-hours, we had until next morning. A few more emails and phone calls and by ten pm we were told it would be taken care overnight. It wasn’t. Next morning, more phone calls. The message was the same that they would fix it within 12 to 24 hours. Narda explained in a Narda explaining type of way that we had to check out of our hotel in two hours and we would be on the street in a Colombo, a rather dangerous situation. Finally, we got a person who seemed to be able to do stuff. But now we had cancelled the person who was unable to take our ID and found another one. Narda tried to get the host’s phone number, to no avail. However, Crystal, our new best friend, was able to call the new host. Next, we knew we were on the way to the next place. Thanks Crystal at Airbnb, you’re the most. We got pretty much a whole house, a bit expensive for us for Airbnb at $50 a night, but the place was good and in a major city in a safe place. We were among embassies with the Thailand embassy in front of us. It was a traditional Sri Lankan, or what we would think would be a traditional Sri Lankan house. We cooked meals, wandered around the area, had good conversations with our host who was an Australian, though a Sri Lankan woman, she had family in Melbourne and spoke perfect English. One-minute clip of our Airbnb https://tinyurl.com/y4t2grmyhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgtpI3n1tVA
October 9, Kandy, Ella. Hill country
Here we sit in a cloud, literally. Drinking Lion beer with a young couple; not actually a couple but 2 friends travelling together. She is from Melbourne, full of interesting ideas about alternative medicine, he is a Sri Lankan from France who also lived in Melbourne; quite the united nations, and disagrees vehemently with all her hippy medical stuff. We enjoyed talking about the cricket, Aussie rules footy, and Eudunda, where she hopes to buy a church and do it up as an Airbnb. Refreshingly, not a word about American politics.
Checking out the local library was great; a 5 minute walk away. You can sit there, under the fans, reading whatever you want. Quite a civilised way to spend the day. While Terrell happily devoured English newspapers, I found a book by Paul Theroux that I had not heard of. ‘Elephanta’, about America tourists trying to navigate India, three different stories. Well written as always.
So what happened? The rail strike is over!!!!! We were poised to take another driver for $60 USD from Colombo to Kandy, travelling east up the mountains. So we decided to visit the museum of the tooth relic (Buddha’s tooth, not Terrell’s).
The ride was uneventful, except for the most amazing toilet, a dark slimy set of descending stairs, a hole in the ground, no door (so Terrell had to stand guard), and all in pitch darkness. It got the job done. We bought some snacks at the café above and continued on our way. Oh, and we took a wrong turn and finished up on a single lane road of astonishing beauty. I had my moments about oncoming traffic, but all was well.
There was a lot of kerfuffle (Maggie, in this context it does not mean vomit) in the area, many folks taking photos of people dressed in white exiting the museum, and photographers eagerly photographing them. Something political, we never quite figured it out. However, by chance, we got into a conversation with on onlooker, and were told the train strike was over; already the day before. Blimey…good bloody news. We dashed over on the nearest tuktuk to the station and bought ourselves two 3rd class tickets with allocated seats for the 7 hour journey to Kandy. We had already booked an Airbnb there for 3 nights. Brendan assured us we would be OK in 3rd class. He, after-all, had completed the trip standing all the way, and loved it. Hmmm.
We arrived at the station the next day, more than an hour early, as we do. No one there yet. I went to the counter to ask if there any possibility of a cancellation…..ha….and there was. We could not get a refund on our previous ticket which cost us $2 each, but we decided to live dangerously and buy the upgrade regardless, for a princely sum of $5.50 each. For a 7 hour ride!!!!!!!
I missed a bit. We did take a driver to Kandy. He was a nice gentle soul, as the Sri Lankans seem to be. So very friendly, always smiling at you.
The Airbnb was one of the best we have ever been in. Stylish, modern amenities, a full kitchen with all the bells and whistles, 2 bedrooms and a gorgeous garden with the occasional monkey. The area around was also lovely. Very tropical, a steep narrow path that took us to the road above us (a little like our Shimla place in Indian Himalayas last year, but flasher). We discovered a nice local eatery, run by a family which specialised in dosa. I had pineapple dosa twice. This is the way to manage the spicy dips, cut it with pineapple. And the dosa itself was the best we’ve had and that includes India.
