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Sri Lanka

THE DRIVE NORTH TO END OUR TRIP - FAREWELL HENRY

last two days was a mighty drive north to return Henry, with a brave drive through Colombo the busy capital

Friday 29th November (day 90)

We checked out of our hotel, thanking them for our 4 night stay most enjoyable. With Henry loaded up we drove down to our usual breakfast restaurant.

I guess Lyn is still a little spooked from our accident the other day and had a bit of a mishap when trying to park Henry for breakfast. It was only a small pole but enough to damage the wheel guard. Lucky it's the same side as we were hit on she said to me, but sorry no it wasn't, so now Henry is scratched and dented on both sides.

The day looked a little overcast and the sea looked rougher than yesterday, so it was a good time to be moving on. Just out of town we stopped for fuel and one of the guys from the restaurant where we have been spending most of our time was there too. He asked if we were leaving and when I said yes he thanked us for spending time at his place. Aw, nice guy.

We drove into Galle at around midday and had a short half hour stop to have a quick walk around a bit of the old Portuguese/Dutch fort, which is the main attraction here. Funnily enough we ran into a couple who had also spent the last few days at the same restaurant as us in Mirissa.

We drove along the coast road that leads up to Colombo. As I said earlier tuk tuks are not allowed on the toll motor way so our journey is a lot longer than it should be. It was obvious by the amount of buses along this road that they also do not use the motorway, which was the same for trucks as they were both clogging up and hogging the tiny road we were trying to enjoy. Perhaps the trucks don't want to pay the tolls so they use this road. Thing is these buses and trucks are a lot larger than little tuk tuk's like our vehicle and the drivers of the former know this so they act like they own the road. Even coming in the opposite direction when passing they expect us to move off the road even though they are on our side. The rule must be the bigger you are the more road you can take. We did not want to mess with these guys so dutifully moved over when they were coming head on or when they tooted their horns behind us. It wasn't just our tuk tuk they demanded this extra road space from it was all and sundry that were smaller than them.

The roadside stalls here are mainly fish, fresh fish and smelly dried fish. And also a lot of coconut stalls have replaced the fruit and vegetables stalls we saw earlier in our travels. Makes sense considering we are on the coast. Still the constant presence of stray dogs everywhere.

Our only other stop was for a drink at Hikkaduwa beach. This was also a touristy spot, mainly for the surfing. The cafe that we stopped at had photos on the wall showing pictures of their building being wiped out in the 2004 tsunami. Totally flattening!!

We continued up the coast through biggish towns where the traffic was getting us ready for the encounter of chaos in the capital, but that will be tomorrow.

I chose a stop at a beach called Mt Lavinia, which is just 10km outside of Colombo. A friend had mentioned it a few days ago to me on facebook that they had visited many years ago. It was as good a place as any and we needed to stop before the capital and it was now close to 5pm.

The hotel run around was fun, lots of very very flash out of our price range hotels here and lots of dumps as well. Managed to find a dump that was a cut above the rest and an alright price.
We walked along the beach which was full of Sri Lankans, more than on any of the other beaches we have visited in the last week. One end is the very fancy Mt Lavinia Hotel (is this where you stayed Marcia?) and at the other end of the beach in the far distance we could see the sky scrapers that must be the Colombo skyline.

The restaurants on the beach did not really grab us and we ended up having dinner at our hotel. Almost every accommodation in Sri Lanka has a restaurant attached or will serve guests food. Pretty handy if you don't want to go out and usually the prices and choices are much of a muchness.

So tomorrow we have the 10km drive into Colombo and have to head out the north of the city. I am hoping there is a sort of ring road that avoids the main centre of the city as the traffic this far out is already full on.

We have to give Henry back tomorrow, so will have one more night in Negombo before flying out on Sunday.

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Saturday 30th November 13 (day 91)

A bit of excitement first up this morning as we navigated our way through the middle of Saturday morning traffic in down town Colombo! Being a Saturday I'm not sure if the traffic was more or less than on a weekday or if it makes any difference at all.

We did pretty well with Lyn weaving and avoiding collisions in the traffic with me in the back yelling out directions as I followed a map from our 10 year old lonely bastard. Lucky we had something as there were not many road signs to guide us on the correct path. Not even signs to direct traffic to the airport which I thought there would be and was going to make it an easy transaction.

