Ella 2

Trip Start Feb 25, 2010
Trip End Apr 23, 2010

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

11 April

Well, it's been exactly a month since I left home - fleeing the political unrest and the heat in Thailand. Both of those things are still ongoing, but I'm ready to go back home.  I think it was Judy in the Wizard of Oz who said "There's no place like home".  I have to agree.

That being said, if one has to be away from home, this is a pretty nice place to do it. Really, I love it here - I'm very happy here - and when I leave Sri Lanka, I'm sure I will look back on it very fondly.  Especially the place where I am now.  It's a little paradise.  Stunning scenery; as peaceful a place as you could wish for.  It's just that I've been away from home for long enough now.

I fell out of bed early this morning - at 6:30 - stepped outside and found my next door neighbors already sitting out enjoying the splendid morning weather - after another torrential downpour last night.  This lovely young Sri Lankan couple are here in Ella for the first time.  They are able to come because it is the Buddhist New Year's holiday, pretty much the only time they can get away from a workaholic Korean boss who doesn't understand the concept of time away from work - either for himself or his employees.  The couple invited me over for a cup of tea and a chat, and I was amazed to find out how much we had in common in spite of our very different backgrounds.  They come to Bangkok sometimes on business, so I hope to see them there on their next visit.

And speaking of Bangkok, after breakfast I went to check my e-mails and I had a note from my friend Paul in Pennsylvania (whom I know from Bangkok), and he informed me that the protests of the last month in Thailand have finally boiled over into bloodshed.  Apparently 18 people were killed and around 800 injured in the fighting in the city last night.  I don't suppose I'm really surprised at the violence because there is really no way people are going to protest for a month and then just go home - without having changed anything.  It generally takes bloodshed to get people's attention.  Unfortunately, I see this as just a start to things rather than an ending.  I just hope that things don't get too out of hand.  It would be asking too much, though, to expect everything to be settled before my return to Thailand in a week.

After lunch I ran into my Aussie friends Vincent and Sam and their Kiwi and Dutch companions.  They told me that they had gone up to the waterfall yesterday afternoon and that, after having had a wonderful time frolicking there, they got caught up in a serious rain storm on their way home.  It was so bad, with flash flooding, that they couldn't get back to their guest house.  Instead, they had to sleep at the home of some locals up in the jungle.  It was one of those real adventures that makes a trip special.  Still, I preferred to hear of it second-hand rather than to have experienced it myself.

The Aussies and the Kiwi left town on a bus headed for the south coast, leaving the Dutch girl with me.  We had lunch together at my usual place, the Dream Café, before the Dutch girl had to head back to her room.  While still in the restaurant, I had a nice long conversation with another Kiwi couple on a round-the-world trip.  When they left, I got into yet another conversation with a couple of English girls, both of whom were also on an extended voyage.  I guess I just like talking to people when I travel.  Most travelers have interesting experiences to relate.

As I mentioned, my friend Gregory is coming to visit me here tomorrow and he'll be bringing a friend with him.  The problem is that my guest house has only one empty room for tomorrow night, so I needed to find another room somewhere else for Gregory's friend Christopher.  This gave me an excuse to visit more guest houses in the village.  I found one owned by a very well educated Sri Lankan (studied at the London School of Economics) who is married to a Thai woman.  He didn't have a lot good to say about his fellow Sri Lankans, which seems to be a common theme here.  He said that Sri Lanka is a good place to live if you don't need / expect to integrate with the locals.  But to the extent that you mix with them, your life will be more problematic.  Interesting.

Back to the hotel room to catch the late afternoon rain and have a nap to work up the energy for my usual big dinner at the hotel.  Once again I seemed to be the only guest eating dinner here.  Even though dinner at the hotel is slightly more expensive than dinner in the town, I eat here as much for the convenience as anything.  I just can't be bothered to make the walk back to town in the dark.  Who knows what might be lurking out there in the bushes!

During dinner, I had my usual nice conversation with the young Sri Lankan manager of the hotel.  It's nice to find someone whose English is good enough to talk about everything.  He told me an interesting story from Sri Lankan history.  Back when the Portuguese came to Sri Lanka, one of the Sri Lankan kings sent spies to see what the foreigners were up to.  The spies came back to the king with the report that the foreign devils ate rocks and drank blood!  Of course it turned out that the rocks were loaves of bread, and the blood was red wine.  Ha.

