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Sri Lanka 2010–Introduction

Posted by ross. Comments Off

 

This was our first trip to Sri Lanka and what a wonderful trip it was. We had wanted to visit earlier in December 2008 but the war there was really getting hot because of the government’s new offensive against the LTTE so we decided to postpone our trip and see how things developed. To our surprise and relief the war was finally declared over in May 2009.

For my 60th Birthday on 17 May 2010, Christel gave me a great gift, a trip to Sri Lanka. The only negative side was the timing.  May is statistically the month when the Monsoons bring the most rain to the southern part of the island. Well, I couldn’t help the date of my birthday, but I really wanted to visit Sri Lanka and enjoy what the island had to offer regardless of the weather. 

 

monkey

Monkeys are a very common site in Sri Lanka. Although they look very nice, they can be rather aggressive and proved, on more than one occasion, to be very talented thieves. You are warned in certain areas about not leaving the window or the door to your room open because they will take anything that looks interesting.

 

 

 

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What I had always dreamed of…..  The ocean, long lonely beaches , warm weather and NO TOURISTS !!  

This is Surfer Point in Arugam Bay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BabyElephantInJungleThis is a composite picture I put together of one of the baby elephants we saw in the Elephant Orphanage near Kandy.  In the original photo he had a chain around his back leg and was in a kind of corral where tourists could take pictures of him and even feed him with a bottle of milk. I felt so sorry for him that I wanted to put him back in his natural habitat.

Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t being mistreated and there is no doubt that he wouldn’t have survived in the wild without the protection of his mother or family.  That is why he was at the Orphanage.

Arrival in Sri Lanka

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May 12, 2010

 

We arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) near Negombo at 0845. Sleepy smile The Customs check was surprisingly smooth and painless since there weren’t that many passengers and we quickly proceeded to the baggage area. After picking up our baggage, the first item on our list was to buy some Sri Lankan rupees (Rs.) and then pickup a local SIM card for our mobile. This was no problem at all. In the lobby area are money exchange outlets, car and driver services and several mobile phone operators.  We decided to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card from Dialog GSM for about Rs. 1,000, because Dialog has the best network coverage on the island and there are plenty of outlets in every town.

We had already made a reservation to stay at the Sharon Inn in Kandy and they had arranged for a driver to meet us at the airport. Auto He was waiting among about 20 other drivers at the entrance. He had a sign with our name on it, but before we could reach him, we literally had to push our way through the other drivers who wanted to offer us their services.  Since this was our first trip to Sri Lanka and we were both feeling tired from the flight, we were glad we had arranged for a driver.   Smile

After a quick introduction, he left to get the car and we waited outside with our baggage. Even though it was only 09:30 in the morning the heat and humidity were stifling, after having been, for the most part since our arrival, in an air conditioned environment. When we left Germany the day before, the temperature had been a cool 12C and now we were in 34C weather, and although it was a relative clear day the humidity must have been around 70% . That really requires the body to go through some big adjustment. Confused smile

The drive to Kandy was our first experience with the Sri Lankan driving etiquette.  Although our driver was good, we had read from more than a few sources that the traffic in Sri Lanka can be very challenging and even life threatening. Many of the other drivers on the highway, for the most part, lived up to our worst expectations. The bus drivers are by far the worst offenders, regardless of whether they drive the red government or white private buses. The Tuc-Tuc drivers are also very erratic but because of there relative small size they tend to avoid a direct confrontation.

After driving for several hours we needed a break, so we stopped at one of the many fruit stands that are often found on the road sides in Sri Lanka.  Christel had been dreaming of eating fresh and sweet mango. The driver asked one of the men from stand to find her a nice ripe one. One man picked a suitable one and then cut it open so Christel could eat it with her fingers. Who me?Open-mouthed smileAfterwards the driver ordered us three fresh King Coconuts (locally called Thambili), which are large and range in color from green to dark yellow and are full of coconut juice.  It is the custom to take a knife, that resembles a machete, chop the top off and give it to you to drink.  With foreigners, they normally offer you a straw but the locals just drink the juice directly from the coconut. After the juice is gone then the vendor will cut the coconut in half and you can eat the tender creamy tasting meat from the inside, using the sharp edge of the top which had been chopped off.   What a refreshing treat and great thirst quencher. The juice is naturally sterile and has a large number of health benefits. That had been high on our list of must does, and we were not disappointed.     

Kandy

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May 12 – 15, 2010

We arrived in Kandy at the Sharon Inn about 3 hours after leaving the airport. We were shown several rooms and decided on the one on the very top floor because of the beautiful view down the hill to Kandy Lake.  We were both exhausted Sleepy smile so we barely unpacked and fell on the bed to sleep for a few hours.

After waking up we decided to venture down to Kandy Lake and visit the city.  As we were walking around the lake we caught a glimpse of this Water Monitor (Waran)looking at us from the edge of the water. There they live on fish and an occasional bird.

water_monitor

Kandy and the Touts:

According to Wikipedia a Tout (Kundenfänger) is:

A person who frequents heavily touristic areas and presents himself as a tour guide (particularly towards those who do not speak the local language) but operates on behalf of local bars, restaurant, or hotels, being paid to direct tourists towards certain establishments.

