The month of travelling is over and done in a flash. Before I know it I will be home and saying the same thing about the entire year. It started off with a bang in Hikkaduwa as Haley and went for a night out not that there was much of a nightlife to go out in. We did eventually find a seedy beach club with the number of men far outweighing women. The night however was tainted somewhat by the leering Sri Lankan men refusing to go away when we told them to as bluntly as that. Hikkaduwa came and went and it was off to Kandy in the sweaty 3rd class carriage, carrying far too many people and the odd Buddhist nun. Kandy was a good city, it was modern and the temperature dropped so that I could curl up in a sheet at night time. It would have been a sound sleep in the 'Pink House' had it not been for the rats thumping around the walls during the night, making Haley and I wondering what was going on. It was in Kandy that we visited the Temple of the Tooth. It is here that the Buddha's tooth is enclosed in a box behind a door, outside which a mass of Sri Lankan's all barge to give their offering of kiri rice (milk rice) and cashew nuts. Not so impressed by the circus feel of the temple, what with the Kandyan dancers looking like they were preparing for Broadway, we left to take a look at the rest of Kandy. Next was the elephant orphanage where tourists go to ogle at the elephants taking a bath. Further down the road you can pay an extortionate fee to ride the 'poor elephants' which the company have 'saved'. Haley and I skipped this, something told me that 'captured' and 'exploited' would have been a better word used than saved. The botanical gardens were also on our day of sightseeing and sights we did see. Next to the gigantic bamboo, the gardens appeared to have become an escape area for couples whose parents would probably have a fit if they knew their child was roaming around with the opposite sex when not yet married. There were hundreds of monkeys picking each other's nits, obviously used to passersby, as one group carried on picking insects and eating them out of their mate's bottom whilst we stood centimetres from them.
Next was Nilambe meditation centre. Up, high in a tea plantation, Haley and I stayed for three days and three nights in the haven which was the highlight of my month away. There was no electricity; rooms were small square boxes with a blanket, a bed and a candle in it. The whole thing was to be done in silence. We rose at 4:45am, woken by a wooden gong, which meant we were to make our way over to the meditation hall and begin our day of meditation. Our torch battery decided to run out on the first night, meaning that expeditions to the toilet (aka hole in the ground) after dark, were done in pairs and with only a candle for light. On the first evening we went for a walk in the forest and watched the sunset over the mountains. It was here that I momentarily broke the silence as I found 3 leeches making their way through my trainers. However, never fear the monk was there for the rescue along with the other meditators who silently got them off. At first the quiet overwhelmed me and the thought of sitting still with my legs crossed in a room for an hour at a time seemed like torture. By the end of our stay though I felt so peaceful. I often now crave the silence and peacefulness of Nilambe when the honking of the buses and the ridiculously loud train which shakes our whole house becomes too much.
Dambulla was next and it was here that the heavens opened, or maybe it was hell, as floods caused havoc in Sri Lanka and its many road works, killing over 50 Sri Lankans. A monsoon like I have never seen before began and did not stop. Despite this we, trudged along to 'Healey's inn' where we were to be staying, gaging how far we were from it by the reducing price from tuk tuk drivers who we asked directions from. Here we arrived to and fixed our third broken toilet of the week. When I wonder why I have to constantly be surrounded by broken household appliances, I think at least when I come back home a broken toilet will not be something that I call the plumber in for. In Dambulla we visited the rock temples, where the King from 1BC stayed when he was banished from the ancient town of Anuradhapura. Kings since then have embellished them with large golden Buddha's and paintings. They did a pretty fine job and the ridiculously expensive tourist fee ( £15 but as I tell the Sri Lankans 'Guruthume, godak Sali ne' literally translated 'teacher, much coins no' ) was actually worth it. Later, Haley and I left our first choice of place to eat dinner because of leering men, however this turned out to be a happy twist of fate as we went to a small shack whose owner soon became our friend along with his daughters (both of which had 11 fingers, something actually quite common in Sri Lanka). As we sat in their humble home drinking ginger plain tea, we knew enough Sinhala and they enough English to tell us of how they had had no home for four years because of the civil war and tsunami. Instead they had been moving from temple to temple, surviving on relief provided by the British and other European countries. On a couple of particularly harrowing nights the family had hid in the jungle as the Tamil Tigers destroyed their home in Trincomolee, forcing them to flee to Dambulla. The girls were only 7 years older than us and it sounded like we were hearing history from centuries ago.
