A Travellerspoint blog

Summary of sorts

Today is Harrys 15th birthday and we have been here almost two weeks. It feels longer, not because its bad but because we have been to such diverse places and have been doing things every day. We have landed in clover in Polonnaruwa and are going to have a few relaxed days here.

In summary our first place in Negombo was a fragrant garden hideaway but I was ready to move on after a few days. Its more difficult to enjoy a hideaway when you don't know what you're hiding away from. Kandy was lovely, the climate was cooler and breezier and our accommodation was a early last century modernist gem with wrap around balconies. Unfortunately it had seen better days and Hostelworld, our great resource in SE Asia, gets you the servants quarters in Sri Lanka. That has been a bit of a shock, we assumed we could rock up in new places and find somewhere to stay but its not working out like that. We had planned to go to beautiful Uppuveli and Nilaveli beaches for a few days and still could, if we wanted to sleep on the beach. There is not a bed to be had. In Jaffna there was a constant stream of would be guests turned away from our accommodation and believe me, it was no beauty. So we are doing it differently from here and have the next week or so booked which takes the spontaneity out a bit but appears necessary.

Anuradhapura had many unfeasibly large Dagobas but the heat was savage, real life sapping stuff. So onwards to Jaffna on the bone shaker train. The palm trees and paddy fields and anything green gave way to a dry, barren landscape. The city is getting back on its feet, lots of trade and building but my God, its in shite. The Nallur district, where we were staying, had lots of leafy charm having seemingly escaped the bombing but the rest is grim. Our trip out to the islands the next day showed more of the same, what appeared to be a systematic destruction of communities house by house. The light is harsh and its rubbish strewn. The military boat out to Nagadipa was ship shape and there was a joyous, holiday atmosphere out there. The boat back was interesting, the engine cut out about 30 seconds in so we drifted back in to the pier. The Navy man seemed to be ordering us off but the young sailors had other ideas. I'm not sure what was happening but some guy had to swim under the boat and it seemed very important that another tied a string to the throttle correctly. Actually I think that's what happened, the string connecting the throttle to the engine had come away. Not so ship shape. There was lots of looking over the side during the journey too, I think the water is really shallow. Having run our boat aground on my hen party I would have been all over that situation!

So back to what felt more like India than Sri Lanka. We have felt only safe thus far but there was a different vibe in Jaffna. Rosie struggled to understand why she had to wear a t shirt in the sea and the boys didn't. I was probably over vigilant but I could see the way she was being looked at and she is taller than most Sri Lankan women so seems older than she is. But hey its not all negative. Jaffna will return to its former glory if the number of returned emigrants/refugees have anything to do with it. It was hilarious to ask directions in pigeon English ask get a reply in a 100% London accent.

I'm going on, bus to Polonnaruwa, guesthouse was overbooked so we gladly went with the upgrade which is like being in a holiday home in Ireland, if it was 35 degrees. Amazing day in Minneriya yesterday, silently watching elephants silently eating rings around themselves. Very peaceful. Today the ruins were fab, cycled around and could really get a sense of the scale of the place. Went to the pool for the afternoon with Harry , Rosie and Paddy. Poor Joe is sick, we are going down one after the other, glad I brought antibiotics. On to Arugam Bay tomorrow to try some surfing. Over and out. Caroline

Posted by goldenmaverick 07:05 Comments (0)

The long haul south

sunny 36 °C
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It was our last day in Jaffna yesterday so we hired the same tuk-tuk drivers again. Two nice fellas - one Hindu chap and the other a Christian. Our first stop was a Hindu temple that we've passed by a couple of times but today we went inside. Unlike the Buddhist temples where they expect you to cover up in the Hindu ones its tops off for all the lads. You can see the locals aren't used to the white farmer-tan bodies of us Irish lads.

After that we took a trip to a beach near Jaffna. Women are required to cover up so most of them get in the sea fully clothed or in some Burkini style get-up. It seems so odd from a Western perspective but when in Rome and all that. It has become very apparent that Sri Lanka is a very unequal society - the rich are downright rude to everyone, the emerging middle class are even more rude to the poor and the domestic help. There's definitely a caste system in place and the whole thing stinks from a moral perspective if you're not used to that type of thing. On top of those problems the country is a bit of an environmental disaster. Any good arising from recycling rates in Ireland or the EU is being undone here. Litter is everywhere you look around you. Plastic waste is in abundance. The diesel used in the vehicles spits out dirty noxious fumes. The country's natural beauty is being spoiled everywhere you look. It's a damn pity.

