A Travellerspoint blog

November 2013

Henry meets Mirissa and has a holiday!

we head a little further around the coast to Mirissa Beach, love it here and stay for 4 days.

Monday 25th November 13 (day 86)

We woke fairly early to a brilliant sunny day. Was almost temped to go for a swim in the ocean before breakfast but it was a little rough here at Tangalle and the sand was being churned up. Didn't really feel like getting a sandpaper like bath so decided against it.

We had breakfast at the hotel, tea and toast, paid our bill and were on our way. Only a fairly short drive today along the coast road to Mirissa Beach. Everyone we spoke to had recommended this place to us and when we arrived we could see why.

The drive here was along the coast road, but not much in the way of open spaces as little town extended into each other. Traffic was the busiest we have encountered on any roads. Driving through Matara was exciting as this is a fairly big place which means a lot more traffic, loads more buses pushing their way along the road. I'm sure the rule applies the bigger the vehicle the more right away they have, as these large chicken buses and clapped out old giant trucks act like we do not exist. But we made it through ok and before lunch I had done the hotel search and found a place for us to stay for the next 3 nights. As we are right on a nice beach we decided it would be nice to stay in one place for a couple of nights and do a day trip from here in the tuk tuk or just relax on the beach for a few days.

After checkin and cup of tea, we donned our togs and went up the beach a little to have a swim. Our hotel it situated at the far north end of the beach and there are rocks directly out from it, but a 20 metre walk and we are on a lovely sandy beach. Water here is much clearer than previous beach and so being churned up so much. And it is heavenly warm!!!

The whole beach is lined with beach restaurants who of course try to entice you to eat or drink with them as you walk past. We bypassed a few then found one where we saw someone at a table eating chicken schnitzel, this looked good to me so we chose this one to have lunch at. It really is a beautiful spot here and we are quite content to sit and watch the waves and people watch as the procession passes us by.

Another swim and then it was back to the hotel for a shower, we were not quite sure if our had hot water or not. The shower was not steaming but it was warm enough to stand under to wash our hair.

Coming on to sunset we went for another walk along the beach and now all the restaurants were advertising happy hour. We reached the end of the beach and on our way back found a place that was doing Rs250=$2 cocktails. Can't expect too much from a $2 cocktail but these were not bad for the price so we had 2 each and again sat watching the passing beach traffic and enjoyed the sunset. Now all the restaurants had our their seafood tables where they were again trying to entice people to come eat at their restaurants. The seafood looked fresh, but with all the fish, crabs, crayfish and prawns on display I wondered how it could be fresh everyday as sure it was not all going to be purchased tonight.

Well it certainly was not going to be purchased by us anyway. Having a biggish lunch we did not feel in the mood for a fish or still expensive crays, crabs or prawns. We struggled to find anywhere that was not selling seafood, and ended up back at our hotel. Although they also were trying to flog off an array of seafood, we were able to order a salad and chicken noodle stir fry.

Unfortunately, the music is loud again tonight, hopefully it will not go too late. Yes I know we are pikers - but really not into the night life.

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Tuesday 26th November (day 87)

Woke to a brilliant sunny day with blue sky that stayed with us all day. It had rained quite heavily during the night but did not affect us.

Went up the beach to have breakfast, we saw a place last night that had tea and toast for Rs300 =$2.50 each. The same restaurant had beach chairs that were for customers and that is where we stayed all day. The toast was real bread not that sweet stuff we usually get in Asian countries.

As I said a beautiful day and perfect for laying on the beach, we did get up every now and then to walk the 10 meters into the warm Indian Ocean to cool off. And we did go back just a couple of steps into the restaurant to order lunch, only to return to the reclining chairs until at about 5pm when we were asked to move as they were clearing away the chairs and setting up the dinner tables and chairs on the beach.

That was fine we just strolled 20 meters and 2 restaurants up the beach and took another seat, ordered our Rs250 = $2 cocktails and again watched the sunset. Which today was a little clouded over. Great day!

When it turned dark we returned to our room up the end of the beach to have a shower and wash off the days worth of sand and salt. Decided to have dinner at our hotel as too lazy to walk back up the beach.

Both Lyn and I have a slight glow from a day in the sun, some would call it sun burn, but I know by morning the pinkish tinge would have turned into a darker shade of brown. Sorry, but we are just lucky and tan easy.

It's been a rest day for Henry as well and although we are here another night we are going to have to venture out tomorrow to the next town to find an ATM as we do not have enough cash to pay our hotel bill.

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Wednesday 27th November (day 88)

Another beautiful sunny day today. So lucky we are having great weather while we are here at the beach.

We strolled down to our usual breakfast restaurant and had tea, toast and vegemite with a view to the ocean. We see a couple of the same people who have also been coming here a couple of days and smile a hello.

After breakfast we retire to the beach recliners and resume the position, only moving to go for a swim in the ocean to cool off.

We needed to go for a drive today to the next village only 4km away and get some cash from the ATM. When it hit 1 o'clock we thought we should make a move otherwise we would just stay here for the rest of the day and still not have any cash to pay our hotel bill tomorrow at checkout.

Henry has had a day of rest but before long we were back on the road and we found the bank and ATM in Weligama. Since we were already out and about and the distance was not too far I suggested to Lyn we head up the road along the coast a little to check out our next nights stop. Maybe we could look at some accommodation that we can move to tomorrow.

Less than 20 km away is Unawatuna beach - another spot that had been suggested to us. It was instantly more obviously that this location was much more touristy than where we were staying at Mirissa Beach. A lot more accommodation places and many many more tourist shops. We parked the tuk tuk and decided to hit the beach for a swim, the water looked beautiful and I must admit the water was a lot calmer than where we had been swimming. Big downfall though was this beach had a 2 meter strip of coral that you had to walk over just on the waters edge. This instantly turned me off as I prefer a sandy entry into the ocean. And then once in, there was about a one meter drop off - another minus for me as its ok to dive in but a struggle to get out when you have to climb up the drop off onto coral. However the water was lovely and warm and because it was calmer there was no sand being churned up and deposited into our swimming togs!!

While in the water we were chatting with some blokes who warned us to look out for our stuff left on the beach because there have been some locals snatch and running away with items left unattended. This did not sit well especially since we had just been for a visit to the ATM and had the cash with us as unable to lock it anywhere on the tuk tuk.

Struggled out of the water and had a bit of a walk up the beach to find a place for lunch. Same same on offer everywhere - same as the food places at Mirissa. We ended up having an overpriced hamburger from a shack owned by a expat Pommie. Food was ok, but being a western dish a little overpriced. Anyway we sat chatting with a couple of characters and had a few laughs so it was an enjoyable afternoon.

Around 5pm we decided to make a move as we had about a 45 minute drive back to our hotel in Mirissa and Lyn did not want to drive in the dark.

Coming out of the side street which met up with the main road, we stopped to give way to the traffic. There were 3 police men on the corner and one looked particularly mean and I almost thought he was going to stop us and check our papers just to be a pain. Lyn took off, turning onto the main road, when next thing I heard was a horn blasting and breaks screeching and all I could see was a white car speeding towards us with enough speed that I knew we were not going to make it across the road with out a collision.

And I was correct, the white car hit us full on in the side of Henry. On impact, I flew across the back seat of the tuk tuk like the cartridge on an old typewriter. Only instead of the sound of a bell when it hit the end there was an ugly sound of metal crashing into metal. I was totally astonished that our little vehicle did not roll over, must have hit far enough back that we were just pushed sideways.

Both Lyn and I seemed to be ok - I had bashed my right arm and leg on some thing during by flight across the seat but did not seem to be too bad.

Of course within minutes a huge crowd had gathered and were asking what happened, who we were and where were we from etc etc etc. I just told them to get lost - said it was none of their business and this did not make the crowd very happy.

Not sure if it was to our advantage or not that the police were on the scene and actually witnessed the accident. The vehicles were moved off the road as traffic was starting to build up and the police took all our paperwork. Really we had no idea what was happening, the crowd was growing and people just kept coming out of the wood work. It looked to me like the police were arguing with the driver of the white car, but having no understanding of the language it was impossible to know what they were saying to him.

We were unable to phone the tuk tuk rental company as the cops had the paper work with the phone number and did not want to give it back. No one from either vehicle was hurt and both vehicles were still drivable and next thing be knew we were told to get in the tuk tuk and the mean looking policeman was driving it back to the police station.

Here we spent the next couple of hours not really knowing what was happening as none of the police could speak enough english to tell us anything. Finally we were able to contact Rocky our rental guy and then the negotiations started. Rocky spoke to the cops and the driver of the white car. When I finally got him on the line he explained that the cops said it was our fault as we pulled into the main road - they claim we had not stopped, but this was bullshit because it was impossible not to stop and the 3 cops who were standing there saw us stop as everyone notices us because of Lyn driving. But of course its our word against theirs and as we are at a loss language wise we can do nothing.

Rocky conveyed to me that the cops wanted Rs10,000 ($82) and the driver wanted Rs15,000 ($123), I protested to this as this was obviously bribe money and a total crock! The cops were pulling some bullshit story about Lyn's licence not being valid for a tuk tuk when it clearly states it is valid for a 3 wheeler. They said we would not be getting the tuk tuk back and that the owner had to come and collect it. Rocky tried to explain to me that it was all just a ploy for the cops and the driver to get money from us. He spoke to them both again. There was little we could do, we had been there for a few hours and were getting nowhere, they would not let us go and would not let us take the tuk tuk.

Further negotiations with Rocky speaking to the cops and then when I spoke to him again, he advised he had bargained the payment down to Rs10,000 ($82) for the driver and nothing to the cops. I have no idea how he did this but it seemed our only option was to pay the driver off and get the hell away from the cop shop.

There was another tuk tuk driver who had just walked in off the street who was helping us with translations. I got him to make sure that if I paid the driver the amount requested we could just all walk away, no police report, no problems, nothing - he said yes that is the way it works. The police will not release any cars involved in an accident until an agreement has been reached between the two parties involved.

So I got the money, gave it to the driver, Lyn was given the key and we drove off. I have no idea if the driver gave any money to the cops but I'm gunna give Rocky a hug when I see him as his talking to them on the phone sorted it out and saved us a bit of money too.

Rocky had assured me we would have no problem with him and the tuk tuk as it is insured and I'm sure the white car was insured also. It did seem a hell of a waste of time for the police and they got nothing out of it, although they were complaining to Lyn that they were underpaid and should be given something when I went to get the drivers money.

So one hell of an afternoon! Just lucky we were not hurt and I guess paying $80 was a cheap price to get out of it all.

Ended up having to drive back in the dark anyway, a little shaken and cautiously we returned to our hotel and asked if we could stay another night. Need the day tomorrow to recover from this little bit of excitement!

Once back in the room I could take a look at my injuries more closely. Mmmmm a bit of skin off and a nice big lump on the shin of my right leg and same near elbow off my right arm. No doubt I'll have a colourful bruise tomorrow.

We opted for dinner at our hotel and raised a glass of beer to our good fortune today. We were lucky it could have been a lot worse.

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Thursday 28th November 13 (day 89)

We slept very late today, not sure if it was due to the stress from last night or the fact that the bar next door played duf duf music until about 2am. Either way we had a very lazy morning and finally got up and out when hunger took over.

My leg is a little stiff and sore today and found a couple of other bruises but nothing major so all good.

Today is a not as blue skied as our last 3 have been, but it's still warm enough to lazy away the day at the beach.

Unfortunately the ocean is a little rough today. The waves are real dumpers which made for good people watching who went out for a swim as almost everyone was knocked over and tossed about by the forceful waves. Don't worry we copped the same when we went in and no doubt someone had a bit of a laugh at our expense too as we were tossed down and forced to choke on a mouthful of sea water. All good fun.

We stayed until the sunset, like every other day we have spent here on Mirissa beach. It is really nice here, but we really must move on tomorrow as we have to get the tuk tuk back to Negombo on Saturday as we fly out early Sunday morning. It's not really all that far from here (about 150km) but tuk tuk's are not allowed on the motor way so we have to take the back roads and we have been told it's about a 9 hour drive in a tuk tuk. If we depart here tomorrow we will be able to break this long drive into 2 days.

We had dinner at the restaurant next door tonight. Should not really give them our custom as they are the ones playing music until the wee hours but we needed a change from our place and the food was quite good.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 03:41 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged mirissa Comments (2)

Henry heads to the beach.

so now it's time for us to head south and check out the Sri Lankan beaches.