12 April

Today was laundry day.  A few days ago I spotted the hotel's washing machine in one of the service rooms and I asked the manager if they had a laundry service.  Once again it seemed like I was the first one to ever ask this question.  And although they normally use the washing machine for the hotel's towels and sheets, he agreed to let me wash a load of my clothes - for free!  So I did.  After that I spent the morning reading and watching my clothes dry on the plastic chairs on my grass lawn.  Interestingly, they don't seem to have discovered the concept of clotheslines in Sri Lanka.  They just hang their wet clothes on bushes, or spread them out on the roof.  I tried to explain the benefits of a clothesline over a bush to the manager (on a clothesline, the clothes can get the sun and the wind, thereby accelerating the drying process), but I don't think I managed to convince him.  Their ancestors used bushes, and if it was good enough back then, it's good enough today.

Yesterday when I was in town I saw a little foreign girl eating a nice looking cheeseburger at one of the restaurants that cater to foreigners here.  They have a sign out front that says "The best cheeseburgers".  The part of their slogan that was not on the sign was "It's easy to be the best when you're the only one."  The burger had a little more rubber in the beef than I'm used to, but hunger allowed me to eat most of it.  I always wonder why they never think to ask foreigners how to cook foreign food.  I would have gladly shown them how to make a rubber-free burger.

On my way back to the guest house I tried to buy some tomatoes from a roadside vendor.  I asked the price (50 rupees a kilo - a good, cheap price); I asked for a plastic bag into which I intended to put my tomatoes; then I started picking out the ones I wanted.  And it went exactly like it happened when I bought tomatoes in Nuwara Eliya:  I put good tomatoes in my bag; the vendor, trying to "help" me, added bad ones - with the comment "This one very good"; I took his very good tomatoes out and replaced them with my ones.  In the end I got tired of his shenanigans and I just walked away - without the tomatoes.  (Much to my regret, I might add.  But, well, principles are principles!)  As I said before, I have no use whatsoever for bad tomatoes, and I'm not interested in helping him get rid of his inventory of bad tomatoes.  The end result is that I now have no tomatoes and he has more unsold ones that will probably rot due to a lack of customers.  And what will he learn from this experience?  Next time he should try to slip the bad tomatoes into the bag without the stupid foreigner seeing him do it.

I got a call from my friend Gregory's driver seeking directions to Ella from where they were some two hours away.  At about 17:30 I went to sit on some steps at the main intersection in town awaiting Gregory's arrival.  Again I saw that paranoid schizophrenic German guy - and this time he didn't even recognize me.  So it appears that I worried for nothing.  Gregory and his friend Christopher eventually arrived in downtown Ella at about 18:00 and I hopped into their van and guided the driver to my guesthouse, where a hot beer and cold shower awaited the new arrivals.

After a nice dinner and an exchange of stories, we three walked into town together to put Christopher into a different guesthouse for the night as mine is full tonight, as I mentioned.  Tomorrow Christopher will join us back at the Mountain Heavens, where I've been staying for the past three days.

As we tried to sleep, the two Sri Lankan families with whom we were sharing the guesthouse were making themselves at home, the adults screaming and the kids crying.  They gave absolutely no consideration to the fact that there were other guests at the hotel who wished to sleep.  Apparently they are not used to being in public places.  Really shameful behavior.

13 April

We three gentlemen went out to try to have breakfast in the village but every place was closed for the new year so we bought some fruit and curd and brought them back to our hotel and combined them with some bread and cheese and had a nice breakfast in my room.  With Gregory and Christopher still not having completely recovered from their ordeal of getting here, we just sat in my room for hours after breakfast and talked, relaxed and enjoyed the spectacular view.

As had been agreed a few days ago, at just before five o'clock we walked over to the nearby Waterfalls Homestay guest house, where I was to cook my chicken for dinner for the guest house owners and their guests as well as ourselves.  While I was cooking, Gregory and Christoper were enjoying a nice conversation with Martin, the Australian co-owner of the guest house.  He's had a pretty amazing life - with his share of ups and downs, but he seems to be doing well now.  He (Martin) works as a veterinarian on a ship that transports sheep from Australia to the Middle East.  He has also spent some years working and doing research in Thailand.  He has lived in Sri Lanka with his Australian wife for a few years and during this time he has been able to make some useful observations about the locals.  For example, he says he only does business with the Muslims as they are trustworthy, but the majority Sinhalese are basically lying, cheating scammers who are incapable of imagining the concept of long term business relationships.  He also suggested that he could study ANY subject/field/line of work for a couple of months and be able to do it better than 99% of locals.  And somehow I don't think he was boasting.

