Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Sri Lanka, Part 6 - Galle, Colombo

We are down to the last 2 days of the tour.  Our next destination is Unawatuna, a coastal town just before Galle.  Leaving the countryside means we are heading to more traffic along the coast.  This is a heavily touristic area.  Many tourists come here to enjoy the beautiful beaches of SL.  Businesses that cater to these tourists are everywhere.  The highway gets choked with cars, scooters and motorcycles ridden by these tourists.  Mohan stopped at a roadside stand and chatted with a woman who was selling roasted cashew nuts.  I bought a small bag from her for 1,400 rupees.  Definitely more than what I pay for at Costco but I am helping her make a living.  I love cashew nuts.  Here is a video on how they are picked from the tree to being processed for consumption:   Cashew Nut Processing

Woman selling cashew nuts on the roadside

A raw cashew nut

We inched our way through the coastal highway to get to our destination in about 4-5 hours.  We were supposed to tour Galle but it was late.  We checked in to the Rockfort Hotel at almost 5pm.  I was tired and took a short nap.  The back of the hotel edges up to the beach.  It was already dark when I took a short walk on the beach.  It was lit but I did not go far.  There are many European tourists, maybe Germans, staying at the hotel.  They were part of a family or in a big group.

I still had some remnants of the upset stomach.  I was hoping I could eat but I took a few bites and stared longingly at the dinner.  I went back to my room and worked on my blog.

In the morning my stomach was feeling a little better and ate a little more food.  I walked on the beach and took a few pictures.  Mohan came to pick me up at 9 and we are headed to Galle.

Rockfort Hotel in Unawatuna

View west from the hotel deck

A Paradise View from the beach

Another beach view near the hotel
The road we took to Galle hugs the busy coast.  Lots of activities going on:  tourists swimming on the beach, shops catering to them, and fishermen and customers mingling at makeshift fish stands.  We stopped at a few of these places to take pictures and I even participate in the hauling-in of a fishing net.

Fishing boats after the morning's catch

Helping fishermen hauling in the net

Lots of fish to sell

Catch of the Day

A fishmonger showing off his catch
Galle is a major city on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka.  Because of its strategic location on the seagoing route between Europe, Middle East and Asia it has long been a stopping point for Persian, Arabs, Greeks, Romans and Chinese merchants.  It was occupied by the Portuguese in the 1500s', who then lost to the Dutch in the 1600s', and was finally occupied by the British starting in 1796 until Sri Lanka's (then Ceylon) independence in 1948.

We walked around the old part of Galle and saw many remnants of the colonial days.  Most prominent is the Dutch Fort, a World Heritage Site.

All Saints Church, built by the Dutch

A Clerk with his Olympia typewriter at the Archaeological Museum

Corals and limestones were mixed to build the fort

Galle Lighthouse

A Mosque next to the Fort. Malays were brought to SL by the Dutch

A Muslim Association Building

A College Marching Band practicing next to the Fort

Clock Tower in the Rampart

A watchtower in the rampart

A Plaque showing when the Galle Lighthouse was built

Part of the Fort
Statues on the Rampart
At about noon we took a 2-hour drive north towards Colombo.  Like any major city the roads are choked with traffic.  Colombo is a city of almost 6 million.  It is the capital and financial center of Sri Lanka.  As we drove around we see many high-rises and high-end hotels like Shangri-la, Hilton, Cinnamon, etc.  Having been occupied by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British, there are a few historical landmarks but it's just another bustling city.  We took a few walks around some notable places and streets.

We stopped at a few pharmacies to look for medical masks.  All of them were sold out.  This is during the height of the corona virus pandemic in China.  SL had only 1 case but there are several in Singapore.  Masks are sold out all over the world.