In Kandy the name Tout takes on several different meanings. We personally were confronted several times by Touts. Usually they are rather obvious and annoying. Normally they are harmless and just ignoring them and walking away is the best thing to do.

Next morning, after our first night under an unneeded mosquito net Winking smileand breakfast of course , we were ready to explore some sights of Kandy and what it’s environment has to offer.

We hired a driver through the Sharon Inn and started with the Royal Botanical Garden at Peradeniya, close by Kandy, which is well known for it’s wide collection of  flora from around the world.

Here we learned one of our first lessons as foreign tourists: tourists have to pay about 10 times more for the entrance fee than the locals, which I find acceptable, since the average Sri Lankan earns very little by western standards.

We spent a couple of hours to enjoy the garden:

Selected pictures of the Garden

 

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flower05 flower04 flower01
jackfruit tree01 big_tree
This tree is over 20m wide!
  hanging_fruit  
 

click thumbnails to enlarge

 

 

 

After our visit to the park we drove to the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnewala, which is a must if you like elephants Open-mouthed smileand Christel does. The entrance fee is adjusted to a tourist wallet: Surprised smile 2000,-Rs in May 2010. Don’t waste the extra money on feeding elephant babies, it costs an extra 500,-Rs, which is just a rip-off. As soon as those two heavily chained teenagers reach the feeding gate, from where tourist are allowed to place a bottle in their mouths, they drink the entire  bottle in less than 5 seconds, which is 100 Rs. per/second. Plus the handling and attitude of the local care takers is just disgusting. Be aware of taking pictures of the elephants outside in the open areas. The Mahouts first encourage you to take a picture of  your companion with an elephant and right afterwards ask for money, about 100,- Rs per picture per Mahout. We gave them a 100,- Rs. tip to share between themselves and didn’t earn one happy face. Devil

Make sure you arrive in a timeframe (usually mid-afternoon) when the elephants are herded down to the nearby river to bath and cool off from the scorching sun. This is included in the price of the entrance fee. This we found  to be a really peaceful and enjoyable moment.

Selected pictures of the Orphanage

 

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Christel and Big Mama
elephant_orphanage01 elephant_orphanage02
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They can drink over 200 liters per day
  elephant_orphanage04
A nice cool bath in the river
 

click thumbnails to enlarge

 

 

 

At the end of the day the driver encouraged us to visit a spice garden, which sounded great to Christel. On our way back to Kandy we passed several and stopped at garden #24.  The garden was small and the entry fee and guide were free of charge. We were introduced to several plants, also used in Homeopathies, like vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon,  aloe, cloves, sandalwood, cacao tree, etc. At the end of the tour we received a facial and back massage, where they used lotions and oils made from all the herbs we saw. (afterwards a nice  tip was expected – of course)

As Christel sarcastically commented afterwards: smearing the body with oil without washing is a great way to preserve all the collected dust, dirt and sweat of the day. Confused smile

 

wedding

Local Wedding party on Lake Kandy.

Our last day in noisy Kandy we dedicated to the temple of Buddha’s Tooth, a MUST. There the most important Sri Lankan reliquary of Buddha is kept, one of his teeth.

To get in the temple, you have to pass a serious body and backpack security check! Imagine the check-in at an airport.

As we were getting in line somewhere a Buddhist monk offered to be our guide and we gladly accepted, not knowing what we were facing .Secret telling smile

The tour went through the whole complex which is rather large. Even though we are not Buddhists we were able to participate in many of the ceremonies, which included praying, burning special candles and incense , walking around the Bodhi tree with holy water, and of course at the end being asked for a donation. If it is deemed big enough, you are permitted to write your name in the temple registry, which I did.  Actually, I saw this as a good insurance policy for our visit in Sri Lanka.

buddhas_tooth

Behind the curtain is the holy Tooth of Buddha

ross_buddhistMonk

Our guide was very knowledgeable and spoke English very well.

After the strenuous and crowded temple visit we needed a break. We found a spot in the shade on the steps of the Tourist Office nearby. We were working on removing our cutoff pants when Ross was approached by a very nice man who presented himself as being very knowledgeable about Kandy. We complained about the Touts and he agreed that it was really a shame that tourists have to be confronted with this problem.

sifting_sand

During my conversation with the guy Christel became attracted by watching a lady, who was sifting sand the traditional way.

 

 

 

 

We were hungry and also wanted to shop at the local market for spices and light shirts, so we asked him for directions.

He offered to show us the way since it was his lunch break but first he had to clear everything in the Tourist Office where we assumed he worked. We told him that we didn’t want to bother him but he insisted. After he went in (supposedly to clear everything) I followed him into the office and noticed that the receptionist didn’t seem to know him Confused smile and he very quickly ushered me out so we could go to the market.  All of my special senses were now alert but we decided to see if it was just a case of paranoia on my part or was he really a Tout as well.

We literally ran through the traffic down to the market, where he first led us to a suspicious spice stand inside the market place ( Christel refused to buy anything … she was just pissedAngry smile) so we hurried a floor up to a hidden cloth seller among a lot of other sellers, and there I bought a couple of light cotton shirts. Christel watched the situation like a hawk and had to bargain as wellWinking smileto be semi satisfied with the purchase. The tout didn’t have a chance to guide her to the women’s section to get a better “deal” on Ross’ purchases.

