Last Day in Sri Lanka

14 May 2012

Alas, it is our last day in Sri Lanka.  After a quick dip we have breakfast where we are entertained by the antics of a couple of friendly local squirrels.  They like Jack-fruit but not mango – picky little buggers.  But sooo cute.

Last morning in Mirissa

Squirrel for breakfast

Eating upside down

The ever reliable Joseph picks us up at midday to head back to Colombo and the airport.  Along the way we stop at the tsunami memorial I mentioned in a previous post.  The woman at the coconut stand was a survivor of the tsunami.  She told us how she was at the beach the day the wave came and was swept 800 m inland by the first wave.  She miraculously survived but her 22 year old son, who went to the beach to find her, was killed in the second wave.  The second wave which was the biggest was over 15 m high, higher than the coconut trees in the photos.

Tsunami memorial

Mural

Coconut stand - 40 Rp for two drinks

Our next stop was at the Natural Moonstone Mine and Gem Palace.  There was also cinnamon tree farm, where they were preparing the spice for sale.  Howard brokered a good deal for a little, post (KMW) business sale reward.

Moonstone miner strikes the pose

Stripping cinnamon from the tree

Its a deal

Along the way we passed a tea plantation.  Joseph stopped and we spoke to the old lady picking the tea leaves.  She has to pick at least 25 kilos per day, or risk being paid for only 1/2 a day. For 100 RP she let us take her photo and explained the picking process.

Tea picking

In the tea fields

We then ventured onto the new highway – it was gloriously empty.  I think there were actually more police cars and maintenance crews on the road, than commuters.  It cost 300 RP and saved 3 hours compared to the coast road.  Nothing was to save us from traversing Colombo to get to the airport hotel.  We are on a 3:15 am flight to Dubai and then on to Athens. Yeah!

Rice and Curry

Cove Villa - Rice and Prawn and Vegetable Curry

Jetwing Sea - Rice and Fish and Vegetable Curry

Cove Villa breakfast - Rice Hoppers and Curry

Little Creatures - Rice and Vegetable Curry and Devilled Prawns

Paradise Beach Club - Fresh fruit and Sri Lankan porridge

Eurostar - the biggest Nasi Goreng ever and Devilled Chicken

 

The thing is that the curry thing really suits my stomach, I think its the lack of dairy.  Howard however has not been going so well with all the spice.

Mirissa – Katie’s little bit of paradise

12 May 2012

Mirissa has everything you could possible want in a beach. Soft clean sand, beautiful curved beach, palm trees, sultry water, gentle breezes, little chilled out beach shacks serving ice cold beer and fresh seafood, friendly locals and  a little bit of exotic mixed with a back packers lifestyle.

Mirissa Beach

Yep, Mirissa all that and more too.  Thank You Katie!

After we left Hikkaduwa yesterday we paid a brief visit to Galle and visited out 3rd world heritage site of the trip (Sigirya and Dambulla are the others) the Galle Portuguese fort.  Those Portuguese must have been paranoid cause those fortifications are really really thick. Impressive, but we have seen better in Portugal.

Galle Fort

Galle Fort

Street market

Matara Beach - pulling in the fishing net

We quickly move on and find the Paradise Beach Club at Mirissa where we are staying for 2 nights – our room over looks the pool and the beach just beyond.  The bathroom floods, the air-conditioner rattles loudly in the back ground, the food is nothing to rave about – but these things only add to the laid back feeling of the place.

Mirissa Beach

Surfs up

After we check in and have a quick dip in the surf we wander up the beach for lunch.  We have not been here for 2 hours and already Howard has been offered some weed.  I shake my head in amusement. How does he do it?

This morning a coconut tree climber was here displaying his skills.  He climbed the 50 feet coconut tree, more agilely than I climb a set of stairs.

Coconut tree maintenance

View from our balcony

After breakfast (I’m even having curry for breakfast – can’t get enough of the stuff – I think I’ll be doing lots of Sri Lankan curries when we eventually get home) Joseph took us on a short trip to visit Matara to invest in some of the local booze made from coconut milk called “arrack” and the little local fishing harbor around the headland.

Mirissa Boat Harbor

Sorting out the nets

After another quick dip we go to Little Creatures Bar for lunch, upon Katie’s recommendation where we have more curry for lunch.

Rice and Curry and Devilled Prawns

View from Little Creatures Bar

Our last planned activity of the day is a yurveda massage. This is done  by a wirey old man with hands like leather. The massage involves dousing us with about a liter of brackish, smelly oil (which I can only assume was coconut oil with herbs).  Its an interesting experience, but not to be repeated.  It took about two bars of soap and all our supple of shampoo to get it off us.  I’m sure the oil is good for our skin, but I’m even more sure we resembled a couple of greased pigs afterwards while sitting on the beach.

 

Hikkaduwa

11 May 2012

Moving south.

Yesterday we said goodbye to our friends at the Cove Villa and set off with Joseph heading south towards Mirissa – the beach made famous by our friend Katie.