Love being in a tuk tuk except in traffic, because in heavy traffic we are just the right height to have a direct injection of exhaust fumes from the buses and trucks - of which there were many. By the time we have transversed the city which only took about 35 minutes my throat felt like I had just sucked back 3 packets of camel extra strong cigarettes. But we made it ok and were soon on our way north out of the city and towards Negombo, 40 km away.

The road was still pretty busy and this meagre 40 km took us about 1 1/2 hours to negotiate. When we reached Negombo it was another half hour for us to find the beach, but soon enough we were driving down a recognised street and down the lane way to the first guesthouse where we had stayed that was housing our luggage we left behind 2 weeks ago.

We were greeting with a big smile by one of the attendants, and first up we ordered a pot of tea in celebration of our success in making it back. Maybe not all in one piece - with Henry having a few extra dings and scratches but otherwise not too worse for ware.

We had not yet eaten so after the tea we decided to head up the road to drop off Henry and find some food. I had messaged Rocky and he was going to meet us at the office. While waiting for him a couple of his employees waited with us chatting about our trip and the accident that we had.

Rocky arrived and greeted us with a handshake. He looked at poor Henry crumpled right side and was not too concerned as he said insurance would fix. He asked questions about the accident but still was not very upset and happily gave us back the $100 aud we had left as deposit.

Then it was time to discuss the 2nd little bingle that was on Henry's left side. This was only a small ding (the one Lyn did against a pole at breakfast 2 days ago), but it was still a ding. Rocky said he wanted to be fair but this one was additional to the first one and said we really should pay something towards the repair of this. Fair enough, really this was totally our fault although I think he would be able to get it fixed on the same claim as the bigger ding. But that was beside the point, it was our fault and we should really pay something. Rocky asked what we think we should pay and I said, honestly I have no idea you tell me an amount you think is fair. He answered with a gingerly Rs3000 = $25 and we immediately agreed. This was nothing - what repair can you get for 25 bucks?? Maybe here a lot or maybe it was just a gesture, but we were both happy with the amount and anyway we are getting a free transfer to the airport in the morning which is the equivalent of $25 so we have really lost nothing.

We thanked and bit farewell to Rocky, one of his staff would be the lucky bugger to have to collect us at 4am for our 7am flight.

As we are now tukless, we had little choice but to walk up the street to find some food. We didn't go far and were soon seated at restaurant that advertised hamburgers. Thankfully they did not take too long to prepare and we were soon filling very large holes in our stomachs.

After we had finished lunch we headed back to the guesthouse, not wanting to do anything else. The internet there was good and I needed to catch up on some blogs and photo loading. Just as we sat down and ordered a pot of tea the rain started to fall, so good timing there for us. It rained for a couple of hours, clearing up again just in time for us to head out at about 7pm for some dinner. Earlier on our return walk from lunch we had spied a restaurant that was just bringing out food to a table and it looked very nice, so we came back to the same place for dinner. I ordered grilled jumbo prawns and Lyn ordered grilled calamari - and then we shared. The food was wonderful and another one of the rare meal highlights we have had in this country. Unusual for us we finished the meal off with a dessert of banana pancake and ice cream. On leaving I advised the waiter it is a shame I am flying out tomorrow otherwise I would be back again tomorrow to eat. Great place called Petite Restaurant - hope they are on trip advisor as the food was the best.

A little walk after dinner to the ATM as we had paid the hotel and had dinner but fell short of the Rs3000 we need to pay Rocky's driver tomorrow.. Not wanting to have any local currency left over we tried to draw out just 1000 rupees, but it would not give it, then we tried 2000 rupees but still would not give it. I guess on an international card it will not give small amounts, or the machines were down - the ATM did not really give reason why it would not supply the funds.

We will try again in the morning or otherwise we have $20 Australian and the little bit of rupees we have left will cover the amount we owe.

It was 10pm by the time we walked back to the gate of our guest house which was now locked. We are the only guests here tonight and the attendant soon came running over to unlock the gate in what we think was his pj sarong! He confirmed we want a 4am wake up call and bid us goodnight.

Shit 4am wake up call, I'd better finish off and get a few hours sleep.

Tomorrow in the early hours we will say farewell to Sri Lanka and fly back to Bangkok for the next stage of our travels.

Posted by Cindy Bruin 20:00 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

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)

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