Sri Lanka

Got in yes­ter­day from an overnight trip up to the hill coun­try of Sri Lan­ka, an inter­est­ing and edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence as well as being almost com­plete­ly enjoyable. 

23Jan. Kandy, Sri Lanka
Dogs howl­ing at mid­night woke me, the expe­ri­ence of regain­ing con­scious­ness under the gen­tle haze of a mos­qui­to net was both pleas­ant and new. A small break­fast of eggs & tea and I was off for the day with Shaun, my guide for the day. We planned to do a 3 tem­ple trek in the morn­ing, then lunch, then a vis­it to Pin­newala ele­phant sanc­tu­ary fol­lowed by a train ride home. Although Shaun was a young dude and “hik­ing guide”, he did­n’t seem to be in shape, and appear­ances were not deceiv­ing: instead of the 3 planned tem­ples we only man­aged 2.

We drove to the first tem­ple via tuk tuk (3 wheeled scoot­er), get­ting off for a look ’round and tak­ing the first of what could have been inter­minable lec­tures on Bud­dhist tem­ples & their gods, which are all mixed up with the Hin­du gods. Oh well, nice to see the reli­gions get­ting along. Shaun’s Eng­lish was weak, so there was­n’t much for con­ver­sa­tion. Hiked from that first tem­ple through a bit of jun­gle, where S point­ed out cacao, cinam­mon, bread­fruit, jack­fruit, clove, black pep­per, tea, “long bean”, man­gos­teen, papaya, duri­an, avo­ca­do, gua­va, and coconut trees! Sri Lan­ka has a wealth of spices and fruits grow­ing wild throughout. 

We broke out into the open and wend­ed our way along the dikes on the sides of extra­or­di­nar­i­ly green rice pad­dies for 40 min­utes or so on our way to tem­ple num­ber 2, our final tem­ple for the day. Lots of birds, appar­ent­ly this is a bird watch­ing par­adise. Along the way we stopped for a drink of coconut water, fresh­ly served in a cut-to-order coconut at a tiny road­side stand. 

We hiked up into a tea plan­ta­tion, tea being grown on the hills and rice in the flat bot­tom land. Up in the heights you can see the rugged­ness of this place and under­stand why the king­dom of Kandy was the last of the island’s king­doms to fall to Euro­pean pow­ers (the British in 1815.) Shaun propo­si­tioned me for a lit­tle bang-bang on the hill­side after admir­ing the size of my cock as I was tak­ing a piss break. Flat­ter­ing, but I polite­ly declined. 

Arrived at the sec­ond tem­ple at the top of a long flight of stairs carved out of rock. Carved into the stone grounds of these tem­ples are the prove­nance & patrons of each build­ing and con­struc­tion. After 6–700 years it becomes fair­ly weath­ered, but still inter­est­ing to look at. 

By this time we had appar­ent­ly run out of morn­ing, for it was into the tuk-tuk and off to lunch at a fair­ly manky road­side stand. Rice, cur­ry, dhal, and pota­toes all gen­tly rest­ing under the assault of flies fee­bly fend­ed off with bare­ly fit­ting lids and fold­ed up news­pa­per graced my plate. Spicy and luke­warm, it filled my gut.

From there we drove to the Pin­newala Ele­phant Orphan­age, where around 100 ele­phants are cared for and dis­played to the pub­lic. Shaun had not been there before, so was not sure of where the entrance was or real­ly the best ways to enjoy the place. Aside from point­ing out many of the plants along the way, and know­ing how to get from one tem­ple to anoth­er, he was not much of a guide, real­ly. First we went to a milk feed­ing of two babies, a crowd­ed and unin­spir­ing affair (jos­tled by impa­tient Indi­ans to watch ele­phant calves suck down huge bot­tles of milk in less than 10 sec­onds, which some tourists paid for the priv­i­lege to have their hands on the bot­tle whilst the han­dlers actu­al­ly held it. Anoth­er exam­ple of the tourist indus­try’s pas­time of pro­vid­ing the least ser­vice for the most mon­ey), and then things took a turn for the better.

Hik­ing up small rise we came upon the herd sep­a­rat­ed from us by only a thin line of scat­tered boul­ders imi­tat­ing a fence. As we tourists stood gawk­ing on one side the ele­phant han­dlers would come up and with a flick­ing ges­ture of their wrist indi­cate we should cross the line and come have our pic­ture tak­en with the ele­phants, fol­lowed by the inevitable request for a tip. Real­ly cool to be so close to the great beasts. Makes me want to work with them for a while, maybe at a sanc­tu­ary somewhere?

From there I ambled over to a huge tusked bull, again tak­ing a pho­to while stand­ing next to him, tip­ping the han­dler after my 10 sec­onds of “glo­ry.”

Know­ing from the guide­books that the herd would be led down to the riv­er across the street, we hur­ried down to get the last seat with a good view, and from there, with a cold beer, I enjoyed an excel­lent scene of about 50 ele­phants trot­ting down into the water and then just enjoy­ing them­selves. The babies in par­tic­u­lar offered many moments of gen­tle amuse­ment as they ram­bunc­tious­ly played, hold­ing each oth­er under­wa­ter, bump­ing heads, play-mount­ing, and gen­er­al­ly enjoy­ing their child­hood as kids do anywhere.

What I had thought would be a 45 minute dri­ve to the train sta­tion turned out to be around 5, so I was left with an extra hour and half before the train for Colom­bo arrived, in which time I man­aged to have a short reli­gious con­vo with an Islam­ic fel­low and took a pic­ture of my “bench com­pan­ions.” Near­ly a 3 hour train ride lat­er in the 3rd class and I was back in Colom­bo just as dark set in. 

An enjoy­able 2 days, much bet­ter than if I had stayed in the hotel, and I learned a ton about what not to do and how to get around eas­i­ly and very cheap­ly in Sri Lan­ka. Use­ful for when L** & I return.

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