Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Things I Don’t Want to Forget There are so many things that happened, so many things we saw, observations, experiences a very enriching trip… below is a list of things I would write while I was there so that I wouldn’t forget. I’d like to share the list and if you want me to I’ll explain if I haven’t written it up in one of the previous posts. Enjoy… 

  • That first drive into the hills
  • The houses dotting the hillside
  • The views, the majestic views
  • The dancing
  • The baby elephants
  • The lush vibrant gardens
  • The suspended bridge
  • The delicate orchids
  • How BIG the trees were
  • Overcast and dark skys that were dramatic
  • The hills
  • Touching the elephants
  • Curry by the road with the monkeys
  • The clouds
  • The tooth temple, its levels and worship
  • Walking barefoot in temples and shops
  • How wet it is
  • How green it is
  • The rain
  • The monkeys
  • Walking up to birds
  • 1202 steps to the top of the world at Sigriya rock
  • Moved to tears at the top of the world
  • Fresco covered cave walls
  • Barefoot on hot stones – ouch J
  • Baby money suckling with mom
  • Sri Lankan Elivs on the bus
  • The Sun
  • The Hindu temple
  • Children asking for pens
  • “Where are you from?” … “Ahh Jordaaaaan”
  • Respect for all religions
  • The mirror wall
  • Amazing hydrology and masonry
  • Moon stones
  • Clean clean air
  • Rolling mist like clouds kissing the earth
  • The colored houses
  • The painted floors
  • The invitation
  • Arabic and country music in a tuk tuk on the roads of Nuwara Eliya
  • The privilege
  • Walking in the rain
  • Getting a nose ring the traditional way… ouch!
  • Rolling hills and mountains that look like ripples in a velvet fabric
  • The Ocean
  • The sound of the ocean
  • The people we met: Indira, Anna, Suzzane, their keeper, Mr. Khan, Our first driver (I have his name written down somewhere), Gamini and his family, Gamini’ friend who took the long cut, Sunil, Pre and his co worker, Sunil, our friends the bartenders. The families, the shopkeepers, the fishermen, Mrs. Khalid and her daughter and so many more people…
  • The seduction of the ocean
  • The fruits
  • The hairless dogs
  • Baby turtles in my hand
  • The masks
  • The awe
  • The shopping
  • Double chocolate cheesecake at The Gallery

I don’t think I have covered everything in this list I know I have forgotten something or other already, But I know that I wont forget how blissful those two weeks were, a true escape from reality. 

Sunday is Tuk Tuk day our driver Sunil kept telling us with a smile on his face every time he got stopped on the road by the police. He was a former policeman and so got out of any tickets or trouble easily. But he just kept chuckling Sunday is Tuk Tuk day. And so on Tuk Tuk Day we made our way up north to Bentota. After spending time on the beach and getting a good long swim for the last time in Unawatuna. 

On our way we stopped in a town that is famous for mask making and we visited an amazing mask museum. Amazing only because I love masks and have a small collection of them that is growing with each trip. 

Once we arrived in Bentota our jaws dropped at the beautiful hotel we were staying in. It is called the Serindib and was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, a famous architect who designed numerous hotels and homes throughout Sri Lanka

In Bentota we experienced our first true monsoon rains. The rain was a strong rich downpour. Each rain drop was big and heavy; together the raindrops formed sheets of water that drenched you the minute you stepped into them. It’s funny just the day before I was playing in the ocean and today I am barred entry. 

Swimming in the Indian Ocean at this time of year is an experience in of its self. The sea is strong and the waves are big. Near the shore they come at you and hit you with a force or they gently meander towards your feet, depending on how the ocean wants to tease you. But swim further in and the waves carry you so gently and lap around you that is makes you bob up and down, with a feeling of lightness and abandon of being. 

For me there were two highlights in Bentota, despite the rain: we visited a turtle hatchery , and the beach we were on. I will start with the later. The beach was a stretch of 6 KM white sand and surf, spotless and pretty much empty of beach goers. We had the beach to our selves most of the time. I walked up and down numerous times. At night I would stand and look out at the dark ocean and I must say it was so seductive. The waves kept whispering come in, come in. It took all my will power not to walk in, because I knew I would just keep walking and let the current take me. It was that seductive. 

The turtle hatchery was a fun experience, we held day old babies in our hands and played with 5 year old and 10 years. It was also very educational as we learned about the 5 species of turtles in Sri Lanka and how long they live and about their lives. We were also invited to come back the next evening to release the new babies into the ocean. In Buddhism they believe that if you let something free, release it, it will bring you good luck for the rest of its life. So a turtle will bring you good luck if it lives out its life for at least 150 years. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay to release a the babies as we had to travel on. 

