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By this Author: goldenmaverick

So long Ceylon

overcast 27 °C
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Yesterday on Mirissa we got a taste of the Sri Lankan monsoon. The heavens opened, lightning started and the mighty Thor started banging in the heavens above us. The ground shook and it was all very exciting to be honest. The lady in the guesthouse told us to stop using our phones which put the shits up us a little. When we awoke this morning it was still raining so we determined to head to Colombo a day earlier than planned. We were going to take the train from Galle but this morning at about 7am, lying in bed and listening to the rain, I remembered that the train started in Matara which is about seven miles in a backwards direction. We had our final breakfast in the Celestial Inn - some lovely egg hoppers - and took two tuk-tuks to the station. I'm so bloody glad that we went from Matara. This was the first train journey we've taken here where the train was full. And it proceeded to get fuller at each stop. By the time we got to Galle it was packed solid with passengers. We were laughing as we all had seats but there were some pretty annoyed looking tourists who obviously felt a bit hard done by. I was delighted with my prescience and I think I told Caroline this at least a couple of times during the journey.

We arrived here in Colombo in the early afternoon and the hostel we booked into is very close by the train station. We walked here in a couple of minutes but the streets seemed very quiet. It was general election day yesterday and as a result everywhere is closed - bars, restaurants, ice cream stores - the whole bloody lot. We went to eat in the worst rotti house I've come across in a month and now I'm in bed at 9 o clock. Hopefully things will be a little livelier tomorrow. We'll store our luggage for the day, have a look around the city and head to the airport.

Our month here has been quite an experience - some good, some bad, some unbelievable - but I'll wait until I get back to Dublin before I commit my final thoughts on Sri Lanka to this blog. That's all for now as a Chines chap has just come into our four bed dorm and he's asking me lots of questions. So long Ceylon!

Posted by goldenmaverick 09:30 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

Life's a beach

sunny 30 °C
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We left the wonderful Haputale a couple of days ago and took a taxi to Mirissa. In fairness we'd snookered ourselves a little regarding transport out of there. We could have done a marathon journey by taking a few different buses but none of us wanted to do that. The journey down from the hills took us off the usual routes and through some really nice scenery. Lots of lush jungle landscape and sleepy looking villages. It was obvious after a while that our driver and his sidekick hadn't a clue where they were going. I was in the back of the van tracking the route using GPS on my phone so I could see what route we were taking. They used a combination of orienteering methods up the front. They'd just stop at major junctions and ask someone at the side of the road or they'd ring someone on their phone who knew the general direction. At one point the police stopped the van and did a cursory inspection of it. They poked their head in the window and asked us about the driver. Caroline stated he was an excellent driver and felt very safe letting him drive us and the kids. That was a small fib to be honest - if the truth be told his brakes sounded a little shabby. Either way we made it to our destination in one piece. A couple of hours later I noticed a multitude of bites on my feet and legs from the flea ridden van we'd been travelling in. The little buggers were obviously feasting on me for the entire journey.

The place we booked into is delightful - they gave us some orange squash on arrival and the place is spic and span. The first thing we did was go to the beach, rent some body boards and jump in the sea. By we, I actually mean the others did. I sat in a chair and drank some Lion beer. Mirissa is a little more normal than Arugam Bay, at least on the surface. It caters for a broader range of tourist and it's quite busy even though it's off-season. It still has the a local surf crew element - one half Rasta, one half Sri Lankan - which was also evident in Arugam Bay. Another key difference between the two spots is the price of everything - the accommodation is half the price and so is the food.

Yesterday we took the public bus into Galle to check out the cricket - Day 3 of the 1st Test between Sri Lanka and India. Being the big spender that I am I splashed out on pavillion tickets for the family - that worked out at about four euro each. It was a delightful afternoon watching Dinesh Chandimal knock up over 150 runs while we were there. Sri Lankas self proclaimed greatest fan took Harry off on a lap of the stadium with a big flag. He was a total looper but everyone in the crowd seemed to know him and want their picture taken with him. Great buzz altogether.

One peculiar thing about this country is their Bottle or Wine shops as they're sometimes known. Drinking appears to be frowned upon but in most towns there exist premises which are shebeen like in their nature. You can't even get into some of them - those kind have bars over the front windows and serve punters through a hatch. I remember similar type off-licences in Phibsboro. No one likes to tell you where the beer shops are. I guess they want you to drink in the restaurants instead. The one I was in whilst in Ella had about twenty 60+ year olds drinking the local Arrack spirits. Last night I took a spin to the neighbouring town as there's no Bottle shop in Mirissa. It was the caged variety but I got given the VIP treatment and was let in the side door. It truly was a special privilege to be angrily stared at by about twenty locals outside. I must tell you about the bread vans in my next post.