Dinner with Mohan and his family at the Cinnamon Hotel

A former lighthouse

Independence Monument

A Bustling Street in the Heart of the City

The Red Mosque

Street Vendor Selling Pickled Fruits
I ended my visit to Sri Lanka with a dinner with Mohan and his family.  It was Valentine's Day so most of the restaurants were packed.  We were lucky to find availability in the Courtyard Restaurant in the Cinnamon Hotel.  It was a beautiful and generous buffet dinner that all of us enjoyed.  Mohan and his family gave me a memento - a picture frame of photographs that we took together.

Memento from Mohan's family
Early in the morning Mohan picked me up and took me to the airport.  Security here is not the most efficient.  I had to go through four screenings before finally arriving at the gate.  I checked into the Lotus Lounge and had some breakfast.  It will be a 3 1/2 hour flight to Singapore.  A few of the passengers wore masks but most acted normally.

It was a wonderful and educational trip to SL.  I knew but didn't know much.  Seeing and experiencing first-hand the country gave me a different perspective and understanding.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Sri Lanka, Part 5 - Horton Plains NP, Nuwara Eliya, Ella, Buduruvagala, Yala NP

It's day 10.  Today we are taking a hike in Horton Plains National Park to the famous World's End.  It is a sheer cliff with a drop of about 4,000 feet.  Several visitors have fallen off the cliff and died here. When we visited there was barb wire at the edge to discourage visitors from getting too close to the edge.  We had to have a jeep operator to take up to the National Park because the drive up was too steep for our small Prius.

At the World's End
Barb Wire at the Edge
Sign to Baker's Falls

Baker's Falls

The trail to and from World's End

A Wild Sambar Deer
 We were to visit Ambewala Farm that afternoon but it was closed.  It is a dairy farm with milk and yogurt production on the facility.  We ended up going to town again looking for an ATM.

That night I woke up in the middle of the night getting a bad upset stomach.  After taking some medication I finally threw up.  In the morning I threw up again and had to skip breakfast.  Fortunately, we didn't have to start early the next day.  I rested most of the morning until it was time to go.

It was a late morning as the train from Nuwara Eliya was not supposed to leave until around noon.  At about 11am we left for the train station.  The crowd slowly grew.  Fortunately, I was able to buy the last first-class ticket when we were in Kandy a few days ago.  I did not want to be in third class and stand for about 3 hours.  I want to have a comfortable seat, preferably window.  The price of the ticket was only 1,000 rupees.

Nanu-Oya is the name of the train station in Nuwara Eliya
Ella Gap - View from my hotel room
At one of the stops

It was a slow but comfortable train ride through the mountains.  You look on beautiful lush valleys with tea plantations and other farms.  Mohan drove to Ella and met me at the train station.  He beat me by only 5 minutes.  We drove straight to the Ella Gap Panorama Hotel.  From the hotel balcony you can see the Ella Gap, which is a beautiful valley below.

The next morning we drove to see the Nine Arch Bridge.  We had to take a short hike down to the bridge as there are no roads.  There were many tourists milling around.  Part way down a train came.  On the way back up we were caught in the rain and had to take a tuk-tuk up to our parked car.  It was 300 rupees.   

Ella, is my daughter-in-law's name
Nine-arch Bridge, with the tea plantation below
Next we drove a couple of hours to see the Buduruvagala Buddhist Temple.  This is not so much a temple as a few (seven) Buddha carvings on the side of a huge rock.  The carvings were done in the 10th century and showed some decay.  It reminds me of the Buddha carvings that were destroyed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Buddha Wall Sculpture

Close-up of the sculpture

Another sculpture
We arrived in Yala in the late afternoon and checked into the Elephant Reach Hotel.  Early next morning we are to drive to Yala National Park (YNP) for a safari.

I met Mohan and the jeep driver Sampat outside the hotel at 5:30am.  We rushed to the gate of YNP to pay for our tickets, then wait in line to get in.  The gate opens at 6:00am and already there was a long line of jeeps waiting.  The jeeps are mostly converted 4x4 pickup trucks.  They are slightly smaller than the ones used in Africa.  There must have been about 30 jeeps waiting to get in.  Everyone tries to get in first to see the animals.  They are most active in the morning.  Everyone is hoping to see leopards or at least elephants.

