Sri Lanka Me Lazy

Ayubowan Folks,

Back in Australia, we tried to tell someone that traveling was more stressful than daily life.  We argued that always having to plan your way forward and never being comfortable out-weighed the stress of the ‘real world.’  He nearly doubled over from laughing at us, and told us we were totally out of touch and had forgotten the daily grind.  Unfortunately, he was right.  If you haven’t already put it together, the title of this blog is in reference to me being really really lazy with getting these last two blog posts up, not actually being lazy in Sri Lanka. Well, we were kind of lazy there, but that’s not the point.  We’ve been back for nine months now… and well, life happened.  But now the Sri Lanka blog is happening, so buckle up!

Sri Lankav2-1 We finally broke down and got vacation coconuts. We didn’t hate it.

Heading into Sri Lanka with intentions to stay for a month, we didn’t really have much of a plan other than a flight in, a flight out, and one hotel night booked for the first night.  Upon arriving at the airport, we did our usual “you grab a SIM card, and I’ll arrange a cab!” Our actions were immediately interrupted by a tourism agent who insisted on knowing our plans.  When he found out we didn’t have any, you could almost see his heart skip three beats in excitement.  But we listened to his pitch, and it turned out that he didn’t care much about selling us on anything as he did about making sure we would be going to see some of his nations highlights (which turned out to be a prettttyyy effective sales strategy regardless, considering that we spent the next day on a tour he sold us… but that’s beside the point).  He was proud of his country, and after spending a month in Sri Lanka, we came to understand why.

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Tour guide sold us on visiting Sigiriya, but it sells itself really.

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Stairs!  Good thing neither of us has a crippling fear of heights… besides my husband.
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Sigiriya translates roughly to ‘giant lion carved out of rock from 400 AD with now only its paws left’… probably

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The first thing we realized about Sri Lanka is that this whole country has figured out aging.  Unlike everyone else on the planet, Sri Lankan people look better and better as they get older and older.  An 80 year old Sri Lankan man will be the most attractive person you’ve ever seen.  And no, we don’t have any pictures because my husband insisted he’s not a people photographer, and therefore didn’t want to ‘dilute his art’ by taking pictures of them.  I think this was code for “I’m shy and don’t have enough social skills to ask a person permission to take their photo.”

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Patrick’s un-diluted art:  a giant squirrel.

It’s no secret that I love monkeys… like maybe just maybe even more than pigs.  Luckily for me, Sri Lanka has an ABUNDANCE of monkeys!   Our second night in Sri Lanka landed us in the Kandy.  We were sitting out on our patio at our homestay watching a huge pack of monkeys swinging through the woods, doin’ their thang – swinging tree to tree, monkeying around, the ushe.  Out of nowhere, we noticed our homestay host come out of the house, shotgun in tow, and immediately start shooting willy nilly in the air towards the monkeys shouting foul Sri Lankan language (I’m assuming). True story…  After this incident we started to notice muddy monkey foot and hand prints all over our patio… and inside the house. Turns out the monkeys like to venture their way into the homestay on a regular basis and wreck havoc – tearing down artwork, making a mess of guest’s clothes, spreading their muddy prints all over the walls and ceiling.  Needless to say, the owner of the homestay had become a little exasperated with the monkeys’ shenanigans.

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Welcome to Kandy
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Land!

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Patrick may or may not have stolen this monkey’s haircut for the rest of the trip.
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The snow of Sri Lanka

After spending some time observing dirty city animals in Kandy, we made our way to the famous tea village of Ella.  To get there it is a well known fact that you HAVE to take the train… so that’s what we did, but of course not without any hiccups leading up to our departure.  A day before we wanted to leave, we asked our homestay host to arrange the tickets – he looked at us like we were bat shit crazy.  Turns out, tourists have taken over the train over the past few years, pre-booking train tickets months in advance… not hours like we were expecting.  Anywho, our host pulled through and got us some seated tickets in third class… for a 600% marked up price, naturally.  The price markup we could pay, the look he gave us when we asked for tickets… well, we’ll never forget that.

