Diary of our trip to Sri Lanka

Dec. 30/97 to Jan. 11/98

Tues. Dec. 30

Got up at 6:20, packed and left at 7:45. Caught direct X39 bus to Heathrow - very convenient service. Drizzling and 11°. Took free bus to terminal 4, picked up tickets at Air Lanka counter. Check-in man was very friendly. Looked at Harrod's airport store, bought cappuccino and danish. Plane left at 11:15, AirBus 340, only 1/2 full. Nice stewardesses in saris, they hold hands together and welcome you by saying 'Ayubowan'. Low clouds. Sat in row of 4 but only 2 of us. Had Campari, shrimp, lamb, and red wine, very good. I had a sleep and read. Talked to chap from Oxford who owned a 200-year-old jewellery store and gave us pens. It was a very long flight, 10 hours. The time, speed and distance were displayed on the TV. We flew over all these countries: Belgium, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India. It was 6 hours time difference from UK. Plane did not stop in Dubai for refueling as I expected. Landed at 3:30 a.m. in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. Rode to terminal on bus, picked up suitcases. Lots of little kids and shop owners up at this hour of the morning. Very hot, 25°. Met chap from Kuoni Co. Traded £70 for 7000 Sri Lankan rupees. Followed guy to bus outside in secure area. It was white and held 20 people. Opened window. Lots of people outside walking and sitting at 5 a.m. They drive on the left side, crazy driving but our bus driver was careful. Lots of jitneys, car part stores, billboards, clutter and dirt in Colombo. Not used to seeing billboards after living in England. The Sinhalese writing is really funny - the words are all made of O's and W's. No main road, only a 4-lane street through the outskirts of town. Another couple was leaving on their tour in 2 hours but wanted to sleep instead. Arrived at Mount Lavinia Hotel just south of Colombo on the coast. Our room had grey, blue and white tiles. The ocean was right outside and the waves made alot of noise.

Wed. Dec. 31

Slept for a little while and got up at 10. Looked for Regency Room, got free breakfast - pancakes, eggs, sausage, rolls and coffee. Breakfast room overlooked the ocean with big waves and a beautiful sand beach. The hotel was an old sprawling establishment started in 1806 and used to be the governor's mansion. Part of it is an international hotel school now. Our room was away down the hall and was fully equipped. It was on the first floor with 2 single beds. The ocean washed in right outside the window, with a small balcony. Strings above the balcony rail kept birds away. We left the hotel and saw a train below right in front. Trains and buses are old and crowded. Walked up the road and found beach. Lots of kids swimming, very warm water. Beautiful little girls swam with their clothes on. A few beggars and guys selling postcards. It is an emerging country; everyone seems poor. You see polio victims. Louise almost got bonked on the head with a cricket ball. Turned inland and walked up to Galle St. which was very busy and dirty, lots of people offering jitney and taxi rides. The driving customs are something to behold. There are Buddhist shrines on every street corner. The shop owners seemed desperate to make a sale. Despite it being fairly third world, there are lots of banks, investment companies, and seemingly affluent people with cellular telephones. Stopped at a lady's store selling post cards and batik pictures. She said her daughter had visited from Yorkshire. Disoriented because of jet lag. Got messages about New Year's eve dinner and our tour. Listened to radio in room - no new records since 1990. I put my swim suit on and swam in pool, had a big beer. Lots of people from different countries at the hotel, such as a girl from Czechoslovakia in the water with a yellow see-through swimsuit. Louise went for a walk, came back and had Coke. Beer and Coke cost $9. The sun was very hot, about 75° overhead. Walked to train station and beach. Train tracks were in very poor condition, all heaved and warped. The pace is slow; it takes a long time for things to get done. Guys wear a cloth wrapped around their middle, like a small kilt. Dish antennas point almost straight up, only 5° off vertical. I swam in the ocean, very rough. Tamil chap with horse chatted to us. Very warm out, getting sunburned so sat in shade of lifeguard station. Returned to hotel and slept. Saw gem store, looked in postcard shop. Went to New Year's eve dinner at 8, sat at front beside orchestra. Beautiful displays of food, e.g. carved turkey, fish, things carved out of ice or icing. We sat with Sue and Chris from Chiswick (W. London) who were graphic designers and their 18-year old daughter. Sue talked very well, told us all about their tour with 25 people. We had 1/2 a bottle of Mateus Rose wine for $15. The food and desserts especially were excellent. The music inside was older so we danced to it. At 10 to 12, we went out by the pool to see fireworks. They were all over the city. Brought in 1998 in real nice style, lots of fun. Talked to Chris til 1. Very thirsty. We were served by an Australian Sri Lankan boy. The music outside was loud and kept guests up half the night.

