A Travellerspoint blog

Third Base

sunny 37 °C

I remained traumatised by our journey up the mountain to Ella for some time after arriving and Bill said it wasn't an experience that he would repeat in a hurry. The hotel certainly didn't help matters. The hotel was right up above the village, up very steep roads and I felt very marooned, which may have been OK if we were in a nice hotel.

The room we were in had sheets that didn't fit the mattress and the mattress didn't have a protector on it, the bathroom was very dirty and every hour or two in the night we were woken by a loud clanging noise (Bill originally thought it was monkeys jumping on the roof). In the morning we decided that Bill would go into the village by tuktuk and I would remain in my turret (we had looked up other hotels in the area and they all seemed similar). I asked the hotel owner if the room could be cleaned and he said there was no way we were going to get clean sheets and towels and I pointed out the bracket outside our window that had been banging all night (he pulled half of it down so it was obscuring the view). It wasn't too long until Bill returned and he wasn't too happy, he said that he didn't like Ella, the people were not very nice and there was no way he was going back in the village as the journey in the tuktuk had been quite frightening. So we sat there side by side looking at the view pretending to be having a nice time, counting down the days until our driver came to take us to our next destination.

It was at this stage our driver walked up the stairs to see what time train we wanted to catch later in the week, we nearly threw our arms around him. His English is not too good but we pounced on him and asked him to take us to a new hotel. He really was unsure what we were asking but we did get him to sort of understand. I went online and looked at a hotel he suggested right on the Main Street in Ella, which was thirty seven pounds for three nights. We were really unsure if we should book it, but as Bill kept saying 'anything is better than here'. We told the hotel owner we were leaving and he said he hoped it wasn't anything they had done and we set off back down the mountain. I am glad that the trauma of the previous day had made me forget how frightening it was (this was for about a ten minute journey) it was a single track, where you could have fallen down either side and very very steep, but we made it.

Getting to our new hotel, we were pleasantly surprised and were given a lovely welcome, by everyone, including the owner. It is on the Main Street (there is only one street, very similar to a town in a spaghetti western). Our room is enormous, we had two four poster beds, a large balcony facing the mountains, it is clean, the wifi works and the bed linen fits. The staff kept asking me why we had left 'The View' and I would tell them in graphic detail. We went out to eat (yes, for a curry) and sat outside watching the world go by and we both saw Ella and the people in new eyes and laughed at how our reactions to Ella in the previous hotel had been clouded. The waiter came up to us and asked how we were liking staying in 'The View' and we told him we had escaped as it was so horrible and how did he know we had been staying there? He told us that 'The View' was their sister hotel, owned by the same owner and he had been working there when we first arrived. It was then that I recalled all the bemused looks on everyone's face as I told them in graphic details about the hotel we had escaped from!

Yesterday Bill decided he was going to climb up Little Adam's Peak (Punchi Sri Pada). Little Adam's Peak is named after the sacred Adam's Peak mountain as there are similarities between the two, Bill hopes to climb Adam's Peak on Monday morning. I had no desire to climb it and ambled down to the laundry, where the lady decided to look at every piece of laundry and discuss it with me, although I was very pleased to see her put it in a washing machine and then I ambled onto the post office. The rest of the time I spent booking future hotels. It was strange spending time without Bill as we have spent so much time together in the last five months. Our driver is also staying in Ella and seems to be very bored walking around, especially as we have refused every suggestion by him to travel around the area. Looking at hotels, many offer free accommodation for your drivers if you stay with them. Most tourists here have drivers as it is almost impossible to travel around the middle of Sri Lanka without a car.

Bill really enjoyed the climb, which he said was extremely easy ("even you could have climbed it Claire") and especially loved watching the tea pluckers working. One of the pluckers told Bill to pick a leaf and taste it, he said it tasted like a privet leaf (neither of us like tea). Near the top he talked to a couple from England and they took it in turns to take pictures of each other. We have not come across many other travellers in Sri Lanka, but those we have, have tended to be English, last night in a restaurant we were talking to a couple from Reading.

Ella is in the heart of tea plucking country. Many of the women (most are women) plucking the tea are Indian origin Tamils and were brought over by the British in the nineteenth century to work on tea, coffee and rubber plantations. Interestingly up until 1971 more than eighty percent of tea estates were owned and managed by British companies. The pluckers were not recognised as citizens until 2003, but many still have problems with documentation, which affects their right to vote, send their children to school and open bank accounts and are said to be invisible to many Sri Lankans even today. The pluckers work for less than two pounds each day and to earn the two pounds they have to pluck 180kg of tea. The pluckers take the top two leafs and the bud from the tea bush and the speed they are working is quite remarkable.