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This is how Jack felt before boarding the Titanic

Sri Lanka-22 Below are a few of the 1,436 pictures we took while on the 7 hour train ride:

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We actually hit the train on a rainy and cloudy day.  But thanks to some heavy editing, the memories look like this

Sri Lanka-27Sri Lanka-28Sri Lanka-33Sri Lanka-34Sri Lanka-36Sri Lanka-39Sri Lanka-37For the hikers reading this blog, Ella is the place for you! Surrounded by beautiful tea farm lined mountains, Ella is the perfect spot to go for hikes both big and small… oh and there’s dogs and cows at the top of them too! Other than booking a homestay thirty minutes outside of town, Ella went pretty smoothly for us, so I’m just going to go ahead and assume that you don’t want to hear about our normal tuk tuk rides, our average food, and our delightful time spent in Ella. So after a few quick pictures, let’s move on…

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Practicing my arm width stance in Ella
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Cows belong on top of mountains
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We promise it was more of a cliff in person

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Scratches:  The universal language.

I’m kidding… Of course you want to hear about it!  In Ella we booked a homestay that looked like it was justtttt outside of town on the google maps.  Secluded, but near everything you need to stay alive.  Coming off the train, we knew we had misjudged the distance when we couldn’t find a single tuk tuk who was willing to drive us ‘that far’ down ‘that road.’  When all the other tourists had taken the available rides, and the second wave of drivers came in for scraps, we found someone desperate enough to take us.  30 minutes of dodging extinction sized craters up a narrow dirt road in the pitch dark, we finally arrived.  Secluded was the right word.  Worth it was another.

Starting at 7:30am, we watched the owner of the homestay begin his climb up the mountain side towards our lodging bearing a basket of delicious breads and fruits.  Thirty minutes of climbing later, it was breakfast time!  We chatted with the owner and learned that the cabin we were staying in was the dedication of his lifelong dream to own a bed and breakfast.  He invested his life’s savings from working on cargo ships to build the room we were now occupying.   Sri Lanka-43

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Train tracks are all fun and games till the train shows up
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Good thing Patrick brought that pack for our one hour hike to the bridge.  Never know what might happen…

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Tea fields for days!  More fun to photograph than to harvest.
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Tea with a view
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Arms keep getting longer thanks to all that practice!

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Next stop on our Sri Lankan adventure: Uda Walawe National Park, AKA elephant capital of the world! Our primary objective for our time in Sri Lanka was elephants on elephants on elephants (not in a weird way – get your mind out of the gutter!), and we were not disappointed. If you haven’t noticed already, we have a slight obsession with these thick skinned jumbo mammals, and Sri Lanka is known for their large and dense populations throughout their national parks. In other words: Uda Walawe = heaven on Earth.  We went on approximately 1.5 billion safaris while at the park, and saw almost 200 elephants from little baby elephants who could barely walk to massive bulls slutsing around looking for their next mate.  This was our first experience with wild elephants, and it was seriously magical.

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Uda Walawe National Park: the guidebook we were using literally warned us that the park wasn’t that pretty, which tells you all you need to know about Sri Lanka as a country.

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We thought Asian elephants were supposed to be small.

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Nature.

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If you always wore sunscreen, what would your sister yell at you about later?

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Kingfisher and Worm
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The last elephant we saw in Sri Lanka was also the most lost Elephant.

Sri Lanka-66Following our elephant-packed time in Uda Walawe, we decided to take our elephant search to Yala National Park.  Skipping the crowds in the south of the park, we instead opted to base our safari operations out of the the small village of Kataragama located in the north… and skip the crowds we did.  As far as we could tell, we were the only tourists in Kataragama. Normally you hear about a secret spot only to find out you’re the last people to know about it. Katatragama was like that, but the complete opposite (cheers to our American friend Ryan for the tip, if your reading this).   

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Welcome to Kataragama.  Population:  Us.

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Although Yala is known for elephants, it is much more famous for having the most dense population of wild leopards in the world.  Leopards are notoriously difficult to spot – only 10% of Yala visitors leave the park having seen one, but that wasn’t going to stop us.  We were pumped!  We had heard the stories about the eagle-eyed safari guides who could spot leopards at 200 paces by smell alone.  Guides who could blend into the jungle, think like a jungle cat thinks, and become one with the leopard.  Unfortunately, I don’t think those stories ever featured our guide… who, one hour into our safari, literally pulled out a pillow and went to sleep.  Out cold for three hours.  We were lucky a drop-bear didn’t get us, with his guard being down and all.  It didn’t bother us that much – these guides work a tough job for little pay – give the man his nap!  We did see a lizard… and a peacock.  You don’t see a peacock everyday, I’ve always said that.

