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.