We enjoyed our homey stay in Kandy, though we did venture out occasionally between naps and eating and reading (just finished a great book; A Woman in Berlin, published recently anonymously by her family. It’s about the experiences of a young woman in the weeks after the defeat of the Germans, living in Berlin with incredible hardship, including frequent rape by the victorious Russian soldiers. Incredible story, and worth reading.)
Tea is a big deal in this country. We found a friendly, not pushy, tuk tuk driver at one of our hopeful trips to the deserted train station. He took us to a factory, where we got a complimentary guided tour though all the steps of tea production. Actually we had a very nice guide who was really knowledgeable. At the end, a tasting. Cups of tea, in different stages of strength; you took a teaspoon to taste the difference. Then we smelt all the different flavoured teas, which was nice. Bought a few overpriced packets, but it was worth the experience.
Sightseeing is not a prerequisite for us to enjoy a stay in a new place. I prefer the transaction with locals, the small things; like finding food, taking naps, checking out the mall. Our young couple, the ones we met inside a cloud in Ella, complained that there was nothing to do in Kandy. They were there for 1 day, saw the museum, the lake, the big Buddha high on the hill, and a museum. We were there 3 days, saw none of these things (except we did see the lake, from a distance) and loved it. OK, to each his own.
The train ride from Kandy to Ella was amazing. The scenery is gorgeous. Lots of tea growing, big vistas, waterfalls, small towns. The weather was bright and sunny, the last couple of hours of rain, which was also beautiful. A million photos were taken by my precious Terrell!!
I am now writing this, sitting in a dark bathroom on the toilet with a pillow (lid down). Terrell is happily snoring away. It is 6.30 am and I’m thinking (just thinking) of accidently waking him up. I’m getting hungry.
We decided to leave Colombo on Sunday; train or not. Sunday morning arrived and sure enough no train. We booked three nights in an Airbnb in Kandy, took an Intercity Uber for 8000 rupees ($40USD) and had a nice ride to Kandy. The driver had very little English, got lost and we ended up on a very narrow road that was more like a footpath than a road, drove for a while in a monsoon type of storm and arrived at our destination four hours later. We gave the chap 10,000 rupees, which he was grateful for. See our video of this ride @ https://youtu.be/SrR96tL7FKU
Our place in Kandy is good. More modern than our place in Colombo, two bedrooms, full clean newish kitchen, nice lounge and dining area. There is no air conditioning, but it is cooler in Kandy and there are ceiling fans everywhere. We are surrounded by well-manicured gardens and we are close to the centre of town. Ten-minute walk to a vegetarian restaurant and the supermarket. We love the place. $20/night. See our clip of our house and area https://tinyurl.com/y3jpyzhz this clip shows the craziness of the buses and streets.
Our second day we walked to the train station. Holy cow! We barely could walk the street, there were so many buses, like hundreds, due to the train strike, they were taking up the slack. We looked at buses to Ella, our next destination, wow! We could not have ridden ten minutes in them. Sorry, we are too westernized. Taking an eight-hour bus to Ella was out of the question. We changed all our hotels for the next few weeks and started over. Obviously, the train strike would continue. We had to decide by Tuesday what would we do next. Today was Monday. We continued to the train station. No one had a clue when the train strike would be over. Everyone said it was a political situation with the train drivers trying to force out the current government. We asked tuk tuk drivers, police, café people, strangers in the street. No one knew when the strike would be over. A couple of policewomen shrugged their shoulders, laughing, said ‘maybe next week’, ‘maybe next month’. I said maybe next lifetime.