Thurs. Jan. 1

Slept to loud crashing waves. Got up at 6:30, packed bags, paid bill. Used luggage wheels Louise gave me for Xmas. Went for breakfast buffet at 7. It was good with fresh fruit, cereal, full English style. You could hear trains outside the breakfast room. Met Chandra who led our Kuoni tour of 8 people, all from Britain. The driver was Rochann and his assistant was Caru. Got on 12-passenger bus and left Colombo. Lots of traffic, cows at traffic circles. Saw a palm decoration made as a house-warming gift. Sat behind Chandra and asked him lots of questions. The bus had Xmas decorations, balloons and coloured streamers. No music, just Chandra's commentary on the loudspeaker. Noticed that alot of the businesses exaggerate their status, for example, a small variety store might be called the Foonman International Trading Corporation. Pretty bad roads, saw new parliament buildings, lots of scooters and jitneys. Saw a store selling wickerware and cute girls selling cashews. The girls are dark with black hair, big attractive eyes and wear pink dresses, very feminine. Saw a Muslim funeral procession with 200 men in it. Saw many fields growing rice and trucks carrying sand which people had dug out of the river by hand. Stopped beside a lake for Fanta pop at 11. There was a Buddhist wedding going on with very elaborate clothing. I slept. Started raining. We stopped for lunch at a tourist hotel; I was tired but the lunch of curry picked me up. Pouring rain out. We were scheduled to see the Buddhist centre at Anuradhapura, the most northerly part of our tour. Drove over, put on rain coat and bare feet (you have to wear long clothes and no shoes in a Buddhist place). I helped Juliet zip up her dress. Chandra led us through the rain, all of us in bare feet through the Buddhist sites of Anuradhapura. There were soldiers and checkpoints. A chap gave me a red lotus flower. There were some nice girls there. Saw a sacred tree, ostensibly 2000 years old but not likely. The whole place was pretty dirty, needed a good clean up. Saw monkeys in tree and baby ones around a Buddhist stupa (dome-shaped building with a pointed top) that had carved elephants holding it up. Good drainage but there were some big puddles to wade through. Saw the cutest little girl selling flowers with her mom. Fellows trying to sell flowers and carved elephants hassled us. Drove around in the bus and saw more ancient buildings. Louise bought postcards from a boy. Saw a stupa that had enough bricks to build a wall several hundred miles long. Saw another one that was overgrown with vines and trees but was being reclaimed. I slept as we drove to Habarana, arriving about 6 o'clock. Everything here is covered in green, lots of vines. People in the country are poorer. Saw them riding bikes in the rain and washing themselves in the river. Soldiers with machine guns sit by roadblocks on the roads, which have barrels set up like an obstacle course you must navigate through. Came to Habarana Village hotel, which was set up like one we stayed at in the Venezuelan jungle. We had a cottage; Peter and Juliet shared the other half. It had a dutch door on the front to let the horses look in. Slept like a log. Got up for dinner at 8. Sat beside Peter and Juliet who are 2 lawyers from Glasgow. It was interesting. The others didn't seem as friendly. I had soup, curry, fruit for dessert. Bought a bottle of Italian white wine. Very nice dinner. Loud drumming music started so we walked around, bought a small elephant statue at gift shop. Saw big chess board with wooden pieces, walked to lake, grass very wet. Lots of birds making different songs. No A/C in room. I slept, then woke up at 2 feeling sick.

