Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
74Trip End Oct 22, 2004
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Where I stayed
After four action-packed nights in Kitulgala, our rucsacs were packed yet again for the two hour drive to the centre-most point on the island, Kandy, Sri Lanka's 2nd city. On the way we would be stopping for a couple of hours at, arguably, the most visited tourist-trap in the country, Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. Altogether now, aaaaaaaaaaah.
One mile before we got there Lasantha took us to a spice garden, obviously receiving commission from the owners for our anticipated business. Shown around by a 'herbal medicine doctor', he was a Swedish Bernie Winters, and his favourite medicine was his cure for "Schnoring". It turned out to be quite interesting, with a free massage thrown in, which came as a nice surprise as we were still crippled from our mountain-climbing exploits.
As we were leaving we were handcuffed and frogmarched to the hard-sell shop. It was obvious we weren't going to come out of this with our wallets intact.
Soph was immediately shown the 'natural' slimming tablets. Blimming cheek.
I was pointed in the direction of some 'natural' Viagra. Doubly blimming cheek.
"Like an elephant" Bernie promised me in front of eight other visitors. After seeing the randy ponies at Rafters Retreat I told him like a horse would suffice. But obviously I declined . . . honestly.
Soph turned down the chance of becoming 15 pounds lighter, but at the checkout with our basket full of natural herbal products, we still went away 15 pounds lighter.
Next stop, Pinnewala, and having just missed the midday elephant bath, we would have to wait til 2pm for their next scrub down.
At 1.15pm there would be a feeding session, so after a quick eight per cent proof Elephant beer, we headed for the feed-zone early for a ringside seat. About six elephants were to be fed in front of the spectators, but soon after they arrived we made our exit. The gallons of milk used for feeding had attracted the whole Sri Lankan fly population and swarms were buzzing around our heads. Off we went for some lunch overlooking the stream, used as the elephant's bath. This was a really nice setting, and as we tucked into our food, the elephants were led down and into the water, where they had a nice little paddle. In fact they didn't use any soap or deodorant, and they were led home filthier. It was then back to the van for another hours driving to Kandy.
The road into Kandy was busy, but we soon realised this was a nice town, built predominantly by the British in true old colonial styling, overlooked by a huge statue of Buddha on the hill and surrounding a large lake.
At one end of the lake was the curiously named Temple of the Tooth Relic, obviously built in memory of Harold Steptoe, and another five minutes drive took us to Hotel Suisse where we'd be staying. Again, it was very colonial, and the hallways leading to the rooms had the air of university halls of residence
Early that evening we popped into town, to stock up on provisions at their version of Sainsbury's, Food City. The provisions being chocolate, cashew nuts and deodorant, basic backpacker survival essentials.
Back at base we dined on a lukewarm buffet and Lion beers. That was followed by a game of snooker in their billiards room against the Club Pro. He was a cheery old chap who gradually got grumpier as the evening wore on due to a three-nil drubbing. Still, I did give him a big tip . . . try to keep your cueing arm straight.
The next morning we would have to leave at 7.30am for a five hour drive to the (what we thought would be) quaint town of Ella, via Nuwara Eliya. Although it looked only a short trip on the map, the road turned out to be a dead ringer of the road in the closing scenes of 'The Italian Job' but with the added obstacle of roadworks for most of the way. Seat belts were of no use, roller-coaster type, up and over restraints were the order of the day
As we steadily climbed, we passed the jaw-dropping views of The Horton Plains and perfect rows of glossy tea bushes with laden down pickers with their sacks on their backs straight from the packaging of PG Tips boxes.
Three hours later we passed a sign saying 'Welcome to Nuwara Eliya, Garden of Sri Lanka'. It all looked promising but never has the phrase 'the cover never tells the story' been so apt. This was the highest major town in Sri Lanka and the guidebooks called it Little England, Little Beirut would have been more accurate. England never looked like this, not even Peckham. Sure there was a small golf course, a rundown racecourse and a Post Office that looked like a doll's house and the weather was cloudy but the town centre was a mish-mash of the usual messy generic shops selling everything and litter-strewn roads.
We stopped briefly, only to relieve ourselves, then legged it back to the van watching each others backs for sniper-fire. I presumed Bush would be visiting soon with his Roadmap to Peace.
Another two hours south and we came to Ella, otherwise known as The Gaza Strip of the East. For once I've nothing to report, it was a nothing sort of town in the middle of nothingness except view after view of rolling hills, rolling into nothingness.
After an average lunch at an average resort we started the long haul home. This day had become the biggest waste of time since Ian Duncan-Smith thought he'd give the Tory leadership a go
The Botanical Gardens didn't really sound like our cup of tea, but it was recommended by a lot of people, then again, so was Nuwara Eliya, but we were pleasantly surprised (must be getting old). Apparently there are thousands of species of trees and plants here, and if you've read this far, I won't bore you any more with the gritty details, but the highlights were the thousands of screeching fruit bats hanging from the trees and the Memorial Garden, where visiting royals come to plant trees. The tree Queen Elizabeth planted was a particularly droopy looking specimen, but I won't be reporting the fact back to her.
Public shows of affection are banned in Sri Lanka, so a small bandstand hidden by foliage was being put to good use by a number of randy nookie-starved Sri Lankan couples virtually on top of each other hiding from marriage-manipulating future in-laws, and throughout the gardens nearly every bench was being used for pre-nuptial shenanigans. We didn't know what to look at, rare trees or bare knees.