Posted by goldenmaverick 02:47 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (4)

Down from the hills

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It turns out that Haputale is nothing like Ella. Ella is a one horse town compared to the bustling metropolis of Haputale town. Nestled in amongst a couple of mountains it's a hive of activity - streets full of people who aren't white, European and with backpacks on. Instead it's full of an assortment of Hindu Tamil tea pickers and a few Muslims on top of that. The the spots couldn't be more different.

We left our guesthouse in Ella to take the 11 o'clock train here. The 24 km journey through the hills took about an hour and there was some spectacular scenery along the way. The eldest son of the chap who runs our guesthouse was there to meet us at the train station. He took us even further into the hills to our accommodation. We were invited into the house for some tea and biscuits and the whole experience was a bit trippy. Not unlike going back in time to a distant country relatives farmhouse in 1970s Ireland. The place we're staying in is a basic affair but any initial misgivings were soon dispelled. There's a family of seven living here along with another 8 extended family members. There's a constant stream of traffic through the house. They exude a warmth which is something special - lovely folk.

On our first day in Haputale we took a jaunt via tuk-tuk to an old tea planters house - Adisham Lodge - it's a little piece of old world Kent in the hills. Beautiful English style gardens and lawns nestled in the hills. The place is now a monastery for the Benedictine Order so you can only see some of the house. It was a nice way to spend an hour or so and to buy some of the monks home made marmalade.

When we got back to the guesthouse I got an email from the last place in Ella to say he'd undercharged me on the bill. I called him back to see how I could arrange payment. You can't use PayPal in Sri Lanka so he drove over in his tuk tuk to collect what I owed him. That's what they'll do for their dollars here in Sri Lanka. He was all apologetic about the mixup but was delighted to get his cash. He wouldn't take up my offer to pay for his petrol money either.

On our second day in Haputale we checked out the old Lipton Tea Factory and climbed up to Liptons Seat - it's a spectacular viewpoint if the clouds don't cover it. When the clouds roll in over here it's not dissimilar to a misty West of Ireland. We walked back through the tea plantations and small hamlets of Tamil tea pickers to the tea factory 7km below. We were given a tour of the factory which doesn't appear to have changed much since it was opened. It produces black tea for sale to auction houses and we were given a step by step walk through of the entire process. It was really interesting to see the whole thing at work.

Our two nights in Haputale were amongst the most pleasurable I've spent in this country. The folk we stayed with in White Monkey - Dias Rest gave me a rare insight into family life in Sri Lanka. The food we were served was the freshest and nicest food I've had here. The ingredients of the nightly evening meals would be familiar to every Irish person - carrots, beetroot, cabbage, spuds - but done in the inimitable Sri Lankan curry style. Every mouthful was beautiful. And it all came at a fraction of the price we've paid elsewhere. You could get a real sense of the basic struggles felt by this family but they faced into it with a smile on their faces and warmth in their hearts. A truly unforgettable experience. Wonderful folk in an extraordinary setting.

Next stop is Mirissa on the south coast but we haven't figured out how to get there yet. Whichever way we go its going to be a long journey. For a small country it's painfully slow to get around.

Posted by goldenmaverick 22:06 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

They call it mellow Ella

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Arugam Bay was an experience. A funny spot and quite unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. There again I think I might have said that about a few places over here.

Leaving Arugam Bay Caroline hustled a lift with a tuk-tuk driver to Ella. It was all on the qt and a bit dubious to be honest. There was obviously some kind of side deal done. We were collected from our lodgings and brought to the tuk-tuk drivers home. We had to wait there for about half an hour before an empty minivan arrived to collect us. From there it took about three hours to Ella. On the way we stopped at a roadside eatery and met a Canadian couple who were travelling Sri Lanka solely by tuk-tuk. What a crazy thing to do. We made it to Ella in the Hill Country by mid afternoon and were greeted by our new host Nelson from the Freedom Guest Inn. He's a charming fellow with good English and is an excellent host. Map of Ella, laundry service, reasonably priced clean accommodation and drinks. All in all a great host. We took a stroll up to Mini Adams Peak and you could really get a sense of the geography of the place - we wandered through a tea plantation to get there, past a snake charmer with a couple of Cobras and Boa. Last night I heard a Dublin accent - the first Irish accent I've heard since we arrived in Sri Lanka. It turns out I used to work with his father. Small world.

