Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Galle, August 2011

Galle is an amazing place with such immense history.  There's a beach, a fort, a fishing industry and loads of jewellery stores.

My sister was getting married in a resort at Thalpe nearby so my family and I met up a few days before and used Thalpe as a base to do a number of the things that the area had to offer.  First up was a day in Galle.

We started with a short three wheeler (tuk tuk) ride into Galle with the plan to spend a few hours in Galle Fort, a four hundred year old fort built by the Portugese in the 1600s.  There's a beautiful old church there and shops for tourists inside.  A great way to escape the heat is to zoom inside one of these shops when not admiring the beautiful old buildings.

The day we went was a tiny bit windy too so it was lovely walking along the walls of the fort in the coastal breeze.  It was absolutely amazing.

There were also a number of furry friends that shared the vista with us.  The stray cats inside Galle Fort seem to appreciate a cat lover when they see one but aware of the diseases that cats outside of New Zealand can carry I refused to touch them but they were so cute!!!

I did thoroughly enjoy the jewellery stores though.  Things were so pretty and my parents ended up buying me my birthday present in Galle Fort as my birthday was that week.

After Galle Fort our tuk tuk driver decided to take us to a big jewellery store on a hill.  My parents told me in no uncertain terms that under no circumstances was I to buy there.  We did not ask to be taken there and would not have chosen to go there ordinarily.  (The tuk tuk driver had been following us around the fort and had seemingly decided that it might be beneficial for him to take us to a jewellery store.  We proved him wrong.)

On the way down the hill we asked to be taken to a spice shop.  Cinnamon!  So much cinnamon.  It was awesome.  We're still using that cinnamon nearly 3 years later and my parents negotiated a really good price for it.  Galle was good like that.

At the end of the day we returned back to our hotel in Thalpe for afternoon tea, a nap and then dinner.  It was lovely and relaxing.  The next morning we were getting up for a big day of safari-ing.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Kandy to Galle, Sri Lanka, 2011

I cannot say enough about the hospitality I received at the Beebopbeedoobi.  They even organised a taxi van/driver for me for the six hour journey (which at NZ speeds, on NZ roads, would probably have only been about two hours had it been NZ looking at the map) from Kandy to Galle.

The journey took me down the mountains through the centre of the country to the West coast.  It was utterly fascinating.  Along the way the driver bought treats of delicious savoury snacks (which I am sure he added to the bill but no biggy).  He also stopped in cashew country where he helped me buy the biggest and most delicious, and most probably freshest, cashews I have ever seen.  Now this is going to sound incredibly stupid but until that day I did not know that cashews grew on trees, nor what those trees looked like.  I also didn't realise just how many of the world's cashews came from Sri Lanka.

Cashew country is also rubber country.  It was amazing to see the rubber plantations, even driving through them, and seeing the taps on the rubber trees.  It's just such a different world, the world of primary not associated with forestry or farming.  The plantations (especially the tea plantations) in Sri Lanka hark back to an era of hard work and horticulture.  It's just so interesting for a young woman from a farming nation, even if she is a city girl.

As we got closer to the coast I noticed more of the same sorts of tooting that I had notice en route to the Elephant Orphanage.  I, like others in my family, which I found out when I arrived at the hotel in Thalpe, began to wonder if the first thing a Sri Lankan driver learns is the language of the automotive tooting.

The West Coast of Sri Lanka is, of course, the part of Sri Lanka that got hit by the devastating Boxing Day tsunami.  It was so sad to see patches of land where whole families had been wiped out and houses not rebuilt as a result.  The coastal towns are recovering but when I visited it was already many years later and some places were still suffering.

The whole area was beautiful though and meeting up with my family on arrival in Thalpe to share stories was a ton of fun!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka, 2011

Traffic tooting, oh my goodness, the tooting.  Having based myself in Kandy, I piled myself into the back of a tuktuk, just me and a driver with limited English to head to the world famous elephant orphanage which was a decent number of kilometres away.  "Beep beep" "beep beep beep beep". I had no idea what the beep series meant but they must've stood for something because the dirver would toot then the guy in front would get out of the way etc. I found it very interesting.

The elephant orphanage was almost as interesting as the journey there, in which I noted a number of elephants heading up to Kandy.  Not to mention the person on the side of the road selling pictures with a porcupine… yes I did pay her… naivety again.

It struck me as a bit of exploitation of the poor elephants.  Sure, a lot of them were genuine orphans but the price charged by the government to foreigners was such a double standard considering what I paid for my tuktuk driver, who had been given orders by my guest house to look after me, to get in.  It was incredibly off putting, the double standard.  But then again, I do notice it happening a bit here too now so maybe I am being overly critical.

It was an amazing experience to watch the elephants, despite my critical thoughts. Elephants are such social creatures.  When they bathe they was each other.  They just seem so happy, even the ones that appeared to be rescue elephants with severe injuries as a result of abuse.  They were just so majestic.  Which I guess made the Esala Perahera that much harder as I realised how many were in chains and how often I heard the music of the chains as the elephants moved.