Fri. Jan. 2

An awful night, head hurt and tummy upset. Lots of birds singing at 5 a.m. Took Pepto Bismaul. Louise brought me fruit and toast. She went off on tour to Polonnaruwa while I slept and recovered. Hotel has a nice pool area, quiet country atmosphere, very peaceful and elegant. There were 2 books in our room: Joe and Mary Gideon's bible and the Sayings of Buddha. I had coffee and toast in the cafe bar. There was an electric sign with flashing lights above the swimming pool saying Happy New Year 1998. They are very good at working with native material like bamboo and wicker. All materials are recycled. Louise came back at 1 o'clock and we had lunch. She enjoyed Polonnaruwa, saw many stone carvings, great statues of Buddha and lions. She saw people washing clothes and themselves in a lake. We walked around the hotel grounds briefly. It rained. We met at 3 and Chandra told us about the social conditions. Then we all walked next door and went for an elephant ride, 4 people on each one. It was pretty expensive but interesting. Each elephant had 3 drivers. We sat with Peter and Juliet. Saw people's houses and yards, cute kids who waved and asked for bon-bons. It rained briefly. The elephants went through soaking wet fields and across a pond with 3' of water in it. The elephants left big divots wherever they walked, so a bunch of them would make mincemeat of the land and gardens. Chap took our photo and made a necklace out of a water flower - it was neat. Heard lots of birds and horns of trucks on the road. Louise went up front and drove the elephant herself. The ride was a bit rough but we enjoyed it. I slept after we came back, swam in the pool, read, showered, and went for dinner at 8. The waiters are well trained, big on formality and expect you to behave properly. Had shrimp, soup, pork chops and fresh fruit. Talked to Donald and Sandra who told us all about India. He thought that people get divorced if they become too rich. Chamber guy made up our bed with a Good Luck sign and red hibiscus flower petals.

Sat. Jan. 3

I slept well. We left on the bus and drove 10 miles to Sigiriya, the old rock fortress built in 400. On the way, we saw 3 kids on stilts and a lady with her pet porcupine. Farmers use Massey Ferguson 135 tractors, or drive a machine like a roto-tiller pulling a flat cart. Judith didn't go up the hill at Sigiriya but we entered the water gardens. There were alot of touts ostensibly trying to help tourists climb up the steps. Saw rock paintings, big lions' paws made out of stone. Walked up old iron stairs to top of hill, 600'. It was windy. Chandra came too and gave us a tour of the ruins of the palace. Chap followed us and asked for money. Other fellows wanted to sell carved elephants. Returned to hotel, saw 2 peacocks and monkeys. Changed and swam in pool, a bit rainy. Packed suitcases, had good lunch of chicken and vegs, ice cream with nuts and chocolate. Chandra said the Germans complained about the portions being too small; everyone laughed. Left hotel, saw elephants. It really poured rain; there were rivers of water by the road. Saw a guy riding a bicycle get completely soaked - it was raining hard and he got splashed by a vehicle. Stopped at wood carving place, saw different kinds of wood, hand-carved furniture, elephant for $6,000, Dr. Teeth masks. It was good. Girls did sanding while men carved. They were shipping alot of furniture to London.

Next stop was the spice farm. Tour of trees and plants was interesting, although it was raining; then we sat in a room and were subjected to a long sales pitch and demonstration of snake oils that would cure all your ills. Louise liked the sandalwood oil ($32) that would supposedly cure skin problems. Juliet and Peter bought everything in sight, then on the bus he said 'I don't believe it!' like English TV personality Victor Meldrew. It was snake oil of the highest order, sold with extravagant, unsubstantiated claims. The salesman told people what they wanted to hear, no objections or rational viewpoints were expressed, no expertise in the group (you'd need a PhD in chemistry to refute his claims); he used free gifts (tea and cake), non-stop patter, showed us a book he'd written (only available there), offered medicines to cure any problem e.g. baldness, impotence, hemorroids, showed off a book of testimonial letters (but no letters of complaint). I had goop put on my hair, fellow pulled all my hair out. We were glad to leave that place intact without spending anything. Stopped at a batik factory which was alot more interesting although no one bought anything. Saw a huge banyan tree, people hanging off the side of buses, busy market towns with lots of shops. Saw lots of stores selling lawn ornaments and pots for plants made from cement or clay, and one-man operations repairing umbrellas. Came to Kandy and the Hotel Tourmaline, showered and washed goop off hair. It's a nice hotel on the top of a hill, very friendly staff. Saw outdoor pool, had buffet dinner in dining room on 2nd floor. Nice breeze. Sat beside Juliet and Peter who talked about law. We went for a walk after Peter had his 2nd brandy. Saw big mansions, very rich area, lots of guard dogs. Not raining. Returned to hotel and watched Indian videos on TV which were hugely amusing and different.

Sun. Jan. 4

It was pouring rain out so we were depressed by the weather. Peter said at least we're not wasting alot of suntan lotion. Left hotel at 7:45 through Kandy to the Pinnawela elephant orphanage. Saw agricultural research station.


