Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sri Lanka -- off the tourist trail

Well, here it is – finally. I've included a few pics which I feel reflect the atmosphere of Sri Lanka. It was very hard to edit so I apologise in advance.

One of the first things you notice in Sri Lanka are the tuk tuks. They are the most common mode of transport for short distances and they're everywhere! On our first day, we managed to cram all five of us in the back of one which is a pretty good effort give we are not midgets.

Temples and statues. Steve gave Ruby the nickname 'little buddha' because she took to wearing her hair in a bun on the top of her head.

There was plenty to experience in the way of food too. We were always very well fed and felt great on the (mostly) vegetarian diet we adopted whilst there. I wasn't expecting curries for breakfast, lunch and dinner but we got used to it fairly quickly.

In Kandy, with our friend Wasa.

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was a bit 'staged' but we did get to see elephants on mass. Cute little ones too. 

The tea plantations near Nuwara Eliya in the highlands. We toured a tea factory and learnt about the whole tea process. There were hundreds of tea sacks ready to be packaged and sent all over the world. We gave up looking for a decent coffee and opted to embrace the tea which was a good choice. I guess you could call us tea connoisseurs.

Our friend Was a took us out for a bite to eat one night. We stopped at this Hindu temple along the way for a spot of culture. That night we had one of our most enjoyable meals at Sri Ganeshananda Brahmins (did you get that?) where the food was served on banana leaves and we ate with our hands.

One of the highlights of our trip was Polonnaruwa. A hot, dry inland town. We stayed with 'Aunty Daisy' in a small village outside of town. After spending four hours on a local bus and 20 minutes on a tuk tuk we finally arrived in the midday heat which, on this particular day, was 38.5°C (the hottest place in the country!). After brief introductions and a cool drink we headed to the river for a picnic which was another 25 minute walk through dry rice paddies. The picnic consisted of, well, curries – very delicious. Aunty Daisy and her friend Chappas whipped up the most amazing selection, all done over a wood fire! 

At the river there were signs of elephants everywhere in the form of footprints and dung. This was a popular place for them to visit at the end of the day. The elephants and locals have a mutual respect for each other. We stayed until late in the hope of seeing some but sadly it wasn't to be. Instead we got to enjoy the delights(?) of an all over body exfoliation courtesy of the little fish. The unexpected nibbles were enough to make you squirm and squeal. People pay big money for this in Asia!

We felt Sigiriya was close, yet so far away (a three hour drive) given the soaring temperature. There were also reports of several tourists being taken to hospital for wasp stings which I didn't particularly fancy. So we opted to hire a driver to take Steve and I to see some of the local ruins while the girls stayed behind to play in the well and feed the cows. 

Later that afternoon the same driver took us to a secluded water hole in a reserve which was gorgeous – and close to another spot which crocodiles reportedly inhabited. Maybe that's why we didn't see any other people there? On the drive to this place Steve saw a croc swimming down a river where locals were swimming a bathing. Eek! After sun down, we went spotlighting for elephants down by the lake on our way back but sadly we didn't see any there either (apparently they were at the river that night!). We did eventually see a herd across the lake the next day. 

It was hard to say goodbye to Wasa (and the kittens and dogs) but we had other sights to see on the south coast, namely Hikkaduwa and Galle. Being on the west coast, Hikkaduwa was a lovely place to enjoy spectacular sunsets. I can't remember the last time a spent and entire day on the beach just reading, sleeping and swimming. Pure bliss.

The old Dutch Fort in Galle was a nice place to pick up some tasteful souvenirs. It was a little touristy, but we spent most of our time off the tourist trail so it was to be expected. A nice place to spend the day.

There were so many things in Sri Lanka we didn't get see, but we weren't disappointed – quite the opposite. We got to experience things we never expected. 

The true highlight however, has to be the people we met along the way and the things they did to make our holiday memorable. Thanks Wasa, for showing us a great time and for looking after us. Thanks also to Aunty Daisy and Apu for making sure we were never hungry.