In terms of eating he guided us to such a disgusting place, we both refused to even think about eating there and wanted to get out ASAP Disappointed smile.

It was time to kick that guy out of our lives and trip. So we confronted him and told him the game was over and we didn’t want to see him again. He acted hurt but what could he do.

Later we had a real great Sri Lankan meal in a restaurant on our way back  to the guesthouse.

What saved the day was a confrontation with a Sri Lanken father and his son in a tea shop after our visit of a small garden above Kandy: the son asked for a picture with Ross and we really enjoyed the conversation. Smile

Ella – Trip to the Highlands

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15.5.2010 – 19.05.2010

We decided to take the train from Kandy to Ella; we had read from several books that this train ride through the highlands and tea plantations is very spectacular and a must do. We weren’t disappointed: that old train, on these over one hundred year old train tracks, slowly climbing it’s way up into the hills through the spectacular country side was a special and wonderful experience.

trainToTheHighlands

 

The trains are often quiet full, so with slow moving trains it seems to be great sport to hang out of the train. As we gained elevation the temperature dropped from 30+ C to a very pleasant 18 C, which gave the children and a few grown-ups a chance to try on their winter fleece jackets and caps. Winking smile It seemed funny to us but in Colombo, where they came from, it never gets below 28 C all year round.

highlands_people_hanging_from_train children_winter_cloths upto_the_highlands

teaPickers

Tamil Tea Pickers

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peopleWalkingTracksPeople walking on the tracks

 

Actually, although a bit dangerous walking on the train tracks, it is a more direct and quicker way to get from one point to another. All along the train route we frequently saw people walking the tracks. We thought they were crazy but the trains generally travel very slow and you have plenty of time to get off the tracks. We actually used the tracks as well to get from one part of Ella to the other.

 

ella_signpost

We finally arrived in Ella 3 hours later than scheduled.  The journey that normally should have taken 5 hours had taken 8 hours to complete. This, as we found out later, was not that unusual. The problem is, there is only one set of tracks on the route from Kandy to Badulla.  This means that both, coming and going trains, have to wait at designated stations along the way to allow for the other train to safely pass.

My only concern was for the driver, who we had arranged with Karen, to meet us there.  Had he waited the 3 hours or had he received information that our train was late and done something else in the mean while? I was feeling a bit guilty that I hadn’t called Karen from the train to give her a heads-up that we were running so late.

The train station in Ella is very small and the driver found us without any difficulty and tourists do tend to stand out Smile. One small problem arose leaving the station: the gate attendants wanted our tickets.  This was of course unacceptable for Christel, who wanted to keep them as a memento of our trip, however, we had no choice but to hand the tickets back.  Angry smileTo our surprise a few minutes after we had left, the driver came up to us with the stamped as cancelled tickets in his hand.  I’m not sure how he had arranged it but Christel was very happy. Open-mouthed smile

 

Our journey from the train station to the Waterfalls Home Stay was by Tuc Tuc. With three people and our large backpacks there was just too much weight to climb the first big hill, so Christel and I had to get out and walk until we reached a flat area and we could jump back in. We repeated that procedure a few times and enjoyed the little exercise Smile

Waterfalls Home-Stay

 

Waterfall-Homestay

What a wonderful home with three guest rooms, nestled in the jungle, away from roads and traffic with a stunning view of a waterfall.

When we arrived at the Waterfalls Home-Stay, Karen the owner, Martin her husband, their three dogs and young cat were all there to greet us. Smile We felt immediately at home.

There is something about the sound of a waterfall in the background. It is a little like the sound of the ocean surf, it is always there but the rhythms of the rushing water gives one the feeling of complete harmony. 

We both were able to completely relax after our long journey and the unexpected strenuous days in noisy Kandy.

 

The next morning we were spoiled by a spectacular breakfast prepared by Karen: 

Herbal soup, egg hoppers, buffalo curd and honey, a wide variety of fresh fruits,  coffee, tea and of course buttered toast and jelly.

We spend some leisurely time to digest the food, enjoy the waterfall … and at least get some laundry done.

Later we decided to become active again and hiked up to little Adam’s peak, a nice 3 h walk. In Ella a street dog decided to accompany us – which was fun. Apparently she knew the way better than we did because. whenever we would take the wrong fork in the trail, she would just sit and wait until we came back and took the right way Smile

townDog

The street dogs in Sri Lanka all look as if they came from the same family.  Somewhat small, usually they have light brown fur and very attractive features.

In general the street dogs are not aggressive to  tourist.

Dog face

 

 

 

17. May 2010

Red heart Mein Schatz wird heute 60 Jahre alt!  Red heart

 

 

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We decided to start celebrating Ross’ 60th Birthday with a spectacular sunrise at “little world’s end”. Therefore we got up at 4:00am in the morning, the TucTuc was supposed to pick us up half an hour later and give us a ride to the view point. We waited almost an hour for the Tuc Tuc DevilEventually he showed up with an excuse – well, there was no way we would catch the sunrise but we went anyway.