Saturday 23rd November 13 (day 84)

Time to leave Ella, we had stayed 3 nights and it was most enjoyable but it was time to head for the coast.

Heading out of the hill country we could feel the temperature and the humidity going up with each descending corner. I quick stop at the Rawana Ella Falls was the last of the cool hill temperature we felt.

It was a pretty long drive today, out of tea country and back into rice paddies country. Driving towards the south eastern corner of the island we hit the coast at the town of Kirinda. Only after having driven through Tissamaharama, which is the town to go to if you want to book a safari into Yala National Park. We had read and heard it is not that great at this time of year so had decided not to go into the park. However this did not stop tour operator from stalking us in his safari vehicle trying to get us to stop and talk to him. Driving dangerously next to our tuk tuk yelling at Lyn to pull over and then speeding ahead to get out of his vehicle and try and wave us down. He followed us for about 30 minutes trying different tactics until realising we were not going to stop. Crazy man!

So our first glimpse of the ocean was nice. The water looked blue and clean but there was not really anywhere to stay and it was still early in the day so we decided to head a little further around the south coast. Instead of backtracking and going back through Tissa (we wanted to avoid another safari driver stalking) we took a back road to get us back on the highway. This road was a little rough but an experience and we drove through a park that was elephant migration country. Lots of elephant poo on the side of the road but we did not see any elephants. However wild life was abundant and we did see giant lizards (looked very similar to goannas), lots of water birds, water buffalos wallowing in muddy water ponds, peacocks with tail feathers fanned out trying to attract the attention of pea hens. And we even saw a huge brown snake that slithered off into the bushes when our tuk tuk approached it - not sure of its breed.

We headed to Tangalle to find a place to stay for the night. The beach looked ok here and there was a big choice of guesthouses on the little street along the beach. We stopped at one at the end of the lane which turned out to be owned by a young South African bloke, I went and looked at a room and it was nice - only 6 months old and within our price range of Rs3000 = $25. We went and looked at another place which was half the price, but decided on the 1st one since it was nicer and within budget anyway.

Parked Henry in the yard, bags in the room and headed to the beach bar for a coldie to watch the crashing waves and relax. Not bad 5pm and the rain had not yet come although the sky did look grey and promising rain.

I think not enough fluid and food today gave me a headache and I had to take some pills and call it a night. Bit of a pike out for Lyn but she had been driving all day and didn't mind the early night either I think. I woke sometime in the night and the rain had arrived.

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Sunday 24th November 13 (day 85)

The bed was comfortable and sleeping and waking to the sound of breaking waves is always nice. We had breakfast of fried eggs (our host said the cook would not be able to cope with cooking poached eggs) toast & vegemite and tea.

Unfortunately the day was not looking like a day to laze on the beach as we had wished. The sky remained grey and threatening, not the lovely blue it was yesterday.

Never mind, we went for a walk along the beach and into the town as we needed to find a ATM to get enough cash to pay for our hotel bill if we wanted to leave tomorrow morning.

Walking about 1-2km along the beach we came across a group of fishermen who were hauling in a fishing net on the beach. There were about 20 all up divided in 2 hand pulling the long net onto the beach. They started to urge us to help them but not bloody likely. I did not see any local women helping out so we just stood around watching as they pulled in the net filled with an assortment of small fish. A couple of larger ones had also been snagged as did a small sting ray or two.

Continuing along the beach we found a path that led into the town centre. Although it was overcast the humidity was still up there an our first call was a cool drink. This can sometimes be a task to find as not all shops have a refrigerator and are happy to sell drinks at room temp. However, we managed to find a little hole in the wall that had a cool (not cold) 7up to sell us. Little slam down bottles Rs40 = 20c each.

We then browsed the local shops, found a couple of sarongs that were almost half the price of the ones we purchased in Haputale, so bought 2 each to make up for the price difference.

Did remember what we had come in for and found an ATM. Strolled back along the beach to our beach bar where we had a beer and ate the 'homemade chips' I had purchased in town. Just like crisps but coated in hot stuff, seems to be the only hot thing I like here. But definitely need to be eaten with a beer to wash them down.

We ordered the recommended calamari from the menu and must admit it was devine. One portion was enough that Lyn & I shared and it was actually cooked in a curry that I enjoyed.

Rest of the afternoon we chilled out reading. Sun has still not really come out even though it is quite warm. The ocean water is warm also, but today was just not swimming weather.

Tonight the hotel put on a beach bbq, Rs1400 = $12 each which is a bit expensive for here but the promise of bbq chicken drumsticks, bbq marlin and prawns was enough for us to sign up.
Of course it was a bit of a disappointment, the chicken was fine (can't really stuff up a bbq drumstick) the fish was good too, but not marlin and the prawns well they were just shit - let's leave it at that. But the salad was great and made up for the short comings of the rest of the meal. At least the rain held off, maybe a night downpour later.

I mistakenly finished the night with a pina colada - which again was a big disappointment, which was followed up by a hot shower minus the hot water. Welcome to Sri Lanka!! Sounds good and looks good on paper but reality is a bit disappointing if you think of what you get at home, so try not to compare.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 02:56 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged tangalla Comments (0)

Henry meets Ella!

a quick visit to a tea factory then we head over to Ella - a Sri Lankan jewel

Wednesday 20th November 13 (day 81)

Breakfast was ordered at 9.30 so we were up just before. We were given toast, butter & jam, fresh fruit juice and a pot of tea. Also offered was an omelet, but we declined this, enjoying the toast with our newly purchased vegemite instead.

The day looked sunny and blue skied. After last nights rain I'm surprised everything was not washed away. We used the internet over breakfast to catch up on a few things and by 10.30 we checking out and loading the tuk tuk for another days travel. It was pretty cold last night and this morning we needed to be wearing a sleeve also.

Our first stop was a visit to a tea factory. Well we could hardly drive past so many tea plantations without visiting at least one. The one I chose was called Pedro Estate Tea Factory just 3.5 km from town. Although this one was recommended in the lonely bastard it still sounded like a smaller company that would not be swarming with bus loads of tourists, and I was right. We found it fairly easily and there were just a couple of other tourists in tuk tuk's and mini vans, not the great big coaches like the other tea places we had passed yesterday.

A tour of the factory was Rs 200 ($1.65) per person so we did opt to take it. So glad we did as it was very informative. So here is the rundown that we learnt about tea today:
Plucking - Green leaf, which includes a terminal bud and two young leaves, are picked from Camellia sinensis bushes. Picking is done by hand, selectively in 5-7 day intervals and mostly by women.
Withering - is done to remove excess water from the green leaf and allow a slight amount of oxidation. This process also increases the availability of freed caffeine, which naturally improves the taste of tea. The duration of this process is 8-10 hours.
Rolling & Rotervaning - The withered green leaves are then rolled and formed into wrinkled strips, using a rolling machine. This helps the withered leaf to twist around itself. The rolling process also ruptures the leaf, resulting in a natural chemical reaction taking place which enhances the taste of this wonderful brew.
Fermentation - The rolled and twisted 'dhools' as it is known are then spread for fermentation.
Firing - The dhools are then fired to stop further oxidation and fermentation. After being fired the leaves are referred to as 'fired tea' which is black in colour.
Sifting - Fired tea is thereafter graded into many varieties according to its particle size.

Some more interesting facts: 4 kgs of fresh leaves produce 1 kg of dry tea // the tea is picked all year round // the higher the altitude where the tea is grown the better the quality // the small the leaf after sifting the stronger the tea

This particular tea factory produces 2500kg of dry tea every 24 hours - factory processes 24 hours a day. All of the handling of the leaves through the various processes is done by hand, I guess that is why they have over 1200 employees. Pedro is a wholesale tea company, we were told they do not package their product to sell here or export, they in fact wholesale all their tea to Lipton and Dilmah!

After the tour we were served a free cup of tea, and we were able to purchase some tea that they package just for sale in their tasting room. 200 gram for Rs 200 ($1.65) - this is pretty cheap for an unblended good quality tea.

We did not have far to go today only about 60km but due to it being all twisty windy mountain roads and being in a tuk tuk we knew it was going to take a couple of hours or so and it was already midday by the time we left Pedros.

A quick stop at the post office to buy some stamps back in town and we started to head off to Ella.

We drove past mostly vegetable fields for most of the journey, until the tea came into view again. Many, many roadside stalls selling a great assortment of vegetables that we are disappointed about not seeing on any of the menus in the cafes and restaurants we have been looking at.

While passing through the busy town of Welimada, Lyn stopped the tuk tuk, double parking in the main drag while it quickly jumped out and grabbed us a couple of bonda at only Rs10 (9c) each. I'm liking these potato/lentil balls and have come to accept the fact that they are supposed to be eaten cold. I just try not to think about the amount of handling they have had and smiled at the guy as he served them to me in a paper bag made out of newspaper cut to size and the sides glued up together. They tasted pretty good and were a welcomed snack as we drove along.

2 o'clock and the rain came as clockwork. This seems to be the norm now, and it was not too bad only at one stage during a bad downpour did we have to close up the sides of Henry to keep me from drowning in the back. Only problem with the sides down my view disappears completely so have to rely on Lyn to drive and navigate, which worked out ok today.

We arrived in Ella at about 3 and the it was still raining. We parked up and headed across the road to a cafe for a pot of tea and a think about where we were going to stay. Really we just wanted to sit and wait for the rain to easy a little before doing a hotel search. It was not going to be too difficult as Ella has only one short street. It was recommended to us by Rocky (tuk tuk hire guy) and is claimed to have one of the most beautiful views in Sri Lanka. Well the view was going to have to wait until tomorrow as we would see nothing this afternoon in this rain.

After viewing a couple of different hotels we settled on a mid range one that is right on the street level. Going up to a high view hotel is all well and good, but you have to walk up and down the steep drives to go anywhere. This one was just fine, and after me requesting a better price for a 2 night stay they went down from Rs3600 to Rs3000 ($25). Like I said they always discount, you just have to ask.

Again everyone was amazed that we were driving our own tuk tuk. This fact is a great conversation starter. And of course all during the drive today, we received many a smile, wave and cheer from anyone who saw us. At some point during the day we had stopped at a roadside stall and bought a couple of mats to sit on, the stall was tended by mother & daughter (I think - they did not speak much English) but they came over to Henry as we got back in and were all smiles and giggles as we drove off. Also Lyn said some drivers are giving her right of way when they see that see is driving, this is a bonus as it's usually a free for all and the most aggressive driver goes first.

After checkin we sat in the hotels restaurant and had a beer. The waiter came over and asked if we were sisters. Yes we replied. Ah nice he said that sisters can sit and have a beer together, this would not happen with sisters here - not even brothers he said. Which is true, local women are hardly seen doing anything social and I guess drinking in public would be a big no no. Make you appreciate how lucky and what freedom we have.

Lyn was talking to some fellow tuk tuk drivers today as I was doing the hotel search, and she asked them about the lack of people smoking. They told her lots of people smoke, they just don't do it in public. Ah this is great, if they are not smoking out on the streets and everywhere this is why there are no cigarette butts littering the ground like just about every other country in the world.
Good work guys, smoke in private and keep your butts off the streets!

The rain continued to drizzle until after dark. At about 7 it looked like it had stopped so we went for a walk up the little street. We found place that does laundry, it was already closed, but we will come back tomorrow with our dirties and see if they will wash and dry some clothes for us - if the price is right.

We stopped for a drink and a couple of snacks at another restaurant, not really wanting a full meal.

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Thursday 21st November 13 (day 82)

We slept late this morning and then hung around in our room until just before midday. We were greeted by the receptionist with a very worried look on his face. He said he had been very concerned about us as we were so late to leave the room. Other tourists were already gone for the day on a hike or checked out, moving on to their next destination. He was worried that something had happened to us as he had been there since 6am and did not see us leave. He said he was about to come to the room to see if we were ok. So panic over, after explaining to him we were just having an extended rest he seemed ok with it.

We walked the short distance up the road and dropped our washing off at a laundry. Even though they charge per item it will worked out pretty cheap for them to wash 12 items for us to Rs670 = $5.50. It's nice to get our clothes machine washed every now and then as hand washing cleans but not like a machine. They would be ready for collection at 5pm today.

Next stop was breakfast, or I should say brunch. The restaurant we visited last night had poached eggs and bacon listed on its breakfast menu so we were going to give it a go. Sure enough we were served us a genuine poached egg and a couple of small strips of streaky bacon. This with toast, butter, jam, tea for Lyn & coffee for me, then finished off with a small fruit platter for the meagre amount of Rs600 = $5 each. Pretty good value for a western style meal.