While drinking tea at a scrubby little café next to the station tuk tuk drivers, all quite desperate for work, suggesting tours. One was very persistent, so we went with him to some tea factory ten kilometres out of town. He was a nice bloke, charged us 1200 rupees ($6USD) we gave him 2000, for the drive there and waiting for us for an hour, driving us to some tea fields, where we were hustled by several tea picking women to give them money for a demo, so we gave them a couple hundreds. See our clip of the tea tour… https://tinyurl.com/y2ugo2ut
The train to Ella, they say is one of the best in the world. Not sure about that, we thought the train last year up to Shimla, India was about the best one could get; https://neuage.me/2018/04/05/shimla/ (our video of that seven hour ride is at https://tinyurl.com/y6ne9x4d ) This clip of the five-hour trip to Ella is only two-minutes; perhaps we are shooting less video, enjoying the ride more… https://tinyurl.com
/y32tu5p7 And there is a story to it all…Of course. We had decided to go to Ella no matter whether the train strike ended or not. It had already gone on for twelve-days, so we would get another Uber and do the five- or six-hour hike. We were on our way to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, in central Kandy. Outside the gate we said to someone next to us something about the stupid train strike would never end. He said it had ended this morning. Holy Cow! (I think that is a Hindu thing to say) we got all in a huff and grabbed a tuk tuk to the train station, which was a ten-minute walk, but we were in a hurry. What if all the tickets got sold immediately? OK, not quite sold out, only a couple of westerns in front of us at the ticket counter. How do we get ourselves into such a knot? We asked for first class tickets, no sold out; how about second-class? No, sold out. Shit, we are stuck with third-class tickets and we have not heard nice things about third-class. Sitting in a third-class carriage at the station. At the end of the day this was not my carriage. We had no choice. We shelled out the 800 rupees for the two five-hour train rides (that would be $4USD) and were somewhat happy that at least we got on the bloody train. Well, I wasn’t too happy. This is a fault in thinking and life experience. Thinking I should be able to go first class when others can’t, why? Of course, why not. The only chance I get to ever go first class is in Asia. I can’t afford second class on flights or western trains. I always end up in the baggage section with the animals. Next morning, we were up at five. While packing I realized I had left my beloved hat (bought in Brighton, UK, last year, in memory of my best mate, Randy Dandurand) at the vegetarian Dosa restaurant we had dinner at the night before. In sheer panic, I moaned, walked around in circles, and thought there is no way they would be open at six am. Was I willing to miss our train for my hat? I found the caretaker of our Airbnb and told him my sad tale. He walked with me to the restaurant and there it was, on the counter. I gave the chap 500 rupees for his assistance (OK it equals $2.50, but still that is a lot in these parts). Would I have given up the train trip for my hat? Well, we didn’t get the answer, did we? We were at the train station at 7 am for an 8.30 am train. We thought we would at least try to upgrade, perhaps someone won’t show up. Holy Cow! There were lots of first-class seats available, but we would not get a refund for our third-class ticket. Four dollars gone. The first-class tickets were 2400 rupees ($12 bucks for the two of us). Wow! Narda told the ticket dude to give our third-class tickets to a poor person. Not quite sure how, but I think there is something wrong with a picture where we believe a poor person can go third-class, but we shouldn’t. Not to worry, that thinking didn’t affect me for long. We had wonderful seats, very comfortable, on the right side of the train to Ella, which is what the guidebooks say is the best side. We ate junk food all the way and got to Ella all happy. We left Kandy at 8.47 (that is my birth month and my birth year; how cosmic!) – arrived at 3.30. Almost seven hours. Ella was always going to be just a one-night stand. When we arrived, there was one of those monsoon afternoons they have in these parts. We got to our hotel, Grand View, Passara Road (www.9arch.com) and settled in. I think we only have two maybe three hotels on this whole trip with the rest being Airbnb. The streets are quite shocking, just muddy paths with lots of holes, but the hotel is good. We walked into town, in the pouring rain, saw a Mexican Restaurant and remembered the good Mexican meals we got a few months earlier in the States. NOTE: Mexico and Sri Lanka are not on the same page, the same menu, the same, nothing. We ordered some Mexican things that were far from Mexican, and expensive. We were the only diners. I wonder why. The cooks and waiters seemed more interested in the cricket game on the tv than serving us their crappy food. Lesson learned; don’t eat Mexican in Asia. Brendan’s comment “Rookie mistake”.