 

 

TucTucDriverLanka our driver tuctucLankaTuc Tuc Lanka valleyFromLittleLandsEndView of Valley from Little Lands End

 

Lanka is the driver who Karen uses when guests need a Tuc Tuc and he was our driver/guide for our stay in Ella. He speaks English well and is generally very reliable, except the one time we mentioned above. He is an excellent guide of the area and  reasonably priced.

After we returned from our “sunrise” trip, another outstanding delicious breakfast was waiting for us. Karen added some extra effort to help celebrating Ross’ very special day.

 

BdayBreakfast

 

Again, Thank you Karen Left hugRight hugSmile

 

Later that afternoon, we just returned from our tea factory visit, an Australian family checked in and they gladly helped eating the delicious birthday cake, Karen made especially for Ross.

Karen&RossServingBdayCake

 

 

Later the next morning we all went for a hike to Ella Rock:

 

view_from_waterfall

This is a view from the top of the waterfall over looking our guest house. Karen and Martin really have a very special home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ross&daveInJungle

We were glad having hired Lanka as our guide because the trail to the top of Ella Rock was not that easy to find especially with the high grass in some parts and trails running in every direction.

Lanka scared some grass snakes away. Too bad: we would have liked to get a glance of one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here we are after climbing “Ella Rock” the highest peak in the area. We were all drenched in sweat after the hike up to the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ross, Nelson, David and Oliver all happy at the top. It has to be said that David’s sons had fewer problems reaching the top than us “Old Farts”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

woman_washingOn the way down we came across a woman doing her laundry. She didn’t mind us sharing the water to cool off a bit (we didn’t drink the water !!)  

Arugam Bay – Batticaloa

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19.05.2010 – 25.05.2010

 

Ever since the war finally came to an end in May 2009 we had discussed off and on the idea of visiting the east coast of Sri Lanka. The idea of only going and visiting the touristic hotels and beaches in the south west of Sri Lanka like Hikkaduwa did not really attract us very much.Sarcastic smile On the other hand the east coast had received the worst of the destruction from the Tsunami in 2004 and the long war with the LTTE was only over for one year.  There were still reports of occasional clashes between the remaining LTTE soldiers and the Sri Lankan Army. The government was being very careful about letting people into certain areas because of claims of Human Rights Violations. 

So, we let the weather make the decision for us. A cyclone in the Bay of Bengal was exacerbating the monsoon weather in the south west with terrible flooding in the Colombo area. Other travellers reported that it had rained day and night without pause. So, without any further hesitation, we decided to give the east a chance. Having said that, it turned out to be a very good decision and in many ways the most interesting and rewarding part of our trip. Secret telling smile

Originally, we had planned to take the bus from Ella to Pottuvill.  After waiting for  quite a while at the bus station several locals came up to us offering friendly advise about the likely arrival/departure time of the next bus. There was quite a bit of discussion between the by standers and several informed options. About the only thing that everyone agreed on was, that a bus would come through town, but the exact time was unknown. Confused smile A couple from Tasmania whom we had met the previous evening for dinner at Karen’s wanted to go to Arugam Bay, as well, so the four of us decided  to find a driver and share the price.

Soon after we left Ella, our van stopped on a narrow bridge in the midst of several Sri Lankans. At first we didn’t understand why, but all of a sudden there were dark arms reaching through the open windows, with cheap gem stones in their hands. Voices were demanding coins from us in exchange for the worthless rocks – Surprised smile I took a closer look at the two stones that had been handed to me: one was a very cheap rose quartz and the other one I couldn’t identify so I put a 10 cent piece in the hand – of course that was not enough for that “treasure”.  Ok, you get your stones back and I get my coin back — No way, as soon as money touches a Sri Lankan hand, it glues itself down and can’t be removed. Annoyed After all he accepted the deal and we drove on.

The landscape changed from the very nice rolling hills of the highlands into a hot and flat, subtropical area. The rice fields left and right of the street were impressive.

Just before you get into Pottuvil , the road goes straight through the Lahuagala National Park. It was already too late in the morning  to see much wildlife, but we did see an elephant in the distance, lots of water buffalos and a lonely monkey crossing the road.

The trip from Ella to Arugam Bay took about 3.5 hours.

 

waterbuffaloherd waterBuffalo

 

 

Pottuvil was crowded and dirty with the main road through the town under construction (as were most but not all highways on the east coast). The trip south over the bridge gave us our first view of the beach and Arugam Bay. Basically a one main street town with accommodations on both sides. Whatever fantasy I had had about how Arugam Bay would look like, was quickly replaced by reality.

We weren’t exactly sure where we wanted to stay but I had read an internet blog from someone at the Siam View and found it very interesting. The writer’s description of surviving the Tsunami and the politics of rebuilding afterwards was fascinating. We had discussed our desire to visit Arugam Bay with Karen and Martin and they thought it was a good idea. Earlier they had met the owner of the Siam View, “Fred”, and said it was a decent place to stay.  OK, so that would be our first place to check with when we arrive in AB.

