Posted by: cherryoak | 9.September 2009

SRI LANKA – THE JEWEL ISLAND

FIRST FEW DAYS…SORTING INSURANCE CLAIMS AND WATCHING CRICKET.

After leaving Gan and our mast and sails behind, we finally arrived at Galle in Sri Lanka.  Any harbour would have been okay after what we had been through, so I will just quote Marco Polo who wrote in the early 1200s:

“On leaving the Island of Andoman and sailing a thousand miles, a little south of west, the traveller reaches Ceylon, which is undoubtedly the finest Island of its size in all the world.”

We agree wholeheartedly!  This is a wonderful island with friendly, hard working, cheerful people who make one feel very welcome.

Galle harbour is not particularly yacht friendly, but that is a small price to pay for the privilege of leaving one’s boat in a very secure environment. Although the 20 year old war is now over, security here in the harbour is very tight indeed.  This eant that  we could safely leave the boat unattended for ten days or so and explorethe interior of this fascinating island.  It surely should be on the itinerary of every cruising yacht.

We spent the first ten days trying to sort out repairs and replacements after the dismasting, and also watching the cricket test match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

Then decided we had earned a holiday!! and set off for the interior, using only local transport and Lonely Planet. As usual, Lonely Planet was amazingly accurate and we had no problems at all getting meals, beds or transport.

We kept a diary of the trip and I will just insert that into this blog, and TRY to upload a few photos.  Please CLICK HERE to see them

Day 1: Tuesday 25th August 2009   Galle to Matara – WRONG BUS X 2

Delayed start, left at midday after sorting out Radar delivery. Got on first bus that arrived at local bus stop outside harbour,which was not going to Matara so they wanted to stop the bus for us to get off.

No thanks, we said, we will go where you go, to Akuressa, we found out eventually. Inland but travelling roughly east as we noted on our trusty compass.

Lovely trip, stopping at all the little villages along the way. Houses all well kept, all with little well tended gardens and large areas of paddy rice fields, whenever ground was flat, some with water buffalo grazing, which seems to be the only form of fertilizing used. Also small tea plantations on well drained sloping land.

These are the Singalese local village people, very few speak English but all very industrious, friendly, happy people making a living for their families.

Had “lunch packet” (probably the equivalent of British fish and chips, consisting of rice, curry, sambals and chutney, all eaten with the fingers) at local eatery (spit and sawdust) at the Akuressa bus station. Then caught the bus going out, we thought to Matara, but Cherry heard the conductor calling Galle, Galle, Galle!. So once again, the wrong bus! This time they did stop for us, bus behind also stopped, which happened to be going to Matara so we climbed on.

Buses are so cheap.  This one, 29 rupees, about US$ 0.25, about 1c per kilometre! At Matara we crossed the suspension bridge opposite the bus station to an island on which a Buddhist shrine has been built.  This is a very religious country, there are shrines EVERYWHERE. Street corners, under trees, next to bus stops, etc.  The surprising thing is that their seems to be a fusion of beliefs, Hindu and Buddhism.  The Buddhist temples have Hindu deities represented in them.  One would almost expect the two religions to be mutually exclusive.

Booked in at Matara old town guest house and went straight off, 5 km by tuktuk to Dondera and walked to the most southerly point of Sri Lanka, shades of Cape Agulhas in RSA and in fact, very similar. Decided to take taxi on the following day asbus to Ella will bypass interesting sights. The temple complex we wanted to see is 6km off the main route and the blowhole another 3km.

DAY 2: Wednesday 26th August 2009   Matara to Ella AND BIG BUDDHA

Taxi was expensive and not a good experience, in fact a mistake and did not get on well with the so called English speaking driver. But we did see the 40m high Buddha at Dikwella which was the main purpose

Climbed 8 stories (painfully barefooted) behind the statue to eventually peer through a aperture at the back of his head, only to see a row of miniature Buddhas sitting in the meditation pose.  What a swiz, hoped to get a good view of the countryside.

Next sight was the blowhole, a gap in the rocks on the coast which acts like a geyser blowing but as there was no wind, it was nearly asleep with only occasional spurts of water. A disappointment but a very beautiful coastline with lovely beaches, which is the main tourist attraction.

