Sri Lanka

Trip Start Aug 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

We've just completed a spectacular seven day holiday in Sri Lanka - filled with ups and downs (literally and figuratively)to be sure. In many ways there were many contrasts to what we have grown accustomed to in the Maldives. It's interesting what we are so thrilled to see and experience after only a couple of months of "deprivation", so to speak.

Even exiting the airport, I (and I think the kids) could sense the difference in the air, the people, the vegetation, the pulse of the country. We loved it from that very moment -talk about first impressions. We had a week to discover the pros and cons but still left with a sense of regret, of wanting to see more. From the outset the kids wanted to stay longer than our planned time and, despite their illness, this feeling still remained. Doug is quite familiar with Sri Lanka but had never visited as a tourist (and especially not with his family in tow).

Being in a relatively animal sterile environment in the Maldives, we (the kids and I)commented on each and every dog (and there were many) during the one hour drive from the airport into Colombo. In Melissa's written account of this drive, she said she yelled herself hoarse, there were so many dogs. As well, we compared each one to our dog, Tango, back in Wakefield. Doug was right way back in March, Tango does look like the Asian and African dogs on the street - only bigger and healthier. It must be the mix of many many breeds over the years.

There are also large roads in Sri Lanka - something we don't have (and usually don't miss) in Maldives. However, it was a wonderful change to drive and see people, animals, temples, Buddhas, vegetation, cattle, and so much more on the side of the road. When travelling in Maldives, we see open water and that's about it, except for the occasional island or boat. In Male, there are small congested streets with building after building, shop after shop. The drive into Colombo reminded me very much of the drive into Dar es Salaam in Tanzania with similar colonial touches - red tiled roofs, reddish soils, old plantation type houses scattered here and there. There are also tuk-tuks here (there are various names) - a three wheeled enclosed vehicle with no doors. It does not fit four easily and Jesse usually sat on the edge of the small driver's seat. Once,on the way back from the train station, we managed to get ourselves and our luggage into one of these tiny vehicles - it would have made a good picture - like clowns at the circus trying to get into a small vehicle.

The Galle Face Hotel, Doug's favourite, is a huge colonial hotel facing the Indian Ocean. The ocean is different than in Maldives, high waves crashing continuously against the shoreline and nothing in sight except huge oceanliners passing in the distance. The colour of the ocean is different - greeny brown, unlike the aquamarine of the Maldives. There are no coral reefs to add the colour or to keep out the high waves. There are terraces at the back of the hotel overlooking the ocean and the sunset. Every afternoon, high tea is served. We enjoyed this immensely on the first day but never quite got around to it after that, regrettably. At the end of high tea, the sun sinks down into the ocean at a rapid pace - a beautiful sight. Dinner is served late, again overlooking the ocean, at the Sea Spray restaurant (a very accurate name). The constant sea breeze (and spray) is refreshing and doesn't seem to bring the humidity like it does in Maldives. The hotel is old, somewhat musty with very plain rooms but the view is wonderful and the overall effect is quite stunning.

We spent Saturday evening and Sunday in Colombo. Our time there was mostly to enjoy the Galle Face and shop for clothes - that being a difficult thing to find in Maldives. Colombo is renowned for cheap prices on quality clothing - some designer brands as well. We spent Sunday afternoon at a store called Barefoot which has jazz playing in the afternoon way on the back stone enclosed patio. It was a must for me - we have not yet found a place in Male to listen to music.

Monday morning - very early - was our planned time to take a 2.5 hour train ride up to Kandy. We did this with a very sick son, who we dragged along holding his plastic bag. Melissa was not feeling great either but we were not sure if it was sympathy sickness or not. Jesse recouped for a bit and then got sick again so he did manage to enjoy parts of the scenery. The train ride to Kandy was breathtaking - from the rice fields and villages we passed to the gradual climb up into the mountains. There were some occasions when I did not look down! Kandy is nestled up in the hills and is quite spectacular as a city. It is also a common tourist destination for foreigners and Sri Lankans. With both kids not well in the room, Doug and I set out to walk the streets and were accosted every few moments by entrepreneurs of every sort - some more subtle than others. Doug quickly learned to judge the "sell" by how soon they asked where you were from. We never did get to shop since we were either being taken somewhere or were too busy trying to tell people we were not interested in what they were selling.

One thing we did buy were tickets to a Kandian dance performance. After Doug, Jesse and I had an Ayurvedic massage, Jesse felt better temporarily. We dragged the kids out to see this small but beautiful performance. It was not exactly what was described to us - elephants, dancing and guests to include the President and various other influential people - but an enjoyable glimpse into a cultural aspect of society nonetheless. Doug and I had dinner alone at the hotel and returned to the room to discover both kids not well. I rehydrated Jesse with a home-made formula and put him to bed. Melissa was sick through the night. We desperately hoped for a miraculous recovery partly because we had booked a day trip to an elephant orphanage in Pinnawala, an elephant ride at Millenium Elephant Farm and a visit to the Botanical gardens the next day. This was meant to be the highlight of the trip for the kids - they desperately wanted to see elephants.

Jesse did make a miraculous recovery by morning but Melissa was very unwell and dragged her bowl around all day. Luckily she did not need it but she was feeling very bad. While visiting the orphanage I had to pull her out from under a tree (where two puppies had snuggled up next to her) and insist she sit amongst the herd of elephants, not wanting her to miss the experience and have regrets down the road. Jesse was a bit manic all day, taking pictures wildly. I don't know if it was mind over matter or the massage but he was energized! It was quite spectacular - sitting amongst the elephants is not something one can generally do in Africa. This was amazing to watch the mothers/aunts and such teaching the little babies to try to take a dirt bath. I managed a couple of little videos with my digital camera and may try to download for you to view. Riding the elephants prior to the visit to the orphanage was an experience. Melissa and Doug did a short ride because of her state of health and Jesse and I climbed up a small incline and went further. Coming back down was the problem as our padded blanket shifted forward and we got closer and closer to going over the elephants head. However, other than being smacked by the elephants ears every few seconds, we managed to ride back in relative safety, if not comfort.