This morning we departed Jaffna on a public bus to Pollonaruwa. Jaffna was an experience but I'm not sure I'd classify it as a holiday. Their 25 day festival has been in full swing for the last couple of days and continues for the next twenty or so. One of our last sights leaving the outer limits of Jaffna was a Hindu devotee hanging with hooks through his back from a juggernaut float - mad shit is an understatement. Our bus journey was long but again the kids played a stormer. We were up with the lark and breakfast was had at the bus station to ensure we got a seat. The first three hours of the journey had some mad movie called Singam 2 playing. The hero was an all-fighting all-dancing fella with a great moustache. I'm tempted to get Singam 1 out on DVDs when I get back home. The next three and a half hours wasn't the worst and we eventually made it to our destination. We hopped off the bus at the side of the road outside Pollonaruwa and a nice gent was there waiting for us. We'd booked in at a place recommended by friends (cheers Richie and Nadette) and his brother was there waiting for us. The owner of the guesthouse turned up two minutes later and next thing we're in a jeep with our bags. It turns out the guesthouse was full so now we're in a villa owned by his brother about 200 metres away. It's newly built and is in tip top shape - far and away the nicest place we've stayed in so far. Super fast wifi, satellite TV channels, a wonderful shower, new mattresses - it really is a godsend after a week of hard travelling. The kids cannot believe their luck. And it's all just in time for Harry's 15th birthday tomorrow.

To celebrate we're off on safari in Minereya National Park. Things are looking up and it's already starting to feel more like a holiday again. I'm really glad we went to see Jaffna - it's an extraordinary place - but now we're looking forward to a little more rest and relaxation for the remainder of our time here.

Posted by goldenmaverick 09:13 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged pollonaruwa jaffna Comments (2)

The north wind blows

sunny 31 °C
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Yesterday we arrived in Jaffna after a couple of days in Anuradaphura. The first guesthouse we stayed in was more like a ghost house - no other travellers and no staff that we could see. It turns out that the manager is building a new hotel a few doors down hence his absence. We checked out the following morning and moved in to another place nearby. On the surface it was fine - friendly family, other guests and nice food. The matriarch of the household was showing us pictures of her daughter and telling us of her sons imminent marriage arrangements. More on that place anon.

We hired a van to bring us around the multitude of sacred sites that are in Anuradaphura. It's a really interesting place but after SE Asia a few years back we appear to have severe temple fatigue. The fact that all these temples are in places with 35 degree heat might be a contributing factor. It was a case of looking around for an hour, sweating buckets and getting back to the air-conditioned van for some respite. Harry was wearing some short shorts so we had to stop to pick him up a sarong to preserve his modesty at the religious sites. After four or five hours of historic sites we were cooked so we went back to the guesthouse.

There's nothing like a cool Lion Lager to cool you down in these parts. It was followed by a nice meal prepared at our lodgings. A group of Chinese people were also staying there - they were doing an eleven day tour in a minivan, staying in one spot each night and getting on the road the next morning. Their driver knocked out the local Arrack for me to sample. It's the local spirit which is derived from coconuts. You mix it with soda lime and ice - not bad but one taste was enough for me. Whilst this was going on one of the staff was playing with the house dog. He'd pretend to hit the kids and the dog would protect them by attacking him. It all seemed like good enough fun. For whatever reason he then brought out another dog. With all the ongoing excitement the dog took a nip at Paddy. That put a dampener on proceedings. No skin was broken but it left a nasty bruise. This morning there was no mention of the incident by the owners - it was as if it never happened. As we were leaving the owner produced the dogs vaccination records but there was no apology from him or the staff member responsible for the incident. I suppose it just confirms the superficial relationship between traveller and host. It shouldn't surprise me that much but it confirms a few things in my own head about this country.

Jaffna is another funny spot. We took the train and it was a bumpy ride for the first half of the journey - the second part was considerably smoother. The reason for this was that the second half of the line had been replaced after the long conflict with the Tamil Tigers - the line only reopened in 2014.