From Daumbulla we went to Sigirya. The monsoon was relentless and Haley, not a lover of wet feet, decked them out with white plastic bags to keep them dry. To no avail, not even my oversized rain coat kept me dry, and drenched in rain we made the ascent up the impressive rock which used to be a village, acknowledging the sign telling us to stay silent in case we disturbed the hornet's nest. We eventually reached the top of the summit to see absolutely nothing. We were surrounded by thick cloud and the world seemed to be lost below. On the way down however the clouds momentarily blew away in a blust of wind and we could see the vast expanse of trees below us. As the tourists jumped in their waiting taxis, we stood for another hour in the monsoon, cheering as a bus came into view until we realised that it was going to take us back at 15mph (no exaggeration there) because of the hammering rain. It was a long journey back to Healey's inn.
The rain began to get to us as our rucksacks smelled like mould and none of our clothes were fully dry. We therefore decided to skip Anurhadapura and head straight to Jaffna where most of the fighting took place in the civil war. It was a long, long bus journey up to Jaffna, with a check by the big and apparently tough looking military who stand there with big guns, but when you ask them directions they get embarrassed and often don't know the answer. The buses were particularly diabolical as I opened my umbrella to shield the rain being pelted at me through the broken window and lifted my legs onto the seat to stop the row in front of me crushing my legs as their chair slid back. I'm not one for travel sickness, but this bus introduced me to it as it whizzed round corners and screeched violently enough for me to feel like I'd left my organs 50 metres back. The next bus was no better as we stood for hours on the step by the open bus door. The bus conductor was even cheeky enough to ask us if we had husbands whilst we stood there, and ticked off at our chorus of 'yes' proceeded to get Haley to clean the condensation from the front window screen. On our last and final bus of the journey, we were befriended by a Muslim (as there are many in Jaffna) who led us to his friends tuk tuk to make the journey to where we would be staying. As naïve as this sounds of us, we had failed to pre arrange a tuk tuk and in Jaffna it is not safe to get into a random tuk tuk after dark, so reassured by his long beard and hat that he was in fact dedicated to his religion and just wanted to help us, we trundled along to where we would be staying.
Everything about Jaffna was different. It was a mini India. The food, the music, even the smell seemed foreign. There were far less women roaming around at that hour of night and the men seemed more gruff and less leering. The strangest thing was not being able to communicate with anyone as their native tongue is Tamil rather than Singhala, bringing us back to relying solely on over gesticulating with our hands and accepting the tourist prices we were charged with. Jaffna Peninsula was eerie, as we went past houses with trees growing out of them and then the odd built up house as people try to rebuild their lives after their homes have been devastated by the war. It was one big bomb site. Even the Kovil's had been ruined. One Kovil in particular that Haley and I visited is famous for bringing women good spouses. The puja we joined in (where you are blessed with a bindi spot after worshipping the Hindu Gods) was repetitive as we prayed to every single one of the Hindu God's, putting our hands over the flame and praying. I kept thinking how different mine and the Sri lankan's version of a 'good spouse' would be. To complete our holy day after the Kovil's we took a trip to the Holy waters, which supposedly cured a princess's digestive problems and horses face many years ago. I decided to skip the dip as I spied a poo floating around which I thought may give me a disease rather than a miracle. Tired, we then directed our tuk tuk driver back to Jaffna market where we decided to seek out the famous Jaffna cigar. As we asked around for the cigar stall we gathered more and more men as they led us to ask their friends, who then joined in on the search. By the time we purchased our cigar we had a party of about 7 men. Deciding to test our purchased goods away from the gawping crowd, we departed to purchase some of 'Nelly's red wine' which is also famous in Jaffna and tastes like syrup with vinegar. What was clear after our day in Jaffna was how much more conservative it was than down south. Whereas in the South of Sri Lanka tourists cohort around in their skimpy bikini's and short shorts, in Jaffna there were hardly any tourists and those which we did see, were fully covered. The eating rooms are segregated for men and women, with the women's room dotted with the dominant males of the family and the women are much more introverted.