The Botanical gardens - what we saw of it - was spectacular. Melissa was not well and we didn't want to push Jesse so we walked a very small portion of the garden. One of the famous spots is the orchid house. The gardens are a wonderful spot to spend some time amongst the trees and vegetation. If someone asks "do you want to see me climb a tree" (or anything else for that matter), remember it will cost you! It did break up the tranquility at times.

A visit to the Temple of the Tooth was in order in the evening. Jesse came with us and watched the ceremony. Melissa was not well enough. We did not have a guide (we were fed up of being offered guides and paying money constantly for the least little thing so turned this down). We got the gist of it from some other people who did have a guide. I won't write about it here and need to look up the ceremony myself again to recount it properly. It's a budhist temple which is said to house the tooth of the Buddha. There is a ceremony every evening. The building is quite spectacular inside and out. The tourist aspect was a bit too strong for me, feeling in the mood to be more quietly ritual. However, that was somewhat unrealistic and selfish on my part.

The following day Jesse took ill again - well actually in usual form in the middle of the night. Melissa was slightly better but barely. They both seemed better in the pool and we spent much of the day there so they could feel in higher spirits. We did drive up to a huge Buddha statue overlooking the city of Kandy. Jesse was too sick and lay down in the outer room while the three of us were blessed by a young monk and we climbed part way up the Buddha. We came back to find him lying in one corner and a puppy lying in the opposite corner. It was quite endearing and a blessing in itself - a distraction and focus for him as he suffered in silence. We took a train in the afternoon back to Colombo - each child trying to hold it together but weak from illness and no food. Jesse and Doug sat in the open doorway for part of the trip and just enjoyed watching the Sri Lankan world go by.

My debriefing of Kandy was difficult. I had to think it through quite a bit. I was really discouraged by the time I reached the Buddha up on the hill on the last day. I didn't want to engage in conversation, knowing it would probably cost me something in the end (having little sleep and sick children didn't help either). Everyone wanted money up there as well. The blessing of the young monk, etc. etc. I haven't been a tourist anywhere for a long time - when in Canada I'm camping or cottaging for the most part. I don't know what it's like in Niagara Falls or other tourist places -maybe similar. I also took a look at values and Doug and I had this discussion while overlooking the ocean with a glass of wine at the Galle Face. In Canada, we value space and when shopping we generally prefer browsing and making our own decisions (except at Canadian Tire, according to Doug and others, who say they can never find anyone to help). That is not part of the culture in Sri Lanka. On top of that, everyone has to do their own "advertising" so to speak. Every individual is trying to make a living and it is not the culture or very economical to sit back and see who might wander by. It was good to debrief on this and think it through before coming away with judgements.

On Thursday (our second last day of holiday), Doug and I went down for breakfast and the waiter suggested calling in a doctor for the kids. I had finally given the kids antibiotics but this was promptly tossed back up and we were getting more and more worried. We called the doctor in and he arrived with a non-drowsy anti-nausea, something for Melissa's stomach pain, an anti-biotic for Jesse and a re-hyrdration formula. Melissa sipped on her rehydration through the day but Jesse refused because of the taste. Nonetheless, they both got better without further antibiotics. I made them a chicken broth with Knorr bouillion cubes and added chinese noodles. They seemed better still and by Friday, our day of departure, they were in fairly good shape. Jesse came shopping again and we all arrived back in Maldives in relatively good health. (I take that back - Doug took ill the day after returning and is still quite ill with a food bug - possibly that semi-raw hamburger he ate before leaving Sri Lanka and I'm suffering from a migraine for the first time in a long time after 2 days "home").

One other pointt to mention would be security. It is rather tight in Sri Lanka with travel restricted in parts of the country. The police are everywhere but as tourists, we were only stopped once. There are checkpoints everywhere, particularly going in and out of Colombo. On the final day, they were checking under vehicles with mirrors near the hotel. We heard (from the taxi driver on the last day) that explosives were found every day coming into Colombo. A grim reality of the current situation.

It's amazing how muggy and hot it is here in Maldives in comparison to Sri Lanka. Some people asked us there if the heat was bothering the kids and I explained it's a lot hotter in Maldives. The climate was so much more welcoming in Sri Lanka. Doug suggested breakfast the first morning back, forgetting Ramazan (already). It was so nice during our holiday to go out for a meal or have a cappucino and bite to eat on the run. The luxuries we don't have at the moment. The humidity was pretty overwhelming as we walked to one of the only two hotels to have a not so wonderful breakfast and then walked to various shops to try and buy food - a bad day for sure since the fresh food was mostly rotting. The meat which was supposed to be frozen was partially thawed. I think I'll resort to making some soups with lentils and black beans and squash for the next while (well once Doug's stomach is repaired). Many people in Male have been getting food poisoning or a pretty severe flu since Ramazan started - not that this can't happen elsewhere - Doug a good case in point.

I think that's it for our experience in Sri Lanka. The kids are writing their own accounts in their books at this very moment. For some reason it does not feel so good to be back for some of us (or is it just me). I'm meeting lots of people and my social calendar is getting busier but it seems to be an adjustment after only a week away. Maybe a day swimming and snorkelling next week will set us right. After Sri Lanka I think Jesse and I both forgot that our return home after vacation would be Male and not Wakefield. It was somehow a trick of the mind. Well, back to home-schooling (we've taken the kids out of school), CUSO training frameworks and Red Cross waste management projects.

xo Linda
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