We're staying in some basic accommodation and sharing it with some of the local critters - a frog on the bathroom and a grass snake in the bedroom. They removed the snake this morning - they didn't really know how to do it, one chap tried to entice it into a plastic bottle with no success. Eventually they got it out with a sweeping brush. Breakfast was a bit of a major fail too - we thought we were getting fruit but got a curry instead. The kids were not impressed. We hired two tuk-Turks to explore the Jaffna peninsula and it was a great buzz. We ended up taking a boat to a Hindu temple on an island to celebrate the Pura festival with a few thousand other pilgrims. Mad buzz. On our tour we also saw how ravaged the place is from war. Every second building has been bombed out. Depressing stuff but they're slowly building the communities again. We'll have a look around Jaffna city tomorrow.

Posted by goldenmaverick 11:03 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged jaffna Comments (2)

On the road again.

sunny 35 °C
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Last night in Kandy. We took a good look around the city during the day and then we dined in the equivalent of an Indian McDonald's -full on veggie food- we spent about 1200 rupees on the whole lot. That's about the price of a main course in the first place place we stayed in Negombo. I have to say that the food here is just savage. The Sri Lankan curries are bloody lovely, the fruit is bloody lovely too. Pineapples, bananas, mangoes, watermelon, papaya - fruit that you'd spend 20 euro on back home can be picked up for less than one tenth of that price and comes minus all the air miles.

Apparently you shouldn't visit Kandy without visiting Helgas Folly - a hotel in the hills just above Kandy City. We took a walk to it last night and we would have turned back only that a staff member showed us the way. The hotel is owned by the daughter of a famous Sri Lankan politician and diplomat from yesteryear- Frederick de Silva. Helga - the owner - is now in her seventies and has taken up permanent residence upstairs in the hotel. The hotel is the old family residence and the walls are adorned with pictures and cuttings of the extended family including Helgas own children. Her daughter is Isabella Blow a socialite who now lives in London and who's been known to rub shoulders with the likes of Alexander McQueen. Her aunt was the famous architect, Minette de Silva, who would have been a student of Le Corbusier and she was also Sri Lankas first female architect. The hotel is like one big trip. I'd highly recommend you swing by if you're ever in Kandy.

Today we took the more upmarket air conditioned bus to Anuradhapura. We were treated to lots of Sri Lankan music videos over the course of the three and a half hour journey. There appear to be two basic storylines on which all of them were based.

1. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl spurns boy. Boy kills himself. The End.
Or
2. Boy/girl is ill in hospital. Lots of people cry. Boy/girl dies. The End.

It's pretty depressing stuff for a nation of people who are so friendly. Then I remembered that the guy who showed us the way to Helgas Folly also mentioned that Sri Lanka has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. You obviously only need to scratch the surface a little to see another side to all countries. Thankfully a man got on halfway through the bus journey who blocked my view of the screen. Otherwise I was in danger of replicating the fate of many of the young men in the videos.

One very interesting aspect of Sri Lanka which I've failed to mention this far is the driving. If one were to apply Irish standards to Sri Lankan drivers most would have amassed the maximum 12 points within five minutes of getting into their vehicle. Overtaking another overtaking vehicle is par for the course over here. The drivers horn is used like snuff at a wake. Their hands appear to be on the horn more than the steering wheel. But if you asked me if I felt safe I'm not sure how I'd respond. Their haphazard approach to driving is conducted with good nature and I've only seen one minor accident In the last week. At least they don't drive on the pavement like in Cambodia but I think that's only because there is no pavement to drive on here. Things like junctions and signposts appear to be token efforts to show that there are some kind of rules in operation. The one exception is pedestrian crossings - they'll all stop to let you cross there.

The hotel we're in tonight is a bit of a ghost hotel. We're checking out in the morning and moving next door for some action. We'll go and see some temples tomorrow but it's bloody hot - 35 degrees - so we'll see how that goes.

Posted by goldenmaverick 08:50 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged folly kandy anuradhapura helga's Comments (4)

It's like Kandy

sunny 29 °C
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We spent three days in Negombo and delightful they were. Day two saw us take a trip to Negombo beach which was less than impressive. A big rip tide and two drownings occurred the day before we were there. The beach part of Negombo is a long stretch of tourist bars and hotels and was fairly unappealing to us. We didn't make it into the town that day. Instead we retreated back to our hideaway lodgings to pay over the odds for food and beer. We did make it into town the next day and I was sorry I hadn't checked it out.