There is no train from Kandy to the coast. We had looked at this extensively whether to take a bus down the mountain, get a driver, perhaps even rent a car. There is no Uber. The hotel came up with a driver at 11,000 ($55USD) which we thought was a bit dear in relationship to other costs in Sri Lanka. For example, two first-class, seven-hour train tickets were $12. Due to rain, and we just couldn’t be stuffed, our proclamation to the hotel that we would let them know, fell flat, and ten minutes later we said we would take the driver.
The drive down the mountain was a bit nervy. Steep drops, our driver, though quite good in relationship to buses we have been on, passing vehicles on curves, dogs, cows, monkeys was a bit scary. The drive down, literally, was hairy at first. Pretty windy and steep, lots to see; waterfalls, and panoramic views. After about ½ hour we reached the flatter lands, featuring rice fields, small villages, lots of greenery and buffalo. I relaxed and tried to sleep occasionally for the remaining 4 hours. The driver has 3 children, aged 8, 11 and 16. He is very excited about the upcoming election (this seems to be a theme, I suspect the rail strike is somehow involved).
Another Narda fun morning. We are at the train station. We came here yesterday to purchase a ticket, rode our bikies, got a sunburn, stuck in traffic – see our video clip; https://youtu.be/j7gX6PakrwM, told to come back the day of the travel. Here we are. Eight am, took two tuk tuks; (try saying that fast!) one for our bags the other for our bodies. 350 rupees ($1.94USD) each for a short ride, oh well. So, we get to the station, bright eyed and bushy tailed; ticket dude says buy ticket at 9 am for the 9.20 am train. I say that is fine I will do some Photoshop or Premier video or write this…so much to do. Narda thinks no is the wrong answer and tells the ticket dude we want our tickets now at 8.10 not at nine. Ticket dude says no, come back at 8.30. @ 8.30 Narda is at the booth, the ticket dude says train is late come back in 45 minutes. Narda says that it OK she will just wait at the window. Of course, no normal person wants to have Narda standing looking at them for 45 minutes (except me) so now we have our tickets. 80 rupees each, 44 cents for the half hour ride to Galle, second class.It looks like a resort on Booking.com, but it’s actually a home stay. So the pool is not a dark blue infinity pool as illustrated, but an aqua pool, complete with algae. We love it! Right on the beach, you hear the waves (when the fan is off) all night. There are many mozzies, but I think we have that one down. The view and the area are spectacular. Last night we took our complimentary bicycles out for some exploration. We passed a restaurant on the beach which advertised chicken parmie 😊 This was not actually the case, but the food was nevertheless really excellent. We ate on a wooden platform RIGHT by the water, and looked for turtles, which the waiter swore were right there. We didn’t see any but will return. The sunset was speccie and the Lion beer was good. Our journey home was in darkness (no bike lights), despite our best efforts to leave on time. But no matter, we got back without falling into potholes. So we make our own brekkie, try to do our own washing, only to have it snatched out of our hands. It’s almost an Airbnb. I think we would stay here a good while if we could.
Checked out of our homestay/hotel this morning. It’s hot. Blimey. Yesterday we had a really great day with 2 bikes, just pedalling around the neighbourhood. Lots of narrow streets, with minimum traffic. We left pretty early, and just followed the roads that lead close to the coastline, figuring we would not get lost. 4 hours later we were not lost, but boy was I sunburnt! Oops. The heat is tiring, and we sleep more than usual.This morning we headed to the train station to go to Galle. We got there bright eyed and bushy tailed at 8.15am, and the train did not leave until 10.45 after a few announcements of delays. Oh well. I spent a lot of the trip standing in the doorway enjoying the breeze and the views. For a 50 minute trip in second class (still had to scrounge for seats……nothing reserved) we were charged around 55cents (USD). It’s worth taking the journey for sure.I’m sitting in the lounge of our new Airbnb, aircon on and enjoying some cold water. We need this air-conditioning to get our core temperature down; might take a few days. This place is right in downtown Galle, supermarket 5 minutes away, and the famous historic Dutch Fort about 15 minutes away, walking, I think.