Siam View:  Reminded me of a tired and run down establishment that had never really recovered after the Tsunami in 2004.  Actually sad, because it must have been a very nice place before. Our room was very large, much larger than we needed, with three beds and a remarkable  shower. The best shower we had in Sri Lanka and many times afterwards we missed THAT water pressure. Smile

 

With the outside temperature at 34+ C the ocean was almost too warm to really cool off in (32 C) but it was still enjoyable. In comparison to the beaches in the south west, with the monsoon season, the waves and currents here on the east coast were mild. Even though it got a bit cloudy on some days, it only rained once for about 10 minutes. Summer is really the dry season on the east coast.

 

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A view of Surfer Point on the left tip of the peninsula.

beach01 crocodile_rockCrocodile Rock in the background

click to enlarge

 

We often walk to Surfer Point and watch the surfers perform. It was nice to sit in the shade of a palm tree and enjoy a cup of tea. Coffee cup

We visited Crocodile Lake near Panama, which is south of Arugam Bay, and for the first time we were confronted with a Military Check-Point. We had left our passports back at the hotel so they didn’t want to let us in. After convincing them we only wanted to watch crocodiles they made us list our names, country, etc. and allowed us to proceed. I had the feeling they only did this because they were bored guarding the area after war had been over for one year now.

 

crocodile_lake2Views of Crocodile Lake: crocodile_lake

 

Instead of waiting in Arugam Bay for the flooding to stop in the south, we decided to explore the central east coast instead. The city of Batticaloa was highly recommended by a German guest in the Siam View.

 

Trip to Batticaloa along the East Coast highway

With our bag packs packed we met our van and two drivers in front of the Siam View and started our journey along the East Coast to Batticaloa. The first 20 km of the highway were for the most part nicely paved and we made good time. Then we hit the never ending “Under Construction” misery for the next 42 kms.  So a short trip of 62 kms took us 2.5 hours to drive.

Batticaloa:  If there was ever a city we couldn’t wait to get out of, Batti was it.Steaming mad After less than an hour of driving around looking for a place to stay, we decided to leave.

 

Trip from Batticaloa to Passikudah (Mystery Solved)

After absorbing our disappointment we sat for a while in the hot van trying to decide what our next move should be, ready to just return back to Arugam Bay with the drivers.  Embarrassed smile

The assistant driver called Rashi, the tour manager, and discussed the issue with him. He then gave the phone to me and Rashi suggested that we might enjoy a nice beach area near by called Punnakudah.  I asked him if there were hotels and facilities and he assured me that it was a very scenic place and we would like it. I returned the phone back to the co-driver and, after a few more minutes discussion between Rashi and him we headed off to ?? Punnakunda ?? or something like that.

Both, Christel and I, had the impression that this beach area was located south of Batticaloa on the way back to Arugam Bay. However, this, as we found out later, was not the case.

After driving for about an hour over narrow but paved roads we came to an area where the road turned sharply left and then we passed a rather large military compound.  By this time we were used to seeing soldiers everywhere with their loaded Kalashnikov AK 47s.Thinking smile A short distance later we reached a large dirt parking lot with lots of cars overlooked a beautiful beach. Sri Lankans everywhere, but not one hotel, guest room or restaurant. Instead of stopping we decided to see if there were any places to stay in the area. We saw one guest house further back down the road but the lady wanted Rs. 2,000 per night for a room, which was right next to her living room and had only a small top window looking outside.Sad smile I guess she was used to charging so much because of all the western NGOs who had come after the Tsunami. Nope, that was out of our interest. We went about another 3 km further back  the road and noticed a couple of guest houses.  One under repair, another already booked (as they said, by whom we wondered) and still an other one that didn’t look very appealing. Nowhere in the area did we see a market or a small store and, without a car, we realized we would be at least 5 km away from the beach and 5-10 km from any store or restaurants. By this time we were just frustrated and disappointed. Annoyed

We hadn’t done any research on the area and really didn’t know what to do. There  weren’t any tourist facilities, but too much military instead. All four of us were exhausted, tired and hungry. So we decided to drive back to Arugam Bay.

 

catholic_churchCatholic Church northOfBattiAnother city north of Batticaloa northOfBatti02The city of Chenkalady

Mystery Solved – later, after we returned from our trip to Sri Lanka and looked at our pictures,  we came to the realization where we had been. Instead of south of Batticaloa we had been some 35 km north in the Kalkudah Bay area near Passikudah. This used to be a very popular tourist area but 20 years of war and a Tsunami had destroyed it, especially all the beach hotels. Now it was all clear why we found so little except soldiers everywhere.

 

Return to Arugam Bay

On our return from Batticaloa the driver, we had had for the whole trip, left us in Pottuvil and a different one got in as well as a third person who belonged to the same company.  All three of them were going to help us to find a place to stay in Arugam Bay.AnnoyedWe were both tired and dubious but we needed a place to stay and yet had no desire to check in at Siams View again.  The co-driver, who spoke English and had been with us the whole trip, wanted us to look at several guest houses that were, as he explained, very well priced:  all had the same rate of Rs. 2,000.  After driving to and looking at several places we were really irritated at the whole situation. None of the places had been worth their price or met our desires. (kind of dark shoe boxes with a door in front, a broken toilet seat and a dubious shower which functionality we would have found out after check-in) So we quickly looked in Lonely Planet and found a place, named “Hide Away”. Great let’s try this one. And as, with the other places, all three of our new friends had to look at the rooms as well, which had become rather annoying. Angry smileFinally we found something that fit our requirements. Now we could pay the boys for the trip and send them on their way. So we thought. Smile