The driving experience is less hair-raising than the Sirigiya expedition.   The roads are better, and there are more cars and less motor bikes and tuk tuks.  Or are we becoming desensitized?

Another 5 1/2 hour trip (it takes about 2 hours to get through Colombo) we get to Hikkaduwa. We are staying here for 1 night.  Joseph stops at the Coral Rock Amaya Hotel.  After a quick look around Howard negotiated the price from US$160 to US$100 for a sea-view room with breakfast.  Nice work Howie.

Coral Rock Amaya sea-view room

Its low season and Hikkaduwa is deserted.  Out 4 pm lunch is in a beach side shack – grilled prawns and chips and a beer.  Lion Lager is the beer of choice. And not a bad drop either.

Later when we are having dinner at the Red Lobster which has a big PIZZA sign our the front (but no pizza on the menu) dining on our favorite – rice and curry – veggie for H and chicken for me (actually i think it was a old scrawny rooster).

Not much happening in Hikkaduwa, it was very badly hit by the tsunami, and a train was hit by the wave and destroyed killing 1700 people. The greatest deathtoll from any railway disaster. There are still lots of  ruined buildings. So very sad.

On a brighter note, Howard has met a fella that offered him a massage and giggy giggy for $50 (I was very tempted but my budget was only $10, H).

Hikkaduwa sunset

Sri Lankan breakfast

What can I say?   Yummy!

Chandana's special breakfast

We have been trying to get hoppers and string hoppers since we got here.  We have been asking for them at night and we finally worked out that it is a breakfast thing.  So we asked if we could have them for breakfast at the Villa.  Chandana our chef is delighted to cook them for us, but they take quite a bit of preparation so we have to wait until the following day.

So on our last day at the Cove Villa  we sit down to a fancy version of Sri Lankan breakfast.  String hoppers with curry, coconut sambal and fried onions.

String hoppers are like thin Vietnamese rice noodles, make from a rice paste, pushed through a sieve to make “string”. This is made into pancake sized cakes and streamed.  They are served with a delicious vegetable curry sauce,  a coconut and chili sambal and fried onions which are very spicy, flavored with cardamon, clove, cinnamon and chili flakes.

String Hoppers

Sigirya madness

10 May 2012

The roads in Sri Lanka are insane!

Picture this – you are driving from Brisbane to Noosa, but with more traffic and the road is only 1 lane each way, and there are people walking along the road, cows crossing the road, dogs lying on the road, buses stopping in the middle of the road to let people on and off, pushbikes everywhere, tuk tuks going down the wrong way and every one is tooting, honking or beeping their horn. It’s a constant battle to overtake and be overtaken, sometimes three abreast. It is a nerve wracking experience. And we did it for 9 hours yesterday on a 300 km round trip to Sigirya.

Along the way we are pulled over by the local police, Joseph our very cautious driver, gets out and is told that he has broken some road rule.  Now, I’m sure he is the only one on the road that has not broken any rules, but you do not argue with the police in Sri Lanka, so he casually hands over 500 rupee and the matter is sorted.  All is forgiven.

The one thing I really, really wanted to do here was climb to the top of the Sigirya Rock Fortress. Built in the 5 century AD on top of a 200 m granite out crop, it was the capital for only 18 years before it was captured and abandoned. To make this trip we have to drive 4 1/2 hours there and then climb the 1200 step to the top (Howie says it was more like 12000 steps).

 

Sigirya – means “Lions Rock”

Climbing climbing climbing

Now, I’m not too good with heights, and some of those steps were built in the 1930’s and as I tried not to look down, I could see where the metal steps had rusted through.  I’m still not sure what scared me the most, the fear of the whole metal walkway detaching from the cliff face and plummeting to the ground, Howard having a stroke as we struggled up the very steep steps in the blistering, sweltering heat or being attacked by the angry hornets that had kept the top section closed for the last 3 days after hospitalizing 180 people.

 

Hornets nest

Should we be concerned?

But I must say it was definitely worth it, especially the few original rock wall paintings which are all that is left of the 500 wives of the ruling prince. The rest were destroyed by Buddhist monks when they come to live there in the 11th century (all those naked boobies were to tempting apparently).

 

Original paintings from the 5th C

Rock Paintings

After the rock paintings and half way up is the Lions Gate, this is where Howie pulled the pin and left me to continue intrepidly alone (with the 2 guides that had attached themselves to us like leaches).  This is also where the hornets were so I had to weeze very quietly as I struggled with my vertigo.

Lions Gate

Half way - still have to climb this

At the top there is 5 acres of ruins and amazing views, it was a bit hazy, but specular.

 

Janet makes it to the top at last

Back down again and after being ripped off by the guides, we went to Dambulla Rock Temple, which much to Howard’s dismay involved another steep mountain climb.  Here in the caves, which were established in the 1st century BC is the largest collection of Buddha statues including 14 m reclining Buddha.  We are befriended by a group of giggling young teenagers on a school trip, that shyly looked at us as if we were the first white people they had ever seen.