Seeing animals on a safari is a matter of luck and being at the right place at the right time.  The drivers kind of go to where they've seen certain animals before but there is no guarantee the animal will come back to the same location.  So what we did was criss-crossed the park and keeping our eyes open peering through the bushes and trees.  We saw a small herd of elephants, many buffaloes, crocodiles, iguanas, mongoose, different varieties of birds.  We did not see any leopards, not surprising because they are more nocturnal animals and the noise scare them deeper into the jungle.  I would say this was not a very successful safari.

Yala National Park


White-spotted Deer

An Elephant

Crocodile by the River
We left YNP at about 10am and drove back to the hotel to shower and checked out.  That afternoon we drove towards Galle but will be spending the night in nearby Unawatuna.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Sri Lanka, Part 4 - Damro Tea, Nuwara Eliya

We are now in the mountains part of SL.  Driving through the winding roads take time.  Some parts are even perilous because they are so narrow that only one vehicle can pass at a time.  To make it worse buses and trucks use this road as well.  One side has to stop to wait for the other side to pass.  But, it was beautiful country, with all the green tea plantations around.

Lush green scenery 

The shoot of the tea plant is used for making tea

Close up look at the tea plant

Tea bushes are grown on the side of the mountains
I've been looking forward to visiting a tea plantation.  Most tea estates don't give tours or demonstrations but Damro Tea does.  We were first shown how raw tea leaves are processed to be consumable tea.  All tea start from the same tea leaves.  It's the processing that makes it different - whether it's black, green, oolong, white, etc.  White tea are the most expensive because it's a delicate process to make them.  We had sample cups of tea and of course, a showroom to sell you tea.  I had orders from Doris to buy tea that is used for making milk tea, her favorite Hong Kong beverage.  I wasn't sure I'll be able to find it.  But as soon as I asked one of the ladies she knew right away what tea is best - BOPF, which stands for Black Orange Pekoe Fanning.  It's a strong black tea that when added a teaspoon (or more) of condensed milk makes it a very delicious drink.

Most tea estates sell their tea at auctions in Colombo, the capital.  The bidders represent major tea brands and they mix tea from different estates before packaging them.

Most of the tea pickers were brought to SL from India, especially the Tamil region.  Tea pickers are paid 1,000 rupees a day, about US$5.51, and they must pick 50 kilos (about 110 lbs) a day!  It's very tough work because you have to climb on the side of the mountains and balance yourself on the slopes.

Tea Leaves being dried by machine

A Cup of Milk Tea

Boxes of BOPF tea, about US$20 for 5 boxes

On the way to Nuwara Eliya we passed a small town that was having a Hindu procession.  I don't know what the festival is all about but everything about the festival was colorful, including the saris worn by the Indian women.

Indian women with their colorful saris pulling a shrine

A Hindu procession

We finally checked into the Ceybank Rest hotel, almost in the middle of Nuwara Eliya town.  It's a very old hotel that has seen better days.  Everything about the place is old.  However, the staff try their best and provide as good a service as they can.  After check-in we took a walk in the Central Market to see what they sell.  It's an interesting assortment of fruits, vegetables and fish.

At the Central Market with Mohan, my driver

Jackfruits.  These are smaller and used for cooking

Indian bitter melon, looks different from the Chinese bitter melon

Many varieties of bananas are sold here

Peas for making dahl

Banana flowers for cooking

Egg plant, called brinjal here

Okra, sometimes call Ladies Fingers

Another type of bitter melon

We also walked along the main street of town and see what kinds of things the shops sell.  There were a few bakeries, clothing stores, provision stores, etc.  We also walked through a market that sells well-known brand jackets and clothings from Patagonia, Columbia, North Face, etc.  They are all made in Sri Lanka but I don't think they are genuine.

These are called string hoppers
Statue of Buddha in the middle of town

Market for selling fake name-brand jackets