Ahead of us was a flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Lahore, Pakistan; leaving at ten pm, arriving four hours later, which due to time change was midnight in Lahore. We knew we would be stuffed by the time we got there which would be two am in our world. But as luck would have it…We received an email from Sri Lankan Airlines saying we could upgrade to business. All we had to do was put in a bid and if it was accepted, we would be travelling like the elderly should, but usually cannot afford to. The bid range was $30 – $90 USD so we reckoned midway would be good. We put in $60 and got business class seats. It turned out that the business section was mostly empty so we could have gotten them for less, but we were happy to have the better seats. Considering the ticket to begin with was $260 each it was good a deal.
Narda’s notes (italics) Terrell notes
My first impressions of Pakistan, after three days, is that the people are very friendly. For example, we can rarely go a block without someone wanting a selfie with us, shaking hands, saying “thank you for coming to Pakistan”. My other impression is from the pollution. My app says 305, Hazardous; avoid all physical activity outdoors. Yesterday it hit 670.
It hangs in the air. Brendan’s house is in a gated community with a lot of trees and I think that helps. We also have machines around the house that are supposed to suck in the bad air. I can taste it when I am outside. In comparison where we live in Adelaide is a breathable 8; . Apparently, it is the µg/m3 reading that is all the rage to know about; Micrograms per Cubic Meter of Air. Bottom line, the µg/m3 should be between 0 & 5. Anything above 35 stay inside and watch Oprah and eat chocolate.
What stood out besides what we saw, was how many people wanted selfies with us. It is usually Narda getting all the attention
but today, I would say I had a hundred selfies at least. It took forever to get through the temple we got stopped so much, perhaps not forever, because now is now and we are not there, and forever is not over. Fortunately, Sofie and Maryam were patient. The Pakistani people would shake my hand and say, ‘thank you for coming to Pakistan’.
It was amazing. A few weeks ago, at the first cricket game here since 2004 (that year the Sri Lanka team’s buses were fired upon, though no one was killed; but it did stop teams from coming here until now) the Pakistan fans held up signs thanking Sri Lanka for playing here (even though Sri Lanka won).
Pakistan has been treated poorly by the western media; these people are so grateful to have western visitors. I even had women in full burkas doing selfies with me. I didn’t know the protocol in these situations, so I didn’t put my arm around them…maybe next time.
https://youtu.be/s0iyHOJ76WQ our video for our tromping about the mosque.
The Badshahi Mosque is a Mughal era masjid in Lahore, capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab, Pakistan. The mosque is located west of Lahore Fort along the outskirts of the Walled City of Lahore, and is widely considered to be one of Lahore’s most iconic landmarks.
Brendan’s driver, Imran, took us shopping to Al-Fatah Mall. (https://www.alfatah.pk/): The grocery store, in the basement, has more western products than our local supermarket in Lahore. For example, we got peanut butter, but they were out of tofu. On the third floor I bought a shalwar kameez suit, black $26USD at Al-Fatah.
The dress of Narda’s was from material she bought and had made. We have a video and story of that later. Sales tax = 17% on clothes and most groceries. Milk doesn’t have any tax, yogurt has 10%, everything else at the supermarket had a 17% tax wacked on. We have been told by a few people here that everything costs more since Imran Khan became prime minister, including higher taxes. We thought locals would have a good impression of Imran Khan but so far those we have spoken with don’t think he is doing well. The most general comment is that he is trying to go to fast, ending corruption, changing stuff. For those who don’t know, before entering politics, Khan was an international cricketer and captain of the Pakistan national cricket team, which he led to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup. We have liked his speeches we have seen on YouTube and on the news. Especially in relationship to India. We had the same feedback in Sri Lanka in relationship to their head of state, no one seemed to like him. Of course, it is the same in the States, so where does one go to find a head of state that a majority like? I don’t know.
Tuesday 29th October.
Imran took us to Liberty Market alongside Main Boulevard Gulberg. Liberty Market is made up of many individual shops with frontage to the streets. Mainly women’s clothing shops they are small and seem to be owner owned. We got there after eleven am only to find most of the shops closed. They open after noon and stay open until late at night which seems to be the way with markets in Lahore. We did buy a bedspread for about $32USD at Thar Maleer Handicraft shop. Heaven only knows why we would need another bedspread, but I just carry the parcels I don’t seem to understand why we need more. Narda bought another scarf ($4) at a street stall, and a dress for $19. Narda is finding getting a dress that fits her ten-foot frame difficult, even for extra-large. I would joke with the salespeople; one refined shop keeper remarked that she had a healthy body. At the end of a few hours of looking, on our walk back to our meeting with Imran, a dress in a shop widow caught Narda’s eye. She tried it on, it was a bit too small in the shoulder but otherwise what she wanted. The shop owner adjusted the hem a bit to make it fit.