Yesterday after we had arrived Lyn had checked out a beauty shop that was offering pedicures for Rs200 = $1.65 so today we thought we might treat ourselves. At this price it didn't matter what it was like just the toe nail paint was worth that price.

We had also decided to visit the nearby tea factory and decided to do this first just in case the afternoon rains came again. Uva Halpewaththa Tea Factory was only 8km back the way we came yesterday. The last 2km off the main road was quite a steep climb on the tiny little track but Henry seemed ok with the climb. This place was a lot bigger than Pedro tea factory we visited the other day. We opted to do a tour of the factory again, as it was only Rs200 = $1.65. Although a lot bigger they did not seem to be processing as much as Pedro. We were shown through the factory which worked almost identical to the other one, just had more machines which did not seem to be operating anyway. Only difference here was they had the dried leaves laid out on fermenting tables before they were being fired. The tour finished with the usual tea tasting and then we were pushed towards the section selling the product. We would have been happy to purchase more tea but the prices here were double and triple the other place so we decided against buying anything in the end. I had read that usually it was cheaper to purchase the local stuff in the town rather than in the overpriced showrooms. We thanked our guide and left. We're not really sure if we are supposed to tip these guides or not, but have chosen not to.

On our way back to Ella we made a small detour up a mountain to a guesthouse that was supposed to have a great view of Ella Gap. And wow, what a magnificent view it did have. We sat and had a drink chatting with the dutch guests who were lucky enough to be staying there. When Lyn asked the price of a room we were surprised that it was only Rs650 more that was we were paying in town. We did not see a room, but guessed it must have been ok as the Dutchies were on a package holiday and usually they stay in decent places. Next time.

It was close to 4pm and we were surprised that the afternoon rain had not yet materialised. The sky was dark and cloudy but as yet no rain. Back in town we made another small detour to the train station to check out train times for tomorrow. There is a short 1 hour trip to the next town where the train travels through the tea plantations etc and is supposed to be a nice ride. I found the times and it would involve us having to spend a couple of hours at the town at the other end but this seemed alright. After I spoke to the guy at the hotel he said it would be possible to get a bus back save waiting for the train. We have not yet experienced a public bus ride so that might be fun. The train leaves at 9.23am and reception asked if we would like a 6am wake up call - funny bugger!
We collected our washing and did a quick lap of the main street, this did not take long as the street is just 200m long. I bought some more chilly chips same as yesterday and we ordered a beer at our hotel restaurant.

Dinner was ordered from the attached roti house. I had a rolled roti filled with chicken and vegetables, easy on the chicken heavy on potatoes, but it was nice. Lyn had kotthu roti = roti chopped up and mixed with vegetables stir fried on a hot plate - also good.

Ah yes we did return to the beauty shop for our Rs200 pedicure, but it turned out that Lyn had viewed the price list without her glasses on and the price was Rs2000 ($16.50) not Rs200 ($1.65). It did seem awfully cheap, so pedicures will have to wait until we get back to Bangkok.
I did however get a quote from a barber who was willing to cut off our hair for the low price of Rs300 ($2.50) but alas we did not get the required 100 comments on my Facebook entry.

Didn't end up raining at all today.

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Friday 22nd November 13 (day 83)

We were up and out somewhat earlier today than yesterday. Breakfast of tea and toast at our hotel as we had to be at the train station for the 9.23am train.

Deciding it was safer to leave the tuk tuk parked at the hotel, rather than drive it up and leave it at the train station for half the day, meant we had to walk to the station. Luckily it was only a 10 minute walk. Funny how quickly we get out of shape. After riding the bikes for a few weeks we were in pretty good condition, but now after a few weeks of hire car and tuk tuk as transport all that good fitness has disappeared already.

The train we were wanting to catch was the train that goes on to Kandy but we are only travelling 2 stops - just as a sightseeing trip. There were a few other people also at the station, some with luggage that were obviously going all the way to Kandy, and some with just day pack who were probably doing the same trip as us.

The guy in the ticket office, in his pristine white uniform, sold us 2nd class tickets to Haputale for Rs50 (40c) each. The journey is about 1 hour. Lyn was advised never to travel anything but 1st class in India as the trains were so bad, I was hoping that the trains here were a little better, even though only a one hour journey I did not really want to be standing in the middle of a 1000 people and 14 herds of assorted animals. I should not have worried as the train was almost as clean as the station masters uniform and there were definitely no animals aboard, only a couple of dirty scabby looking backpackers that could have done with a hose down.

Although not air-conditioned, only 1st class is air conned, with the window open it was very pleasant. This train did not have 1st class and even 3rd class which was half the price of 2nd looked comfortable enough. Only difference I could see was 3rd class had bench seats where 2nd had individual seats. And it was no where near full, I think only a handful of tourists were already aboard when it rolled into our station.

The track snaked through the jungle, tea plantations and vegetable patches. Stopping at a few smaller stations before the bigger city of Bandarawela and then our destination Haputale which is perched at the southern end of the hill country. It lies along a ridge with the land falling away steeply on both sides. We were accosted by a barrage of tuk tuk drivers at the train station wanting to take us to a nearby tea factory. But to tell the truth we had already been to 2 tea factories and that was enough. They could not understand that we had just come to see the town and then go back. After walking the town I kind of understand their thinking. LOL there was not much there but we managed to support the local economy by purchasing a few items in a couple of shops.

Next step was to find a bus back to Ella, most everyone on the street was helpful and directed us in the general direction advising we needed to catch bus 99 to the Ella junction and then get another bus into town. Only after a 5 minute wait did bus 99 come along and we were seated directly under the speaker which was screaming out very loud Sri Lankan music, ticket price Ra 48 = 39c. Lucky for us the bus trip was just under an hour and it was interesting to experience a ride in these vehicles that had been tooting us loudly and passing us so dangerously when we were in the tuk tuk. Bus ride did not seem half as scary from the inside as they look from the outside.

The bus conductor instructed us to get off when we reached the junction and then we waited another 15 minutes for the bus that took us the 3.5 km back into Ella Rs13 = 10c. It had been a nice mornings excursion!

Most tourists who come to Ella come to do hiking around the area, not us we relax and do an easy train, bus excursion. Told you our fitness has deserted us!

Time for a cuppa, we sat in a cafe and watched the world go by on the main street of Ella. Come 2pm as clockwork the rain started and it poured on and off for the rest of the day until dark. In one of the clear patches we did a quick lap of the town and ended back at our hotel where it was beer o'clock. Here we sat for another period of time watching the comings and goings from this end of town. We had dinner (mental note do not order western food in an Asian country and expect to get western food). The waiter at our hotels cafe said he like us being her and sitting for long periods of time in the cafe as it attracted other westerns into the restaurant. Which is true, we also tend to levitate to food places where westerns are sitting eating and are still alive. Anyway, the waiter shouted us a pot of tea as a thank you for his restaurant being full the last 3 nights. Glad to help!

It's a shame that the food has not been much of an enjoyment for me here as this is one of the things about travelling that I enjoy the most - the food. But having already known that I don't like curry which is the staple here I did not expect much. I have found a few things that I do like and the rest am suffering the Sri Lankan version of western food.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 01:48 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged pedro ella Comments (0)

AND INTO THE HILLS HENRY CLIMBS

WE LEAVE THE ANCIENT CITIES BEHIND AS WE FIGHT FOR ROAD SPACE IN THE HILL COUNTRY

Monday 18th November 13 (day 79)

We set an alarm this morning as we had agreed to have breakfast at 9am. For just Rs350 ($3) we were served fruit, toast, butter & jam and 2 boiled eggs with tea and coffee. also had our vegemite yippee!! Bargain.

After breakfast we paid the bill, and left our bags to be collected later as we did not want to leave them sitting in the tuk tuk while we visited Sigiriya.

Sigiriya means Lion Rock and is a spectacular rock fortress and because it is world heritage listed the entry fee is a whopping USD $30. I think the entry prices here in Sri Lanka are a little over the top expensive - must be one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit these sites. But of course only for tourists as locals do not pay any entry fee at all - they are free to all world heritage sites. Anyway, my gripe aside, this was the only site I was interested in visiting so we paid the fee and entered.

Description on the ticket reads: Sigiriya is a unique landscape city, created in the 5th century by King Kashyyapa embracing a 200 meter rock out crop and its surrounding with nature driven architecture composed of buildings, pathways, terraces, ponds, paintings and sculpture. There are more than 1000 hand written poems on the mirror wall written by visitors to sigiriya from 7th - 14th century. The UNESCO declared this a world heritage site in 1982.

Of course it is all in ruins now and no actual buildings are still standing, but we did see some of the frescos painted on the side of the rock and some of the old graffiti. And the climb up to the top was pretty awesome, even if it did take 1200 steps to get to the top. There were signs of the old steps and pathway to the top of the rock and I am glad I was not here 10 years ago as I don't think I would have braved the climb up the rock face. It was a pretty hot workout climbing up all the steps and it was midday before we returned to the bottom again.

Quick lunch stop back in the village, collect our bags and again we were on our way in the tuk tuk. Accompanied by lots of waves, smiles and comments we headed south towards the centre of Sri Lanka, towards the hill country. Our destination for tonight was the town of Kandy.

I had read in the lonely bastard last night that the area we had already driven through was the dried area on the island, and today we would go through the wetter, more lush area. This was evident as the flat plans turned to smaller than bigger hills and mountains and the landscape turned to thick green jungle. Still rice paddies could be seen in small clearings on the slopes and the ever present road side stalls still dotted our pathway. As did the dogs.

At about 3pm we stopped for a drink and a stale cup cake at a cafe on the side of the road, purchased some more bananas from a stall on the other side of the road and continued up the mountain. Very soon afterwards the rain started and it bucketed down very heavy rain for about 30 minutes. We closed the canvas sides off the tuk tuk to keep out the rain, but had to keep the tops open to make it possible to see out. Of course the already crazy drivers turned to complete idiots as most crazy drivers to when it rains and the drive became even more of an adventure as Lyn managed to avoid collision with cars, impatient buses and other tuk tuk's.

Just as sudden as we had driven into it we drove out of it and the road was dry again. But now it was time to tackle the busy traffic of a big city as we entered Kandy. It went well as Lyn is starting to adapt to the when in Rome theory and drive like a local.

It was later afternoon so first up was to find a hotel for the night. Managed to navigate to the hotel part of town and viewed a few. We have not yet sussed this out yet and cannot seem to find a comfortable middle hotel that we want, we seem to find too cheap and a little nasty or too nice and out of our pocket range. And of course there are always touts who promise everything you want at the price you want to pay but when you get there they don't deliver. This is what we ended up with tonight, but it was getting dark and the price was ok so we just settled for where we were. Not the best but ok and for Rs4000 ($33) for clean sheets and hot shower in a big city it was ok.

Our tout had recommended a place to eat which was walking distance and since the tuk tuk was garaged for the night we did not want to take it out and try and drive and find a park. The place was a genuine Sri Lankan food place and although there were a few westerns there also, this was definitely a place where families came to eat. Evident by the families eating there. We ordered a chicken curry (way to hot for me - don't like curry anyway), dahl curry (quite nice) and vegetable roti (most edible) plus a bottle of water came to a grand total of Rs330 ($3). Very cheap but they still have this problem of not being able to serve food hot - oh it hot as in spicy hot, but not as in heat hot and this is the part that worries me. Cooked food that has been sitting is the worst thing to eat - but I guess time will tell. I will let you know how it went tomorrow!!

It was spitting rain again as we walked back to our room. I'm a little peeved as we were told we'd have internet but of course we don't and I needed to investigate our plan for tomorrow. So we may just have to wing it and drive aimlessly!! lol

Just to add a few random things: about the dogs everywhere, most of them seem to be in pretty good health, although we have seen some of them that are so close to death it's sad. I wonder if they ever do a round up of the dogs when the numbers get out of control? None of the dogs we have encountered have been aggressive or fierce or threatening in any way, which is a good thing. Lyn has taken to collecting our food scraps from our meals and taking them to give to the dogs, however one of tonights vegetable rotis was given to a scabby street man.

Monkeys are everywhere!! I remember saying to Lyn the first day of our driving I wonder if we will see any monkeys? lol yes we have seen lots. Even one on the balcony of our room here in the middle of Kandy.