Dinner in the Dutch Fort, in a western style place, pretty nice. Because it was a full moon religious day, they could serve no alcohol. ‘No matter’, the waiter reassured us, and brought the beer in a tea pot, complete with cups, and nice lacey table cloth. It tasted great, and I did not have to pour carefully to avoid a giant head. The food was good too, chicken satay. I must confess, I haven’t really got a handle on the local food yet. It is always spicy, despite assurances about “no spice”.
We’re heard some pretty heart wrenching stories about the tsunami in 2004, both today about his flat, which was under 6 feet of water, and the previous place in Matara where the whole property was destroyed. Apparently Galle was the worst hit, with the water coming from 2 sides. So many people were just going on with their daily work and did not see it coming. The guy told us that 42,000 folks died in Sri Lanka. I also feel bad for the struggling folks depending on tourism as there are virtually no tourists here at all, after the shooting in April. The owner today told us that the Chinese are still coming though; good on them!
Sitting in the Dutch Fort in Galle is pretty cool. It is considered to be Sri Lanka’s best preserved colonial landscape. In 1640, the Dutch captured the Fort, built by the Portuguese, and expanded the fortifications, creating a street plan which survives to this day. You can walk down Church Street and see a Dutch Reformed Church there built around 1755. The whole place is full of atmosphere, narrow streets, many original low-rise buildings that have been restored in recent years.So here we are. I said it was cool, but actually we were very hot, waiting for our food. The waiter thoughtfully brought us some little cold face-washers. He had some very strong opinions on the state of affairs in Sri Lanka, including the 41 candidates for the upcoming November elections. He says there is so much corruption here. (not the only ones…private thought) We asked him about the 2004 tsunami. He said the water was black, and so were the people rescued, covered in black. We guessed it might be volcanic ash? The tsunami did not hit the Fort; it would have remained completely intact, walls are about 20 ft thick!!! The area was protected by a peninsula; and the waves made a direct hit on the town beyond. He recalled losing several family members, and rescuing small children, all covered in black. Terrell would ask him questions about the history of the Fort, which he ignored and continued his passionate tirade about the state of things in his country, including the fact that the government had a warning from Indian Intelligence about the April, 2019 bombings and did not act on the information. I had also heard this version of things on a podcast from The Daily (New York Times). (thanks for the recommendation, Chris). Shocking really. The government was so busy with internal squabbles, this piece of deadly information was apparently ignored.
Oct 18, Ambolangoda
We walked to the station, bought second class tickets again (less than $1) and got great seats next to an open window on the ‘sea’ side. Two tuks tuks took us to White Villa, a modern 2 story place, all sparking white, roomy and nicely furnished. ($45 for 3 nights….this is low low season).
We met a friendly German guy, Peter, our age, who lives permanently downstairs and had a beer with him at ‘beer o’clock’. He’s lived in Sri Lanka for 40 years, goes home to Germany for 3 months each year. Interesting stories to tell. He’s had a lot of experience with corruption here, especially after the tsunami. For example, he came back from a trip to Germany with a decent amount of money donated by friends. He bought 10 computers for the local school with it. The local government officials insisted on handling the donation. When he went to the school to check, they had only received 5 computers. After that, he told us, he was doing it his way. Only directly with folks who needed help, despite being reprimanded by government officials who threatened to take away his visa if he did not do it ‘through the proper channels’. “But not,’ said Pete “this little black duck” (or the German equivalent). And he is still here. With a proper visa!
We took a local bus to the tsunami museum, down the road about 15 minutes. There are a number of little galleries displaying photos. The one we went to was owned by a couple in memory of his mother, who was killed by the flood. The photos are pretty graphic, you see much more than the media showed. Pretty shocking. This man gave us an interesting running commentary of all the photos. He is certain that there was some sort of poison in the ‘black’ water that washed in. You could see it, he said, in the bodies, and the way they blackened and swelled.
They had one of the carriages on display from the tsunami so I went in it – kind of spooky.
From Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Sri_Lanka_tsunami_train_wreck The 2004 Sri Lanka tsunami-rail disaster is the largest single rail disaster in world history by death toll, with probably 1,700 fatalities or more. It occurred when a crowded passenger train was destroyed on a coastal railway in Sri Lanka by a tsunami which followed the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. The tsunami subsequently caused over 30,000 reported deaths and billions of rupees in property damage in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's seismic monitoring station at Pallekele registered the earthquake within minutes but did not consider it possible for a tsunami to reach the island. When tsunami reports first reached the dispatching office in Maradana, officials were able to halt eight trains running on the Coastal Line, but were unable to reach the Matara Express. Efforts to halt the train at Ambalangoda failed because all station personnel were assisting with the train, and no one was available to answer the phone until after the train had departed. Attempts to reach personnel at stations further south failed as they had fled or been killed by the waves.
We actually rode on the same train with perhaps a carriage from the tsunami on the same line in the same area – though of course fifteen years later. They fixed all the cars and the engine – except for the one I took a photo of above.
A hundred metres down the road was a turtle rescue centre and hatchery. A guy who collects turtle eggs from the beach and hatches them, then returns them when they are viable. He said the survival rate, in nature, is one in 100, but using his intervention, more turtles can be saved and preserved. Seemed genuine to us, though Pete the German was a little more cynical.
The bus driver said to us at the beginning, “long, long way”. It was long. We thought, we don’t mind a long ride along the coast, but this bus was the local of the local, visiting every single hamlet off the main road. But worth it. Gorgeous scenery; and who’s in a rush??
I woke during the night with a big headache; immediately thought, I have dengue fever. After taking Panadol and 8mg of codeine I slept. Woke up with a woolly head and a bit of a cold, but no dengue and no headache. Still woolly as I write this, but it is soooo hot. The humidity (no aircon here) really takes it out of you. The other day I took a 2 ½ hour nap. Blimey. We have a fan. The kids are out on the adjoining oval, in the sun.
Oct 21, Beruwala
Our first tour this trip was a river boat cruise. A small boat run by a couple of young blokes, one of whom basically followed us around the town for several hours, in the nicest possible way, before finally convincing us that it was worth doing. It was raining, pretty much all the time. Never cold, just wet.
We considered this trip and checked out the little boat. There was a black canvas cover, but the seats looked very wet, and for a 2 hour trip, we decided to wait for the rain to stop. So much to the boy’s dismay, we walked off and sat ourselves in an expensive western style coffee ship to eat carrot cake and drink coffee. We actually thought that the trip was all over. But one hour later, our young friend found us in the coffee shop, the rain stopped, we had checked with another group of travellers that these trips were OK, and we were out of excuses, so off we went with Bentota River Boat Safari. It was a great little trip, lots of mangroves, a couple of monitor lizards of the dangerous type. Apparently these guys have some poisonous barbs in their tails, which they use to swipe people or prey. And it can result in a bad injury.
But actually what I remember about this trip was the strange conversation we had with the boys. They, like other Sri Lankans we have spoken to, are some what anti Muslim. They say that the Muslim folks in the north, near Jaffna want their own homeland. The other Sri Lankans strongly oppose this, saying there is no reason why Buddhists, Christians and Muslims cannot share the country. They also told us that the Muslim doctors have been accused to secretly sterilizing non Muslim Sri Lankan women, so that the population growth of non Muslims is reduced. We also heard the same story from our homestay host, who seems quite rational and educated. I googled it. There has been a doctor recently arrested on these charges, but they have not been verified. Our local boys say this is because money has changed hands. Much to think about and you wonder what is really going on.
The boat safari dropped us off on the sand near The Eden Resort and Spa, a great western enclave where we can order whatever we want. The first time was tapas and beer by the pool. We considered buying a pass for the pool for $5 but didn’t get ‘round to it. A potato salad with satay chicken for lunch; all good.