Tomorrow we are heading for Nuwara Ellya (which is said to be the highest area in Sri Lanka...oh dear!). We leave Ella by train in the morning and the journey is said to be one of the top ten beautiful train journeys in the world. When we get off the train our driver will take us to the hotel. We are staying in a tea factory which has been turned into an elite hotel and it is somewhere I have really wanted to stay and I am really looking forward to it.

Tomorrow is also three quarters of the way through our travels. We have both said we thought we would be sad to be coming near to the end of our travels, but we are excited about visiting India and we are both looking forward to returning home and seeing where life takes us on our return.

Posted by mulliganward 00:23 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

What goes up......

sunny 28 °C

We left the hotel in Mirissa around eight o'clock this morning. Our driver spent the five minutes before departure meditating and 'stroking' the steering wheel. In the first thirty five minutes of the journey the driver had stopped the car twice outside temple's to show his respects to the Buddha and been to toilet once. I'm not sure what it is about Sri Lankans but they cannot drive on their side of the road. Bill showed me where the seat belt was in the car, I said that it was kind of him to find it for me, but he said it wasn't kind but a necessity! Saying that the driver wasn't too bad and did drive slowly for me. Everytime we past a Buddha he would take his hands off the wheel and raise them to the Buddha.

It took us about two and a half hours to get to Uda Walawe National Park. Once we left the busy coast road the journey was much quieter and was like the Sri Lanka I imagined. We went past paddy fields, banana plantations and sleepy villages.

Uda Walawe National Park is 119 square miles and was created in 1972 to provide a sanctuary for the wild animals who were displaced by the construction of a reservoir. We stopped just outside the park and got into the jeep that had been arranged. Oh how we loved the off road jeep, we sat on the high seats on the back and absolutely loved it, we went in and out of ditches and up and down steep hills and laughed all the way.

We picked up a guide (who sat in the back with us), who showed us the ID of a man about thirty years younger than him. We cannot tell you how much we enjoyed the safari. We saw Water Buffalo, a Jackal, Chameleon, Snakes, Spiders, Indian Roller birds, Painted Storks, Grey Herons, Green Beeeater birds, a Hornbill, Fish eagle, Weaver birds, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Deer and Elephants. The driver was so good and drove around and around trying to find elephants (it was very hot and they tend to disappear in the heat), a couple we met afterwards had not seen any elephants. We did see three different herds hidden in the trees, but eventually saw a herd of twenty elephants, including a week old baby elephant. We sat and watched them for some time and felt very privileged to sit and watch wild elephants who had never been treated cruelly by man.

After the safari (just as we think our adventures couldn't get better, we experience something that tops all our previous experiences), we set off for Ella, where we planned to stay for four nights. Ella is a sleepy little village high up in the mountains with out of this world views. On the way to the hotel we stopped at Ravana Waterfall, where we watched monks wash. Several men were at the base of the waterfall giving us free lucky stones 'as they loved the British', but when we said we wouldn't give them any coins for their children they held their hands out for their free lucky stones to be returned.

Reaching Ella we went up and up the mountain for about an hour. For a while I quite enjoyed it but then became quite frightened, especially as all the signs showed cars falling off the cliffs. Our hotel is called The View (yes the clue is in the name) and is not only up a steep mountain but a very steep drive (I fell on it) and then some very steep steps, by the time I had got to reception I was a nervous wreck. Getting to our room I noticed it did not have a tv (although advertised with one); Bill stormed off to reception to complain and I was left in the room praying he wasn't going to come back saying we were leaving (as I did not have the emotional capacity to go back down that drive), luckily he just arranged for us to move rooms. We are the only guests in this hotel again, we are beginning to think we are the only tourists in Sri Lanka.

Eating our meal tonight (yes, curry) I came to the glorious realisation that we do not have to go back down the mountain by car as we are going by train. The weather in Ella is said to be like an English summer's day; warm in the daytime and cooler in the evening.

The wifi here is not too good. I was unable to get onto the blog site with the I pad so this will be the only blog this week (done on my phone do not only did we have to fight with the awful autocorrect on this site but also a tiny keyboard). Just imagine me marooned on the top of this mountain and Bill taking pictures.

Posted by mulliganward 09:41 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

Balcony watching

sunny 34 °C

Sri Lankan life is very laid back and we have really got into the swing of things in the last few days.