Sadly this whole area up the east coast was very badly hit by the Tsunami, and everywhere there are signs of the damage caused.  Almost every person we meet has some tragic story to tell. However, I am a bit sceptical when I hear that our TukTuk driver lost 14  members of his family, including wife and children, and then in the next breath tells us  he is married with two kids, one  4 and one of 7!  Tsunami was in 2004 so somehow the numbers don’t add up. Be that as it may, it was a terrible time and many of the stories are true and very harrowing.

Great strides have been made to repair and reconstruct, but the alarming thing is that lessons do not seem to have been learnt.  We had a meal in a  lovely restaurant which was built on the high tide line!!!!!!! The previous building had been washed away.  Hard to credit that the same mistake is made.

Back to our taxi and the big climb to the Hill Country, to Ella village set like a jewel below Ella Rock.  Stayed at Rock View Guest House, excellent with lovely friendly landlady, directly below Ella Rock.

Went for wander through the village and by amazing coincidence, found tuktuk driver Prasanna, who was the young driver brother James had used 3 years before. We therefore arranged the following day to find Keenakellie Tea Estate, which was the first tea estate where Alec’s father was manager from 1926.

DAY 3: Thursday 27th August, 2009 . FATHER’S FIRST TEA ESTATE

Alec’s brother had made up a small album of old photographs taken by father of the old factory and the house where he lived and given this to Prasanna. . He had been back to the estate 3 times trying to find more information in case either James or Alec would one day come back to visit.

Keenekelle is way, way up in the hills along appalling roads which were once tarred, but are now a mass of deep potholes, so it was a very slow, long and bumpy trip. We found the manager’s bungalow and met him and his wife, who were extremely interested in the old photographs.

One of the photographs showed Father, Aunt Kath and Granny Yarrow outside the bungalow, so we took a photograph from the same position.

The factory had been burnt down in 1983 during some political unrest (not Tamil Tigers). Various workers we met were also very interested to see the photographs and a few of the older ones remembered the factory.

We wandered back up the hill from the manager’s bungalow passing beautifully manicured and terraced tea bushes growing on slopes which really only mountain goats could comfortably negotiate. The whole of this highland area of Sri Lanka is covered with these tea estates, which have completely resculptured the landscape. On every square meter of lower slopes, the ground has been terraced and vegetables and rice are grown, mainly for personal consumption. The whole effect is incredibly beautiful.

DAY 4: Friday 28th August 2009   HIGH COUNTRY TRAIN RIDE

Travel from Ella to Haputale on very full train, standing room only. We stood on the platform between two carriages all the way. The train was choc a block when we got on, but at every stop more people climbed in.  Very few got off!

Beautiful views into steep valleys and hillsides covered by tea bushes. Every bit of ground used and well cared for, rice paddies on flat land and terracing on lower slopes, tea on the upper slopes. Also many beds of vegetables, mainly aubergines, leeks and cabbages. After checking in to our guest house, took a stroll round the village which is built on a ridge with steep drop offs both sides, very dramatic.  Not a single square meter of level ground, but somehow the train gets here.

DAY 5 Saturday 29th August 2009. WALK TO LIPTON’S SEAT – 14KM

Took the bus to Dambatenne Tea Factory which takes tea from all the surrounding tea estates. 20 tons per day, 18kg minimum from each lady picker, two leaves and a bud, for Rs320.00 per day! All extremely interesting.

Then 7 kilometer steep uphill walk to Lipton’s Seat, the high point of the estate where Sir Thomas used to entertain his guests with al fresco picnics.  View reckoned to be the equal of World’s End at Horton Plains, but we were too late for the view down the escarpment, and all we could see was white cloud. But we had had wonderful views all the way up and back down again through the usual well kept tea fields and through the workers’ villages. Greetings were exchanged as we passed.

No-one else walking, but many cars and even motor cycles passed us on the way. Caught the bus back to our guest house from the Dambatenne factory, back to our guest house for a well earned cup of tea,  then our regular dose of Arrack and CocoCola. Also to watch the cricket, 2nd test versus NZ, again NZ with backs to the wall.