With Bentota being our last stop we clambered on to the bus to Colombo and made our way back to the capital where this odyssey all started. This country has made me feel very insignificant and very privileged at the same time. I know that it has changed me and invigorated my soul. It was an exploration of a new place as well as a journey into my self. I have realized much about who I am and the world around me. I only hope I can continue to grow with more experiences like these.

Nothing beats waking up to the sound of the ocean. The first thing I did that morning was to go for a swim. I walked 10 paces and the water washed over my feet. I looked around and I quickly realized that I had the beach to myself. Not a soul was up yet. I dived right in and swam and played with the waves. When I was done with that I walked up and down the beach and saw it come alive with hotel staff, swimmers, walkers and dogs. 

The rest of the day was spent exploring the nearby costal areas where we saw stick fishermen, took a boat ride on a lagoon and saw a Portuguese fort. Each stop offered its own unique experience that I will not forget. 

With the stick fishermen, I actually got up on the stick after falling once; only to find out I was facing the wrong way so instead of fishing I smiled at the beach! While boating on the lagoon we stopped at Cinnamon Island, where for families live and produce cinnamon. At the Fort we had the best Sri Lankan food of the trip at a small inn called Mrs. Khalid’s. 

Mrs. Khalid and her family were celebrating Eid and while we ate we were able to observe their Eid traditions. What struck me was that even though we were miles apart in so many ways our traditions were the same. As visitors came and went to wish her Eid Mubark, they too gave gifts to children and said the same things and did the same things. 

We spent two idyllic days in Unawatuna and then made our way up the coast to Bentota to see the masks and the turtles.

It was 4:45 am when I stepped outside the hotel to wait for our van. It was the dead of the night. I looked up and saw an amazing blanket of stars. I quickly realized that it was dawn, for I heard the call to prayer for the Fajr prayer. Somehow it was very comforting to hear a reminder of home so far away. Throughout the trip I felt very comfortable. Not once did I feel out of my element despite experiencing very new things everyday. 

We made our way to Horton’s Plains the reserve where World’s End is. We headed off with Gamini and his friend and when we arrived we were greeted by deer on either side of the road. And once again I managed to startle and be startled by an animal once again!  We also so wild boar (so cute, he was a baby), we also saw eagles and other birds, lizards, frogs…etc. 

The trail took us about four hours and had three major stops, Mini World’s End, Greater World’s End, and Baker Falls. We saw them in that order and we were not disappointed. We stopped at the edge of cliffs where the ground fell and looked out at the world below. We saw mist roll in and obstruct our view. It obligingly rolled out too. The mist looked like a cloud coming down to kiss the earth it was beautiful. The falls were loud, majestic and absorbing. We sat in silence as we watched water fall over rock for 20 min at least. 

What I really liked about our walk was that Gamini joined us. When we told him it wasn’t necessary for him to join us he told us he had lived in the area for nearly 35 years and had never visited! I was so thrilled that he was with us. I really believe the saying “It take a foreigner to show you your own country.”

After we were done we needed to drive to the coast, a six maybe seven hour drive. It took us nine! Our driver wanting to be helpful decided to take a short cut, which we joking later called the long cut, as we drove through winding, hilly dry country from village to village looking for the right one. When we finally were no longer lost, the men treated us to some King Coconut juice at the side of the road fresh from the coconut.

We finally arrived at Unawatuna, exhausted, sleepy and hungry. We had made it to the Indian Ocean. I walked in, ate and awoke the next day to the sound of the surf.

We take a bus south into Tea Country. We head into Nuwara Eilya, which is around 2000 meters above sea level. The drive started with being serenaded on the bus by a guitar playing Sri Lankan Elvis. He sang and left before we started our bus ride. I was highly amused! We left Kandy and two hours later we were in Nuwara Eilya. This is tea country, beautifully terraced with mists rolling in and out all the time. 

Here we hiked, visited tea plantations, and went to yet another botanical garden which was divine. At the gardens we had a whole troupe of monkeys pass before us once again, it was a privilege to see them all just waltz by us. We also came a cross a crippled dog with the saddest eyes. She shared our picnic and followed us to the gate to bid us farewell. Had we been in Jordan I would have taken her home! We met one more creature on our way out. A little monkey perched on a garbage can eating leftover bananas. I don’t know who was more startled by the other but we both had the looks of surprise on our faces at the same time, all very amusing in hindsight lol. 