Facts about elephants:

3500 elephants in Sri Lanka
75 killed a year
75 born a year
young ones being fed at the orphanage are 6-9 months old
eat 200 lb of food and 1/2 kg. of vitamins a day
drink 40-60 gallons of water a day
If working, elephants have to sit in the water for 2 hours a day.
They symbolize wealth and power; are used as tanks and for construction.
The elephants there are Asian rather than African elephants. Asian ones are smaller with much smaller ears.

The baby elephants were really cute. They drank 2 quarts of milk in 10 seconds. They were well looked after in nice shelters. There were alot of people there. Saw a big herd in the field behind. Chandra rushed us over to the river, Sandra tripped and fell face first into the mud. I should have worn my hiking boots but got along fine with running shoes. We all sat in the restaurant overlooking the river, then all the elephants came down with 4 drivers. They were interesting to see close up. Sometimes, one would try to make a break for freedom by taking off down the river bank. Louise petted a baby one. I thought they'd spray each other with water, but they didn't, although they drank lots of river water. They liked to wallow in the water, get out and immediately fling dirt over their backs.

 

Brian and new pet

 

We stayed til 11:10 a.m., then drove back seeing the elephant with the biggest tusks in Sri Lanka, bats in a tree, lots of traffic jams, idiotic driving, steam engines they'd used to build the road which was pretty amazing. Returned to the hotel for lunch. It stopped raining. Walked in the neighbourhood. Louise swam in pool, too cold for me. Left on bus, drove around Kandy, They were getting ready for Prince Charles to come on Feb. 4 so the government had given out free whitewash and they were fixing alot of the roads. The locals hoped the rain would stop, as a big cricket match was to occur next week. Stopped at gem place, very nice new 4-storey building with showroom in basement where we saw a model of a mine and a short video. They drive shafts down 30' using timber lining, use fern plants to absorb water and use buckets on a pulley to bring up the dirt. No ladders for staff, no safety equipment. They use a 3' hose for a phone system. Looked at jewellery; rings cost £160-180. Rode bus up hill to a lookout, lots of fellows selling T-shirts and carved elephants. Then went to the Kandyan multi-cultural show. The theatre building was a bit rough (cement construction, fully roofed but with open walls at the side); sat on wooden chairs. Alot of Germans in the audience. Show had drummers and dancers for 1 hour, then fire walkers. Nicer weather now. Walked across the street to the Temple of the Tooth, the most important Buddhist site in Sri Lanka. Drummers there made alot of racket. Looked around, it was very different. (This is the place that Tamil Tigers later bombed on Jan. 25.) Returned to hotel. Louise bought a blue and white dress for $15. Had dinner, sat beside Judith and David. It was an excellent day, especially seeing the elephants. Walked over to the other hotel at top of hill after dinner, tried to find big white cement statue of Buddha but couldn't see it.

Mon. Jan. 5

We're starting to think the Sri Lankan people are very superstitious. They put a wooden mask or a stuffed effigy on a house to ward off 'evil spirits'. Taxi and bus drivers carry religious pictures in their vehicles. Most people wear a piece of string around their wrist as an 'evil chaser'. People set fire to some powder at the front of a store or house, which makes smoke intended to ward off 'evil'. There's a national holiday every full moon, a significant day for Buddhists.