NOBODY SMOKES! I should say none of the locals smoke! or if they do they do it behind closed doors. Without a word or a lie since we have been here I have seen a grand total of two Sri Lankans smoking. One a young guy at the top of the rock and the other was the ticket guard half way up the rock and he was smoking a joint. I didn't actually see the joint as he hid in under the counter when we approached but the aroma of the smoke coming out of his mouth was unmistakeable. Really unbelievable not seeing anyone smoking!!

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Tuesday 19th November 13 (day 80)

We had a early start this morning as we had to vacate the room by 10am. The sun was out and although the sky was looking a little grey there were also patches of blue so we asked if we could store luggage and leave Henry (we have now named our tuk tuk) in the garage while we walked the short distance to the centre to find breakfast.

The 20 minute walk along the side of the lake (man made in 1807 by Sri Wickrama Rajasinham, the last ruler of the kingdom of Kandy) was quiet pleasant except for the manic traffic screaming past and blasting their horns - some at us, some at other traffic and some just for the hell of it as is Lankan style. There were lots of fish in the lake even though the water had a yucky greenish brown tinge to it. The aquatic life was obviously thriving if the variety, number and sizes were anything to go by. Also a lot of bird life and heaps of turtles were in and on the water too. As we walked along I thought I saw a crocodile swimming in the water towards us but it turned out to be a giant water monitor lizard. We ended up seeing a lot of them along the way too, so the water must be ok for so much wild life to be living in it.

We found the main drag and went to the bakery that had been suggested to us. It did not look so appealing and did not have any seating anyway so we moved on to another cafe/bakery. Still the pre cooked foods and bakery items did not look at all appetising to us and we regretted not bringing along the vegemite as there seemed to be fresh white bread that looked like it would have been ok. Instead we opted just to have a drink and see what we could find later. I had a mixed fruit juice and it was the best juice I have had in this country so far - mainly because it was chilled I think. Lyn ordered a pot of tea and after the first sip just about grew hairs on her chest it was so strong. She still managed to down a few cups with the help of milk and our bottled water to thin it out a bit.

A quick walk back up the Main Street and retracing our steps back along the lake to the hotel to collect our bags and Henry and it was time to attack the Kandy traffic and try and find our way out of town. It was relatively easy, just head in the opposite direction to the one we drove in and after only one false turn, which just required a u-turn, Lyn had mastered the city traffic and we were on our way out, south.

Today we were heading into the hill country and before long we started climbing, which lasted for the rest of our journey, with the last hour or 20 km becoming the steepest.

We drove through a few smallish towns but were soon in tea growing country. Steep slopes both sides of the road were filled with bright green bushes in hundreds and hundreds of rows, criss crossing the country side. Some of the plantations were dotted with tea pickers, who if close enough to the road would look up, smile and wave back to us. The views up here are awesome!

Yesterday I read a quote written in the Lonely Bastard which after today I tend to agree with: "most people think of and associate beaches when they think of Sri Lanka, but the people who have visited Sri Lanka think of and remember the hill country."

We stopped at a great little road side / cliff side cafe to have a drink and a snack. It was run by a young guy who pointed out his home to us which was situated directly under the cafe, down the slope of the hill that was covered in tea plants. He served us a great cup of tea and we tried a couple of local snacks. We ate bonda (deep-fried potato & lentil ball in lentil flour batter) and this other savoury donutty/egg thing (not sure of the name of it). Of course both had been prepared earlier and were served cold but they were not too bad, I quite liked the bonda and would be willing to eat again. And of course both were quite spicy! But we had no reaction (touch wood) from the food we ate yesterday so I am getting a little braver with food intake. I also tried jaggery which is a hard brown sweet made from kitul. Kitul is sap from the kitul palm drawn off from the tree, in liquid form its know as treacle and when boiled down as jaggery. Yep it was a sweet as sweet can be, could feel my teeth rotting as I ate it. lol
We asked the young guy if the tea we were drinking was from his plants and he said he does not produce tea. He just grows, picks and sells it to the larger plantations as he does not have the machinery to dry, cut and produce the tea ready for consumption.

We continued on and still seemed to be climbing. The weather was not looking to good now and looking back down the mountain all we could see was mist. The views were gone.

There are still fruit and veggie stands along the road here, but the bananas have all but disappeared and most of the stalls contents are now an array of assorted vegetables, they look great. And of course still the stray dogs, but not in as big a numbers as we have seen in previous days.

Not long after that it started to rain and slowly it got heavier and heavier until it was pouring down enough that we had to close the sides on Henry. Unfortunately this cuts down my visibility to not much more than the back of Lyn's head. Every now and then I would lift the side flap and have a peek outside but the rain was not easing.

It became a little lighter as we approached the town of Nuwara Eliya where we had planned to spend the night. We passed a couple of hotels on the way in to the centre and decided to return to them once we saw that the centre was a concrete jungle. We had a feeling that the accommodation was not going to be cheap here but we did not wish to drive on any further in the rain, so decided just to such it up and find a place and just have to pay the going rate.

As luck would have it the hotel we picked was much more reasonable than we expected, so I asked about the more expensive cabana rooms. They had a bit of a terrace area where we could sit outside, the room he had shown me was at the back of the hotel. Cabana room was Rs5000 ($41) but I talked him down to Rs4500 ($37) with breakfast included. Never hurts to ask for a better price, they always give some kind of discount. Happy with this price we parked Henry (the tuk tuk in case you have forgotten we have named it), took out our bags and ordered a beer, which was delivered to our terrace. Not a fantastic view and not much in the way of passing traffic due to the rain but it was still nice.

It's a lot colder up here due to the altitude and I guess the rain as well. The rain continued to fall at a steady pace. The shower was hot so that warmed us up just before we went and had dinner in the restaurant. Looks like we are the only guests staying here tonight. A brief ease in the rainfall and we walked over to the dining room. As our food was served (chicken soup followed by chicken noodles for me and chicken chop suey for Lyn) it really started to pour rain again. It was pretty heavy and as we were under a tin roof it sounded even worse.

We ordered hot tea and sat in the dining room using internet until 10pm when they asked us to leave. Oopps sorry bedtime. The rain sounds like it has slowed right down and I hope the morning brings sunshine again, but tonight we are sleeping fully clothed as only one blanket each has been allocated to us and it's bloody cold here.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 06:33 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (7)

TUK TUK FROM RUINS TO A BIG ROCK

A QUICK ESCAPE FROM THE TICKET GUARD AS WE SPED OUT OF TOWN AND TOWARDS A BIG ROCK

Sunday 17 Nov 13 (day 78)

Last night at some ungodly hour, some kind of procession passed by on the street. No idea what it was about, a lot of men wailing or I guess it could have been singing - I don't know. Not sure what time it was but it was still pitch black outside.

Next thing we know we wake up at 11.30am - just before receiving a phone call from reception to remind us that checkout was at 12. Shit!! How did we manage to sleep so long?? I know I stayed up late watching movies, but Lyn slept for almost 16 hours!! Guess we must have needed it.

A quick scramble to get up and dressed and our gear packed and into the tuk tuk. Staff again watching amazed that we are driving our own tuk tuk. Staff again trying to get us to hire them as a guide for the local sites. No thanks, and goodbye.

This town of Anuradhapura is a world heritage site, used to be the capital at one stage and has many old ruins of palaces and temples etc etc. We were really not that interested in visiting all this old rubble and stuff and especially since the entry free was USD $25 each. I suggested to Lyn we head over towards the old part of town and just have a quick drive around and see what we could see without entering the official site and having to pay the entrance fee.

We drove a few back roads and came across a huge dagoba (= Buddhist monument composed of a solid hemisphere containing relics of the Buddha or a Buddhist saint - also called a stupa). This one was called Jetavanarama Dagoba and stood about 70m high - built in the 3rd century. Pretty impressive and there were lots of tourists about, as well as lots of monkeys. As there was no sign that this was included in the pay part of the site we stopped and had a look around. We had to make sure that everything left in the tuk tuk was secure as monkeys climbed in to see if there was anything worth while taking or to eat. They took a good look inside a plastic bag that had my smelly shoes in it and decided nothing edible here and left again, leaving behind dirty foot prints all over the seat.

Back in the tuk tuk I asked Lyn to do a quick circumnavigation of the stupa. Big mistake as of course on the other side of the giant ruin was a guard who was checking tickets and quickly stopped us to ask for ours. A bit of quick thinking and I said we would just go back and collect our other friend and return to him in 5 minutes with our tickets. Of course he did not believe this and was very hesitant to let us go. As Lyn slowly inched the tuk tuk away from him I was hanging out the side saying just wait we will be back in 5 minutes. Of course we hightailed it out of there and hit the road out of town. We didn't want to cheat on not paying the entry but really where we drove in did not say anything about entering the world heritage site. Where the guard stopped us was an obvious entry/exit gate. If the entry fee had not been so high we would have happily paid it and visited the rest of the site but $25 each is a bit over the top.

The road today was again in good shape and a pleasant drive through mainly rice paddy fields. Still the roads are lined with fruit stalls (mainly bananas and mangos) and a few thousand scabby dogs. We drove in a south easterly direction heading for a place called Sigiriya, where there is a 200 metre rock outcrop that I wanted to visit.

It was about 3.30pm by the time we reached our destination and decided to stay the night and visit the site in the morning. Again to find a hotel! We drove into a very flash looking place and knew it would be way out of our price range but I did the exercise and went to reception to enquire about a room. Unfortunately, they were completely booked out for the night so we were not able to stay and pay a minimum of USD $125 per night for a room. Wow it would want to be fantastic for that price.

Back in the village Lyn looked at the next place which we rejected at Rs7000 ($58) and we went and had a late lunch. A nice little restaurant served fresh fruit juice shakes and an avocado salad with roti. After lunch across the road was another guesthouse that had a bungalow for Rs5000 ($41) but it smelt too musty. Flower Inn won us with a plain room with attached bathroom for Rs1800 ($14.70) - they started at Rs2500. Bargaining for a room is pretty easy, just look a little disinterested, ask for a better price or walk away. If they can come down in price they follow you and the price lowers.

We could park the tuk tuk in the yard so it was off the street also. Took our bags into the room, I laid down on the bed and promptly fell asleep and slept for 4 hours. Wow didn't see that coming, although both Lyn and I did seem a little lethargic today. Too much sleep, or not enough or not enough coffee or just not enough water, but we both seemed a little off today.

9pm we wandered back out to our lunch restaurant and had lite dinner. The mother was happy to see us back again in her eating establishment but come 10pm said we had better return to hotel otherwise we would be locked out as the gates closed at 10. Not sure if she just wanted to get rid of us or if the gates were usually closed at this time, but they were still open when we glided back in at 10.15.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 04:50 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

AND HENRY THE TUK TUK HEADS NORTH

after a half hour lesson Lyn is ready to take on the manic drivers of Sri Lanka

Saturday 16th November 13 (day 77)

Rocky was on time delivering the tuk tuk, we were running late, amazing how much you can catch up on lost sleep.

Paperwork filled in we were advised we had to pay cash not credit card. Of course we did not have enough cash on us so gave what we had and said we would deliver the rest to Rocky's office after another visit to the ATM and before we fled town.

Our excess luggage was put in an unused room of the hotel - hopefully it will still be there when we return. We promised to spend the night here again before flying out, so fingers crossed.

And then we were off, as soon as we hit the street we were greeted with many double take looks. I guess no one is used to seeing a tourist drive and tuk tuk and especially not a woman to boot. They were at least all smiling and waving so it was not a negative reaction. A quick stop at the ATM and next door to purchase a road map and deliver the balance owing to Rocky. He gave us a very quick run down on places to visit and directions for the way out of town.

I thought Lyn was doing really well driving the tuk tuk but she did reveal later that she was a little apprehensive still. Sure did not show as she was driving along like a native, which mainly involved overuse of the horn to advise anyone or anything of your approach and that you were passing.

The roads here are pretty good and fairly well maintained, so I just sat in the back having a comfortable ride taking in the sights. Again I must say no rubbish along the roadside and no plastic bags anywhere in the fields. Interesting contrast to Morocco where we saw in every town and village and in most of the fields thousands of disregarded plastic bags. It was nice to see that here they are looking after and respecting the country a little better. We noticed also when entering towns there were signs reading 'keep our city clean' and 'thank you for keeping the city clean'. Good one Sri Lanka!

So we drove up the coast road to Chilaw, stopping at a local supermarket for a look around and perhaps to find some food to eat. Low and behold they sold Vegemite!! We had run out of Vegemite back in France and although it was a little overpriced we decided we deserved to shout ourselves a jar. Rs620 = $5.10 for a 220gr jar. Lyn also managed to get some Imodium tablets at the attached pharmacy Rs160 = $1.35 for 6 tablets.