The next day we were losing steam as we dragged our exhausted bodies out of bed and onto the bus to visit one of Jaffna's islands. After some potato and Thosai we set off, watching the vast number of different birds perching on the banks of the sea. I am no bird watcher but the birds were amazing. Massive pinks ones which I thought at first were flamingos (but they were not) and bright blue ones with massive beaks. The bus itself whizzed along a little too quickly for comfort as it seemed we were driving through the sea, rather than on the absurdly narrow road. The islands, much like the rest of Jaffna, were emptied and desolate, with small clusters of empty ruined houses, looking like something I've only seen in films. It had the same eerie empty feel as Auschwitz, only with more goats roaming around. Jaffna is also teeming with Hindu's. Hindu's clothing is more colourful and clashing and gold jewellery is draped from every part of their body that has draping potential. Their hair is more messily worn than the Buddhist women down south and their features are sharper. They are absolutely stunning.
Utterly travelled out and beginning to feel ill, we decided to head back down south for a few days recuperation and to dry our clothes. Although we had been lucky in Jaffna, the moment we hit the east coast the rain began pummelling down again. If I had forgotten, I remembered then what it was like to crave the sunshine. Luckily out here though all you have to do is get on a bus for a day and you can have it. You can get to one end of Sri Lanka to the other for £6 if you do it the peasants way, I sometimes wonder what ever happened in England to make public transport so expensive (but then I remember that seats don't slide back, doors close and generally windows do too). We decided to stop off for a night in Columbo, where you can pretend for short moments that you are visiting the UK when you are not sweating and walking through the bustling streets. We saw the new James Bond movie which actually made Haley and I well up as there were so many scenes of Scotland and London, reminding us of home and the Christmas that we were about to miss. That evening, we saw the rich side of Sri Lanka. After making some friends we were showed round the clubs which are tucked away behind hotels and down alleyways. In general Sri Lankan's only go clubbing if they have connections i.e. they have a rich father or their husband is rich. It was so odd after being immersed in the poorer part of Sri Lanka to see the goings on of the richer group where money was no issue at all. We eventually made it back for Christmas which we spent with Joan (thank you Joan!). As ill as we were beginning to feel we had no plans and if it had not been for her I fear Christmas may have been lost this year to a day in bed feeling sorry for ourselves. On Boxing Day we headed to Tangalle on the southeast coast to escape our breaking water works at home and recover with some sun and sea and Thambili. Had it not been for the headaches and complete lack of energy, it would have been perfect. We stayed in a little wooden cabana right on a small cove with white sand, palm trees and blue sea. The sun shined and our tans regenerated themselves. We spent a good two days sleeping in the sun, eating papaya and taking full advantage of their wifi zone to talk to our families. We then returned home to face the water problem and the insects which had moved in before we set off to the hill country for New Year.
The bus journey into the hill country was particularly hairy as we sped up the mountains, gripping onto the sides as the bus rattled loud enough to stop any conversation. The sheer drop off the edge of the mountain had Haley effing and blinding pretty much the whole way up. We arrived in once piece though with deafened ears and not nearly enough energy to climb the 8km up Adam's Peak. At the top of Adam's peak is apparently the Buddha's footprint, however much like other Buddhist history, the foot print is covered by offerings meaning that you cannot actually see it. The journey however was to be made for the sunrise rather than anything else, so after toasting with tea to the New Year, we set off at 1am in the morning to get to the top of the mountain for dawn. It was near enough agony. A good 4 hours of climbing and I was sweating and pulling myself up the railings with my arms, my legs beginning to give way. The peak of Adam we did eventually reach and we all huddled under a blanket with our hoodies on, as we waited for the sun to rise. There were people in sleeping bags everywhere; it looked like a refugee camp on the top of a very high mountain. The sunrise was spectacular. The tops of mountains below protruded slightly from the clouds and straight ahead a vast expanse of sky, making it look like the mountain we stood on was floating above the rest of the world. However sunrises come and go and it was with shaky legs that we made the descent back down into reality. Our lack of strength and sleep meant that we did not arrive back to the bottom until ten thirty. Utterly shattered and exhausted we made our journey back home once again for the last time, ready to start the New Year. It was an amazing month of travelling, even if it was intermingled with a craving for the British Christmas and a lot of rain. But having now cleaned our house and settled back into cooking our own curries, I am happy to be back in my wee humble home in Unawatuna. Next week I will be turning 19 and will most likely spend the day giving pre-school children toys in Hambantota which will be a nice change from shouting hands on your head, hands on your knees, hands on your shoulders, teach us please!!!!
Please send me more photographs,
Lots of love to family and friends xxx