We slowly get up for breakfast on a morning, which continue to be the best breakfasts of our travels. There have been a couple of times when we thought we could taste fish in the food, but the owner swears there is no fish, so we eat up dubiously. Looking up the recipes online there always seems to be fish paste in the foods we were unsure of, but we eat them in good faith. After breakfast we sit on the balcony at the front and watch the world go by and read. Well, we watch the Sri Lankan's watch the world go by, as everyone stands at their gates and talks to each other.

By about lunch time we have mustered up the energy to head for a swim in the sea. The sea here is extremely rough and has an undercurrent that scares me. You do not have to get out very far, before you really struggle with the tide (I know it must be bad as Bill doesn't go out too far and he has a reputation of swimming too far out). We have had some real fun in the sea, but it is not at all relaxing, so I head inland much sooner than Bill. Yesterday we went to a beach where the tide is much gentler, but we didn't stay too long as we missed the excitement of the rough sea. If you are not paying attention, the waves take you right off your feet. After our swim we sit on the beach and have a beer at a cafe, before heading back for an afternoon snooze/read. Bill lost his glasses in the sea the other day; he was diving under each wave and telling me to do the same just as a wave whipped his glasses off his head and took them into oblivion. Bill has extremely bad eyesight (it's not that good with his glasses on), so he staggered out of the sea and I had to lead him all the way back to the hotel, so he could get another pair on. He has got everyone on the beach in the cafés on glasses watch.

On an evening we wander down to the beach for a meal, we have found this place that does amazing curries for us, the chef doesn't go by the menu and just cooks what is around that day. Last night we had a curried beetroot curry and a jalapeño curry (amongst others), we did both agree it was the best meal of our travels. The chef then came and had a chat with us about his day. He was telling us that foreigners are not like Sri Lankan's, because if a Sri Lankan doesn't like something they will get angry and demand something else, whilst foreigners will just say it is nice. The rest of the evening we spend on the balcony watching the Sri Lankans watching the world go by. There are several vans that come around which have their own discriptive tunes; there is a pastry man, an ice cream man and a bread man who plays the tune/whistle from the film 'Hanna' when the killer is tracking her down (no idea what I am talking about, Bill does) and it really gives Bill the creeps each time we hear it.

We are the only guests in the hotel again, which we have enjoyed here. It is the monsoon season, but we see little evidence of the rains; there have been a couple of days with about an hours rain in the morning and the rest of the days have been rainless. Yesterday we asked for some washing to be done and the hotel owner charged us ten times more than we were charged at the last hotel. Bill refused to put anything to the wash in protest (it cost less than five pounds), but he says it makes him feel better after my 'ruthless' bargaining. The owner continues to try and part us with our money in any way he can, he tells us that all the tuk tuk drivers are drinkers and not to be trusted and if we need to go anywhere he will take us (for a small charge), he keeps switching the modem off for the internet all the time and keeps coming up with places he thinks he should take us (this morning it was a turtle farm). He has got the most beautiful family, the children (the youngest is fourteen the eldest is twenty eight) are so well mannered and always stop for a chat with us. The eldest daughter who is nineteen had a quick chat with Natalie the other night when we were face timing with Natalie.

Natalie messaged us last night to see if the curfew imposed in Sri Lanka had effected us! Reading about the curfew online (no news here), the curfew has been imposed in two coastal towns (not too far from here) to quell clashes between Buddhist groups and Muslims. Muslims have called on the government to protect them from Buddhist hate attacks and Buddhists accuse the Muslims of having too much influence. It is very strange to see pictures of monks throwing stones at individuals. We have read that there were three people killed last night so we do need to take things seriously. We are heading inland tomorrow, but will keep reading the news online to see what is happening. We will be very sad if we have to leave Sri Lanka early, but will if necessary.

We wrote this blog this morning and left it until this evening to add the adventures of our day; nothing to add. Tomorrow hopefully we will see some wild elephants in a national park on our way to Ella.,

Posted by mulliganward 05:46 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

Poson Poya

sunny 31 °C

Yesterday was the Poson Poya Festival in Sri Lanka. This is a double celebration of Poya which is the full moon celebration and Poson, which is the celebration of the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the third century BC and is celebrated island wide by Buddhists. The main centre of celebration is Mihintale, where they have lots of celebrations, but these are centred around the dressing up of elephants in robes and lights, so we made the decision not to go and watch. The Sri Lankan's celebrate the full moon each month and have a bank holiday on every full moon. I was rather taken with this and thought it should be adopted in the UK, until Bill pointed out that they work seven days a week, the rest of the time.