Slept in til 8:15. Louise wanted to walk. Had breakfast with beautiful view in 2 directions. It's like being on top of the world. Left hotel, parked near downtown Kandy, walked around for 20 minutes, bought 1 kg. of tea for $9. Lots of interesting things in town centre. Got £70 in rupees at the Bank of Ceylon. Went to the Royal Botanical Gardens; it was beautiful, saw double coconut and lots of nice flowers, Cook trees - tall scotch ones that were bent and an enormous benjamina fiscus tree. Saw turtles in pond and building where they were doing research into plants of Sri Lanka. Louise had tummy trouble so took some of Juliet's Pepto Bismaul. At noon, went to cafe on the grounds and had lunch of curry dishes, very nice. Beautiful day out, nice and sunny finally. Hot for walking but not too bad. Left Kandy and drove south to Nuwara Eliya. It's 15 miles as the crow flies but 50 miles by road. It took us 4-1/2 hours to get there through beautiful hill scenery with lots of waterfalls and tea fields. A delivery truck had run off the road, so they'd unloaded all the cases of beer and piled them beside the road. There was also a gang of gypsies sitting by the road. If they saw a tourist bus, they'd rush into the fields and pretend to pick tea, so when someone took their picture they could beg for money. We saw through a tea processing factory and bought 1 kg. of broken orange pekoe. (I wanted a box of sweepings, which is the dust swept up off the floor, but they didn't have any.) Drove through Nuwara Eliya, elevation 6200 ft. The Tea Factory Hotel is another 9 miles farther near Kandapola; it took 35 minutes to get there. Chandra warned us that the hotel rooms were 'cozy' and the windows might rattle. It got even funnier as the road deteriorated into a muddy path. It didn't help that it was dark, foggy and raining out. The hotel is 4-storey white building, beautifully appointed, with a 5-storey open atrium, big mill wheels and a steam engine in the cellar. It has a completely modern bar, restaurant and bedrooms. Our room was on the third floor, very nice with wood furniture, pot lights and small colour TV. Watched MTV India which had some good videos but very commercial packaging. Interesting to see the Sri Lankan TV ads and Indian videos, terrific dancing and expression of humour and customs. Videos I liked were by 2000 or Mera Desh. We changed into long clothes and set off walking in the fog and rain; the rain went sideways. Saw tea being dried, heard conch shell, drumming and church bell sounding in valley. Walked through tea fields and helped an English girl find the hotel. An Australian man told me the whole of Sri Lanka is corrupt and that's why there's no money to fix the roads or build proper housing. The restaurant and food were excellent. I sat opposite Donald and he told me all about working with metal and the industrial history of England. It was a great atmosphere and everyone enjoyed it alot. We had a bottle of Chilean white wine. Louise felt better and enjoyed her dinner. This hotel is nicer than the Benmiller Inn (near Goderich, Ontario).

Tues. Jan. 6

Slept in til 8. Louise showered and went for a walk outside. Clouds had lifted, beautiful sun on hills so could see where we'd walked last evening. Hills with tea plants are lovely. At breakfast, talked to Juliet about her ances. Afterwards, walked down the hill in front of hotel and were met by a gang of 8 kids who could talk pretty good English. There was a small girl with them. They pointed out the 'baby school' (day-care centre). Louise talked to a darker couple from Toronto. We left on the bus at 9:30 and drove in to the town of Nuwara Eliya, which is an English outpost in the high hill country. Alot of people were going to market. The are no private cars in Sri Lanka, only trucks, motorcycles and jitneys. We drove around the lake and stopped at the Hill Club which Louise toured. Went downtown and bought nuts and chocolate at Cargills famous grocery store. Walked up the main street, seeing lots of things on sale. Chandra didn't tell us when to be back and we lost the group. Got on bus at 12, returned to hotel, went to ground floor bar for pineapple milkshake, steak, potatoes and vegs. Louise had toastie of ham and cheeze. Talked to Peter and Juliet about political influence and how hard they worked as lawyers. It was a beautiful sunny day so we set off walking without a map. Chandra said just stay within sight of the hotel! We were soon joined down the hill by 2 little boys aged 11 and 12. Walked through tea plantations and they followed us. Went over hill to tropical forest. Saw monkeys. The boys picked flowers to show Louise and threw stones at everything, including the monkeys. We stopped and played a game of marbles. One boy had a TV and was in grade 7 despite being only 11. His English was really good. We turned back when the fog started rolling in. The boys tried to roll big rocks down the hill through the tea fields. They had alot of scars from snake bites. Showed us the hospital and local people's houses which were awfully poor and dirty. People on tea plantations live in cement shacks with a communal cooking area and no privacy. Two French ladies had about 10 guys following them and other tourists said the locals were pests. We gave the boys 24¢ each although they wanted more of our chocolate. Realized they have no day-care system here; children are just left to run wild. No one worries about driving their kids to lessons or protecting them from 'danger'. Came back to room, watched Indian rock videos and drank leftover white wine. Peter didn't make it to dinner. We had a nice meal, then the hotel manager came and talked to us. He said he'd encouraged the local boys to guide tourists around so they'd learn English. He'd also brought in hydro, hot water and a bus service to the houses in the area. The waiters are all locals and had to be trained from scratch. They couldn't understand why tourists needed different glasses for water, wine and cognac (the Sri Lankans use one plate and cup per meal and no utensils). Waiters are paid $1,500 U.S. a year. He showed us the kitchen and we met the chef and saw storage rooms for local vegs and bread. Walked outside, completely clear, very bright 1/2 moon. The moon is at a 180° angle, not a crescent but more of a bowl-shaped semi-circle. No sound except crickets. Glad the monsoon rains have finally stopped.