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Yala National Park.  There are 35 leopards in this photo.

Sri Lanka-93Sri Lanka-94Our host was visibly underwhelmed with our peacock sighting, so he made up for it with authentic homemade Sri Lankan three course meals everyday and even a free private cooking class with his chef for our last night there. Sri Lanka-107

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Some of us were more excited about the cooking class than others

Safaris behind us, our host recommended we head to Vada Hiti Kanda Temple, located on top of a mountain only accessible by 4×4.  After arrival at the temple entrance, we came to understand that there was some problem with our presence.  After some failed gesturing and reinforcement of the language barrier, we got our host-turned-translator on the phone.  He spoke with the temple guards, then calmly explained to us that for the posted price of $2 per person, the temple was closed.  But for $10 per person, the temple could be persuaded to be opened.  Turns out you can argue with fixed prices!  Either way, for a crisp $20 we opened the shit out of that temple!

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Best $20 ever

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Everyone we met in Sri Lanka was some sort of entrepreneur, from the tour operator at the airport to the just-described temple guards.  Our hired taxi out of Kataragama was no different.  We were instructed ahead of time that our driver spoke no English, but that he knew where we were going, and not to worry through our six hour drive.  We were not instructed that he’d be picking up his ‘business associate’ halfway into the drive, nor were we instructed that he’d have four burner phones on him that rang incessantly, and that most of the people on the other end of those phone calls were very angry with our driver about some deliveries he was making.  Long story short, the fastest way between two points is to hitch a ride with a drug dealer who is behind schedule.

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Hikkaduwa!

Our final stop in Sri Lanka was Hikkaduwa.  After three weeks in the jungle it was time to hit the beach for some R&R and the obligatory diving trips.  We spent our days shopping for art, lounging on the beach, tasting exotic dishes, and diving on beautfiul reefs.

At least that’s how we envisioned it.  In reality, we spent our time shopping for tissues, hiding in dark hotel rooms, tasting exotic cold medicines, and uh… well still diving.  Patrick wasn’t about to let some cold stop him from diving the once beautiful but now decimated and lifeless coral reefs of Hikkaduwa.

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The best medicine for a sore throat.  #ditchthestraw.

Our favorite story from Hikkaduwa is actually best told from the point of view of Patrick’s eye doctor, three months later.  I understand Patrick’s first trip back to the optometrist went something like this:

“Any issues with your contacts since we last saw you?”

“A few months back in Sri Lankan I think I had a wicked infection in my left eye.  It was really swollen, red, and way too painful to wear contacts.”

“Hmm… did you go see a doctor while you were there?”

“Well… we had booked five days of diving so…”

“…so what?”

“I hid my infection behind sunglasses and carried on diving.”

“And then you went to an eye doctor.”

“Not exactly.  See, we were also too sick to make it to a doctor.”

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Hardly noticeable!

Still, blind and all, he got some very okay nudibranch shots. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA One more note about Patrick’s eye before I drop this.  Several days into the eye epidemic, we were sitting at breakfast and Patrick was looking ridiculous wearing his sunglasses inside.  I insisted his eye wasn’t that noticeable and he could drop the charade; no one was going to notice.  He took off his sunglasses, and set them down on the table.  Almost immediately, our waiter comes sprinting from across the restaurant to ask what happened and if he should call a doctor. No joke!

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To end the blog right, here is a picture I have no recollection taking of Patrick balancing inanimate objects all over his body.

After Hikkaduwwa it was time to head out of Sri Lanka.  Saying goodbye was tough, because it meant we were headed to our final stop on our trip around the world.  We didn’t know it at the time, but sometimes life really does save the best for last…

*music builds slowly*  “Nants ingonyama bagithi bab!! Sithi uhhmm ingonyama…”

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The Great African Elephant

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