The day started around five am with bells ringing and then devotional songs playing all day long, through loud speakers. It was a very exciting day as all the Sri Lankan people were out on the streets for most of the day, or packed into the back of lorries (we assumed heading for temples) and everybody wanted to wave and talk. It was lovely to see whole families out on the beach and playing in the water. Everywhere we went people were offering us food, drinks and ice cream, some of the things offered looked very dubious such as something looking like tapioca in a drink. We learnt the offering of food and drinks was called Bodhi Poojas. Outside some of the temples, there were young men waving the traffic to stop with flags so they could give them food and drink.

We went to two temples in the day and in the first one the temple was full of ladies and children wearing pure white who were spending twenty four hours in quiet contemplation. We saw a lady outside sitting on a wall reading and Bill said he would like to sit for twenty four hours and read, he wasn't so keen when I told him he had to read devotional works and not Jeffrey Deaver. In the temples all the Buddhas were covered by white curtains, we did ask why and were told by someone who was struggling to understand us, that it was be because of the sun, but we saw last night that they had been opened, so maybe they are closed for another reason.

Last night at seven,we headed for the temple we liked the most from our day visits, but we soon turned back as there are no lights on the roads and the traffic was all over the place. We got to a temple just as a young boy was ringing a bell and three men playing drums, all the people from the temple were in two lines facing each other and were slowly passing all the offerings for the Buddha, which were given to the monks at the end of the row, who then put them in front of the Buddha. They then settled all around the temple grounds and 'listened' to the monk read a holy book and ancient stories about the Buddha's previous lives. I wanted to leave after about three minutes, but Bill, who is far more experienced at religious ceremonies than myself, said we had to stay longer; after ten minutes he was ready to go. We went back to the hotel and sat outside on our balcony and we could hear the monks still reading at least an hour after we left.

The owner of the hotel (sorry we can't pronounce his name) and I continue to have very loud conversations with each other. Yesterday morning, we paid for the car and the driver we are going to use next week (by card). We had amended the original itinerary by adding a day and this had been discussed the day before. After paying, the owner then asked for more money for this extra day (accommodation and food for the driver, we are at this hotel for four days and it is about three hours drive from here). I became cross and said that this should have been discussed before we paid, Bill (whose always takes the default position that I am wrong, but was struggling to understand what we were talking about) started to side with the owner, but soon realised what was happening and switched sides. Eventually, the owner 'accepted' our position and said he wouldn't take anymore money. When we were originally working this out both Bill and the hotel owner had laughed at me for insisting everything was written down (which it was luckily). The breakfasts here are exceptional and Bill is willing to forgive for the opportunity to eat such lovely food. Today we had a big plate of fruit, followed by curd and maple syrup, then sweet rice and chillies and finally hoppers, which are pancakes, which were wrapped around caramelised coconut.

This morning we decided to go to Weligama, which is the nearest town to here. It tends to rain in the morning, so we sat around reading until the rain had gone and the sun has his hat on. I had read that it wasn't a particularly attractive town, but it has an ATM machine. We also needed to buy some plug adapters as they use a round three pin here. We were stopping in shops on our travels and Bill was imitating putting a plug in a wall, but it took us a while to find a shop that sold them. The shop was very narrow and busy and I realised I would need to push my way in to get anywhere. The bags you are given when you buy shopping are old school exercise books which have been made into a bag. Traveling there and back by tuktuk we were still being flagged down outside temples for free offerings, the tuktuk driver stopped and we had squash and biscuits, we refused the need to stop for a curry or an ice cream, especially with the exceptionally long queues.

We have noticed in the last few days that we are looking a little scruffy, especially next to holiday makers. We were looking at the picture of Bill at Heathrow (ok all the clothes he had on have been lost/stolen in the post) but he looked quite decent, but there is nothing smart about us today. Our clothes are not particularly well washed and some have stains that we haven't been able to get out. We suspect when we meet Natalie in a few weeks, she may have to pretend she is not with us!

Posted by mulliganward 02:06 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (3)

Welcome to the hotel California

Mirissa

sunny 36 °C

We had arranged for a tuktuk to pick us up in Galle and take us the thirty kilometres to Mirissa, further along the coach. The tuktuk driver's name was Ramesh and when he picked us up, before we got into the tuktuk, he greeted us with "Ayubowan", with his palms together, which means 'May you live more', which was a little worrying as we got into the tuktuk.