What was interesting was an in-depth conversation with the shop dude. He was quite concerned about westerner’s perception of Pakistan, something that comes up quite often. He said Pakistan in the safest country of all and that Lahore is the safest city in Pakistan. That tourists are given a lot of respect. That it is the United States policy to create tension between Pakistan and India and others. We didn’t say anything as we have heard India’s side often that it is Pakistan creating division. He had recently lived in Belgium for three years and him and Narda could chat in Dutch. This is such a recurring theme here that people are so happy we are visiting, that it is the media creating a bad rap on Pakistan. We just listen. We will say that the people here are extremely friendly. We got a slight reprimand when Narda did a Namaste (a slight bow with paws pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. In Hinduism, it means “I bow to the divine in you”, or to us it is “you are cool too, mate”), and a man said that he was a Muslim and they just did the thumbs up thingy. He was friendly about it but I guess there is some mixing of culture we are not up to speed on. In India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, everyone is bowing and gesturing all over the shop. So, remember when in Pakistan it is thumbs up.
When we got home, we went off to our local market for dinner fixings
and as is so often is the case we were surrounded by folks wanting selfies with us. Firstly, a woman in full black niqab wanted a photo with us and her daughters about 8 to 10 years old. Next, a few young blokes with matching tee shirts, then more of them, then about a dozen, all wanting group photos and individual photos. They were a university cricket team all excited because they had made it to the grand final game which I think is tomorrow. Then there were a few other stragglers along the street that wanted selfies with us.
Just to keep the difference in women’s wear understandable, not that it is even at the best of time, here is something I grabbed off the internet so that I could sort it out somewhat:
The word hijab describes the act of covering up generally but is often used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in many styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.
I even had to wear something on my head at the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar in India last year.
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.
The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body, often leaving just a mesh screen to see through.
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close-fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and a tube-like scarf.
For more about what is what with garb see https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/24118241
Narda writes about Brendan’s home below. I will just add that due to being a gated community, the chooks and cats wander through everyone’s yards. They had a routine they kept to everyday. At four pm the rooster followed by several hens and a try-hard rooster would enter our yard, peck around a bit, chase away a cat or two then wander on to the next yard.
It was the first time for the guy in Lahore who processed our visa. A bunch of earnest looking Pakistanis prompted him every step of the way, but despite that we got out and on our way with Brendan and his driver Imran. There was an important looking pollie…I think…who was met by fawning officials with papers to hand him and cameras…who shared business class with us. I think he had some anxiety, his legs moving from side to side for most of the trip.
Right now I’m watching a guy wearing a beige shalwar kameez sweeping our lawn.
He did it yesterday too. The flat where Brendan is living is enormous. Huge lounge with high ceilings, 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms on 2 levels. All the flats in this enclosed area have leafy gardens; there is a pristine swimming pool and serious security here, manned all the time.
We saw an accident, lots of blood on the road, Brendan told me not to look so I looked. Pretty disturbing; a motorbike rider. We continued our walk and finished up in a little enclave of western coffee and carrot cake. A couple of girls on the way out commented on my Punjabi dress…starting a nice conversation. Turned out that one of them also taught at the American school years back.
It’s a big busy city, reminded us of Delhi; without the cows. Though you do see the occasional cart pulled by a sad scruffy donkey. The road home was completely taken up by the devout at prayers…took up the whole road and we were diverted. I love all this stuff, new and exciting.
Brendan showed us his skills as a crazy driver in Lahore, narrowly avoiding hitting a tuk tuk, a beggar or another flash vehicle. Nicely done! We actually found a place to park, despite my doubts; he paid a guy some 30c to take care of the car, and we went inside a supermarket. Terrell found what he needed to make a nice, unusual veg meal, as we watched the Breaking Bad movie on Netflix. And I have been initiated into drinking Murree beer. First glass, ‘not sure’, but second glass ‘pretty OK.
This morning (Bren still asleep) two of his friends visited; we had a nice chat. It was 8am. They were wearing their bathers, and we were still in pajamas. The only way to make new friends.
Oct 24 Lahore
The top-end furniture guy cleared a couple of VIP chairs and made a space on his desk so that we could enjoy our cups of chai purchased from the local chai wallah. We had an audience of men, watching us closely, asking, with a head waggle, if it was all OK. ‘Sugar? OK?’ For me ‘Yes’. When we came back the next day, we tried sitting on the rough wooden bench, but the whole thing was repeated, as we enjoyed our sweet tea, like Lord and Lady Muck.