Back on the road we had no real destination so just decided to drive until we found somewhere to stay the night. Not a great deal to see, lots of rice paddies, and the towns still resembled the towns in Thailand. The streets, roads and highways are lined with fruit stalls, seems like every house has a fruit and veggie stall outside. The streets, roads and highways are also lined with stray dogs. There must be a million of the scabby animals, laying or standing on or close to the road its a wonder they don't all get killed by the manic drivers.

Somewhere along the way we almost ran out of petrol and had to switch to the reserve tank to get us to the next filling station. No idea how much fuel was in tuk tuk when we collected it as it does not have a fuel gauge. I would guess it was not a full tank. With the help of a lovely lady sitting in the back of another tuk tuk, she directed us to a shop that sold fuel by the litre out of coke bottles and advised that would be enough to get us to the next station in the next town. Thank you very much for that random act of kindness!

Continuing north we reached Puttalam around 3pm and decided to look for a hotel to stay the night. It was a biggish town, but we did not have any luck in finding a hotel so continued on inland - east to Anuradhapura (yeah I know don't even try to pronounce that). This town was much bigger and with the aid of our very old lonely bastard mud map we managed to find the hotel street. I viewed and priced a few rooms and we actually settled on the most expensive one at Rs4000 = $33 (starting price was 5000). It was pretty flash, but just didn't want to face the other real budget/less comfortable places I viewed. And Lyn was still feeling crook so a nice place for the night was called for. Clean, fabulous hot shower and even a TV with English movie channel. Again lots of comments from the staff about driving our own tuk tuk.

After check in we walked down the street in search of some food. We had not eaten all day, except for a tea and coffee before leaving the hotel this morning and some lovely little lady finger bananas we had purchased roadside. Lyn was still not hungry at all and I could not get excited about any food that we had seen during the day. It seems to be the practice here to cook everything at the beginning of the week or month? and then serve it semi warmish from a hot box. And by a hot box I mean a glass enclosure that has a light bulb on inside keeping the food warm?? All very unappealing and I think not a healthy option for a unaccustomed stomach. So I guess this has killed my appetite a little also.

We had a wander around the Main Street, found a supermarket to meander through and walked back to the hotel in the dark. As luck would have it the guesthouse next to ours had a Chinese takeaway and when I saw that the food was cooked to order my stomach suddenly advised that it was hungry and that this would be suitable. While I ordered and waited for a chicken noodle dish, Lyn returned to the hotel for more pressing matters - she did not eat.

The noodles were good and with hunger satisfied I spent the rest of the night watching movies on the TV.

Lyn was asleep by 7.30 - hope she is feeling better tomorrow.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 04:09 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

2013 NOV SRI LANKA - NORTH TO SOUTH MOROCCO TO SRI LANKA

as we return to the Southern Hemisphere a new adventure begins, and our mode of transport for this leg is a rented self drive TUK TUK which we have named HENRY!

Friday 15th November 13 (day 76)

Flight from Casablanca (Morocco) to Doha (Qatar) took about 6 1/2 hours. First time flying with Qatar airlines and it was ok. We had our own entertainment screens and I managed to watch 3 movies. Food was ok, nothing special at the time but later would reveal differently for one of us. The original departure time for this flight had changed by two hours which worked out better for us as it departed at 12 noon instead of 10am. This meant we only had a 2 hour layover in Doha instead of 4.

Doha airport was busy, lots of flights going in and out of here, our stopover time passed quite quickly.

Next flight from Doha to Colombo (Sri Lanka) was about 5 1/2 hours. Again I watched some movies and Lyn slept a little. She was starting to feel a little ill - we think from the food on the first flight. Although I ate the same as she did but she obviously got a bad batch.

Early morning arrival always throws out the body clock. I had not slept at all on either flights so was shattered and Lyn was now feeling even worse so I was grateful for the airport pick up I had booked with the guy we are hiring our transport from here in Sri Lanka. Rocky was there to meet us with my name scribbled on a piece of paper, its not often we have an airport meet and greet so this was nice for a change not to have to worry about finding our way to a hotel. I had also booked a place to stay for tonight with Rocky so we were taken there straight away.

Stepping outside the airport we were instantly greeted by the familiar Asian humid heat and that certain smell of a dusty hot country. Usually this aroma is welcoming to me but today I just wanted to get to a hotel and catch up on some sleep. Rocky advised due to the CHOSM being here our transport was not able to drive up to the airport arrivals so we had to walk the short distance out to the street to meet out tuk tuk that would take us to the seaside town of Negombo. Although the airport is called Colombo it is actually more than an hour from Colombo town and it was a better option to head for Negombo only 25 minutes away. This is also the place where our rental vehicle is. 8.30 in the morning and it was already pretty hot.

First impressions of Sri Lanka from the transfer tuk tuk was that is it a hell of a lot cleaner than I expected. Sure it's dirty and dusty, but not a lot of litter (actually hardly any) along the road side. Buildings and the little bit of country side we saw are very similar to Thailand really.

Finally at the hotel we made arrangements with Rocky to meet up later this afternoon for Lyn to have a tuk tuk driving lesson and then went to our room and slept for a couple of hours. We woke later in the afternoon and decided it was time to venture our and an ATM to get some local currency and some food. The ATM was just up the street at a flash hotel and when we started to look around for food nothing really seemed appealing. I had little expectations regarding food here and did not feel particularly hungry anyway and Lyn was still having a battle with her bowels and did not feel like anything anyway. We did however opt for a mixed fruit shake - which I thought would be filling enough and ok for Lyn's stomach to tolerate. Vitamins and minerals and all that stuff from fresh fruit has to be ok. It was good and only 100 rupes (82c). I could foresee this was going to be a staple on my food intake in this country.

We walked along the street browsing at the shops, returning to the hotel when just before it was time for the driving lesson. The driver that drove us from the airport had drawn the short straw to give the lesson and collected us from the hotel and took us in the tuk tuk down to the beach where there was an open area to practice. Unfortunately for Lyn this open area was currently being used as a cricket pitch and the game did not look like ending soon. Not to worry, lesson would just have to be taken on the road. I exited the tuk tuk when Lyn took the drivers seat - not out of fear, just to be out of the way. Off she drove and 20 minutes later returned having driving on the road and in traffic and was given the nod by the driver that she was competent to handle the tuk tuk. We had to get a Sri Lankan driving permit (arranged via Rocky) before arriving and hiring a vehicle. I think this is just a money spinner, but if you hire any kind of vehicle here and do not have this apparently there is a problem. Everyone has to get one and the hire companies will not give you a vehicle unless you pay the $40USD to the government - guess they have been told also.

So the driving all settled, the tuk tuk would be delivered to us at the hotel in the morning when we would fill in the paperwork etc.

Lyn's instructor left us on the beach as we said we wanted to go for a walk and would get back to the hotel ourselves. It was not far. The sun had just set - not much of a sunset as very cloudy on the horizon. The evening was warm as we strolled along the beach in front of the beach side flash hotels that looked much nicer and flasher at night with the palm trees all lite up. The beach was clean, again no rubbish here, but the water looked brown and uninviting.

Returning to the street to find a place to eat we saw a place called Honky Tonk 2 which looked ok so we stopped and had a beer (largie Rs286 = $2.34) and ate a meal of pork chop, chips and salad for Rs990 = $8.12 each. Menu prices here are quoted net and at the bottom is says plus 10%. Bit of a pain as you think you are paying one price and then are charged another, just list the total price, so much easier. The food was ok, but the bloody owner tried to short change us Rs1000 = $8.20 - cheeky bastard. How many tourists just pocket the change without checking? When we brought it to his attention he said 'oh yes sorry' and gave us the extra without even looking at the change he had given us. Good lesson learnt, we need to check change every time.

Back to the hotel, we needed more sleep and Lyn needed more toilet time. Tomorrow is going to be a new day and a new mode of transport for us.

Look out Sri Lankan roadsters, here we come, tuk tuking along.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 03:47 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged morocco sri lanka negombo doha Comments (0)

2013 NOV MOROCCO - Drinking and Driving around Morocco

we did a quick big mini tour to a few new places - Morocco is a big country with lots of open spaces and crazy drivers PLEASE REFER TO MY FACEBOOK PAGE FOR PHOTOS REFERRING TO THIS BLOG

Monday 4th November 13 (day 65)

We had a day in Azrou today, basically did nothing except drink coffee and catch up with friends.
A visit to the small Monday souk in the morning followed by more coffee drinking.

We managed to squeeze in a couple of hours in the hammam. It was a little crowded but still very enjoyable.

Later in the day we caught up with Zak for lunch.

Azrou feels so familiar to me, yet, still also so foreign. It is a little strange being back this time around.

Tuesday 5th November 13 (day 66)

Another day in Azrou, where we did much of the same again. The weather is beautiful during the day with bright blue sky, just at night the temp is dropping down to single digits.

We walked to the big souk today, where the seasonal fruit and vegetables were as usual in abundance. Laid out on tarps on the ground, with flapping tarps overhead to try and shade them from the hot sun.

We ate fish at one of the many food tents where the old guy remembered me and greeted me warmly. This was a place that I went to every week on souk day to eat fresh fried fish and drink his sweet hot tea.

This evening we visited with Zak's parents who are now living in their new house. I saw this place being built and must admit it actually looks bigger now that it is finished and with furniture inside than it did while being built. They both seemed happy to see us and of course Mother laid out a spread of food. Her brother, who lives in Rabat, was there also with wife and kids. I had met them before and had stayed with them in Rabat so it was nice to see them also. Even if there is a language barrier, it was still great to see these people again who had so warmly accepted me into their family when I lived here previously.

Wednesday 6th November 13 (day 67)

Big day driving today. We (or I should say Lyn, as she did all the driving) drove from Azrou to Cascades d'Ouzoud - which is about 330km. This may not sound so far as to take all day, but I assure you it does when travelling on Moroccan roads. The last hour of driving is up the mountains on narrow winding roads.

It was already dark by the time we arrived at the falls so they would have to wait until tomorrow to be seen. After we had a coffee we found a cheap place to stay 150 dh ($19.50) and relaxed for the evening. It was pretty cold here so we were not long out of bed after our long day driving.

Thursday 7th November 13 (day 68)

Another blue sky was presented to us this morning. We are very lucky with the weather as this time of year it is supposed to be raining, but the rain has not yet come. This is nice for us while traveling but the farmers are not happy. And it was evident as we drove through the countryside yesterday that the rain is needed. But its not going to happen today as we have a lovely sunny day to view the falls.

Breakfast of omelet, with tomatoes and onions, cooked in a tajine - great idea by the way.

I was surprised at the amount of water still falling over the falls due to the fact there has been no rain. The view was again spectacular. This is my third visit to the falls, Lyn's first. We walked down the hundreds of steps, stopping along the way to take photos of the water dropping at different levels. Down below we could see the rustic made rafts holding tourists (mainly Moroccans) being rowed out close to the cascade drop. Seemed the rowers were not savvy enough to get close enough to the falling water and spray so as not to get wet as they were drenched, yet the passengers they carried were still dry but had managed to get the perfect photo up close to the falls. Perhaps that was their intention and they did not mind getting wet so their patrons could snap the photo they wanted.

At the bottom we crossed over the river via a makeshift bridge and took a switch back dirt path back up to the top. Not sure if this dusty path through the trees was an easier way up than climbing the stairs as there seemed to be a lot of tour groups coming down this way and going back up via the steps. It wasn't too strenuous and we came upon monkeys when we reached the very top at the point where there water was falling over the cliff. Funny how we noted that there were absolutely no safety barriers anywhere along the top of the cliff where the sudden drop off at least a hundred meters would kill anyone. Not even a sign to say stay away from the edge. Only in Morocco! The monkeys here are the same breed as the monkeys that are in the forrest in Azrou. I think these are the only 2 places in the country where you will find monkeys.

It was midday by the time we were on the road again, but only a short drive today. Less than 200km - about 3 hours to Marrakech. When we hit the city traffic this is when Lyn's driving skills really came into being as city traffic drivers in Morocco are a breed unto themselves. You need to be aggressive as well give way to an assortment of vehicles including horse and carts. And then the pedestrians here who have a habit of not wanting to walk on the perfectly good footpaths preferring the road to meander down the street. A habit we also practiced when walking, just following the crowds. All this and then having absolutely no idea where to go made for very stressful navigation through the traffic. In the end Lyn did really well and we managed to find a parking station where we could leave the car for the night - at a price of 70dh ($9) -but this was the big city and we had little choice but to leave the car somewhere secure.

