I am still amazed how quickly time is flying by, but have managed to pack in quite a bit and have had several more adventures...
Several weeks ago I had my first trip to the 'Cultural Triangle' to visit Dambulla and Sigiriya. I went with Eve, Caroline and Emma and we travelled in Emma's pink ambassador car. They came to stay with me on the Friday night and then on the Saturday morning, four white women in a pink car hit the highways of Sri Lanka. We didn't actually draw as much attention as we expected or secretly hoped for, but it was a great road trip nonetheless. There are some remarkable caves at Dambulla, in honour of Buddha, created 2500 years ago. There are five caves and each one is progressively more spectacular with golden statues and wall paintings. We were all quite lost for words, something rather remarkable in itself. After the afternoon in Dambulla, we drove on to Sigiriya and booked in to a guesthouse for an evening of cards and the odd beer. The next morning we rose bright and early at 6am ready for our climb up Sigiriya. Sigiriya is an extraordinary and uniquely shaped rock, which is often in tourist photos. We had a bit of hassle getting our tickets, having been given misinformation, as is often the way, but eventually it was all sorted and we were off. Caroline and Emma are not the fondest of heights but between us, all four pink ladies reached the top and wow! The views were terrific and I was very surprised to find the ruins of an ancient city at the top built 2500 years ago. We spent a good hour or so taking in the views and the atmosphere before coming back down and heading out on the road again, singing along to Johnny Cash and stopping off for sweetcorn at the roadside stall on the way.
The next adventure was travelling south to Unawatuna and the rainforest at Sinharaja. As part of Natalie's birthday celebrations a gang of us went to the beach at Unawatuna. About nine of us piled into a van, a minibus type of affair at Colombo and headed south. We spent a lovely couple of days lounging on the beach and enjoying good food. Then Sarah and I headed inland to the town of Deniyaya. We were a little late setting off and we arrived in the dark and rather disorientated. We managed to organise a lift to the guesthouse and had been advised that we would have to walk the last part up a lane. It was in the middle of nowhere and pitch black. Some children appeared and gestured they would show us the way. We had little choice and decided to follow them. They kept calling back to their mates and then told us to wait a second and as they ran back. We waited and waited. We'd been abandoned. Torches in hand we fumbled our way up the lane, slipping on the wet path and then eventually found the guesthouse, much to our relief. We woke the next day to cool wet weather and some amazing scenery, unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka and headed off to Sinhajara rainforest. As it had been raining, we didn't see many animals but lots of insects, plant life and the incredible sound of cicardas. We actually thought it was machinery as it was so loud. Now being a rainforest, there are leeches. Yuk! Before we set off our guide gave us some special blue soap to rub on our feet, which would deter them...No it did not! Disgusting! It was an eleven hour journey back home and I was exhausted but well worth it.
My next trip was to Trincomalee on the east coast. Seven of us caught the night mail train. Unfortunately we couldn't all get second class tickets so we were in third class...for nine hours. It was hot, dusty but good fun and the Sri Lankans in our carriage were friendly. One of them was working with a church in Kurunegala and twinned with Morley of all places! Three volunteers are working in Trinco and up until a few weeks ago this was out of bounds for the rest of us because of the security situation. It was the main town on the north east coast for a lot of the NGO's during the conflict but most had left and there was an eerie abandoned feel about the place but the beaches were spectacular. There is still a heavy military presence and on the Saturday morning I was in my room on the ground floor at Hans' house packing my bag for the day, when I turned around to find an armed soldier with a very large rifle standing at the window. I nearly jumped out of my skin. He gestured for me to go to the front door and checked my ID and then they left. We have to carry ID with us at all times and I'm very glad I had it with me. Very unnerving to say the least. Trinco has one of the deepest natural harbours and was a very important port before Colombo developed. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to go and see it and so I hope to go back before I leave. We stayed a couple of nights and then caught the day train back. When we got to the station we were told our tickets were for the next day's night train and after managing to swap them we were back in third class. Unfortunately, one of our gang had been ill in the night and not fit to travel so she and another vol stayed behind to travel the next day. So our gang was reduced to five. We set off and after a couple of hours of so we stopped at a junction to hitch up another train. We expected to be there for about 30 minutes so hopped off to get refreshments and go to the loo. But just as Eve and I were carrying coffee and snacks back we heard the whistle blow and the guardsman waving his flag and the train, beginning to move. We managed to scramble on the train spilling most of the coffee but Sarah and Nanthini were still in the ladies. Then we saw them running on to the platform as we pulled out of the station. Oh no, our five may become three! After much frantic yelling on our part we discovered the train was just shunting on to another track to pick up the other train and they were able to get back on board...and much to the amusement of everybody on the train and platform! The journey took nine and half hours, at an average speed of 30km. We certainly got to see the scenery. And hang out of the doorway, which I've always wanted to do. As it got dark we expected the lights to come on in the carriage. Oh, foolish thoughts. We spent the last hour or so in the dark, periodically doing a head count to check we were all still there.