It’s about 20 minutes’ walk including dodging and weaving (potholes, tuk tuks, donkey carts and piles of unknown things) to our closest shopping area. We’re quite familiar with all that. We go to Jamals ‘(all air conditioned) for some groceries, some soda water for Bren, try to support the street stall buying fruit, buy some rich coloured chicken downstairs and then head home. Imran, Bren’s man and driver usually does his shopping cooking, irons everything (including underwear I think) and is generally the one to make things happen on a local level…a fixer. He’s a sweet, kind man. Yesterday he drove us to another market area where we bought a bedspread for home.
I’ve forgotten the name of the restaurant but we had another experience of Brendan’s driving skills (and courage 😊) as we ate a beautiful Paki meal in a really nice BBQ place, owned by the parents of one of Bren’s students. And lots of leftovers!
Terrell and I are all Paki-ed up.!! He has a real cool shalwar kameez, ($22) in black with embroidery, and I have an amazing red dress with large ‘diamonds’ on the collar, looks really dressy; they had to let it out for reasons I’d rather not discuss, all for the total of $19. (All dollars quoted in USD; gives us the illusion of spending less 🙂
Sophie, Brendan’s friend, invited us to a big day out, going with a few colleagues from LAS for a tour of the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort built in 1566. Sean; maths teacher, musician, ballroom dancer and crazy driver, drove us there. Mariyam, the HR person and I discussed the possibility of me doing a short replacement gig at LAS, to Brendan’s horror. Hmmm.
Now we know what it feels like to be famous. We were literally inundated by folks taking selfies with us. Most asking politely; once you pose for one, the next groups are awaiting their turn. It was fun actually. Terrell was accosted on the way home from our local supermarket by a bunch of cricketers, posing outside the shop that sponsored them. They asked me to join too, but that was being polite; he was the one they were after.
The girls (Sophie and Mariyam) did a wonderful tour guide job. The whole place is really worth visiting; at the end of the day we chose having a meal over another museum; that was unanimous. The view from the restaurant was specie; 4 (rickety?) stories up. We ate local food, yummy daal and naan….just like pizza, with some deep fried things….like giant pappadums, which were delicious. Sophie and Mariyam, generous and hospitable girls, paid for us, despite our protests.
‘There’s no way we want to reunite with India’, said the man selling me my red dress. He went on to say that it is the USA meddling that has caused most of the conflict between the two nations. ‘And it is 110% safe here’ he went on to say. ‘Very safe, you are welcome here’. He lived in Belgium for 4 years and was very happy there, even speaks some Dutch (this I could test!). Another interesting thing was that he said that things were getting more expensive in Pakistan since the new Prime Minister started. That the cost of living for his family is 30,000 rupees a month, (about $150 USD) but he can only earn 15,000 rupees. So it is very difficult. Taxes, we heard from others, have gone up a lot, and generally the cost of living. Others have told us the same, including Imran, Brendan’s man.
We have 2 Shalwar Kameez (plural?) for Terrell, a red dress, a bed spread and a whole lot of stuff for Bren’s apartment (that part thankfully funded by him). It’s actually looking gezellig, with plants and pictures on the wall, little table clothes and cushions; all ready for family to visit!!! Even a strange lamp. We bought it at an antique place, thinking this was very unusual, only to find it online in an Ikea store. Oh well. Still looks good.
It wasn’t only shopping. Yesterday we had a great breakfast /brunch, at a pretty nice restaurant together with a couple of women from the LAS community, Venla (Finnish) and Saeema (American); both long termers here. We’ve also been dashing about with Sean the calculus teacher (reminds us of Robert from DAIS), who took us to a very fancy western mall, Emporium Market. That’s where Terrell bought his second Shalwar Kameez.
I felt hopelessly inadequately dressed. I actually wore my black thongs (flip-flops for you shocked Americans!) and my new red diamond studded dress, but boy, do theses guys go all out. Gorgeous stuff, all trimmed and beaded and glittery. It was the niece of Brendan’s man who invited us, and we were indeed fussed over.
This was the 1st day of a 2 day-long reception, first day for the bride’s family, second day for the groom’s. I sat for short while I (didn’t want to push it) at a table with the men drinking whisky…or gin…not actually sure, but it was sweet and good. Brendan was also dressed in traditional clothes with an added vest, very smart…..and some strange shoes which he might show you.
Halloween was big. We attended a ticketed event at LAS, lots of security getting in. Bren had his class stall, where they made and sold ? sticky goo. All the kids were elaborately dressed up, and the music was excruciatingly loud; I was assured (by Brendan, my chief critic and advisor) that this was the way things are in Asia. All very interesting, we got a good look at the school and Bren’s classroom.