Wed. Jan. 7

It was a beautiful morning, got up at 6:30, saw clouds below, sun and hills above. On our way out at 7:30, we saw the 2 boys from yesterday who waved at us. We went through Nuwara Eliya. Chandra told us all about Buddhist beliefs. He said the people are conservative and are stuck in habitual ways of thinking. We saw millions of acres planted with tea, stopped at a tea shop and saw 3 sets of waterfalls. Drove down winding roads through tea plantations, seeing beautiful patterns of tea plants and every imaginable shade of green. It must have taken a huge effort for the British to clear all this land and get the tea plantations started in the first place. Not sure where all the wood went. Crossed on foot over a Tarzan-style cable bridge over the river. Stopped in the town of Kitulgala for lunch at a rest house hotel. It was OK. The main feature was posters of the movie 'Bridge over the River Kwai', which was filmed here in 1956 (no relics remain but it's a beautiful and historical spot). Very long ride in the afternoon over bumpy roads. Saw girls swimming in the river, plantations of rubber trees, Buddhist funeral and the place where they'd burn the body in the cemetery. Stopped and got a sample of white small-grained rice. The road to the beach was very rough, heaved every 5'. The road going south from Colombo along the coast was extremely busy. We went over 2 big bridges. Peter and Juliet got off at the Riviera Hotel where we were supposed to stay, but Chandra said we were to go to the Triton hotel instead. Let off 2 other couples at another hotel, then went a long way south parallel to the train track. The Triton hotel in Ahungalla had a big iron gate at the front, a long driveway lined with palm trees, a beautiful open air lobby and pools of water. We said goodbye to Chandra and the driver. Went to room 118 on the ground floor at the right side. Plain room, nice bathroom with marble tiles. We walked up to the street; it rained so we waited. I was looking for beer but found only toots who offered taxis, directions, etc. They were very aggressive. The hotel has 14 armed security guards. We went for dinner ($25) in the open-air coffee shop. I had 3 pork chops and 1/2 of Louise's curry dinner, beer, tea and desserts. Watched TV, no MTV or music videos; however, the cartoons and Sri Lankan news were interesting.

Thurs. Jan. 8

We got up at 8, swam in enormous beautiful pool under a bo tree. It has blue-violet tiles the colour of an old bottle. Went for buffet breakfast served in the dining room but we sat outside under trees. There were alot of crows (toots of the air) who would fly down and grab any unattended food. Very nice hotel, huge property. Lots of German tourists, lots of toots on the beach trying to sell saris. I asked the guest relations lady where the bank was, so we went out to the street and exchanged another £100 for rupees. It was quite a bank, open grille windows, ceiling fan, lots of people. Chaps outside offered cab rides but we were warned not to engage them. Crossed street to liquor store, old man told us to come inside. Bought arrack (local hootch made from palm trees), beer and wine, carried it all in blue satchel pack. Walked south along main road, not so much traffic now. Saw cows and 2 cute little girls at a roadside store. The girls are very cute between the ages of 3 and 13. After that, they grow long hair, moustaches and buck teeth and generally lose their looks. Walked down a side road towards the beach at a Buddhist friendship place. It was just like paradise. Waded in the water, returned to street. A fellow staying behind the store spoke good English and was a cook at the hotel. He showed us his simple room which was decorated with posters and had a cot, 2 tables and 1 window. I bought some chocolate and gave it to him and a little girl. Walked back to hotel via the beach, swam in the ocean, very high waves and strong currents. Louise talked to a beach boy who said we were seen going to the bank. Ate cashew nuts and chocolate with free tea at the hotel outdoor bar. Saw a couple being married with Sri Lankan conch shell blowing and native drummers and dancers. Met Kuoni rep Chris and booked a cab ride for tomorrow. I read while Louise walked up the beach. She met Melanie who showed her saris, family's house, Buddhist temple and village. I swam and at 5 o'clock played beach volleyball with the local fellows (the tourists at the hotel were too lazy to play). With my excellent serving, we won 2 games out of 3. The Sri Lankan fellows have very fast reflexes and are quick on the draw. A grizzly looking guy wanted to drive us around, but I could tell he was a toddy tippler so said no. (Toddy is local hootch made from palm trees.) Swam with Louise in the blue pool, swam in the ocean but the guy said it was too dangerous. Went to the coffee shop for dinner, had Sri Lankan wine which was made out of pineapples instead of grapes.