I have actually done some work in between my adventures. Sadly, not enough and it is painfully slow again. I've been getting quite frustrated by it all and hope to speak to the vso programme manager soon to see if there are other things I can be doing. I did go up to the hill country to deliver two days training at one of the other rehabilitation centres with two other volunteers, which I enjoyed and the staff and clients seemed very engaged. It was my first trip to the hill country. Completely different landscape again, not unlike parts of Scotland...and cool. I even had to put a long sleeve on.
I also went to a wedding a couple of weeks ago! One of the nurses at work was getting married and invited us all from work, which is customary. It was also an excuse for me to buy a saree, much to the delight of my colleagues who were all very excited about seeing Miss Jacks in a saree. I had to get measured for my saree jacket and then go back for a fitting. A few alterations were needed and so I sat with the dressmaker's husband and daughter chatting and given hospitality, which meant being fed till I popped. I thought they are going to have to alter the thing again at this rate. The daughter was interested to hear I lived in the country back home and wanted to know if my house was like Bilbo Baggins house in the Lord of the Rings! Noooo, that's a hobbit house...and it's made up! On the day of the wedding, I had arranged with sister from work to visit a lady to help me dress in to my saree. Unfortunately sister was an hour late and then insisted on having a few adjustments made herself so by the time we got the wedding, the actual ceremony was over and we arrived to find the bride and groom having photos. They wore the traditional Kandyan wedding dress and looked splendid. I have also been promised that I will be taken to another wedding before I leave to actually see a wedding! We'll see. Anyway, the bride's mother kept coming up to me and telling me how happy she was I was there, so that made it all worth it.
A couple of the volunteers have finished their placements over the last few weeks and so I started to experience the downside of volunteering, when people leave. Friendships develop very quickly, but they are short lived. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but thank goodness for facebook.
I have also conceded that I really do need reading glasses. So I took myself of to the opticians last week hoping to pick up a ready-made pair. I went in to the first opticians. I would like some reading glasses I said. How old are you madam? I'm 47. Oh, you will need 1.75 madam. Well maybe not, I said, can we check? After my test, I was told I need 1+ but they didn't have any. So off I went to the next opticians. Hello, I said, I want some reading glasses 1+. How old are you madam? I'm 47. Oh, you need 1.75 came the reply. Maybe not, shall we check. Ah yes, you need 1.25. Do you have any? Sorry madam, no. So off I went to the third opticians. Hello, I need some reading glasses 1+ or maybe 1.25. How old are you madam? I'M 47! Oh, you need 1.75. Maybe not, shall we check?! Ah yes, you need 1.5. Do you have any? Sorry madam, no. Arrrrrgh! Fortunately, I have managed to get a pair from a shop in Colombo where there wasn't an optician in sight...if you pardon the pun!
And after all my shenanigans, I am in need of holiday!...so I'm going to Malaysia on Saturday! Can't wait!...