Since we had already paid Rs. 5,000 for gas on the way the balance due was 4,000. It was already dark outside when Christel reached into her wallet and gave them 4 bills thinking that they were 1,000 bills. After the guys had left and we stared unpacking, she discovered that when she had pulled money out of the ATM the bills had been 2,000 and not 1,000 as it had always been before. Shit, we just had overpaid them by 4,000.Steaming mad I had the mobile number from the co-driver so I quickly called him. Of course he hadn’t noticed that we had overpaid but he gave me the number for Rashi so I could talk with him about the issue. Rashi promised  to come by early next morning so we could discuss it. “Discuss it”, we wanted our money back! Well that was better than no response at all. All we could do was relax and wait for tomorrow.

Next morning Rashi showed up with one of his drivers. Of course getting the money back was not an option, as we have already written, once the money is in their hands it becomes glued there. Ok, I looked for a diplomatic solution. We wanted to travel to Tissamaharama (Yala National Park) as soon as the weather improved in the south, so he agreed we could apply the Rs. 4,000 to the total cost of the trip to Tiss  with one of his cars and driver.  Annoyed

 

Places we stayed during the last couple of days in Arugam Bay:

Hide Away: Alright place and nice people, low water pressure (sometimes none) in the shower which can be fun especially if your all lathered up with soap and the water stops. This happed to Christel and she was not a HAPPY Camper. We stayed two nights. Overpriced rooms for the comfort and quality.

Tri-Star: Very nice place, expensive on the sea view, the garden view was negotiable and compared to Hide Away very reasonable.  We stayed one night before leaving to Tissa. Another Australian couple decided to move from Hide Away to Tri-Star after they inspected our “new” location.

For breakfast we normally ate and enjoyed the local foods (like Rotties and curries) and met a lot of interesting people. This was by far our favorite Rotti stand. Open-mouthed smileHe heated his oven with firewood and made some of the most delicious Rotties on the island.  Banana, egg, or meat Rotties with fresh papaya, mango and banana juice, tea or coffee.

rotti_stand

The owner/cook Mr. Risana, is also the local Imam in the area. The religious diversity and tolerance really amazed me.  Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindus all living together.

Tissamaharama

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25.05.2010 – 27.05.2010

 

 

ScreenHunter_02 Jul. 23 13.08

The drive from Arugam Bay to Tissamaharama took only “ 4 hours” but was very interesting. Our driver and the same assistant we had on the Batticoloa trip had never made this journey before. Consequently their knowledge of the roads and directions were less than optimal. Instead of traveling through Buttala and catching the newer A2 at Wellawaya to drive to Tissa they took the first road in Buttala which had a sign for Tissa. This road turned out to be the B53. An older road which runs parallel to the A2 but hasn’t seen a repair since it was built. Actually even though it was in some case in very bad shape there was little or no traffic.  What on the other hand was very interesting, and little known was how many military watch posts and bunkers we saw on the east side (Yala side) of the B53. For no less that 40 km there was a manned army post every 200 meters. This had been the original “No Mans” border between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE. What was interesting is, that it was still manned one year after the war had been declared as over.

 

childrenChildren playing in the local stream. elephantbathBath time TissaMahaDagobaTissa Maha Dagoba

 

 

flyingfoxbats

The Flying Fox Bat is a very common sight in Sri Lanka. They like to congregate in large groups and are pretty impressive when they fly, as their wing spans can be up to 1.5 – 2 meters.

 

 

 

 

 

buffalocurd

Fresh Buffalo Curd in clay pots. Topped with honey, the curd is a wonderful taste experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spend two nights in Tissa at the Lake Side Tourist Inn. The rooms were nice and mostly frequented by tourists visiting Yala or Sri Lankans on business. When we arrived, we dropped into the midst of a local wedding party. Although Tissa didn’t have much to offer it was a great stop over for our day visit to Yala National Park.

Yala National Park

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26.05.2010

 

We started off from the hotel around 0500 in the morning. The driver wanted to be at the park entrance by opening time which was 0600. Because of the extreme heat during the day, most of the parks inhabitants are visible during the relative cool hours of the morning or evening. We arrived on time and paid the park fees and were assigned a park guide to accompany us on our safari, although it was obvious that our driver with his 25 years experience was the real guide on this trip.

 

morning

Arriving in the park just as the sun starts to rise over the horizon. It was as if all of nature was waking up.  Birds of all kinds were flying from tree to tree or looking for water.

(painted stork and ibis in the tree)

 

 

 

ourJeep

Here is a picture of the 25 year old Land Rover we had for our journey through Yala. It was about as hard a ride as any I have ever had. Winking smileIf you hadn’t had a back problem yet, after riding in this vehicle for several hours, you are guaranteed to have one Surprised smile

 

 

One of the remarkable things about travelling in a land rover through Yala is, how impervious the various animals react to the presence of a vehicle. Of course the driver travels very slowly, partly so we wouldn’t scare the animals and also to facilitate our photo options. But the animals did not seem to sense any threat from our presence as long as we stayed in the land rover. Our guide explained, that this is why NOBODY (not even the guide) is allowed to get out of the vehicle near any animal even if it means not getting a perfect photo. Of course there are several break areas in the park where we were able to off the land rover.