Fri. Jan. 9

Slept pretty well, up at 7:45. Had breakfast outside. An evil crow stole my danish. Met cab man at 9, drove south to Hikkaduwa in his white Nissan. Beautiful sunny day, 91°. Driver stopped at a dive centre right on the beach in town. Rented fins for both of us, took off in a red wooden motor boat with a 17-year lad. Went out 1 km, fairly smooth with 1' waves. I put on my stuff and set off, there was lots of coral and tropical fish to see. Louise got the boy to lead her around and she did well. I saw a big eel going through the coral which was interesting. Snorkelled for an hour, was pretty tired but could have kept going all day. There were a few other boats anchored in the area. Didn't see any fan coral, sharks or seahorses. Returned to shore, sat and rested. The boat ride and fins cost $26. Ordered lunch at the little restaurant in the dive centre. Louise swam. I put stuff on again, went out from shore and saw spectacular fish only 12' off the shore - amazing. Saw a cute little topless girl. Waves pulled in all directions with very fast currents because of the reefs. Had lunch in the dive centre's cafe, had Fanta, cheeze and tomato sandwich, Louise had prawn soup. Bought cashew nuts and tea at store. Fellow drove us south along the coast road to Galle, saw fort, view of sea, Dutch church, Buddhist statue, guys rowing a big boat across the bay, gem store and silk store. Didn't buy anything. Returned north about 3. Went 4 km east off the highway to the moonstone mine. It was a bit rainy. Chap took us and we saw a cinnamon plantation and a moonstone mine. They were pumping out water with a gas-powered pump, 2 fellows hauling up the pulley and 1 to turn over the basket of dirt. Shaft lit with a candle at bottom. One fellow climbed up on the roof (made of palm leaves) when it started raining, didn't seem to care about falling down the mine shaft. We found some nice moonstones in the sand. Guys do hard work for 2 hours, then an easier job for a while. Saw gem polishing, cutting and setting. Went into showroom and endured sales pressure from an older man to buy bracelets. They almost had me cornered, but we made a break for it and took off at 5:05. On the way back, we saw a near-miss between a bus and a truck; also, a bus driver decided to take a shortcut across the old bridge (driving the wrong way up the road) rather than using the new bridge going in the right direction. He made it. Saw plenty of little kids, even a 2-year-old girl playing with her 2 sisters right by the busy highway. Alot different from the western world where kids are herded and protected to an absurd degree. It didn't take too long to get back to the hotel, paid the cab driver $30 for the day. He was glad. Swam in the ocean and big pool by front reception, had a nice time. Big waves and currents in the ocean, wave hit me like a freight train. Sat on shore, lady told us to visit her shop and buy clothes. I showered, finally washed hair which was getting pretty thick. Looked at decorations for the wedding which were made of bamboo and palm leaves shaped like fish swimming. Took wine to restaurant. Louise had 9-course curry and I had seer fish which was excellent. Were stuffed. Louise had chocolate mousse. We decided that toots would henceforth be referred to as 'rootie toot toots'.

Sat. Jan. 10

Got up at 7:30. Louise stuffed everything into suitcases, cleared out of room and moved bags to front. After breakfast (indoors this time), walked up the beach carrying 2 blue bags. Met Melanie at her house; she was 22, single, part Portuguese and just beautiful, also her 13-year-old sister. We walked with her through the village, saw a house being built - baked mud foundation with 3 uprights a side embedded in it, clay tile roof. She took us to the Buddhist temple which was in really good shape, heard chanting, saw 2 rooms with religious stuff and paintings. Gave them $1.20. We said goodbye to Melanie after ordering lunch at her father's restaurant for 1 o'clock. Walked up the adjacent beach which was totally deserted, just sea, sand and palm trees. Cattle come down and sit on the beach in the morning. Turned in by the turtle hatchery, saw store where several girls were making 'welcome' mats out of hemp (straw from the inside of coconut shells). Continued up the street and saw a school with kids playing outside, little girls who asked for bon-bons. Turned left on the main road and walked to the small village. Sat at the train station in the shade, broiling hot so had a drink of water. Louise talked to the station manager. Returned in the opposite direction, stopped at the mat store and bought one with an elephant design for $12. The man threw in a broom too. Saw turtle hatchery; baby turtles were cute. They had ones in tanks of water with shells ranging from 2' to 24' wide. Their flippers and beaks were very strong. We saw 4 English people from our tour last week having pop at the restaurant; they'd been on a boat ride and wished us a good flight home. Returned via the beach. I had a swim but the waves were terrifyingly strong. Went over the hill through the Buddhist temple. Louise had a tough time making it up the hill. Melanie met us by her house. We went to the restaurant for lunch of rice and prawns for $14. Melanie, wearing her brightly flowered dress and bare feet brought me a cold beer and 2 Cokes for Louise. There were 6 Germans in the restaurant who ate 3 lobsters, 10 plates of food and several dozen beer and Cokes. We talked to Melanie's father. The restaurant was a simple hut with tables made of planks and trunks of palm trees for legs. The food was really good and we enjoyed it. Took Melanie's address. She wanted us to buy T-shirts or batik but we had no money left.