We had such a brilliant journey; it was all along the coast, it was very beautiful and we had such fun chatting and laughing. Sri Lanka is very beautiful and we drove (tuktuked?) through villages and markets and people would wave at us as we went along. It was really magical. At one time, Ramesh and I were singing "Welcome to the hotel California" after a discussion about America. Ramesh brought some lychee for us to eat and was showing us how to throw the peel out of the tuktuk (I couldn't do it, I can never litter). I had asked him to drive slowly and he was great, asking me every now and again if he was going too fast. I asked him if he had a pet dog and he didn't understand, so Bill said "woof", which obviously means something else in Sri Lanka as he speeded up, and he said he was confused as one time we tell him to go slow and now we tell him to go fast. It was only with Bill making cat noises, that we eventually understood each other. There are plenty of dogs here and they all look well fed and for the first time in our travels, we are seeing cattle, which are well fed (they are usually wandering in the road).

Ramesh told us that we were going to pass the stilt fishermen (stilt fishing is unique to Sri Lanka) and did we want to stop. We were very excited about this as we had wanted to see them, but felt we had missed our chance. When we got there, the men started to cajole Bill into going out with them and he eventually agreed. I thought they were all going to wade out to sea, but this tiny man hoisted Bill up onto his shoulders and they all got him out to his pole in the sea. The pole they sit on is called a petta, and the rod is teak. I did read that they do not use bait, but Bill was given some bread to put on the end of his line (obviously to get rid of him quicker). It was about now that I realised the enormity of what Bill was doing; a vegetarian fishing! The stilt fishermen can sit out there for up to five hours and catch up to ten thousand tiny fish. Bill took a couple of minutes to catch a tiny fish, the man on the next petta caught a much bigger fish at the same time and came out of the water and insisted I took a picture of his catch. The men all hoisted Bill back into the shoulders of one of the man and he came back to land. There was lots of hand shaking and pats on the back and then they started to negotiate with Bill how much money he was going to give them. I asked Ramesh, what sort of amount we should give, but in the meantime Bill had given them four times the amount (ok it was less than four pounds). It was all such great fun and we came away exhilarated and very smiley.

It wasn't too long until we got to Merissa and Ramesh dropped us off at our hotel/guest house. The family that own the guest house live down stairs and there are four rooms upstairs. They have four beautiful children in their teens and they are always so polite. The girls have just been upstairs to give offerings to the Buddha which is near our room. We have a balcony at the front, which looks down onto the sea and a balcony at the back overlooking houses (we say this in a very loose terms as they are mainly falling down) gardens and lots of coconut trees. The bedroom has an enormous four poster bed in it, with netting around it., but no television. The owner and I do not seem to be able to have a conversation, without talking very loudly at each other (I blame him). The hotel is over the road from the beach. Mirissa is a sleepy sea side town four kilometres from the nearest town (and ATM) and is a curve of sandy beach, with a powerful breaking sea hitting the beach and is famous for whale and dolphin watching. There are lots of small restaurants and bars all along the beach. Walking around we do not get very far without someone coming up and talking to us.

After we leave here in a week, we had six days spare before our next location. The hotel owner said he could arrange for a driver to take us to the places we wanted to go to (as we didn't fancy the government buses here, which hurtle along the roads). So after breakfast this morning (a massive fruit plate each, followed by curds and then eggs and bread) which we ate on their large veranda in their front garden, we had a long long conversation/shouting contest on where we were going and most importantly how much. I did eventually get him down a hundred pounds, but he still had a spring in his step afterwards, so my negotiating skills were not that good. Bill had told me he was going to stay out of the negotiations as he would stop at about twenty pounds, but every now and again he would chip in with how we were not holiday makers, and how we had to live on his meagre pension. The hotel owner then called the driver to come and meet us, his English is not too good so it will be interesting how we get on next week.

We spent today strolling along the beach and reading. We did come across a turtle rescue place on the beach (they also had three areas where turtles had buried with their eggs) and Bill was asked to feed one of the turtles with cut up fish. Bill said their jaws were very strong. Tonight, we sat on the balcony at the back of our room. We have seen several Indian Palm squirrels (which have three stripes down their backs), but tonight we were watching the monkeys. The monkeys were in the the palm trees and started pulling at the coconuts and then stripping all the layers away. It was fun to have monkey watch back.

Tomorrow is a big Buddhist festival, so we are looking forward to seeing the celebrations.

Posted by mulliganward 05:52 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

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