‘I’ve lived here for 57 years’, said Lulu at the International Club, where we went after the school event. Lulu (from somewhere else) and Franz (from Holland) were the coordinators of the club, trying to keep it viable. I enjoyed the chat with these folks, as the young ones, with Terrell, went to the bar. Aron and Sophie joined us at a table for a really good buffet, Turkish themed. Yum.
Lahore is surprising. You see folks from Biblical times, and then Gloria Jeans coffee places. Folks sleeping in the back of tuk tuks or in the park with their children, to shining, pristine shopping malls. I usually get annoyed at these malls in parts of Asia with their bullshit designer shops that nobody can shop at. This however is much nicer. More (still somewhat high end) shops with local style clothing, very stylish and for us anyway, affordable. And more people.
But the air is a worry. Last week the pollution index topped 500; today it is about 200 and most of last week it was in the 300’s and 400’s.
Nov 7, 2019 Lahore
Today, our last day, Brendan got what is for us a ‘snow day’. The head of school texted the whole community; a high of 650 was predicted (hazardous) and the school was closed. BONUS! So we get to relax, pack, have a lunch kindly donated by one of Bren’s TAs from last year.
Last night we could only just see the top of the Pakistani flag and the sun was orange/red. Imran took us to the Wahga border (sp Wagah, Wagha, Wahga????). Google assures us it’s the first one, but we see local signs with one of the others. It was a feast. We saw the Border Closing Ceremony once again (last year from the Indian side). We got VIP seats 4 rows from the front. I stuck wet tissue balls in my ears (we were dangerously close to the speakers 😊) and we had a ball. The guy dancing on one leg was still there; I even got the chance to thank him personally.
Cantt stands for containment. This means that there are army bases all over the place that do not want foreigners in them. We found “Food Street” but we were far too early, so no food.
This was a strange messy day (bit like this strange messy blog entry). Our driver took us part of the way, then got stuck with road closures, so we transferred ourselves to to a tuk tuk, which went a little further (this all in pursuit of ‘Food Street’) The tuk tuk driver also got stuck when a large demonstration (I think it was…people everywhere, many sitting down) appeared at the end of our road, also completely blocking it off to traffic. He turned around to us to explain this in Urdu or Punjabi. Luckily a young lady walking by put her head into the tuk tuk and translated for us. He was happy to continue, perhaps wait awhile, but we had to pay him $1 more.
Finally got there, no food, so we wandered around the old town, discovered the music street …pretty cool, lots of drums and guitars being made, and the shoe sole street, which speaks for itself. I have never seen so many shoe soles in one area in my life. OK, by then (the reader is getting exhausted) we had accepted that there was no food. So we got an Uber to take us to a mall. Always a safety refuge for us. The traffic was almost at a standstill. So the trip to the far away mall was long.
Now I am getting back to ‘containment’. We entered a military zone in the bloody Uber. They pulled us over and demanded our passports, which of course we ‘no have’. ‘Who goes shopping with passports’, demanded Terrell angrily from the gun-slinging soldier. Hmmm. They took him away, leaving me in the Uber. After what seemed a long time, maybe 15 minutes (seemed longer) he was duly returned, and we resumed our journey into the banned mall. A day to remember. I was a bit cranky; I must confess. All this protocol.
I had pizza with 4 cheeses and a nice thin base last night at a nice restaurant. Bren had Moroccan chicken, and Terrell had a creamy pasta dish. All good.
Lahore is a trip!!! Where else do people (complete strangers) come up to you and say ‘welcome to our country, it is an honour for us that you are here’.
Wagha Border video https://youtu.be/0AD8cmi1Ujo
General Lahore videohttps://tinyurl.com/rqayfep
Just to add to Narda’s wonderful narrative above; first some photos (we have over a thousand if you want to invite us to your home and we will sit and show them all – let us know)
This is Narda with the bride (the bride is on the left) – I call it ‘Narda giving Australian/Dutch wisdom to the newly wed’.
Brendan’s servant (we didn’t like to call him that) who got us into this wedding; this is his daughter (on the left – the one leaning away from me as I lean toward her) and his wife (leaning toward me as I lean away – all the body language one needs).
Brendan’s servant (we didn’t like to call him that) who got us into this wedding; this is his daughter (on the left – the one leaning away from me as I lean toward her) and his wife (leaning toward me as I lean away – all the body language one needs).
The poverty hits one hard. We all live in such rich countries and we visit these places. We did give beggars money but there is no end to it all. Near us is a park with several tuk tuks parked; families live in them, 3, 4, even five children sleeping during the day in them.