It was lunchtime and so from the Forest of Fornication we were driven back to Kandy town centre for some traditional Sri Lankan fare. Where do you go when you're starving hungry in the cultural centre of Sri Lanka? That's right, you 'Hit the Hut'.
We gorged on pizzas, onion rings and cream sodas readying ourselves for our regular temple-fix, the Temple of the Tooth Relic, where I was refused entry for gratuitous knee-showing, so outside, one pound fifty bought me a rather dashing hairy-leg hiding sarong, which led to giggles from the local ladies.
After an hour wandering aimlessly around, me and Soph laid down the Law of the Temple. Only one visit to a temple per country. Apologies to God/Buddha/David Icke.
That evening we were back out and about in Lasantha's passion-wagon for a spot of break-dancing by the local dance troupe. We were taken to what looked like a working men's club from the outside, which led to a small kids pantomime-type hall, where about fifty other pale-faces waited for the nightly show of Lakeside Kandy Dancing.
The programme showed about twelve different scenes to be boogied to, and ending in fire-eating and fire-walking. The first scene began and we sat there holding our giggles in thinking of what it reminded us of. Soph got it. 'The Generation Game' minus Brucie. To the left of the stage there was a diet-dodging dancer who could have been a contestant trying to copy the other's moves. Staring at the others doing back-flips, he would just hop backwards and wiggle now and again.
To be fair the show did get better and was well worth the one pound fifty entrance fee. Somersaults were aplenty and (male-chauvinist moment approaching) the lady dancers were easily the hottest tastiest chicks I'd seen since we'd arrived (male-chauvinist moment ended).
That night back at the hotel it was time for the snooker rematch. I hadn't seen the club-pro for a couple of days and he leapt out from behind a door, put a sack over my head and dragged me into the billiard room muffling my cries for help. I didn't realise he wanted revenge that much. He then proceeded to gain a psychological advantage as he began to tell me about how a new chain was taking over the hotel and were looking for younger cheaper staff, and that he was on a week by week contract. A violin played in the distance, Soph blubbed quietly in the corner, I tensed my face muscles to avoid lower-lip quiver. The gentleman in me then came out, and I threw the match 2-1, his 30 break in the deciding game having nothing to do with it.
You'll all be happy to hear that there's nothing to report today apart from relaxing and sunbathing by the hotel pool. Although I could go on about turning a darker shade of brown and swimming underwater for a whole length . . . OK I won't.
Lasantha had had his day off, so we decided to put him to the sword once again with a nice two hour drive north. The destination being Sri Lanka's very own Ayers Rock, Sigiriya. An oblong, 600 foot lump of rock with a very shaky looking staircase precariously attached to the rock-face.
This is by far the most money-grabbing attraction Sri Lanka has to offer. 1,440 SL Rupees each for the 40 minute climb to an ancient housing estate, that's 18 English pounds for both of us. Sri Lanka have a two-tier pricing policy for locals and foreigners, and this one would have been about 20 SLR for locals. I know we earn on average ten times more than them per month (no exaggeration this time), but you don't see us charging the Japanese a thouasnds pounds entry fee to Madame Tussauds (which is far more interesting that Sigiriya). In relation, the Botanical Gardens and Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage were only 200 SLR each (less than two pounds) and they were well worth it. Nothing in England costs nine quid to see, except Chelsea Football Club, but obviously that's worth every penny. There, I've had my rant, I shall now go and un-twist my knickers.
At the summit were a few foot high ruins and a bench made of rock with two confusing signs next to each other:
"Please do not sit"
Make your mind up.
Moving on, we had the now usual barrage of the bandana-wearing local adolescents giving us the Sri Lankan Inquisition. They confronted us with the well-worn question:
"Allo, wheeech country?"
We had wised up after weeks of relentless bombardments.
"Je suis Francais."
They sloped away disdainfully.
If you let on you're English or American you're fair game as a stream of questions would spew from their pearly-white mouths.
"You like Manunitted? Leeevpoool? Arsnl?"
"Bikhaam, velly gooood."
"Huu Grant, goood achtoor", at which point I'd have to butt in and tell them they've gone a bit too far.
Back at the foot of Rip-off Rock and it was back south a half an hour to Dambulla Rock Temples, where our one temple per country rule would be broken before you could say "Whatever happened to David Icke?".
In fairness (I hate being fair) this temple was a Buddha's head and shoulders above the much-hyped Temple of the Tooth Relic. It was 1,600 years old and could prove it, no problem. This was the Real McCoy. No poncey brick-built temples here, just hard-as-nails caves. This was built for the Harry Secombes and the Thora Hirds of the world. There were hand-painted smiling Buddhas in every orifice and real-life locals chanting mantras in every cavern.
The air of holiness was only broken by Soph's shoulder-hiding rented shawl that gave out a scent of eau-de-pee which led to some Gazza/Lasantha immature shoulder-shoving giggling. After giving it back, Lasantha instructed the hirer in local dialect to give it a good wash while council-estate staircase smelling Soph mopped herself down. Wet-Wipes saving the day yet again for a messy traveller.
The next day would see us travelling to that smoky, crumpled coat-wearing capital city that limps along solving the day-to-day mysteries of urban life with one eye on the world, Colombo.
We hope you're all enjoying your first week back at work with renewed optimistic vigour for the forthcoming year. We'll try and do the same, but with only another ten months off work it could prove tricky, so when you're in front of your monitor and you've got a creative mental block, or you've got an awkward customer, or that wire won't quite slot into that plug, just think of me and the brunette having a whale of a time on the other side of the planet, you'll feel much better.
Crappy New Year
Gorgeous Gaz & Smelly Soph