Returned to hotel, swam in blue pool for a long time. I sat and read on a chaise longue. Louise saw an elephant on the beach so we used our coupons and went for a short ride. It kneeled down for us to get on. It had 2 humps on the top of its head and 1/2' prickly hairs all over. We went for a short ride and a Frenchman took our photo on his camera. Saw 2 guys from the volleyball team. We swam in the ocean for a long time; the water was 90°. Talked to an English couple on their honeymoon; they'd had an adventure with a rogue cab driver who was drunk and took them to his 'uncle's' gem store. There was an incredible rip tide in the water. I tried it and drifted 60' in about 30 seconds. The fellow said he was caught in it last week and another guy had been knocked unconscious by a wave. (The waves are so strong because there's nothing but open water between Sri Lanka and Africa over 2000 miles away.) The locals told us that in April, the waves are enormous and go right up to the hotel. We changed into clothes, walked along the beach, tried to sort out our suitcases. 2 guys wrapped up our elephant mat in cardboard, newspapers and string. Ate dinner in the coffee shop, had beer, leftover wine, chicken and rice for me, fish for Louise. We thought the Triton was an excellent hotel with 5-star service. The hotel is heavily influenced by European customs, very formal. We enjoyed it alot. The staff is very nice and the setting and architecture very nice. It was built 17 years ago. A big bus came at 8:15 p.m. and got us and 2 other couples. Stopped at various hotels along the way after going on lots of back lanes. Bus driver drove very fast - he just did 60 mph down the middle of the road and if anyone else was in the way, he'd just lay on the horn. Louise sat at the front of the bus but soon moved half-way back. Another young English couple said they'd given bon-bons to kids, but regretted it as dozens more kids would appear from nowhere and want some too. Colombo looked absolutely horrible - sprawling and dirty, no redeeming features. Lots of people and jitneys, guys sleeping on the street. No signs in Sinhalese, only English. Stopped at 11:00 at a hotel near the airport for a washroom break. Luggage van went separately, got suitcases. There was a big disorganized line-up before we checked in. Sat in lounge, Louise slept. Got on Air Lanka Airbus A340 at 3:00 a.m.; it left at 3:40 after a couple and their baby boy got on. Plane was completely full. Had scotch and dinner which was fine. Tried sleeping, also watched parts of 'Contact' with Jodie Foster - total dreck. Looked out the window over Iran; it had huge open areas with nothing, just a few highways through the desert. Lots of mountains covered with snow in northern Iran and eastern Turkey. I got a headache, slept on Louise's lap. Couldn't eat breakfast, needed coffee only as it was noon in Sri Lankan time.

Sun. Jan. 11

Came in to England over Thames estuary, saw Margate, Southend on Sea, London, Cookham, Maidenhead and our apartment, Windsor Castle. Caught bus to bus station, got X39 bus at 10 a.m. It was 7° and cloudy, very damp. Came home using luggage wheels and slept for 5 hours. Felt we'd gotten a real education.


Conclusion: Tourism is on the increase but is affected by news coverage of the ethnic troubles. There were no American tourists there, only Europeans. The trouble is restricted to the north and east of the island, which are off-limits to tourists. Visitors are at much more risk from road accidents than from Sinhalese-Tamil violence.

The 2004 Asian tsunami hit the western coast of Sri Lanka very hard. The turtle hatchery was destroyed, as well as the railroad track and most sea-front hotels.

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