DAY 6: Sunday 30th August 2009  TO HILL CLUB AND GOLF CLUB

Caught the bus to Welimada, then on the Nuwara Eliya (pronounced NuReliya) and booked into Collingwood Hotel – old colonial home, looks beautiful but very damp rooms and extremely expensive restaurant with abysmal service. Not good.

Took a walk to Grand Indian Restaurant for lunch – very good indeed, then on to Hill Club, the old British Planters’ Club. The membership was Whites only until 1970 – shades of the old South Africa! Father came here most weekends, played tennis and golf at the club across the road.

In both clubs time has almost stood still. Old furniture still in good condition. Alec bought a Hill Club tee shirt then had tea at the Golf Club.  It was good to see it much as father would have seen it 70 – 80 years ago.  Sri Lankans have maintained the traditions and we were made most welcome in both clubs and taken on a tour of inspection.

DAY 7: Monday 31st August 2009. FANTASTIC DAY!

First went to Hakgela gardens, wonderful English style gardens with herbaceous borders, lawns, rose gardens, rock gardens, Japanese gardens and herb gardens, all beautifully set out and cared for.

We were the only white people among thousands (literally) of Singhalese families also enjoying and appreciating the beautiful flora, including many yarrows, purple and pink not seen before.

On to world famous ‘Humbugs’ restaurant for strawberries and cream on waffles.

Overheard someone speaking English with a local man who had managed many tea estates. Immediately approached him to ask about Albion which we thought was near Hakgela.

Oh no, said he, it’s on another road.  He gave us directions, drew a map on the back of his till slip and sent us back to Nuwara Eliya, there to take a taxi to be taken to Albion, about 50km away. Roads very rough and potholed.

Excellent taxi driver who really entered into the spirit of the search. We first found the present Albion manager’s home. Fortuitously he was just returning from leave in Colombo and arrived within the hour. He informed us that 3 estates, Thornfield, Preston and Albion had amalgamated and this house was in fact Thornfield.

So off we went in search of Albion, about 2 km he said, got lost and found another managers’ house which we photographed hoping it was the right one – it wasn’t, only the Assistant Manager.

We nearly gave up but our driver said we had come too far to throw in the towel now. He stopped a young lad who redirected us a further 2 km up an appalling road and “Eureke” we found it.

This was the house that Frank Harris built after father left as he was a NZ architect by profession and where Tad Harris and Mike Charnaud played as youngsters.  It is now unoccupied but well looked after, being used to accommodate visiting directors on their monthly vistits.

The long drive back to Nuwara Eliya. We had planned a tie and jacket dinner at the Hill Club, but sadly the old British Club seems to be dying on its feet. Only one guest in residence and no-one else booked for dinner, so we went to the Grand Hotel next door for a similar experience.  Set menu, superb ambience and service, Excellent food. A great Ceylon evening out to end a great day.

DAY 8: Tuesday 1st September 2009. KANDY DANCING & TEMPLE VISIT

Bus to Kandy. Gentle driver, only one we have found who respected his vehicle. Lovely trip, virtually all downhill – 5000ft to 500ft, zig zagging all the way.  Stayed McLeod’s Guest House up on the hill overlooking the lake , the

Temple of the Tooth and the town.  Stunning, to use a Georgism. The Temple of the  Tooth for Buddhists in Sri Lanka is almost like Mecca to the Muslims.  Every Buddhist should try and make the pilgrimage once in his lifetime. It was very crowded and pouring with rain, so I have cheated a little and photographed a postcard to use here.

Walked into town and around the edge of the lake to Queens Hotel for beer and a sandwich as instructed by Mike Charnaud.

Touts are a pain,  latching onto ANYONE with a white skin, shades of Africa! So many Sri Lankans were surprised that South Africans could be anything but black.  Very interesting.

Watched excellent performance of Kandy Dancing at the Arts Centre, plus fire eating and walking. Very impressive.

DAY 9:  Wednesday 2nd Sept.  PERADENYA GARDENS & TOILET ROLLS

Rain early morning so late start to Peradenyia Gardens by TukTuk to escape the next heavy rain shower. Garden very large nd well laid out, all very manicured. In fact, too much we thought and did not have the ‘soul’ that we experienced at Hakgale.