Best part is we managed to find a spot right next to the main square so we did not have far to walk. Marrakech was crawling with tourist, as per usual. It does not matter what time of year you come here there are always lots of tourists here. Lots of package holidays just come to Marrakech and silly package holiday tourists think they have visited Morocco by coming to this city. This is not the real Morocco, but I guess at least it is a taste for the uninitiated. It's always a madhouse and expensive but I still like it.

First up was lunch and we had a kebab in the Main Street, again noting the amount of tourists here. After our stomachs were appeased, we walked directly to our usual cafe on the square, the Cafe French, funny how we always go back to the same places. The price of coffee here is double anywhere else, but this is the big city and that's just the way it is. This cafe is great to watch passing traffic in the square, a favourite pastime that goes hand in hand with drinking coffee.

We stayed overnight in the riad we had stayed in last visit here - habit.

Dinner was a bowl or I think actually 2 of harira soup in the square.

Friday 8th November 13 (day 69)

We left driving through the Marrakech traffic this morning on our way south towards Taliouine. Or at least we thought we were until we realised we were heading in the wrong direction and had to return to Marrakech to go the right way. Only an hour lost!

Finally on the correct road we drove the scenic road to Tizi N Test Pass. This is the road Zak and I took in a chicken bus last year when we went to see the saffron in Taliouine. I thought it might be a treat for Lyn to actually drive this narrow windy mountain road and I was happy to see the enjoyable to me scenery. The road did not seem half as exciting as the experience we had in the chicken bus last year, but I guess the fact that we were in a chicken bus with a driver who knows the road and is not afraid to go over the speed limit at every bend.

Although we did have a little bit of excitement of our own when late afternoon we arrived at the actual pass, which is 2100 meters high and 100 km up the mountain range from anywhere, and realised we were out of fuel. Yes how clever are we?? Not very, at all!! Lucky for us the owner of the cafe at the pass had some fuel he was willing to sell to us and although it was an inflated price I didn't care. I was just grateful and anyway he could have asked for double the price we had little choice but to buy the 6 litres he had and hope that it would take us down the mountain range and to the nearest petrol station.

It was now getting pretty late in the afternoon and I knew is was going to be dark by the time we arrived in Taliouine so I suggested to Zak that he phone ahead and check that we could still get a room at the hotel where we stayed last year. Lucky he did call because he was advised that this hotel and every hotel in town and surrounds was full due to the Saffron Festival being on. Shit. We had no idea this festival was on this weekend as usually it is held at the end of October not November.

Again lucky for us and lucky for the cafe owner that he had accommodation available. Our only option was to take a room and stay here. Although this was a very expensive option it was all we could do as what was the point of driving on when we knew there was no room to be had at the end. Dinner and breakfast was included and we ended up paying 220 dh each ($29). Sounds like a good deal, but this is expensive by Moroccan standards. However we did have a nice dinner and slept well and a good breakfast and no stress about running our of petrol in the dark with nowhere to sleep for the night.

A couple of Moroccan guys from Casablanca also stopped at the cafe on their way to Taliouine and when we advised them that there were no rooms left they also decided to stay the night. Funny as the owner later told us that the fuel he sold us for the car was the fuel he had for his generator as there was no electricity connection up there. He said had he known he was going to have guests in his accommodation tonight he would never had sold it to us. Lyn later saw him syphoning fuel out of his own car to fuel the generator.

Saturday 9th November 13 (day 70)

Next morning after a great breakfast we started our downhill journey towards Taliouine. Even with the 6 litres purchased the fuel light in the car still remained on. Fingers, toes and everything else was crossed that we would make it to the nearest petrol station before the tank ran dry. This was a big ask although it was all downhill driving, there was lots of winding, breaking and accelerating and the closest station was approximately 80km away.

We thought luck was on our side when we reached the petrol station before the car ran our of fuel. Our relief was soon extinguished when we pulled in an were advised they had no power and were unable to pump any of the bowsers. Unbelievable!! When was the power due back on?? No idea they advised, maybe 2 or 6 hours or tomorrow. Ha!

Taking the challenge we decided to push on to the next station which was 20 km down the road. God only knows how we made it but we did and this time we were able to fill the tank.

Driving into Taliouine we could see it was busy and the streets were filled with local mountain folk in colourful costumes. We were not exactly sure what the Saffron Festival actually involved but were about to find out. There actually did not seem to be much on offer at all, there was a large tent with a few stalls that some of the bigger saffron growers had little stalls with samples that they were selling. And outside there were a few more stalls that were selling assorted handcrafts. One in particular caught my eye that was selling sandals and little bags that were made from recycled plastic bags. This was such a fantastic idea as these rubbish plastic bags are everywhere and the scourge of this country. This one guy was collecting the littered bags washing them, cutting them into strips and getting the women to crochet/knit bags and sandals with the plastic. Man if every town in Morocco took up this craft not only would it generate money for them but also clean up the country no end. Great idea, hope he manages to spread this around.

Anyway the crowds were not gathering at any of these stalls so I'm not sure exactly what they were doing in town or where they were going. There was a bit of a sideshow alley with some rides and games but again only a handful of people were at these also.

As we were down near our the hotel we stayed in last time I suggested to Zak he go ask if they have a room for us tonight by chance. Again a lucky strike, they did have a spare room tonight so we could stay and enjoy the festivities if there were any. And a bargain price of 150dh ($19.50) made up a little for our overpriced accommodation last night.

Next up was to find some lunch. Back up on the main street we found a cafe where Lyn & I took a seat while Zak went off to buy some meat from the butcher across the street, that he brought back to the cafe and they would cook for us. Yes an odd set up but the cafe did not supply the meat but for a small fee would cook anything you brought.

After lunch, we drove up to the small village just 15 minutes away to see if there was still any saffron blooms growing. This is the exact same time we came last year and managed to still see flowers so I was hopeful that they were still here again.

Unfortunately, there were no blooms left. But we did manage to find the same family we visited with last year and they were kind enough to offer us saffron tea and snacks and we were able to purchase some saffron from them. The price was slightly higher than last year due to a shortage in flowers this year, but I think this family was doing ok as there was a brand new building that was just finished being built in there complex.

While we were there we saw the women of the family sitting around on tiny wooden stools around a low table separating the saffron stamens from the flowers. We asked if we could have a go at doing this also and with big smiles we were accepted into the circle around the table and were show what to do. Handfuls of blooms were pushed in our direction. After about 10 minutes we must have been doing a good enough job as only one of the ladies was left at the table with us pulling the stamens. The other 3 had wandered off to do other chores, happy that this menial task
was being done for them by some stupid tourists who thought this was a cool thing to do. We sat for over an hour, not wanting to go and leave the poor old lady to have to finish off the basket of flowers on her own. Perhaps we had sucker written all over our foreheads but it was a pretty cool experience, and it's not like it was hard work. The hardest part was the sitting on the little stools with bent knees and crippled backs that did not want to straighten after sitting so long in one position. They all had a good laugh as Lyn and I moaned and groaned as we tried to get up.

Driving back to Taliouine it was dark by now and arriving back in town the crowds had really multiplied. I guess they had all come to listen to the live entertainment that was underway on the big stage that was set up just outside our hotel. Yes lucky for us we had the full sound effects very close up. Dinner was a bowl of very spicy harira soup at the hotel and afterwards Lyn retired to bed and Zak and I went to check out the entertainment. He was very happy to see a popular band that he knew was up on stage. They of course sang in arabic but the music was good and I agreed to go with him into the audience to have a look.

We made our way through the crowds to get closer to the stage. It was not possible to get very close as there was a vip section up front. The band seemed to be pretty popular with the crowd and I was very surprised to see young girls in the audience dancing and gyrating to the music. I know this is normal in most places for young girls to do at a music concert but this was Morocco and public behaviour is different here. They actually looked and acted like normal teenage girls would back home. So as I stood there watching them it suddenly hit me that if I am noticing the way they are moving surely the boys are too. Of course I had also noticed that everyone around us was looking and staring at us as well, but this is normal here as most of the time people are staring at us - Zak and I that is. Then the penny dropped, I looked around and there were no boys anywhere around us. The audience was segregated!! Oh my god!! I could not believe it, they were staring at us because Zak was in the female section, and the girls were moving like they were because the males were on the other side of the crowds and could not see them anyway.
Ok, so we left the audience then cause some of the guys on the other side had noticed Zak and although I could not understand or even hear what they were yelling out they did not look happy.

We returned to the back of the stage near our hotel where we could see and hear just as good as in the front and we could stand side by side. Zak claims he has never seen a segregated audience at a music festival before, but a french couple that we met who have been coming to this festival for 5 years said it is always like this. Interesting!

Sunday 10th November 13 (day 71)

Big day driving today, we left Taliouine after breakfast at the hotel and headed to Taroudant. This is argon tree country and both sides of the roads were rows and rows of argon trees as far as the eye could see. We had a quick hour stop in Taroudant, a town famous for baboosh slippers. Lyn bought a pair and I bought a silver ring.

We returned to the road and drove for the rest of the day to get to Essaouria. A lot of the road was along the coast after we had reached Agadir. It was a long day and dark by the time we parked the car. As I tried to exit the car I realised that the back suspension in the car had done absolutely no favours for my back and I felt half crippled and in pain.

Friends of ours are now living here in Essaouria and were kind enough to let us stay with them for a couple of days. A quick coffee stop and then we took our stuff to their place which was in the old medina part of the city. Best place to be, I really like Essaouria. It's on the beach but always too windy to spend time on the sand or in the water, but it has a nice vibe to the place and I always enjoy visiting.

Monday 11th November 13 (day 72)

Lazy day, chilling out. We found a bakery/cafe that served grilled cheese on baguette for breakfast and were disappointed we did not discover this place on earlier visits.

Lyn & I visited the hammam today. Hopeful that it would easy the pain I still have in my back but no such luck.

Blue sky and sunny today as we walked around the harbour and around the tiny streets of the old medina.

Tuesday 12th November 13 (day 73)

Another lazy day, chilling out.

Overcast cloudy and windy today, but it's always windy here.

Wednesday 13th November 13 (day 74)

It took the whole day for us to drive from Essaouira to Casablanca today. With a brief stopover in Safi where we purchased a lovely jug like I saw the orange juice lady had.

It was dark by the time we reached Casablanca and the traffic was chaotic. Zak knew his was around a little once we got into the city but we got lost on the outskirts trying to find our way in.
We were fortunate enough to have a room to stay in with Zak's cousin so did not have the hassle of having to find accommodation in this big city, otherwise we would have tried to find something out by the airport as we are flying out tomorrow.

Emptying the car of all our gear to repack and carry up 2 flights was a shitty but necessary task. We left some unwanted stuff behind and managed to pack up the rest in 4 bags to check in plus 2 carry on bags. Best part is that we are way below our weigh limit so no stress there.

Out for dinner to a place just down the street that served camel tajine. Yes we wanted to try it to see what it was like. Starting off with a bowl of harira soup, it was followed up with camel kefta (meatballs) tajine with tomato and eggs and a serve of camel meat strips. Lyn and I both agreed the camel meat tastes very similar to horse meat. Ah yes we have eaten horse meat, when we traveled in Montenegro. The camel was nice enough, a little strong tasting, but lean meat.

Thursday 14th November 13 (day 75)

Early to the airport, our flight was at 12 noon and we had to be there 2 hours before and time enough to drop off the hire car.

The check in line up was long, and as thought we were under weight with luggage so no problems. However our carry on bags were overweight as we were carrying our breakables in there, but they did not weigh these bags so all good.

Dollar car did not check the car over, don't think they really cared as the car has to be returned to Tanger and they will have to deal with it. We did add a couple of extra scratches to the already messy body but I hope they do not notice too much. Will not really find out until they charge my credit card with any damages I suppose.

Time for a quick coffee before saying goodbye to Zak and joining the very long queues to get through immigration. This took almost an hour which made us late for our flight and when we finally made it through we were told to run to the boarding gate. Obviously we were not the only ones they were waiting for otherwise perhaps they would not have waited at all.

I was not looking forward to the flights as my back was still in a lot of pain and sitting for any length of time just made getting up and moving even more painful.

But we are on our way away from Europe and Africa and on to the next leg of our adventure.

Sri Lanka and tuk tuk driving here we come!!

Posted by Cindy Bruin 23:49 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

2013 NOV MOROCCO - Coffee is a good thing

We drove from Larache to Meknes to Azrou.