Ella is a small town with lots of construction going on. The town itself is little more than a lot of restaurants and guest houses but the best thing about it is the respite from the oppressive heat. It's a moderate 26 or 27 degrees - cool by Sri Lankan standards. This morning we walked a few kilometres along the railway line and for the first time in three weeks I got sunburnt. It's a bit like a nice Irish summer to be honest - stiff breeze so you don't realise that it's still hot. Altogether a delightful place.

Tomorrow we'll take a train about thirty kilometres to Haputale - another spot in the hills. It doesn't look like there's a whole lot going on there so we'll see how that goes. If it's anything like here I'm sure we'll love it.

Posted by goldenmaverick 10:03 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

Arugamma go my way

sunny 36 °C
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We arrived in Arugam Bay after taking three different buses in quick succession from Polonnoruwa. Our last morning in Polonnoruwa saw us visit a local wood carving factory. Now I'm not big on wooden elephants or Sri Lankan masks so I asked if it was possible to make me a Caram board. The kids had played it in the guesthouse in Kandy and it was great fun. The bloke who runs the wood factory has a rather large window so he saw me coming from a long way off. A deal more favourable to him was struck between us and apparently I'll have the board shipped to me sometime in the next two months. I'm quite looking forward to getting it but I'm not looking forward to the import duty on a mahogany board.

Arugam Bay is a whole new kettle of fish - it's a funny place that isn't really like the rest of the country or at least those parts I've seen thus far. It's a long strip full of restaurants and surf shops and it actually feels like we're in an entirely different country. Local Muslim folk and rice farmers cycle or tractor up and down the Main Street whilst surf dudes and immodestly clad twenty something's breeze around them. You can get pizza and pasta and it all feels like a restrained Vang Vieng in Laos.

Caroline and the three older kids took a surfing lesson today and have another tomorrow morning at 6.30am. Good luck to them I say - Paddy and I are going to stay in bed. The heat is blinking murderous today - I just sat down and sweated this afternoon for about two hours solid. It didn't help that I had my first Sri Lankan hangover. Last night I had one Lion Lager too many and then followed it up with a Mojito for good measure. Dehydration is s big enough factor here without me adding further fuel to the fire. After Joe and Harry's recent birthdays I'll be having mine too in a couple of days. The day after we travel to Ella in the Hill Country so things should get a little cooler there. Here's hoping anyway.

Posted by goldenmaverick 09:28 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged surfing bay arugam Comments (1)

There's great drying in Polonnaruwa

sunny 33 °C

At the halfway mark of our Sri Lankan trip we've landed in Polonnaruwa. There's not much to the town so don't come here if you want to have a party. On the other hand if you'd like to see some elephants and the ruins of an ancient city then a couple of days here is very pleasant.

Yesterday we went on safari to Minneriya National Park. We were promised that we'd get to see lots of elephants and that's exactly what we got. The park is about 40 minutes drive away and our host Manju (from Samagi Villa Guesthouse) organises safari trips. We spent a few hours watching elephants kicking the grass, eating it up and doing what elephants do. I have to admit I was surprised at the amount of safari jeeps that were in the park but I can see why there were. It was an absolute delight just looking at them. We must have seen over one hundred elephants in the couple of hours we were there.

Today we were given some bikes to go and cycle around the ancient ruins - it was bloody hot but it was well worth it. The ancient city is fairly compact compared to Anaradaphura and also remains pretty intact. You could get a real sense of how it once was. It's not on the scale of Angkor Wat but is nonetheless very impressive. Whilst there we also bumped into our driver from Anaradaphura - a lovely fellow called Akila who undoubtedly has the best sounding laugh in Sri Lanak. Unfortunately poor Joe got a dose of the tummy rots so while we two retired back to the guesthouse the rest of the family went swimming in a pool in a nearby hotel.

Our guesthouse is a 15 minute walk from the town but to be honest I can't see why you'd be going there after dark - there's very little to do in Polonnaruwa after 6pm. As such its been a few days spent doing some tourist things and then chilling in the house and eating dinner on an open verandah each evening. The wi-fi and cable TV meant the kids were happy to spend time in the house. The laundry standard also beats most of what we've encountered thus far in Sri Lanka - the breeze and high temperatures also mean your clothes dry in a few hours. After our minor discomfort in Jaffna, Polonnaruwa has been a very pleasant interlude for the family.

Tomorrow we head to Arugam Bay on the East Coast for a few days so hopefully the kids and Caroline will get some surfing and snorkelling in - I'll probably just sit around drinking some Lion Lager while they're doing that. Two weeks down - two weeks to go. It's been a blast so far.

Posted by goldenmaverick 10:35 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

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)

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