 

 

big_crocodileLarge Crocodile waiting for the sun youngCrocodileYoung Crocodile sun bathing

 

 

1youngLeopard 2youngLeopards 2youngLeopardsAttacking

 

We were very lucky to get a glimpse of these two young teenage leopards playing with each other. Open-mouthed smile It is of course everybody’s dream to see leopards in Yala and our guide tried very hard to keep our expectations in check. After several hours of travelling over some of the worst dirt roads in Sri Lanka he received a call from another guide that there was a sighting, so off we went, and to our joy, we saw these two teenage leopards playing with each other, totally ignoring us. After a few minutes all of the guides had notified each other and eventually  there arrived too many vehicles on the small road where the leopards were playing (ruining the show) so the leopards just ran off deeper into the forest. Sad smile

 

 

cobraInTreeCobra climbing a tree landMonitorHidingLand Monitor (Waran) lizard hiding in an old ant nest whiteMonkeyBlack Face Monkey (Grey Langur)

 

 

One of the main reasons for wanting a good guide is his ability to point out camouflaged wild life that, to the untrained eye, is difficult or impossible to see at first glance. This was very often the case on our safari. I remember hearing stories from other tourists that they hardly saw any wild life in Yala. Huh! Had we gone by ourselves that would have probably been our statement as well, however we were very lucky to have a guide with 25 years of experience, and more important, he loved showing us the wild life that otherwise would have gone undetected.

 

2birdsTwo painted storks, you find only in India and Sri Lanka. AdlerEagle birdCamouflageda hawk, we saw plenty of hawks in the park

 

 

 

KingfisherA common Kingfisher commonBirdunknown but outstanding bird

 

spottedDeer_01 spottedDeer_02

 

Fresh food for the leopards in the park PlateSmile

It was interesting to note that much of the wild life seemed to be oblivious to our presence, this was not the case with the Chital or Spotted Deer. They were always nervous and mistrustful about us. A deeply rooted survival instinct not to trust any unknown presence.

 

wildboarRunning wildBoarHerdThe park had large herds of Wild Boar.

 

 

 

elephantReadyToAttack

This elephant came into the river near where we and several other van loads of people were taking our lunch break. Normally contact with the park animals is strictly prohibited but in this case he initiated the contact; if unknowingly.  He entered the river to cool off in the water and of course everyone started lining the banks of the river opposite him. Unfortunately he tried but couldn’t get out of the river on the far side from us because the banks were to steep and overgrown with trees and bushes. Now he felt threatened by all of the people wanting to take pictures. At this point the guides were very nervous and tried to move the tourists further away from the elephant.

 

elephantLeavingEventually he found a way to get out of the situation Smilewhich made us all relieved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

crocodileTree

While we were on our lunch break, Christel had been walking around photographing various objects and when she came back she announced that she had seen a Crocodile in a tree. Winking smile

I knew she must be joking but the guides got all excited and wanted to see what she was talking about. With a little imagination one can see a Crocodile in the branch.

 

 

 

mother_child_01 mother_child_02
mother_child_03 mother_child_04

 

youngElephant

It was interesting to watch this elephant mother and her two young ones foraging. When we first noticed them coming out of the brush the driver stopped the vehicle and killed the engine so we would have a chance to watch them. They really didn’t seem to pay any attention to our presence  which made the situation very enjoyable.  Open-mouthed smileHer two young ones appeared to be several years of age different from each other.

 

 

hillByOcean[1]

Yala National Park is very special and a must-see during a visit to Sri Lanka. At the moment, only the western part of the park is accessible to the average tourist. There is an eastern part but it was not allowing visitors when we were in Arugam Bay. It is rumored that they will open the eastern part of Yala as well. That is supposedly where the real wild life is, because of no tourists.

Unawatuna

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27.05.2010 – 01.06.2010

Our driver met us at the Lake Side Tourist Inn Thursday morning and we departed on our journey to Unawatuna. Auto

Originally we had planned to travel buy bus but we were glad we had listened to the advise of others and hired a driver for this trip. It was one day before the full moon and Buddha’s birthday, a big local holiday, so most of the Sri Lankans had a long weekend and were already travelling by bus to various destinations for the next several days.

The weather in the south had improved so we started getting our hopes up about enjoying the south coast and beaches. Sun The drive from Tissa to Unawatuna took a total of 4 hours but that included a one hour stopover at the Blow Hole in Kudawella.

 

blowholeThe Blow Hole snacksOnWayFromBlowHoleSome snacks for sale on the way

 

We had already made reservations by mobile at the Flower Garden Hotel which had been highly recommended by Dave and Melissa who had stayed there with their boys several days before, even though, under very raining conditions. Storm cloudStorm cloudStorm cloud

As it turned out we were the only guests when we arrived, so we had the pick of any room we wanted. It was low season and several weeks of bad weather had kept many tourists away.

Except for breakfast, which was included in the price, we only had dinner at the Flower Garden twice. Actually, since we were the only two guests, they didn’t really want to prepare dinner.