The orphanage is set in a beautiful location with dedicated staff.  They have big and small elephants all in the same place and take them to the river a couple of times a day for a bath.  I arrived just in time.  So often in Sri Lanka I was so lucky.

It was a pretty awesome day trip down there from Kandy and I got back in plenty of time to spend an hour or so reading a book and working on an assignment that I was doing for the taught part of my masters degree at the time.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Kandy, August 2011

My first few days in Sri Lanka were spent in Kandy.  Kandy is the ancient capital of Sri Lanka and home to the Temple of the Tooth.  It is believed that a tooth relic from the buddha is held inside the temple in this ancient town.

I arrived by train after my "ordeal" at Ragama Station which led to one of the most fascinating train journeys of my life.  When I got off the train (because I am an idiot and didn't follow the instructions of my guest house to ring them on arrival) I naively got in a tuktuk and asked to be taken to the Beebopbeedoobi guest house.  The driver took me round and round Kandy and then tried to tell me that the place I had booked did not exist.  He also tried to tell me that I should stay at the hotel of a mate of his.  Kick backs… I knew it and I should have realised sooner.  So I called the Beebopbeedobi, expensively, on my Kiwi cellphone, and they gave him the directions.  We were only 30 seconds away at the time.  Grr.  Bless Chris and his wife, honestly!

The hosts at the Beebopbeedobi were fantastic and the view amazing.  Chris and his wife, Priyadarshini were just so kind and helpful.  Their daughter also happened to be there from the UK and we got along so well, even spending half a day together at a local tea plantation where her ability to speak the language came in handy as a couple of women picking tea complimented me on my awesome maxi-dress.  They all helped me so much, negotiating the tuktuks for me, educating me about the Esala Perahera, the first night of which happened to be while I was staying there, feeding me amazing Sri Lankan food (for a small extra fee).  They even allowed me to pay for a few nights of my sister's honeymoon (my sister was to follow me about 10 days later) in advance.

Kandy is such a beautiful place.  It has a lake, mountains, ancient temple, ancient festival, kind people and, like the rest of Sri Lanka, military everywhere.  The military presence could have been a result of the festival that was on while I was there though.

I arrived, unwittingly, but luckily, in time for the first of several days of the elephant procession that is the Esala Perahera.  There were elephants everywhere from all over Sri Lanka.  I enjoyed it.  I love elephants but I what struck me was that maybe these beautiful creatures were being treated unfairly.  Most were kept in chains on the side of the street.  It broke my heart and filled me with joy all at the same time, especially the baby ones.  Perhaps there was some culture shock for me in this nation famed for its wildlife.

On the night of the Esala Perahera I ventured into town from my guest house at the top of the hill.  I searched for a good spot and eventually, having made friends for the evening with a random dutch girl, also travelling alone, found a place to sit with a good view and a chair.  The crowds were immense and paying for a seat was a necessity if one wanted to see anything.  Apparently, I drive a hard bargain because we somehow managed to get two seats for the original price the vendor was going to charge us for one.  Once again I became so grateful for the kindness of strangers.  The Sri Lankan family beside us explained what was happening.  Elephants dressed in lights "dancing" as they paraded through the streets for a couple of hours.  It was truly spectacular, especially after I realised that I was watching a buddhist elephant procession with tooth relic involved walk right in front of a catholic church which we were seated opposite.  The beautiful dichotomy of religions that is Sri Lanka hit home at that point and it was the perfect top off to my stay in Kandy and utterly amazing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sri Lanka 2011 - Post 1

In August 2011, I went to Sri Lanka for my sister's wedding.  Sri Lanka had never really been on my list of destinations to visit but if I was ever going to consider going to India I was always going to choose the "cleaner and safer version" as an alternative because I am one of those travellers who cannot stand travellers' diarrhoea.

So after a couple of days in Singapore I boarded a flight to Columbo and went to sleep for a few hours until I arrived.  I then found my way to my hotel (yay for hotel transfers) where I enjoyed a refreshing tropical drink before going to sleep.  2am… umm… god no!  Thankfully, it only happened the once in the whole trip.

The next day I got up and negotiated with the hotel staff to get taken to a local train station so that I could head up to Kandy where I was to spend a few days before I headed off to Galle/Thalpe where my sister was having her hitching ceremony.  It proved to be very expensive to get to the local station and then even more confusing to get the train from there.  I really wish I had just gone all the way in to Columbo and gotten on the train there.  I know that it was more dangerous for a single white female with light coloured hair to do that but I get the impression that it might have been easier given the language barrier.  For the first time in my life I had absolutely no idea what was going on.  I had a ticket for a train and a platform number but that was it.  I learned how to rely on the kindness of strangers and little middle aged ladies in saris.  Not knowing which train to catch, looking utterly lost, then being spoken to in immaculate English by a woman my mother's age asking where I am going, which train I was trying to catch and being given detailed instructions of how to get on and which train to get on was so very welcome that day.

The train ride up to Kandy was an experience in and of itself.  People boarding and singing in an effort to earn some money then getting off at the next stop.  People boarding and attempting to sell food then getting off at the next station.  Paranoid about eating stuff in less developed nations, I chose to not buy anything.  Talking to a family who didn't speak my language but understood the language of iPod, camera, and smile sitting with me was an absolute joy and despite me feeling like a right fool and such a tourist, I realised how much joy a simple smile can bring.  Oh my goodness and the joy of the breeze created by the train as it winds its way up into the mountains.

I don't know if I will ever forget how much I appreciated that breeze or that family that day.  There was something about feeling welcomed and not feeling alone and oh my goodness feeling as though I was not going to completely melt that just warmed my heart just that little bit.  See even when you travel alone, it's important to remember that you never really are alone, you are part of a community of people for those fleeting moments all experiencing the same thing, at the same time, on the same train (for example) and that's a nice feeling and a nice thought.

Next post, Kandy, and the tuk tuk driver who tried to tell me my hotel didn't exist after I failed to follow the instructions of the owners of my guesthouse.  Naive and slightly stupid of me perhaps?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Singapore 2011 Photos

These photos have unfortunately been posted in reverse order.

Little India

Arab Street dresses

Arab Street Fabric Store

Arab Street Scarves

Delicious Swedish Cafe near Arab Street

Delicious Swedish Pancakes

Arab Street

Arab Street

Orchard Road

Otters in Singapore Zoo

Zebra in Singapore Zoo



Party on Sentosa

Singapore Sling on Sentosa

Murtabak and Paratha

Sentosa Merlion

Merlion and Me


Me, outside Raffles

Singapore July 2011

When I landed in Singapore at the very end of July 2011, I hadn't been to Singapore in 21 years, to be perfectly honest, I didn't know much about the place, my memories from when I was five consisted of The Merlion and possibly a tiny bit of Sentosa Island but I am really not sure.

My former flatmate, Leonard, met me at the airport and escorted me to my hostel which I had booked through HostelWorld. I think that was my big mistake. Not knowing anything about Singapore I just jumped on HostelWorld, went "that looks fairly central and vaguely nice" and booked WoW Hostel. I really should have consulted my family more because I ended up in Geylang, the "redlight" district... not entirely all that central and AlJuneid station is about as dodgy as Singapore gets at night. The hostel was not well sign posted and I got quite lost more than once. Next time I am going to stay Hotel 88 or whatever it is in Central Singapore because at least that way I know that I am safe. My friend's friends were staying there and it was soooo much nicer.

Other than the weird hostel experience Singapore was about as awesome as it gets. I really liked it and would live there if given the opportunity.

I had 2 days and 3 nights in beautiful Singapore. On day 1 I caught up with my former flatmate who had met me at the airport the night before and helped me find my hostel and met up with our former neighbour, Jeroen from Switzerland, who was a student at NUS at the time. He had some girlfriends from Switzerland visiting too. They were also on their way to a wedding in a different country.

As four out of the six of us were tourists we headed up the Singapore Flyer, just as awesome as London Eye but cooler because it's in Singapore. It provides a fantastic start to a first day in Singapore because it allows you to get your bearings from on high. It takes a fair bit of time but gives you such amazing views and such an awesome chance to decide where to next.

For us, next was Vivo City for spot of lunch and shopping. Via the Merlion of course. I remembered it being much much bigger but then I was five the last time I had seen it...
Vivo City resulted in a lunch a murtabak and banana paratha. Oh my gosh, Singaporean food is so dreamy. I am still not sold on Sugar Cane Juice but everything else is just amazing. Leonard, who has seen me not finish a whole pizza before, was wondering where I was putting all the food I was stuffing into my mouth.

After a spot of lunch was a spot of shopping. UNIQLO!!! Oh how I had missed Uniqlo. Shorts, T-shirt, umbrella... gets! I was very happy. So happy in fact that I let the others con me into going to Sentosa Island with them even though I had said that I really didn't want to go there... aaaahahahahaha.

Sentosa actually ended up being possibly one of my best memories of Singapore this time around. Jeroen's friend from the university joined us and dragged us in the direction of a foam party at a beach bar. I laughed so hard because it was a) the last thing I expected and b) the one thing I needed. The music seemed as though it was coming off of my ipod too which made me laugh a little. So we had our Singapore Slings there then headed off for Satay back in town.

Om nom nom nom nom nom nom Singapore Satay. Enough said.

Next day:

Singapore Zoo: as awesome as it is reputed to be, though I thought it would be larger, again small child memory deception. Got lost trying to get there by train then bus but I did get there in the end despite Lonely Planet's rather amusingly bad instructions.

Arab Street and Little India: Also awesome! My parents think that that area has changed a lot since they first lived there in the 1970s. Well duh! It's called progress. The boogies that used to hang out around the area around the Bugis MTR stop have gone and the atmosphere has changed completely. BUT amazing pancakey crepe things in that area at a Swedish cafe and of course, Arab Street being the former Muslim precinct had awesome scarves for awesome prices. ;-)

Orchard Road: Everything is there, everything!!! Even Sephora... more money spent... too much money spent... awesome flip flops purchased that then got worn to Ladylovescake's wedding. :D

Jammed a million and one too many things into my pack and jumped on my plane to Sri Lanka at the end of Day 2. Late night flight landed me into Sri Lanka at 0100 which is another story for another day.