Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Five days of visit in Sri Lanka.

The North-East monsoon being very short we didn't have much time to spend in the amazing country of Sri Lanka so with only one week in front of us we decided to open our wallet and arrange with Dee Dee Yacht Service a 4 days/3 nights tour around Sri Lanka and one day in Galle itself. Dee Dee was quite helpful and efficient at arranging everything as well as taking care of the laundry and refueling while we were visiting. We took 484 pictures of Sri Lanka and I could write an entire book on what we saw during that week. We give you here only a snapshot of this land of wonders. On the first picture you can see two fishing boats in the port of Galle. Fishing is a huge economic activity for this sea town which was half destroyed by the tsunami few years ago. Tens of thousands of deaths and huge inflation later peoples of Galle still know how to enjoy their national sport; cricket!

While visiting Fort Galle, an old Dutch fort built a few centuries ago, the street entertainers would tame their cobras while playing a little flute or let us pet a little macaque while some boys would just have fun jumping off a huge rock into a shallow pool of water underneath.

Fishing means catching fish. The way you do it can differ greatly from one place to another. We were also shown amazing stone carvings of Buddhism symbols or simply admiring the simple life of the charming Singhalese Sri Lankans and the overwhelming presence of foliage everywhere.

Buddhism being the main religion in the area we couldn't visit Sri Lanka without going through many Buddhist temples and somehow the followers of this religion seem to like huge Buddha statues. It is, no need to say, in sharp contrast with one of the main dogma of this religion being the simplicity of a material life but surely not more than the other main religions claiming the same thing. This temple built mainly underground presented no less than 40,000 paintings of the life of Lord Buddha dating many centuries.

On our way to our first night stop in the town of Kandy we stopped to a nice waterfall in the surrounding valley where some people were taking a bath, not swimming but really washing up themselves, while tourist vendors would try to sell us fake old dutch coins or simply ask for money. Some more clever would ask us to change some Canadian coins that were likely given to them by other tourists. Our room in Kandy was very comfy with mosquito nets and a stunning view over the valley. No need to say that the food offered on the first floor was exquisite. Curries, spiced vegetables and rotis were real delicacies.

The second day we took a train for a three hour ride from Kandy to Nany-Oya to admire the unique landscape of Sri Lanka composed of hills, jungles and of course tea plantations. You can see me here with Sana, our driver for this tour, as well as the old style train that was a treat on itself.

Just a few more pictures from the train ride. On the dock with a red shirt is our guide Ekka with his stunning smile. Our Tamil seat neighbor was too young to remember the troubles that his people went through a few years ago in the North of the country but was quite curious about these two fellows beside him with such a pale skin. Maybe he thought we were sick or something probably because we didn't have this black painted dot between our eyes that protects him against the bad spirits and illness.

A tour of Sri Lanka wouldn't be a good tour without the visit of a tea plantation. Here we stopped at Mackwoods tea plantation and processing plant where we were introduced to the seven steps of tea processing and, of course after the visit, invited to take a look at the visitor's boutique to buy at high price a sample of their excellent tea.

Here you can see pictures (really too few for what can be seen) of the Cave Buddhist Temple. The statues in orange robe you see on the first one are all man size statues in line for an offering to Buddha. After climbing for 15 minutes or so we arrived at a set of five caves where statues, mainly Buddha, were carved directly in place from the rock bed. Many though were brought in over the centuries. One interesting thing here was that among the many Buddhist sanctuaries was built a small Hindu temple! This is just reflecting the reality of the region where all religions live in the same place. In Galle we saw Buddhist temples, Mosques, Catholic Churches and Hindu temples all living in peace together.

Then the visit continued with a stop at a spice garden where a guide showed us many spices from the plants and asked us to identify them. Strangely I was able to give the right answer for almost all of them but a very few. Of course if I was able to recognize vanilla, cinnamon and mace I miserably failed to name .. black pepper! At the end I could enjoy a spice massage that was actually quite relaxing after three days of visiting. In the evening we assisted to a traditional dance show along with about 100 other tourists. Of course, local Sri Lankans are more interested in modern pop music like everybody else. That type of shows is for tourists.

After the dance show Ekka and Sana took us to an amazing temple called the "Toot temple" in Kandy. Beside the splendid architecture and the many stunning artifacts, such as this marble statue of Buddha and many others, the temple claims to be the host of one of the teeth of Buddha himself that was recovered from the cinder after his cremation. The whole story of the path followed by the toot during the last 2500 years or so is all depicted in one of the halls and people gathers here every day to see the "toot" which supposedly reside in this golden vase. Now whether Buddha's toot is really in the vessel or not is something we would never know but tons of people gathers here to have a peak at it. I mean, Lord Buddha himself was surely a great figure of humanity and worth veneration to many but to think that his toot bear any spiritual signification is a bit a stretch of the imagination. But at least it sure brings many paying tourists including, of course, your two favorite world explorers who never miss an opportunity to help the financial situation of the tourist industry!

The only thing worth showing of our last day of visit was a stop at a bathing site where a herd of elephant was brought by their rightful owners at this location for the tourists to see. It was actually quite fun and they were even selling small bags of bananas to feed the pachyderms. They were even selling a sort of handmade paper made out of elephant . dung! Do I need to tell you we passed on this one? After returning from our tour of the country we had one day left to get our fuel delivered, to shop for food and get ready for our next leg. Sana took us in his tuk-tuk for shopping and in the evening we were invited at Ekka's place for dinner with his wife, Sana and Dee Dee. We stupidly forgot the camera but it was very nice. Our plan after that was to sail directly from Sri Lanka to Salalah, Oman but we received an email from another boat, "Imagine", telling us it was straight forward to stop a few days in Uligan, Maldives without paying the exorbitant cruising fees imposed by the Maldivians authorities. So, we decided to make a pit stop in Uligan in order to cut the pear in two for that 1800 miles crossing but we did not realize the extent of that decision until we arrived in this remote island of the Indian Ocean as what we found there was not at all what we expected! But this is a story for the next post..