Instead we eat out at the other restaurants, but what we did eat at the Flower Garden was fantastic. Open-mouthed smile

 

9Currys

Because it was Buddha’s birthday the kitchen was only serving the minimum, which was breakfast.

We had a rather bad experience at a restaurant in town. Besides several vegetable curries we were served a chicken curry that was 80% bones and little meat.

After describing our experience to the cooks at Flower Garden, they decided to make us a real 9 curry meal Sri Lankan style and we were both very impressed. It was the best curry we had eaten since our arrival in Sri Lanka and yes the chicken curry was all meat and no bones.

Lentil , carrot , cabbage , red beat , green bean , egg plant with pineapple, chicken, gourd, Lady Fingers, Rice and Pappadums

 

 

 

cooksHotelFlowerGarden

Here is a picture of Christel with the two main cooks:  Thilini and Thanuja.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

christelUnawatunaBeach

Unawatuna Beach: The beach is protected by a long reef that is barely visible in the background. The main problem with swimming was the unusually large amount of debris that was in the water due to the previous weeks of flooding all along the southern coast.

 

 

 

 

Sea Turtle Farm & Hatchery-Habaraduwa  Turtle

A non-profit organization whose goal is to hatch Turtle eggs and release them back into the sea. They even buy the eggs from fisherman and locals.

There is also an other Turtle Farm in Peraliya which we did not visit, but it seems to be better known if only because of its proximity to Hikkaduwa.

 

turtleFarmbabySeaTurtle

 

Gale:

It is a very busy and crowded city, however for shopping it offers all the things that one can not find in Mirissa or Unawatuna. We actually stocked up on our Curry spices in Gale, although shopping for clothes was not the hit unless one has a petite size. Most of the Clothing articles won’t fit a normal westerner.

 

lighthouse_galeThe Fort Gale Light House. fortGale_streetInside the fort

 

 

oldHouseinGale

Example of some of the architecture one finds inside of the fort.

 

Mirissa Beach:

One means of transportation that we wanted to utilize on the island and for one reason or another hadn’t managed to do, was the bus. So we decided to take the bus from Unawatuna to Merissa; a small beach town on the south where we had originally wanted to stay from the start of our trip.

There are two main bus systems in Sri Lanka, the red government buses, very inexpensive and the private white buses which are more expensive from the locals perspective. Because they are both cheap they are often full but without luggage fun to ride. The locals and drivers are usually quite helpful and will tell you where to get off – without asking you for some foreign coins Smile

Mirissa isn’t really a town, more of a small fishing village on one side of a peninsula and on the other side a cluster of beach hotels nestled in the jungle near the beach. That means any shopping for anything not provided in the hotel has to be purchased in one of the other towns, usually about 30 min. away by Tuc Tuc.

Originally we had thought spending 4-5 days in Mirissa would be perfect.  After our short visit I was glad we had changed our plans. For the two of us we would have been bored to tears after the first two days, that is why the short 3-4 hour visit for the day was just perfect.

It is really very beautiful and extremely peaceful.

 

 

mirissaBeachWestSide

Above is the protected part of the beach in Mirissa. This is where the majority of surfers congregate.

 

 

christel[3] christel_beach

 

During the summer Monsoon season in the south, the ocean is almost too rough to swim in. The surf breaks very far out from the beach and can be very dangerous with strong under tows.

 

fishingHarbourMirissa[3]

The Mirissa fishing harbor.  The main beach with all the tourist hotels is on the other side of the peninsula in the background.   

 

 

Gale to Colombo by train:  (2 1/2 h)

We took the train from Gale to Colombo, which was our second train ride experience in Sri Lanka.  If our first ride over the highlands had been slow and leisurely, the coastal train to Colombo was a high speed express by comparison.

 Train2Colombo

 

We had a seat in the next to the last car and on those old tracks and at maximum speed we felt like in one of those cartoons where the train cars lean on on track as they go around a corner. It rocked and shuck so much that we were both just a little more than worried for our lives, Confused smileSick smile but after we looked around us at the other passengers, all Sri Lankans, they were either sleeping or acting as if nothing was unusual, we felt a bit safer. Smile

At the south west, after Hikkadua, the train tracks follow right next to the coast line for quite a while. The train runs so close to the ocean that the sea spray was blowing right through the open windows and we could imagine, how the Tsunami just washed the trains into the jungle. Scary Thinking smile 

Just before the train reached Colombo it was standing room only as the afternoon commute was under way. The train went right through the slums of Columbo, poverty we weren’t confronted with during the entire trip. A last eye opener, before we  reached Columbo main station. We both were too tired and exhausted by the rush hour in the capitol to figure out which bus would leave towards the airport. So we hired a driver to bring us to there. We tried to bargain his stated price down but he was in no mood and we were too tired to bother Disappointed smile 

To get into the airport, you have to pass several military check points, but they only look inside the car, recognize you as a tourist and let you go. For our own safety, we didn’t mind at all. Smile

Our plane took off at 00:25h  and we had plenty of time to spend some Rupies inside the airport, even though the US dollar was THE currency; every item was priced in dollars.

Negombo AirplaneMale Airplane Dubai AirplaneMunich AutoAugsburg ShiftySleepy smileStorm cloud