Narda is always so ready to get on the next transportation and head out. When she was four her family was getting on a ship in Rotterdam to migrate to Australia. They drove from their home in Utrecht to Rotterdam, about a three-hour drive. When they got there Narda said ‘it is really a long way to Australia’. Those three hours to the next place have become many decades long.
At the airport. The sum equation of all that is Lahore, or at least our experience of it. Enormous clouds of crowds everywhere. All so foreign. So as usual a person shows up, he has a badge, I didn’t trust him, he escorts us quickly past the crowds, we show our passport and ticket, get past a few islands of security, put bags through big scanners, and get to the Thai ticket counter and our helpful dude wants money.
So today we had a snow day. Bren’s school was cancelled for high pollution levels. 635 was expected (Adelaide has about 20) So Bren had the day off, which was a last-minute gift from the gods. As it turned out the pollution was ‘only’ about 130. Another gift. Packing, talking, Bren driving us to the local market, and then Imran made 2 airport runs, first run for Bren heading to Bahrain for a conference, the second 3 hours later for our midnight departure.
Passport was a hassle, we stood stationary for about 45 minutes as folks pushed in ahead of us, all dressed in white. Later we realised these folks were headed to Mecca, where all people wear white so that there is no distinction between rich and poor.
Arriving in Bangkok at 6 am we actually felt pretty exhausted. Bought some Thai sim cards and then took a shuttle the nearby Novotel for a great buffet breakfast. Worth the money!
Ahead of me I see temple spires, a phone tower, a restaurant with plastic lawn (they have good food!) and some quiet streets. I am sitting in the kitchen of our tiny modern, clean and secure little flat in the building in Udan Thani called The Base. 14 stories, with a rooftop garden, a swimming pool, gym and comfy bed.
Also some bits and pieces for the grandies. We observed small children gleefully eating a plate full of deep fried and spiced bugs. They looked like hornets and crickets. (see one-minute video of market and bugs https://youtu.be/t74hNiB9VCs )
Sizzler still serve that cheesy toast. Do you remember? This was in Central Plaza, a 10 minute walk away. No movies that suits us. Bummer. But we had a nice Sizzler buffet and got caught up on salads and veggies.
Now I’m sitting a home with a large lump on my head and left knee. I walked into the glass door of the Crocs Shop. You may well laugh. They were offering 15% off. No more squat toilets for me for a while. The knee has lost some function. Oh well. Not serious.
One of the most colourful festivals of the year in Thailand is Loy Krathong; full moon festival. This is when people go to their local waterway to float small bowl shaped containers called Krathongs in Thai. Inside are three incense sticks, a candle and usually a few coins. They float the Krathong to ask Mother Nature for forgiveness for polluting the rivers but also to thank her for water that brings life. Most people also take this opportunity to make a wish for good luck in the future. As they watch the krathong float away, they hope it will also take any of their bad luck.
Watching our little reed boat sail off into the lake was the highlight of Monday night’s Loy Krathong Festival. Everyone was there, all 150,000 Udonis. Incredible. Our reed boat had 3 sticks of incense, one for Leigh, one for dad and one for mum. See video at
An Irish guy named Martin gave us the low down on why Undonis don’t talk to us. Well actually he didn’t know why, but in the 12 years he has been living around here, they don’t talk to him either.
This is a strange thing and a complete contrast to the friendly Pakis. We are completely ignored. It takes a little getting used to, until we remember that’s why we are here. No hustle, no offers of tuk tuk rides. When you walk into a store you actually have to grab the sales person by the scruff of the neck to get some action…….almost.
And these folks are SO tidy! Not a scrap of rubbish on the ground, anywhere. Even when 150,000 of them are tromping, clockwise of course, around the market. Never seen this before. The dirt is all in the air, with an average reading of about 150 at the moment (remember, Adelaide is about 20). Furthermore, there is NO English. Well, maybe a tiny, tiny bit. Local restaurants have menus that are completely undecipherable. It is really hard to act out a dish you want. Try acting our Chicken with cashews, or worse still Pad Thai with no meat.
cheers from Narda and Terrell
our next blog will be from The Netherlands where we will be mid-January 2020 until mid April 2020
in the meantime
homepage @ https://neuage.org
Daily writing https://neuage.org/2019/
Books on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Terrell-Neuage/e/B017ZRK55U
(https://tinyurl.com/y29ygazd) published 05/July/2019 in eBook & Print Edition (664 pages) As with all Amazon books read the first ten % free.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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(https://tinyurl.com/y29ygazd) published 05/July/2019 in eBook & Print Edition (664 pages) As with all Amazon books read the first ten % free.