 

Buddha collection

Reclining Buddha

Painted ceiling

Returning to Joseph our driver we braced ourselves with bananas and more water for the long trip back to Negombo. Most of which was done in the dark, which is even more terrifying.  I don’t think poor Joseph’s night vision is too good, which did not make things pleasant.

In the end all was OK, and we got back to the Villa safely 12 hours later.

 

Negombo Day 1

9 May 2012

Wow, what a morning.

After waking at the break of dawn and fortifying myself with 3 pots of Ceylon tea and breakfast, Howard and I set off  in a tuk-tuk with the friendly Amal for a 3 hour speed tour of Negombo.

First stop, a sim card for my beloved i-Pad (hopefully it will work, it won’t be ready to go for 1 hour and the instructions are a bit vague), but for SRP 550, it’s not a huge risk).  Then we visit the beach where the locals dry the fish on the sand, in the sun (boy, that looks like hot back-breaking work).

l

Fish drying in the sun

Beach life Negombo

Then to the fish markets (umm interesting smells and sights).

Negombo Fish Markets

Then to the old Portuguese fort (which is now a prison). Then to the Negombo harbor and lagoon (the fleet of prawn boats have a big square sail and no motor, they sail into port and then pole to their resting point in the mud).

Portuguese Fort 1578

Negombo Harbour

Then the tamil temple (which is closed). Then the herbal medicine gardens (the tour is free of course, but they really, really, really don’t mind if you richly reward them for the 15 minute tour of 4 plants and we are not at all pressured into buying some herbal remedies for highly inflated prices).

Cart

Then the buddhist temple (wow, very old, very colorful and very impressive).

Negombo Buddhist Temple

All that for SRP1600 (A$13).

Back to The Cove Villa, which I now love.  It’s just like the photo’s on tripadvisor, except a bit grotty.  Its right on the beach and to be able to wake up and go to the balcony and watch all the traditional sail boats fishing for prawns and crab on the harbor is amazing.  The staff are great – 5 men, a manager, a chef, a guy who just seems to do the talking, an outdoor young guy who does not speak at all and the other guy – don’t know what he does.  Oh yeah, there is the guy that stays overnight too – his name is Siva and he loves to talk. Anyway there are only 4 people staying here in the 3 rooms. So we are well attended.

Prawn boat fleet at dawn

When we get back to the Villa we arrange for the chef to cook us lunch – a vegetarian and a prawn curry with rice.  We also got dahl, a coconut salad, a beetroot salad, papadums and other assorted condiments. Very good curry, which had been freshly prepared from scratch – it only took 1 1/2 hours.  A dozen good sized prawns. Delicious!

The Cove Villa "Rice and Curry" Lunch

Negombo beach is a working fishing beach first and a tourist beach second.  There are quite a few resort, which are practically empty, due to it’s being low season.  But there are hundred of boats on the beaches, and smiling locals going about their business.

Negombo Beach

 

Our observations on Sri so far:

Its cleaner and the footpaths are safer than places like Bali and Phuket.  There are only a handful of hawkers on the beach selling sarongs.  The tuk tuk drivers are the same as everywhere. The food is pretty spicy – there is hot and then there is Sri Lankan hot.  The locals have  a blatant disregard of the finer points of road safety and seem to think that the smaller the vehicle the fewer rules you have to obey.  You know, things like driving on the right side of the road and giving way to anyone.  Also we notice that no one smokes here, which is amazing in a third world county.  We have found it very cheap, but everywhere you go people have their hands out for a bit of cash. So in the end it all adds up to be costly.

 

 

 

Colombo International Airport Confusion

8 May 2012

Word of warning to those intending to travel to Sri Lanka.  Be patient!

After suffering a rocky flight from Singapore,  Howard & I arrive at Colombo International Airport.  We are tired but excited to finally arrive.  As we walk down the steps onto the tarmac we look at each other and say in tune “Welcome to Sri Lanka” with smiles on our faces.

5 minutes later we are not smiling, as we are packed into a unairconditioned bus with 80% of the people from our flight (the other 20% are on the bus right behind us).  It’s hot, it’s humid, the bus reeks of diesel fumes and B.O. is starting to kick in.  Oh to be on that 2nd bus!

Eventually they drive us to the arrivals and we line up in the passport control and after a lengthy wait we are ready to proceed. But wait! We are told that we need a visa.  Oh Katie, why did you not warn us, what? That’s right you did!  Go back over there and get your tourist visas, we are told with smile and a laugh. After a very lengthy wait we get our visas and go back to wait in the now very long passport control line (2 more flights have now arrived).  We of course pick the slowest line and after a very, very lengthy wait, are just about the last to be processed

Lets get our bags and get out of here.  Where are our bags? It’s taken so long to get processed we can’t find them.  No there are more carousels around the corner, yep there they are sitting by themselves in a corner.  Thank the gods! After all, we are in Sri Lanka and there are lots of different gods here.

The duty free is very tempting, we could not decide if we wanted a fridge, washing machine, air conditioner or tv.  So to avoid an argument we decide against a quality white-good purchase.

Without any further drama we find and our driver and escape from the Colombo International Airport.