Learned how to spell it, probably don’t come close to saying it properly but if I say to the bus driver or a passing monk where I want to go they seem to point me in some direction. We took the train from Galle. Only a bit over an hour; the second-class carriage was fine. See our video which includes a bit of the train, our visit to a turtle hatchery, a random bus ride, and well that is all in this video. https://tinyurl.com/y48x5pde
We left Galle on the 10.35 am express which set us back 44-cents USD each. We seem not to favour the humidity here. Temperature is OK at about 30C, which in Adelaide would a nice summer day. Here it is almost unbearable. In Galle and every other place, we had air-conditioning. In Ambalangoda we do not even have an overhead fan, just a stand-up fan that keeps us sweating. We have gone for walks in the morning, which is fine, but by ten am it is too hot. We have a nice apartment, on the second floor with a balcony in both front and back. Keeping all the doors and windows upon during the day helps a bit but come evening we need to close everything due to mosquitoes. It is setting us back $15USD a day so we hope to find an air-conditioned restaurant for lunch – dinner – breakfast; anything. So far we have not found any in our first couple of days and I doubt whether they exist.
A short clip on Bentota, Aluthgama Train Station and our Bentota river safari which was two hours with most of that time looking for crocs, lizards, birds, mangroves and just chillin’ as one does in Sri Lanka. https://bit.ly/2J3IPuT
Our guest house in the rain – https://youtu.be/Gefj3TThunA
Oct 23 Negombo
Train to Negombo https://youtu.be/SrR96tL7FKU
We asked someone about the shacks along the train track. Apparently the government, after the tsunami in this area build apartment buildings and put everyone in them. The locals don’t want to live in a modern apartment and built shacks along the rail line which is where they prefer to live.
Got into a conversation with a couple of girls from Chile. They urged us to visit; ‘very safe’. This area of the world has been neglected by us; we seem to follow the same paths, Western Europe, USA and SE Asia/Indian subcontinent. Yesterday was a big train day. It started at Aluthgama Station, our closest largish station. Anyway we boarded the train, plenty of window seats in 2nd class, cranked the window right up (also for the girls) and enjoyed a spectacular ride along the ocean. Best train ride I’ve ever experienced, perhaps even better than the Kandy to Ella one.
We arrived at Colombo Fort at 1.10pm and some helpful locals waved us on to the nearly departing train to Negombo. Nice, no waiting. But then we realised that it was the local commuter train, with folks also standing (we did find seats) for the next 1 ½ hours. But interesting still. Lots of rain, and entertainment. A child throwing a tantrum which lasted the first half hour; the mother was amazing. Some train food, rice-bubble crumble? And lots of city….almost the whole way. The houses seem more middle class, compared to the coastal ones south of Colombo. In fact, on that south coast we went past some really poor areas, tiny little houses made of temporary material enjoying the most specie view of the ocean. Like a little slum…..a long narrow one. We found out later that these folks are offered new small flats to live in, but they prefer to stay where they are.
The place we are staying is excellent; aircon, 300 metres to the beach and (so we were told) ‘360 restaurants nearby’. At around 4pm, we enjoyed a great meal at Dolce Vita 27 Restaurant. So much to choose from, so little time 😊.
We are right on the Dutch Canal, built by….you guessed it, the Dutch a couple of hundred years ago. The water is the same colour as the canals in Holland.
Have you ever heard of tuk tuk racing? It’s a thing I am told. A bunch 6 crazy New Zealand chicks checked into our quiet hotel, having just competed a tuk tuk race around Sri Lanka. All in their mid 50s, some having never ridden a motorcycle, these girls called themselves “Birds of a Feather” flying flags and wearing chicken beanies. What a hoot. We joined them for drinks and stories as they polished off a significant amount of gin. They left again at 4am next morning leaving their ‘vehicles’ in the hands of our host. A nice end to our Sri Lankan stay.
OUR NEXT BLOG STORY IS ON OUR TIME IN LAHORE PAKISTAN AND WILL BE AVAILABLE HERE 25ST NOVEMBER 2019… we get back from our trip on the 19th – and we will finish assembling our Pakistan and last ten days of our trip (Udon Thani, Thailand) when we are home in Adelaide, Australia.
cheers from Narda and Terrell
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