Back to Kandy, another drink at Queens, find an internet café and finally a half hour search for a toilet roll. They’re not much used here as the toilet bum spray system seems to be the norm.

DAY 10: Thursday, 3rd September 2009    OH WOW!!  SIGIRIYA

Left Kandy, arrived Dambulla 11 am. Found Friday was a Poya day, once a month on the day of the full moon, so national holiday and not a good day to visit Sigiriya. Immediately took TukTukat great expense to view the huge, vertical faced, plutonic rock, the remains of the central magma mass of a very old volcano.  It had a mixed history. Early Buddhists built  brick buildings on the top as a place of meditation.  Later, one of the kings, after killing his father, sought refuge there.

It was a long climb (1200 steps) for two elderly folks with very poor balance, such that guides who were standing ready to latch onto anyone with a white skin, grabbed Alec to help him up four little steps, and were immediately blasted to leave him alone!

The view at the top was breathtaking (what breath was left after the climb) with a 360deg view, including a HUGE white Buddha statue that stood tall in the distance, well above the trees.

Those are people climbing the last  third of the way, having passed a picture gallery with ancient frescoes and the mirror wall with graffiti dating from 7th century.  There truly is nothing new under the sun.

An enlarged version of this picture (and others) can be seen on the web album  CLICK HERE

DAY 11: Friday 4th September 2009.  COLOMBO

Travelled Dambulla to Colombo in typical Sri Lankan bus. Driver very aggressive, endlessly overtaking where we would never dream of doing it, hoots motor bikes and TukTuks out of his way, expects everyone to give way including sometimes oncoming traffic.

Stayed in YWCA, only place at a cheap price in Colombo, everywhere else half decent priced at US$60 plus. Colombo was dead as it was Poya Day holiday, only a few shops and no restaurants open.  Wandered Galle Road looking for Barefoot, a fancy boutique, which was open, had lovely sarongs with equally lovely prices. However, bought two books, including Sri Lanka cookbook.

Sri Lankan food is excellent.  Lovely curries with rice and dhal which are their staples, plus many fresh vegetables, beans, butternut, okra, aubergines etc. with or without meat.  For breakfast, string hoppers which are made of rice flour noodles, with dhal, coconut sambal and topped with egg.  Fantastic!

Eventually settled for airport type Food Hall in a Mall, enlivened with excellent live music playing all western 1960’s retro, plus the whole of the 2nd NZ/Sri Lanka 20/20 which was won by NZ.

DAY 12: Saturday 5th September 2009    .HOME TO A DAMAGED BOAT

To Queens Radio for SSB bits, then immediately on to small A/C bus to Galle, this time with a terrible driver, the worst so far, and that is saying something!

Overtaking far too slowly, often impeding oncoming traffic. He seemed to have a personality defect that once committed to overtaking he would not back off no matter what was coming at us so as not to lose face! Conversely seemed almost afraid of motorbikes, sitting behind them far too close, then drifting past into oncoming traffic.

Home to find a damaged boat. Port bow pulpit and rubbing strip bent and broken  by Sri Lankan navy vessel. Fortunately no structural damage.

Four young sailors came to “repair” the damage armed with a block of wood and a large hammer, and were promptly told to leave the boat!  We have heard no more from the navy, and don’t expect to.

Evening meal at Closenburg Hotel with Henry and Ina to end a wonderful holiday.

Sri Lanka has been a real highlight of our cruising life, the only disappointing being our agents at Galle who are very yacht unfriendly trying and so far failing to make money out of us and other boats here.

Finally we have reached the end of our stay here in this fascinating place, and have just heard that the insurance company will settle our claim , but with a very large shortfall, which is normal in these cases..  So all in all, the dismasting has cost us a load of money, but in the end we will have a safer boat, having upgraded all the specifications, and now having new electronic equipment


Responses

  1. You keep writing about your wonderful holiday in SriLanka. I thought that you have been on holiday the whole time!
    Roy”s op went well. He now has o get fit again but he’s back at work even though he sometimes come back very sore and has to lie down for a while. The Lord is good and we are blessed.
    Lots of love.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: