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.