Leaving for Kandy we caught the public bus. That was our first real taste of Sri Lanka. Once the seats on the bus were full we set off on our journey - only to stop five minutes later to let about thirty more people aboard. The tunes were banging out as we sweated buckets for the next four hours of the 120km journey. Some bloke had his arse stuck in Harry's head and a baby was puking out the window beside me. This was a good solid reminder that we were in Asia. It was reminiscent of several journeys we took in SE Asia a few years back.

Kandy is a peculiar place. It has world heritage status and is set in some spectacular scenery. The local tuk tuk tuk drivers and market stall holders hassle you a bit but a firm 'no thanks' generally sees them off. They're not as in your face as in other parts of the world. On our first night we went to the Kandy Muslim Hotel to eat - not so much a hotel but an eaterie. The locals eat out front but we were shunted out the back of the place to a dirty table with cockroaches on it. That might put the fainthearted off eating but not us. We ordered a load of food which was absolutely delicious. Our waiter knew very little English but knew who Gerry Adams was for some reason. Odd to say the least.

Today was Joe's 13th birthday. I had gotten my wires crossed and had hoped to bring him to the Sri Lanka v Pakistan cricket match. It turns out that it wasn't being held in Kandy but about 300 miles from here. Instead we went to check out the famous Kandy dance troupe - it was a mix of traditional Sri Lankan dancing, drumming and firewalking. Definitely one for the tourists i.e. us. Afterwards Joe wanted pizza so we all trooped off to get Domino's pizza. Our guest house owner made a fuss of him when we got back and we watched the last part of the cricket. Sri Lanka won handsomely. The workers in the guest house then took out a board game and taught the kids to play it. It was like a mixture of pool and shove-halfpenny. A truly good buzz to end the day.

Tomorrow we 'll try to plan our journey north to Aranadaphura and from there to Jaffna in the far north. Onwards and upwards.

Posted by goldenmaverick 20:28 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged kandy negombo; Comments (1)

Negombo vibes!

sunny 29 °C
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After about 23 hours of travel we eventually made it to our first destination. The flights worked out pretty well - we had to make a dash through Istanbul airport to make the connection to Sri Lanka. Our 15 minute technical stop in the Maldives turned out to be an hour and fifteen minutes and the entire business class section of the plane disembarked there. With the advent of rising ocean levels I fear for those islands future. Onwards to Colombo and the only fly in the ointment on arrival was the incorrect digit in my visa application. However 30 euros later the immigration guy had it sorted quick sharp.

Colombo airport is a funny old place. Arrivals consists of what looks like a duty free shop and twenty separate electrical goods retailers. We bought two kettles and a bottle of gin. Not.

In Arrivals I tried to buy a Sri Lankan sim for an old phone but it was locked to an Irish network. Boooo. Waiting for our driver I noticed some comedian that I've seen on lots of BBC comedy programmes with a full camera crew in tow. I must look his name up. I reckon he might be of Sri Lankan extraction. Our driver took us across lots of back roads and we drove up a quiet lane where we were greeted by a machete wielding local. It turns out he works on the pineapple farm next door to the place we're staying.

Hassan - our host - is a delightful chap from the Maldives. He and his English wife have two guest houses over here. A good friend of his is staying here for a couple of days so I've been having good chats with the pair of them. Yesterday the kids played in the pool for most of the day and we were treated to a wonderful dinner last night. Wonderfully fresh ingredients in everything that passed our lips. Harry also treated us to a soundtrack of his "chilled" tunes. All in all a lovely first evening here.

This morning it was a variety of local fruit for brekkie followed by a lovely Sri Lankan omelette. As I write the kids are back in the pool. We might take a spin into Negombo proper to have a gawk - we'll play it by ear. I haven't taken many pictures so I'll accompany this post with an obligatory pool pic. Laters.

Posted by goldenmaverick 23:24 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged negombo Comments (2)

And they're off.

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Sitting in Dublin Airport in my shorts and sandals looking at the rain pour down outside. In this weather it's very easy to look forward to a month in Sri Lanka.

We're all set - although the kids are concerned that we don't have enough chargers for the array of electrical equipment. First world problems indeed.

We've a two hour stopover in Istanbul and we'll arrive at our final destination about eighteen hours from now. I'll see y'all on the flip side.

Posted by goldenmaverick 07:58 Comments (1)

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