We stopped on our way back at Gamini’s family home and were welcomed into their living room where we chatted, had coffee and played with kids. The people are so welcoming and friendly. We got along well with Gamini, he was our Tuk Tuk driver. His wife had been in Lebanon for 13 years and it was so funny being handed a phone and hearing a Sri Lankan woman speaking fluent Arabic in a Lebanese accent, and for that to be followed by Arabic music in the Tuk Tuk. Amusing and surreal I would say.

We ended the day with my making an impulsive decision. I hope I wont regret it- so far I haven’t. You’ll be able to guess once you see it what the decision was. All I am going to say is that it was done the traditional way with 6 or 7 Sri Lankan men watching over me. 

We end our foray into the mountains with a hike at World’s End, for which we have to wake early (4:00 am). We slept early, which is what you do in Sri Lanka anyways, for tomorrow we walk to where the world ends.

No monkeys woke us this morning but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a fabulous day. We left for Sigriya and Dambulla. We slept most of the way there. But when I did open my eyes, I saw all around me a rich red soil, or a vibrant green. When we finally rolled into Sigriya, there was a moat and then gardens with pools and fountains. We walked and walked through the terraces that once spoke of grandeur and then started our ascent. We walked up tiny steps worn with time and then we climbed a spiral staircase into a fresco gallery of Srilankan beauties that represented the pleasure palace that this was. We also passed the mirror wall, so named because it mirrored impressions of the travelers for centuries. 

With every step we went higher, and with every new view our breathes were swept away, and yes the climb was strenuous. 1202 steps later we reached the top. We were on top of the world. We soared with hawks. We looked out at hills, mountains, plains and fields as far as the eye could see. You can’t help but feel magnificent and yet insignificant. The splendor moved me to tears. I was awe struck. We did not want to leave and as we made our decent our eyes kept wandering up and around looking at the world beneath us. 

Exhausted we made our way to Dambulla, a 30- min drive away from Sigriya. We stopped half way for fresh juice at the side of the road. At Dambulla we climbed once again to the cave temples. Halfway up we came across a troupe of monkeys who were preening each other. And resting in the shade of the trees. We continues up and as is the custom of any temple when we arrived we took our shoes off. Being us we walked barefoot on the hot sun baked rock. To the last of the temples to work our way back. Only after reaching the end did we realize we could have saved the soles of our feet and walked in the shaded walkway near the entrances.

Inside the five caves wa saw a series of Buddha’s centuries old with cave walls all covered in frescos of Buddha. An interesting place I must say. The temple of the five caves was a cool quiet escape set on top of a hill, surrounded by more breath taking views. We enjoyed the climb, but we were templed out for the day.

On our way down we saw the same troupe of monkeys but this time we were treated to a beautiful sight of mother and child. The baby monkey was feeding at its mothers breast. I guess it doesn’t matter what species it is, when a babe suckles with its mother it always moves something in us.   

We awoke on our first day to a different kind of alarm. We were awoken by a troupe of monkeys coming down from the forest after a night of heavy rain, forging for food. We were glued to the windows watching monkey after monkey come down over roofs and give us the best acrobatic show we’ve seen. They shimmed, walked, dangled, and jumped. Back and forth they went knowing they had an audience. Babies with and with out their mommies. I remember seeing a baby who got stuck on a cable and its mom, who was carrying another, sure footedly balanced her way on the cable to him and he just climbed up on her back. She also had a baby wrapped around her neck underneath her. 

After that incredible start we made our way to Peradinya. These are beautiful botanical gardens. OMG! We took two hours walking through, but we really could have spent the whole day there. The orchid house, the Japanese garden, the fernery, the palm court, the trees, the huge trees, the suspended bridge (which we were not supposed to be on but got a special treat from the guard), the flowers, and lets not forget the lovers. It was blissful, lovely, and so relaxing. Everywhere we looked offered a wonderful glimpse of nature. There was so much green, so much water, the air was so pure. All the senses are relaxed and in awe of the earth. 

Grudgingly we moved on to Pinnawella. There we visited the elephant orphanage. We saw babies being fed and bathed. We mingled with a whole herd of elephants, petted them and photographed them. My favorite was a one month old baby. He still had his baby fuzz, which was not fuzzy but quite coarse. He was the youngest and was very excitable. He kept dashing back and forth running around between all the adults. He was very cute. We then left to see them bathe but the currents in the river were too strong for the babies and so we missed out on that experience. I guess I have to go back again. We did however manage to buy elephant pooh in the form of paper and paper products, our souvenirs for the day. 

We had one more day in Kandy and for more on that you need to read part III.

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