Saturday 2nd November 13 (day 63)

Breakfast today was a yoghurt from the shop opposite the hotel and a coffee in the sun at a cafe on the square. Now I know I'm back in Morocco - the old eating habits returning!

Back at the hotel we collected our luggage and were thankful the car was still in the same spot where I parked it last night in a side street and by 10.30 we were on our way out of Larache, hopeful we were on the correct road that I had googled last night. Really need to get a map. Not that is would be a great deal of help as the Moroccan road signs are a bit non existent or not enough information or not in English! Regardless of all these things we managed to go in the correct general direction, maybe a little long way round but ended up in Meknes exactly where we wanted to be. Again arriving at lunch time, or a little later but we had not yet eaten so first up were on the hunt for food. Parking the car with the aid of a parking attendant - these are guys who direct you into empty car spaces and supposedly keep an eye on your car while you are away for a small fee payable before you drive off.

We walked up through the market and the smell of cooking meat caught my attention. Mobile stalls with small charcoal bbq's were cooking sausages and serving them in bread rolls. Absolutely no idea what kind of meat was used or what was added inside these sausages that gave them a distinctive bright red colour but they tasted ok and filled a hole in our stomachs that was looking for lunch. At 20 dh each it was a hell of a lot cheaper than eating on the main square in Meknes also.
Coffee in our usual cafe at the far corner of the square. Here the coffee is very good and at only 5 dh (62c) a bargain price for a coffee in a big city.

After our refreshment we went for a walk through the markets and picked up a few things that we had especially stopped here in Meknes for. Then before heading towards Azrou went back for another coffee and sat people watching for a little while. More tourists here, but still the square was pretty quiet.

On the way back to the car we bought some tiny mandarines at just 2 dh (12c) per kilo and the parking attendant seemed to be happy with the 4 dh that we handed him after being directed back onto the street.

Getting out of Meknes was the hardest part of the day. With no road signs in sight I tried from memory to retrace the path that the taxi used to take on the days I would visit here from Azrou. I must have missed a turnoff because soon we were lost somewhere in the outer suburbs of Meknes with no idea which way we needed to head. Necessity made us stop at a petrol station to refuel where we were able to get vague directions regarding the general direction we needed to head. Turns out the vague directions were pretty accurate and soon we were on our way to Azrou, just a little later than we wanted as it was dark with we finally arrived.

Luckily the hotel where we wanted to stay had plenty of rooms free and after being shown a choice of two rooms I was quoted 120 dh ($15.00) for a twin room with sat TV. When I pointed out the fact that neither rooms actually had a TV in them the price dropped to 100 dh ($12.50).

Time again to venture out and have a coffee!!! Along the way we met up with friends - most of who knew Lyn also as she had visited Azrou several times. Funniest thing was the waiters in just about all the cafes remembered me! What exactly does that tell you?

Harira soup again was the menu for dinner - again a bargain at 5dh (62c) a bowl - just about the cheapest meal you are ever going to find anywhere.

Would you believe we finished the night with quick coffee in the cafe next to our hotel before going to bed.

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Sunday 3rd November 13 (day63)

We lazed in bed till late. It was a little cold last night and we are going to ask for extra blankets for tonight.

Breakfast started with a yoghurt at my regular yoghurt shop for just 2dh (25c). The shop has had a change of name and a total make over but still selling the same great product. We then walked into the centre looking for something else to take and eat while we have a coffee. My favourite chicken sandwich man was not open (wonder if he is still operating?) so we found another place that sold potato patties in flat bread. This hit the spot and we enjoyed them washed down with a nice hot coffee!

This cafe is one of my old stomping grounds and is fondly referred to as 'the office' because I spent so much time here. It is also an excellent position for people watching - although it did seem a little quiet in Azrou today. Met up with some more friends and then we headed off to visit Abdou who has the best carpet shop in Azrou. Not only that he is a lovely guy and makes great tea. It was just a bonus for him that Lyn wanted to purchase a carpet.

We spent the next 3 hours with Abdou and yes Lyn got the carpet she wanted (and I bought 2 small ones). God knows how the hell we are going to carry them home but will worry about that when the time comes to pack up all our stuff to get on a plane in 2 weeks time.

It was about 4pm and hunger forced us to leave the carpet shop although we had been treated to some lovely home made biscuits compliments of Abdou's mother.

Returning to the harira soup place we visited last night we started with a bowl of soup and then shared a chicken/beef tajine. I say chicken/beef because I ordered chicken but we were given beef. Not a problem it tasted great anyway and this filling meal cost a grand total of 35 dh ($4.40). I had forgotten how cheap it is to eat here.

We spent the rest of the afternoon/evening in the cafe next to the hotel. We met up briefly with Zak who had been out of town with family and had to return to them so we will meet again tomorrow. Our dinner turned out to be a combination of left over cookies from Abdou, yummy coconut ones we purchased earlier from the hot guy in the cookie shop (do you remember him Sarah?) and the mandarines we bought in Meknes yesterday. We'll be eating them for a few days as I purchased 5dh (62c) worth which was 2 1/2 kilos.

The hotel owner was happy to give us extra blankets when we asked, so tonight should be a warmer sleep. We had planned to going to the hammam today, but time just flew by and it's hard to get anywhere or get anything done between visits to assorted cafes.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 11:24 Archived in Morocco Comments (0)

Across to Africa we go!

Leaving Europe behind we cross the Gibraltar Straits and float into Morocco!

Thursday 31st October 13 (day 61)

After a quick breakfast in our room, we walked down to the end of the Main Street to catch the bus to the train station. We were running early so had heaps of time and had to wait for about 1/2 hour for our train to arrive. It was a little late and we departed just before 11am.

Travelling on the train is much faster, smoother and much more expensive on the bus and we did this leg only because we did not want to sit on a bus for 8 hours and then get a ferry to Morocco all in the one day. Too much.

The train was on time and arrived at Algeciras station at 2pm, after a scenic journey through the hills, especially the bit after Ronda.

We walked the short distance to down to the port and after spending the last of our Euro change on a drink went to purchase a ferry ticket. We managed to get tickets on the 2pm slow ferry that was delayed until 3.15pm, but did not actually depart until 4pm. This big old beast looked like an ex-Stena line ferry that is now being neglected. Interior looked old, tired and dirty - as for the toilets, well I would not let my dog pee in them they were so bad. I walked in and out within 2 seconds - I could hold!

The crossing took just on 2 hours, but arriving in Morocco we had gained and hour so it was just after 5pm local time. The ferry docked at Tanger Med Port which is 55km from Tanger and the shuttle bus ran hourly and had left just before we docked - of course. A guy who negotiated a price for a grande taxi offered us 2 seats at just 5 dirham more than the bus so we accepted and soon were enjoying the exhilarating experience of a Moroccan taxi driver. How could I have forgotten these speed racer wanna be's??

It was dark by the time we arrived in Tanger and were dropped at the main bus station, exactly where we did not want to be. Last time I caught the Med ferry, the bus dropped us near the old town and this was near where I booked our hotel for the night. Not to worry, we found a petite taxi and soon were at the hotel door and checking in. 3rd floor no lifts - welcome to Morocco!

First thing, dropped our bags in our room and walked up to the large square cause it was time to eat. First cafe off the rank was offering harira soup so they won me. After a long day travelling we were hungry and ate a salad, chips and a chicken tajine before being satisfied. The familiar taste of the food came rushing back to me in a welcomed frenzy. Yes I hope to have all my favourites during the next 2 weeks we are in this country.

Lyn and I had been to Tanger before and went looking for our favourite cafe. We usually had a favourite in every town that we visited that we went to while there. Here we were hoping to catch up with a particular waiter but were disappointed to find he was either no longer working there or not on this evening. We chose another cafe to have our cafe-au-laits, deciding we will try again in the morning to see if he is there.

The coffee here is good, and after 2 glasses we were satisfied and returned to the hotel to catch up on a bit of internet and also managed to watch a American movie that had not been dubbed.
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Friday 1st November 13 (day 62)

First up was to find coffee and breakfast. The sun was shining on Tanger and the day was warmish,still need for jacket as the temp is only low 20's.

We headed back into the medina, which was just 5 minutes walk uphill, from our hotel. We went back to the cafe to see if our waiter was working. Low and behold he almost had an attack when he saw us, could not believe his eyes. No idea what he said as he has zero English but it was obvious he was happy to see us again. And he was even more chuffed when Lyn handed him photos of him serving us coffee from last time, back in 2009 - how time flys. But we must have made an impression as we were remembered out of the 100's of tourists he must have come across in the last 4 years.

2 coffees and a sweet Moroccan pancake for breakfast later, we were ready to head back to the hotel to check out and go collect our rental car. I had looked at the address on the internet last night and although the distance was walkable, we decided on taking a petite taxi because we did not fancy carrying our bags the distance. And besides taxi's are very cheap here, the driver quoting us 10 dirham, not wanting to turn on the meter which meant it was only a 5 dirham journey but we were happy to pay the $1.25 for the 5 minute ride.

Of course no one was at the Dollar Rent a Car office, this being partly our fault as we had booked the car for a 10am pickup and it was now 11.30am, but who is ever on time in Morocco?? There were a few guys standing around on the street and one of them very kindly offered to call the listed number for us and was told he was here at 10 to meet us but we did not show, however he would come now and be there in 30 minutes. Goodo, time for us to have a coffee at the nearest cafe.

He did arrive 30 minutes later (could speak no English), but we managed to fill out the necessary paperwork and pay by credit card. It was then time to be shown to the vehicle and note any dents, scratches or damage to the car. And what a beauty it was. A Dacia Logan (same car we had in Romania) and noting all the existing damages took more time than filling out the paperwork. Which meant it was a bit rough, and the interior was dirty, dusty and had a full ashtray! Lovely! And of course the fuel tank was empty - so I hope that is the way we can return it as well.

As the reservation was in my name I was the listed driver. First thing we needed to do was find a petrol station and then try and get out of Tanger. Both of which we had no idea were in what direction, so we just got onto a main road and drove. The idea was to head south along the coast as close as possible but this was easier said than done as we had no idea which road to take. Just heading south worked for us, which really was the only possible direction as north would have us driving in the Straits of Gibraltar!!

Soon we came across a petrol station so were relieved that at least we had enough fuel to get lost with. A quick stop in a supermarket to see if we could find a map but not luck as they only stocked maps of France - not much use to us now. So we just decided to wing it and head in the general direction until we came across a place we wanted to go to.

Luck would have it that somewhere down the road we found a sign pointing to Larache which was exactly the place where we wanted to spend the night. Yippee,we had a win.

The landscape up here looked very dry, although most of the countryside seemed to be ploughed up fields so I guess during the season it's big time agricultural area there. Now the fields lie empty and turned over ready to rest over the winter.

The roads themselves were in pretty good condition, considering these were like back roads, we avoided the toll highway which would have saved time and probably miles and the tolls would be minimal but who's in a hurry?? Not us!

We drove into Larache just on lunch time. Perfect timing for a seafood lunch we discovered as we parked the car and walked down to the port. We found a restaurant where the food looked pretty good going by what we saw customers eating so went inside, made our choice and took a seat outside while our selection of seafood was being cooked. We ordered a side of salad to go with what we had selected, not knowing that some side dishes came automatically with the meal.
So we feasted on tender calamari rings, miniature sole fish and baby cuttlefish, with sides of fresh salad, white beans and saffron rice. It was all very yummy - at a total cost of 150 dirham ($18.75) or at least that was the amount of the bill they gave us. We had been quoted 100 dirham for the seafood and 10 dh each for the salad and 10dh for large bottle of water, but when I went up to pay was advised 150. I guessed the extra 20 was for the extra sides that we had been given. We were more than happy with that price so started walking away when one of the waiters called us back and the boss man apologised as he had overcharged us 20 dh which he was quick to refund to us. Unbelievable!! 20 dh is like just $2.50 but they were more than happy to give it back as we were overcharged. When things like this happen it really puts faith back into the country that they are not all out to rip off tourists.

While at the port we went for a walk down along the waterside where all the little fishing boats were moored lined up in rows. Some of the boats were still being unloaded with the days catch and there were little fish stalls just about everywhere selling the fresh produce of the day.

There were also larger fishing vessels where men were sitting on the docks meaning the large fishing nets. Happy to give me a big smile as I took photos. All very friendly saying hello to us, it looked like this was not a place where lots of foreign tourists visit.