As the name of the guest house suggested, we were right in front of the waterfall, which was enhanced by the torrential rain that poured down for most of the evening.

Since we were feeding about a dozen people and had only one good cooking pan, I had to cook three batches of chicken consecutively.  The first batch didn't go so well but the second and third were pretty good, so we fed people from the last batches first so that everybody would get a better impression of my cooking.  If they were still hungry, they were given a piece from the second batch - which, because it was not as good, taught them not to be so greedy.  Ha.

Everybody seemed to have enjoyed the dinner as well as the interesting conversation, so I would rate the evening as a success.  And in spite of having stood over a hot stove all evening, I quite enjoyed the whole thing as well.  It was a very special and unexpected way to spend an evening on vacation in Sri Lanka.

14 April

Christopher was still tired so he spent the morning in bed while Gregory and I hiked for a total of about four hours to the top of the nearby Mini Adam's Peak.  The views along the way were lovely and the walk in the cool, fresh air was invigorating.

Just after noon we arrived back in the village hoping to have lunch but once again essentially every restaurant in town was closed for the new year celebration.  So we struggled back to our hotel and ordered spaghetti for lunch.  It took ages for our lunch to arrive and it was a big pile of mush - rather like the cans of Chef Boyardee spaghetti from my childhood, but we were hungry so, well, we ate it.  By then it was 15:00 and, exhausted, we retired to our rooms for a nap.

In the meantime Christopher was out hiking to the waterfall, where, as we later found out, he suffered a pretty painful fall when he slipped on some rocks there.  He landed on his elbows, which prevented him from landing on his head.  He really narrowly averted a disaster.

After a beer at our hotel during which Christopher related his adventure, we all walked down to the village to have dinner at the guest house where I had sat with the Czech girl nearly a week ago.  We had a very tasty spread of rice and about eight different vegetable "curries" while having an interesting conversation about a variety of topics, mainly, though, about the great dictators of the early 20th century.  (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Kim of North Korea, etc.)  It really seemed to be a time when that sort of thing seemed to have flourished.  We also acknowledged our fortune at not having had to live under any of those dictatorships.  So many people suffered so much yet so needlessly during those times.

15 April

Gregory, Christopher and I took the 9:47 train to nearby Bandarawela, much as I had done last Sunday, for the experience of riding the train and viewing the lovely scenery therefrom, as well as to see a different, bigger town.  We had a tolerable lunch in very charming surroundings in the colonial Bandarawela Hotel before strolling around the town for another hour our two.  Since we had already (probably) missed the 12:30 train back to Ella, we hopped on a bus at the bus station.  Again we made the mistake of thinking that we would be comfortable, as the bus was not full at all when we left the station.  However, the bus stopped again shortly after departure and waited for nearly an hour on the main street waiting to get uncomfortably full before departing.  Again, the wait was longer than the ride.  That didn't seem to be a problem for the locals as they place a different value on their time than those of us from developed countries tend to do.  For us, time is money.  For them, well, time is just time - of which they seem to have plenty.

After getting back to Ella, we tried to negotiate a ride in a van to Galle for tomorrow.  We found a driver sitting in a very comfortable looking van so we asked him how much it would cost for the ride.  He quoted us 12,000 rupees, but when we kept on walking, he quickly lowered his price to 11,000.  We took his card and said that we would call him shortly to confirm the details of our departure tomorrow.

When we got back to our guest house, Gregory and Christopher left to go and have dinner with the Australian couple at the Waterfall Homestay, where we had had dinner a couple of nights ago.  I was left to work out the details of our ride to Galle tomorrow.  So I asked the kind manager of our guest house to call the driver and confirm an 8:30 departure - and to try and get the price down to 10,000 rupees.  Well, this being Sri Lanka, where a man's word is not worth the paper it's spoken on, he claimed never to have even agreed to 11,000 rupees - in spite of the fact that we had three witnesses (all of very good character, I might add) to that fact.  In the end, we agreed to his re-negotiated price and resolved to get back at him by not giving him the customary tip.  Just another lesson in doing business with Sri Lankans.
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Lek on

Very nice geography indeed, with the hot beer and cold shower, it would have been spectacular... Local beer must be boiled before drink eh?

bangkokrandy on


Actually the local beer is the best that I've had in Asia! I'd like to get the exclusive distributorship for the brand in Thailand. I'll bet it would sell very well here. The only problem it would come up against the vested interests of the local breweries.


Paul on

Yep, really nice scenery, and such handsome farangs as well!!

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