We decided to drive into the main part of town and look for a hotel. This worked out harder than first thought as we did a lap of the complete town only to see one hotel on a very busy main road and when we stopped to enquire about a room, Lyn was given a price of 380 dh ($48). This seemed a very expensive price for a very average hotel so we decided to continue looking. Good thing we did as we stumbled into the centre square where there were more hotels and after pricing a few found a great one for only 133 dh ($17) which offered a better room than the others.

After checking in we walked down to the boulevard and were just in time for the sunset which we watched with about 100 other sunset watchers - all Moroccans - as I said not many tourists here.
Next up was to find a coffee shop for a hot beverage and an hour or so of people watching - or more like being watched by people. Not many tourists here so we were the entertainment for some of the locals.

After such a big lunch we were looking for something small to have for dinner and found the perfect solution in a small hole in the wall cafe selling harira soup. Perfect! This is such a bargain at 5 dh (62c) a bowl.

It was a bit chilly out so we returned to the hotel to listening to the chattering sounds coming from the street as we fell asleep.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 10:46 Archived in Morocco Tagged tánger larache Comments (1)

2 nights in CORDOBA!

wow, what a hidden gem, lovely place to stop and say goodbye to Europe!

Tuesday 29th October 13 (day 59)

Luggage on our backs we were in the metro at 10am heading to the bus station for our 11am coach departure. Today we are traveling from Madrid to Cordoba 360km to the south. The highways here in Spain are pretty good and it was all smooth sailing. Again landscape was not much and to tell you the truth I napped for the first couple of hours anyway. Again millions of olive trees for as far as the eyes could see, and also a fair amount of solar farms. Paddocks just full of great big solar panels all lined in rows. I think Australia should take advantage of the sunshine more like they do here in Europe. We have seen solar panels, both domestic and commercial, in greater use a lot more over here in the various countries than anywhere in Australia. Surely we have the same if not more sunshine?

Billboard count today, 2 toros, 2 bottles and 1 burro.

The bus stopped just half an hour out of Cordoba for our lunch break and we arrived on time just before 4pm. I had pre-booked a hotel who had advised we could get a local bus to near where they were situated. Before leaving the bus/train station I went and purchased the ticket for the next leg of our journey while Lyn sat with our luggage. We are only here for 2 nights and would save a trip back to the station to buy tickets later.

We found the correct local bus that took us to the historic part of town and supposedly close to where our hotel was. Again Lyn stayed with the luggage as I walked the narrow winding streets looking for our hotel. I returned, having no luck in finding it. A Good Samaritan shared her map and gps on her phone and we then managed to locate the hotel. Very close to where I had searched but hidden in a small square. It's a nice place, in what seems like a good location and a bargain price of 25 euros per night.

After checking in we decided to go for a little walk to have a little look around and to find the tourist office so I could get a map. No maps at the hotel.

Cordoba looks great, but as I was wandering around now and before when I was searching for the hotel I could not help but compare it to Morocco. Very similar architecture and with the same use of tiles on the walls like in Morocco. The biggest distinction being here everywhere is so clean and the obvious absence of men dressed in jellabas peering at us.

It was late in the afternoon and after our little walk we decided to leave the biggest attraction here until tomorrow, otherwise we will have nothing to do.

Returning to the hotel to put on some warmer clothes, although the days are still warm - mid 20's - once the sun goes down so does the temp. Out again for dinner at a small bar/restaurant we saw on the road near our hotel. Tried a local dish called 'flamenquin' = rolled meat, cheese, serrano ham and deep fried. Very nice, washed down with tinto de verano!

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Wednesday 30th October 13 (day 60)

What a beautiful day Spain has put on for us on our last day. Beautiful blue sky with a mild temperature.

Today we walked all around Cordoba - very beautiful place. Not much to tell really just look at my photos on FB and they tell the story of our day.

I went inside the Mezquita - bit of a rip off - 8 euros entry. Don't get me wrong very impressive the size of the place and everything but after being in Morocco and Turkey a mosque is a mosque - only the size varies. And I guess the fact that this one has a whopping big Cathedral built in the centre of the mosque makes it a little different. Just goes to show there was always and will always be money in religion.

Anyway besides the mosque, Cordoba is a very pleasant place to wander around the narrow alleyways of the historic town. As I said yesterday, very similar to Morocco but as you will see perhaps in a few days time from my pictures of Morocco here is a bit cleaner.

We bought some last minute souvenirs that we just couldn't live without ie Spanish flamingo style aprons and treated ourselves out to dinner for the last night. We were planning on having paella and found a great looking place during the day today. But alas after backtracking our steps of earlier in the day we discovered the paella place was not open for dinner. Never mind we just went to the same cafe as last night and had a nice dinner there instead to say farewell to Europe.

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 13:26 Archived in Spain Tagged cordoba Comments (2)

Quick stop in Zaragoza! then on to MADRID.

Half way between Barcelona and Madrid we stopped overnite to break up the bus journey, then a few relaxing days is Madrid.

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Friday 25th October 13 (day 55)

Not a good start to the day, the elastic on my Keen sandal wore thru! bugger!

I was up on the street looking for bread at about 9am. Not much use as the supermarket did not open until 10 and the bakery a few doors down was also not yet open. So breakfast was going to have to wait until we arrived at the bus station. Due to this we decided to leave a little early so we would have time to find something to eat. When handing in the room key the receptionist handed us a breakfast voucher for breakfast at the hotel where we had spent the 2 previous nights. We were not told that breakfast was included in our room rate at the pension, but it made the high price a little more bearable. Lucky too that we had decided to leave for the bus station early so we still had enough time to have breakfast, catch the metro just 2 stops and still be early for the bus departure.

Barcelona was not looking like it was going to be enjoying a lovely blue skied day today like yesterday, so it was not so bad leaving. We were glad we had such a nice day yesterday.

Our bus journey today is just under 320km away to Zaragoza. This place was chosen by me only for the fact that it was approximately halfway between Barcelona to Madrid. I don't think there is anything really significant to stop at Zaragoza for except to break up the trip. Our bus departed Barcelona at 11.30 and with a 20 minute stop at a place called Mont Blanc we arrived at our destination just before 4pm. The countryside was not very exciting along the way and to tell you the truth most of it looked like desert.

Highlight for me was spotting not just one but two Osbourne Bulls (google if you don't know what that is).

There was a tourist office at the bus / train station who advised we could get a bus just outside to very close to the pension I had booked online last night. The station here was absolutely massive and seemed a little overkill for the size and destination of this town. I guessed that maybe it was a leftover from when Zaragoza hosted the world expo in 2008.

We waited about 15 minutes for a bus and only had to walk about 3 minutes to our pension, which was excellent and one of the cheapest places we have stayed all trip. 27 euros for the night.

The historical centre was only a 20 minute walk away and we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and exploring the town. Found a great bull ring and a very hard to miss massive basilica! I presume this town only has this impressive building because it is on the pilgrimage trail.

We walked along the river and came across a group of men in suites having a photo shoot using the stone bridge and the basilica as a backdrop. Of course Lyn and I in our daggy backpacker clothing jumped in next to them and were advised in broken English that they were shooting photos for financial magazine, and the photographer told us the guy he was taking photos of was 'man off the year!' They were good sports and had a bit of a laugh with us and even helped us later with taking a photo of us with my camera.

It was still quite warm here in the afternoon and evening, with the temp reading 22 degrees when we were walking home and that was after dark.

We have an early morning call tomorrow as we are booked on a bus at 8.50am to continue our journey to Madrid.

Saturday 26th October 13 (day 56)

It was still dark at 6.50am when the alarm went off. It was still dark at 7.30am when we waited at the bus stop for a bus to the bus station. It was still dark at 8.00am when we arrived at the bus station. It was still dark at 8.15am when we were waiting for our coach to arrive. It was only just light at 8.50am when the coach pulled out of the bus station commencing our journey to Madrid.

Again the scenery along the way was not much to recall. Of course we are in olive growing country so we did see millions of olive trees growing in groves across the hillsides for as far as the eye could see.

We arrived in Madrid just 10 minutes later than scheduled at 1.10pm. My friend Dean, who lives here in Madrid, was there to greet us and escort us via metro back to his and Alec's apartment where we would be staying for the next 3 nights. Ironic thing is, our visit has coincided with them moving to another apartment, so we are a bit in the way but they were nice enough to let us stay during the move. I think Dean must have sensed our desperation for the need of a washing machine and took pity on us. I promised we would not be in the way or need any entertaining, just point us in the direction of the washing machine and a bed for a few nights.

After dropping off our bags, we went out and had lunch which consisted of an assortment of tapas: including my personal favourite: ham. If any of you reading this have been to Spain and have eaten the cured ham you will know where I am coming from! We also had cheese, croquets, potato - all to die for and washed down with another Spain favourite of mine: tinto de verano (which my lovely niece describes as poor mans sangria - but she has never tried it so how would she know)! But I guess it's not far from the truth as it's red wine mixed 50-50 with lemon fanta! Yes I can feel you red wine drinkers cringing at the very thought of mixing red wine with soft drink, but it's very refreshing and a popular beverage here in Spain (as well as in Springwood, Queensland after I introduced Miss A to this concoction :-) cheers Miss A we had a couple for you).

After lunch Lyn and I went for a wander around down town Madrid. Place was crawling with tourists and locals alike. Being a Saturday and a sunny day to boot, every man and his family were out and about. Exhausted after our 2 hour walk we returned to the apartment for a little siesta before going out for dinner. Hey when in Rome, or more like when in Spain - have a siesta.

We left for dinner at about 9pm - early by Spanish standards - and met up with some of the boys friends. It was midnight by the time we had finished dinner and despite our afternoon nap the day was starting to take its toll and I for one was glad to see my bed.

Sunday 27th October 13 (day 57)

Leaving the boys to continue their packing and moving, Lyn and I took ourselves off on the metro to the El Rastro Sunday Market. Famous in Madrid this market has been going for 100's of years and you can buy just about anything from old rubbish to antiques to tourist rubbish to new stuff, clothes, shoes, bags, everything.

First up we stopped at a cafe to have coffee and a toasted sandwich as we needed the energy if we were going to see the majority of this market.

The sun was out and so were the crowds. This place is known for pick pockets and I was chosen by a particularly brazen girl as a would be victim. As I stood talking to Lyn about something we were looking at in a stall this girl with a poncho on stood close to me and attempted to unzip my bag. Lucky for me the zip tab had broken off my bag and it was not so simple to open, but even so she was not being very subtle about it anyway. Almost tugging at the zip I looked down at her hand and then looked her in the eye and she did not even bat an eyelid. Just looked straight through me as innocent as the day she was born. I should have yelled and made a fuss, but I was just so gobsmacked at the way she just looked directly at me and then casually walked away when she realised that I realised what she was doing. Extra careful after that, keeping a hand on my bag at all times.

We bought a couple of little things but mostly just spent the time wandering through the market having a look. Before we knew it, it was lunch time and in one of the streets of the market was a food outlet that people were lining up to get into so we thought this must be good. We also joined the queue and were rewarded with yummy open XXXX bread topped with our choice of: baby eels, octopus and ham with cheese. After eating them we understood why the locals were lining up for them.

We had a lazy rest of the day, with everything getting it's turn in the washing machine.

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Monday 28th October 13 (day 58)

Our main objective for today was to pack up some things we are carrying that we want to send home, take them to the post office and mail them away. We still have some camping stuff from the bike part of our trip that we want to keep but do not want to carry with us any longer.

The man at the post office was very helpful, sold us a box (which we didn't even manage to fill but the next one down was too small) and helped with filling in the paperwork. Getting rid of a bit of weight is a relief and hopefully will make travelling a little lighter. (Cobi this box should reach you in 4-5 weeks).

This done, we actually did nothing else for the rest of the day. I tell a lie, I did use this day to organize visa's etc for a future leg of our trip. Thanks again to Dean for leaving the wifi on at the old apartment for us to use. Not exactly sure what Lyn did with her day - between washing machine loading and unloading that is.

Later in the night we took the metro with Dean and Alec to see their new place and went to a local bar/restaurant to have dinner and say farewell. It's a shame we did not get to spend more time with the boys but we are really grateful for them letting us stay over in the middle of their move. These few days of catching up on washing and other travel housekeeping has been great. And just the fact of having somewhere to stay without having to do or go anywhere is a great way to wind down a little after constantly moving. Thanks Guys, sure we will be back in Madrid again - and we must plan that trip to Poland!

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Posted by Cindy Bruin 13:13 Archived in Spain Tagged madrid zaragoza Comments (0)

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